You may have noticed references to transhumanism and transhumanists in posts here at Fight Aging! What is transhumanism, and how is it relevant to longevity science and the work of extending the healthy human life span? Read on for a short overview: transhumanism in a nutshell.
Transhumanism is a cultural movement and philosophy of action that builds upon humanism, so we should look at humanism first of all. Humanism is an influential, time-honored philosophy that argues for rationality and certain fundamental human rights, freedoms, and responsibilities. Humanist thinkers have for centuries discussed and advocated the existence of humane societies, human cultures built on reason and free inquiry. In terms of addressing everyday life, humanist philosophy attempts to answer questions like "How should we behave toward one another?" or "What is the best way to live within the constraints imposed on us by the human condition?" In essence, humanist thinkers across the ages tell us this:
We're all in the same boat here: by all means work towards your dreams, but be nice to your neighbor and don't tread on anyone's toes.
Like humanism, transhumanism is a philosophy of life and human action: an evolving, much-debated collection of ideas about society, goals, and the best way to live. Transhumanism extends the foundation of humanism by embracing technological progress for the purpose of overcoming the limitations and suffering inherent in the present human condition. Transhumanism is, fundamentally, the idea that humanity can, and should, strive to overcome naturally existing limits in order to attain greater individual choice and capabilities - physically, mentally, and socially. Transhumanist thinkers tell us this:
Humanism is a good start. But while being nice and not treading on toes, the dreams we work towards can include a fleet of better boats for all of us.
As you might imagine, transhumanism as a cultural movement is closely tied to an enthusiasm for ethical, responsible, and rapid technological progress. Progress in science and technology brings greater choice to individuals and adds new options for improving the human condition. This is really nothing new: we humans have been pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps for millennia: fire, farming, steam, bicycles, antibiotics, vaccines, modern dentistry, cell phones, and so forth. Each new invention, and the science that enabled it, allows us to overcome a limitation or a cause of suffering. We can fly where we couldn't before, we can survive diseases that once killed or crippled us, and we can engage in ten thousand new types of entertaining or challenging activities that once upon a time didn't even exist.
Transhumanists take this common sense view of technological progress and look ahead to a future in which far greater and more beneficial advances are possible: modern science and technology can lead to radical improvements in the human condition, and so should be used to this end. If today we enjoy our newfound ability to communicate cheaply across vast distances, for example, then tomorrow we might enjoy the benefits of longevity science, organ regeneration, and aging reversal. These and many other transformative changes that might be produced by new biotechnologies are very plausible, foreseen by scientists around the world, and we should welcome their advent.
Given the emphasis that transhumanist thought places on progress and overcoming the limitations that make life difficult or cause suffering, it is only natural that transhumanists should support longevity science, rejuvenation medicine, and other forms of advanced biotechnology. Aging and age-related disease takes a terrible toll on us all, yet may plausibly be slowed or reversed in the decades ahead. Transhumanism and advocacy for longer, healthier lives have gone hand-in-hand for many writers since the 1980s - and even earlier, before transhumanism acquired its present name. At that time, few people took life extension research seriously and it was very much in the fringe, both in academia and the medical research community.
Most influential transhumanist thinkers have at one time or another written on the subject of extending life through biotechnology, and many have done so extensively. When you read about applied aging research, progress in understanding the genetics of human longevity, and progress towards medicine that can extend the healthy human life span, remember that transhumanists have been advocating greater awareness of - and funding for - this promising field of research for a good many years.
Last updated: December 7th 2010.