Re: Defining Transhumanism

Robin Hanson (
Tue, 20 Oct 1998 14:52:50 -0700

Max More writes:
>>I do think that some sort of positive timing claim is needed,
>>since I think if you push most thoughtful people they will admit
>>such changes are quite possible over a time scale of say a
>>billion years, and that such changes are probably not bad.
>>Such people are not transhumanists in the usual usage of the term.
>I understand your point, but still think it would be better to avoid
>putting a time frame on the term this way. What of someone who expected
>progress to be much slower than most of us expect? This person intends to
>go into cryonic suspension and come out in a thousand years or so when they
>think it will finally be possible to truly become more than human. Why
>exclude such a person from being a transhumanist?

If this person thought instead that their decendants in a thousand years would be more than human, would we call them a transhumanist? If yes, then the timescale in my definition should be extended to then. If yes for ten million years, then maybe a time shouldn't be in the definition. But if no, then this redefinition includes this hypothetical:

Transhumanism is the idea that new technologies are likely to change the world so much that many of us, or our descendants in the few centuries, will in many ways no longer be "human" (and that that's probably a not a bad thing).

>I have new and improved definitions (see following message). However, I
>don't see that your definition is more precise in this area. True, I don't
>specify what "limitations" we mean. But "overcoming limits" does clearly
>mean an improvement over humans. When you say that "in many ways" (which
>ways?) we will no longer be human, this seems to leave the definition just
>as unspecified. When you say "no longer human", this is *less* precise that
>"overcoming limitations" since we could become no longer human by becoming
>animals, by reducing or abolishing some of uniquely human qualities,
>becoming subhuman or "inhuman".

I'll comment on your new definitions in another post.

I guess I'm tolerant of ambiguity in what it is to be "human" herebecause "human" is a root of the term. If the term were "translimitationism" I'd be more tolerant of just saying "overcoming limits" without saying which ones.

It's probably pretty inevitable that we will reduce or lose some qualities. Most of us think we will gain more than we lose, but that's a normative statement for a normative definition.

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