Building medical technologies to repair and reverse degenerative aging is one part of a much broader set of transhumanist ideals: aging is only one of many current limits on the human condition that we can work to transcend through applied technology. It is a very important one, far and away the most important one in my opinion, but still one among many. Transhumanism exists as a named brand of thought and vision that some see as being separate from simple common sense about technology (i.e. use it to make things better) because we are moving, quite rapidly, from an age in which we could only crudely change ourselves into an age where the sky is the limit in terms of changing our biology and our minds. To some eyes there is a line in the sand somewhere past our present medical technology and somewhere before being able to regrow limbs, reverse aging, or build artificial intelligences.
Yet I think we've all seen that line shift ever forward as medicine and other technologies advance. Yesterday's uproar over any specific biotechnology is today's acceptance (take stem cell research as a recent line item, for example). It is a grand flaw in the human condition that people fight so much against all that is new, even while taking full advantage of the benefits provided by everything their parents fought against. It's dumb behavior. It slows things down - and in the case of finding ways to treat and ultimately cure degenerative aging, that has a staggering cost in lives and suffering.
With the publicity for a new book on transhumanist thought, I noticed a couple of interviews and articles emerge from the community in recent days. A few links follow, starting with some thoughts on opposition to transhumanist goals. These follow much the same script as opposition to the idea of extending healthy human life; a whole lot of misconceptions and a bunch of stubborn, misplaced idealism.
Asserting that only death can give life meaning is another bizarre contradiction, and, moreover, a claim that life can have no intrinsic value or meaning qua life. It is sad indeed to think that some people do not see how they could enjoy life, pursue goals, and accumulate values in the absence of the imminent threat of their own oblivion. Clearly, this is a sign of a lack of creativity and appreciation for the wonderful fact that we are alive. I [refute] the premise that death gives motivation and a "sense of urgency" and make the opposite case - that indefinite longevity spurs people to action by making it possible to attain vast benefits over longer timeframes. Indefinite life extension would enable people to consider the longer-term consequences of their actions. On the other hand, in the status quo, death serves as the great de-motivator of meaningful human endeavors.
Futurists Samantha Atkins and PJ Manney join Phil and Stephen to discuss whether there is anything truly new in the movement known as "transhumanism." Was there ever a time when humanity wasn't striving to transcend its current state? Perhaps we'll find that we have always lived in the future. If so - how is the situation any different today?
David Pearce is a British utilitarian philosopher. He believes and promotes the idea that there exists a strong ethical imperative for humans to work towards the abolition of suffering in all sentient life. His book-length internet manifesto The Hedonistic Imperative outlines how technologies such as genetic engineering, nanotechnology, pharmacology, and neurosurgery could potentially converge to eliminate all forms of unpleasant experience among human and non-human animals, replacing suffering with gradients of well-being, a project he refers to as "paradise engineering".
I have a great deal of sympathy for the Hedonistic Imperative viewpoint. I think that it's importance and relevance to the cultural mainstream will grow alongside progress in the technological capacity to alter the operation of the human brain - though of course it really should be one of the motivations driving a great deal of that progress, the other being the urge to reverse neurodegeneration and sustain the biological infrastructure of the human mind in good health indefinitely.