Thursday, October 23, 2008
The quietude of the floral retreat that is Thought Experiments was disturbed yesterday by a noisy debate breaking out on the matter of transhumanism. The entire population of America flooded into our garden, all because of a link from Andrew Sullivan's mighty uber-blog.
So, to continue the debate - transhumanism is a utopian project and it is, in this light, that it should be assessed. Every age has one or many utopian projects. All fail, often leaving behind a pile of corpses. Transhumanism may seem more firmly based as it relies on science and technology which, alone in human affairs, do show signs of progress. Our accelerating power to transform the world will, inevitably, give us the power to transform ourselves. All sorts of enhancements will occur, not least enormously increased life span. This may not be possible but there are good reasons for thinking it will be.
Transhumanists may claim a social, political and moral neutrality that distinguishes them from previous utopians. In fact, this is, in part, a consumerist idea - you buy medical immortality much as you would buy a pair of shoes. More importantly, it becomes absurd as soon as you imagine its application in the real world. Many religious people might accept it - I've met a few Christian transhumanists - but more won't. To most Muslims, for example, this will be a very ideological project, one based on western values. In other words, the apparent simplicity of the transhumanist ideal is an illusion. It is based on a facile idea of what people are and what they want and on the assumption that this one project, unlike all others, need not cause fundamental conflict.
Also it is irrational to think humans can stand outside themselves in order to produce a better human. What would he/she be like - Bill Gates, Wallace Stevens or Mother Theresa? We may talk of increased intelligence (though there is currently no consensus on what intelligence is) but without any idea of how it would be used. Furthermore, as Brit so wisely points out in his comments on the previous post, transhumanists ideas of the self turn out to be incoherent. Transhumanists say they can fix that, but they offer to do so by changing me into something that is not me. I will be killed and replaced by another being they will call, for the sake of argument, Bryan Appleyard. He will be an imposter.
In short, humans are fallen and, given our record, the first transhuman creation will probably be a better soldier, perhaps more able to withstand torture. Or, of course, an empty, grinning creature, made happy by the buying of shoes. Oh no, they're already here.
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 5:26 am