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Transhumanism

Updated on May 6, 2009

Humanity's Final Frontier

Life seems so simple when you boil it down to its basest level. We're born in a body of meat and bone, skin and the flesh that surges beneath it, muscles and organs and hair and sweat glands. We ripen suddenly at puberty, reach out for the rungs and begin our climb up the ladder of adult life, taking each step in turn, mouthing the names of each bar as we set our sweaty hands upon it. Job, car, house, school, mate, children, retirement. It's a cycle as old as time. We've seen our parents go through it, our friends, our loved ones, countless others. It's burnt into our minds, seared into the very fabric of society and culture, the meat-and-potatoes of business. Every day people die totally unaware of this cycle they've adhered so well to, totally unaware of anything outside the fleshy, two dimensional existence they've so willingly been a part of. Wake up, get dressed, go to work, come home, watch TV, fall asleep, then repeat. It's natural, it's normal, and it's worked, with or without a few minor variations, for thousands of years, if not longer. It's the result of millions of years of tinkering, just another step in nature's attempt to make simple, ordinary biological existence as foolproof as humanly possible.

But what if one were to break the cycle, say reorient themselves with the world and lead a more spontaneous life? That's natural too. It's just another form of mutation, tested and judged by nature and the currents of the normal cycle. But this little change is not a mutation in the classic sense- when we think of mutation, we often think extra digits or a change in skin pigmentation, but there is a completely different set of mutations afoot, mutations that are part of a world that is often overlooked and taken completely for granted, a world of ideas and hyper-amped evolution not of the body, but of ideas and the mind.

Awareness of this transition from biological adaptation and change to the rapid, purely mental sort of idea and thoughtform mutation that is gaining speed and snowballing as inventions and networks like the internet bring us closer together is the foundation for a post-modern mode of thought bordering on movement status called Transhumanism. It goes beyond religion, beyond philosophy, incorporates the sort of "beyond-thinking" common to Nihilism, and yet carries all the need and patient devotion of a priest waiting for the rapture. It is the idea that we are capable of something more, that we are something more, something greater than just the biological, and many Transhumanists believe that the key to the potential locked away within the human race can and will be found in technology, that perhaps salvation, or just as likely the next step of our development, one where we transcend the simplicity of flesh and become wholly idea, is waiting in the hard, logic-spun embrace of the machine.

Have you ever watched an idea? Truly watched it from birth to wherever it happens to wander? They start so innocently, conceived from a conglomerate of other ideas, other experiences, clusters and clusters of idea families forming long lines to the point where they come together and create something new, something wholly different, with bits of its parents coloring it as clearly as kittens born from a litter with multiple fathers. Given enough vectors, each idea will spread, growing, changing, assimilating and moving on to "infect" the minds of others as easily as any virus. It's the basis of advertising, the raw idea behind viral marketing. Like any other mutation, each new idea is thrown to the wolves, swept up in the natural flow of the system, and either proves itself as a successful adaptation of the collective consciousness and survives to reproduce with other thoughts to create new forms of the original idea (The computer and everything that came after) or fails and sinks beneath the waves like so much smell-o-vision. But unlike biological adaptations, ideas are immortal, or nearly so. As long as they are remembered by someone, or retained in some form of external memory storage, they live on, and like bacterium locked away in ancient tombs, can still prove viable in the right habitat. Ideas, like life, find a way.

Since the dawn of time, most religious philosophies have taught that the soul is immortal, that while the flesh may fail and decay to its basest elements, the true essence of the person lives on in some form or another, that the idea, the part that truly made them human, and not just a sack of meat and organs, continues to exist and persist in a life of its own. Other philosophies have spoken also of transcendence, the ascension of the spirit despite the shackles of the mortal frame to a "beyond" or "god-state" in a sort of non-violent sacrifice of self akin to death or perhaps graceful, spiritually-achieved and sanctioned suicide. Transhumanism is an idea that takes it all a step further, focusing on the idea of the spiritual essence itself, its ability to transcend the flesh, and the avenues of thought and ideas that go with these assumptions, bringing forth an almost dichotomic combination of the straining, passionate need to survive and evolve posed against the Nihilistic thought pattern of "nothing really matters."

What does this all mean? In simple terms, Transhumanism is a fourth-dimensional, non-lateral mode of thinking about ourselves, the world around us, and what it means to be human. It combines all the elements of faith and need and the things that make us truly human with the fact, logic, and theory of the scientific world of data and possibility we've spawned as a species. It looks at the material world as an experience, the flesh as a vehicle (an inefficient one, but better than none at all), and puts the emphasis of survival and reproduction into the idea as opposed to the body and the world with which it interacts. Transhumanism is the response to the growing pains felt by a species whose intellectual evolution and adaptation far exceeds its penchant for physical change, and opens a new frontier of possibilities that emphasize both quality and quantity of thought alongside the synthetic evolution of a steadily more efficient human form, whether it be of flesh or something entirely different. It is that straining need for something more, something greater, the need to harness the potential to change within ourselves and reach a higher intellectual plane while still staying rooted by some means or another in the material world we know from sight, sound, taste, smell and touch.

What is the next stage of humanity, this "post-human" form that Transhumanists strain so hard toward? Only time may tell for sure. As the ever-evolving complexities of the mind and the realm of thought and idea continue to adapt and change and dominate, using culture and technology as a vector and playing a steadily larger role in our lives to the point of eventually overshadowing the crude industry of the flesh entirely, thought modes and philosophies will change and grow and present us with as many options as dead ends, thousands fold what we've run across as a fledgling species barely getting to know ourselves and the vast world around us. The next step is an idea, one that's growing, spreading, and ripening steadily as information and the essence of humanity become more important and mingle more easily in the collective mediums of the electronic. Already, we use our bodies and our computers to interface our minds with the primitive collective network of the internet, a system far more complex than the foundation constructions of written language and printed materials, and yet a grand step below direct neural interface and the sharing of thoughts with others in a vast sea of data, unimpeded by the inefficient machinations of the physical. It's coming, this next step in our development as a species, and the idea of a steadily more globally collective consciousness is really only a short step away, itself standing as just another step in bringing ideas and thought together to ensure easier survival and faster change. But no matter what form the human body of the future takes, whether it be the same body of flesh and bone or merely a digital personality stored within the realm of the electric, there will always be contemporaries of the Transhumanists straining toward the next step, and perhaps that is just one of the things that really makes us human.

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    • profile image

      The Collective 

      9 years ago

      We are the Borg. You will be assimilated. Your biological and technological distinctiveness will be added to our own. Your culture will adapt to service us. Resistance is futile.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      9 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Sounds like some of the science fiction that I love. Communicating telepathically, etc. Who knows? There may be entities (beings) on other planets in other solar systems that are already like the transhumanists you describe.

    • Earl S. Wynn profile imageAUTHOR

      Earl S. Wynn 

      10 years ago from California

      Transhumanism in general seems to be a belief that sort of stands on the opposite end of the spectrum from transcendence into a state of light and beauty, though they share many of the same qualities. It focuses more on the physical (with thought and idea as an extension of that) to transcend our existence as homosapiens via scientifically proven and acceptable means. I'm not necessarilly a transhumanist, but I find alot of validity in the way they view the world and share some of the same ideas/opinions.

      As for what am I reading? Haha, lots of things. The first thing that exposed my to transhumanistic thought though was the Cyberpunk genre (i.e. William Gibson, Philip K. Dick, etc.) and through extension of that, a little known magazine that ran for a little while known as "NeoMetropolis Magazine." I'm not sure if John Jacobs is still out there and writing anymore, but his work was what really kicked off my interest.

    • SparklingJewel profile image

      SparklingJewel 

      10 years ago from upper midwest

      I believe the final frontier is understanding the Soul and Spirit. The inner realm. It is transcending this physical realm, into a more light, faster, cellular vibrating existence, where the bodies are more light than matter as we know it.

      Use of the word humanism is confusing to me, in that as I know, it is part of the problem. Focusing on being a solid human form and perpetuating mundane ideas of a cyclical life repitition is dulldrum at its worst.

      One needs to look to the spiritual sense of an ascending spiral toward a higher existence of beauty and standards of virtue that uplifts the soul and her desires for freedom from a life without meaning beyond the material.

      So what are you reading that talks about this transhumanism?

    • Earl S. Wynn profile imageAUTHOR

      Earl S. Wynn 

      10 years ago from California

      Haha, thanks Zsuzsy!

    • Zsuzsy Bee profile image

      Zsuzsy Bee 

      10 years ago from Ontario/Canada

      ....Transhumanists straining toward the next step, and perhaps that is just one of the things that really makes us human

      Isn't that the truth....great hub

      regards Zsuzsy

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