TRANSHUMANISM AS HUMANISM-HYPERHUMANISM OR POSTHUMANISM

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In the following paragraphs, Babich raises a fascinating and important question:

In this (an sich inherently optimistic when it is not inherently calculating or manipulative) regard, the transhumanist movement turns out of course to be another humanism, using the term as Sartre once spoke of Existentialism as a Humanism.

Hence and at least in principle, human enhancement may be regarded, if only for the sake of argument, as corresponding to “enhancement for all,” like “micro-chips for all” or “security searches for all.

Ultimately, as Leibniz might help remind us, such a broad extension would lead to a society not of “enhanced” but and much rather of leveled or flattened out humanity.”

Firstly, she claims that transhumanism is just another type of humanism. It is a difficult and important question whether transhumanism ought to be seen in the tradition of humanism, whether it could be described as a hyperhumanism or whether it is a particular variant of posthumanism. In my book series Beyond Humanism: Trans- and Posthumanism (Peter Lang Publishing) authors address questions related to the clarification of the various types of humanism and how one can go beyond humanism.

Secondly, it is noteworthy that Babich claims that transhumanism leads to a “flattened out humanity”, the critique that transhumanism leads to a Gattaca type of utopia comes up more regularly in the Academic literature. I assume that she has in mind the following issue.

 

PROMOTING IDENTICAL CONSUMER TASTES

The following statement of Babich might clarify further what she means when she worries that transhumanism leads to a “flattened out humanity”:

Sorgner argues that Nietzsche would back this enhanced “accessory” life, as the transhumanist life for all and sundry. But, and this is why Nietzsche gives us food for thought, at the same time, I think it is plain that Nietzsche sidesteps any such advocacy.

I did not claim that Nietzsche would hold such an “accessory” life, if he lived now. I did not claim either that Babich’s presentation of an enhanced “accessory” life bears significant similarities to what Nietzsche upholds. Neither is it my claim that the main concern of transhumanists is to live in accord with Babich’s vision of an ““accessory” life”. Transhumanists aim for an enhancement of cognitive and physiological capacities, a widening of the human health span and a promotion of human emotional faculties so that the likelihood of the coming about of the posthuman increases.

The transhumanist goal does not necessarily include having the latest iphone applications. What Babich refers to as “accessory life” is not a goal transhumanists primarily aim for, and neither is it a value which Nietzsche upholds. A separate but related issue was referred to by Babich in the following statement:

So far from tools for conviviality or the transmission of a collective culture of human flourishing, we find our schools promulgate identical consumer tastes for identical consumer goods now globally projected in a world of limited resources.

 

“identical consumer tastes”. This might be the goal of certain technological companies, but I do not see that transhumanists are in the least interested in it.

 

HUMANIST DUALITIES IN TRANSHUMANIST POSITIONS

As Babich holds that transhumanists promote identical consumer tastes, she claims that transhumanism is a variant of humanism, if I understand her correctly. However, transhumanists do not promote identical consumer tastes, which were one of her reasons for making this judgment. Still, there might be some reasons for affirming that transhumanism belongs to the humanist tradition or can even be seen as a type of hyperhumanism.

One technology, which is being seen as a promising one for promoting the prolongation of our lives and also for other enhancement purposes by many transhumanists, is that of mind uploading. The hypothetical process of mind uploading occurs when a conscious mind gets scanned, copied and then transferred from the brain onto a computational device. Some scholars hold that in this way human beings can continue to exist in the digital realm, other claim that the mind after having been uploaded to a computational device can be transferred back to a new organic brain.

What I am interested in in this context, are the anthropological implications of this claim. It seems as if scholars who affirm this version of mind uploading have the tendency to affirm a dualist understanding of human beings with a mind on the one hand and a brain on the other hand from which the mind can get separated. If this is the case, then transhumanism can be seen as a kind of humanism, because humanism, as I understand the concept, relies upon a world constituted out of dualist concepts: mind-brain, matter-spirit, good-evil. It can even be described as a type of hyperhumanism, whereby hyperhumanism is to be understood as a radical and even more extreme version of humanism.

 

I, as a metahumanist, also regard myself as a weak transhumanist. However, I think that humanism has to be in conflict with transhumanism, and it would be in the interest of transhumanists, if they integrated a post- or metahumanist anthropology into their understanding of the world. In contrast to humanism, post- and metahumanism reject dualities and hence also a dualist understanding of human beings. As most transhumanists affirm a naturalist, this-worldly or relational understanding of the world, they cannot be humanists.

Due to their this-worldly understanding of the world, they also have to conceptualize human beings in this manner, which means that it is more in tune with their other views to assume that human beings have an embodied mind, as it is being described by Francisco Varela, Evan Thompson, and Eleanor Rosch.

Hence, if tranhumanists held a posthumanist anthropology, they would be more consistent within their worldview. Consequently, I can claim that transhumanism ought not to be understood as a type of humanism, as Babich claims.

A further reason has to be mentioned for regarding transhumanism as a variety of humanism. Most transhumanists agree that transhumanism belongs to the Enlightenment tradition, because of the central relevance of reason and the employment of rational methods. Even though this self-understanding is being widely shared by transhumanists, I doubt that it corresponds to many of their basic premises. The Enlightenment tradition is based upon a dualist understanding of human beings with the rational immaterial soul, on the one hand, and a material body on the other one. Kant as one of the leading Enlightenment humanists affirms exactly this radically dualist anthropology.

Most transhumanists, on the other hand, hold a naturalist understanding of human beings, which clearly undermines the dominant Enlightenment anthropology. Hence, it can be stressed  that concerning certain fundamental premises transhumanism is in disagreement with the Enlightenment humanist tradition, even though both outlooks have a high estimation of reason. Still, you do not have to be an Enlightenment humanist to value reason and rational discourses. Due to these insights, the similarities between posthumanism and transhumanism seem to me as stronger than the ones between transhumanism and humanism.

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