Transhumanism: A Dilemma for the 21st Century

This is probably going to be the heaviest blog post I will have written to date, but is something I really feel the urge to talk about.

The 21st century has thrown all manner of problems society’s way so far: proliferation of international terrorism, the overthrowing of Arabic regimes, costly wars in the middle east, the global warming debate, and the greatest challenge to the western capitalist system since the formation of the Soviet Union. Amongst all of these pressing issues something appears to be slipping by under the radar: Transhumanism.

TranshumanismJust what is “Transhumanism” exactly? Why does it merit a spot on the dilemmas of this century?
From what I have gathered Transhumanism is a term used to describe an intellectual movement which seeks to enhance, through technology, the very nature of human kind to the point of perfection. Technologies that can restore lost bodily functions such as eyesight and hearing, that can replace lost limbs, that can slow down or stop one’s aging process entirely, and to even eliminate the necessity for basic human needs such as oxygen and nutrition.

Before I go any further I’d best explain how I, a simple historian-in-training/aspiring teacher, found out about this subject and even why I have a vested interest in it. I’m no scientist and have absolutely no qualifications that entitle me to lecture on this topic in that capacity, what I can do however is analyze the human and societal elements behind the science and try discern where this issue may lead us all if it is left unchecked. I first heard the term “Transhumanism” a few days ago during a lecture about the development of technology throughout history leading up to the modern world. Having never heard the term before I decided to hang back after the lecture and ask the tutor what it meant, what I got was far more than I could have ever bargained for, the stuff of science fiction.
You might think that this is indeed just that, science fiction. So, before you read any further watch these two videos,

The foundations have been well and truly laid for biotechnology to flourish, and those that have received it have undeniably had their lives changed for the better. Allowing the blind to see and allowing amputees to regain the use of limbs through cybernetic prosthesis? I cannot denounce that at all. No, the problem is what happens when merely repairing or curing natural ailments through technology is no longer enough. What happens when people begin replacing their own fully functional limbs and bodies with superior cybernetic alternatives? If studying history has taught me anything it is that whenever a great power is discovered one can be certain that people will do their utmost to use it in order to gain an edge over our fellow man, that is a fundamental human mindset that is here to stay. Who knows, it may have already begun.

Singularity 2Advocates of Transhumanism and biotechnology are also, predominantly, advocates of the theory of evolution. They also believe in overwhelming numbers that humans have reached the zenith of biological evolution, that we have finished evolving as a species and are currently stagnating. This has been championed by scientists such as Raymond Kurzweil, and praised by academics such as Ronald Bailey. Kurzweil also believed that technology advances faster the more that it is researched and the longer that inhibitions are removed from it, best shown in his “Countdown to Singularity”. One does not have to be a scientist to see the theory of Singularity in motion, it’s validity is undeniable.

Want a great example of it in practice? I was born in 1989, a time when public internet was in it’s infancy, when cellphones were the size of bricks, and when wireless voice-recognition technology was not even a gleam in somebody’s eye. Now I can talk to my cellphone and ask it where I can find the best restaurant closest to me, I can find absolutely insane amounts of information and data within mere seconds of a single Google search, and I can talk to people anywhere in the world anywhere I want. All of this was LITERALLY science fiction when I was growing up watching TV shows such as Star Trek: The Next Generation. I have seen, with my own eyes, the absolutely staggering rate that human technology is advancing and we need to get a grip on it. Cybernetic eyes and limbs are only the beginning, I can guarantee you that.

This is not even going into the issue concerning social stratification. What happens when new technologies costing substantial amounts are appearing at a rapid rate? Only the rich of society will be able to afford them. So, what does that mean for the middle, lower, and impoverished classes of society? If the rich man can run faster than you, is stronger than you, and can access more information than you because he has more money than you to afford this technology how on earth can you hope to compete? After all of our progress evolving are we really going to resort to throwing Darwinism at the wall and seeing who sticks? Again, history has taught us that during “good times” such as the zenith of imperialism, the “roaring twenties”, and the dawn of the credit culture social stratification doesn’t concern people because the playing field becomes even. However, when things go sour as it always does stratification becomes a major issue. We saw it happen with the fall of the British empire, we saw it with the Great Depression, and we’re seeing right now with financial credit markets virtually in freefall.

If we fail to control our mad dash to new and greater technology the results could be catastrophic for us as a species as technology can be used to do the biblical work of gods and angels or it can be used to commit sins that would put Lucifer himself to shame.  When people begin “upgrading” their own bodies with technology for the sole purpose of getting ahead of everyone else then the line must be drawn in the sand. Humans have reached the pinnacle of their evolutionary cycle but we still want for more, a trait that we have all had since day one. Who knows, maybe scientists will collectively become our Daedalus… the father of Icarus who watched on in horror as his son flew too close to the sun only to crash into the sea.

12 comments

  1. Atreyu Crimmins · · Reply

    Food for thought, and I hadn’t realised how hungry I was. Thank you for providing such tantalising nourishment.

  2. Astonishing!!! I always question how much fiction will become fact, and the possilities of what Has,Can and will be created and done are potentially limitless.

    1. “Possibilities” auto pre text can be highly annoying!!!! <.<

      Just thought you may like this blog of mine
      sharing my crazy thoughts😉

      http://mvs-inquisitive.blogspot.co.uk/2012/02/science-fiction-realism-and-beyond.html?m=0

  3. Throughout history with the introduction of new technology the fear of the loss or gain of control has always been prevalent. Reading and writing was one particular one where the ability was retained by the church, not taught to the masses so that control was also retained. The Luddites in the early stages of the industrial revolution destroyed machinery to avoid losing their livelihoods. With transhumanisation we cannot deny sight or mobility to those who born without or had it tragically snatched away by war or accident.
    The concern that only rich people will be able to afford superpowers is a natural one but I will give two instances which may serve to allay those fears. Before Henry Ford automobiles were the province of the very rich but once mass production started the luxury become available to increasing numbers of people and are now almost a necessity for everyone.
    The light emitting diode (LED) was incredibly expensive until very recently the automobile industry took them up for lighting and now can be bought for pennies.
    I predict that prosthetics when the expensive development stages and miniaturisation are over, mass production will kick in and the benefit will be felt over the world as the cost reducing.
    I can take your concerns to a higher level in that the utimate goal is to create a computer interface with the human brain to download it’s contents which is essentially are being, soul if you think that way. The contents of a human brain is considered to Circa 12 terabytes and we now have portable external drives of two or more terabytes.
    Then imagine a totally electro mechanical body with a hard drive in the brain and bingo you are done.

    Or better yet, a completely cloned new body free from all defects genetic or otherwise and download to that. Extrapolate that further and have a bank of bodies like rental cars around this world or worlds beyond and transmit the brain files by modem to one of those. The makings of a tele-transporter.

    I am a little older than you born in 1950 and I’m astonished at the advances in my lifetime all of the above would have been science fiction but now we are only a few steps away from what I have postulated. Scary thoughts, but imminently possible, don’t you think?

  4. Thank you for addressing some of these points, I’m glad that other people think about them too. I was out with my Mom last weekend and we got to talking about this subject and how it is concerning. The possibilities are endless, but sometimes I think it would be better to have a limit. This is probably a horrible example, but I’m going to use plastic surgery as an exhibit. In moderation, it can boost the appearance (although I’d never try that because I will earn those wrinkles!) but used excessively it can turn into a disaster. As humans, we struggle with limits and we seem to never know when to stop. If people aren’t using sound judgment… we could have all manner of stuff going on, but like you said – only for the people that can afford it. I have a hard enough time keeping up with technology as it is now, I prefer not to think about all the stuff I’m going to have to learn how to use in the future.

    Maybe all the nerds should move to recreate The Next Generation instead of making a phone that comes equipped with toilet paper too, just ’cause. I’d take starships focused on scientific exploration over a fully functioning microchip in my brain any day.

    Thanks for writing about this, I really enjoyed this post. Scary and fascinating all at once!

  5. interesting article Dale! do you want to become a historian/teacher then instead of a journalist?

    1. Could go either way really, the world’s my oyster!

  6. Equality is perhaps a red herring here – a more pressing issue is control. Any mass market enhancements will be networked and hence human interaction will be determined by mediating technology. This technology will be designed and controlled by a few people. (Cyberspace’s play for control of everything)

  7. […] or a set of shackles if you’re more cynical, all of which aren’t needed anymore. In a recent post of mine I talked about the pressing issue of Transhumanism. Now, keeping that concept in mind let’s […]

  8. For transhumanism to move forward the notion of “wealth” and “inequality” , rich and poor msut go.
    Capitalism is incompatible with this new world. We cannot “grow” indefinitely , nor we cannot ignore everything from social needs to environment concerns for “profits”.
    I this is not addressed as people are reluctant to change or too comfortable ( until they are hit ) in this system i predict some huge social unrest once the upper class becomes truly a different…race.

    1. I agree with you on the Capitalism question, the myth that our system would be ever-lasting has been well and truly busted in recent years.

      The problem is… Capitalism is the best we have at the moment, Communism has been proven untenable and nobody in their right mind would return to Feudalism. It will take an economic/social catastrophe of unmitigated proportions for the world to fully denounce Capitalism and become willing to try something new entirely.

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