Transhumanism and the Enhancement of Man
More Than Human
by Dr. Martin Erdmann
In his 1922 science fiction novel, The Chess Men of Mars, Edgar Rice Burroughs describes a Mars whose inhabitants are so advanced that they prize contemplation above all and exist simply as heads. They have no need for oxygen or food and move using the bodies of headless creatures.
Burroughs’s popularity demonstrates that people enjoy imagining such fantastic characters and societies. Many scientists, doctors, and philosophers today, however, say such ideas have ceased to be fantasy and are now realistic prospects for the next several decades.
The Mind Uploading Home Page, for example, “is dedicated to the putative future process of copying one’s mind from the natural substrate of the brain into an artificial one,” and speculates that “...[if mind uploading were developed], body manufacturing, sales, and rental would be a large industry.”1
Human-machine integration is not simply a dream of the scientific and academic elite. In recent years, the concepts of intelligent machines and computers manipulating a person’s mind have become popular through movies such as Short Circuit, The Matrix, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The 2002 Star Trek film Star Trek Nemesis proclaims that to be human is to seek self-enhancement.
In a world where hugely popular fantasy movies hold audiences captivated with their entertaining capacities, a realm of posthuman thought is thriving and fast expanding in both followers and research.
Widely noticed publications, such as the NSF/DOC-sponsored report “Converging Technologies for Improving Human Performance”2 and the final report of the President’s Council on Bioethics, “Beyond Therapy: Biotechnology and the Pursuit of Happiness,”3 have given close attention to human enhancement through technology.
From Repair to Enhancement
Cardiology is a strong adopter of implants, some “dumb” like stents, some “intelligent” like implantable defibrillators, some powerful like artificial hearts. How-ever, cardiologists currently use implants exclusively for repair of failing organs.
But medicine is no longer restricted to healing. Bio-technology’s popular uses constitute a long list, among them weight loss, hair growth, birth control, teeth straightening, and sex selection of children.4
Transhumanism takes human enhancement even further, by morphing the vision of a perfect man into a human-machine complex properly called “posthuman.” This is an effort to break every human limitation and redefine personhood. Nick Bostrom, Oxford philosophy professor and co-founder of the World Transhumanism Association, writes that posthumans will realize eternal youth and health, gain complete control over their minds and emotions, and “experience novel states of conscious-ness” that present human minds cannot imagine.5
Posthumans may even choose to discard their bodies in favor of life as “information patterns on vast su-per-fast computer networks.”6
Though this sounds bizarre, many scientists, doc-tors, and philosophers call it attainable within decades. As the President’s Council on Bioethics wrote in their final report, “Beyond Therapy: Biotechnology and the Pursuit of Happiness,” bioethics demands a current and public discussion of “what it means to be a human being and to be active as a human being.”7
Asked whether transhumanism tampers with nature, Nick Bostrom replied: “Absolutely, and it is nothing to be ashamed of. It is often right to tamper with nature.”8 According to Bostrom, the attempt to retain “humanness” would be bad. Instead, all a posthuman would need to do is to act humanely.9
Transhumanists distinguish the value of human life from biology and creation, and instead place its value in human ideals and experiences. This is because values “come from minds.”10 Since a man’s values are but the ones he chooses, opting for a new ethical paradigm would allow him to redefine all aspects of life.11
In its “Transhumanist Declaration,” the World Trans-humanism Association affirms “the feasibility of redesigning the human condition” in areas including “aging, limitations on human and artificial intellects, unchosen psychology, suffering, and our confinement to the planet earth.”12
These scenarios and many more could all become reality in this century with the proper investments in technology, according to a report issued by the National Science Foundation and the Department of Commerce of the United States government.
Titled “Converging Technologies for Improving Human Performance: Nanotechnology, Biotechnology, In-formation Technology, and Cognitive Science,” the 405-page report could one day be remembered as a seminal road map to the future.
It calls for more research into the intersection of these fields. The payoff, the authors claim, isn’t just better bodies and more effective minds. Progress in these areas of technology could also play a key role in preventing a societal “catastrophe.” The answer to human brutality and new forms of lethal weapons, it suggests, is a kind of technology-triggered unity: “Techno-logical convergence could become the framework for human convergence.”
The report, edited by Mihail Roco, senior adviser for nanotechnology at the National Science Foundation, and William Sims Bainbridge, acting director of the Foundation’s Division of Information and Intelligent Systems, includes papers submitted by various participants as well as an overview by Roco and Bainbridge.
In the overview, the editors argue that a host of advances can be achieved in the next 20 years alone. Among these are wearable sensors that send health alerts, much more useful robots, invulnerable data networks, and direct broadband interfaces between our minds and machines.
The report thinks big when it comes to peering beyond the next two decades to the rest of the 21st century. Taking visionaries such as Ray Kurzweil—“The Transcendent Man”13—seriously, it imagines robots so advanced they may deserve political rights, building surfaces that automatically change shape and color to adjust to the weather, and the prospect of personality uploads that make death itself ambiguous.
Merging human consciousness with machines is tied to another nearly incredible concept: brain-to-brain connections. The report discusses the possibility of “local groups of linked enhanced individuals” as well as “a global collective intelligence.”
Transhumanism and Christianity
A large contingent of contemporary evangelicals has embraced some aspects of the technocratic ideals of Transhumanism and is drawn by its motivations. They embrace the belief that Christians are Christ’s “on-going incarnation in the world.”
Their new focus is on an earthly inheritance for the church. In concrete terms this means that Christians are called upon to usher humanity into a new stage of its existence. Through individual Christians’ labor, all the evils in society will slowly be conquered until they are no more. Only after the Kingdom of God has been established on earth by human effort, they believe, will the Second Coming of Christ occur.
The evangelicals who pursue these and similar goals are called Dominionists. They belong to a diverse conglomerate of movements, covering the entire theological spectrum of evangelicalism from the charismatic Manifested Sons of God to the neo-Puritan Reconstructionists.
What is missing in their thinking is the critical realization that while transhumanism aims at posthuman perfection through technology, it misses the true nature of moral “perfection” (progressive sanctification).
The transformation Christians should be seeking is not the physical or psychological enhancement found in science, reason, or technology, but rather the trans-forming work found only in God’s supernatural work through His Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18). Romans 12:2 says:
And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
This is the ultimate transformation and the only kind that can be truly attained with God’s help in this world. The goal is the post-judgment attainment of perfect humanity in heaven, not the attainment of full technological perfection on earth, as a quasi-divine being (Philippians 3:20-21).
Christians need to be aware of Transhumanism and its various forms, but they need not concern them-selves with seeking something they cannot and should not attain—autonomous perfection in a utopian world society. Man’s salvation is found only in the perfect and complete atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ and his promise of eternal life, as a free gift, to those who believe in him (Romans 3:23-26; Ephesians 2:8-9).
FOR A MORE IN-DEPTH STUDY
1. Joe Strout, “Business and Travel”, The Mind Uploading
Home Page. http://www.ibiblio.org/jstrout/uploading.
2. Mihail C. Roco & William Sims Bainbridge,eds., Converging Technologies for Improving
Human Per formance Nanotechnology, Biotechnology, Information Technology and Cognitive Science,
Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2003, 423 pp.
3. President’s Council on Bioethics,“Beyond Therapy: Biotechnology and the Pursuit of Happiness”, Washington,D.C., October 2003, http://www. bioethics.gov.
4. President’s Council on Bioethics, Beyond Therapy: Biotechnology and the Pursuit of Happiness, chapter one, footnote three (October 2003); http:// w w w. b i o e t h i c s .
5. Nick Bostrom, “The Tra n s h u m a n i s m FAQ,” #1.2, World Transhumanism Association,
7. President’s Council on Bioethics, Beyond Therapy, chapter one, section two.
8. Nick Bostrom, “The Tra n s h u m a n i s m FAQ,” #4.2.
9. Ibid., #4.3.
10. N i c k B o s t r o m , “ Transhumanism and the True Nature of Mind: Creation
and Discovery!” World Transhumanism Association, http://www.transhumanism.org/.
11. Nick Bostrom, “The Tra n s h u m a n i s m FAQ,” #1.1.
12. World Transhumanism Association, “The Transhumanist Declaration,” http://transhumanism.org/.