“As the external world becomes more animate, we may find that we — the so-called humans — are becoming, and may to a great extent always have been, inanimate in the sense that we are led, directly by built-in tropisms, rather than leading. So we and our elaborately evolving computers may meet each other halfway.”
“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 fulfillment.
Life needn’t be an exclusively biological phenomenon; transhumans capitalize on this revolutionary notion by experimenting with “cyborging” and artificial intelligence. The most radical countercultural spin-off of postmodernism, transhumans challenge collective assumptions about what it is to be human. Their endeavors are a kind of fusion between the futurism of Arthur C. Clarke and the liberalism of Ayn Rand.
Inspired by an assortment of scientists and science-fiction writers (such as roboticist Hans Moravec and novelist Bruce Sterling), many transhumans have found an outlet in Max More’s Extropy Institute. “Extropy,” as defined by More, is the opposite of entropy. ExI members, and transhumans in general, tend to view the universe as an entity of self-generating complexity, tempered and transmuted by intelligence. More advocates the concept of “dynamic optimism” for dealing with the future: an exceedingly rational, but innately creative, outlook for addressing and modifying the long-term. And, in a large way, the long-term is what the transhumanist movement is all about: evolution as performance art.
Read my transhumanist essay “Sentience and Circuitry.”
I consider it imperative that we advance the phenomenon we call “consciousness.” With humanity no longer dependent on natural selection to keep itself viable, it is time for individuals to seize their own evolution by the reigns. The options facing us are as challenging and daunting as they are promising. To reap their benefits, our notions of perceived “authority” and national and ethnic allegiances must undergo massive controlled mutation. Eventually, we must amass the courage to embrace our own progressive obsolescence if we’re to survive and expand.
The Extropy Institute (ExI), the quintessential transhumanist site.
The Immortality Institute, dedicated to the concept that death is a disease to be overcome by technology.
The Society for Neural Interfacing. (It’s closer than you think.)
The NanoAging Institute features diverse resources exploring the abolition of death.
Have you ever experienced lucid dreaming and wished you could utilize it at will? The Lucidity Institute is probably the Web’s best resource on the subject.
The Transhuman World Culture InfoMark is an impressive roundup of transhumanist essays and links.
Future Hi: “Celebrating the Rebirth of Psychedelic Futurism.”
We live in a rapidly emerging ecology of ideological viruses. Memes.org is dedicated to dissecting and charting the dissemination of ideas and concepts.
Church of Virus: “A Neo-Cybernetic Philosophy for the 21st Century”
The Hedonistic Imperative, an effort to “abolish suffering in all sentient life” through genetic engineering and nanotechnology.
The NeuroNautic Institute: mind experimentation, etc.
The Preparation: we can get there from here…
Betterhumans: stem-cell research, cyberpunk fiction, space exploration, mind uploading, cryonics…this site has it all.
Anders Sandberg’s Transhumanist Resources.
Edge: a careful and multifaceted look at our emerging future/s.
The Journal of Evolution and Technology is a peer-reviewed electronic journal devoted to exploring inventive future technologies.
jrm&aWebFLUX. In the site’s own words: “A mind-blowing mix of fact and fantasy, hard science and well-grounded speculation, with concrete how-to info to top it all off–resulting in some of the best and strangest stuff on Earth…”
The Deoxyribonucleic Hyperdimension, one of the best futurist sites on the Web.
Squeamish about drilling a hole through your skull? Take the BrainWave Generator for a spin.
Inventive and endlessly clickable, Fusion Anomaly, explores the nexus where technology, physics and postmodernism collide.
AquaThought Foundation explores consciousness expansion through interaction with dolphins. Mind machine gear available.
The World Future Society deals with futurism in general.
Cyborg-conceptualist Stelarc‘s authorized website is a breathtaking introduction to body-machine interfaces.
Swiss artist H.R. Giger deals beautifully with the mechanization of the human condition. His art reflects a refined interest in the interchangeability between the biological and the technological. This emphasis on symbiosis, so gloriously realized in Giger’s work, is a central fascination with many transhumans.
Replicants.org: “Dedicated to providing information about silicone and silicone gel-filled appliances for special effects make-up and fine arts use.”
Photorealist Hajime Sorayama‘s art shares themes with Giger’s, notably the blurring lines between the organic and the technological. His lavishly realized “gynoid” series depicts ultrasexy women cyborged to ambiguous (and dedidedly kinky) chrome devices straight out of a William Gibson novel. Interestingly, even the visible “skin” on some of his figures turns out to have seams and hinges; as Philip K. Dick once wrote, “living and nonliving things are exchanging properties…”
Like Sorayama’s art, Luis Royo‘s science fiction illustration defies pre-cyberpunk notions that separate the organic from the artificial. His chimeric waifs and cybernetic femme fatales integrate flesh and machinery, exploring the erotic potential of emerging technologies. Click herefor my extended essay on Royo’s painting.
Cyberpunk science-fiction has been exploring the transhumanist domain for nearly two decades; it’s no accident that Bruce Sterling lunches with prosthetically enhanced performance artist Stelarc or that novelist Charles Platt (“The Silicon Man”) was once the president of CryoCare. Here are a few recommended titles, categorized for your convenience.
Artificial Intelligence (AI):
Hans Moravec, roboticist responsible for much contemporary thought on postbiological technology (i.e. mind uploading). His books “Mind Children” and “Robot” are must-reading.
Ray Kurzweil, author of “The Age of Spiritual Machines,” is a driving force in the quest for artificial intelligence. His website is a superior resource.
Futurist Bill Joy envisions a machine-dominated dystopian future that “doesn’t need us.” I disagree with Joy’s thesis but welcome his sense of caution.
In the film “The Matrix,” a computer-generated reality is used to control a human population overwhelmed by a malignant artificial intelligence. On the opposing end of the spectrum, lavish virtual realities may eventually function as potent tools for individual freedom. By abandoning the concensual ontosphere in favor of custom-tailored cybernetic environments, humans have the potential to rewrite conventional notions and bore more deeply into the core of the human experience. The surrealists of the 20th century consigned their dreams to canvas. The surrealists of the 21st will be indistinguishable components of dynamic, immersive artworks in which “dream” and “reality” merge.
Are we living in a computer simulation? Nick Bostrom’s The Simulation Argument presents the concept from philosophical and technological perspectives.
Daryl Hannah plays a genetically engineered android in “Blade Runner.”
Android World offers prototype pseudo-humans for those who can’t wait till the Nexus-Six line hits the market.
Orion’s Arm is a collaborative fictional future in which domineering AIs control large portions of the galaxy.
Transtopia is a great resource that attempts to anticipate the so-called Singularity down to the second. A very worthwhile site.
The Simon Laven Page consists of several fascinating lists of online “chatterbots”: semi-artificially intelligent programs that can engage in (usually awkward) conversation. Speak with Elvis, John Lennon or subject yourself to ELIZA’s frustratingly thorough brand of psychoanalysis.
The Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence nurtures development of sentient machines.
howtoAndroid.com: “A website dedicated to showing others how to build their own Android robots.”
Italian edition of Robert Ettinger’s “The Prospect of Immortality.”
Robert Ettinger’s book, “The Prospect of Immortality” (above), helped define the cryonics movement. It’s now available online in its entirety.
Alcor (publisher of “Cryonics” magazine and currently my suspension provider of choice)
CryoNet (offers a stimulating e-mail digest)
The Foresight Institute deals with the realization and implications of nanotechnology–a rapidly emerging science that’s also of crucial importance to cryonicists. Drexler’s insights are wonderfully presented in the complete online version of his landmark book, “Engines of Creation.”
A nanotech “microbivore” ingests pathogens.
Center for Responsible Nanotechnology: Just say “no” to “gray goo”!
Notable transhumanist thinkers:
Cosmic philosopher and humanitarian pioneer Timothy Leary is the quintessential transhumanist. His work is a sublime testament to human freedom.
Cosmologist Frank Tipler proposes that sentient machines at the end of time will recreate the universe and every being that ever lived in it, in which case “heaven” is a most intriguing sort of cyberspace.