Prehistory of Transhumanism

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This article gathers quotations from writers from previous generations who have expressed arguments in favour of transhumanist ideas, without using that precise terminology.

Francis Bacon

The lengthening of the thread of life itself, and the postponement for a time of that death which gradually steals on by natural dissolution and the decay of age, is a subject of which no physician has handled in proportion to its dignity.

-- from The Advancement of Learning (Book IV, Chapter II), 1605.

Benjamin Franklin

I wish it were possible... to invent a method of embalming drowned persons, in such a manner that they might be recalled to life at any period, however distant; for having a very ardent desire to see and observe the state of America a hundred years hence, I should prefer to an ordinary death, being immersed with a few friends in a cask of Madeira, until that time, then to be recalled to life by the solar warmth of my dear country! But... in all probability, we live in a century too little advanced, and too near the infancy of science, to see such an art brought in our time to its perfection.

-- letter to Jacques Dubourg, April 1773, as quoted in Life Magazine, 9 Jan 1956 page 86

The rapid Progress true Science now makes, occasions my Regretting sometimes that I was born so soon. It is impossible to imagine the Height to which may be carried in a 1000 Years the Power of Man over Matter... All Diseases may by sure means be prevented or cured, not excepting even that of Old Age, and our Lives lengthened at pleasure even beyond the antediluvian Standard.

O that moral Science were in as fair a Way of Improvement, that Men would cease to be Wolves to one another, and the human Beings would at length learn what they now improperly call Humanity.

-- letter to Joseph Priestley, Feb 1780

Marquis du Condorcet

It is manifest that the improvement of the practice of medicine, becoming more efficacious in consequence of the progress of reason and the social order, must in the end put a period to transmissible or contagious disorders, as well to those general maladies resulting from climate, aliments, and the nature of certain occupations. Nor would it be difficult to prove that this hope might be extended to almost every other malady, of which it is probable we shall hereafter discover the most remote causes.

Would it even be absurd to suppose this quality of melioration in the human species as susceptible of an indefinite advancement; to suppose that a period must one day arrive when death will be nothing more than the effect either of extraordinary accidents, or of the slow and gradual decay of the vital powers; and that the duration of the middle space, of the interval between the birth of man and this decay, will itself have no assignable limit?

Certainly man will not become immortal; but may not the distance between the moment in which he draws his first breath, and the common term when, in the course of nature, without malady or accident, he finds it impossible any longer to exist, be necessarily protracted?

-- in Future Progress of Man, 1796

Napoleon Bonaparte

Thousands of years from now man will be quite different from what he is at present. Sciences will be so advanced then that perhaps a way will have been found to prolong life indefinitely.

-- from 1817, quoted in "The Mind of Napoleon: A Selection from His Written and Spoken Words"

Alexis Carrel

Science, which has transformed the material world, gives man the power of transforming himself. It has unveiled some of the secret mechanisms of his life. It has shown him how to alter their motion, how to mold his body and his soul on patterns born of his wishes. For the first time in history, humanity, helped by science, has become master of its destiny. But will we be capable of using this knowledge of ourselves to our real advantage? To progress again, man must remake himself. And he cannot remake himself without suffering. For he is both the marble and the sculptor. In order to uncover his true visage he must shatter his own substance with heavy blows of his hammer.

-- in Man, the Unknown (Chapter VIII: The Remaking of Man), 1935