Nick Bostrom (bostrom@ndirect.co.uk)
Mon, 20 Jul 1998 22:39:27 +0000

Thanks for all the answer-suggestions that have been posted. I'm collecting the tidbits. Now we turn to:


What are transhumanism's philosophical and cultural antecedents, and how is it distinguished from other, similar ideas?

Me: The FAQ discussion is also taking place on the transhuman list, and I posted something there today that is relevant to this question. I paste it at the end of this messege. The other suggested answers below are ones that Henri Kluytmans posted earlier:

What prominent thinkers are associated with transhumanism?

Is transhumanism a cult/religion?

-It is definitely not a cult. Although it is not a religion it seems to fill the same niche in our mind as religion does.

Won't things like uploading, cryonics and AI fail because they can't preserve or create the soul?

-Experiments and accidents (electro-stimulation, drugs, damage, surgery) show that almost all aspects of the human "spirit" (i.e. mind) can be linked to physical locations or physical processes in the brain. This leads to the strong assumption that the "spirit" is completely stored only in the physical matter of the brain.

-Almost all neuro-biologists agree that the complex behavior displayed by the network of connections between the neurons is sufficient to explain the emergence of the human mind.

Is there transhumanist art?

[Natasha, open the floodgates!]

Erik wrote:

> > What I want, in order to call something a definition, is a
> > necessary and sufficient condition: x is a transhumanist if and
> > only if x is D. With D="Seeks to improve the human condition by
> > rational means." the definition fails, since there are
> > counterexamples -- all non-transhumanist humanists for example.
> If all non-transhumanist humanists would be working on improving the
> human condition by objectively rational means, we would not need
> transhumanism. But this is obviously not the case. There are often
> certain philosophical core beliefs which cannot be rationally
> argued. Transhumanism's main point should be to slaughter all sacred
> cows.

Make cat food out of unproductive pensioners? ;-) It's good and well that transhumanism is iconoclastic, but that's not really all we are about. Many people are doing that (especially teenagers). We're also trying to develop a constuctive alternative. But many non-transhumanists think they are doing that too.

What sets us apart, I think, is our view that technology will dramatically transform things in the not-too-distant future and that it is basically a very good idea to apply science and technology to overcome human mental and physical limits - to become posthuman. That is what I take to be the essense of transhumanism.

Transhumanists are also, on the whole, humanists, which is a more inclusive concept (just as extropians are transhumanists). As humanists, we believe that humans should be allowed to develop their full human capacities and that we should apply rational methods to improve the human condition rather than expecting that some deity will do the job for us. From humanism we also inherit, I think, the idea that divisions based on race, nationality, religion etc. are secondary and that primarily we are humans and should strive to cooperate internationally for peace and prosperity. Tolerance, freedom of thought and speech, human rights, believing in the importance of both art and science, and the ideal of "one world" are other core humanist values that transhumanists share.

So I think if you look at how secular humanists define their philosophy you will find that "improving the human condition with rational means" does not really capture what sets us apart, what makes us distinct from non-transhumanist secular humanists. Even though it might on some occasions be a useful rethorical ploy to define our position as a truism, I think it is better if we are upright in describing what we are.

(Also, if we are hoping to be taken seriously by academics, you can't hope to get away with "improving the human condition with rational means"! You'd be laughed to pieces by any philosopher, for example, or more likely you'd just be ignored.)

Nick Bostrom
Department of Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method London School of Economics