Transhumanism is a social and scientific movement based on the notion of transcending the current human condition through scientific and technological enhancements. These enhancements are improvements upon the mind, body, and spirit of the human being. The most common ideas for improvements are the advancement of intellect, strength, and consciousness through emerging technologies in both the bio-medical and electrical/digital industries. The transhumanism movement is controversial among futurists due to the many ethical implications that abound from the idea of transforming the human body.
The idea of transforming the human condition has persisted throughout mankind's history. The quests for eternal youth, immortality, infinite knowledge, etc. have all been documented in stories ranging from the Fountain of Youth to the Elixir of Life. FM-2030, a teacher at The New School in New York City, began using the term "transhuman" in the 1960's. FM-2030 (originally named Fereidoun M. Esfandiary), began categorizing people who adopted emerging technologies as "transhumans." This is when the term transhuman is believed to have been born. Modern transhumanism is associated with every day culture on various levels: reliance on personal computers, prostheses allowing the wearer to run faster or be stronger, and even embedded micro-processors.
Transhumanism is unique in relation to other forms of science because of its focus on the individual. Many sciences and technologies are aimed toward the betterment of mankind as a whole be it world hunger, peace, exploration, and poverty. Transhumanism on the other hand is geared toward improving the human body on an individual level. Many transhumanists argue that through this individual motivation, mankind as a whole will also be improved. Proponents feel that the true purpose of transhumanism is to eliminate all barriers that form congenitally such as intellect, physical strength, or even hereditary diseases. Eliminating these barriers, they claim, will improve society by removing many inherited social constructs.
Oftentimes, Transhumanism focuses on the nervous system, because it is believed that the brain is the "common denominator of personhood". Transhumanists employ not only current high technology techniques that are believed to further enhance and expand their lives but healthy living lifestyles as well in order to maintain a healthy infrastructure to improve upon.
Transhumnanists support and endorse nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology, and cognitive sciences. They also focus on futuristic technologies that include artificial intelligence, cryonics, and mind uploading. Legislation promoting said technologies and civil freedoms such as procreative liberties are also commonly supported by the transhumanist movement.
Transhumanists have coined the terms "bioconservatives" and "bioluddites", the former being those who feel emerging technologies are a threat to humanity and nature, and the latter being those who advocate such breakthroughs. Bioconservatives feel it is necessary to preserve the natural human body where as bioluddites feel that this necessity of preservation merely stifles the progress and evolution of the human species. Some bioconservatives attribute this advancement and augmentation of the human body as a form of playing God and therefore as being inappropriate, this is, however, contested by the bioluddites. The Catholic Church as well as other Christian denominations feel that such augmentation is immoral due to the fact that it is improving upon that which was already created. In order to make such an improvement, according to the church, a divine intervention is necessary; without such an intervention humans will become merely a tangential part of God's image. Another aspect to the "playing God" argument is that genetic and biological manipulation is error-prone and unpredictable at times. Because of this unpredictability, it is possible that unforeseen risks are being taken due to this augmentation variable being introduced to the evolutionary/gene-pool equation.
The economics of transhumanism is another area of major criticism and source of ethical controversy. When it becomes a choice to modify ones own condition, it will be such that those who have the means will have the most advanced minds, bodies, and spirits. This will effectively create an even larger and more tangible rift between those who have resources and those who do not which, in turn, may divide humans into a class-based system rooted in not only socioeconomic status, as it is presently in the developed world, but in physicality as well; this is called the genetic divide. However, this is not an argument against transhumanism but more of an argument for political action. Progressive bioethicists believe that not supporting these technological advancements will not necessarily avoid a genetic divide, but, instead, make it riskier due to the technologies being available only on the black market and only to those with enough resources. The focus on the individual over all else also can be seen as ignoring other prominent social issues including poverty, disparity in education, and genocide. For many, transhumanist thinking is frustrating and unnecessary when there are all sorts of other problems that exist in the world that already have a readily available solution.
Some argue that supporting transhumanism will result in a dystopian world, similar to one depicted in the 1932 novel, Brave New World, due to the fact that practices and institutions that are fundamental to humanity will be destroyed or altered beyond recognition. Transhumanists' theories that genetic modification before birth will result in a longer, healthier, more successful life have been argued against because some believe that it would change what makes humans worthy of ethical consideration.
Another argument posed by bioethicists is that removing limitations such as aging, death, and disease will also mean removing that which brings meaning to many human experiences. In essence, this is considered the trivialization of the human condition. In a world where people need not worry about death, many argue that such people will hold less value for life. This argument is met with criticism from transhumanists. Proponents of the transhumanism movement claim that removing these limitations will not necessarily remove meaning from life, but rather, will hold potential for new meaning for humankind, especially while continuing to strive for excellence.
Popular Culture References
Transhumanism is a common theme used in science fiction media. The idea of augmenting and modifying the human body is something that has been used in stories for comic books, video games, novels, movies, and even used in music. Among the most accepting communities has been the cyberpunk genre. This genre consists of many forms of science fiction-type media pertaining to the digital/virtual culture. Its momentum began with William Gibson's 1984 novel Neuromancer and Bruce Sterling's 1985 novel Schismatrix. Both of these novels revolve around the idea of modifying the human body and have paved the way for many more popular culture references.
Modern pop-culture has used transhumanism more frequently due to the proliferation of technological breakthroughs in the real world. Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a video game that was released in 2011 and makes use of the idea of transhumanism while playing on the ethical argument of the genetic divide. The game's story asks the question: what would happen in the not-so distant future if modifying the body became common place but was restricted - very much like most other consumer goods - to those who have the resources to afford the augmentations?
- H+ Magazine's Official Website 
- FM-2030 - Futurist Blog 
- Walker, Mark Alan (March 2002). "Prolegomena to any future philosophy". Journal of Evolution and Technology 10 (1). ISSN 1541-0099. Retrieved 2011-12-18.
- The Vatican's Communion and Stewardship: Human Persons Created in the Image of God 
- Deus Ex: Human Revolution Official Website