Re: Definitions for Transhumanism

Max More (
Wed, 15 Apr 1998 09:16:35 -0700

At 02:02 AM 4/13/98 +0000, Nick Bostrom wrote:
>I'm not suggesting we change any definition, I'm just asking what
>short explanation people give when they are asked what is

I'm puzzled here. At the end of your message you *do* in fact offer another
definition. Clearly what you suggest is not an *explanation* as distinct
from a definition, since explanations are longer than definitions.

>The above statement is quite good IMHO, but it might
>not be the best possible response to give. The following are the
>disadvantages I see:
>1. It's a little too long.

For a definition, perhaps. My revised version is shorter (60% of the length
of the original). For an *explanation* it would be too short, but I agree
that for a definition, the shorter the better so long as it conveys the
essence of the meaning.

>2. As Max suggests, evolution should be replaced with "development".

I've done that in the new version.

>3. "the evolution of intelligent life beyond its currently human
>form" almost sounds as if it presupposes that intelligent life has
>not already evolved beyond its currently human form. However, there
>might be very advanced extraterrestrial species.

True, though I think it's reasonable to assume people would understand the
definition is referring to *us*. However, I've fixed that possible
misconception in the revised version.

>4. "life-promoting principles and values". I don't know anybody who
>would say of his own values and principles that they are *not*
>"life-promoting". It sounds like either empty rethoric or, worse,
>like a commitment to the anti-abortion, anti-euthanesia stance.

I'm not too comfortable with dropping this clause, since the ethical aspect
I see as a vital part of transhumanism, but I do agree with your comment
here. So I've dropped that clause, but would mention the ethical and
psychological aspects of transhumanism in any explanation so that it
doesn't sound like a narrow technological view.

>5. "by means of science and technology" could perhaps be misconstrued
>in a too narrow sense. Anders tends to stress that not only science
>and technology, but also, e.g., psychological techniques and
>institution building, are part of the transhumanists' tool box.
>Natasha might add that developing artistic creativity is a
>transhumanist way of extending our minds and enriching our lives.

Yes, its certainly important to include these approaches. The intent of the
original was to make clear that we're talking about truly effective methods
rather than religious or supernatural methods. In the revised version, I've
taken into account both my original intention and your excellent point.

>That doesn't mean we can't try :-) Building on Anders' version, I
>suggest the following:
>"Transhumanism is the idea that the human condition will
>be dramatically transformed by technology and that it is a good thing
>to use rational methods to overcome our biological limitations."

"the human condition will be dramatically transformed" won't do because it
leaves open all kinds of tranformations that we certainly do not seek. Are
we to transform ourselves into mindless drones? Into animals? Into
creatures lacking the human drives to create, to understand, to learn? My
definition avoids this problem.

Okay, so here is my revised definition. I'll refine it further if anyone
can pick holes in it! The final version will go in the Neologisms section
of ExI's web site, and I'll also contact the editor who called me from the
Oxford English Dictionary. (They are considering the terms "transhumanism"
and "extropy" and "extropian" for the next revision of the OED.)

TRANSHUMANISM: Any philosophy of life that seeks the acceleration of our
development beyond its currently human limitations by means of science,
technology, creativity, and other rational means.



Max More, Ph.D.
Updated website (Jan 98):
President, Extropy Institute:,