Saturday, December 27, 2008

'transhumanism' in the dictionary

It's taken 50 years, but finally, the words "transhumanism" and "transhumanist" have finally made it to the Oxford English Dictionary. Its definition of transhumanism is: “A belief that the human race can evolve beyond its current limitations, esp. by the use of science and technology.”

For a comparison, the definition that Nick Bostrom, the founder of the World Transhumanist Association, gives in the "Transhumanist FAQ" is given in the following quote:

"Transhumanism is a way of thinking about the future that is based on the premise that the human species in its current form does not represent the end of our development but rather a comparatively early phase. We formally define it as follows:

1. The intellectual and cultural movement that affirms the possibility and desirability of fundamentally improving the human condition through applied reason, especially by developing and making widely available technologies to eliminate aging and to greatly enhance human intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities.

2. The study of the ramifications, promises, and potential dangers of technologies that will enable us to overcome fundamental human limitations, and the related study of the ethical matters involved in developing and using such technologies."

To me it's all good that transhumanism gets more recognition, and the definition actually shows how little people think about such notions. For one thing, it's rather naive to believe that something can evolve while staying stuck to "its current limitations", since evolution per definition is about adapting to overcome limitations and meet the challenges of a different environment. If anybody gave it a thought, he would most likely be a transhumanist according to this definition, so the meaning of the word 'transhumanist' would be nothing more than 'somebody who has thought a little bit about evolution'. Now according to some, technology necessarily leads us away from evolving, and to others it can enhance us while it can also degrade us. I myself am a radical transhumanist in that I believe that every technology, as a cultural uttering of humanity, adds to our evolution. In exploring every bit of the technological landscape, we slowly but naturally and spontaneously learn to uplift our being and humanize our environment so we can come to feel "at home" in it, to use Hegelian terminology. To me even technologies like Hitler's gas
chambers and the H-bomb have contributed to our evolution in showing us more about how a humanized environment would look according to the ideas held by their creators. In externalizing our thoughts into our technologies, we reflect through the lived world, and if there's one thing clear to me about humanity, it's that we can only really learn through experience. Evolution necessarily has periods of chaos, separation, union, and transcendence, as explained by cosmologist S.S. Pope in her search for a holistic philosophy.

To me a definition of transhumanism should also include the reconsideration of the human ontology; a disidentification with the human biological form and reidentification with any other form as a reflection of our new technologized ecologies that we are free to shape. To me, we necessarily are transhumanists, we only need to realize and embrace it, critically but openly.

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