Transhumanism and Healthy Life Extension
You may have noticed references to transhumanism and transhumanists in posts here at Fight Aging! What is transhumanism, and how is it relevant to longevity science and the work of extending the healthy human life span? Read on for a short overview: transhumanism in a nutshell.
Transhumanism is a cultural movement and philosophy of action that builds upon humanism, so we should look at humanism first of all. Humanism is an influential, time-honored philosophy that argues for rationality and certain fundamental human rights, freedoms, and responsibilities. Humanist thinkers have for centuries discussed and advocated the existence of humane societies, human cultures built on reason and free inquiry. In terms of addressing everyday life, humanist philosophy attempts to answer questions like “How should we behave toward one another?” or “What is the best way to live within the constraints imposed on us by the human condition?” In essence, humanist thinkers across the ages tell us this:
We’re all in the same boat here: by all means work towards your dreams, but be nice to your neighbor and don’t tread on anyone’s toes.
Like humanism, transhumanism is a philosophy of life and human action: an evolving, much-debated collection of ideas about society, goals, and the best way to live. Transhumanism extends the foundation of humanism by embracing technological progress for the purpose of overcoming the limitations and suffering inherent in the present human condition. Transhumanism is, fundamentally, the idea that humanity can, and should, strive to overcome naturally existing limits in order to attain greater individual choice and capabilities – physically, mentally, and socially. Transhumanist thinkers tell us this:
Humanism is a good start. But while being nice and not treading on toes, the dreams we work towards can include a fleet of better boats for all of us.
As you might imagine, transhumanism as a cultural movement is closely tied to an enthusiasm for ethical, responsible, and rapid technological progress. Progress in science and technology brings greater choice to individuals and adds new options for improving the human condition. This is really nothing new: we humans have been pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps for millennia: fire, farming, steam, bicycles, antibiotics, vaccines, modern dentistry, cell phones, and so forth. Each new invention, and the science that enabled it, allows us to overcome a limitation or a cause of suffering. We can fly where we couldn’t before, we can survive diseases that once killed or crippled us, and we can engage in ten thousand new types of entertaining or challenging activities that once upon a time didn’t even exist.
Transhumanists take this common sense view of technological progress and look ahead to a future in which far greater and more beneficial advances are possible: modern science and technology can lead to radical improvements in the human condition, and so should be used to this end. If today we enjoy our newfound ability to communicate cheaply across vast distances, for example, then tomorrow we might enjoy the benefits of longevity science, organ regeneration, and aging reversal. These and many other transformative changes that might be produced by new biotechnologies are very plausible, foreseen by scientists around the world, and we should welcome their advent.
Given the emphasis that transhumanist thought places on progress and overcoming the limitations that make life difficult or cause suffering, it is only natural that transhumanists should support longevity science, rejuvenation medicine, and other forms of advanced biotechnology. Aging and age-related disease takes a terrible toll on us all, yet may plausibly be slowed or reversed in the decades ahead. Transhumanism and advocacy for longer, healthier lives have gone hand-in-hand for many writers since the 1980s – and even earlier, before transhumanism acquired its present name. At that time, few people took life extension research seriously and it was very much in the fringe, both in academia and the medical research community.
Most influential transhumanist thinkers have at one time or another written on the subject of extending life through biotechnology, and many have done so extensively. When you read about applied aging research, progress in understanding the genetics of human longevity, and progress towards medicine that can extend the healthy human life span, remember that transhumanists have been advocating greater awareness of – and funding for – this promising field of research for a good many years.
Last updated: August 20th 2013.
would not the etheric body the chakras that balance the energy and keep our bodys and mind healthy and balanced help mankind to live longer
Extending human life beyond traditional norms seems wonderful to an individual, but I fear for the planet and the human race if the technology becomes desired by all people on our globe.
We, as older people, must eventually get out of the workforce, and out of our houses, in order for there to be desirable jobs and places to live for young families.
The human population has grown from one billion in 1800, to two billion in 1927, four billion in 1974, to 8 billion in 2011. This is not sustainable for much longer.
Transhumanism (abbreviated as H+ or h+) is an international cultural and intellectual movement with an eventual goal of fundamentally transforming the human condition by developing and making widely available technologies to greatlyenhance human intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities. Transhumanist thinkers study the potential benefits and dangers of emerging technologies that could overcome fundamental human limitations, as well as theethics of developing and using such technologies. The most common thesis put forward is that human beings may eventually be able to transform themselves into beings with such greatly expanded abilities as to merit the labelposthuman.
The contemporary meaning of the term transhumanism was foreshadowed by one of the first professors of futurology,FM-2030, who taught “new concepts of the human” at The New School in the 1960s, when he began to identify people who adopt technologies, lifestyles and worldviews “transitional” to posthumanity as “transhuman“. This hypothesis would lay the intellectual groundwork for the British philosopher Max More to begin articulating the principles of transhumanism as a futurist philosophy in 1990 and organizing in California an intelligentsia that has since grown into the worldwide transhumanist movement.
Influenced by seminal works of science fiction, the transhumanist vision of a transformed future humanity has attracted many supporters and detractors from a wide range of perspectives. Transhumanism has been characterized by one critic, Francis Fukuyama, as among the world’s most dangerous ideas, to which Ronald Bailey countered that it is rather the “movement that epitomizes the most daring, courageous, imaginative and idealistic aspirations of humanity”.
According to Nick Bostrom, transcendentalist impulses have been expressed at least as far back as in the quest for immortality in the Epic of Gilgamesh, as well as in historical quests for the Fountain of Youth, the Elixir of Life, and other efforts to stave off aging and death.
There is debate about whether the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche can be considered an influence on transhumanism despite its exaltation of the “Übermensch” (overman or superman), due to its emphasis on self-actualization, rather than technological transformation. The transhumanist philosophies by Max Moreand Stefan Lorenz Sorgner have been influenced strongly by Nietzschean thinking.
Early transhumanist thinking
Julian Huxley, the biologist who coined the term transhumanism in 1957.
Fundamental ideas of transhumanism were first advanced in 1923 by the British geneticist J. B. S. Haldane in his essay Daedalus: Science and the Future, which predicted that great benefits would come from applications of advanced sciences to human biology—and that every such advance would first appear to someone as blasphemy or perversion, “indecent and unnatural”. In particular, he was interested in the development of the science of eugenics, ectogenesis (creating and sustaining life in an artificial environment) and the application of genetics to improve human characteristics, such as health and intelligence.
His article inspired academic and popular interest. J. D. Bernal, a crystallographer at Cambridge, wrote The World, the Flesh and the Devil in 1929, in which he speculated on the prospects of space colonization and radical changes to human bodies and intelligence through bionic implants and cognitive enhancement. These ideas have been common transhumanist themes ever since.
The biologist Julian Huxley is generally regarded as the founder of transhumanism, after he coined the term in an article written in 1957:
Up till now human life has generally been, as Hobbes described it, ‘nasty, brutish and short’; the great majority of human beings (if they have not already died young) have been afflicted with misery… we can justifiably hold the belief that these lands of possibility exist, and that the present limitations and miserable frustrations of our existence could be in large measure surmounted… The human species can, if it wishes, transcend itself — not just sporadically, an individual here in one way, an individual there in another way, but in its entirety, as humanity.
This definition differs, albeit not substantially, from the one commonly in use since the 1980s. The ideas raised by these thinkers were explored in the science fictionof the 1960s, notably in Arthur C. Clarke‘s 2001: A Space Odyssey, in which an alien artifact grants transcendent power to its wielder.
Japanese Metabolist architects produced a manifesto in 1960 which outlined goals to “encourage active metabolic development of our society” through design and technology. In the Material and Man section of the manifesto, Noboru Kawazoe suggests that:
After several decades, with the rapid progress of communication technology, every one will have a “brain wave receiver” in his ear, which conveys directly and exactly what other people think about him and vice versa. What I think will be known by all the people. There is no more individual consciousness, only the will of mankind as a whole.
Artificial intelligence and the technological singularity
Let an ultraintelligent machine be defined as a machine that can far surpass all the intellectual activities of any man however clever. Since the design of machines is one of these intellectual activities, an ultraintelligent machine could design even better machines; there would then unquestionably be an ‘intelligence explosion,’ and the intelligence of man would be left far behind. Thus the first ultraintelligent machine is the last invention that man need ever make. 
Computer scientist Marvin Minsky wrote on relationships between human and artificial intelligence beginning in the 1960s. Over the succeeding decades, this field continued to generate influential thinkers such as Hans Moravec and Raymond Kurzweil, who oscillated between the technical arena and futuristic speculations in the transhumanist vein. The coalescence of an identifiable transhumanist movement began in the last decades of the 20th century. In 1966, FM-2030 (formerly F. M. Esfandiary), a futurist who taught “new concepts of the human” at The New School, in New York City, began to identify people who adopt technologies, lifestyles and world views transitional to posthumanity as “transhuman“. In 1972, Robert Ettinger contributed to the conceptualization of “transhumanity” in his book Man into Superman. FM-2030 published the Upwingers Manifesto in 1973.
Growth of transhumanism
Cover of the first issue of h+ Magazine, a web-based quarterly publication that focuses on transhumanism.
The first self-described transhumanists met formally in the early 1980s at the University of California, Los Angeles, which became the main center of transhumanist thought. Here, FM-2030 lectured on his “Third Way” futurist ideology. At the EZTV Media venue, frequented by transhumanists and other futurists, Natasha Vita-More presented Breaking Away, her 1980 experimental film with the theme of humans breaking away from their biological limitations and the Earth’s gravity as they head into space. FM-2030 and Vita-More soon began holding gatherings for transhumanists in Los Angeles, which included students from FM-2030’s courses and audiences from Vita-More’s artistic productions. In 1982, Vita-More authored the Transhumanist Arts Statement and, six years later, produced the cable TV show TransCentury Update on transhumanity, a program which reached over 100,000 viewers.
In 1986, Eric Drexler published Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology, which discussed the prospects fornanotechnology and molecular assemblers, and founded the Foresight Institute. As the first non-profit organization to research, advocate for, and perform cryonics, the Southern California offices of the Alcor Life Extension Foundation became a center for futurists. In 1988, the first issue of Extropy Magazine was published by Max More and Tom Morrow. In 1990, More, a strategic philosopher, created his own particular transhumanist doctrine, which took the form of the Principles of Extropy, and laid the foundation of modern transhumanism by giving it a new definition:
Transhumanism is a class of philosophies that seek to guide us towards a posthuman condition. Transhumanism shares many elements of humanism, including a respect for reason and science, a commitment to progress, and a valuing of human (or transhuman) existence in this life. […] Transhumanism differs from humanism in recognizing and anticipating the radical alterations in the nature and possibilities of our lives resulting from various sciences and technologies […].
In 1992, More and Morrow founded the Extropy Institute, a catalyst for networking futurists and brainstorming new memeplexes by organizing a series of conferences and, more importantly, providing a mailing list, which exposed many to transhumanist views for the first time during the rise of cyberculture and the cyberdeliccounterculture. In 1998, philosophers Nick Bostrom and David Pearce founded the World Transhumanist Association (WTA), an international non-governmental organization working toward the recognition of transhumanism as a legitimate subject of scientific inquiry and public policy. In 2002, the WTA modified and adoptedThe Transhumanist Declaration. The Transhumanist FAQ, prepared by the WTA, gave two formal definitions for transhumanism:
- 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.
- The study of the ramifications, promises, and potential dangers of technologies that will enable us to overcome fundamental human limitations, and the related study of the ethical matters involved in developing and using such technologies.
In possible contrast with other transhumanist organizations, WTA officials considered that social forces could undermine their futurist visions and needed to be addressed. A particular concern is the equal access to human enhancement technologies across classes and borders. In 2006, a political struggle within the transhumanist movement between the libertarian right and the liberal left resulted in a more centre-leftward positioning of the WTA under its former executive directorJames Hughes. In 2006, the board of directors of the Extropy Institute ceased operations of the organization, stating that its mission was “essentially completed”. This left the World Transhumanist Association as the leading international transhumanist organization. In 2008, as part of a rebranding effort, the WTA changed its name to “Humanity+“. In 2012, the transhumanist Longevity Party had been initiated as an international union of people who promote the development of scientific and technological means to significant life extension, that for now has more than 30 national organisations throughout the world.
Transhumanist-themed blogs by Zoltan Istvan are in mainstream media on Psychology Today, Vice’s Motherboard, and The Huffington Post. Istvan is the founder of the Transhumanist Party and is its 2016 US Presidential candidate.
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