Transhumanism definitions

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What is the definition of transhumanism? Prepare for disagreement!

Transhumanism definitions describe the various differing perspectives as well as ongoing disputes within the movement about what ideas, positions and practices should be included into either a description or definition of the term transhumanism, or of the transhumanist movement. H+Pedia's style chooses to be primarily descriptivist, rather prescriptivist around such definitions.


Some of the earliest recorded definitions of Transhumanism are from 1997 from Anders Sandberg website.

Anders defined transhumanism as:

...the philosophy that we can and should develop to higher levels, both physically, mentally and socialy using rational methods[1]

Max More cites the use of technology in conjunction with 'life-promoting principles and values', an idea that would later encompass Extropianism.

Natasha Vita-More emphasises morphological freedom, complete self-control and space exploration.

In 2003 Nick Bostrom described the idea as:

...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[2]

In later years, both broader and more specific definitions have been attempted such as 2015:

Transhumanism is the science-based movement that seeks to transcend human biological limitations via technology[3]

The concept of The Three Supers likely coined by Marco Vega and Peter Brietbart in their popular 2013 video PostHuman: An Introduction to Transhumanism[4] later reiterated by David Pearce[5] features:

Current perceptions

Today, as the movement grows in popularity and widens appeal, the definition itself is subject to frequent semantic debates around inclusion, exclusion or focus of its ideas.

Influential transhumanists have also produced the Transhumanist FAQ in the mid 90's which attempts to give semi-authoritative answers on a number of points. However it lacks the scope of focus on any one area in much depth.


Cyborgist vs Life-Extensionist

Core and traditional definitions focus on human enhancement through technological means. Literally, to transcend the human condition though emergent technologies. This includes elements of cyborgization and may cross over into advanced posthuman transhumanism, however this may be more philosophically focused.

Many life extensionists choose not to publicly define themselves as transhumanists, preferring to focus on more health-centric life extension technologies. Immortalism, biological immortalism and longevism are all streams of this area.

Cryonics is placed at a key intersection between life extension and technological enhancement.

Immortalists fall into two camps. Those who might be called the Meat Puppets, led by de Grey, believe that we can retool our biology and remain in our bodies. The RoboCops, led by Kurzweil, believe that we’ll eventually merge with mechanical bodies and/or with the cloud.[6]

Movement vs Idea

The breadth and scope of the movement are often disputed. Whilst all transhumanists will agree that individuals who share a common core set of beliefs in the desirability of human enhancement are transhumanists; whether Transhumanism as a movement can be considered any more than the sum of these individual's beliefs versus something independently coherent and useful can often create divisions amongst its advocates.[7]

Presentist vs futurist

Many people view transhumanism and futurism as phenomena exclusively of things yet to come. People may point at immature or hypothetical technologies, using them as philosophical talking points or thought experiments, without seeing significant practical application or implication of the ideas.

Alternatively transhumanism can be looked at inclusively as a historical and contemporary phenomenon in addition to a futurist one, incorporating the many changes wrought by man made technologies, ranging from vaccines, eye glasses, mobile phones, computing, internet, writing, libraries, culture, science, the phenomenon of intelligence and more. A sense of progression or sophistication may be associated with not only possible futures, but the past and the present as well. Are we already fyborgs?

Moral vs Amoral

Featured: A transhuman

Many transhumanists and transhumanist organisations such as Humanity+ argue that transhumanism is a force for good.[8] They argue the potential and likely outcomes of emergent technologies are most likely going to benefit the world as a whole, so such should be advocated as such. This position is sometimes referred to disparagingly as techno utopianism.

An alternative definition focuses on the inherent amorality of technology, as well as its potential to bring around dystopian scenarios. As such it's possible to be a fascist or oligarchic transhumanist, whilst still remaining a transhumanist without contradiction.

Philosophical vs Utilitarian

Typically when speculation of future technologies approaches or passes the singularity, transhumanist discussion moves more into the area of philosophy such as with posthuman transhumanism. Singularitarianism is the idea that preparation of this event is of high importance. Interest in hypothetical science fiction scenarios and applications could fall within this area.

The contrasting view is to focus on present day projects, be they molecular manufacturing, blockchain technology or other projects with more immediate practical applications. Many utilitarian transhumanists express their frustration with the lack of practical focus the rest of the movement possesses.

Sitting somewhere between is transhumanist politics and elements of transhumanist art which seeks to bridge the two poles.

Atheistic vs Spiritual or Religious

Many of the scientifically-minded supporters of the movement have viewed the idea of atheistic transhumanism as fundamental to the definition of the term and movement itself.[9] There is strong resistance from such individuals around the inclusion of spiritual-related ideas, even when presented with a strictly secular definitions of spirituality.[10]

Religious transhumanism whilst having a relatively small following, has already come into conflict with strong atheistic positions within the community.[11]

Libertarian vs Progressive

Many historical and contemporary transhumanist thought can be traced to either Silicon Valley or the Extropy Insitute. This brand of libertarian transhumanism or technolibertarianism would become synonymous with the movement's definition for both many of its supporters as well as its critics.

As alternative left-leaning or socially progressive political positions have developed such as anarcho-transhumanism and technoprogressivism, many libertarians have become uncomfortable and sometimes resistant to the disentangling of the two ideas this trend is causing.

Political vs Non-Political

See Transhumanist politicisation controversy

A sub-trope of this is the those who want to engage with existing power structures vs those who want to focuses on bypassing them.

Linear Evolution vs Morphological Freedom

This is not how it works

The popular misconception that biological evolution is an linear affair whereby humanity evolved 'from' monkeys 'into modern humans' is perversive even amongst scientifically minded transhumanists. The reality is the modern day apes and monkeys evolved from a common ancestor via many man-like descendants such as the Neanderthals, many such 'branches' of which may have been unlucky as well as unsuccessful.

Many transhumanists will discuss the inevitability of popular scenarios such as advanced genetically modification, cyborgization or mind uploading, often declaring these as the 'next phase of human evolution', a trope popular in fiction such as the X-Men.

However other transhumanists will emphasise the advocacy of transhumanism towards morphological freedom, both hypothetical and contemporary. As such, the ideas of postgenderism and the different choices that will be avalible in the future including for those who choose to get no or minimal enhancement may be emphasised.

Activist vs Inevitablist

Many transhumanists are entirely passive in their involvement in the movement, believing a desirable transhumanist future is inevitable and that they need not personally actively play a part in shaping it. Participation may be limited to following tech news on Facebook, reading science fiction or playing video games.

More activist-minded people raise the issues of existential risks, politics or simply want to execute projects to better promote and develop the movement's goals. Donating time or money to H+ organisations is increasingly an option for transhumanists who want to play a part in making a difference.

Explicit vs De facto

Whilst there thousands, possibly millions of people around the world today who explicitly refer to themselves as either transhumanists or having a strong interest in transhumanism, there are far more who do not.

De facto transhumanists include the likes of not only life extensionist Mark Zuckerberg, but many people (especially in the developed world) who you'll meet every day could be transhumanist sympathisers. They may have a stronger than average interest in AI, or perhaps they're excited about the possibilities of activity trackers for exercise. Often, a sufficiently informed and engaging conversation with such a person is all that it may take for them to start identifying more with the transhumanist movement.

See also