Self Transcendence versus Transhumanism

Yfke Laanstra

We are living in fascinating times. A time in which the impossible becomes possible and in which many sci-fi movies are side tracked by reality. A time in which computer technologies are emerging that are capable of radically and unrecognisably transforming our humanity and our reality over the next 15 years. In such a way that we can speak of the genesis of a Human 2.0.

At an unprecedented pace, more will change in the next twenty years than in the last three hundred years.

So far, our growth has been linear, i.e. at a gradual pace. When you look back at our human evolution to date, it is striking that our transformation from, for example, hunter-gatherer to farmer took place over a period of thousands of years. In other words, from our current perspective and experience of time at an excruciatingly slow pace. When the Industrial Revolution began around 1784 and technology appeared onto the scene, in the form of mechanical control by water and steam, and later the introduction of electricity, this caused an enormous acceleration. This made mass production and thus economies of scale possible. Almost a century later, around 1879, Thomas Edison gained world fame with the invention of the light bulb. Less than 90 years later, in 1969, we would take our first steps as humans on the moon.

At one time we covered distances on foot or by horse and carriage, now a network of roads has been built and we travel by motorised transport over land, sea and in the air. It's only a matter of time before the self-driving car and space travel go mainstream. Richard Branson of Virgin and Elon Musk of Tesla and SpaceX are fighting for the scoop.
The digital revolution, the introduction of the computer and especially the worldwide web have boosted our evolution to an unprecedented level. 24 years after the lunar landing, around 1993, the internet became a reality for the general public. Moreover, the origin of the Internet can be traced back to ARPANET (ARPA is the predecessor of DARPA), a military network built in the United States in 1969, which was later made available for general use by American universities.
We don't have to physically bridge distances anymore, but instead travel through the digital highway: we Skype, email, chat or whats-app and handle the most of our business and financial transactions online. Ten years after the worldwide introduction of the Internet, in 2003 we completed an intensive project to map the human genome, our DNA. The Human Brain Project and 'Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies' (BRAIN) is currently being developed. We are well advanced in being able to artificially simulate our brain and even link or upload it to a computer.

The speed in the current digital phase of the industrial revolution is now on an exponential scale, so from 1 to 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128 etc. Where you can imagine that the higher the numbers the bigger the jumps. At this rate, after only 30 steps, you will reach a billion. The driving force behind this exponential growth is the evolution of the transistor, the basis of the microprocessor: the so-called computer chip. With regard to the increase in processor speed and storage capacity as well as the decrease in production costs. A characteristic of an exponential growth curve is that it first goes up slightly gradually, but then suddenly moves up in a practically vertical line. This is the point in our evolution where we are now, just before this growth curve suddenly turns up. An immense acceleration that has never occurred before in our history. At least, in our collectively conscious evolution.

All this paves the way for many current, exponential developments in the field of nanotechnology, quantum computing, genetic technology, Virtual Reality, Artificial Intelligence, brain-computer and human-machine interfaces. Within ten years we will be able to buy computers that match the calculating power of our own brain and less than 25 years later we will have computers with the capacity of all human brains combined. Our reality is currently flooded by all these new computing technologies and wireless networks. We are in a reality in which the belief is that we have to be online 24 hours a day and not fall behind. A world in which everything and everyone is connected and we experience the world from behind our screens.

Inner (hard) drive
The world around us is more or less obsessed with innovation, efficiency and economic growth. Fortunately, in all this (virtual) violence, a deeply human aspect has remained intact: our inner drive to grow on a personal level and to develop ourselves. This is encoded deep inside us, like hard code in our biocomputer. Computer technology now enables us to even change our human evolution and artificially accelerate it. The desire to control our evolution is off all times but it now has a high tech twist. Welcome to the world of Transhumanism.

Transhumanism is a school of thought, an (intellectual) movement in which (computer) technology is used as a means to accelerate our evolution. Through transcending our biology. In the form of upgrading our biology, gradually merging with technology or even eventually actually transforming it into such a technology. In the opinion of Transhumanists, this is the logical next step in our evolution.

The ideas behind this date back to 1906 when Nikolai Fyodorov, a Russian philosopher and writer, developed 'cosmism': a scientific philosophy inspired by Christianity that advocates physical immortality, space exploration and the ability of science to rise from the dead. It is also close to the Eugenics philosophy that advocates racial improvement: improving the genetic composition of a population. Eugenics is based on the idea that there are superior and inferior genetic markers in the human population. The British biologist, writer and humanist Julian Huxley first used the word 'Transhumanism' in 1957. Huxley was a member of the British Eugenics Society. It is also consistent with a technocratic world view in which reason, logic and data are leading rather than ideology. Machine-thinking instead of holistic thinking.

Technology is used to combat aging or even overcome physical death, to eliminate disease and pain and to acquire above-average or even superhuman qualities and skills. Through for example Artificial Intelligence, Synthetic Biology, Genetic Engineering and Nanotechnology.

Our current exponential computer technologies and those in the (near) future provide us with the tools to have an incredibly large impact on what it means to be human, on our abilities and thus on our evolution.

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