The Denver Philosophy Meetup Group Message Board › Transhumanism, anyone?

Transhumanism, anyone?

Rich
Rich.Carlson
Denver, CO
Post #: 49
Can the core concept be summed up in a few short words, a succinct sentence or two or maybe an efficient paragraph or two? Is that possible?

How about... the self-absorbed love child of Futurism and Pollyannaish Science Fiction.

=P
Rich
Rich.Carlson
Denver, CO
Post #: 50
We agree they look like humans except they might have six fingers on each hand or something cool.

My father was slaughtered by a six-fingered man. So the next time we meet... I will go up to the six-fingered man and say...
A former member
Post #: 1,045
I am bummed to be a stick in the mud on this subject -- especially in view all the free flowing opinions and perspectives -- but I regret I don't have time for that level of bandwidth without first getting some justification -- that there's something useful for me here. I don't even have time for "short reads" as they compete the the 100s of other short reads on various subject I haven't yet found time for.

So, would it be possible to quickly clarify what the proposition for Transhumanism is? Can the core concept be summed up in a few short words, a succinct sentence or two or maybe an efficient paragraph or two? Is that possible?

Dru
303 666-7665

Dru, I think what Ken is trying to say is that transhumanism is emergent.

Hope that helps.

Regards,
iDave.
A former member
Post #: 117
Dru made the following request:

So, would it be possible to quickly clarify what the proposition for Transhumanism is? Can the core concept be summed up in a few short words, a succinct sentence or two or maybe an efficient paragraph or two? Is that possible?

A reasonable request, Dru, so let me see what I can do.

"Transhumanism" is a new term for a very old (and very common) human aspiration - to make ourselves better.

When you get up in the morning and brush your teeth, you are engaged in (very) low-grade transhumanism.

When you go to your doctor for your annual physical, you are engaged in somewhat higher-grade transhumanism.

When you ask yourself whether your overall level of health and mental alertness might be much better than it typically is, you are on the threshold of a more aspirational transhumanism.

And when you discover that there actually are a quite large number of things that you can do to improve your overall level of health and mental alertness, and then actually start doing them, you become a practicing transhumanist.

Of course, health and mental alertness provide just two examples. I could multiply them indefinitely.

Rich's rather harsh assessment arises from observation of transhumanists who want to go well beyond the sort of things that I've just been speaking of to what I refer to as "blue sky" transhumanism. They're investigating such things as technologies that might let us live indefinitely.

My take on transhumanism is at once far more modest, and far more ambitious.

I think the typical human being is something like a garden hose that is full of small holes. Some of these "holes" affect us physically. Some of them affect us mentally. Some of them affect us financially. Some of them lead us to engage in unethical conduct. And so on through the entirety of human capacities and practices. The net effect of all of these "holes" is to drag us down to a much, much lower level than we are capable of.

Now, to continue with my analogy, what happens to the garden hose if we start super-gluing or otherwise repairing all of these holes, one by one? Obviously, the water pressure starts to rise, bit by bit. And before you know it, you've got a strong stream of water going -- which is analogous to a far higher quality of life for ourselves, our families, and our communities.

What we need to do is be far more fully aware that all of these little holes, which we grow up taking for granted because everybody's got them, are 1) a real problem; 2) that they really can be systematically patched; and so 3) we need to know where and how to patch them. And we need a customized repair agenda, because everybody's hose leaks in different ways, and to a different extent.

When Europeans discovered that the Japanese engaged in daily bathing, they ridiculed this behavior - not realizing that they didn't have to live with overpowering body odor and lice. After all, everybody did.

The transhumanist aspires to be like the Japanese -- on steroids.

Best,
Ken


Rich
Rich.Carlson
Denver, CO
Post #: 51
When Ken says:
Rich's rather harsh assessment arises from observation of transhumanists who want to go well beyond the sort of things that I've just been speaking of to what I refer to as "blue sky" transhumanism.
he's entirely correct.

The reason is that Transhumanists have a real problem with relevancy.

When they talk about the sort of things Ken mentions above, they're not any different than any other group with concerns about living better lives: the transhumanist label is superfluously useless. In which case, it's nothing new.

And when you start identifying the things that actually set them apart from normal garden variety philosophers or forward thinking scientists, such as singularitarianism, radical physical or mental transformation, infinite life spans, etc., they become indistinguishable from science fiction, and the transhumanist label becomes practically useless. In which case, it's pie-in-the-sky speculation.

The real problem with transhumanism as a somehow separate or distinct inquiry is that there isn't any real there there.
A former member
Post #: 118

Hey! We've finally drawn Rich into a dialog!

He commented:

Transhumanists have a real problem with relevancy.

And:

The real problem with transhumanism as a somehow separate or distinct inquiry is that there isn't any real there there.

I respectfully disagree -- somewhat, anyway. (Surprise!)

Let me draw an analogy.

There have been people interested in nature for as long as there have been people.

In the 19th century, these people finally invented a name for themselves. They called themselves "Naturalists." What were they really interested in? Well, today we'd say that their interests fall under three headings: botany, zoology, and geology.

The difference between these folks and the run of the mill individual who, say, sometimes enjoyed watching animals, or growing things, or interesting rock formations, is that they started getting systematic
about their observations.

Someone might have objected: "Wait. There's nothing new here. People have always enjoyed watching animals and growing things, and interesting rocks. Why do they need to call themselves 'naturalists'?"

Someone else might have objected "What's the relevance?"

Today we take the relevance of botany, zoology, and geology for granted, because we well understand the value of systematic investigation of plants, animals, and the physical world. And we also understand the value of doing speculative sorts of things in the field of zoology, like mapping genomes.

But we tend to think we sort of "know it all" with respect to the topics that fall under the heading of "transhumanism" in the same way that hunter-gatherers thought they "knew it all" with respect to observing animals and plants.

Well, they didn't, and we don't.

Not by half.

And this grows more and more true each day. Any number of relevant research findings sit around siloed in researcher's heads because there's no overarching discipline to make their value and relevance apparent. We need to stay abreast of these findings, evaluate them, and begin to integrate them into our own lives.

Just applying one's toothbrush to one's teeth in the morning isn't at the cutting edge anymore.

Best,
Ken
Rich
Rich.Carlson
Denver, CO
Post #: 52
Fair enough, Ken. Once transhumanists come up with something uniquely "systematic
about their observations" (or their predictions) that distinguishes them from other disciplines and adds something new to our understanding that we don't get from the disciplines separately, I'll grant that there's some there there. Right now I don't see what creates this new "overarching discipline" as something sui generis.

Currently it seems to be a loose grab bag of speculation and wishful thinking, as full of cranks as of serious thinkers.

I've yet to see any substantive proposals about what might actually be the center of this unique approach other than broad analogies and vague appeals to multi-disciplinary inquiry.

As for prescriptive approaches, the ones I've seen seem not only pie-in-the-sky, but rather oblivious. For example, the idea that our whole commitment to ameliorative medicine is fundamentally misplaced (i.e. that we should stop worrying about improved chemotherapy drugs, incremental improvements in pain management, or focused pharmaceutical research in general) and that we should redirect our funding and efforts into radical (but undefined) studies on altering our cellular makeup so that we never get sick, injured, or age, seems not only foolhardy, but dangerous. (Yes, I know you're not on board with this one Ken, as you indicate above, but it is a frequent trope in the transhumanist dreamings I've seen.)

So, good luck in identifying the cord of insight which ties all the different disciplines into something greater than their parts. It would be nice if you find it. I just don't see it yet.

Until then I'll continue to focus on normal old humanism and science and look askance at the emperor's new clothes.

-Rich

Rich
Rich.Carlson
Denver, CO
Post #: 53
Ken's analogy:
There have been people interested in nature for as long as there have been people.

In the 19th century, these people finally invented a name for themselves. They called themselves "Naturalists." What were they really interested in? Well, today we'd say that their interests fall under three headings: botany, zoology, and geology.

The difference between these folks and the run of the mill individual who, say, sometimes enjoyed watching animals, or growing things, or interesting rock formations, is that they started getting systematic
about their observations.

Be careful Ken. This is starting to sound like an almost reductionist approach, not at all akin to your emergentist sympathies. ;-)

(And a bit curious since you seem to be advocating, in transhumanism, something akin to lumping them all back together again, at least as far as the study of humans goes.)
A former member
Post #: 119
Rich commented:

So, good luck in identifying the cord of insight which ties all the different disciplines into something greater than their parts. It would be nice if you find it. I just don't see it yet.

I don't need any luck, Rich, but thanks.

I'm not surprised that you don't see it yet, as, unfortunately, most transhumanists themselves don't see it.

I should add that there are indeed some transhumanists who have gone off into the deep end of "blue sky" transhumanism. That's one reason why I dropped out of the international organization, as I mentioned earlier.

However, none of that counts for much with me, and I don't think it should count for much with anyone else, either.

If you've ever involved yourself in politics, you know that there are people who harbor some pretty wacky notions at every point along the political spectrum (including the never-defined "center," which, more often than not, means people who are politically indifferent and/or illiterate).

That, of course, shouldn't dissuade anyone from being active as a citizen, voting, and so forth. (Even though it's not always clear what ties together the assorted individual political views.)

Similarly, there are people in philosophy who also harbor any number of zany notions. Many of these nearly insane ideas are even enshrined now as the "conventional wisdom" of the discipline. (And it isn't so clear what sort of cord unites the individual philosophical disciplines, either. Or humanism. Or science, for that matter.)

But, again, so what?

I suggest that it's premature to look askance at the emperor's new clothes until we first know the general locality of the emperor.

Let me see what I can do to point in that direction.

Here's how the discipline of transhumanism breaks down, at a high level, in my view. (Note how the concept of the "normative" constitutes the unifying thread here.) Many other, diverse disciplines feed into it as well, but these are the most essential ones.

1.0 Transhumanism

  • 1.1 Normative medicine
  • 1.2 Normative psychology
  • 1.3 Normative philosophy (ethics)


How does this stand in contrast to conventional medicine, conventional psychology, and conventional philosophy?

In a nutshell, these conventional disciplines all operate in isolation from one another, and, far more importantly, they all operate without an adequate concept of "the ideal."

This may not sound important, but it is.


  • Conventional medicine regards health as being simply an absence of disease. Note the absence of any concept of an optimal state of health.
  • Conventional psychology regards so-called "mental health" in the same way: as an absence of "disease." Note the absence of any concept of ideal mental/intellectual function.
  • Conventional ethical philosophy has long been focused exclusively upon morality, having abandoned or forgotten the Greek notion of an overarching ideal of human character, within which morality should find its place.


Moving now to the less important of the two points: why should it be a matter of concern that these conventional disciplines operate in isolation from one another?

Well, the best way to make that importance clearer is probably by means of an example. (I'll provide just one example here. However, examples could be multiplied indefinitely.)

A Finnish study done a decade ago revealed that exercise resulted in reduced depression, reduced stress, and reduced anxiety.

Now, this study was already a transhumanist exercise, in the sense that it was interdisciplinary, probing the connections between body (and the exercise thereof) and mind (in the context of mood). While conventional medicine sometimes acknowledges such connections, in its more transhumanist moments, it has little active interest in them.

However, the Finnish study wasn't interdisciplinary/transhumanist enough. In conventional medicine depression is a sort of disease in a box. Anxiety is another diesease in a box. Stress is yet another disease in a box. Each of these is conceived as having its own (independent) cause, and its own (independent) cure.

Yet here is something as apparently (but not actually) simple as exercise bringing about improvement in all three. In principle, that shouldn't be possible. In a conventional perspective, it makes exercise look like snake oil.

What should have happened, following this (transhumanist) Finnish discovery, is that the deeper roots of mood disorders and exercise should have been probed. For example, they should have gone on to ask questions like:

1) Is more exercise better? If so why? If not, why not? What's the "magic threshold?"
2) What, exactly, is happening in exercise that is having psychological consequences? Is it a change in blood chemistry, like levels of blood sugar, or oxygen, or CO2? Is is a reduced burden of physiological waste products? Is it improved function of the the lymphatic system?

But this didn't happen. The Finns weren't trying to work toward an ideal state of mental wellness, only to establish the existence of a connection between exercise and mood.

Working toward an ideal state of mental wellness is, however, the sort of normative goal that a normative psychologist would be pursuing.

Much more could be said here concerning the notion that physical "health" is just the absence of disease, but I think I'll stop here, as this posting is already long.

Best,
Ken












Anneli
user 11327411
Englewood, CO
Post #: 17
David said:
Anneliese, before we jump to solutions, and it's none of my business, but you seem completely normal talking here, would you mind sharing what your disability is?

Sorry I didn't explain. I look normal but have had severe pain in my back/neck for the last twenty-six years. I’d been mostly bedridden for more than twenty of those years and had aggressively searched for the cause. I saw doctors at the Harvard Pain clinic, Mayo clinic, China, Duke, etc. Just last year they discovered that I’d had a ruptured disc, the whole time. It was denting into a nerve in my neck.

I’m doing better since they fixed the disc. There are still many secondary pains because my body had compensated, to protect that disc for twenty-five years. (Part of my neck and spine even grew together because of this compensation. Nerves were traumatized and swollen, etc.) I’m trying to get some secondary problems fixed now. At least, these days, I can get out of the house a bit and use the computer some. I missed getting a great education. So, I'm enjoying these discussions a lot.

The unhealthy form of transcendence is where we reject some or all of what we were, it disgusts us, we hate it, we want to Dissociate from it; then we may transcend it but the result is unstable, like living with a resentment.

You caught me resenting, instead of including my pain. Lately though, I have been learning that there is value in my experiences. They have, after all, helped create me.

A
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