Re: Anders response to "Politics of Transhumanism"

From: Anders Sandberg (
Date: Wed Jan 16 2002 - 03:30:52 MST

On Wed, Jan 16, 2002 at 02:54:14PM +1030, Emlyn O'regan wrote:
> Anders wrote:
> >
> > Maybe. I think it is a very large probability that by the end of this
> > year I will not refer to myself as a transhumanist.
> Then you will be a posttranshumanist.

I fear I might sound more like my leftist school friend Daniel af Burén
(yes, the name signifies an aristocratic family) who once left the small
communist party KPLM(r) (the "r" means "revolution") because they were
too bourgeoise :-)

> I have a couple of points to pick...
> - firstly, I think the argument about ruling out collectivism falls apart if
> you have a purely voluntary collective. I think that the core values you
> have put forward allow any type of social arrangement as long as it is
> purely voluntary for all members. Is this actually workable?

I would argue that even if a number of people desire to form a voluntary
collectivist community, they are not going to be as successful at
reaching human excellence as they would in a less collectivist
community. But they are entirely free to do it, just as people are free
to pursue less efficient courses of action. I think it is important to
uphold the right of people to form any form of voluntary social
arrangement, and that it is largely workable (there are practical
issues, like defining voluntary and how to settle contracts with the
community being left, but that is part of the practical discussion that
begins once we start to move away from the principle discussion and into

> - Second, and more important, I think the discussion reduces transhumanism
> to "humanism with toys", and I suspect there is more to it than that. How is
> the transhumanism that you have presented any different to plain vanilla
> humanism?

I think the core difference - and this is not readily apparent from my
long post - is that transhumanism has a somewhat different model of
human nature. In short, humanists have commonly assumed an essentialist
approach to human nature - it exists and is unchanging. This is why
quite a few humanist intellectuals today actually are against human
enhancement - if change of human nature is possible, then it is almost
axiomatically bad. The transhumanist approach is that human nature does
exist, but is processual. We are not so much human beings as human
becomings, constantly evolving in a fascinating interplay between genes,
environment and our own choices. This means that human nature can be
changed in many respects, and that it is not against human dignity to do
so. I hope to elaborate on this in an essay I'm working on, it is really
an important issue.

Second, traditional humanism did not have the scientific tools to fully
get into the issues of the true nature of the human and their
relationship with the universe. This means that humanist discourse is
based on concepts that were not based in the physical world (such as
free will), which works fine as long as we are dealing with only human
and human issues (bringing my basal ganglia into a discussion about what
I want mixes up the levels rather severely). The problem is that this
made humanism isolated towards the natural sciences and discoveries in
them, so that the more naturalistic results on human nature almost
always were seen as anti-humanist (like the determinism that Marx, Freud
and Skinner seemed to impose). But there is no need for this isolation
that only weakens humanism as neuroscience marches on - the humanist
concepts actually seem to have low-level explanations without having to
recourse to supernaturalism. So here there is a need for a
reconciliation, and a transhumanism is needed.

These two parts was just the ones at the top of my head. I think a more
careful writeup of what humanists have said and my concept of a
trans-humanism is needed.

Anders Sandberg                                      Towards Ascension!                  
GCS/M/S/O d++ -p+ c++++ !l u+ e++ m++ s+/+ n--- h+/* f+ g+ w++ t+ r+ !y

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