I recently had to visit hospital. It was a minor injury, the result of an over-enthusiastic attempt to install a garage door on my own. As the medic ran through my contact details, she inevitably reached the question I resent the most.
It has been nearly eight years since I was happy to answer that question with a cheery “Christian”. Conversion to Christianity was a life changing event for me. It changed my opinions, my behaviour, everything. I did not drink, take drugs, have sex, or if the truth be told, enjoy a single waking moment of my life. Leaving the Church was a much more gradual process, involving very little in the way of bright lights, booming voices, or indeed anything even remotely supernatural. It has been a long slow process.
I decided that the time had finally come to be open about my beliefs. This time, I would not hide behind humour. On reflection, I doubt “No Thanks” was funny, even the first time.
“I’m a Transhumanist”
The medic’s expression froze in a mask horror. Considering the woman’s occupation requires a stoic reaction to people with missing body parts, I found this a little on the strange side.
“That’s not on the list”. She pointed at the screen, and sure enough, Transhumanism was not listed. To the credit of the Hospital, the list was otherwise very complete, including everything from Shinto, through the staples of Islam and Christianity (no fewer that twelve varieties!) to Wicca.
By now, I was less concerned with taking a stand for the forces of truth and good, and more concerned with having something done about the various garage door inflicted wounds on my left hand.
I suggested “Humanism” as an alternative. Transhumanism is after all, a subset of that larger body of thought. It has, of course, been said that you can drop the “ism” from Humanism, and not lose very much in the way of definition. It is at least in the same ball park.
Humanism, was surprisingly, also absent from the near encyclopedic list. It was time for the lowest common denominator.
“How About Atheism?”
Finally, the medic’s teeth unclenched, and her skin began to return to it’s normal colour. Now on firmer ground and presumably back on the script, she finished the paperwork and dispatched me to the treatment room.
As I was waiting to be stitched up, I realised that this woman’s behaviour was not only to be expected, it was probably a good thing. People are scared of the unusual, something which can be a good mental defence mechanism. It’s this aversion to new things which helps to prevent people from finding themselves in a burning stockade along with the new messiah and a few hundred guns.
How then, to explain Transhumanism in simple terms?
Well, Transhumanism is, as I mentioned, a subset of Humanism. All Transhumanists are Humanists too. The reverse is not true. Asking ten humanists their opinion on a subject is a sure-fire way of getting ten completely unique views with scant crossover between them. Most “proper” humanists regard us as being all together too optimistic to be taken seriously.
Humanists believe that there is no god, that this life is all there is, and all the more precious for that. They believe that we are all personally responsible for our actions, good or bad. The twin cop-outs of “The Devil made me do it” and “God was working in my life” do not figure highly in the day to day speech of a Humanist.
As a result of this, they believe that morals are separate from any religious imperative, and that laws derive from the common view of what is “good”, not from divine inspiration. Humanists believe that we can change ourselves for the better, and by working together change our world for the good of all mankind.
As Transhumanists, we share these common beliefs.
What makes us different is a belief in the power of technology to change mankind’s future. We can point to a thousand technologies which have improved the lot of man, and believe that “you ain’t seen nothing yet”
The thing that makes us trans humanists is the belief that we are approaching a point in time where mankind’s evolution will be in our own hands. Knowledge is increasing at an incredible rate, and each new invention changes the world in a tangible way.
Just as the Industrial Revolution changed the world of manual labour forever, and the dawn of the Information Revolution has changed the world of communication, the coming Genetics Revolution will change the future evolution of mankind.
Advanced Genetics will provide us with ways to enhance our bodies and minds, we can become bigger, stronger, faster, smarter. In the words of the Six Million Dollar Man, “We have the technology, we can rebuild him”
The developing field of nanotechnology has the potential to usher in a new golden age of plenty, where complex machinery is fabricated in near miraculous fashion from simple ingredients. We could, in thirty years, have a billion, billion nanobots swirling around our bloodstream, repairing damage. We will be near-immortal, something more than human. We will be transhuman.
In the future of mankind, I might not have to go to the hospital. I could repair the damage to my hand by simply drinking some sugar water. It would certainly sting less.
It’s possible of course, that we are deluding ourselves. Utopian visions are fickle like that. But look at it this way.
We won’t be burning people at the stake if they disagree with us.