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TRANSHUMANS: A PARADOX TO HUMAN EXISTENCE
Arin Natania. S
Doctor of Pharmacy, Sri Ramakrishna Institute of Paramedical Sciences, Coimbatore
Bachelor of Engineering (Mech Dept.), CSI College of Engineering, Ketti, Nilgiris
Transhumanism is considered to be a quasi‐medical ideology that seeks to promote a variety of therapeutic and human‐enhancing aims. Moderate conceptions are distinguished from strong conceptions of transhumanism and the strong conceptions were found to be more problematic than the moderate ones. Transhumanism is a "technoprogressive" socio-political and intellectual movement that advocates for the use of technology in order to transform the human organism radically, with the ultimate goal of becoming "posthuman." To this end, transhumanists focus on and encourage the use of new and emerging technologies, such as genetic engineering and brain-machine interfaces. In support of their vision for humanity, and as a way of reassuring those "bioconservatives" who may balk at the radical nature of that vision, transhumanists claim common ground with a number of esteemed thinkers and traditions, from the ancient philosophy of Plato and Aristotle to the postmodern philosophy of Nietzsche. It is crucially important to give proper scholarly attention to transhumanism now, not only because of its recent and ongoing rise as a cultural and political force (and the concomitant potential ramifications for bioethical discourse and public policy), but because of the imminence of major breakthroughs in the kinds of technologies that transhumanism focuses on.
Transhumanism is an intellectual and socio-political movement that is concerned with a cluster of issues in bioethics, in particular, issues involving the use of technology to transform the human organism radically. The core of transhumanism is to encourage the use of biotransformative technologies in order to “enhance” the human organism, with the ultimate aim being to modify the human organism so radically as to “overcome fundamental human limitations” and thereby the “human” as such. In other words, to use transhumanist terminology, their fundamental goal is to become “posthuman/ superhumans.”
According to transhumanists, a “transhuman” is a “transitional human” who aims at becoming posthuman and takes appropriate steps (e.g., technological enhancement) toward that end—whereas a “posthuman,” the ideal for and goal of transhumanists, is a being so radically different in physical, cognitive, and emotional capacities from normal or current humans as to be no longer unambiguously human. “Humanism tends to rely exclusively on educational and cultural refinement to improve human nature whereas transhumanists want to apply technology to overcome limits imposed by our biological and genetic heritage”.
“Transhumanism” is a blanket term given to the school of thought that refuses to accept traditional human limitations such as death, disease and other biological frailties. Transhumans are typically interested in a variety of futurist topics, including space migration, mind uploading and cryonic suspension. Transhumans are also extremely interested in more immediate subjects such as bio‐ and nano‐technology, computers and neurology. Transhumans deplore the standard paradigms that attempt to render our world comfortable at the sake of human fulfilment.
Strong transhumanism advocates see themselves engaged in a project, the purpose of which is to overcome the limits of human nature. Whether this is the foundational claim, or merely the central claim, is not clear. These limitations—one may describe them simply as features of human nature, as the idea of labelling them as limitations is itself to take up a negative stance towards them—concern appearance, human sensory capacities, intelligence, lifespan and vulnerability to harm. According to the extreme transhumanism programme, technology can be used to vastly enhance a person's intelligence; to tailor their appearance to what they desire; to lengthen their lifespan, perhaps to immortality; and to reduce vastly their vulnerability to harm. This can be done by exploitation of various kinds of technology, including genetic engineering, cybernetics, computation and nanotechnology. Whether technology will continue to progress sufficiently, and sufficiently predictably, is of course quite another matter.
Advocates of transhumanism argue that recruitment or deployment of these various types of technology can produce people who are intelligent and immortal, but who are not members of the species Homo sapiens. Their species type will be ambiguous—for example, if they are cyborgs (part human, part machine)—or, if they are wholly machines, they will lack any common genetic features with human beings. Perhaps a reasonable claim is encapsulated in the idea that such entities will be posthuman. The extent to which posthuman might be synonymous with transhumanism is not clear. Extreme transhumanists strongly support such developments.
At the other end of transhumanism is a much less radical project, which is simply the project to use technology to enhance human characteristics—for example, beauty, lifespan and resistance to disease. In this less extreme project, there is no necessary aspiration to shed human nature or human genetic constitution, just to augment it with technology where possible and where desired by the person.
So, one group of people for the transhumanism project sees it simply as a way of improving their own life by their own standards of what counts as an improvement. For example, they may choose to purchase an intervention, which will make them more intelligent or even extend their life by 200 years. A less vociferous group sees the transhumanism project as not so much bound to the expansion of autonomy (notwithstanding our criticism that will necessarily be effected only in the sphere of economic consumer choice) as one that has the potential to improve the quality of life for humans in general. For this group, the relationship between transhumanism and the general good is what makes transhumanism worthy of support. For the other group, the worth of transhumanism is in its connection with their own conception of what is good for them, with the extension of their personal life choices.
WHAT CAN BE SAID ON THIS FAVOUR?
Of the many points for transhumanism, we note three. Firstly, transhumanism seems to facilitate two aims that have commanded much support. The use of technology and biomedical enterprises to improve humans is something we pretty much take for granted. Much good has been achieved with low‐level technology in the promotion of public health. The construction of sewage systems, clean water supplies, etc, is all work to facilitate this aim and is surely good work, work which aims at, and in this case achieves, a good.
Secondly, proponents of transhumanism say it presents an opportunity to plan the future development of human beings, the species Homo sapiens. Instead of this being left to the evolutionary process and its exploitation of random mutations, transhumanism tailors the development of human beings to an ideal blueprint. Precisely whose ideal gets blueprinted is a point that we deal with later.
Thirdly, in the spirit of work in ethics that makes use of a technical idea of personhood, the view that moral status is independent of membership of a particular species, transhumanism presents a way in which moral status can be shown to be bound to intellectual capacity rather than to human embodiment as such or human vulnerability in the capacity of embodiment.
WHAT CAN BE SAID AGAINST?
Critics point to consequences of transhumanism, which they find unpalatable.
· It will lead to the existence of two distinct types of being, the human and the posthuman. The human may be incapable of breeding with the posthuman and will be seen as having a much lower moral standing.
· It will increase inequalities between the rich and the poor. The rich can afford to make use of transhumanism, but the poor will not be able to.
· A threat to morality itself. This is because they see morality as necessarily connected to the kind of vulnerability that accompanies human nature.
· It interferes with the process of human conception, and by implication human constitution, deprives humans of the “naturalness which so far has been a part of the taken‐for‐granted background of our self‐understanding as a species” and “Getting used to having human life biotechnologically at the disposal of our contingent preferences cannot help but change our normative self‐understanding”.
A proper assessment of transhumanism requires consideration of the objection that acceptance of the main claims of transhumanism will place us on a slippery slope. Yet, paradoxically, both proponents and detractors of transhumanism may exploit slippery slope arguments in support of their position. It is necessary therefore to set out the various arguments that fall under this title so that we can better characterise arguments for and against transhumanism.
The main goal of these programs seems to be the domination of nature. But we must be more precise. The desire to dominate does not just spring from a lust of power, from sheer human imperialism. It is from the start connected with the aim of liberating humanity from disease, hunger, and toil and enriching life with learning, art and athletics.
A transhuman is an evolutionary stage from being exclusively biological to becoming post‐biological. Post‐biological means a continuous shedding of our biology and merging with machines. The body, as we transform ourselves over time, will take on different types of appearances and designs and materials.
For hiking a mountain, I'd like extended leg strength, stamina, a skin‐sheath to protect me from damaging environmental aspects, self‐moisturizing, cool‐down capability, extended hearing and augmented vision (Network of sonar sensors depicts data through solid mass and map images onto visual field. Overlay window shifts spectrum frequencies. Visual scratch pad relays mental ideas to visual recognition bots. Global Satellite interface at micro‐zoom range).
For a party, I'd like an eclectic look ‐ a glistening bronze skin with emerald green highlights, enhanced height to tower above other people, a sophisticated internal sound system so that I could alter the music to suit my own taste, memory enhance device, emotional‐select for feel‐good people so I wouldn't get dragged into anyone's inappropriate conversations. And parabolic hearing so that I could listen in on conversations across the room if the one I was currently in started winding down.
LIMITS OF T.H ARGUMENTS FOR MEDICAL TECHNOLOGY AND PRACTICE
Already, we have seen the misuse of a host of therapeutically designed drugs used by non‐therapeutic populations for enhancements. Evidence supports the view that recreational body builders will use the technology, given the evidence of their use or misuse of steroids and other biotechnological products.
The arguments and examples presented here do no more than to warn us of the enhancement ideologies, such as transhumanism, which seek to predicate their futuristic agendas on the bedrock of medical technological progress aimed at therapeutic ends and are secondarily extended to loosely defined enhancement ends. In discussion and in bioethical literatures, the future of genetic engineering is often challenged by slippery slope arguments that lead policy and practice to a horrible result.
We propose that greater care be taken to distinguish the slippery slope arguments that are used in the emotionally loaded exhortations of transhumanism to come to a more judicious perspective on the technologically driven agenda for biomedical enhancement.
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