Defining Transhumanism

Robin Hanson (
Mon, 19 Oct 1998 10:19:20 -0700

Nick Bostrom suggested that he & I take public our private conversation about definitions of transhumanism. I proposed:

Transhumanism is the idea that new technologies are likely to change the world so much in the next century or two that our descendants will in many ways no longer be "human."

This definition focuses on positive, not normative, beliefs. To those who think that a definition should focus on normative beliefs I ask: Why do there seem to be so few people who share our positive beliefs but not our normative beliefs? That is, where are the people who believe that big technology-induced change is coming, and think that is a terrible thing?

I see three possible explanations:
1) People differ much more on normative than positive beliefs.

So most who accept our positive beliefs naturally accept our normative beliefs. This suggests the above definition. 2) Those who think big bad change will happen prefer to ignore

the future and think mainly about today. Optimists tend to be more vocal.
3) When thinking about the future, most people succumb to wishful

thinking, and so choose positive beliefs based on normative ones. So those who think big techno-driven change is OK are willing to think it will happen. And those who think such change is bad believe that it isn't likely. Wishful thinking can be partially rationalized by believing that humanity can stop new technologies that threaten unwelcome change.

Robin Hanson RWJF Health Policy Scholar, Sch. of Public Health 510-643-1884 140 Warren Hall, UC Berkeley, CA 94720-7360 FAX: 510-643-8614