Transhumanism

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by wakarimasen, Feb 2, 2016.

  1. wakarimasen

    wakarimasen Full Member

    Hello folks...

    So. My cousin and I are having a chat about transhumanism (he's trying to persuade some people to let him do his phd on it).

    Anyone want to chime in with what Transhumanism means to them? Even if its just a general feeling from sci-fi books. Also anyone have any feelings on what Transhumanism might mean for the body?

    Let's see what this slippery word actually makes people think of...
     
  2. bzipitidoo

    bzipitidoo Full Member

    Transhumanism is a fancy pants sort of word for that natural phenomenon we call evolution. Life has been on a billions of years long journey of evolution. Yet we hardly think about it and what that means. Evolution didn't suddenly stop with our arrival. To the contrary, it's going faster thanks to the radical changes we've made to the world in a geologic blink of an eye. We are not an exception to this process. We are evolving at a furious rate. And rather than being afraid of were we might be going, we ought to hope it happens fast enough to save us from ourselves. Our own stupidity and greed is one of the biggest dangers we face.

    Just what evolutionary changes we will undergo, now that's very hard to predict. I'm thinking we'll become mental cyborgs. Our brains will be enhanced with computational abilities. The personal computer will get a whole lot more personal, become integrated with our brains. We're also to the point where we have some ideas of what optimizations evolution missed. For instance, we have forward bending knees and muscles in our legs. Bird legs may be better. Our backs are better suited for a 4 legged life. We can't change that, yet, but a century or two from now, maybe we can.

    But those kinds of changes are grossly obvious bodily changes. What will come sooner, must come sooner, is behavioral changes. We've evolved to become much more mild mannered. But people still feel and act upon anger that is greatly harmful to themselves. Why were millions wiling to fight and risk death in unnecessary wars up through WWII? Now of course, we can't let anger and fear get so out of hand that we launch the nukes, or we might not survive the devastation.
     
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  3. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    I have a different impression of what constitutes transhumanism. I see some of what you're talking about as behavioural changes, cultural or social, due to outside factors. Some of these factors can be due to technology, other not.

    I agree that transhumanism is a process that started out very early with homo sapiens or the more modern homo sapiens sapiens. It would have started with the discovery of making fire and also with the advent of writing. Both are technologies. I'm not sure if I'd consider speech a technology per se. Most living organisms have developed systems of communication naturally through evolution. But transhumanism for me is specifically using technology, a domain mutually exclusive with that of nature, to make life for humans easier by performing tasks more efficiently, or by performing tasks they couldn't before. Or just to make life plain different, weird and experimental for the fun or exploratory nature of it.

    We're definitely moving down the cyborg path. There are already people walking around with embedded chips with which they use to make payments, for example. It's very crude, but more sophisticated processes are going to be developed. If nanotechnology can be properly harnessed, then that's going to be a huge boon to the human race (caveat being the simultaneously more harmful efforts it can be directed towards, like all things).

    Definitely that these technological changes and their applications to humans or by humans will cause behavioural and cultural changes. And it's a sort of evolution, but it's a cultural and technological kind, not natural.
     
  4. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Administrator Staff Member

    The way I view it, evolution is prompted by the environment as a biological response to best adapt and hence increase the survival chances.
    I understand transhumanism as those technological changes devised and performed for mankind by mankind. It is perhaps an artificial, fast forward evolutionary process if you wish.

    I wouldn't consider speech as a technological component either. It is the verbal facet of human behavior.
     
  5. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    Right, it definitely has to have an artificial, technological point of origin. I mean, that proto-human realising the use of a bone as a weapon in 2001: A Space Odyssey would be the first transhumanist step, I suppose. Using artificially engineered drugs to enhance mental and physical capabilities is part of the transhumanist phenomenon. Would natural drugs qualify? Even animals are known to consume plants or fruit that have a drug-like effect on them. Humans do it consciously - either as a form of entertainment, pain relief, or to experience mystical states. So, does the intent count when using drugs in their most natural form?
     
  6. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Administrator Staff Member

    I wouldn't personally consider tools as part of transhumanism as they are not an intrinsic part of a person. Therefore tools are not controlled, wittingly or unwittingly, by a neurological response.
    As long those drug-induced effects remain as a permanent feature of the person, then I guess yes. Otherwise, it would be a transitional side effect and non-inherent to mankind.
    Now, evolution is a genetic concept, transmitted generation after generation. Would transhumanism require to be also genetic, even though those changes have been technologically and artificially prompted? I'm thinking of O Butler's Xenogenesis Trilogy...
     
    Last edited: May 3, 2017
  7. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    I see your point. You're saying that transhumanism involves the specific merging of technology with the human body. And I think many would agree (me, too).

    But I feel that tools and implements, more broadly, can also qualify, because they help perform tasks better or help perform tasks that weren't possible before. The merging of tools and biology is the next logical step. Take prosthetics...currently, you can put them on to perform a task and then take them off again. Athletes missing legs can now compete in competitions with prosthetics that they couldn't before. And now, there are significant advances in prosthetic technology where the artificial limb is more securely...I guess...'welded'?...onto a stump, say, an arm, and individuals are able to control finger movements based on existing nerve impulses which crossover from the biological aspect to the mechanical one. That's getting into proper cyborg territory. But the more simple, removable prosthetic I would also consider part of the transhumanist process, even though it's not permanently fixed onto the body and neither neurologically controlled.

    I guess what I'm saying is that in its broadest sense, transhumanism is the use of tools and technology that aids a baseline human. More specifically and especially how it's presented in a lot of science fiction, it's the merging of the technological and the biological. Cyberpunk is fixated on that. It's the underlying premise, and specifically for the information age.

    Definitely. I would consider all genetic meddling or modifications to be a transhumanist endeavour.
     
  8. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Administrator Staff Member

    I wouldn't know from a SF Cyberpunk point of view.

    I’m struggling with this because the way I understand transhumanism implies a transformation in positive of some sort. For me, a simple prosthetic would be a compensating element: you substitute one missing limb for a prosthetic one. In a way, it levels up, it doesn’t add on.
    Now, let’s say a prosthetic leg were a special one, which by being part of a person's physiology, would allow that person to achieve something extraordinary that a normal limb wouldn’t, for example running much faster. In that case a real transformation would have taken place.
    I guess one can look at this topic from many different points of view.
    I remember a very old uncle of mine, a war survival, with false teeth, a glass eye and a prosthetic leg. I can't hardly think of him as a cyborgtranshuman. Maybe a prehistoric prototype…
     
  9. bzipitidoo

    bzipitidoo Full Member

    Where is the line between artificial and natural?

    Two "unnatural" things we did long, long ago that changed us are fire and clothing. By comparison, agriculture is relatively recent.

    Cook fires go back over 100,000 years. Cooking breaks down food, making it easier to digest. Our guts didn't need to be as long to handle this new diet, and soon, evolutionary processes shrank them. Now if it's possible at all, it would be extremely hard for a human to survive on raw foods alone. Probably could not get enough protein.

    Clothes of course enabled us to live in much colder climates. It may not be possible to live in Stone Age Europe without them, and if it is possible, it would be far harder. The peoples who moved into Europe evolved much lighter skin, to compensate for the reduced sunlight. It could be argued that clothes aren't unique to humans, with for instance the existence of animals that take up shelter in disacrded snail shells, but those are far cruder uses. No other animal can make clothing that comes anywhere close to the sophistication of Stone Age furs.

    Thanks to cook fires and clothes, are we already transhuman, and don't realize it?

    > Now, let’s say a prosthetic leg were a special one, which by being part of a person's physiology, would allow that person to achieve something extraordinary that a normal limb wouldn’t, for example running much faster.

    Blades such as those used by Oscar Pistorias may allow exactly that.

    As another example, ever compared swimming with and without fins? First time I tried swimming fins, I was surprised at the huge difference. A person can swim far, far faster with fins. Anyone serious about using swimming as a means of travel simply must use fins.
     
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  10. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Administrator Staff Member

    Good food for thought. I have been brooding over this while stuck in Monday morning traffic.

    As I work in education focusing greatly on teaching and correcting behavior, I tend to look at things from this point of view. I also think we understand the concept of transhumanism and its parameters differently, so hence our different views.
    If I understood you correctly, events such as controlling fire and resorting to creating pieces of clothing would be, in that context, antecedents to transhumanism or even transhumanism itself. For me, it would imply more a behavioral respond from observing and inferring from the environment, because transhumanism, in my opinion, would imply creating a much-improved version of a person by implanting cognitive, emotional and physical abilities through biological and/or technological modifications. These modifications would need to be permanent and inherent to the person.

    It is like with superheroes, what it takes them apart is their extraordinary, inherent abilities, not so much the exotic paraphernalia they might use. Almost anyone can carry a few extra, cool tools and a wear a pair of colourful tights, but it wouldn’t be the same, would it...?
     
  11. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    Yeah, those are exactly the kind of prosthetics I was thinking about when I initially mentioned them. It's safe to assume that prosthetics will increasingly have many qualities and features that will be superior to original biological limbs as technology becomes substantially advanced.

    By the way, some good SF to check out with a strong transhuman focus would be Frederic Pohl's Man Plus and the various Revelation Space works of Alastair Reynolds. Iain Banks' Culture works also, but there the transhuman elements and its post-human end result is taken to a much higher, more subtle and, for all intents and purposes, a magical level, where the idea of transhumanism has been completely normalised. For truer, more realistic iterations (from a current standpoint of understanding), Pohl and Reynolds are better. Also Arthur C. Clarke's novella Meeting with Medusa.

    I'll respond next time to some of the other points raised.
     
  12. irrlicht

    irrlicht Regular Member

    Kind of a strange point to make, but in order to discuss transhumanism, the question of what actually is a baseline human is interesting, not just from what tools we use. European and Asian populations carry a big enough percentage of neanderthal DNA to manifest in certain traits that might not have evolved with homo sapiens at all. Freckles, for example. In a way, any genetic heritage that is not purely African is already transhuman in a small way.

    In a more traditional sense, I am not sure extensive cybernetic modification will become a thing anytime soon. Or at least it will never be a cutting-edge thing for the people who do it, since it would be exceedingly difficult and expensive to upgrade physically implanted hardware. Not to mention software upgrades and hacking concerns with old hardware. In this sense, something like Google Glass will probably always be more convenient than an implanted cybernetic eye or some kind of brain augmentation. I believe accessibility of technological implants will be much more important than integration into the body, so anything that isn't a limb or something that sits on top of the skin is likely going to remain in the realm of rich enthusiasts for quite some time.
     
  13. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Administrator Staff Member

    Let's suppose, they become a real possibility, which ones do you think would be most popular? Which one would you personally go for and have implanted? Would you be more tempted by a cognitive, emotional or physical enhancement?
     
  14. irrlicht

    irrlicht Regular Member

    That's a good question. I think I would tend towards cognitive enhancement, but then there's the risk that that will render all of my hobbies and friends boring. Perhaps that in combination with emotional enhancement, so I can get more joy out of what I like to do. How about you?
     
  15. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Administrator Staff Member

    Definitely a cognitive one, such as logic & reasoning and processing speed. Then again, delaying the effect of an aging body would be sooo nice too….
    Transhumanism implies in itself a transformation; so if we went down that route, we might have to challenge ourselves with trickier hobbies and find cleverer mates.
     
  16. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    I would go for both cognitive and physical enhancement! Why limit yourself? If push comes to shove, I'll go for congnitive, but I think the core mandate of transhumanism is to evolve beyond the physical parameters or limitations of baseline, unaugmented humans, so why shouldn't it be possible to do both simultaneously? And conquering death, or at least delaying it as much as possible, is a primary goal of the transhuman ethos. Either prolonging life physically, or translating/embedding consciousness onto other, more durable physical strata.
     
  17. irrlicht

    irrlicht Regular Member

    I think physical augmentation might be harder to bear. Some people regret getting tattoos, how much would they regret replacing their arms and legs?
    If the technology were to mimic human flesh closely, it would hardly be transhumanist.
     
  18. Tiran

    Tiran Well-Known Member

    I don't think there are a lot of limits on what counts as transhuman - it certainly doesn't need to be coded in genes or permanently grafted. If a technological hat could grant a higher form of consciousness while worn, that would be as transhuman as anything else.

    In the more physical realm, a replacement or additional body part would have to impart a new type of ability, rather than just an exaggeration of a what the body already does. A new 'eye' that allows one to see AND understand other spectra, for instance. Or a limb that has 'fingers' fine enough to interact with cells. Simply being stronger or faster alone isn't transhuman unless moving that way actually changes the perception of life.
     
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  19. hrafnwasser

    hrafnwasser Well-Known Member

    I wonder, and I'm not altogether certain about this, if it possible to regard all examples of the "extended phenotype" as "transhumanist". From the perspective of a mesolithic human could a mediaeval scholar be seen as Transhuman"; the ability to record the spoken word and allow that to be transmitted over long distances would seem as a completely new ability? Mediaeval buildings, from the lowliest house to incredible cathedrals, temples, mosques would surely seem like the work of superhumans at the very least. The life span of humans would surely seems extraordinary, perhaps supernatural. Certainly all these examples have radically changed cognitive lives and perceptions, if not emotional intelligence.
    I think my question is to what extent is transhumanism a reflection of our temporal understanding of what it is to be human?
     
  20. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Administrator Staff Member

    Very interesting point. I don’t know the first thing about personal genetics, but if we agree that phenotypes are influenced by both your genotype and by the unique circumstances of how you have spent your life, including all events that have happened to you (nature/nurture elements combined type of thing), then would phenotypes be considered more of a natural and personal evolution? Wouldn’t transhumanism mean a more radical and dramatic change due to technological implants inherent to the individual?

    In this thread, there are some comments that follow your line of thought. I guess it the end it depends entirely on your definition of transhumanism. We have been going circles discussing this topic for a while now.;)

    I have come across this article which explains the concept of transhumanism, as well as the differences between a transhuman and a posthuman. Maybe this article triggers further discussion: it is fun...!
     
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