Transhumanism and Healthy Life Extension

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: August 20th 2013.


would not the etheric body the chakras that balance the energy and keep our bodys and mind healthy and balanced help mankind to live longer

Posted by: gerald jagla at August 5th, 2014 8:50 AM

Extending human life beyond traditional norms seems wonderful to an individual, but I fear for the planet and the human race if the technology becomes desired by all people on our globe.
We, as older people, must eventually get out of the workforce, and out of our houses, in order for there to be desirable jobs and places to live for young families.
The human population has grown from one billion in 1800, to two billion in 1927, four billion in 1974, to 8 billion in 2011. This is not sustainable for much longer.

Posted by: Michael Hope at July 16th, 2015 8:18 PM

Well guess what, Michael. People have a right to live long lives, and they shouldn't have to feel compelled to move out of the way for "young families" if they can otherwise be healthy.

Posted by: H at October 27th, 2015 6:03 AM

My two cents: Most of the objections to the pursuit of transhumanism come down to the argument that we have already overrun the earth and life extension/immortality with perpetual youth is a dangerous folly. H.L. Mencken famously said "I refuse to have a battle of wits with an unarmed opponent.". But nevertheless, I will mention the obvious facts: life extension and virtual immortality will always be the sole provenance of those in the first world, where we have long experienced zero or negative population growth. Allow me to expand on this reasoning.

Due to its relatively high cost, which I project to be in the $5K - $10K range within 15 years of the initial singularity, it will simply be too much money for all but the (rapidly dwindling) middle classes. Those in the second, third, fourth and fifth worlds are mainly preoccupied with the daunting tasks of merely surviving. Even in first world nations, inequities in income is huge, so many in those nations will not be able to partake either. The cost is prohibitive.

So it is just privileged people in first world nations where we have long experienced zero population or even, in many cases, negative population growth. There is a statistical and well-established inverse correlation between income, education and size of families, meaning that end users of immortality pose no threat to world resources.

My strong personal belief is that most people will not want to live forever, even if they could afford to do so. Most people already don't know what do to with themselves given their ordinary lifespans! Moreover the psychological dislocation already experienced by older people relative to the times of their youth make it unlikely that they would relish an extension upwards and risk even more psychological discomfort than that which they are already experiencing. Most sensible, ordinary people who are let's say over he age of 50, when asked if they would like to live forever will give you an immediate and emphatic "No!" They already keenly intuit that it wouldn't be pleasant. Only those of unusually high IQ have the temperment and metal to become true chrononauts, for most this is simply not desirable. You think that your loved ones will come with you, but most of them won't want to go and what then? You can take your pets, they don't have say. But if you choose immortality, prepare to say goodbye to everyone, over and over, for the duration. Not so attractive, now, is it? If you can stomach that bitter pill, congratulations, you are an end user.

It is my guess that most of the potential end users will use life extension to give themselves another ten to twenty healthy productive years so they can see a pet project come to fruition, experience their grandkids getting married or completing school and then will happily go their reward. Only the extremely intelligent have any keen desire to live forever, because we know what do do with all that time and aren't afraid of temporal psychological dislocation - a tiny fraction of potential users.

Therefore the objection to nanotechnologically enabled virtual immortality is a chimera.

Posted by: leslie landberg at February 2nd, 2016 1:51 PM

You know, I do think that having a high IQ is a benefit for immortality, mine is higher than average and I hope it nets me extra years. It is true that , but I sometimes wonder whether we confuse High IQ with this mysterious thing called "will" which enables even seemingly dumb people to do great things. I have talked to some smart people and outside of their small life and specialties....they are simply not interested. for me though, the universe is so enormously big and interesting. The longer I live the greater the chance is that I will live to understand and experience the thrill of humans reaching the stars and overcoming the limits of our evolutionary bodies. That doesn't require intelligence but simply a desire to see the future. Many people I know though just don't want to do it and don't want to understand it.

Posted by: Aaron at December 9th, 2017 9:02 PM

I'm totally for life extension, and I appreciate that transhumanists are supporting this as well, but I have a concern with this movement. At least the ones I talked to, seem to be very into augmentation of human body of all kinds. That seems childish wishes, which, if become true, will make our world more dangerous.

Posted by: Vic at May 8th, 2020 10:06 PM

Transhumanism to me is a reasonable ethical goal of extending the same considerations we make of humans to all creatures and sentiences. the bigger problem is that I don't know if humans really get the basics of humanism down as in "don't kill other humans- instead help them out"

Posted by: Aaron Silver-Pell at October 24th, 2022 12:38 PM
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