Whereto Transhumanism?: The Literature Reaches a Critical Mass
Agar (Nicholas)
Source: The Hastings Center Report, Vol. 37, No. 3 (May - Jun., 2007), pp. 12-17
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction

  1. Transhumanism1 is, according to its proselytizers, the "intellectual and cultural movement that affirms the possibility and desirability of fundamentally improving the human condition through applied reason, especially by developing and making widely available technologies to eliminate aging and to greatly enhance human intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities."Transhumanists2 look forward to descendents who are posthumans, "future beings whose basic capacities so radically exceed those of present humans as to be no longer unambiguously human by our current standards." These posthumans may be "resistant to disease and impervious to aging," have "unlimited youth and vigor," and "reach intellectual heights as far above any current human genius as humans are above other primates." They may have "increased capacity for pleasure, love, artistic appreciation, and serenity" and "experience novel states of consciousness that current human brains cannot access." Posthumans may go so far as to escape the limitations of physicality by uploading3 themselves onto computers4.
  2. When last I checked the Web site of the World Transhumanist5 Association, an organization formed to agitate for transhumanism6, I learned that it had a global membership of 3,744. But transhumanists7 are not the philosophically marginalized, technology-obsessed Trekkies that this number might suggest. Transhumanist8 thinkers present their view about where we should be headed with a keen awareness of how we might get there. Their opponents, not they, tend to be the ones guilty of arguing from caricatures of the technologies in question.
  3. With the publication in the last few years of several books on transhumanism9, a decent transhumanist10 literature has now been amassed. Those setting out this literature include
    1. the Swedish philosopher Nick Bostrom, who directs the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University and maintains the influential "Transhumanist11 FAQ";
    2. James Hughes, executive director of the World Transhumanist12 Association, whose syndicated talk show Changesurfer Radio puts the case for transhumanism13 on a weekly basis;
    3. Gregory Stock, author of the book Redesigning Humans, which saw him pitted in public fora against Francis Fukuyama (whose book, Our Posthuman Future, also published in 2002, warned of the threat to humans and human nature from the new genetic technologies);
    4. the science journalist Ronald Bailey, who argues for a libertarian take on posthumanizing technologies; and
    5. Simon Young, who combines advocacy of transhumanism14 with composing and playing the piano.
  4. Intellectual movements are often given unity by a shared sense of who the enemy is. Transhumanists15 declare their most implacable foes to be a group of thinkers they call "bioconservatives" or, more insultingly, "bio-Luddites." Prominent among the bioconservatives are Leon Kass, Francis Fukuyama, Bill McKibben, and Jeremy Rifldkin. Although there are differences between them, these thinkers share a desire to keep us and our near descendents human, even if this means keeping us and them dumb, diseased, and short-lived. They identify the technologies that enthuse transhumanists16 as distinctively threatening to our humanity.

Author’s Final Paragraph
  1. I cannot pretend to have covered all of the ways in which transhumanists17 can make their case, for transhumanism18 is a movement brimming with fresh ideas. Transhumanists19 succeed in making the intuitive appeal of posthumanity obvious even if they don't yet have the arguments to compel everybody else to accept their vision.

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 4: This is conceptually different from the other enhancement claims.

Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)

  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2019
  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)

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