Transhumanism and the Future of Our Species

Transhumanism is the movement that advocates for improving humanity through technology. In this article, I elaborate on its history, proponents, and socio-political implications.

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By Daniel He

Superhumans and cyborgs have been objects of fiction for a long time, but humanity is steadily blurring the line between the possible and impossible. Transhumanism is a movement that hopes to improve humanity through technological and medical innovations. It is a hot topic, with many people questioning its origins, moral implications, and future impact on our development as a species.

Philosopher Nick Bostrom argues that this school of thought has its roots in the Age of Enlightenment. Transhumanists tend to glorify scientific inquiry, which was spread by the ideas of the Enlightenment. The views of the liberal, utilitarian thinker John Stuart Mill also influenced transhumanism in how his ideas are present in transhumanism’s emphasis on individual liberties and concern for the welfare of all humans.

Additionally, Bostrom believes that the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s doctrine of “der Übermensch”—Nietzsche’s ideal for the man of the future—played some role in shaping transhumanist thought. Nietzsche postulated that the Übermensch would overcome the limitations of man and become something greater. Though Nietzsche was referring to a moral revolution rather than a technological one, the parallel with modern transhumanism is evident.

Recent advancements in technology and medicine have radically transformed human lives, feeding into the predictions of transhumanists. In a study published in 2021, Pew Research determined that smartphone ownership has grown from 35 percent to 85 percent in the past decade. Furthermore, medical technology is now shaping health more than ever before, with Statista—a company that specializes in market data—valuing the global medical technology market at $523.5 billion in 2022. Transhumanists contend that this technological progress will continue to be a net positive for humanity. For instance, futurist Ray Kurzweil claims that nanotechnology will be used to enhance brain function by as early as the 2030s.

One particular goal of transhumanism is life extension. Though there are transhumanists who do not cling to the idea of living forever, a large subset of transhumanists refer to themselves as “immortalists.” Immortality is an unrealistic goal for most people, but immortalists believe that it is achievable.

A point of interest for immortalism is cryonics, which involves freezing people after they die so that they can be resurrected when humanity becomes sufficiently advanced. Cryonics has provoked philosophical dialogue about the meaning of “death.” Current ideas include clinical death and information-theoretic death. Clinical death—the traditional definition of death—occurs when the heart stops beating and breathing ceases. On the other hand, information-theoretic death involves the complete destruction of brain function. Information-theoretic death makes resurrection impossible even in the minds of cryonics advocates. It is worth noting that some immortalists even reject the second law of thermodynamics. If the entropy of the universe is bound to increase over time, then true immortality would be impossible. Though rejecting this fundamental law of physics seems outlandish to many scientists, immortalists are optimistic enough to stick to their beliefs.

Another major aim of transhumanism is merging human beings with technology. Mind uploading involves the complete simulation of human consciousness on a computer. This is often associated with immortalism because it would mean the individual lives on in a digital form even after biological death. With mind uploading, we would gain unprecedented abilities. Current virtual reality (VR) is only a glimpse of the possibilities that mind uploading could grant.

On the other hand, there are severe critics of transhumanism. One common argument against transhumanism is that it assumes technological progress will be the solution to the ills of society. While people like Kurzweil assume that new inventions will be beneficial to people as a whole, they overlook the serious economic disparity between wealthy and poor people. The advent of nanobots—the tiny medical devices that Kurzweil hopes for—will likely exacerbate inequality because the technology will be in the hands of the wealthy before becoming more affordable.

In fact, the term “transhumanism” was first popularized by biologist, philosopher, and eugenicist Julian Huxley in an essay published in 1967. Huxley and wanted to genetically control human populations by restricting who is allowed to reproduce to achieve “racial purity” in society. Considering that the fundamental tenet of transhumanism is the acceptance of technological advancement, Huxley’s opinions beg the question: under whose supervision is the technological advancement occurring? If those in positions of power share the views of Huxley, the result is bound to be unethical and oppressive.

The debate continues over the implications of transhumanism because, quite frankly, we don’t have any definite answers right now. Ultimately, these ideas and beliefs will unfold many years in the future. Transhumanism in its current form could either be a lost cause or could anticipate a new era for our species, but the fate of humanity is yet to be seen.