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What is “Transhumanism”?

Artwork by Natasha Vita-More
I will only attempt to define it in the broadest terms. First, let me state that I am merely observing this movement. I do not personally endorse or advocate it. I find that I agree with many of its perspectives, but it is far too young a cultural force at this point to judge its intrinsic worth to humanity as whole.

With that disclaimer out of the way, I’ll define “Transhumanism” as a multi-faceted culture phenomenon that basically believes that humanity is evolving in a direction and at a pace that will inevitably lead to a “transformation” of our species. This belief is based upon various technological, political, and ethical changes that are clearly influencing society today. It is also founded upon a few philosophical assumptions:

At our current stage, there is no force “controlling” human evolution greater than humanity itself.

Human potential is virtually limitless when rationally focused, globally motivated, and open to all possibilities.

Ultimately, at least a portion of the human species will transcend itself into a new level of expression and experience. This level is likely to be obtainable within the next few decades in which an unprecedented period of global and societal change will take place. A new form of humanity will emerge.

Transhumanism is expressed in philosophical writings, scientific research, cultural experimentation, and through art. The results of and opinions developed within these diverse endeavors are a mixed bag at the moment. There is no clear, concise direction to Transhumanism. Rather, it is an “ism” in the making. That is one reason I personally find it so interesting and inspiring. Fundamentally, Transhumanism is a belief that our future is happening NOW!

The movement itself seems to have its roots in the 1970’s, perhaps beginning within the art community. But with the coming of such social forces as human cloning, nanotechnology, human rights, cyberspace, and globalcentric thinking (to name but a few), the basic tenets of Transhumanism have rapidly spread to all facets of human life. This perfusion of activity is slowly taking in more and more individuals, organizations are beginning to spring up, and the movement itself is becoming more intertwined with the myriad of progressive scientific, political and other fields that are the essential source of its birth.

I do not personally think Transhumanism can be thought of as a “New Age” phenomenon. While there is a certain “spirituality” about it that I personally find most appealing, it is not about discovering or rediscovering humanity’s “essence” or “innate powers” that have been lost by the crushing advance of the analytical mind. Rather, it takes up the banner of science and reason and runs with it. Instead of seeing modernity as a force in which human beings have lost their way or which created a disenchanted world, Transhumanism seeks to go beyond what is traditionally thought of as “human.” To explore new possibilities of human endeavor and experience that have no precedent in any culture.

Truly, Transhumanists seek to discover the grounds of Nietzsche’s Ubermensch. To forge a new value system, based upon the application of science and reason in the world. Their goals have far reaching implications. But, I think that is the most relevant aspect of Transhumanism. For, I believe, we live on the verge of strange days when, as Marx said, “Everything that is solid melts into air.” If that is the case, Transhumanism might offer us the most open, compassionate, and inspiring means to face the future with vigor instead of fighting it with futility. As such, it could become the key to making sense out of our lives. I will continue to observe it.

NOTE: Nietzsche and Transhumanism have much in common even though there are profound differences between them. For example, the “Will to Power” as Nietzsche meant it is not a Transhuman concept. What some Transhumanists call “Dynamic Optimism” is fundamentally at odds with Nietzsche’s inherent pessimism. Still, I find there is more “spiritual” kinship between the two than not.

Copyright © W. Keith Beason, 1999

Transhuman Links:

The World Transhuman Association
Founded in 1998, this organization seeks to turn Transhumanism "into a mainstream academic discipline."

The Extropy Institute
A subcultural organization within Transhumanism. I highly recommend the work of the group's president Dr. Max More. Check out the "Extropian Principles" and "Ideas" sections for Dr, More's very insightful and inspiring philosophical writings.

Home Page of the Dutch Transhumanist Society.

FAQ - The Transhumanist
A great overview of Transhumanism and related fields including society & politics, Transhumanism & nature, and Transhumanism as a philosphical & cultural viewpoint.

Homo Excelsior Transhuman Magazine
Some good general articles on various aspects of Transhumanism.

Anders Transhuman Page
A very thorough site covering Transhumanism in tremendous depth. Lots of links! Includes sections on the individual, global, cultural, technological, and organizational aspects of the movement.

Nick Bostrom's Home Page
One Transhumanist's page devoted to analytical philosophy and Transhumanist issues.

To the Year 9000: The mysterious person known as "Dark 9" offers a site that is completely trasnhuman in nature. It deals with such diverse topics as immortality, time travel, atheism hyperspace, nanotechnology, existentialism, sci-fi, cryonics, genetics, biotechnology, quantum mechanics, artificial intelligence,logic, cyberspace, and web creation. A wild ride!

Roderick A. Crader-Russell's Home Page: Features transhumanist\philosopher\visionary links to extropianism, transhumanism, cryonics, memetics, smart drugs, life extension, and philosophy.

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