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Vita-More, Natasha. The Transhumanist Culture

The Transhumanist Culture

 

Cultural movements, from the Graeco-Romans, Romanesque culture, Humanism, the Renaissance, Romanticism, Modernism, and Postmodernisms to transhumanism, carve an eminent mark on history as their trends ripen into social norms or dissolve when newly found social passions come along.  Culture and its many movements are forever evolving forward in a perpetual state of progress, overcoming chaos and conflict, changing how we view the world and our place in history.

 

The formations of ideas—vastly divergent in scope—are the result of the many shifts in the social environment.  Based a central tenet, these formations, like natures own faulting, erosion and eventual sedimentation, come about because the world and society do change and distinct voices need to be heard. These voices splinter off into established points of view and eventually into formal affiliations.

 

Established as a philosophy, transhumanism has grown from an elegantly designed seed of thought to an expanding worldview.  Within the expansion—pushing and pulling at the very core of the ideal, our transhumanist potential is realized.  Transhumanism will continue to expand outward, but the very core of its meaning cannot falter.  This ideal—to better the human condition, to work toward making the world compatible with our needs and concerns, and to consider the emerging and unprecedented possibilities, challenges, and dangers of the future, is the foundation of transhumanity.

 

Where the word “transhumanism” came from, no one is quite sure, as it, or parts of it, have been used at different times for different meanings. The central and spirited ideas can be traced from the transition and transformation of humans in overcoming odds.  However, the very first known reference to the transhumanism was written by poet Dante Alighieri in his magnum opus Paradiso of the Divina Commedia. (1312)  It is in this masterpiece that Dante invented the world "transhumanized" to describe what happens to humans through a "beatific vision."[i]

 

Centuries later, T.S. Elliot, recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature (1948), wrote about the isolation of the human condition. “You and I don't know the process by which the human is Transhumanized: what do we know of the kind of suffering they must undergo on the way of illumination?”[ii] Biologist Julian Huxley wrote about evolutionary humanism, "… 'transhumanism:' … once there are enough people who can truly say that, the human species will be on the threshold of a new kind of existence, as different from ours as ours is from that of Peking man." (1957)  Futurist FM-2030 wrote about “transhumans” as an evolution from human to posthuman: as  “… a new kind of being crystallizing from the monumental breakthroughs of the late twentieth century. ... the earliest manifestations of a new evolutionary being.”  Philosopher Max More wrote the modern philosophy of transhumanism as  “philosophies of life, such as extropy, that seek the continuation and acceleration of the evolution of intelligent life beyond its currently human form and human limitations by means of science and technology, guided by life-promoting principles and values.”

 

These individuals, each in his unique way, carved the beginning of transhumanism.  FM is a true pioneer, futurist and human rights activist—generous of mind and action.  FM was the sole force behind the concept of the transhuman as an evolutionary being - from human to posthuman.  Yet, transhumanism, as a philosophy and movement, is brought about distinctly though the vision of Dr. Max More and through the efforts of Extropy Institute.

 

My own viewpoint of transhumanism developed in 1980s as a cultural movement — a new aesthetics for the future in designing and developing the social architecture and aesthetics of the future.  As a "design" for the future, it is paramount that society develops a keener, more futuristic sense of life, and aim toward creating a world that fluidly adapts to change.  An essential aspect of this adaptation, and to intelligent design for humanity and transhumanity, is to recognize and understand cultural change and then to take action to promote progress.  If we cannot or do not understand the vast differences amongst people throughout the world, our future cannot be inclusive.  It is the inclusively of all of humanity that will create a futuristic culture that evolves beyond arguable human restraint and hostility, territories and obsessions, labeling and segregating.

 

 Further, if transhumanism is to mature as a cultural movement and become a period or era in history, it will depend on the world’s reception to the basic tenets of transhumanism.

 

Because transhumanism was not a product invented by one person and a commodity to be bought and sold, and because transhumanism is the brainchild of a handful of people from diverse backgrounds, some of its meaning is left to interpretation.  The formation of organizations with which to market the philosophy has grown over the years.  From the initial birthing of transhumanism, there have been a number of principles, statements, FAQs and essays written which provide a varied interpretation of the ideas from the perspective of each organization.  The key issue is that the philosophy and its values be preserved over time.  It is up to the cooperation and collaboration of the many organizations within the transhumanist culture to work to ensure that transhumanism is built upon, rather than torn down.

 

Like most cultural movements, no one knows precisely what event, however large or small, propelled transhumanism forward. Perhaps it was a tipping point, or a wild card, or simply the result of a series of social changes inviting conflict and chaos, resulting in a drive to renew worn out ideas and dusty reasoning.  Thinking back, it makes sense that the 1980s were the actual starting point of transhumanism, especially in areas where intellectuals, artist and radicals converged.  Futurist and transhumanist events flourished in and around Los Angeles, at UCLA, Extropy Institute, Foresight Institute, Transhumanist Arts (TransArt) and Alcor Life Extension Foundation.  It also makes sense that UCLA futurists’ classes, the Extro conferences, along with articles, televised interviews, and arts exhibitions, did ignite the fuse.  The explosion of transhumanism occurred when the Internet broadened and hastened communication, bringing people around the world onto the Extropy Institute “extropians” e-mail list.

 

The essence of transhumanism is an aspiration to drive society forward.  Hope, desire, and a sense of purpose provide a reason for living.  No matter the era or the place in history, this common thread—a desire to move forward—has become the core of futurists today and has crystallized in the transhumanist movement.  In and of itself, transhumanism is a decided break from a pre-determined lifespan and the limitations, not the advantages, of being human.  The revolt against the humanity's limited lifespan and the many restrictive boundaries to human growth, potential and happiness, that distinguishes transhumanism from any other philosophy of the future.  Thus, like other movements of the 20th Century, transhumanism was formed as a radical break from the “norm” and started out as a viewpoint with which to address our future.

 

This “movement” is a different concept than that of being a transhuman or a posthuman, as developed by FM-2030, and which are a supposed evolution of human and which may or may not be attached to any one philosophical or ideological viewpoint, just as the human is not predisposed to a philosophical or ideological viewpoint.  Rather, transhumanism, as a movement, echoes the “attitude” of individuals who intentionally become part of the society which views progress as essential for our future.  The elements of optimism, desire for peace, encouragement of long life and good health, and prosperity are essential to transhumanity.  The act of necessitating due diligence, both to question and support the development of science and technology to improve life as we know it and, applying critical thinking to world issues, and fostering knowledge and supporting individual choice for society that are spun together forming the backbone of the transhumanist culture.

 

Transhumanity has developed a certain “cultural sensibility” which has come about through combined efforts of people and across disciplinary boundaries.  There is no one single domain of expertise that has effectuated this cultural sensibility, as it lies within a multi-disciplinary approach.  Even though technology has been at the forefront as a driving for of social change, it has not been alone.

 

As transhumanists, the technological advances that strike us as potentially most rewarding and dangerous are biotechnology and nanotechnology.  While transhumanity is reaching forward, it is also well aware of the need for carefully contemplating benefit vs. danger.  This careful assessment is also applied to biotechnology in areas such as therapeutic cloning and genetic engineering, for example.  Nanotechnology has become a key work in the early part of this century and for good cause, as molecular engineering could be a solution to many of the world’s problems, both environmental and otherwise.  Along with technological innovation and advances for accelerating change, there has been futuristic views about economics, education, the arts, artificial intelligence, robotics, super computing, communication, transportation, business leadership and practices, health care and medicine, political views, and so on.  People influence each other and the transhumanist culture ardently pursue a proactive approach toward dealing with world issues that affect all of society.  It is not how much we learn, it is the quality of learning that gives transhumanism dignity.

 

After all, what is culture, but the result of learning and teaching?  Culture is a union of acquired behaviors, either passed down from one generation to the next, or self-learned through trail and error.  The consciousness of a society’s culture is like a self-portrait of its values, and these values, in all their forms and array of colors, are shaped by skills and knowledge that form a “cultural template.”[iii]   Within culture, there must be a consistent and agreed upon relationship between the meaning of words, the representation of symbols, and the ethics or behavior of a set of people.  This knowledge is developed through a process of perpetual negotiation and agreements, as culture is a fluid and changing state.

 

Under conditions of transhumanism, we are faced with a move toward a new individualism in which people actively constitute themselves and construct their own identities. The weight of tradition and established values are retreating as global transhumanist communities interact.  The social codes that formerly guide choices and activities have significantly loosened in the world, and transhumanism is right there to offer a community for those who are looking for alternatives and to live in more open ways.  This means that transhumanists are constantly responding and adjusting to the changing environment around us, and more and more people are adopting transhumanist perspectives.

 

There are more and more transhumanist organizations starting up, and more diversification to the culture.  This has its upside and its downside.  The upside is that we are growing, and such good news cannot be restrained.  The underside is that transhumanism could be watered down or spiked up with all sorts of derivatives.

 

One pivotal tenet of transhumanism is the newly developed Proactionary Principle, a principle developed to counter social resistance to social change and technology.  In order to design a future that is both safe and functional for society, that has a sense of sustainability and progress, that provides an environment for innovation, and that is both comfortable and nurturing, it is understood as essential that we do so with a fair amount of intelligence, creativity and rational.

 

When journalists write about the transhumanism, they often become bogged down in the science and technology of the future rather than including the cultural movement itself and the “design” of the future.  As an artist, it is the design of the future that is most alluring about transhumanism—the architecture of its culture, the aesthetics of its future, the smells, sounds, visuals, and feelings that heighten the senses.  It is the sense of design of the future that inspired my design “Primo Posthuman” as a future body prototype.

 

This approach is a disciplined rationalism of the modernist’s enlightenment of progress and naturalism, and the multi-perceptual character of postmodernism which opens up pathways to express humanity in novel forms.  It is the hyper-modern approach of “Primo Posthuman,”[iv] as a future body prototype, that combines design with biotechnology, resulting in a new symbol for artistic themes.  As time moves on, we will witness multidisciplinary talents exploring augments to the human form, and society will question if it truly represents an ideal of human nature.  Futurists will reason with progress and culture will anticipate major ideological shifts culminating in a somatically privileged class.  Scientists will want to discover, artists to create, technicians to invent, and philosophers to reason.  A renewal of the Renaissance ideals combining design and precision engineering with intellectual and philosophical finesse will emerge.  The human form as a classical concept depicts the evolving art reflecting the ever changing elements that comprise human nature—from mosaics to machines, from Pico della Mirandola toward neoteric times.

 

Understanding images produced by artists during an era of biotechnology, proposed longer life spans, extraterrestrial travel, and the potential to improve the human condition can never be complete unless we frame the modern image within the continuum that began with the most predominant image—the human form.

 

When I wrote the Transhumanist Arts Statement as a manifesto to transhumanity, I saw the need for a heightened sense of aesthetics as a necessary component of our culture.  There had been an over abundance of technology and science and not enough “balance” in our young culture.  Thinking back, I was influenced by Alighieri Dante while at the Accademia Di Belle Arti in Ravenna, Italy in 1975.  Ravenna is the very place where Dante completed the Divine Comedy by writing Paradiso.  I remember thinking about human evolution and human nature transcending itself during those years.  Perhaps my earliest influences about transhumanism were imprinted in Ravenna, while living amongst the very writings and ideas of Dante.

 

In memory to and encouragement of catalytic ideas that continue bloom while facing toward the future, I say:

 MANIFESTO 

TRANSHUMANIST ARTS STATEMENT
 

We are transhumans

our art integrates the most eminent progression

of creativity and sensibility

merged by discovery.

 

Transhumanist Arts represent the aesthetic and creative culture of transhumanity.

Transhumanist Artists are developing new and varied modes of art. 

Our aesthetics and expressions are merging with science and technology in

designing increased sensory experiences.

 

Transhumans want to improve and extend life.

We are designing the technologies to improve and extend life.

Emotions are integral to our senses and understanding.

We are designing the technologies to enhance our senses and understanding.

 

The transhumanist ecology and freedom exercises self-awareness and self-responsibility.

If our art represents who we are, then let us choose to be transhumanist

not only in our bodies, but also in our values.

Transhumanist Artists embrace the creative innovations of transhumanity.

We are ardent activists in pursuing infinite transformation, overcoming death and exploring the universe.

 

Transhumans want to improve and extend life.

We are designing the technologies to improve and extend life.

Emotions are integral to our senses and understanding.

We are designing the technologies to enhance our senses and understanding.

 

As Transhumanist Arts come into focus

As more artists join our efforts

As more designs are produced

As more music is composed

As more stories are written

As the tools and ideas of our art continue to evolve,

So too shall we.

 

 And from the book (prior to revisions based on updated research):

 

Early version:

 

 

T.S. Eliot wrote about the risks of the human journey in becoming enlightened or illuminated as expressed by the character Julia in his play "The Cocktail Party" (The Complete Poems and Plays 1909 - 1950, published by Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., New York). "You and I don't know the process by which the human is Transhumanised: what do we know of the kind of suffering they must undergo on the way of illumination?"

 

Undoubtedly, there may be elements of angst in our evolutionary journey of becoming transhuman and eventually posthuman, but not be the type of suffering that many humans need to assuage the fear of having too much or being too successful.  Contrarily, the suffering transhumans experience comes from the constraints of a short life span and the crippling nature of death, not of the journey to enlightenment.

 

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), my authoring the  "Transhumanist Arts Statement" ("TransArt") (1982), now reflecting the aesthetic culture of transhumanism, and by science fiction author Damien Broderick in The Judas Mandala (1982). Throughout civilization, ideas of man overcoming his or her limits has been a life-long desire of humanity. Today, we have the technological tools to begin over coming human limits.  But this is not all. We need to develop the mindset for which to explore the new technologies. FM-2030 used the words "multi-track" to break though single-track thinking. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, De Bono, William Calvin and Carl Sagan were also creative thinking strategists who worked toward developing, each in his separate discipline, ways to encourage new thinking patterns for the human mind.

 

The Reader’s Digest Great Encyclopedia Dictionary (1966) defines "transhuman" 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 transition from being biologically human toward our merger with technology, as set forth by FM.

 

FM 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’ 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 formal definition of 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 University eventually became evolving ideas held by thousands of individuals linking across the Internet. FM has an enormous following of individuals fascinated by his particular visionary views. At the University of California Los Angeles, FM brought together hundreds to discuss ways to "flash forward" to the coming decades. Transhumanist Arts reached out to culture with electronic arts and images of space and evolution. Transcentury UPdate cable TV reached across Los Angeles into the homes of thousands who might prick up an ear.  But the cyberculture across the Internet became the most fertile breeding ground for people interested in exploring new tools with websites such as www.extropy.org, www.alcor.org, www.foresight.org, www.extropic-art.com, www.transhuman.org.  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.

 

Transhuman history is comprised of knowledge of events transforming our species, and in particular, of our creativity, science and technology. From the earliest plebeian cultures—to the advanced complexities of social systems—the future has been unfolding.

 

Our evolution has been a cumulative process. Footprints across time have left traces of our reach beyond us for something better. Today we are on the threshold of the present evolution - the transhuman.

 

Excerpts from Create/Recreate: The 3rd Millennial Culture by Natasha Vita-More