The Transhumanist Reader

Transhumanism is an important movement, even while now somewhat diffused into popular culture in comparison to the online salons of the late 1990s. Why is transhumanism important? Primarily, from my perspective, because a range of the most important present ventures in biotechnology and medicine are informed, supported by, and connected to figures in the transhumanist community. There is cryonics, to pick the most obvious example - and one might argue that modern transhumanism was a offshoot of the cryonics communities and related futurists of the 1960s and 1970s. To pick another example, a great deal of the early funding and enthusiasm for SENS research into the repair of aging, back when it was conducted under the umbrella of the Methuselah Foundation, came from transhumanist circles.

From where I stand, transhumanism is nothing more than common sense about technology and the human condition. We can improve things, so why not improve things? We live in far greater comfort and for more years in good health in comparison to our ancestors precisely because those ancestors created new technologies that change the human condition - lengthening healthy life, removing causes of pain and suffering. As technologies become more sophisticated we have the opportunity to move from such things as defeating smallpox to such things as reliably repairing the cellular and molecular damage that causes aging. These are only matters of degree.

Yet many people, even in this age of constant change, are very much up in arms and threatened by such prospects. It's an odd world we live in, in which folk partake in a wealth of new choices and improvements to their standard of living - things that their parents didn't have - while at the same time decrying efforts to build further improvements for their own children. Rationality is in short supply.

On the topic of transhumanism, let me point you to a forthcoming collection of essays that encompasses many of the important threads of transhumanist thought from the past few decades. When considering where the present scrappy, networked, and diverse community of efforts to extend human life came from, one has to at least read around this subject:

The Transhumanist Reader is first overview of transhumanist thought

The Transhumanist Reader: Classical and Contemporary Essays on the Science, Technology, and Philosophy of the Human Future, edited by Max More and Natasha Vita-More, will be published April 29, 2013.

It is the "first authoritative and comprehensive survey of the origins and current state of transhumanist thinking", according to the editors, and the anthology includes a roster of leaders in transhumanist thought. "The rapid pace of emerging technologies is playing an increasingly important role in overcoming fundamental human limitations," say the editors.

Featuring core writings by seminal thinkers in the speculative possibilities of the posthuman condition, essays address key philosophical arguments for and against human enhancement, explore the inevitability of life extension, and consider possible solutions to the growing issues of social and ethical implications and concerns.

Human life extension, and ultimately the complete defeat of aging, is absolutely an inevitability. No disagreement there. But it is not inevitable that it will occur fast enough for those of us in mid-life today - a great deal of work is yet needed to grow the scrappy, diverse community of initiatives like the SENS Research Foundation into a vast scientific community to rival the cancer research and stem cell research establishments. Whether or not we succeed in this is up to us: unlike the newborns in the audience, most of whom will likely live for centuries, we don't have the luxury of sitting back to let the future come to us.

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