Objectivist Transhumanism: A Philosophy for Futurists
Transhumanism is one of the interests of a university premedical student of my acquaintance who is trying to figure out the personal ethics of modifying oneself with technology. To that end, an Objectivist group of which we are both members convened a breakfast meeting at Denny’s in a problem-solving session attended by eight Objectivists. Our student comes to Objectivism by way of a fantasy fiction series called Sword of Truth (by Terry Goodkind) which thematically supports the Objectivist philosophy of Ayn Rand.
Transhumanism supposes the feasibility and desirability of chemically, genetically, or mechanically enhancing human life. Related concepts include eugenics, artificial intelligence, the technological singularity, and the idea of evolution by natural selection. We agreed without debate that religious followers find all or most of these concepts repugnant and dangerous on grounds ranging from hubris (men confusing themselves with God) to existential (mankind being wiped out by machines).
There ARE risks to one’s own values, as with any endeavor. Anyone who acts also risks sacrificing the values of others. Each adverse outcome is what an engineer would call a failure mode. A wise objectivist examines the hazards one by one, like an engineer considering the application of a new technology. An objectivist weighs the consequences and uncertainties, plans to eliminate or mitigate them, and finally balances the benefits against the perils to arrive at an optimum solution. Some decisions are easier than others. Sometimes the answer is “no.”
As a example of an almost imperceptible chemical enhancement with enormous potential for improving the lives of college students, cross-country truck drivers, and war-fighters, consider elimination of the need for sleep. Turns out there is a drug that does that: Orexin A, a naturally-occurring human hormone that reverses the effects of sleep deprivation in monkeys. Its use is forbidden in humans. Its affect on higher functions, such as creativity, is unknown. If it were available, at say $400 a dose, its cost would be prohibitive for most. But it is coming.
Other than old science fiction (Star Trek explores transhumanism extensively in virtually all of its forms and implications), there appears to be little discussion on transhumanism abroad today. That might represent an opportunity for blogging. One could write about grups, Borg drones, Dr. Daystrom’s M-X computers, Khan Noonien Singh and his superhuman tyrants, Vidiians, holographic doctors, and androids named Data. Oh, no, sorry, that would be for Trekkers.
As one of us said, and the rest silently agreed, very likely the technological changes that transmute humanity will come slowly, be driven by market and individual values, and will seem natural enough as long as they are not forced upon us. The last, not forced upon us, might seem an afterthought except that it is the most important condition of all, and the one most in question. It depends on one’s freedom to leave the arrangement, whatever it is.
One of us who takes an optimistic view of the power of naked ideas suggested a reading that, on reflection, seems itself like a good idea. It is David Deutsch’s The Beginning of Infinity, which receives high praise in its Amazon.com reviews (I checked). One of them asserts that, “Some impressive types of potential progress discussed in the book include building space stations in deep space, immortality and creating a more open, tolerant and free society.” Wouldn’t it be grand if Deutsch were able to convey clearly that the last two depend on the first?
On the other hand, I have it on good authority from the Internet (which some think might eventually become self-aware) that, “Transhumanism is a completely retarded movement that consists of Star Trek nerds, comic book geeks and other assorted losers…”
Oh my. Not at all open and free.