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.
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.
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.
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.