What is Transhumanism?

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Definitions of transhumanism:

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The Italian verb “transumanare” or “transumanar” was used for the first time by Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) in the Divine Comedy. It means “go outside the human condition and perception” and in English could be “to Transhumanate” or “to Transhumanize”.

T.S. Eliot wrote about the risks of the human journey in becoming illuminated as a “process by which the human is Transhumanised” in his play “The Cocktail Party” (The Complete Poems and Plays 1909 - 1950, published by Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., New York).

The actual concept of transhuman as an evolutionary transition was first expressed by FM-2030. His trilogy, Up-Wingers, Telespheres and Optimism One (1973) constitutes the beginnings of the transhumanist philosophy, as well as his contributing final chapter in Woman, Year 2000 (1972)

Ideas about humanity and evolution were explored by Julian Huxley in his writings on evolutionary humanism in the book Evolution: The Modern Synthesis (1942) and Teilhard de Chardin in The Future of Man (1959). In 1966, FM-2030 (formerly, F.M. Esfandiary) outlined an evolutionary transhuman future while teaching “New Concepts of the Human” at the New School for Social Research, New York City. Abraham Maslow referred to transhumans in Toward a Psychology of Being, (1968), Robert Ettinger also referred to transhumans in Man into Superman (1972), I authored the Transhuman Arts Statement (TransArt) (1982) and outlined the emerging transhuman culture, and by Damien Broderick in The Judas Mandala (1982).

In the Reader’s Digest Great Encyclopedia Dictionary (1966), “transhuman” is defined as meaning “surpassing; transcending; beyond”. In the Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary (1983), “transhuman” is defined as meaning “superhuman,” and “transhumanize,” meaning “to elevate or transform to something beyond what is human”. Yet, these are not a complete and contemporary
meanings. Today, we refer to “transhuman” as meaning an evolutionary transformation from being biologically human toward our merger with technology.

FM later defined transhuman as “a new kind of being crystallizing from the monumental breakthroughs of the late twentieth century. ... the earliest manifestations of a new evolutionary being.” Later, he authored the book Are You A Transhuman? (1989).

Transhumanism has a slightly different beginning. Julian Huxley’s book written in 1956, New Bottles For New Wine, contains the essay “TRANSHUMANISM” which sets out to explain how humans must establish a better environment for themselves. He also alludes to a new species that the human might eventually become. The difference in Huxley’s transhumanism and Max More’s transhumanism is that Huxley states “man remaining man but transcending himself.” Transhumanism as defined by Max More explains the overcoming of human limits and the transformation from being human to becoming posthuman. Although Huxley had a vision of a possible future for humanity, he single-tracked the future when he saw man remaining man.

How did the memetic spreading of transhumanity begin? What started as futurist ideas taught by FM at the New School eventually became evolving ideas held by thousands of individuals linking across the Internet. Transhumanist Arts developed out of TransArt.  The cyberculture became the most fertile breeding ground for people interested in exploring new tools. Extropy Institute spearheaded extropian transhuman influence academically, in print and throughout the Internet. The Extro Conferences, meetings, parties, on-line debates, and documentaries have continued to get the idea of the transhuman to the public.

While the scientific community embraced the new concepts in human evolution, the art community focused on exploring new tool of electronics to enhance our senses and develop alternative realities. Soon evolutionary memes such as extropy, nanotechnology, biotech, A-Life, AI, SI, VR, transhuman, automorph, extreme-life, avatar, singularity, and thoughts of new types of sexuality and genders arose. Like meme spores infiltrating culture with words well known in the scientific world, artists have been exploring the ideas of evolution and giving them the art of life.-

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The transhumanist culture is in the making. We have responsibilities and concerns and the wisdom to deal with them. How we use technology and science, and what type of content we lend to our arts is not a flimsy affair. We must be conscientious and sensible, as well as daring and inventive. We must consider who we are in a world where the machine is becoming smarter and smarter, where the impossible is now quite possible, and think of it also as an extended haiku

Transhumanism marks the beginning of our evolution from human as we improve the human condition. Put simply, humans are biological animals. The transhuman is at a transitional stage of merging with technologies resulting in a shedding a biological exclusivity. It is a self-directed evolution brought about by the desire to live longer, healthier and more intelligently. The transhuman is a self-directed evolution—evolution that has bypassed Darwin and the selfish gene toward the designing and engineering of our own future, enabling us more control of our own lives. The coalescing of science, technology and creativity will challenge what was once the accepted idea of life and death.

Transhumanist ideas originated in diverse cultures. We can find traces of transhumanist thought in our earliest inventions and discoveries. From marking the surface of prehistoric cave walls over 17,000 years ago to transmitting signals across the light years of space, ingenuity has illustrated humans’ use of technology. Our desire for extending life and immortality, mirroring our own image in omnipotent reflections, pushing beyond our limitations—has catapulted our species toward an accelerated evolution from human to transhuman.

The transhumanist history is comprised of events that have transformed our species. These events are the result of innovations generated through transhumanist creativity. In every aspect of our being—each inch—each thought—creativity is in action. It is the fire behind our passions. It is the fuel igniting our will. No matter how diminutive or how colossal an idea, it is in the creative impulse that has accelerated our evolution. Evolution happens on many fronts. It is not just our biology that mutates and evolves, it is also our psychology that undergoes transformation.

For the first time in history transhumans are actively researching and developing the skills to end death. It is not an immoralist's pipe dream—nor a mirage, but an objective to be attained, and perhaps in our lifetime. Those of us who actively call ourselves transhumanist do so with a commitment to extending and improving life. The commitment to extending life is a litmus test for transhumanity. If we do not overcome death, we have no future.

Our evolution has been a cumulative process. Footprints across time have left traces of our reach beyond ourselves for something better. From the earliest plebeian cultures to the advanced complexities of social systems the future has been unfolding. Today we are on the threshold of the present evolution—the transhuman.