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What I've been thinking about...

What’s a Transhumanist?

adialogue said: I concur. Surely, to experience pain is part of what it is to be human. Also what is a transhumanist?

Thanks for the question!  People are so afraid to ask questions that betray any ignorance (particularly on Tumblr, where it’s actually feasible to maintain the illusion of omnisentience).  But I like to admit when I’m in the dark.  Sometimes when you press someone on what they mean by something, it turns out their definitions are fuzzy too.

Along that theme, I fully admit to looking up the Wikipedia page on Transhumanism, after calling David Pearce a transhumanist, but before writing this response.  I was relieved to find that, yes, it did mean what I assumed it did.

In one sentence:

A Transhumanist is someone who believes it’s both possible and desirable to use technology (for example, computation or genetic engineering) to fundamentally change the nature of human biology for the better.

Some archetypal examples might be:

  1. Someone who anticipates technology being gradually introduced into the human body.  What has already begun with pacemakers can continue with other organ replacements, and even brain augmentation to aid in memory, etc.
  2. Someone who feels that drugs and/or genetic engineering will be able to isolate and eliminate some effects related to aging, allowing a significantly longer human life-span (200 years is not unusual to hear a transhumanist claim).

Another noun you might want to add to your lexicon is the Singularity.  This word of course has lots of meanings in math and physics, but someone with transhumanist tendencies would likely use it to refer to the exponential progress made in technology.  The “Singularity” occurs when technology is improving so fast that predicting what comes next is near impossible.

Ray Kurzweil wrote a book called “The Singularity is Near”, in which he outlined evidence for the claim of the title.  This was my introduction to any sort of serious consideration of Transhumanist ideas.  Kurzweil himself (who is a “baby-boomer”) keeps himself on an insane-sounding regimen of drugs and nutritional supplements, and expects to live until it is possible to upload his mind into a computer.  For him, it is no joke.

Do I believe these things?  Yes and no.  I’m creeped out by the idea of changing my personality using technology or genetics.  But I do think that aging is more subject to medical/biological science than most people think.  I also see such a fast change in how fast an average citizen is accepting technology into more and more intimate roles in our lives.

On the other hand, the average age in my workplace (where I spend much of every day) is between 50 and 60.  My coworkers are various, but if I have to stereotype them, I can say that they watch and play sports.  They have barbecues with their friends, enjoy conversation, and less than half of them own computers.

In this environment, it really is hard to believe the Singularity is Near.  Could it perhaps be near to Silicon Valley, but far from Eastern Canada?

Hope this is interesting and that it answers your question!