Re: "Post-humanism": The right term?
9 Aug 1999 20:11:53 -0000

Brian Manning Delaney <> wrote:

Neat essay. I'm reminded of my old claim that to me extropianism is just the Enlightenment, upgraded to include Adam Smith and Darwin et al., as well as of my comment that the periodic earnest discussions on the list of how to spread transhumanism seemed premature when most of the world has yet to catch up with humanism.

I never liked posthumanism anyway; I've always used transhumanism, when I've used any such term. Actually, I think I've more often used transhuman, with flexible AIs and uploads in mind, because it could be generalized to other species if need be, as trans-sentient, or something; post-sentient is just wrong.

But why some such term might be needed became clearer when I read Edward Wilson's _Consilience_. He's atheist now, but his Baptist upbringing seems to still permeate is attitudes, if I may be permitted the simplistic analysis. At any rate, if I recall correctly he takes the view that humanity is largely defined by our genes, and likes that, and fears genetic engineering as an ill-tethered attempt to deny our nature. And fears or disbelieves in AI, I forget which.

I was particularly struck by his describing a concept of Homo proteus, a versatile, adaptive, environment-adapting, technology happy species, and then contrasting that with a description of real Homo sapiens, with all the quirks and baggage and limitations that we do in fact have. I saw Homo proteus as a beautiful goal to move toward. He did not. If Wilson is representative of humanism in this respect then we do need a new term, or else to wage war to reclaim the Renaissance humanism, and I don't think such wars of linguistic reclamation work.

I know I have seen essays by humanists expressing fears of life extension and of the changes that might make to the human experience.

> not. So then is it that a post-human would have to be someone with a
> particular _degree_ of physical transformation? What degree is necessary?
> How does a quantitative difference get turned into an _essential_, or
> _categorical_ difference? In a hundred years I may be a file cabinet-sized
> hunk of metal with an IQ of 50,000, but to argue that such a difference with
> what I am now means that I won't be human is, I contend, to engage in almost
> a kind of fetishism, a fetishism of the non-carbon.

You seem to associate 'human' with Homo proteus, the flexible intelligence. Others do have a fetish of the carbon, of sex and sweat and the poignance of death. I'd point less to being a file cabinet or having a high IQ than to having no fixed lifespan, and being able to copy oneself, as possible qualitative breaks in experience.

> term is the best one, if "post-humanism" (along with "trans-humanism," though
> for slightly different reasons) won't work?

I'd like you to give those reasons, because I prefer it to any of the others. I agree that superhumanism would be a horrible idea.

-xx- Damien X-)