Monday, January 24, 2005

Transhumanism and FM Esfandiary

Iranscope has a piece on Iranian futurist Fereidoun ‘FM’ Esfandiary and his role in jump-starting the early transhumanist movement. Although the author, Sam Gandchi, falsely claims that FM was the first to use the term ‘transhumanism’ (the term was not coined by him, nor by Max More –as some wikipedians would make us think--, but by Julian Huxley in the first essay of his 1957 book New Bottles for New Wine), the article is sympathetic to the movement, and has good things to say about luminaries like Eric Drexler and Marvin Minsky. It also praises the WTA. An excerpt:
It is interesting that although Fereidoun Esfandiary introduced very radical ideas in the political academic circles of Berkeley and UCLA in the 70's and 80's, and that he was familiar with the social and political issues of Iran, and even previously had been in sports and Olympics, as well as diplomatic politics of Middle East at the United Nations, nonetheless, not only among the Iranian intellectuals inside Iran there was no familiarity with his views, but even among the Iranian political students' movement abroad which was very active those years in Berkeley and UCLA, there was no familiarity with Esfandiary's views. FM2030 was very far ahead of his times.


Natasha Vita-More said...

A proactive and gracious way to address this is to learn why people believe that FM coined transhuman and Max More defined transhumanism. To suggest foul play is an intentional disregard of both of FM and Max. Because FM and Max individually hold integrity above all else, and neither would claim anything that was untrue or unjust about themselves or humanity, your accusation is inappropriate. It is disrespectful to make a mockery of either person and his works.

FM made it public that he used the term "transhuman" with no prior reference to anyone. He was surprised when told that the term was used by T.S. Elliot and was written in the Reader's Digest Dictionary before his own time. Max More used the term "transhumanism" with no prior reference, but graciously accepted being noted as authoring the "modern" philosophy of transhumanism in deference to transhumanism.

On the other hand, Huxley used the term transhumanism with prior reference to several authors, as evidenced in a number of books. Huxley never stated that he was the first author to use the term "transhumanism" or coin such word.

To date, the first reference to transhuman or transhumanism stems from Alighieri Dante.

Much recognition and credit goes to Huxley for his vision of "man."

For anyone who is interested:

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 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 "a new kind of being crystallizing from the monumental breakthroughs of the late twentieth century. ... the earliest manifestations of a new evolutionary being." (FM-2030)

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 (f/k/a, 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). The actual concept of transhuman as an evolutionary transition was expressed by FM-2030 in his contributing final chapter in Woman, Year 2000 (1972). Robert Ettinger also referred to transhumans in Man into Superman (1972), Natasha Vita-More (f/k/a Nancie Clark) authored the Transhumanist Arts Statement (Transhuman Art) (1982) and outlined the emerging transhuman culture, and by Damien Broderick, well-known science fiction author, in The Judas Mandala (1982).

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. Dr. Max More first published the term "transhumanism" as a philosophy in 1990 and authored its definition. The difference in Huxley’s transhumanism and More’s transhumanism is that Huxley states "man remaining man but transcending himself." Transhumanism as defined by 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.

We need to consider the environment of the time in which Dante lived, just as we do with today and Huxley's time. Huxley believed in a "New Divinity" while Dante believed in “philosophical wisdom.” What this meant to them may not be what it means to us by today’s standards and language. The bottom line is that both wanted something more than an ordinary human condition.

Dante: "He was one of the most learned Italian laymen of his day, intimately familiar with Aristotelian logic and natural philosophy, theology (he had a special affinity for the thought of Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas), and classical literature. His writings reflect this in its mingling of philosophical and theological language, invoking Aristotle and the neo-Platonists side by side with the poet of the psalms. Like Aquinas, Dante wished to summon his audience to the practice of philosophical wisdom, though by means of truths embedded in his own poetry, rather than mysteriously embodied in scripture." (Stanford University)

Let us not dismiss of the world and society of Dante and his ideas about the transhuman. Today we can harshly criticize those who have spiritual beliefs, but we leaned that it is not completely appropriate since spirituality also includes those who simply want peace of mind. Since the transhumanist community has grown to include several religious sectors, we cannot defame Dante or Huxley or any of us for our personal unconventional views. An afterlife in the far past could possibly equal an afterlife today, as we know it as technological immortality. In Dante's time, there were no such things as molecular engineering, cryonics, and the medical and scientific innovations that we are aware of today that could make our dreams of a longer life feasible. There are many steps in the direction of enlightenment, and some of the footprints belong to Dante."

I hope we can work to create a future that brings about positive relationships within transhumanism.

Natasha Vita-More

3:37 PM  

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