All sources are given at the end of the article.
Transhumanism and Posthumanism
According to Wikipedia, transhumanism is a cultural and intellectual movement that advocates the use of science and technology to improve humans mentally and physically. The idea is to create a transhuman, a stronger human intellectually and physically who lives longer and does not have some of the defects that humans currently have. For many, this is the logical next step in the evolution of our species. What I call defects are rather undesirable aspects of the human condition. For example, diseases, disabilities, old age and even death.
A synonym for the term “transhumanism” would be “human improvement”. The concept is not complicated in itself to understand, but there are some very interesting details that we will deal with in this article.
According to the Humanity+ website transhumanism is defined as follows:
- The promotion of the improvement of the human condition through life-enhancing technologies, with the aim of eliminating ageing and increasing intellectual, physical or psychological capacities.
- The study of the benefits, dangers and ethics of the development and implementation of these technologies.
What changes from my previous definition is this component of studying the dangers, benefits and ethics. Indeed, the subject is controversial and many scientists and philosophers are concerned about the ethics behind the transhumanist projects that are underway. This is a point that I will also come back to in this article.
Transhuman or posthuman?
These two concepts are similar and are often confused. The reason is that they are similar because the transhuman is in fact the transition between a normal human and a posthuman. The definition of the posthuman is not so simple because we do not really know it. A posthuman can simply be a person who improves every day to become a better person in all areas. For example, a human being who is able to control himself in any situation or who is more resistant to disease can already be defined as posthuman. These concepts are relative to the time. Today, humanity is already posthuman in relation to the world a millennium ago. A thousand years from now, humanity will be posthuman in relation to the humans of today.
That’s the rather mild definition of posthuman. Then there are posthumans, as we talk about in science fiction, humans who are half robots. They can also be fully synthetic, which is called AI’s (artificial intelligence). What I’m trying to explain is that the concept of posthuman is simply the fact that a human is, in the future, superior in every way to the human of today. The transhuman is the human of transition between the person of today and the posthuman of tomorrow.
Do not confuse a transhuman with a transhumanist! The transhuman is as explained above a human who transitions in the direction of being superior on the physical and psychological level. The transhumanist is simply a person who adheres to the philosophical concept of transhumanism.
The human potential
The evolution so far
It’s no surprise to you, mankind has gotten a lot better since the beginning of its existence. The improvements have been technological, physical as well as psychological. Nowadays, every human being is aware of his condition, that is, of being conscious of being alive. About 7 million years ago, when the first “man” appeared, it was an animal. Man was a primate and I don’t think that we could differentiate between animals and humans, unlike today. Today, the very difference between an animal and a man is precisely the fact that awareness of one’s condition is extremely more developed in humans than in animals. Man is also aware of the other species around him and what this implies.
The evolution from now on
What does the future hold? This is surely one of the hardest questions to answer these days. Every possible and imaginable scenario cannot be ruled out. Transhumanism highlights scenarios where humans evolve in a good direction without endangering the rest of the planet and humanity. What will we be like in 20 years, 50 years or 100 years? Perhaps humans will have become immortal. Why not? This is called singularity, the moment when each year man will gain one year of life expectancy, which means that in the long run man could live forever. We will come back to this later. The problem with the evolution of mankind is that it can quickly go wrong. One false step and everything can be destroyed. This is also why ethics is an extremely important point of transhumanism as well as always keeping control over what happens.
The evolution of man is exponential. This means that man is still evolving, but above all he is evolving faster and faster. In 7 million years we have evolved to what we are today, but the greatest evolution has taken place during the last 10’000 years. Given the growth of our evolution, it could well be that in 200 years time, man has evolved more than in 7 million years! It’s scary when you think about it. Posthumans, in a few centuries, will live in a world as different from ours as our world is different from millions of years ago.
Thinking about things like that, I have many feelings. The excitement of living in a world that is so incredible and that will become even more incredible extremely quickly. The happiness of being able to have hope in our future. The fear that something will go wrong if this evolution is not controlled. Finally, the disgust that these developments will only be available to the rich minority of the earth, and that it does not, for the moment, improve all developing countries.
What does practice look like?
In this chapter, we will go in search of what is really being done by transhumanists to achieve the objectives I mentioned earlier.
You may be wondering what Google has to do with this story of transhumanists, but it is actually the company that invests the most in this area. First of all, Google invests millions of dollars a day in research. This is of course partly to improve their services by making changes in their algorithms, but not only.
Google is the largest company working on AI’s (artificial intelligence). I remember that a few years ago, Google had launched a project of miniature and intelligent robots that would aim to live inside the human body and solve every problem that occurs inside the human body, such as the beginning of cancer cells that would be destroyed instantly. Maybe it was just a project or an idea they had because I have not found any information about it. It is also possible that the project was not started for ethical reasons.
By 2030, their goal is to be able to transfer his brain to hard drives. This means that all the information in our brains could be stored on a machine in about 15 years’ time. What does that mean? If we don’t believe in the existence of the human soul, it means that our brain is our consciousness and everything that is important in our body. Putting all the information our brain contains on a computer would mean that a human could live in a computer simulation. It sounds crazy, but if you don’t believe in religion or in a higher force than a human, there is no reason why it shouldn’t work.
Ethics in all this? A real problem… which I’ll tell you about in the next chapter.
Observe the nature
By observing the other living species around us, our future becomes much simpler to build. Many of the living animals on our beautiful planet have incredible characteristics that far exceed our understanding of things. It is by studying these characteristics that humanity is improving day by day. This is why the human species is the most impressive and intelligent of all living species on earth. We have this incredible capacity for development and improvement. By watching and observing the world around us, we become better, smarter and more resilient.
A first example? Immortality, Turritopsis Nutricula. This strange name is the name of a species of jellyfish that lives in the Caribbean Sea and is simply immortal. When scientists discovered this jellyfish, it came as a shock to the scientific world because if an animal on earth is immortal, we can understand why and possibly extend the life span of man by several years. The incredible faculty of this jellyfish is to be able to renew these cells as much as it wants until it returns to the juvenile stage. It can regenerate these cells when it is stressed or even injured and this regeneration potential seems infinite!
Another example? The Stormatopoda or Mantis shrimp is the animal of all records. Let’s start with its eyes. The human eye has three types of cones to distinguish colours, the dog, for example, has only two. This means that the dog is colour blind compared to a normal human being. Well the praying mantis shrimp has 16! Yes, 16 different types of cones. That means it can detect ultraviolet light for example, which we can’t. Usefulness? Scientists have developed a camera to be able to detect a patient’s cancer cells using this shrimp as a model. This shrimp is also impressive and useful to mankind because of its hunting method. It is a striking species, which means that it uses its appendages to break seafood such as crabs. What’s impressive is that its “hammer”, when it throws it, has the acceleration of a rifle bullet. It’s a six-inch maximum, but it could break your arm. In fact, with its strength, it can destroy an armored tank glass. When it fires its hammer, an air bubble forms around it, which is a super-cavitation bubble. Super-cavitation has been studied to make torpedoes that go at an incredible speed underwater because they move in an air bubble.
Elon Musk and his futuristic projects
Elon Musk is known for companies like Tesla and SpaceX that are a real revolution in the automotive and aerospace industry. They are obviously companies that shape our future and that bring such a technological evolution that we can qualify them as transhumanists. In this article, I want to tell you about another company of Elon Musk which is clearly above the others in terms of its contribution to transhumanism. This start-up is called Neuralink and I could tell you about it for hours but I will try to keep it short and simple.
The evolution of our civilization has always been possible thanks to the communication between human beings and the preservation of its information over the generations. All our evolution in the technological sense and not in the biological sense has been through communication, both written and oral. What is the problem with that? It’s slow. It’s extremely slow to communicate with someone or read a book compared to the amount of information our brains can receive per second. To take the test, take an informative video on youtube and watch it at a speed of x2. You will be impressed how easily you still understand the meaning of what you are watching. What’s more, oral communication is complicated to translate into pure, hard information by our brain. It is again something that takes time and is not productive. So Elon Musk and his associates thought, “How can we reduce this communication time to a minimum? “. And then an idea came to them: “What if our brains communicated with each other directly rather than through speech? “.
To sum up: A system that allows humans to communicate with each other without speech, by “thinking”. It’s pretty futuristic and you have to tell yourself it’s nonsense. However, maybe that’s what we’re waiting for in the future, to have a chip in the brain that allows us to communicate through thought. If we put ethics aside, which we often do when we talk about transhumanism, the advantages are incredible! Instead of a one-hour conversation with one person, all the information can be communicated in a few minutes. If you are really interested in this subject, I advise you to read the article of the super American blog WaitButWhy of which I am a fan and on which I discovered this startup.
What about ethics in all this?
This is perhaps the most important point of transhumanism. Everything I’ve told you sounds fabulous and has put stars in your eyes, but is it morally feasible? Wouldn’t the transhumanist movement be pure madness that leads humanity to its end rather than to the next stage of evolution? I will try to answer these questions as best I can in this chapter.
The religious point of view
The vast majority of transhumanists are atheists because there are many conflicts between a religious and a transhumanist current of thought. The first is the opinion on the soul. Being religious, one believes in the concept of the soul and that the human being is not only a brain and a body but that he also has this spiritual dimension. On the transhumanist side, man is a machine, a tool, guided by the brain and his consciousness could therefore be preserved in a computer simulation. Religious criticism comes mainly from the fact that transhumanism does not offer any eternal truth or relationship with the divine, which would leave humanity in a bad position.
What if something goes wrong?
Without real control over the research and technologies developed, some experiments could go wrong. I’m thinking mainly of the artificial intelligences that are already ubiquitous today in cars, smartphones and kitchens. At the moment, AI’s are not dangerous because they are not very adaptable. The day a robot has the means to really understand what is going on around it and to adapt, like a human, to this environment, its creators will have to have programmed it well so that it does not turn against us. This may seem absurd, but it is not to be taken lightly.
A loss of human values
The fear of losing humanity by becoming posthuman is a problem that needs to be addressed. What defines our species? What makes us different from A.I.’s? It’s called humanity, but it’s not that simple to define. It’s a combination of compassion and understanding. The best way to understand what it means to have humanity is by example.
I found a very interesting example in the Game of thrones series. For those who don’t know, it’s the war between different people to be king or queen. Daenerys, known for his dragons, arrives in Westeros (the continent), and has enough military strength to crush Cersei Lannister, the current tyrant. Daenerys could attack the capital with his dragons and army. She could reduce the city to ashes and save years of war and thousands of lives on the field of future battles. The price? The civilians living in the capital would surely die in the attack on the city. What can be done? Save soldiers and years of war by sacrificing civilians or wait and hope for another solution in the future? In the series, there are many other details that tip the balance, but in the end, this is the dilemma. Humanity dictates to the human to save each human and this queen who could crush this city and end the war decides to abstain.
What would happen if, in the future, man merged with the machine and lost his humanity? I don’t know, but there are many good scenarios and many bad ones. Is it worth the risk? I don’t think I can answer that question, everyone has to make up their own mind.
In my articles, I give advice, information and help. This is the case again. I don’t want to make you take one side or the other but just to make you aware that transhumanism and posthumanism are currents of thought that exist.
As for posthumanism, I understand that many people, firstly, do not think that it is possible and, secondly, that it is not a good idea at all. But if we think about transhumanism and continuous improvement, there is no ethical problem in wanting to improve day by day and it is even a necessity. Even if you study for a long time, you should not stop learning and training at these 30 years. The world is interesting and has a lot to learn by observing it.
Returning to posthumanism, I personally think that it is a good thing, but we must be careful to control our technological advances so that they do not turn against us.
Thank you for reading this article and don’t hesitate to read others on my blog.
See you soon