In this paper I cover humanism, transhumanism and post-humanism. We are at a crossroad, whereby technology maybe redefining what it means to be human. For example, humans have not evolved much physically since the last 500,000 years. Yes, it is true that physical characteristics have changed, e.g., height and bone density; but these changes are minuscule compared to the radical changes waiting for us. We are now experiencing radical augmentations that eliminates physical defects. Such augmentation in prosthetics, hearing aids, and advances in augmented sight are beginning to be more common.
The philosophy of humanism is explored through the lens of modernism, relativism, and post-relativism. Philosophy has evolved and has affected our social constructs. By realizing that post-relativism represents a global consciousness we can deduce that larger patterns of social behavior are emerging, whereby the position that one holds may not be fully valid. This post-relativism explains ecological imbalance due to self determination and the systemic risks that buildup throughout society, even if those social contracts seemed at the face-of-it beneficial. For example, social programs to help redistribute wealth might actually erode the productivity of the society and its longer sustainability. Transhumanism and post-humanism is explored by reviewing research from Chu and others. Transhumanism is the technological extension of the human body. Post-humanism is when the human form is no longer recognized via the trans-human evolutionary progression; with the possibility of no form at all—pure energy.
The Definition of humanism
Humanism can be defined as a framework focusing on the physical realm instead of the spiritual realm. The rational thinking of humanism dispels the notion of supernatural matters. The moral character is not anchored onto a certain religious doctrine within the philosophy of humanism. Rational thought, prescribed in the enlightenment, is core to humanism. Some in the religious sectors of society would consider humanism as an immoral or at best amoral conviction. Humanism can have morality without a supreme being ruling over us through religious edicts. Morality can be derived through the rationality of self-preservation. For example, without having some rule of law on property then as a population grows there might be increases in theft within the society. It is perfectly rational that laws are created to prevent such theft from occurring, without having religious connotations associated with the law.
In terms of a brief history of humanism, Friedrich Immanuel Niethammer coined the term for a new classical curriculum in German secondary schools (Niethammer, 1808). In Giustiniani (1859), Goerg Voigt in 1856 used humanism to describe renaissance humanism to revive classical learning (p. 172). During the French Enlightenment, the term humanism was used to describe the general love of humanity and was the cornerstone of philanthropic societies. Humanism after the French Revolution started to gain criticism from religious factions due to the perception that human reason alone could create the idea of human virtue, without any need for a religious foundation. Anti-religious establishments continued to use humanism as a philosophy centered on humankind by Left Hegelians and Karl Marx whom criticize the close involvement of the church in the repressive German government. But through religious humanism the humanist ethics can be integrated into religious rituals and beliefs that centered on human needs, interests, and abilities; therefore, it is not necessarily true that humanism is completely agnostic or atheistic.
Modernism is applied to forms that previous philosophical frameworks do not apply. This philosophical genus was borne out of the industrialization of societies, the rapid growth of cities, and the massive mechanical carnage of World War One. I will define modernism for our purposes as a framework that defines the most efficient or best way to achieving something. Parochialism fits well into the modernism framework.
Just as in works of art in the vein of modernism, colors are primary and shapes are limited. When viewing society in a modernism framework there are also limited structures to choose from, e.g. capitalism or communism. As can be seen, modernism is very polarized or deontological. People are viewed as right or wrong. Modernism leaves little room for dissenting opinions, almost in a religious sense.
An example of modernism for our purposes is the case when combating terrorism, the defending country considers that the enemy has no justification what-so-ever in its operations. Through modernism one does not reflect on the possible justifiable motives of the counterparty. This deontological view of the world leads to increase warfare and income inequality. It is also the bases for colonialism and racism. Very little consideration, if any, is allocated to understanding why other points of view might be valid.
There was a need to move out of the parochialism that promoted the monolithic thinking within modernism. What emerged was relativism, whereby different points of view are considered valid, or at least considered relevant for consideration. This led to liberal ideas within political science—instead of the might-makes-right approach. Due to the fact that modernism might not be the best philosophical framework to apply solutions to racism or sexism relativism provides some comfort.
Relativism has been a common philosophical framework in contemporary thought. It is through relativism and phenomenology that different points-of-view are considered legitimate for consideration, albeit through logic. For example, there is the understanding that subjectivity can lead to different points-of-view; therefore, modernism is nullified because of the parochial perspective.
Through relativism a political correct world emerges. This political correctness is not necessarily a good characteristic, since not all perspectives are equivalent. But it’s true that through relativism idealism sprouts. In political science relativism promotes the idea of trusting a peaceful existence amongst nation states, similar to the Westphalian ideals of Europe. Relativism can also be a philosophical framework for how races or genders interrelate. For example, the civil rights era in the 1960’s promoted equal racial treatment. It was through the realization that different races should have equal opportunities and the ability to express their ideas under the protection of the law. Within modernism, racial equality is hard to obtain.
Relativism helped with establishing that other vantage points need to be considered, but this sort of philosophical framework can lead to systemic risk. For example, within the context of free financial markets, laissez faire capitalism led to a financial collapse of 2008. It was the erroneous market belief that by reducing risk through engineering securitization products that the overall financial system would be more stable, whereas the financial system became more fragile and contagious when these financially engineered securities reached a critical mass—similar to a nuclear reaction reaching critical mass. When certain elements in a system goes into disequilibrium nonlinear effects result. Sometimes these nonlinear effects are positive, but usually the system performs in a chaotic manner and results in negative externalities. The main point is that relativism can lead to nonlinear system behavior that is detrimental to the system. For example, freedom of religion is a worthy cause to uphold but it is also true that when one religious system overpowers another religious system the social cohesion erodes and can lead to physical conflict, such as the crusades.
I will define post-relativism as a philosophical framework to address the negative externalities of relativism. Post-relativism allows for room regarding phenomenological perspectives with also an understanding that social systems are chaotic systems that have a tendency to go into a chaotic attraction, whereby the system becomes imbalanced. We see this quite clearly in financial markets where the economic system seems stable but then starts to tremor in the labor market, credit markets, or commercial trading markets which leads to severe market corrects, e.g., higher unemployment and the freezing up of credit.
Another way to apply post-relativism is in the current struggle in the Middle East. In a pure relativistic sense, there would be an equal weight of legitimacy amongst all parties involved, such as Israeli, Shiite, Sunni, and Western Powers. In reality pure relativism is not solving the issues that pledge this region. It is not the intent of this writing to have a real solution for the conflict in the Middle East, but I would like to comment that post-relativism might be a philosophical framework to build on to provide lasting peace in the region.
The key point to consider in post-relativism is that systems can produce negative externalities and produce ecological imbalance within the system or out into other surrounding systems. So keeping a vigilant eye on certain agents or actors that can create systemic risk is paramount and a system of rules and regulations must be established to prevent one agent of the system from disturbing the Nash equilibrium of the system. This concept of post-relativism is antithetical to pure capitalism or pure socialism because either system can cause disequilibrium. Therefore, it is the duty of the citizens of the society to create proper regulatory structures to prevent these externalities from arising, albeit to the best of their ability to circumvent the negative effects of the social system.
Within the post-relativism framework there are hints of higher intelligence. The idea that a complex system has numerous feedback loops that produce unpredictable phenomena, an assumption can be made that there is intelligence—or complex information—that can be derived from the system. The realization that our actions perturb our complex social system which leads to nonlinear phenomena is important to remember. This leads to the concept of artificial intelligence and how human beings will interface with such technology or new species. Will we remain human in this new era of artificial intelligence or will be need to evolve into techno-species? Is transhumanism the result of a nonlinear event called the singularity?
It has been proposed that conscious evolution will be a serious contender to natural evolution. Chu (2014) proposed the purposefulness of conscious evolution because the information derived from the past is explicitly incorporated into the decision making process, whereas an unconscious evolution has implicit information and is encoded into the genes and natural environment.
Chu did suggest that this explicit information does not mean that the outcomes will be completely known. This is similar to trading the financial markets, assuming the markets are a Markov chain structure, a non-random system. We can see this conscious evolution taking place in our everyday world, whereby humans use tools and information to change our environment to make it more hospitable. We also derive complex understanding from informational systems allowing for us to develop warning systems for severe weather or tsunamis—reducing historic death tolls from similar events.
One of the possible benefits of conscious evolution is that experiences, memories, and information can be passed to memes for any generation. This allows for more rapid information transfer and leads to higher semantic understanding. It is due to this feature of conscious evolution that there is a growing group of people fearful of the singularity, whereby this evolutionary process leads to the extermination of humankind as it is defined in our current context. But we can see the obvious benefits of being able to transfer learnt experiences much quicker and process information faster. For example, look at the amount of time it takes to raise a child to a level that the child understands adult level conversations. What if we could at the moment at birth upload knowledge to the child? The long-term and compounding benefits to society should be exponential in theory. It might also be true that there is a negative externality that degrades society—perhaps we need a lower diffusion of knowledge and the ability to purge generationally to evolve healthy at the individual or societal level.
In Vita-More (2012) an exhaustive analysis of the possible body augmentations were performed which helped imagine the possible paths of transhumanism. Vita-More suggested that someday individuals might change their skin color or their whole arm on a daily basis, similar to how we change our cloths today. We might even gravitate to transhumanist designers, as we do today with clothing designers. She also contends that as we progress through transhumanism that the actual human bipedal form will start to morph into something much more alien or insect like.
Another aspect of Vita-More’s research into transhumanism relates to the need for information processing augmentation. We are already seeing how we are interfacing with technology on a daily or hourly bases via smart phones, smart watches, and augmented reality. These devices are getting much smaller and cheaper year-over-year and will eventually be integrated into our clothing and physical body. The body integration features already exist today. For example, bionic eyes and ear drums are available today. Advances in prosthetics are developing everyday with mind-to-motor control which is starting to showcase integration of electronics into the human nervous system.
But with all due respect to the scholarly research that Vita-More presents in her doctoral dissertation, I must comment that it seems a bit designer bias. She assumed that individuals will want to support a designer industry that allows for plug-and-play arms and legs. Seems a bit science fiction, but there are obvious uses for this technology for individuals that actually need this sort of augmentation, e.g. victims of accidents or birth defects. The main point is that there seems to be little evidence that would support large scale designer bodies, but I am using the current zeitgeist landscape to determine such opinions.
What is more relevant is the human response to artificial intelligence regarding the need for human labor. It is very possible that the need for human labor will be drastically reduced forcing humans to compete with artificial intelligence and force computational integration between the human brain and the artificial intelligent brain. This I think is much more probable for the inflection point towards transhumanism, not the need for designer bodies—which seems a bit egotistic and antithetical to a higher morality. It is possible that through the transhumanist movement that our current economic and monetary system would be nullified by a much more egalitarian society, which seems at the surface to be anti-materialism; whereas Vita-More seems to be promoting more materialism.
In Barrat (2013) there was a well presented possibility of dystopia with artificial intelligence and the trend toward transhumanism. Barrat suggested that there will be a hard takeoff with artificial intelligence leading to superintelligence. A hard takeoff is when a technology advances very rapidly and does not allow for a slower diffusion into the population. A soft takeoff is the opposite, whereby the technology has a gradual assent and a modest diffusion rate. A soft takeoff allows for the society to adapt and coexist with the technology. Hard takeoffs proposed by Barrat do not allow for coexistence in any meaningful way.
The hard takeoff hypothesis would lead to a dystopic future because artificial intelligence, once reaching general intelligence, would lead to superintelligence in a very sho rt amount of time—possibly months. A super intelligent system would possibly have the ability to control our energy supply, or be able to institute a holocaust onto mankind. Due to the principle that super intelligent systems have many magnitudes more of cognitive ability compared to the human species, it is possible that the super intelligent system will decide that humans are like bugs and need to be destroyed or at the very least made into pets.
Barrat’s dystopic prediction might come true, but it is more plausible that artificial intelligence will have a soft takeoff and there will be many variations of artificial intelligent species. Some of these species will be kind and some will not be. In addition, with a soft takeoff humankind will learn to either work with these artificial intelligent species or will learn to integrate with them biologically, which leads to the advancements into the realm of transhumanism.
The most prominent writer on the singularity is Kay Kurtzweil. He is well known for his predictions regarding technology advancements. In Kurtzweil (2005) it was suggested that technological advancements in computer power and data storage will lead to a hard takeoff of artificial intelligence, as well as advancements in material science, nanotechnology, and biotechnology. Kurtzweil called this point-in-time that technology advances rapidly the singularity. Most of the technological advancement we have had since the industrial revolution has followed an exponential curve fit. The point on this exponential curve where a massive acceleration takes place is this singularity point.
At the singularity and beyond there will be major advancements in artificial intelligence, whereby we will reach artificial general intelligence (AGI). AGI is an artificial intelligent system that has human level of intelligence. In addition to massive advancements in artificial intelligence, biotechnology will advance to a point that life extension and life augmentation is possible. With advances in computer power and storage, AGI systems will be able to help advance new discoveries in medicine and physics. This massive explosion of information and new knowledge will lead further and more rapidly into new discoveries, whence the singularity is a point where a big bang of discovery is possible.
In terms of transhumanism, Kurtzweil suggests that the advancements in nanotechnology will help heal the body and prevent diseases. If a nanobot can be placed into the body and self-replicate, then it is possible to augment our immune system to help fight diseases. Also the self-replicating robots would be able to imbed themselves into the human brain to increase neurological function, perhaps not just to improve Alzheimer’s patients but to actually increase intelligence by adding more cortical power. As can be envisioned, nanotechnology could be a serious contender to merging biology and technology, whereby allowing for transhumanism to emerge. It might even be possible someday to use this nanotechnology and integrate it with the DNA or RNA for biological replication.
Nanotechonology would also have the ability to scan the body’s health in real-time to determine if medical attention is necessary. This would be essential in early detection of cancers and organ system failures. With advancements in scanning technologies, the doctor or AGI doctor will be able to have fine grain information on your biological system to customize treatment.
As Kurtzweil suggests, nanotechnology might even be the “cleanup crew” for our polluted environment. Perhaps little nanobots will be able to filter water and convert carbon dioxide into oxygen. If the singularity happens as Kurtzweil predicts rapid advancements in technology of all sorts will lead to life expansion and life extension. Life expansion is when the average life expectancy is advanced not incrementally but in many magnitudes of our current life expectancy. Life extension is the augmentation proposed in transhumanism, whereby body parts and cognitive functions can be improved.
In terms of transhumanism, I suspect that there will not be a hard takeoff for superintelligence, but actually a s-curve. This s-curve trajectory is slow at the beginning and accelerates in the middle, leading to a gradual flattening at the end. Superintelligence should take place even in a s-curve development trajectory, though it will be very gradual and perhaps more integrated into us. Transhumanism will most likely be the development path for a large percentage of the human species, but there will be humans that prefer to stay biologically human with very little technological improvement. So over time there will be different species of humans.
In the transhumanism’s corner is the fact that humans are the labor force that runs the world economy. Due to our social structures and politics the debt structures will need to be serviced. If most of the labor force is supplanted by artificial intelligence how can we support private and public debt with a lower tax base? If there are less human beings working, then there will be more stress on administering social programs—leading to more debt. For humans to compete with the artificial intelligent workforce, human beings will need to integrate technologically which leads to life expansion and larger cognitive capacity. Perhaps the main driver for transhumanism will be economic survival.
I do suspect that by 2025 artificial intelligence will be pervasive in our society and lead to career opportunities, advanced capabilities conducting doctoral level research, and advancements in medicine and science. But the lower value careers will be eliminated by artificial intelligence, leading to more unemployment for the lower value workforce. This economic structural adjustment will most likely not be a smooth transition and will be quite disruptive. This social disruption will force “new deal” proposals from governments to quiet the masses that are affected by these structural adjustments. Unfortunately, these new social programs will be ineffective in the long-term because the artificial intelligence will evolve up the value chain leading to more unemployment.
There will be humanists and transhumanists coexisting but that might not be a long-term conditionality. The humanists might be forced out of existence due to economic realities. It might be that the transhuman evolution is a natural phenomenon and that the humanists will not be able to survive. But it is possible that through the advancements of artificial intelligence and nanotechnology that the need to work will be eliminated and that humans will live in a utopic existence. This might be the case but our current debt structures, monetary system, and capital ownership might need to be curtailed or radically restructured.
Chu (2014) considers the cosmic being the end to the human existence. The cosmic being is when humans totally transcend our physical constraints and live as the ultimate super being, where all living things are one with the universe. In the tail-end of transhumanism there will be the lack for the need of a physical form that resembles a human body as we know it to be. Once the human form is no longer in existence transhumanism will reach the transition point to post-humanism.
Chu suggests that this post-human form is more angelic, but with a technological medium. In religion there seems to be other species in different dimensions working in concert with our plane of existence. Religion defines this angelic medium the spirit world. Chu proposes that through technology we will possess the mega capable cloud that allows for transhuman and post-human species to know each other’s thoughts, whereby a collective conscious emerges. At the being of this collective conscious are individual beings as nodes pooled together allowing for cognitive networking.
Over time the collective conscious will eventually lead to hyper conductivity and merge all the individual nodes into one collective being. Similar to individuals in a society leading to a city. The city is a being from an organizational stand point. As this advanced cloud becomes more connected and leads to superintelligence the early post-human species will evolve into pieces of information in this cloud, leading to the end of the need for physical form. This cloud of conductivity is strengthened by more post-human species fully committing to the cloud. This cloud is the ultimate oneness of mankind and the universe from Chu’s perspective.
The question is if the post-human period of existence in the physical form will be short lived and become a cosmic being quickly or if there will be a slow diffusion into the cloud of hyper conductivity. Either way, Chu considers the cosmic being as a self-similar pattern of nature, whereby by the universe started as an explosion of material and energy leading to a larger self-organizing behavior. Imagine the universe before the big bang as a system of complexity that led to a big crunch. This big crunch led to the singularity of the big bang, which will lead to another big crunch of material and energy. This cosmic being concept from Chu is considered the natural progression of nature to lead to higher forms of organization.
When we consider the transitional point of transhumanism and post-humanism Vita-More (2012) contemplated the new physical form. This new form will not resemble the human form. It is possible that the post-human will not be bipedal. It is possible that the post-human will levitate and not need legs at all. There is a strong possibility that mobility will not be a serious consideration and that just thinking will allow our needs to be fulfilled in a more evolved post human era.
Vita-More’s research investigated more of the possibility of augmentation leading to new human forms. She also investigated the possibility of mind uploads, which seems to be similar to the beginning of Chu’s cosmic being—assuming that the mind uploads have hyper conductivity with each other. There seems to be a desire in the singularity movement, which Vita-More is a participant, to have technology provide immortality. Mind uploads provide this possibility of immortality, but the assumption is that the true underlying being is also able to be uploaded. This is what Chalmers (1996) considers the hard problem of consciousness. The hard problem of consciousness is for us to understand why there is subjective reality. If there is such subjectivity, then it might not be possible to truly upload the full person into the cloud. Perhaps we are more than just thoughts.
Let’s assume we are just neurological connections that can be compressed into digitized information and uploaded into a mind database. Does that mean that “you” are uploaded or does it mean a copy that is similar to “you” is uploaded? I believe that Vita-More proposed that mind uploading is “you,” whereas Chalmers proposes the opposite.
Barrat (2013) describes the post-human era as dystopic. This dystopia resides in the idea that humans will not be able to coevolve with artificial intelligence because the artificial intelligence will rapidly takeoff and become super intelligent. This superintelligence, according to Barrat, will view the human species as a nuisance and initiate a designed extinction.
With enough computer power the artificial intelligent species, or AGI, might lead to a superintelligence—but the lead time for this takeoff is in question. Barrat proposes a hard takeoff, but I am not sure if Barrat has considered the possibility of inhibitory feedback loops in our social system or ecosystem that might retard the superintelligence to emerge under a hard takeoff scenario.
Barrat does shed light on the singularity movement. The singularity movement suggests that all these advancements from humanism to post-humanism is our “natural” evolutionary progression for our species. Barrat suggests that all this artificial intelligence will most likely lead to the end of our species in a very disruptive way.
Kurtzweil (2005) investigated the possibility of post-humanism; whereby the main driver is genetic modification, nanotechnology, and advanced artificial intelligence. Genetic modification will allow our species to evolve faster than the normal evolutionary process. There is a problem with increasing the speed of evolution, it might be out of sync with other species in the ecosystem leading to disequilibrium. The benefits might outweigh the risks because genetic modification can target certain diseases and allow for proteins to inhibit the progression of these diseases or allow for immunity from it. Through genetic modification we rapidly evolve away from human into post-human.
Nanotechnology in Kurtzweil’s vision of post-humanism allows for immunity of disease states, but also predicts the ability to have little machines repair cellular damage. For example, neurological damage is projected to be repaired with nanobots that reconnect lost neural connections and promote cellular growth. Another possibility of nanotechnology in terms of post-humanism is that nanobots are a means for rapid evolution of our brain into a hyper connected system that is linked with other individuals wired via nanobots. This hyper connected species will eventually not need a human substrate and will lead to the cosmic being that Chu proposes.
Advanced artificial intelligence will allow for advancements in conductivity within the species leading to a hyper connected species with a deeper awareness. This awareness might be disconcerting with concepts of individualism and civil liberties. Under the Kurtzweil vision of post-humanism, his collectivism might be antithetical to our current sensibilities. This hyper connected system becomes a being which I suspect will lead to unintended consequences.
Transhumanism is much easier to grasp because it is related to augmenting our current biological configuration. But understanding post-humanism is quite another task all together. In post-humanism the human substrate is no longer used. This is similar to looking at our earlier ancestry of vertebrates, they do not resemble our species from a physical perspective. So post-humanism will be an era of a different type of human. Most likely this advanced evolved human will be technological and biological, via the transformation through transhumanism. The biological species will merge with the technological species during the transhuman phase. In the post-human era the species will have the ability to be pure information or materialize at will.
This materializing ability will allow for shape shifting and travel to other ends of the universe at the speed of light, since we can become pure energetic information. The problem with this materialization ability is the subjective reality that Chalmers proposes. It is possible that two people with 100 percent copies of each other, including experiences, prefers different flavors of ice cream. Is there something beyond the physical body and neurological processes that allow for this subjectivity? Are we nothing but connected cellular tissue, albeit an evolved cellular blob?
My main point regarding post-humanism is that the current human form and how we socialize will no longer exist in the post-human era. It is hard to imagine this post-humanism, but it is possible that through materialization and shape shifting that we actually die in the process, only to have another “being” materialize with their unique subjective reality. For example, if you teleport a person from point A to point B it is quite possible the person’s cellular tissue and memory is teleported but the being’s essence is not. This essence is the water well of subjectivity. If it is true that the individual essence is not possible to teleport, perhaps post-humanism does not maintain the individual essence of subjectivity as well.
It is important to understand that artificial intelligence and the other promising technologies at our grasps are going to change the social and philosophical framework relatively quickly. Without having a discussion on those social and philosophical impacts we will be evolving with this technology blindly, which might not be in our best interest.
Humanism has led to many different philosophical branches, especially in the context of relativism and post-relativism. We need to consider that all perspectives might not have equal validity, and systemic risks can build up leading to social disequilibrium. Transhumanism might be such a systemic risk. Many researchers and corporations will benefit from rolling out transhuman technologies, but we need to ask the important question. Are we better off as individuals with transhuman technology? It is a battle for individualism and collectivism.
Penman (2015) suggested that our factors for civilization ebb and flow depending on stress factors and childrearing, which lead to the hypothesis that the rise and fall of civilizations are due by the most part through epigenetic changes. We are currently in a low civilization factor and low vigor factor phase in the western world. The western world’s current social makeup constitutes less nuclear families, more opulence and the need for stimulation. My concern is that with the current epigenetic makeup in technological societies will lead individuals to choose transhumanism instead of maintaining humanism.
Our society will be asked to answer the question, should I be human or evolve to transhuman? There will be a small population that will want to maintain their human roots, but that desire will be increasingly harder to maintain as transhumanism becomes the norm and the dominate player economically and politically.
Barrat, J. (2013). Our final invention: Artificial intelligence and the end of the human era. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press.
Chalmers, D. (1996). The conscious mind: In search of a fundamental theory. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Chu, T. (2014). Human purpose and transhuman potential: A cosmic vision of our future evolution. San Rafael, CA: Origin Press.
Giustiniani, V. (1859). Homo, humanus, and the meaning of humanism.
Kurtzweil, R. (2005). The Singularity is near: When humans transcend biology. New York, NY: Penguin Group.
Niethammer, F. (1808). The dispute between philanthropinism and humanism in the educational theory of our time.
Penman, J. (2015). Biohistory: Decline and fall of the west. United Kingdom: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
Vita-More, N. (2012). Life expansion: Towards an artistic, design-based theory of the transhuman/posthuman (Doctoral dissertation).