Putting the human back in transhuman

Sat, 13 Nov 1999 08:51:18 EST

I have noticed that often, when people are talking about transhumanism and posthumanity, there is an undercurrent or sometimes outright statement that being "human" is bad and that progressing from humanity through transhumanity to posthumanity will purge all that "human" stuff.

Well, "human" and "humanity" are terms with many layers of possible meaning (it's almost as bad as "God"). However, to most people that I know, it has generally good conotations and often represents what they cherish most in themselves, others, and their cultures. So to suggest that we need to somehow abandon our humanity often leads to a nature defensive reaction. They think you're talking about eliminating most of what they value in life.

When I talk about the desire to be transhuman or even posthuman, I try to keep an emphasis on the "human". I want to take what is best about being human, and expand upon it. Perhaps I am conservative in this regard. I want to preserve indefinitely the joys I currently have in life, and expand to encompass new ones. I believe the being I seek to become will have as much emphasis on the human as the trans or post.

I keep coming back to the idea of childhood. I have always been an odd combination of young and old. When I was a child, I often took part in the adult conversations, and was interested in adult things, but I also liked to climb trees and ride my bike. And even at an early age, I said that I wanted to enjoy the age I was when I was that age, for it would come only once. Back then I was fresh and excited to discover the wide world, yet it was like there was a wise old voice in the back of my mind guiding me. As I grew older, I have worked hard to keep my childlike wonder and joy in life, so now there is a youthful voice in the back of my head laughing and urging me to play.

I see transhumanism in much the same light. In my humanhood, I have the voice of the posthuman I will become guiding me forward, but I like being human. And when I pass through the singularity, I fully expect to enjoy my posthumanity, and to have a human voice in my mind reminding of what wonder there is in being a young sentient. I will no more discard the human I am now than I would the child I once was. They are all me, and I cherish every facet even as I seek to grow more.

This is my vision of transhumanism. I believe it is also one that is less threatening to the general population. If any of you believe we should abandon all of our humanity, even what is good, then I must disagree. I tend to think, however, that this is not the goal of most transhumans. If that is so, then please, be thoughtful about how you use the term "human". It means more than meat and irrationality, and I think we might be alienating people from transhumanity who might truly benefit from it.

The Once and Future,
Glen Raymond Finney