June 5th, 2015
By Cristian Barberi
For the entire 20th century there has been a philosophical quest which yearned to go beyond what man is. This quest undoubtedly begins with Nietzsche, the father of the Ubermensch (Overman), and continued until our present day with the various transhumanist movements. Nietzsche’s notorious quote ”Man is something that shall be overcome”, in my opinion, is the starting point of this philosophical outlook.
Unfortunately, over the last 60 years a part of our elite, if not the whole of it, has hijacked the concept of transhumanism by giving licence to a de-humanization process that has been carried out using different technological tools and practices.
The first to use the term was Sir Julian Huxley, Aldous Huxley’s brother, who in 1957 coined the term transhumanism in his essay by the same name. He addressed the topic from an evolutionary perspective, missing the point that transhumanism is not an evolutionary aspect of humankind, because the Theory of Evolution is still a theory that has not yet been conclusively proved even after 160 years; there are equally valid theories such as the one of intelligent design that have as much proof as the theory of evolution, with no records of falsification as in the case of the latter. I have to make this distinction in order to prepare the context in which transhumanism should be framed, that is not in an evolutionary perspective.
Most people are not familiar with this issue because the media, the scientific and the technological community don’t inform the populace about the developments in this field. The foundations of transhumanism in 2015 are many, but the most important are : Cryonics, gene therapy, cybernetics, molecular manufacturing, mind/brain uploading and artificial general intelligence. To the man of the street these terms may sound strange and unfamiliar, but in fact they contain all the possible futures of humankind in their semantic shades. As with all technological advance there can be both a good and a bad application. In the case of transhumanism the possibilities correspond to a new fate for humanity.
Cryonics probably catches the essence of the whole transhumanist philosophy, that is, eternal life. Cryonics is the practice of low-temperature preservation of bodies (human or animal) with the hope that one day there will be the technology to resuscitate the body. Since 1962 cryonics has been applied to many dead people who underwent vitrification, the preservation of the body or part of the body at a temperature of -196°C. Over the years even celebrities have undergone cryopreservation, the most famous of these being Ted Williams, and Timothy Leary (the LSD guru) who had his head frozen.
Molecular manufacturing and MNT (molecular nanotechnology) are other cornerstones of transhumanism, these techniques enable man to create self-repairing organs using nanotechnology, an achievement that could bring humanity to the threshold of an indefinite life-span, perhaps the actual reason why man was created; for what is the point in living 70-80 years and then dying?
Mind uploading is another aspect that would enhance consciousness and awareness, blurring the limits between the biological and the technological; this issue brings us to the next point: cybernetics.
Cybernetics is a major aspect of transhumanism, hearing and vision enhancements, brain-computer interface, metabolic enhancement, artificial muscles, bones and organs, all this will be very difficult to notice once implanted in the human body, the cyborg of the future will look like humans do now, not like sci-fi machines. One of the corporations that is studying and designing transhumanist gadgets is Microsoft, Microsoft Surface is a keyboardless and mouseless form of desk computing that gets impulse from hand gestures and finger tracing. Overtime the gadgets may become so small that they will be easily implanted in the body, all this mind-body enhancement could radically change the economy and probably the tomorrow’s poor will be better off than the today’s wealthiest people.
But for humanity there’s a big “but” to face: the manipulative use of these technologies could enslave humankind in a more effective way than was ever possible in the past. In order to avoid this, the development of a new form of ETHICS is fundamental to address all the paradoxes and issues that will inevitably surface, if we want to keep our hard-fought freedoms intact.