Re: The "human meaning" meme

Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Tue, 05 Jan 1999 22:32:44 -0600

Brian Atkins wrote:
> Who cares what "human" means? Why does that keep getting asked
> (as a reason not to do it) when people start talking about
> becoming transhuman? Too many Star Trek memes?

Greg Egan's discusses that in _Distress_.

Aside from that, I shall mention an old Yiddish saying: The God of the triangles has three sides. "Insofar as _I_ am a human, it is obvious that being a human is the highest state to which any being might aspire, and any change from that exalted condition can only be an unholy threat to all that is good." It's human nature screwing them up, in other words.

Thus it's built into the language. Use "human" to refer to the few good qualities of the human race, and "inhuman" will mean emotionless, merciless, sadistic. As opposed to altruistic, intelligent, powerful, self-aware, energetic, perceptive, self-controlled - some of the correct connotations of "transhuman" or "posthuman".

Furthermore, the only things available for contrast are monkeys and other creatures of lesser intelligence. So the extensional definition starts with beings who eat the babies of their enemies.

The best reply is probably: "There is good in human nature, but there is evil as well. Transhuman is human plus, not human minus."

--         Eliezer S. Yudkowsky

Disclaimer:  Unless otherwise specified, I'm not telling you
everything I think I know.