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Movin' On: Taking Transhumanism in Stride
by: Maya Talisman Frost
Back in the seventies, we watched "The Six Million Dollar Man", a popular television show about a trained agent who was critically injured and given the gift of technology--bionic legs and super vision.
Lee Majors portrayed a man capable of leaping tall buildings and scanning the landscape at night. We marveled at the possibility of creating a human with superior qualities. In the opening sequence of each episode, we heard the phrase, "We have the technology." The implication was that we could--and should--use it to transform a high market value man into a formidable man/machine mix.
My definition of an excellent human is someone who is mindful of maximizing his or her own potential for creativity and compassion. That seems like plenty to tackle, but there is an emerging school of thought that suggests we ought to become excellent superhumans.
Transhumanists believe that the continual evolution of humans requires the--key word here-- ethical use of technology to help us live better, longer lives. For them, a life span of 80 years may be what "nature intended" for this decade, but our role as 21st century humans is to use what we've learned to improve upon nature.
These aren't doom and gloom types who live in a fantasy world or anticipate a future run by robots. Transhumanists are passionately optimistic about the role of humans. They're excited about the possibilities for people to truly maximize their potential. They believe that human development is limited only by our current technology.
We're seeing evidence of this every day. Fertility clinics offer a range of effective treatments unthinkable a few decades ago. We're captivated by the extreme makeover shows featuring dramatic physical transformations of those willing to endure multiple surgeries and painful recovery periods. We know people who have benefited from pacemakers, cochlear implants, laser vision surgery, prosthetic devices, and cosmetic dentistry.
Transhumanists embrace these techniques and many more as a desirable progression toward utilizing technology as a tool for human improvement. They envision a time when we can eliminate disease, enhance memory, develop superior senses, and create physical bodies resistant to aging.
This build-a-better-human view isn't universally accepted, but it's important to look at how our ideas of "improvement" have changed over the years. Eyeglasses were once viewed as an unnecessary and unwelcome manipulation of our God-given eyesight. The current hot topics such as stem- cell research will one day elicit the same yawns with which we greet news of eyebrow lifts or fertility drug-induced twins.
What does it mean to go beyond human? As long as humans are in charge, is it possible to do anything that might be considered beyond the realm of human potential? Is there a need for ethical controls or legal restrictions if advances in science are seen as the desired result of natural human achievement? Is all fair in love and war--and science?
We love ethical debates about the nature of nature. Instead of focusing on a particular new-fangled technique, we'd do well to frame our rejection or acceptance of transhumanism in terms of the bigger picture--is technology a natural part of human evolution? Do we have a responsibility to use science as a tool to improve the human experience- including the human body?
I'm always open to improving, and that goes for my definition of excellence. If we can develop superhuman brains and bodies, can we also look forward to tremendous gains in creativity and compassion? Transhumanists get us thinking about the potential for humanity over the long haul.
Now that's excellent.
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