About Rationally Speaking

Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

The problems with transhumanism

I have pondered writing about the transhumanism movement for a while, and the opportunity has finally landed on my desktop when I read a brief article by Kyle Munkittrick of the Institute for Emerging Ethics & Technologies. The article is in the form of a FAQ expressly addressing the question of whether aging is a moral good, and in it Munkittrick briefly explains and (thinks that he) refutes some of the standard arguments against transhumanism. Let’s take a look.

To begin with, what is transhumanism? It is a type of futurist philosophy aimed at transforming the human species by means of biotechnologies. Transhumanists think of disease, aging and even death as both undesirable and unnecessary, and think that technology will eventually overcome them all. I must confess that — despite being a scientist always fascinated by new technologies (hey, I am writing this on a MacBook Pro, I carry an iPhone with me at all times, and I read books on the Kindle!) — I have always been skeptical of utopias of any kind, not excluding the technological variety. Which is why I am using Munkittrick’s short essay as a way to clarify my own thoughts about transhumanism.

Munkittrick begins his own response to critics of transhumanism by stating that if anyone has a problem with technology addressing the issues of disease, aging and death then “by this logic no medical intervention or care should be allowed after the age of 30.” This, of course, is a classic logical fallacy known as a false dichotomy. Munkittrick would like his readers to take one of two stands: either no technological improvement of our lives at all, or accept whatever technology can do for you. But this is rather silly, as there are plenty of other, more reasonable, intermediate positions. It is perfectly legitimate to pick and choose which technologies we want (I vote against the atomic bomb, for instance, but in favor of nuclear energy, if it can be pursued in an environmentally sound way). Moreover, it is perfectly acceptable — indeed necessary — for individuals and society to have a thorough discussion about what limits are or are not acceptable when it comes to the ethical issues raised by the use of technologies (for instance, I do not wish to be kept artificially alive at all costs in case of irreparable damage to my brain, even if it is technologically feasible; moreover, I think it immoral that people are too often forced to spend huge amounts of money for “health care” during the last few weeks or months of their lives).

Munkittrick continues: “Transhumanists are trying to escape aging — and its inevitable symptom, death — because we actually acknowledge it for what it is: a horror.” Well, I personally agree with the general sentiment. As Woody Allen famously put it, I don’t want to be immortal through my work, I want to be immortal through not dying. But to construe death as a “symptom” to the disease of aging is far fetched, and biologically absurd. Aging and death are natural end results of the lives of multicellular organisms, and in a deep sense they are the inevitable outcome of the principles of thermodynamics (which means that we can tinker and delay them, but not avoid them).

There are several problems with the pursuit of immortality, one of which is particularly obvious. If we all live (much, much) longer, we all consume more resources and have more children, leading to even more overpopulation and environmental degradation. Of course, techno-optimists the world over have a ready answer for this: more technology. To quote Munkittrick again: “Malthus didn’t understand that technology improves at an exponential rate, so even though unaided food production is arithmetic, the second Agricultural Revolution allowed us to feed more people by an order of magnitude.” Yes, and how do we explain that more people than ever are starving across the world? Technology does not indefinitely improve exponentially, and it must at some point or another crash against the limits imposed by a finite world. We simply don’t have space, water and other prime materials to feed a forever exponentially increasing population. Arguably, it is precisely technology that created the problem of overpopulation, as the original agricultural revolution (the one that happened a few thousand years ago) lead to cycles of boom and bust and to the rapid spread of disease in crowded cities. This may be an acceptable tradeoff (I certainly don’t wish to go back to a hunter-gatherer society), but it does show that technology is not an unqualified good.

Yet, the transhumanist optimist can’t be stopped. Here is more from Munkittrick: “One of the key goals of transhumanism is to get the most advanced and useful technology to developing countries, allowing them to skip industrialization (and the pollution/waste associated) and go straight into late capitalist, post-industrial society, where population growth is negative and mortality rates extremely low.” Besides the fact that with the current global economic meltdown a late capitalist society doesn’t really sound that appealing, do we have any evidence that this is happening, or even possible? The current examples of such transition come from countries like India, China, and Brazil, and those don’t look at all encouraging, as the result seems to be increasing economic disparity and massive amounts of additional pollution. How exactly are transhumanists planning on skipping industrialization?

As for post-industrial societies having negative population growth, this is true of only a very few countries, and certainly not of one of the most massively polluting of them all, the United States. It is true that birth rates are dramatically lower in post-industrial countries in general, but this is the result of education not technology per se. It happens when women realize that they can spend their lives doing something other than being perennial baby factories. Despite this, the world population is still going up, and environmental quality is still dropping dramatically. Technology can surely help us, but it is also (perhaps mostly) a matter of ethical choices: the problem will be seriously addressed only when people abandon the naive and rather dangerous idea that technology can solve all our problems, so that we can continue to indulge in whatever excesses we like.

One last point: Munkittrick depicts what he thinks is an idyllic scenario of people living to 150 (this may not be possible without significant alterations of the human genome, which of course raises additional questions of both feasibility and ethics). He says that “any technology that would extend life beyond the current average of 70-100 would do so by retarding aging as a whole, that is, the degradation that begins to occur after about age 27. Maturation would occur at the same rate, peaking between 22 and 26 depending on the person, but after that preventative medicine and repair techniques would slow aging, resulting in a much longer “prime” age, say extending youthful adulthood (what we think of now as 20’s and 30’s) well into the 50’s and perhaps 60’s. Because these techniques will be far from perfect, aging will still occur to some degree. Like youthful adulthood, middle-age would presumably begin much later and last much longer. So lets say a person reaches genuine old age at 100, with all the problems that reduce one from ‘thriving’ to surviving, leaving them 50 years of old age instead of 20 or 10.” Hmm, I like the first part (extending my prime through my ‘60s), but the latter one seems ghastly. Both from a personal and a societal perspective, fifty years of old age are a hefty price to pay, and one that would be psychologically devastating and further bankrupt our resources. Now if we could consider euthanasia for the really old, non-functional and suffering people... but that’s another discussion.

I do not wish to leave the reader with the impression that I am a Luddite, far from it. But I do think that techno-optimists the world over really ought to fantasize less and pay much more attention to the complexities not just of the logistics, but particularly of the ethics implied by their dreams. Better and longer lives are certainly a worthy goal (though I personally would put the emphasis on quality rather than quantity), but this doesn’t license a mad pursuit for immortality. Besides, true immortality (the ultimate goal if you think of death as a “symptom”) must be unbearable for any sentient being: imagine having so much time on your hands that eventually there will be nothing new for you to do. You would be forced to play the same games, or watch the same movies, or take the same vacation, over and over and over and over. Or you might kill time by reading articles like the one by Munkittrick literally an infinite number of times. Hell may be other people, as Sartre said, but at least at the moment we don’t have to live in Hell forever.


  1. the problem will be seriously addressed only when people abandon the naive and rather dangerous idea that technology can solve all our problems, so that we can continue to indulge in whatever excesses we like.

    Well put. It should be obvious that technology is wrought with problems as well as benefits. Why transhumanists don't see this is beyond me.

    They also, as I recall, argue that human evolution will be totally in the hands of humans, directing it with technology. When that's said, I wonder if they upon dismissal of human evolution also choose not to learn anything about the subject.

  2. "but this is the result of education not technology per se."

    There's other factors of course. In our societies it takes a lot of resources to raise a child. Plus, there isn't the same incentive to have lots of children if infant mortality rates are low, and the economy isn't agricultural.

    "imagine having so much time on your hands that eventually there will be nothing new for you to do. You would be forced to play the same games, or watch the same movies, or take the same vacation, over and over and over and over."

    I've wondered if wiping our memories every few centuries would be an option.

    In any case, transhumanists are a bit lame.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Sometimes I wonder whether people actually read what I write and consider my arguments (as flawed as they might be) or scan the post, pick up on "hot" keywords (e.g., capitalism, economic disparity) and just write whatever their knee-jerk reaction dictates.

  5. Your stuff is so weak I don't even know where to begin.

    First of all, if you want to criticize H+ why are you taking on a FAQ written by some graduate student and not, for instance, an essay by a central figure like Max More? Is it your subtle way of telling us you can't really handle the actual core arguments of H+?

    You address a few small issues about extreme longevity and that's it, you're done with transhumanism? This is like pointing out some problems with Newton's equations and then declaring yourself victorious against all of physics.

    This amateurish article tells me you have less than half an idea what you're talking about. You should really educate yourself on a subject before offering criticisms like this and expecting to be taken seriously.

    You seem to be lacking even the basic knowledge for what you were trying to do in your article, so maybe you should stop by here first: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transhumanism

  6. Massimo, I've only scanned the post, so I won't comment. But I did pick up on the word Utopia. Which is something I've notice about transhumanism. Anyway, I'll read the post at leisure, and get back to you. One quick query, have your read Russell Blackford's take on transhumanism on his blog or other outlets?

  7. also only did a quick scan and got stuck as to why the bit about how completiely buying into this vs. ceasing medical care at age 30 is a false dichotomy. I agree that it is false today because of the need for artificial respirators and spending years in more or less a coma and everything else that goes into living an extended life today.

    But what if someone tells you that you can live forever in a quality kind of way, well if you are against this idea because it obviates the need for death, then why not stop treatment at age 30?

    Will keep reading - its fascinating.

  8. Before I was married for the 3rd time, (& happily married at last:-), I never thought about escaping aging and death.

    Now I want to live forever.

    About "having so much time on your hands that eventually there will be nothing new for you to do." It's such a big planet, such a big universe, that's a problem I'd dearly love to have.

  9. adi_morut,

    please turn down the rhetoric and address the issues, if you can. Arguments from authority are logical fallacies. Regardless of which particular article spurred my post, I have read other sources on transhumanism. Including of course the Wiki article you mentioned, and didn't notice was already linked from my post. Oops! See my comment above about knee-jerk reactions...


    no I haven't read Russell Blackford. I'll check it out.


    it's a false dichotomy because I don't have to accept the idea of immortality in order to want to live past 30. It simply doesn't follow. The benefits of living past 30 outweigh the costs in most cases, in my estimation, but that's not necessarily true for much longer ages, including of course immortality. Hence the false dilemma.


    congratulations on your third (and happy!) marriage! Yes, it's a big planet, etc., but I really think that immortality is a completely different ball game that we cannot in fact comprehend. We are comparing finite with infinite. I still bet that immortality would eventually turn life into permanent (and inescapable) hell.

  10. If, as some have been opining lately, the advent of cooked food was the 'monolith' that allowed us to use 20 percent of our energy intake to power the brain, instead of the 5 or so percent that other primates bodies devote to it, then it goes to the idea that humanity and its technology have always been intertwined. Genetics being the internal information we pass on and culture and constructs the external information that has more than doubled our life span so far. Technology has always been an amoral construct, it solves some problems and creates other depending on how it is used, just as genetic predisposition has different results (writings on sociopaths being perfectly adapted to be both CEO's and serial killers come to mind on this) Kurtzweil does not so much say that Utopia will be achieved, but that the paradigm shifts that have throughout history changed the way humans live and interact will be shifting on a period of minutes or seconds instead of hundreds or thousands of years, in a way that will make it seem that history itself has shattered, as how would a consciousness react if in the period of a work day the world went through the equivalent of an agricultural, industrial, and technological revolution a few times before lunch and a few after.
    Assuming that we would be limited by Malthus is misleading as well, what if most human bodies and endeavors could reach an energy efficiency rate in the 90% range? What if people who continued to use biotic shells could power themselves with integrated photosynthetic fuel cells instead of extremely inefficient biochemical digestion?
    The crux of transhumanism is that we have always been intertwined with our technology and that the rate in which the merger of our forms and the products of our thoughts is approaching the exponential elbow. Some argue (rightly in my opinion) that we are already cybernetic creatures; how far is the difference between carrying around an information and communication processor in ones pocket as opposed to ones physical body? How important is it for the individual to learn facts when the facts float freely through the air and can be accessed in seconds? If our energy and information networks were to fail globally tomorrow how many Billions would perish in the span of a month? How are we not already cyborgs because of these facts?
    How about downloadable consciousness? Would immortality be so unbearable if one could experience life as several different races, genders, body types and creatures with different perceptive abilities? Would time mean the same thing if one's consiousness could be preserved in a cloud of nanorobots that can manipulate physical matter at the atomic level? (and how could that EVER be boring?)
    Transhumanism is not just the ability of homo sapiens to stay in their meat sack an extra 50 years to eat up more of the planet's resources at an extremely inefficient rate, it is the emerging potential for all consciousness to be preserved as one and many and augmented by ultra intelligent created consciousness. The ability for man to free itself from the reductive senses that force us to perceive time and space as we do. The need for both us and our technology to survive and transcend the limits that are finite on this planet. I have yet to see it suggested that the ride there would be smooth and utopian in anyway, as every other major change in human society has come with great gnashing of teeth.

  11. Hey, I also read Future Shock once. If Transhumanism is a call to arms then I decline to serve. As an example I do not want trillions allocated to a project aimed at extending lifespans at the same rate E.P.A.s are to be extended.

    But its precepts are a no-brainer.

    Enough people at advanced ages still in control of their faculties still do not want to die. Therefore they will use all resources at their disposal to prevent that. As one of these resources is available technology,
    then as technology grows, it is possible for us to live longer.

    The finer point I am catching from transhumanism is that changes in technology may well render moot some basic philosophical questions about life. Absolutely.

    But to sign on to technology as a standalone value also seems dangerous to me. We need a market first. In this case the market is the 80-100 year-olds and their loved ones who think they have a shot at longevity. Thats the driver and those are the risk takers.

    Re the idea of sitting around with infinite amounts of time on your hands, well that sound like an argument against time-travel. We take an example from our present circumstances, post it as a paradox and walk away. Without having bothered to consider that in such a world where time travel is possible or there is a Ponce de Leon Blvd in every city, other rules and factors will also be in play rendering the supposed paradox silly.

  12. Address the issues? What issues? You barely said anything of note.

    You picked a few weak arguments for extreme longevity and dismantled them (amazing!), then you put forward the tired old "overpopulation" objection without even mentioning the main answer to it (here's a little page you may have missed in your rush to "rationally" criticise without knowing: http://www.sens.org/index.php?pagename=sensf_faq_concerns) and you had the audacity to title your article "THE problems with transhumanism".

    Since when are a few weak arguments and one misunderstood problem with the specific concept of extreme longevity "THE" problems of transhumanism? Did you link to the Wiki article just for show or have you really read it? Do I have to quote here all the big themes of transhumanism that you didn't touch at all for you to finally get what my objection is?

    If you've got any intellectual honesty, you'll change the title to "Some problems with extreme longevity", because that's all you really talked about in this entirely inconclusive piece.

  13. Despite all your bile (why do you get so emotional about this anyway?) you still have not pointed out what big arguments in favor of transhumanism I missed, or what exactly it is that you find so objectionable in my criticisms. Have fun with the next round...

  14. Oh, it's just that I hate liars and the title of your article is a brazen lie.

    And since, as I suspected, your intention is to have me quote to you all of the transhumanist literature that you're too lazy to read on your own before "criticizing" it, I'll take my leave now before you waste any more of my time.

    Do your own research if you really want to address the subject seriously.

  15. The problem with your attitude is that you assume that I am both malicious (you use the word "liar") and that I have not done a minimum of background work (and I do mean a minimum, since this is a blog with entries in the 1-2000 words range, not a scholarly publication).

    The first charge is an ad hominem attack for which surely you have no evidence. The second one is also not true, I maintain, but would at least lead us to an actual discussion if you were genuinely interested in it. No, I did not ask for "all of the transhumanist literature," I simply asked for a brief statement of what you think about: a) was so misleading in my original post; b) what are the major strengths of the transhumanist position that I somehow missed. I heard neither.

  16. Massimo,

    I always enjoy and respect your writing. Given that transhumanism has been one of my pet philosophical hobbies for a while (in the sense of exploring it in my head, not eagerly hunting down dribblings from others) I was quite interested to see your take on it.

    Unfortunately, I've been disappointed.

    I take no issue with your arguments as they stand: you were quite right on every point, save one. The only problem at hand is the conflation of immortality/retarded aging with transhumanism as a whole. That's certainly not the definition of transhumanism as I was first exposed to it, not the one I've mentally explored, nor the one that I have come across in literature.

    I have always understood "H+" to be the position that it is a moral good - I've heard some tag it as a moral obligation, but I do not agree with that - to utilize technology to transcend our innate human limitations (i.e., tools where fingers fail us). This does not require that *all* technologies are neccasarily good (i.e., immortality, given that massive overpopulation is as much a problem as death of old age, and I agree that quality>quantity), but rather stands to oppose positions reflexive reactionary positions against technological change (i.e., GM foods).

    Endless optimism, I grant, is common among transhumanists, but is not a perquisite of the position. Do I believe technology will eventually solve most problems? Actually, I do. Do I believe that it will happen on a timescale even *resembling* one short enough to absolve us of responsibility? Not even close. Few exponential trends remain exponential indefinitely, and treating processor speed as though it represents all of technology is a joke. I could just as easily use automobiles as my representative technology of choice, and argue that technology barely advances at all!

    I won't attempt to formulate some over-arching thesis on transhumanism in response to a blog post. I doubt my thoughts on the matter have percolated sufficiently, nor do I have the time to edit carefully enough not to be sliced apart - I respect your eyes and wit enough not to present you with a half-baked rambling more than necessity dictates. I seek only to remind you that, as another poster said (couched in ad hominem), a grad student's FAQ is not representative of the whole. I've a feeling the over-concern with death and aging is more a matter of "framing" than anything else.

  17. JH,

    thanks for the thoughtful comment, and sorry to have disappointed you, I honestly strive for engaging and rewarding dialogue here and I'll try my best to keep it up.

    First off, let's get the "graduate student" thing over with. As I clearly stated in my original post (and remember that a blog is a diary of thoughts, not an encyclopedia or a technical treatise), the article by Munkittrick was simply what finally prompted me to write about transhumanism after having read about it for some time. I don't take what Munkittrick says as either gospel or as comprehensive, but I'm also annoyed at people dismissing him as "just" a graduate student. It's a negative argument from authority.

    To your specific comments: "The only problem at hand is the conflation of immortality/retarded aging with transhumanism as a whole. That's certainly not the definition of transhumanism as I was first exposed to it."

    The immortality issue was only one of my points, and I agree that it isn't a defining trait of transhumanism. It is, however, a major part of their discourse, and needs to be addressed. More importantly:

    "I have always understood "H+" to be the position that it is a moral good - I've heard some tag it as a moral obligation, but I do not agree with that - to utilize technology to transcend our innate human limitations (i.e., tools where fingers fail us)."

    Forgive me, but if that's the crucial point, it's a bit too weak. Only Luddites would disagree with that (hence your example of the anti-GM movement; by the way, even there I don't think things are quite that straightforward, and I cringe when I hear Monsanto presenting itself these days as an environmentally conscious company!).

    Seems to me that transhumanism is the idea that technology is (almost) an unqualified good that ought (moral) to be used for the betterment of the human race, including biological alterations (hence the "trans"). This is what I think raises serious issues, not just scientific, but ethical.

    "Endless optimism, I grant, is common among transhumanists, but is not a perquisite of the position."

    Maybe not, but it sure comes across as such (perhaps not "endless" but surely unbound).

    "Few exponential trends remain exponential indefinitely, and treating processor speed as though it represents all of technology is a joke."


  18. adi,

    you know you do not need to "quote" the literature for us to read and digest. since you are an expert you can synthesis the basic concepts and highlight the main points to support your position. coming here and yelling that you're a liar, you do not know what you are talking about and generally spewing venom does not promote good discussion and is not good intellectual practice.

  19. I suppose living forever would become a hell. But that could never happen since the universe comes to an end at some point. However I would dearly love to live a whole lot longer than the 70-100 yrs of a typical human lifespan. I am curious to see how things turn out!

  20. I think transhumanism is sort of neat, but in the same science-fictiony realm as flying cars and teleporters. Since it's so deeply rooted in hypothetical future technology, it seems like any objection you raise can be waved away with yet more technology. Not enough resources for all those bodies? No problem, we'll just download our consciousnesses into solar-powered robots. Not enough space for all those robots? No problem, we'll just create a mega-super-duper-computer to store everyone's consciousness. Bored with immortality? We'll program in an unlimited number of virtual worlds to play in. And so on.

    Of course, it's one thing to imagine a technology that solves all our problems and something else to actually build it.

  21. Massimo,

    As always, an engaging read. I would be interested on your thoughts regarding how Aubrey de Grey looks at aging, and how to stop it. He has a video at TED:

    as well as an interview with D.J. Grothe on Point of Inquiry:

    I find what he has to say very convincing.

    But more substantially, I have a problem with how you discussed immortality:
    "true immortality must be unbearable for any sentient being: imagine having so much time on your hands that eventually there will be nothing new for you to do. You would be forced to play the same games, or watch the same movies, or take the same vacation, over and over and over and over."

    The only way I could see this being true was if everything else in the universe simply stopped once a person became immortal. This reaction to immortality to me has always seemed to be an impoverished view of the universe, one that I do not think you actually hold. As you say, "We are comparing finite with infinite" but that really means bets about immortality one way or the other don't really hold weight.

    Looking forward to your next post!

  22. Jordan,

    I'll look at de Grey. Meanwhile, though, a truly immortal being would have of course time to explore the universe an infinite number of times, and to experience everything an infinite number of times. I simply cannot fathom how this wouldn't drive a human being to insanity.

    Again, the universe is big, but not infinite, and -- more importantly -- the kind of non-trivial variants of things one can experience is even more limited. We would be living in a perennial "Groundhog Day" sort of scenario!

  23. Massimo,

    Thanks for the quick response! While I'm not one who finds New Age implications in physicics and cosmology, I think it may very well be possible that there's enough possiblities, if there is a multiverse or something akin to one, to keep an immortal being occupied. However, that wasn't really my point. Rather, I had your statement about playing the same games, reading the same books, etc., in mind. I think this would only be likely if, as I said, everything else stopped once a person became an immortal. But I also don't think that would happen. Other people would continue living their lives, inventing, writing, etc. I do see your point though. Perhaps there are only a certain, though vast, number of permutations humans can find of a given game, only a certain number of different twists to put on a given genre, etc. . .

    I think this is a reason to become immortal and find out! After all, something like immortality is so drastically different than what we experience or evolved around that it could be entirely different than what we think it would be.

  24. Holy cow, there's a lot of typos and poor word choice in that last response of mine. Such is the lot of the exhausted college student?

  25. Since the universe is finite and will definitely end at some point, would not an "immortal being" as part of the universe also end? Since there is so much to see and learn and experience in the universe wouldn't that keep an immortal being stimulated in the end?

    This thread reminds me of a comedian's joke about immortality. He said something along the lines of spending 30,000 years trying to learn the saxophone and then deciding, hey man it's not my thing!

  26. Massimo re living infinitely long can be fun if you are given a menu of persona to take on using a 'reincarnation engine' to be applied each time a human psyche and body is botoxed

  27. Yet again, Massimo, I find myself agreeing with you, at least with this post. Despite the gratuitous naysaying of some in this thread, which I should add, you handled expertly, you raise a few points about overly trusting technology as not just as a useful and sometimes beneficial application of science, but as a moral good in and of itself, a view that I find specious. BTW, I just recently heard episode #185 of SGU, and wanted to say congrats on your latest interview with the Rogues. Keep 'em coming.

  28. As a member of the "traditional" rationalistic and humanistic movement (http://www.vof.se/visa-english and http://www.humanisterna.se/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=37&Itemid=48 ) I think this divide (even hostility) between the "traditional" rationalistic and humanistic movement and the transhumanists is very regrettable. Although I (to some extent) agree with your rebutal of Munkittrick's argument, the real problem with your post is that you take that as an example of transhumanism in large. In particular when you say that transhumanism is characterised by uncritical techno-optimism I think you are simply wrong. In fact an important work of many leading tranhumanists is a critical evaluation of the large risks with future technologies (e.g. nanotechnology, artificial intelligence). To have a broader look at transhumanism see e.g. Nick Bostrom's page http://www.nickbostrom.com/ and links from there. I think Roko's response to your post (link from his comment above) is on the point. As a semi-regular reader of your blog (which I usually appreciate a lot) I would much appreciate your comment on those in a later post.

  29. Massimo, I read a book a while ago titled "Liberation Biology" by Ronald Bailey that defended aspects of transhumanism and the "biotech revolution". I found Bailey's arguments persuasive: for instance he makes clear that the point of longevity research is not to live older longer but to live younger longer. I think at least his chapter on life-extension should be worth your time.

    I am also reminded that there was a Point of Inquiry interview with a fellow named Aubrey de Grey about his book "Ending Aging", and they tackled some of the meaty issues.

  30. Logan,

    interesting. I'm not opposed to longer-healthier lives of course. I am just a bit skeptical of techno-optimists in general. They tend to overestimate the power of technology and dramatically underestimate the ethical/human components.

  31. Well, I was going to refrain from talking about the subject, considering I know almost nothing about it. Read some article about Kurtzweil's ideas long ago, don't even remember any of it. And this post and responses. But I have one observation to make nonetheless, from the general feeling I got from the posters defending transhumanism.

    (first of all, kudos on showing certain individuals how humans, let alone "transhumans", should approach civil idea exchange and disagreement -- imagine spending hundreds of years with such people? suicide rates would skyrocket)

    I have always understood "H+" to be the position that it is a moral good - I've heard some tag it as a moral obligation, but I do not agree with that - to utilize technology to transcend our innate human limitations (i.e., tools where fingers fail us).

    This kind of sums up the general feeling I'm getting from the "defenders" of transhumanism here. It might be a wrong impression. But if that is indeed representative, then... transhumanism is something completely trivial, banal, not worth the new shiny word coined to label it. Since we've been using technology and enhancing ourselves for thousands of years, what's new? Nothing. Just business as usual. Eye glasses, better prosthetics, hearing aids, medicine, machines of all sorts from fire to rockets leaving the solar system, sanitation. Old stuff it is, the increasing of life span and quality. Just because it sort of looks cooler now, it does not mean it is a new approach. Qualitatively speaking, at least, I'd say.

    Now, again, I might be saying something stupid and unfair to transhumanism, since as I said I have read next to nothing about this. Maybe one day, since now I can barely read what I have to for my job...

  32. > J said: "But if that is indeed representative, then... transhumanism is something completely trivial, banal, not worth the new shiny word coined to label it. Since we've been using technology and enhancing ourselves for thousands of years, what's new?"

    Well, if you showed a cave-man an aeroplane, he might not be of the same attitude. Human self-enhancement is an old process - even monkeys use simple tools - but a tool like a brain computer interface or a recursively self-improving artificial intelligence is really worth attaching a shiny label to, in my opinion.

    BTW, I have written a blog post critiquing the position advocated here.

  33. Good evening, Mr Massimo Pigliucci!

    It would be truly interesting to read your comment on Rokos comment on your article.

    Best Regards.


  34. Jan,

    I read Rokos' commentary, I hope to get back to transhumanism soon. Meanwhile, I'm engrossed by a completely different problem: the legalized corruption known as lobbying. Stay tuned...