re: FAQs: summary: comments?

William John (
Tue, 21 Jul 1998 15:47:18 -0500

I have tried to make a comprehensive listing of the FAQs so far discussed on the Transhuman Digest and Extropian Digest so far at: . I realize that to single click reply and comment on a web site page is not so easy so I've pasted the hopefully comprehensive list below. I've tried to credit all sources that were quoted with e-mail links to facilitate discussion. Please send comments to both lists (if you subscribe) and to mailto: i.e. "Reply to All" on MS Outlook.

FAQs ? Frequently Asked Questions about Transhumanism:

Most of the questions listed below (except the first one) were posed and articulated by Nick Bostrom of the London School of Economics. If you have any additional questions you would like to suggest, please e-mail them to me. Contributions of responses are noted parenthetically after the responses. An FTT denotes a response from this web site.

How does Transhumanism relate to Futurism? Transhumanism is a vision of the future based on many reasonable forecasts of current trends. Many futurists, such as my self, tend to adopt a Transhumanist perspective and philosophy as they study the possible, probable and desirable alternative futures of humanity. Transhumanism is a position within Futurism. (FTT)

What is Transhumanism?
Transhumanism is a type of humanism related to secular humanism. It is a philosophy of science which seeks to enhance the human (Homo sapiens) condition by biological and technological enhancements into a post-human
(Homo excelsior) status. Using genetic, cybernetic and
psychopharmacological approaches, we can speciate into something better.

Transhumanists are also, on the whole, humanists. 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. (Nick Bostrom) The accelerating pace of technological development and scientific understanding of the human animal is creating the possibility of a whole new stage in the history of the human race. In the very near future we will face the prospect of such technologies as real artificial intelligence, new kinds of cognitive tools that combine artificial intelligence with new interface technology, powerful new molecular biological engineering and non-biological molecular nanotechnology. The consequences of these developments will include the prospect of meaningful augmentation of the human being in fundamental ways. Realistic possibilities flowing from these developments include significant increases in human mental and physical power and vastly extended life spans. They also include the possibility of great harm to human life as we know it. Even though these are extreme possibilities, they are taken seriously by an increasing number of scientists and scientifically literate philosophers and social thinkers.
(Greg Burch)

What is a post-human?
A post-human is the species that comes after humans much like we came after chimpanzees. The difference is that our successors in evolution will be intelligently designed by ourselves, the Transhumans. This new process, presently underway in its initial steps, is often called participant evolution or co-evolution. (FTT)
Post-humans could be completely synthetic or they could be the result of extending a biological human's capacities with many partial augmentations. In either case, a post-human would be a "higher" life-form than humans, in the same sense as a human could be said to be higher than an ape. More specifically, this means that a post-human may have a greatly expanded intellect and memory; an indefinite life-span; the ability to choose its own mental states and emotions. Also exosomatic ("outside-the-body") improvements count, such as rapid access to databases or networks containing huge landscapes of ideas and information; high-bandwidth communication links with other post-humans (almost like a computing network); and advanced manufacturing technologies for building physical structures. Most Transhumanists think it is impossible to fully imagine what post-humans would do or what it would be like be a post-human -- just as non-human primates cannot begin to fathom the complexity of human affairs.

Why do you want to live longer?
I love life and I see life itself as intrinsically meaningful. In short, the meaning of life is life itself. Additionally, humans are far too myopic, shortsighted. With the dramatically increased control we humans have over nature greater foresight is needed as we plan out future. Only those with a personal investment in the long range future of the species and the planet can effectively oversee its resource management. Thirdly, bigger and better accomplishments that humans can only recently realistically achieve will require the long term talents of great minds. Such plans as domed Moon cities, aquanautic cities at the bottom of the Ocean, terraforming Mars and possibly Venus, floating L5 cities, the genomic sequencing of all major organisms, the astrocartography of the known Universe, the final mapping of subatomic structure and a final grand unified theory of physics, propulsion systems development for interplanetary and interstellar travel all will require dedication that will span centuries. Only people with such a prospect and such long-term energy and commitment will be able and necessarily motivated to accomplish such goals. (FTT)

Isn't death part of the natural order of things? Humans are part of nature broadly defined. It is our nature to modify our environment for our better survival and prosperity. All animals try to so modify their environment by storing food, building nests, burrowing holes or simply grassing food, etc. Earthquakes, tornadoes, disease, predation, starvation and death are all natural. Nature is not essentially good or bad but is morally neutral. Human reason must decide what is good and what is bad based on their survival and prosperity needs. (FTT)

Won't extended life spans cause overpopulation problems? Human populations will continue to grow regardless. What longer lifetimes will allow for is the longer-term projects such as the populating of new lands (nova terra) for the expansion of human (and post-human) populations

Won't new technologies only benefit the rich and powerful? What happens to the rest?
Innovations always benefits the entire society in which they arrive. Whether it is cars, radio, TV, computers, refrigerators, microwave ovens, the telephone or whatever only in the beginning are these "toys" or "luxuries" available to the affluent. Over an increasingly shorter amount of time, mass production techniques, increased demand and more efficient manufacturing techniques to meet the higher demand increase supply. According to the basic Law of Supply and Demand in economics, the higher supply lowers prices as is shown very well in the computer industry. A capitalist economy is essential for the competition necessary to most efficiently supply the demand. History demonstrates this continually as in the examples given above. (FTT)

What kind of society would post-humans live in? Post-humans will likely live in a technologically advanced, democratic, capitalistic society where personal freedoms are respected. In short a society similar to that in the industrialized, information-based societies typical of the United States, Europe, Japan and many other such countries around the world. (FTT)

Are Transhumanist technologies environmentally sound? Transhumanist technologies have the potential to preserve existing ecosystems. Reasonable non-Transhuman extrapolations of existing human culture have little chance of reserving the current ecosystem. (Dan Clemmensen)

Isn't Transhumanism tampering with nature? "Tampering with nature" either means modifying our environment which is natural for us and all other animals as stated earlier. As far as self-modification, this process has been going on since medical men and women have tried to heal sick people. The disease of aging may be natural but so is our evolutionary instinct to counter it in favor of our own survival. (FTT)

Transhumanists reject a bright line between "man" and "nature": From its beginnings, the development of our species has been a process of positive feedback with our technology, broadly defined as those created tools we use that are not part of our simple genetically endowed physical structure or behavioral repertoire. From the time of the simplest stone tools and most primitive linguistic constructs, humanity has been engaged in extending its capacities through the use of increasingly powerful "artificial" tools. Thus, "tampering with nature" is the very thing that makes us human. Transhumanists simply seek to continue that process -- wisely -- onto a new level of sophistication. (Greg Burch)

Won't Transhuman technologies make us inhuman? Transhuman technologies in environmental and self modification will improve our condition so that we may become something better. We as humans (Homo sapiens) will become post-humans (Homo excelsior?) much as Homo habilis and Homo erectus before us. (FTT)

Do you believe in God?
Beliefs in anything should be based on evidence. As a metaphysical assumption, conventional monotheism is beyond evidence and cannot be proven or disproved. Such a deity is supposed to exist prior to and be creator of the Universe and thus is outside of the Universe. As such nothing in the Universe can provide evidence for that which exists outside of it. Since the existence of such a monotheistic deity is unknowable even in principle an agnostic position is more reasonable than either a theistic or atheistic position. Efforts at the improving and transforming of the human condition based on factual evaluation of evidence will be far more fruitful than empty debate about this historically contentious and often culturally-bound metaphysical question. (FTT)

So you think technology will solve all problems? Science and the technologies can solve material questions only based on the study of physics, chemistry, biology and related natural sciences. Cultural problems of misunderstandings among ethnic/subcultural groups within a society or the intercultural disputes between societies can be remedied or improved by empathy and the social sciences. (FTT)

Shouldn't we concentrate on current problems like improving the condition of the poor people or solving international conflicts instead of putting effort into foreseeing the "far" future?
The natural sciences can best address the longer-range problems of the human condition. The social sciences can help address the other problems combined with the direct efforts of relief agencies which should continue. In short both endeavors are very important for humanity's future in the short and long term. (FTT)

What evidence is there that it will happen? Many trends and successes suggest that continued genetic and cybernetic enhancements are possible. The artificial heart, bionic or artificial limbs, organ transplantation between humans and the initial successes in trans-species xenotransplantation suggest both the technological and biological approaches are working. Gene therapy successes are very direct evidence that increased genetic enhancement of humans will also continue especially through the recently invented human artificial chromosome (HAC) which can safely deliver corrected or beneficial genes to every cell of the body. (FTT)

There is a non-physical soul and therefore some Transhumanist issues are bound to fail (uploading, conscious, AI). Studies of neural damage in neurosurgery wards throughout the world suggest that all functions of the human "spirit" or mind are localized within the brain. Even the general mental activities of the mind have been mapped to very specific regions of the brain's neuroanatomy. Neurophysiologists have shown that thought and memory are electrochemical in nature and have detailed much about exactly how this happens. Though the brain is extremely complex, given enough time in terms of many decades or at lest centuries, enough knowledge is likely to accumulate to allow for the successful transfer of biological awareness to a similar noncarbon substrate such as silicon and the self-awareness of advanced parallel processing computers as well. Eventually though Artificially Intelligent (AI) computers may be some of us or our descendant post-humans. (FTT)

What is nanotechnology?
Nanotechnology is the manipulation of matter at the atomic and molecular level. In the future molecular manufacturing by self replicating robots making houses, space ships, etc. is often cited as the goal of nanotechnology. Current research in nanotechnology though seems to focus on applications of it in quantum supercomputing with microscopic CPUs, memory chips and possibly microscopic nanomachines to make cellular repairs in medicine. Such things as the Gene Chip from Affymetrix and the Bucky Balls (C60) are often considered current discoveries credited to nanotechnological studies. (FTT)

What is the Singularity?
The Singularity is a concept borrowed from astrophysics and applied to participant evolution. The Singularity is when our current concepts and definitions of "life", "consciousness", "intelligence", etc. which we apply to our selves and our surroundings will no longer be valid. For example, a conscientious computer as in Artificial Intelligence (AI) would make our standard definition of consciousness, intelligence and life difficult to explain. Especially if this aware computer can copy itself (as we do software today) and thus replicate and even modify its own programs then this is replication and "genetic" variation and thus Artificial Life (AL). Similarly, as we augment out own intelligence with psychopharmaceuticals, neurotrophic factors etc. we will likely have an experience of awareness and intelligence and even of life that is difficult and probably impossible to predict or even describe. As in the Event Horizon at the edge of a Black Hole, what we know breaks down. A Black Hole is caused by a Singularity and thus dramatic changes from a human to a post-human will be analogous to such a Singularity. (FTT)

These new technologies will be used in war and may cause our extinction. That such nanotechnologies are and will continue to be developed is a given. That we need to monitor and direct that development to avoid malevolent uses of technology should be equally compelling. (FTT)

How will superintelligent machines treat us humans? We expect that such machines will behave in the same rational, ethical manner that their inventors/creators do. (FTT)

All these Transhumanist issues will not happen within a hundred years. They will take more like a thousand years. (MNT <molecular nanotechnology>, Uploading)
The time-scales of developments in science and technology are getting shorter not longer. Though the exact chronology of future events is not known, the forecasting, monitoring and directing of those events to reach the soonest and best possible outcome is the primary emphasis in Transhumanism. (FTT)

What if it doesn't work?
Transhumanist trends are already working as examples above illustrate. (FTT) Is Transhumanism a cult/religion?

Transhumanism is a philosophy of science NOT a religion. "Cults" (as defined by sociologists) are religious sects that show blind obedience to a single authority and eschew connections with the outside world . Religion and philosophy take different routes to satisfy the drive for meaning in life. Transhumanist philosophy (as any complete philosophy) can replace the need for religion in one's life. (FTT)

What makes Transhumanism different from other philosophies, movements or religions?
Transhumanism weds theory with action, the abstract with the concrete. As a philosophy of science it is both speculative as philosophy and self-correcting as science. Unlike previous philosophies and religions in human history, it has a very concrete and realistic yet bold, ideal and futuristic vision for the next stage in human biological evolution on Earth in our solar system today and tomorrow. (FTT)

Isn't Transhumanism old hat? Sure, it's a new name, but basically, hasn't the philosophy been around a long time?
Transhumanist longings and yearnings for a better existence and to improve upon what he or she finds in life are as old as the human condition. The concrete and detailed goals and plans of where to go and how to get there are rather new in human history. Accordingly, the name Transhumanism has only recently arrived in the English language. It might not yet have even made it into the Oxford English Dictionary but at lest will in time. (FTT)

What prominent thinkers are associated with Transhumanism? (This is not the same as "Who is prominent within Transhumanism?") John Brockman who founded the Edge Foundation and the Reality Club and authored The Third Culture is associated with Transhumanism. Many if not all of the people in his anthology also are. Several books such as Last Flesh: Life in the Transhuman Era and Create/Recreate also give insight into this. Certainly K. Eric Drexler inventor of the idea of nanotechnology and founde of the Foresight Institute is also. The list is very long and will be added to as time passes. (FTT)

Oh well... (Person sort of agrees in an intellectual way but doesn't take it to heart)
The transition to a Transhumanist way of seeing the world is sometimes slow. I recommend reading a Transhumanist book and joining either the Transhumanist or Extropy mailing list to get better acquainted with the theory and practice of Transhumanism as a way of life and living. (FTT)

How could I become a post-human?
Participation in Transhumanist activities is the best way to become post-human. Possible actions include: joining Transhumanist mailing lists, reading related books, joining and participating in societies such as the World Transhumanist Association and the Extropy Institute, attending annual meetings of such societies such as TransVision and EXTRO. Because the circumstances of life are unpredictable, to increase the likelihood that you become a post-human I also suggest the following: Changing your life insurance policy to include coverage or at least $100,000
(which is standard), the beneficiary of the policy to a cryonics company
such as Alcor Life Extension Foundation, Cryonics Institute, CryoCare or Trans Time, signing up for such a service to make the "anatomical donation" of your self available to them, setting up a trust fund possibly for your re-entry and letting any family and/or friends that you trust know of your intentions. (FTT)

The possibility of success (in cryonics) is too small. The chances are constantly improving as cryobiologists continue their research as efforts such as the Prometheus Project promote the application of such research to mainstream clinical application of cryonics procedures and techniques. Certainly, the healthier you stay and the longer you live the better your chances become. However, those chances in participation in post-humanity are vastly greater than zero. Zero chances results when you simply give up, die and decompose. (FTT)

Will the people of the future be interested in restoring you? Your family, friends and descendants will be interested in reviving you. Others who might know you through stories carried down from your family and friends will also. Keeping a diary/log book or a video history of your self, your life and that of your friends would act as an external time capsule or archive of your extend memory over time. Genealogical research may also give you and your descendants a greater sense of connectedness to you. Not only will these things increase their interest in reviving you, they will give you more friends once you do re-enter the sentient state.

What recent progress has been made towards Transhumanist goals? Many advances in cloning, body transplantation, organ generation, gene therapy, cryobiology, neuroscience, neurosurgical imaging, nanoscale computing, etc. show trends in the Transhumanist direction. (FTT)

What kinds or Transhumanist transformations might occur? How can these be understood in relation to our current species? (What is a possible taxonomic structure?)
[Note: much of the context of this question and its response came from Doug Bailey and Alan Grimes. The exact wording is from FTT.] Our current species Homo sapiens is likely to be transformed first genetically by gene therapy (as has occurred a few times in clinical/experimental trials). As long as such creatures can procreate and interbreed with humans, the central criterion of speciation, these creatures remain Homo sapiens although they may qualify as a subspecies Homo sapiens excelsior. Once human artificial chromosomes (HAC) are used to introduce entire suites of genetic programming the likely effect is to make interbreeding difficult or impossible. At this point according to taxonomic rules, the organism is a new species, Homo excelsior. Cybernetic enhancements, if they do not interface directly with the organism in a essential way could be Homo cyberneticus. Those that incorporate Silicon chips into their brain as coprocessors or encyclopedic memory chips would be Homo biocyberneticus. Because both genetic (excelsior) and cybernetic
(cyberneticus) improvements can co-exist, a taxonomic classification
priority system would need to be implemented to distinguish between species and subspecies. Since taxonomy is done by biologists not cyberneticists excelsior would likely be given prior species status if both occurred in the same organism e.g. Homo excelsior biocyberneticus. As far as the genetic enhancement of other species, it seems that the same classification system would apply first sapiens to denote sentience then excelsior to denote genetic improvements and then cyberneticus or biocyberneticus if such implements were added. The genus would remain the same. If massively parallel supercomputers are deemed intelligent and sentient they would constitute a separate genus, Cyberus, and possibly a new kingdom Silica and phylum, class and order as well. Again Cyberus sapiens would be the starting point. After that, the speciation epithets become more murky because of the limits of the Singularity. It seems that a completely uploaded humanoid creature (of the genus Homo) that had an entirely nonorganic body would belong to the new genus Cyberus.

Existence is a nonlinear complex adaptive system of autocatalytic processes in astrophysical, genetic and memetic evolution. (ref. J Doyne Farmer, Third Culture)
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