Transhumanist FAQ Version 3

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The Transhumanist FAQ Archived is a reference copy of the content on the Humanity+ website as of February 2016.

For an evolved version, that also contains hyperlinks to other H+Pedia material, see here.

(Page under construction)

Contents

Introduction

The Transhumanist FAQ was developed in the mid-1990s and in 1998 became a formal FAQ through the inspirational work of transhumanists, including Alexander Chislenko, Max More, Anders Sandberg, Natasha Vita-More, Eliezer Yudkowsky, Arjen Kamphius, and many others. Several people contributed to the definition of transhumanism, which was originated by Max More. Greg Burch, David Pearce, Kathryn Aegis, and Anders Sandberg kindly offered extensive editorial comments. The presentation in the cryonics section was, and still is, directly inspired by an article by Ralph Merkle. Ideas, criticisms, questions, phrases, and sentences to the original version were contributed by (in alphabetical order): Kathryn Aegis, Alex (intech@intsar.com), Brent Allsop, Brian Atkins, Scott Badger, Doug Bailey, Harmony Baldwin, Damien Broderick, Greg Burch, David Cary, John K Clark, Dan Clemensen, Damon Davis, Jeff Dee, Jean-Michel Delhotel, Dylan Evans, EvMick@aol.com, Daniel Fabulich, Frank Forman, Robin Hanson, Andrew Hennessey, Tony Hollick, Joe Jenkins, William John, Michelle Jones, Arjen Kamphius, Henri Kluytmans, Eugene Leitl, Michael Lorrey, mark@unicorn.com, Peter C. McCluskey, Erik Moeller, J. R. Molloy, Max More, Bryan Moss, Harvey Newstrom, Michael Nielsen, John S. Novak III, Dalibor van den Otter, David Pearce, pilgrim@cyberdude.com, Thom Quinn, Anders Sandberg, Wesley R. Schwein, Shakehip@aol.com, Allen Smith, Geoff Smith, Randy Smith, Dennis Stevens, Derek Strong, Remi Sussan, Natasha Vita-More, Michael Wiik, Eliezer Yudkowsky, and zebo@pro-ns.net

Over the years, this FAQ has been updated to provide a substantial account of transhumanism. Extropy Institute (ExI) was a source of information for the first version of the Transhumanist FAQ, version 1.0 in the 1990s. WTA adopted the FAQ in 2001 and Nick Bostrom added substantial information about future scenarios. However, with the contributions of close to hundred people from ExI, Aleph, Transcedo, and WTA, and the UK Transhumanist Association. New material has been added and many old sections have been substantially reworked. In the preparation of version 2.0, the following people have been especially helpful: Eliezer Yudkowsky, who provided editorial assistance with comments on particular issues of substance; Dale Carrico who proofread the first half of the text; and Michael LaTorra who did the same for the second half; and “Reason” who then went over the whole document again, as did Frank Forman, and Sarah Banks Forman. Useful comments of either substance or form have also been contributed by (in alphabetical order): Michael Anissimov, Samantha Atkins, Milan Cirkovic, José Luis Cordeiro, George Dvorsky, James Hughes, G.E. Jordan, Vasso Kambourelli, Michael LaTorra, Eugen Leitl, Juan Meridalva, Harvey Newstrom, Emlyn O’Reagan, Christine Peterson, Giulio Prisco, Reason, Rafal Smigrodzki, Simon Smith, Mike Treder, and Mark Walker. Many others have over the years offered questions or reflections that have in some way helped shape this document, and even though it is not possible to name you all, your contributions are warmly appreciated.

The Transhumanist FAQ 3.0, as revised by the continued efforts of many transhumanists, will continue to be updated and modified as we develop new knowledge and better ways of accounting for old knowledge which directly and indirectly relate to transhumanism. Our goal is to provide a reliable source of information about transhumanism.

Thank you to all who have contributed in the past and to those who offer new insights to this FAQ!

General

What is transhumanism?

Transhumanism is a way of thinking about the future that is based on the premise that the human species in its current form does not represent the end of our development but rather a comparatively early phase.

Transhumanism is a loosely defined movement that has developed gradually over the past two decades. “Transhumanism is a class of philosophies of life that seek the continuation and acceleration of the evolution of intelligent life beyond its currently human form and human limitations by means of science and technology, guided by life-promoting principles and values.” (Max More 1990)

Humanity+ formally defines it based on Max More’s original definition as follows:

(1) 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.

(2) 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.

Transhumanism can be viewed as an extension of humanism, from which it is partially derived. Humanists believe that humans matter, that individuals matter. We might not be perfect, but we can make things better by promoting rational thinking, freedom, tolerance, democracy, and concern for our fellow human beings. Transhumanists agree with this but also emphasize what we have the potential to become. Just as we use rational means to improve the human condition and the external world, we can also use such means to improve ourselves, the human organism. In doing so, we are not limited to traditional humanistic methods, such as education and cultural development. We can also use technological means that will eventually enable us to move beyond what some would think of as “human”.

What is a posthuman?

It is sometimes useful to talk about possible future beings whose basic capacities so radically exceed those of present humans as to be no longer unambiguously human by our current standards. The standard word for such beings is “posthuman”. (Care must be taken to avoid misinterpretation. “Posthuman” does not denote just anything that happens to come after the human era, nor does it have anything to do with the “posthumous”. In particular, it does not imply that there are no humans anymore.)

Many transhumanists wish to follow life paths which would, sooner or later, require growing into posthuman persons: they yearn to reach intellectual heights as far above any current human genius as humans are above other primates; to be resistant to disease and impervious to aging; to have unlimited youth and vigor; to exercise control over their own desires, moods, and mental states; to be able to avoid feeling tired, hateful, or irritated about petty things; to have an increased capacity for pleasure, love, artistic appreciation, and serenity; to experience novel states of consciousness that current human brains cannot access. It seems likely that the simple fact of living an indefinitely long, healthy, active life would take anyone to posthumanity if they went on accumulating memories, skills, and intelligence.

Posthumans could be completely synthetic artificial intelligences, or they could be enhanced uploads [see “What is uploading?”], or they could be the result of making many smaller but cumulatively profound augmentations to a biological human. The latter alternative would probably require either the redesign of the human organism using advanced nanotechnology or its radical enhancement using some combination of technologies such as genetic engineering, psychopharmacology, anti-aging therapies, neural interfaces, advanced information management tools, memory enhancing drugs, wearable computers, and cognitive techniques.

Some authors write as though simply by changing our self-conception, we have become or could become posthuman. This is a confusion or corruption of the original meaning of the term. The changes required to make us posthuman are too profound to be achievable by merely altering some aspect of psychological theory or the way we think about ourselves. Radical technological modifications to our brains and bodies are needed.

It is difficult for us to imagine what it would be like to be a posthuman person. Posthumans may have experiences and concerns that we cannot fathom, thoughts that cannot fit into the three-pound lumps of neural tissue that we use for thinking. Some posthumans may find it advantageous to jettison their bodies altogether and live as information patterns on vast super-fast computer networks. Their minds may be not only more powerful than ours but may also employ different cognitive architectures or include new sensory modalities that enable greater participation in their virtual reality settings. Posthuman minds might be able to share memories and experiences directly, greatly increasing the efficiency, quality, and modes in which posthumans could communicate with each other. The boundaries between posthuman minds may not be as sharply defined as those between humans.

Posthumans might shape themselves and their environment in so many new and profound ways that speculations about the detailed features of posthumans and the posthuman world are likely to fail.

What is a transhuman?

In its contemporary usage, “transhuman” refers to an intermediary transition between the human and a possible future human (Human 2.0) or the posthuman [see “What is a posthuman?”]. One might ask, given that our current use of e.g. medicine and information technology enable us to routinely do many things that would have astonished humans living in ancient times, whether we are not already transhuman? The question is a provocative one, but ultimately not very meaningful; the concept of the transhuman is too vague for there to be a definite answer.

A transhumanist is simply someone who advocates transhumanism [see “What is transhumanism?”]. It is a common error for reporters and other writers to say that transhumanists “claim to be transhuman” or “call themselves transhuman”. To adopt a philosophy which says that someday everyone ought to have the chance to grow beyond present human limits is clearly not to say that one is better or somehow currently “more advanced” than one’s fellow humans.

The etymology of the term “transhuman” goes back to the futurist FM-2030 (also known as F. M. Esfandiary), who introduced it as shorthand for “transitional human”. Calling transhumans the “earliest manifestation of new evolutionary beings”. F. M. Esfandiary had written a chapter using the term “transhuman” in a 1972 book, and went on to develop a set of transhumanist ideas in which transhuman was a transition from human to posthuman, yet he never referred to them as “transhumanism”. Esfandiary’s approach was more literary than academic, even though he taught at the New School for Social Research in New York in the 1960s. Starting in 1966, while teaching classes in “New Concepts of the Human”, he outlined a vision of an evolutionary transhuman future. He also brought together optimistic futurists in a loosely-organized group known as UpWingers. In his 1989 book, Are You a Transhuman?, he defined a transhuman as a “transitional human,” whose use of technology, way of living, and values marked them as a step toward posthumanity. FM-2030’s writing and social activity importantly underscored the practical elements of the philosophy. The idiosyncratic and personal nature of FM-2030’s transhuman was displayed in his book, which contained extensive questionnaires, then rated the reader as more or less transhuman. Some of his measures included how much someone traveled, what alterations they had made to their body (even though the existing technology remained primitive), the degree to which they rejected traditional family structures and exclusive relationships, and so on.It is unclear why anybody who has had enhancement body parts or a nomadic lifestyle is any closer to becoming a posthuman than the rest of us; nor, of course, are such persons necessarily more admirable or morally commendable than others. In fact, it is perfectly possible to be a transhuman – or, for that matter, a transhumanist – and still embrace most traditional values and principles of personal conduct.

The writings of Natasha Vita-More (k/k/a Nancie Clark) in authoring the Transhuman Manifesto in 1983 offered a different perspective on the transhuman, although highly influenced by FM-2030’s vision. The difference being that Vita-More sought to build a social/cultural movement for life extension and human enhancement rather than following a prescribed ideological stance. “Let us choose to be transhuman not only in our bodies, but also in our values. Toward diversity, multiplicity. Toward non-partisan ideology (transpolitics, transpartisan, transmodernity). Toward a more humane transhumanity.” In 1997, a later version of the manifesto was released first onto the Internet and signed by hundreds of creative thinkers and then placed aboard the Cassini Huygens spacecraft on its mission to Saturn.

References:

FM-2030. Are You a Transhuman? (New York: Warner Books, 1989).

More, M. & Vita-More, N. (Eds.) The Transhumanist Reader: Classical and Contemporary Essays on the Science, Technology, and Philosophy of the Human Future. (New York: Wiley-Blackwell Publishing, 2013).

Vita-More, N. The Transhuman Manifesto. In ARTISTS’ MANIFESTOS. (New York: Penguin Modern Classics, 2009).

Practicalities

What are the reasons to expect all these changes?

Won’t these developments take thousands or millions of years?

How can I use transhumanism in my own life?

What if it doesn’t work?

How could I become a posthuman?

Won’t it be boring to live forever in a perfect world?

How can I get involved and contribute?

Society and Politics

Will new technologies only benefit the rich and powerful?

Do transhumanists advocate eugenics?

Aren’t these future technologies very risky? Could they even cause our extinction

If these technologies are so dangerous, should they be banned?

Shouldn’t we concentrate on current problems …

Will extended life worsen overpopulation problems?

Is there any ethical standard …

What kind of society would posthumans live in?

Will posthumans or superintelligent machines pose a threat to humans who aren’t augmented?

Technologies and Projections

Biotechnology, genetic engineering, stem cells, and cloning

What is molecular nanotechnology?

What is superintelligence?

What is virtual reality?

What is cryonics? Isn’t the probability of success too small?

What is uploading?

What is the singularity?

Transhumanism and Nature

Why do transhumanists want to live longer?

Isn’t this tampering with nature?

Will transhuman technologies make us inhuman?

Isn’t death part of the natural order of things?

Are transhumanist technologies environmentally sound?

Transhumanism as a Philosophical and Cultural Viewpoint

What are the philosophical and cultural antecedents of transhumanism?

What currents are there within transhumanism?

How does transhumanism relate to religion?

Won’t things like uploading, cryonics, and AI fail…

What kind of transhumanist art is there?