The Transhuman Express

Discussion in 'Religion & Philosophy' started by Spinoza99, Nov 5, 2016.

  1. Spinoza99

    Spinoza99 Member

    Sep 2015
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    A commitment to progress, in one form or another, has been a staple of Western culture since the Enlightenment.

    However some scholars, especially those of a postmodern stripe, have been unimpressed by this commitment. The view of these scholars has been more circumspect, more world weary. Many have objected to the definition of, or even the very notion of, progress. Others have acknowledged technological advance, but taken a dim view of humans’ capacity to change their own character.

    I admit to falling (mostly) within that latter camp. But the issue of technological versus character change has acquired complications in the twenty-first century. Now it seems likely that technology will be turned back relentlessly on character itself. Humans intend to pull themselves up by their boot straps. They have radical plans. Genetic engineering. Digital implants. Things not yet imagined.

    The fundamental optimism of the eighteenth century may thus come to fruition in unimagined ways. In fact the oft maligned Enlightenment may yet have its delayed revenge. It may amount to much more than simply changes in religion, science, and politics. It may become the alteration of human beings into something different.

    Tools that significantly change the biology of our humanity also, inevitably, change its nature. Genetic engineering, when aggressive, starts down a path toward increasing deviations from our biological norm. Digital implants, by definition, steer that norm out of the biological altogether. The cumulative effect of such changes, and others not yet envisioned, may yet make us new to ourselves.

    The progress we experience in the coming decades may involve much more than merely, say, our speed of cognitive processing or our resistance to disease. At a certain point it may start to involve a significantly different quality of ongoing experience, a different phenomenology. In an experiential sense we may become other.

    Of course the ultimate effect of any given alteration is difficult to predict. Also difficult is drawing the line on what we consider “human” in the first place. If we introduce a gene that reduces aggression in human males by 20%, are they no longer human males? That conclusion seems a bit rigid. But if we find a way to introduce into humans significant amounts of dolphin DNA? That’s a seahorse of a different color.

    We may be on trajectory to “transcend” ourselves, but whether or not that is desirable is a separate matter. Ultimately shaping this project of self-directed evolution will be our values, our conceptions of the desirable. Thus there is likely to be considerable debate over each new technique in the so-called “transhuman” scenario. And throughout it all will be continuing controversy about the wisdom of any such project in the first place.

    But make no mistake, debate or not, the transhuman express has left the station.

    It will come as no surprise if the economic turns out to have more impact than the ethical. Wealthier individuals, and their descendants, will have more access to transhuman technology than the less wealthy. This could well be a force for even greater economic inequality, in a circle of one advantage leading to another.

    I view the dawn of our radical transformation with some hesitance. But not just because of political and moral complexity.

    There is a familiar wish of older persons: to be transported back to their youth but retain the wisdom of age. An understandable wish, perhaps, but also an unintentionally suicidal one. If our memories and wisdom were somehow integrated into our youthful bodies, the resulting interaction would no longer be “us”. Not even close, I suspect. In an experiential sense we would have died.

    Transhumanist visions incur a similar risk. But of course some proponents would not label it a risk; their point, after all, is the significant alteration of humans. So ultimately my objection may be reducible to nostalgia. I don’t want the fundamental functioning of the human brain to be greatly altered. I would miss the old brain, warts and all. I want it to go on living.

    But I doubt nostalgia will stop the transhuman express.

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