All posts by Baldr Frostflame

On “Human Relativity”

In the twentieth century, Albert Einstein revolutionized our understanding of physical reality with his theories of relativity. Einstein’s theories included realizations that observed quantities are relative to the observer—except that the observed speed of light remains constant—and that space and time subsist not separately but together in essence, two aspects of unified spacetime.

Analogously, in the twenty-first century, transhumanism revolutionizes our understanding of humanity:

  • Relativity of “human”. Transhumanism recognizes and embraces that “human”, which previous ages mistakenly took for a metaphysical constant, in fact reflects the point of view of the observer. We understand ourselves today differently from how our ancestors understood themselves, and future observers will understand “human” differently again, if indeed the category remains relevant.
  • Constancy of accelerating progress. Transhumanism recognizes and embraces that, the second law of thermodynamics notwithstanding, certain systems (biological, electromechanical, etc.) have increased in ordered complexity and will continue to do so. Though the rate of technological change (i.e., artificial change resulting from application of scientific intelligence to natural phenomena) continues to increase, the fact of progress remains constant.
  • Eventual unity of humanity and technology. Transhumanism denies any metaphysical or supernatural distinction between biological and electromechanical, between natural and artificial, between human and technological. We create ourselves. Although, historically, scientific understanding and technological capability have limited our abilities to recreate ourselves, this accident will fade away. We continue to merge with our creations.

As Einstein’s theories of relativity have gained recognition as laws of physics, so human relativity will gain recognition as the law of the human condition.

Ethics of Apotheosis

The notion of apotheosis—of becoming divine—originated in the human mind as early as Ancient Egypt, where pharaohs received honor as gods, sometimes only after death but sometimes in life. Ancient Greek autocrats beginning with Philip II of Macedon later continued the practice, assuming divine honors for themselves. Throughout the history of the world, too, religions have appealed to the Everyman’s dream of becoming divine.

To date, apotheosis has consisted alternately of pretension and superstition. But transhumanity—at the ultimate limit of transcending the human body, mind, and spirit—implies true apotheosis.

  • Superability. Technology will enable us to do that which ages past reserved for gods—unimaginable feats will become commonplace.
  • Immortality. Death will lose its sting as we preserve our bodies, minds, and spirits, whether biologically, cybernetically, or wholly artificially.

In a future in which apotheosis becomes the rule rather than a mere figment of the imagination, how we conceive of our ethical obligations to ourselves, others, and the world will have to change. As we come into divinity, we will have to take on the mantle of divine lawgiver.

Faith in Progress: On the Ultimate Supersession of Kosmos by Taxis

Transhumanism belongs within a broader constellation of thought, progressivism, the essence of which places faith in the ultimate supersession of some kosmos by some taxis.

Order is an indispensable concept for the discussion of all complex phenomena[.] […] Classical Greek was more fortunate in possessing distinct single words for the two kinds of order, namely taxis for a made order […] and kosmos for a grown order[.]

—Friedrich Hayek, « Law, Legislation, and Liberty » I.2

Hayek argues that humankind possesses the desire but lacks the capacity to replace kosmos with taxis, that order naturally arising performs better than does order artificially imposed. Hayek would warn against trying to replace the naturally evolved humanity with artificially designed transhumanity.

By contrast, to believe in progressivism means to place one’s faith in the power of growing intelligence to design systems (subject to taxis) superior to those we have received from natural processes (subject to kosmos). Transhumanism, which looks to transcendence of the human body, mind, and spirit through the fruits of intelligent endeavor, belongs within the progressivist constellation of thought. Transhumanity literally embodies the supersession of kosmos by taxis.

Hayek’s argument accurately assesses the state of the world in his time—he wrote before artificial computation had so surpassed biological cognition that computers became capable of feats that still escape humans. But Hayek’s argument loses its force with the theretofore-unforeseen advancement of technological capabilities that humanity has witnessed. To the contrary: In many domains, including those of the human body, mind, and spirit, we will see the supersession of kosmos by taxis.

Practical Transhumanity: Autology + Autonomy + Encracy

How do we practice transhumanity in daily life? What’s the plan? What’re the steps? Besides simply engaging in ongoing discussions on the future, we can undertake some projects today:

  • Autology—“Know thyself.” By (1) keeping abreast of current science regarding our human bodies, minds, and spirits and (2) studying ourselves through examination, reflection, and expression, we develop the intellectual groundwork for transcendence of our present vale of humanity.
  • Autonomy—“Govern thyself.” By taking personal responsibility for our own circumstances and progress, we strengthen a courageous psychology that enables us to take a critical view of the self that we come to know.
  • Encracy—“Master thyself.” (A transliteration and repurposing of a term from Ancient Greek, enkrateia, which meant “mastery of self”.) Building on intellectual and motivational foundations, we can take courageous steps to enhance our everyday lives with the new technologies that lead us stepwise into eventual transhumanity.

Transhumanity isn’t science fiction. And transhumanity isn’t just technological–philosophical discourse. Transhumanity can enhance everyday life—even today—when we walk the path of autology, autonomy, and encracy.

Autology in Outline

Living a “documented life” figures importantly in many personal journeys into transhumanity. But how, exactly, does this kind of “autology” (i.e., “study of self”) work?

  • Somatology. First, we need a thorough understanding of our own physical bodies, based in our personal genome and extended by current science on fitness, nutrition, and wellness. For many, a personal somatology involves, at a minimum, genome sequencing and fitness+nutrition journaling.
  • Psychology. We need to know how our own mind works. Cognitive science has much to tell us, of course, but because lacunæ in this field keep us from fully explaining our mental realities by reductionist reference to our brain physiology and chemistry, we still have to rely much on psychology. Knowing how our mind works requires us to experiment and to journal introspectively and reflexively, then to apply state-of-the-art psychological insights.
  • Phenomenology. I would argue that we need, beyond just a personal somatology and personal psychology, a personal phenomenology, an understanding of the things that proceed from our spirit. (A personal “noumenology” seems an impossibility—we can’t know our spirit in its essence.) We need to journal expressively, letting our spirit make itself known daily in creative pursuits that reveal the core of our person.

Autology facilitates transhumanity for a reason that becomes clear when we think back to the writing on the wall at the Temple of Apollo at Delphi: “Know thyself.” Before we can transcend our own limits, we have to know our limits; we know our own limits only through meticulous autology.

Spirituality’s Place in Transhumanity

Some thinkers within the transhumanist movement have propounded that transhumanism assume the place of a secular religion. This sentiment comes from pure motives—eradication of obsolete superstitions—but misses the point. Transhumanity serves as a means but offers no ultimately fulfilling ends.

For so long as humans have existed, we have sought meaning and purpose in our lives. In earlier times, when we believed in the supernatural, that higher realm lent this baser existence meaning and purpose. As our scientific advancement has progressively dispelled those supernatural notions, some of us have fallen into despair of the loss, while others have bravely created new meaning and purpose for ourselves.

Transhumanists owe a debt of gratitude to scientific disillusionment for proving that reality does not flow unchanging from some supernatural force or figment—because no one created us, we serve ourselves as our own masters. If in that masterdom we so choose, we can rightly aspire to transcend the vale of imperfect humanity that we have inherited from haphazard natural processes. Such is transhumanity.

But we should not pretend to transcend the quest for meaning and purpose, even if they consist in nothing but hedonistic pleasure. Hedonism, after all, is a kind of life philosophy, one which answers the questions that remain even after we transcend the present state of our human bodies, minds, and spirits. Other philosophies are equally possible in transhumanity—hedonism is not the only possible life philosophy for a transhumanist.

Even when we live forever, in perpetual wellness, with unimaginable capabilities and complete freedom from superstition, still then we will desire more than merely a Red Queen’s Race: running faster and faster, never to get anywhere but just to stay in place.

“[I]n our country,” said Alice, still panting a little, “you’d generally get to somewhere else [] if you run very fast for a long time[.]”

“A slow sort of country!” said the Queen. “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”

—Lewis Carroll,
« Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There » 46

Unceasing self improvement never produces self fulfillment. A place for a thoughtful philosophy of life—perhaps for a kind of spirituality—that directs our existence to fulfilling ends will remain, even when we attain every new dizzying height of transhumanity.

Crossing the Chasm: On Practical Limits of Transhumanity

How far will you go in your personal journey into transhumanity? How quick are you to jump?

In « Crossing the Chasm » (Harper Business Essentials 1999), Geoffrey Moore argues that, on a new technology’s path to widespread adoption, the technology must “cross a chasm” that separates “early adopters” from the “early majority”.

The first segment of the population to adopt the new technology, the “innovators”, does so simply by virtue of the technology’s novelty. This small group’s cost–benefit analysis emphasizes the desire to remain ahead of the curve and disregards much of the inherent risks of living at the cutting edge.

Following innovators, early adopters will jump onboard when the new technology shows more rational promise. This segment exhibits some concern for the inherent risks of innovation but places overall greater value on the rational benefits.

Many new technologies die before reaching a critical third segment: the early majority. This group behaves with greater aversion to the inherent risks of innovation, but the moment a new technology has settled sufficiently to mitigate the risks, the early majority will join the movement. A new technology’s adoption by the early majority practically ensures the technology’s long-term survival, including eventual penetration into trailing segments of the market.

Many practitioners of transhumanity likely live within the “innovators” and/or “early adopters” segments of the population. But others—who share no less enthusiasm for the transhumanist vision—can rationally choose to wait for the elimination of transhumanity’s inherent risks.

We must remember that transhumanity is something of a “big tent”—transhumanists tolerate transhumanity’s inherent risks to different degrees. We can hasten the widespread penetration of transhumanity less by pushing novelties than by thinking through the technological and philosophical issues that still create a chasm between transhumanity’s early adopters and the greater population’s early majority.

On Technological Progress

Transhumanity depends on the continuation of technological progress, and we believe in the flow of technology in one direction. We observe three empirically demonstrable aspects of technological progress, products of the underlying process of artificial selection:

  • Ineluctable. No force can stop technological progress—provided only that intelligence somewhere enjoys the freedom to learn from existing technology, to imagine new technology, and to apply itself to the task of invention, technological progress will continue.
  • Perpetual. Technological progress moves toward no naturally inherent asymptote or terminus—the process will continue for so long as free intelligence exists, regardless of the theretofore magnitude of change and any instantaneous level of technological development.
  • Accelerating. As new technologies build continually on old ones, the rate of technological progress quickens; especially as new technologies enhance intelligence itself, technological progress will only accelerate, and that at an increasing rate.

These observations notwithstanding, we nohow contend that technological progress moves humanity toward Utopia—transhumanity will come, but it will bring mixed effects.

Will Transhumanity Make Individuality Obsolete?

What will happen when we meld our minds with computers? Will individuality fall into obsolescence?

  • Unity. Transcendental unity of apperception, which consists in that certain coherence of apperception by which we experience everything and without which we experience nothing, gives form to the individual. Transcendental unity of apperception is, then, as the skeleton of our individuality. Will this sense of unity survive when “our thoughts” become data and processes in an artificial computer? Or will each part of our mind become as dissociable and severable as just another computer file?
  • Egocentricity. Egocentricity, in the meaning relevant to this discussion, describes that certain sense that we have participated in our experiences from the first-person perspective. An egocentric perspective is as the sensory organs and musculature of our individuality. Will we retain that first-person perspective when our consciousness persists in disparate and interchangeable components of hardware and software? Which component(s), if any, will we think of as “ourselves”?
  • Atomicity. Today, we tend to think of ourselves as atoms, separate from others. Atomicity is as the skin containing our individuality.  When our consciousness transfers to hardware and software and those systems link directly to other such systems, will the separation between unitary, egocentric individuals dissolve?

As the skeleton, sensory organs and musculature, and skin prove necessary for the survival of individual human bodies, so unity, egocentricity, and atomicity have proved essential to individual human identities. Transhumanism projects a vision that calls the future of these necessary conditions into question.

Human identity changed with the development of writing—we gained the ability to separate our thoughts from ourselves in the form of symbols, to record those symbols in durable matter, and to exchange that matter and those ideas with others. With the development of artificial computers and their penetration into every moment of our lives, we have transferred more of our identity outside our bodies and minds. In the foreseeable future, we will link our brains directly to computers, perhaps even transfer our consciousness from carbon to silicon. When we reach that point, will individuality fall into obsolescence?