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.
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.
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.
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?