FROM HUMAN TO POSTHUMAN

Max More, founder of the Extropian Institute suggests that humanity's time is almost up. Not because we will destroy ourselves, but because we will transcend our humanity. We are becoming transhuman-persons in transition to a posthuman era in which human limits will have been overcome.

Max Morehat in England Philosophie studiert und siedelte anschließend nach Kalifornien über. Zusammen mit Tom Morrow begründete er Extropy, ein "Journal für transhumanistisches Denken" und das Extropy Institute, dessen Leiter er ist. Die Weltanschauung der Extropianer zieht immer größere Aufmerksamkeit auf sich. Die Zeit scheint reif für die Umwandlung des Menschen zu sein.

Gundolf Freyermuth über die Extropianer und den Trend zur Cyborgisierung des Menschen

Christoph Drösser über die Extropianer

Florian Rötzer über den Künstlerpropheten Stelarc

Hans Moravec über die postbiologische Zukunft und deren philosophische Grundlagen

I teach you the overman. Man is something that is to be overcome. What have you done to overcome him?

Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra, I prologue

THE TRANSHUMANIST CHALLENGE

Evolution has pushed mindless matter into an ascending spiral, developing ever more powerful nervous systems. Life began with utterly non-conscious chemical reactions. Simple tropistic behavior evolved from this, followed by instincts and Skinnerian stimulus-response behavior. With human being appeared conscious learning and experimentation. The rate of advancement accelerated sharply with the introduction of conceptual awareness and then the scientific method. Extropians and other transhumanists seek to quicken this evolutionary process by means of science, technology, and philosophy. By clearing away old myths and utilizing potent new tools, we can transcend biological and psychological limits to become posthuman.

To become posthuman we need to throw off natural and culturally entrenched limitations on our possibilities. Extropians champion the Promethean use of science and technology to make ever deeper and broader improvements in the human condition: to eradicate biological aging and involuntary death; to augment intelligence beyond the capacities of our natural brains; to elevate personal vitality; to give us the ability to choose our physical and psychological identity, rather than acquiescing in the identity we are born with.

We see technology as a natural extension and expression of human intellect and will, of creativity, curiosity, and imagination. We foresee and encourage the development of ever more flexible, smart, responsive technology. We will co-evolve with the products of our minds, integrating with them, finally merging with our intelligent technology in a posthuman synthesis, amplifying our abilities and extending our freedom.

The hubristic vision of the Extropians frightens many in today's world. Curiously, even those who accept that there is no divine creator, shepherd, and purpose-giver, fear to "play God". This fear shows itself especially in typical reactions to the possibility of technologically abolishing aging and death. Many shrink from this prospect. "It's unnatural." "Life without death would be meaningless." "I don't want to live longer than my allotted time." Not only physical immortality, but also the acquisition of superhuman (or posthuman) intelligence and ability they view with fear and trembling. Many episodes of the Star Trek series embody these attitudes: Transcending the merely human always brings disaster, starting with the 2nd episode, "Where No Man Has Gone Before." Movies and other mass culture frequently portray the disastrous effects of scientific ambition.

Such tales smell as rotten to me as those of Icarus, Frankenstein, and the Tower of Babel: Humans should just accept their limits. Don't build wings! Don't construct towers that penetrate the heavens! Don't try to conquer aging and death! Cure the sick, but don't strengthen the healthy!

Transhumanists challenge these attitudes. Transhumanists of diverse kinds share a core vision. As the term suggests, transhumanists anticipate our future as posthumans, and adjust their view of their lives accordingly. They see a future of radical physical, psychological, and social transformations. The most organized group of transhumanists call themselves Extropians Extropian perspectives on technology, science, philosophy, and art are developed in Extropy magazine, in the Extropy Institute publications, gatherings, and online forums. Extropians have a specific conception of transhumanism, involving certain values and attitudes, such as Boundless Expansion, Self-Transformation, Dynamic Optimism, Intelligent Technology, and Spontaneous Order (Extropian Principles). Extropians are those who consciously seek to further extropy a measure of intelligence, information, vitality, experience, diversity, opportunity, and growth.

Is the Extropian proposal to become posthuman merely a visionary fantasy? Or a nightmare? To answer this I need to show first that a posthuman condition is truly possible. Secondly, I will argue that seeking to become posthuman is desirably and healthy for us.

ARE POSTHUMANS POSSIBLE?

The transition from human to posthuman can be defined either physically or psychologically and philosophically. Physically, we will have become posthuman only when we have made such fundamental and sweeping modifications to our inherited genetics, physiology, neurophysiology and neurochemistry, that we can no longer be usefully classified with Homo Sapiens. Psychologically, we might expect posthumans to have a different motivational structure from humans, or at least the ability to make modifications if they choose. For example: transforming or controlling sexual orientation, intensity, and timing, or complete control over emotional responses and mood through manipulation of neurochemistry.

Clearly we have already taken our first steps along the road to posthumanity. We have begun to directly alter our genetic structure to remedy nature's failures. We use Prozac, Piracetam, Hydergine, and Deprenyl to modify our psychology, enhance our concentration, and slow brain aging. Research into more specific and powerful neurochemical modifiers accelerates as we apply new tools from molecular biology, computer-assisted molecular design, and brain imaging.

The merging of human and machine is clear to those who survey the arena. Machines are becoming more organic, self-modifying, and intelligent. Driving these developments are fields such as artificial life, neural networks, fuzzy logic, intelligent agents, and machine intelligence. At the same time, we are beginning to incorporate our technology into our selves. We began with pacemakers, artificial joints, and contact lenses. Artificial retinas and cochleas are under development. Signals have successfully been passed back and forth between a neuron in vitro and a field effect transistor.

Researchers in the USA and Japan are already fashioning synthetic retinas. A leading researcher at the University of Southern California believes that, within a decade, damaged brain tissue will be replaced by synthetic neurons. Computers and their interfaces rapidly evolve to respond to us: From mainframes and text-based interfaces to PCs, graphical interfaces, and browsers, to personal digital assistants, voice-recognition, intelligent agents, and knowbots. How long before our computers are implanted in our brains, as seamlessly integrated into our cognition as an extra hemisphere?

The dawn of the new millennium will see the ability to use engineered viruses to alter the genetic structure of any cell, even adult, differentiated cells. This will give us pervasive control over our physiology and morphology. Molecular nanotechnology, an emerging and increasingly funded technology, should eventually give us practically complete control over the structure of matter, allowing us to build anything, perfectly, atom-by-atom. We will be able to program the construction of physical objects (including our bodies) just as we now program computers with software. The abolition of aging and most involuntary death will be one result. We have achieved two of the three alchemists' dreams: We have transmuted the elements and learned to fly. Immortality is next.

Some machine intelligence researchers, roboticists, and cognitive scientists foresee even more radical posthuman possibilities. We may be able to upload our selves (our psychology, memories, emotional responses, values, feelings) from our biological brains into synthetic brains. Running on new hardware - perhaps connectionist nanocomputers - our mental processes could run a million times faster, and should allow far easier and more extensive modification than afforded by our natural brains.

THE POSTHUMAN GOAL

And life itself confided this secret to me. "Behold," it said, "I am that which must always overcome itself. Indeed, you call it a will to procreate or a drive to an end, to something higher, farther, more manifold...

Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra II

Why reach beyond ourselves and our humanity? Why seek to become posthuman? Why not accept our human limits and renounce transcendence?

To ask these questions is almost to answer them. The hypothetical questioner sounds timid, cringing, or self-satisfied. The Enlightenment and the humanist perspective assure us that progress is possible, that life is a grand adventure, and that reason, science, and good will can free us from the confines of the past. Certainly, we can achieve much while remaining human. Yet we can attain higher peaks only by applying our intelligence, determination, and optimism to break out of the human chrysalis. Evolution, despite our efforts, has channeled our behavior in particular directions built into our neurology. Our bodies and brains restrain our capacities. Our creativity struggles within the boundaries of human intelligence, imagination, and concentration.

Aging and death victimizes all humans. To transhumanists, in the words of Alan Harrington, death is an imposition on the human race and no longer acceptable. The infuriating truth is that, just as we begin to accumulate a modicum of wisdom and skill, aging sneaks in to sap our energies. Nature has not allowed us to capitalize on our first few decades of experience. Death swoops down to deliver the final insult. Thus, to Extropians and other transhumanists, the technological conquest of aging and death stands out as the most urgent, worthy quest of our time.

Some fear that life will lose its meaningfulness without the traditional stages of life produced by aging and the certainty of death. Extropians regard such an attitude as an understandable rationalization, a mechanism for making the best of what has formerly been inevitable. Certainly, the achievement of posthuman lifespans will require extensive revision of our way of life, our institutions, and our conception of our selves. Yet the effort is worth it. Limitless life offers new vistas, unexplored possibilities, unbounded self-development. Not only will agelessness and deathlessness not rob life of its meaning, I believe the contrary is true. Meaningfulness and value require the continual making and breaking of forms, a process of self-overcoming, not a stagnant state.

Besides, the drive for transcendence is too strong and central to life. We see it in our unquenchable thirst for heroes to admire and, in a distorted, externalized form, in the persistence and ubiquity of religion. Better to recognize and harness it rationally than to ignore or eradicate it.

The contemporary medical paradigm embodies a distinction common to our culture: The sharp distinction between curing disease and enhancing function to extraordinary levels. Doctors see their job as remedying disease and defect, not as augmentation of already-healthy function. I see this as related to a limited conception of "the natural". When we cure a defect, we simply make things as nature (or God) intended. It's unnatural, it's said, to live without end, or to boost the body and brain beyond the norm. Thus, we accept psychiatric drugs but reject intelligence-boosting drugs; we practice heart surgery but not deep-freezing the temporarily dead.

Yet we should regard transhuman transcendence as natural. Nature embodies within itself a tendency to seek new complex structures, to overcome itself to take on new, more effective forms. Nietzsche recognized this in his view of the universal will to power. More recently, we have partly uncovered this drive towards complexity through complexity theory, evolutionary theory, artificial life, and neurocomputing. Overcoming limits comes naturally to humans. The drive to transform ourselves and our environment is at our core.

No one will punish us for opening Pandora's box, for equipping ourselves with wings of posthuman intelligence and agelessness. Our old myths, holding us back from radical innovation, were adaptive in our early history, when we lived on the edge of extinction. New techniques that changed ways of life could lead to the starvation of a community of primitive humans. Yes, we need to step carefully in modifying our brain function, our genes, and our physiology, but let us not hold back out of fear or false reverence for Nature as we find it.

Life and intelligence should never stagnate; it can re-order, transform and transcend its limits in an unlimited progression. Let us exuberantly continue this boundless process. Religious worldviews tell us to worship God - a superior being. The extropian goal is our own expansion and progress without end. Humanity is a temporary stage along the evolutionary pathway. We are not the zenith of nature's development. It is time for us to consciously take charge of ourselves and to accelerate our transhuman progress.

No more gods, no more faith, no more timid holding back. Let us blast out of our old forms, our ignorance, our weakness, and our mortality. The future belongs to posthumanity. (Max More)