13 votes

What is transhumanism?

34 comments

  1. [2]
    patience_limited
    Link
    Bear with me, please - I'm about to make a brief feminist case for transhumanism. As recently as the past century, it was common for born-female humans to die while bearing big-brained babies....

    Bear with me, please - I'm about to make a brief feminist case for transhumanism.

    As recently as the past century, it was common for born-female humans to die while bearing big-brained babies. Like, 30+% of women died young from immediate complications of pregnancy, childbirth, infections contracted while birthing, and so on. That leaves aside the immense morbidity and loss of productive healthy life due to birthing injuries, untimed pregnancies, perpetual anemia, STDs, etc. Historians (e.g. Antonia Fraser, The Weaker Vessel) have argued that this extraordinary (by comparison with other placental mammals) mortality/morbidity is the primary source of women's inferior status throughout history.

    Caesarian sections, antisepsis, and birth control were great strides, but they're just ameliorating the human evolutionary biology of incomplete selection for the ability to bear big-brained babies. I can very comfortably contemplate a world of extra-corporeal incubation, ungendered pregnancy, and other technological interventions to equalize and minimize the burdens of procreating.

    10 votes
    1. corleone
      Link Parent
      Yes, absolutely. I could also see a world in which partners would be able to freely decide which one would bear the child, regardless of gender.

      Yes, absolutely. I could also see a world in which partners would be able to freely decide which one would bear the child, regardless of gender.

      3 votes
  2. [12]
    Arshan
    Link
    I'm always surprised when people are anti-transhumanism. We know science and technology can approxomately double the human lifespan, why would we stop? Who doesn't want to be 30 for a thousand...

    I'm always surprised when people are anti-transhumanism. We know science and technology can approxomately double the human lifespan, why would we stop? Who doesn't want to be 30 for a thousand years? I do disagree with the idea of 'curing death'. All finite things end, and even if you live to be 10,000,000,000 years old, you will still end.

    4 votes
    1. [7]
      Happy_Shredder
      Link Parent
      Under capitalism transhumanism only applies to the rich. The working class will be left behind - or even worse, forced to transform against their will. I don't want to end up in a Morlock/Eloi...

      Under capitalism transhumanism only applies to the rich. The working class will be left behind - or even worse, forced to transform against their will. I don't want to end up in a Morlock/Eloi dystopia.

      11 votes
      1. [6]
        Arshan
        Link Parent
        I do have similar fears, but I will say that my understanding of the current trans-humanist movement is that it is fairly anarchist. I am worried that as soon as something big happens in...

        I do have similar fears, but I will say that my understanding of the current trans-humanist movement is that it is fairly anarchist. I am worried that as soon as something big happens in trans-humanism that capitalist gold-diggers will swarm it and try and commodify it. Either way, the potential benefits of trans-humanism outweigh my own concerns about its potential misuse; I really would love to be able to live to 1000 years.

        3 votes
        1. [5]
          spctrvl
          Link Parent
          There are definitely some weirdo right wing libertarian types and worse in the transhumanist community already, and prominent ones at that. For everyone that read the Culture novels and got them,...

          There are definitely some weirdo right wing libertarian types and worse in the transhumanist community already, and prominent ones at that. For everyone that read the Culture novels and got them, there's an Elon Musk that clapped and laughed at the funny ships with the funny names while absorbing approximately 0% of the politics, and then you've got actual fascists like Peter Thiel.

          Don't get me wrong, there's definitely an anarchist undercurrent to transhumanism, and it's something that could vastly transform and improve the human condition, but the exact same things could've been said even fifteen years ago about social media, and we all know how that's turned out so far. While I would still call myself a transhumanist as well, I frankly think there's a much more compelling case for pessimism than optimism.

          8 votes
          1. [3]
            skybrian
            Link Parent
            What would it mean to “get” the politics of the Culture novels? They seem morally ambiguous to me. Events happen at such a huge scale that it seems pretty irrelevant to life as we know it....

            What would it mean to “get” the politics of the Culture novels? They seem morally ambiguous to me. Events happen at such a huge scale that it seems pretty irrelevant to life as we know it. Planet-scale atrocities are basically background noise. They are often about bizarre people making bizarre decisions.

            3 votes
            1. [2]
              spctrvl
              Link Parent
              Granted that it isn't particularly heavy handed outside maybe Player of Games or Surface Detail, and the novels are plenty entertaining anyway, but they pretty explicitly embrace and promote a far...

              Granted that it isn't particularly heavy handed outside maybe Player of Games or Surface Detail, and the novels are plenty entertaining anyway, but they pretty explicitly embrace and promote a far left, broadly anarcho-communist worldview. With regard to Musk, he embraces the aesthetic without realizing he'd be a villain in the setting, and would fight tooth and nail against something like the Culture coming about.

              6 votes
              1. skybrian
                Link Parent
                I think the governance of the Culture itself is so far removed from human experience that I don’t see it as advocacy for anything in particular. How much control do the Minds really have? Nobody...

                I think the governance of the Culture itself is so far removed from human experience that I don’t see it as advocacy for anything in particular. How much control do the Minds really have? Nobody knows. They are like the Greek gods, interfering with people’s lives and in other planets’ affairs as they see fit. Their interventions are often coercive and inscrutable. They might very well support Musk if the Minds thought it would work out well in the end.

                I find Use of Weapons, in particular, hard to interpret as leftist. We are given a theory of how civilizations work that excuses just about any atrocity. The ends justify the means, and the ends are unknown to us.

                4 votes
          2. Arshan
            Link Parent
            I was subconsciously just thinking of the body-hacking community. Yes, trans-humanism more generally is more split politically.

            I was subconsciously just thinking of the body-hacking community. Yes, trans-humanism more generally is more split politically.

    2. [4]
      corleone
      (edited )
      Link Parent
      My intuition tells me that living more is not the issue. That is just the extension of something that naturally exists. The cause for aversion are enhancements which fundamentaly alter our modes...

      My intuition tells me that living more is not the issue. That is just the extension of something that naturally exists.

      The cause for aversion are enhancements which fundamentaly alter our modes of existence, how we shape the senses through which we experience reality, and our very identity. Things like neural and/or cybernetic implants, consciousness transference, online brains, virtual worlds, etc.

      And yeah, sure, all finite things must end, but I wouldn't mind living through the end of the Universe...

      5 votes
      1. [3]
        Arshan
        Link Parent
        I never know what people mean when they talk about nature that way. Are beaver dams 'unnatural', are the gigantic ant colonies? We are animals like any other, so all we do is natural, no? I guess...

        I never know what people mean when they talk about nature that way. Are beaver dams 'unnatural', are the gigantic ant colonies? We are animals like any other, so all we do is natural, no?

        I guess I should have been more clear. I do understand the reasons that many people, in particular non-materialists, i.e. technology that directly challenges their world-view. I don't ?internally? understand how someone would have an abstract problem with cybernetics/mind uploading. Sure, if we research them and they have some intrinsic issue, I get; I don't get disliking the idea before the implementation.

        Don't get me wrong, I want to be able to live as long as I want, be that 1000 years or 10 billion years. My point is more that I dislike the framing that some trans-humanists use. It comes off as pseudo-religious, which I personally have issues with.

        3 votes
        1. [2]
          corleone
          (edited )
          Link Parent
          Well beaver dams are just something beavers do. An impressive engineering project, but that's about it. No human is existentially preoccupied, in that sense, with the existence of buildings,...

          Well beaver dams are just something beavers do. An impressive engineering project, but that's about it. No human is existentially preoccupied, in that sense, with the existence of buildings, bridges, or, for completion, human-made dams.

          The better comparison would be "how would you feel about beavers with synthetic arms that allowed them to build a dam in a day, and cybernetic eyes which made it easier to spot structural weaknessess?" LOL.

          I don't think one needs to be concerned with spirituality to pose strong objections to transhumanism! Suppose there was an implant which taught your brain that there's nothing wrong with killing enemy combatants, which made you view them as literal insects, or that you should always obey orders regardless of their moral justification? That would be bad, right?

          1 vote
          1. Arshan
            Link Parent
            I guess I should say this explicitly, but my support is for trans-humanism as the idea that technology can fundamentally transform what being a human means. For me that doesn't actually have a...

            I guess I should say this explicitly, but my support is for trans-humanism as the idea that technology can fundamentally transform what being a human means. For me that doesn't actually have a moral or ethical elements. Of course, there could be bad ways that humans are transformed, i.e. super-soldiers with no empathy. There could also be very good things, making humans live to be 1000 years old and being able to see ultraviolet light. Imagine seeing a new color for the first time and how fucking dope that would be. There can be bad anything, and everything can be misused; however that is not, IN THE ABSTRACT, a reason not to explore and try new things. Trans-humanism, for me, is above any 1 technology and about a movement towards something new.

  3. [18]
    skybrian
    (edited )
    Link
    There is a genre of fun ethical debates along the lines of “what would you do if you had a lot of power.” Maybe it’s “what I would do if I had a billion dollars” or “what would I do if I were...

    There is a genre of fun ethical debates along the lines of “what would you do if you had a lot of power.” Maybe it’s “what I would do if I had a billion dollars” or “what would I do if I were President” but fantasy and science fiction authors come up with more interesting and weirder questions. It’s also part of the appeal of superhero movies. Many stories have an element of power fantasy to them.

    I see transhumanism as a similar sort of thing. People are fantasizing over having powers that they don’t actually have, based on technological advances that haven’t happened yet and might not happen that way at all. I’m generally in favor of progress, but I don’t think there’s much at stake when we imagine what it might be like. If it happens for real the ethical questions will be different, and we probably won’t be the people making the decisions.

    It can be fun to talk about, though.

    3 votes
    1. post_below
      Link Parent
      That's my take too, transhumanism is a fun thought experiment, not something to take seriously. What are we going to do, make laws now based on our currently moral calculations to limit or control...

      That's my take too, transhumanism is a fun thought experiment, not something to take seriously.

      What are we going to do, make laws now based on our currently moral calculations to limit or control technology which hasn't happened yet?

      Future humans won't be deterred by those laws. They'll ignore or change them, provided they even end up being relevant. If augmentation or extended life is available, people are going to do it, it won't matter what anyone thinks about human purity or god's will or whatever else.

      I do think it's interesting to consider how economics would play a part. As with everything else, the best options will be exclusively available to only a small percentage of people. Once those people have their enhancements, they'll start to gatekeep. They'll try to make sure their kids have a competitive advantage. Same story as ever, with better tech.

      Maybe tech upgrades will become one of the motivations to contribute to a future society where all basic needs are met by default. Food, shelter and education are covered for all, but if you want wings, you'll need a side gig.

      3 votes
    2. [16]
      corleone
      (edited )
      Link Parent
      Yeah, kinda. But philosophy is often about exploring the ethical implications of things that are not even close to happening. If they do become real, we'll have a lively debate and rigorous theory...

      Yeah, kinda. But philosophy is often about exploring the ethical implications of things that are not even close to happening. If they do become real, we'll have a lively debate and rigorous theory to guide us already. At that point, transhumanism will become a more immediate problem for politics, science, and engineering.

      So it is a serious pursuit, but a very long term one.

      2 votes
      1. [15]
        skybrian
        Link Parent
        What sort of rigorous theory do you have in mind?

        What sort of rigorous theory do you have in mind?

        1. [14]
          corleone
          Link Parent
          Any good philosopher associated with the analytic tradition is most likely incredibly rigorous, those working on scientific concepts even more so.

          Any good philosopher associated with the analytic tradition is most likely incredibly rigorous, those working on scientific concepts even more so.

          1. [13]
            skybrian
            Link Parent
            From my reading, I’m not sure philosophy works that way when it comes to ethics, but maybe I haven’t read the right things or we have a different idea of rigor.

            From my reading, I’m not sure philosophy works that way when it comes to ethics, but maybe I haven’t read the right things or we have a different idea of rigor.

            1. [12]
              corleone
              Link Parent
              Of course it works. Why wouldn't it?

              Of course it works. Why wouldn't it?

              1. [11]
                skybrian
                Link Parent
                Because philosophy is a field where there have been many elaborate arguments over thousands of years, but little agreement about what’s true. In particular, there are multiple kinds of ethics...

                Because philosophy is a field where there have been many elaborate arguments over thousands of years, but little agreement about what’s true. In particular, there are multiple kinds of ethics (which you can read about in the Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy) but no agreement on which is best. Or at least, that’s my impression.

                You say “of course” but that’s not an argument, and anyway it’s okay to disagree. I was hoping to learn what you had in mind, but if you don’t want to say that’s okay too.

                1 vote
                1. [10]
                  corleone
                  (edited )
                  Link Parent
                  You're correct in your asessment that I didn't really pose an argument, I merely invited you to pose yours, since it seems to me that the premise "philosophy is not rigorous" was the odd one, and...

                  You're correct in your asessment that I didn't really pose an argument, I merely invited you to pose yours, since it seems to me that the premise "philosophy is not rigorous" was the odd one, and it would be more productive to start from it.

                  And well, I did use the word "rigorous", not "scientific" or "exact" ;)

                  Philosophy is just another form of knowledge that is distinct from math and its certainties, that doesn't mean it lacks rigour, method, persuasivenes, and seriousness. It's problems are of another kind.

                  2 votes
                  1. [9]
                    skybrian
                    Link Parent
                    I don’t want to criticize philosophy in general. I didn’t actually say “philosophy is not rigorous” and I wouldn’t use the word “rigor” in this context because it seems rather vague. That’s your...

                    I don’t want to criticize philosophy in general. I didn’t actually say “philosophy is not rigorous” and I wouldn’t use the word “rigor” in this context because it seems rather vague. That’s your word and I was wondering what you meant when you used it.

                    Vagueness is, I think, a big problem in discussions like this one. “Transhumanism” covers a lot of ground. If someone wanted to think about the problems that come from people living longer, for example, it might be better just to talk about longevity. (And even that covers a lot of different medical advances.)

                    2 votes
                    1. [8]
                      corleone
                      Link Parent
                      That meaning I found on Google seems pretty adequate:

                      That meaning I found on Google seems pretty adequate:

                      rigor: the quality of being extremely thorough, exhaustive, or accurate.
                      "his analysis is lacking in rigor

                      1 vote
                      1. [7]
                        skybrian
                        Link Parent
                        And yet, saying that a paper lacks rigor would tell us little about what you think is wrong with it or how it might be improved. That’s okay, it’s just an adjective. One word can only do so much.

                        And yet, saying that a paper lacks rigor would tell us little about what you think is wrong with it or how it might be improved. That’s okay, it’s just an adjective. One word can only do so much.

                        1 vote
                        1. [6]
                          corleone
                          Link Parent
                          Broad terms are awfully useful when dealing with things that are broad, no?

                          Broad terms are awfully useful when dealing with things that are broad, no?

                          1 vote
                          1. [5]
                            skybrian
                            Link Parent
                            I find that discussing examples works better.

                            I find that discussing examples works better.

                            1 vote
                            1. [4]
                              corleone
                              (edited )
                              Link Parent
                              Without broad terms, how would we discuss things that are broad by nature? Notions like nation, love, democracy, science, racism, and life? Sure, I might discuss that specific love, or that...

                              Without broad terms, how would we discuss things that are broad by nature? Notions like nation, love, democracy, science, racism, and life? Sure, I might discuss that specific love, or that specific nation, but then I'm discussing cases, not the common things that unify them or the ideas surrounding.

                              Even when I discuss a single person, that is quite the generalization. Are we talking about young @skybrian or old? Our perceptions of @skybrian, who @skybrian really is, or what they might or should be? Their brain patterns or their golfing skills? Many things can be broader or specific depending on how you look at them. I see no reason to limit ourselves to the strictly specific, otherwise many important discussions would become impossible.

                              2 votes
                              1. [3]
                                skybrian
                                Link Parent
                                (It's looking like we might not get back to transhumanism. I hope you're having fun!) Examples can be very useful for clarifying what you mean. How do you know what a chair is? Clearly it's not...

                                (It's looking like we might not get back to transhumanism. I hope you're having fun!)

                                Examples can be very useful for clarifying what you mean. How do you know what a chair is? Clearly it's not from a definition; it's from seeing lots of chairs and seeing them used. This doesn't mean everyone would agree on edge cases, but that's okay; nothing depends on the edge cases.

                                I believe abstract words should be treated with suspicion because people agree on them less. Is Hungary still a democracy? This isn't a simple question, and people could decide differently based on what they think a democracy is. Discussions using abstract words often degenerate because people have different ideas about what they mean.

                                It's not that such words are entirely useless, but you should be ready to clarify what you mean using other words and not get stuck on one word's specific meaning. It can be useful to temporarily ban a word and see if you can explain what you mean without it. Also, asking for an example is a good strategy to use when you're not sure if you know what someone is talking about.

                                Further reading: an anonymous person writing as @literalbanana on Twitter has written amusingly about problems using abstract nouns in the social sciences, in particular with surveys.

                                David Chapman often writes about the inevitability of nebulosity and how it's often not a problem in practice. There are unenumerable ways to refer to things that are good enough in a specific context. Universal statements tend to be trickier.

                                2 votes
                                1. [2]
                                  corleone
                                  Link Parent
                                  Examples are most certainly useful, I would never dispute that! However, abstraction is required otherwise we would not be able to describe any complex pattern in an actionable way. A computer is...

                                  Examples are most certainly useful, I would never dispute that! However, abstraction is required otherwise we would not be able to describe any complex pattern in an actionable way. A computer is made of many parts, but we describe it as a singular entity. We do the same with our bodies. "I am ill" is way more efficient and accessible than a detailed description of all the processes involved. We do not read words, we read sentences. We do not see colors and shapes: we see cars, clouds, and birds. We do not watch frames, we watch movies. We are synthesis machines. We go from the larger to the specific, not the contrary.

                                  And yeah it is fun to talk about those things. But if you read the above, maybe you'll catch a transhumanist connection?

                                  1 vote
                                  1. skybrian
                                    Link Parent
                                    Certainly some abstractions are useful. I warn against them partly because I also engage in them too much.

                                    Certainly some abstractions are useful. I warn against them partly because I also engage in them too much.

                                    1 vote
  4. corleone
    Link

    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”.

    2 votes
  5. IBArbitrary
    Link
    This is the stuff from Dan Brown's Inferno right.

    This is the stuff from Dan Brown's Inferno right.