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Transhumanism: there are [at least] ten different philosophical categories; which one(s) are you?
Hank Pellissier   Jul 8, 2015   Ethical Technology  

In Nick Bostrom’s essay, Transhumanist Values, he states in the first sentence that transhumanism is “a loosely defined movement.”  Further into the essay, he lists five “examples of currents within transhumanism.”

They are:

Extropianism Dating back to at least 1988, this early version of transhumanism was catalyzed by the “Principles of Entropy”, authored by Max More, currently CEO of Alcor. Extropianism advocates a proactionary approach to human evolution and progress, placing strong emphasis on rationality and optimism. Extropians - according to wikipedia - have an optimistic view of the future, predicting advances in computational power, life extension, nanotechnology, lifespans, biomedical technology, mind-uploading, cryonics, etc. Many seem to have names advocating entropy, or humor: Max and Natasha Vita-More, Tom Morrow, Mark Plus, Regina Pancake. Wired wrote a wonderful cultural report here.

Singularitarianism believes the transition to a posthuman world will be a sudden event in the “medium future” - a Technological Singularity created by runaway machine superintelligence. They believe actions should be taken to ensure that the Singularity benefits humans. A 2010 article lists the Top 10 Singularitarians of All Time -  Ray Kurzweil tops the list, followed by Vernor Vinge. MIRI (Machine Intelligence Research Institute) belongs in this category; it was previously called the Singularity Institute. Singularity Utopia, too.

The Hedonistic Imperative This fusion by British philosopher David Pearce combined transhumanism with hedonistic utilitarianism, in 1995. It seeks the “abolition of suffering” in all sentient life, via genetic “paradise engineering” and nanotechnology. Pearce co-founded HumanityPlus in 1998 with Bostrom, and he’s a Fellow at IEET. In keeping with his philosophy, he’s also a vegan, stridently opposed to factory farming. His “Abolitionist” brand is easily confused with the USA anti-slavery movement; in a recent email exchange with he suggested a new term: Transhumanist Effective Altruism” aka TEA.

Democratic Transhumanism is defined as as a synthesis of transhumanism with social awareness and democratic decision-procedures. The term was coined by Dr. James Hughes, IEET founder/CEO, in 2002. Democratic transhumanists support equal access to human enhancement technologies to promote social equality and lessen the divide between the socioeconomic classes. Typifying this is IEET support of Basic Income Guarantee.

Survivalist Transhumanism, according to Bostrom, “emphasizes personal survival and longevity.” This group is perhaps the most populated of all transhumanist categories. Anyone who espouses radical life extension as the most important goal of transhumanism belongs in this camp. Jethro Knight, protagonist in Zoltan Istvan’s The Transhumanist Wager is a representative, with quotes like, ““Death must be conquered… that is my first and foremost aim in life. That is the quintessential first goal of the transhumanist.”

Two additional categories that must also be included are:

Libertarian Transhumanism is a mashup of libertarianism and transhumanism, advocated by personages like Ronald Bailey of Reason magazine, Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit, and Timothy Leary. Libertarian transhumanists are rational, ethical egoists who want technologies to enhance human capacities. They regard upgrading as a civil right and civil liberty, and they reject government regulation. Prominent libertarian transhumanists include billionaire entrepreneur Peter Thiel, and The Seasteading Institute.  Many early Extropians were, and still are, libertarian transhumanists.

Religious Transhumanism Most transhumanists are atheistic, but active and organized religious contingents exist that regard tranhumanism as wholly compatible with their creeds. The Mormon Transhumanist Association was founded in 2006; it presently has 530 members. The Christian Transhumanist Association was recently formed, with members like Micah Redding who has penned dozens of articles with titles like “Christianity is Transhumanism.” Two IEET contributors who are Religious Transhumanists are Lincoln Cannon (MTA founder) and Florida pastor Christopher Benek.


Most transhumanists fall into several of the groups listed above. My pie chart below, for example, illustrates that I am 44% TEA (Transhumanist Effective Altruist), 22% Survivalist, 22% Democratic Transhumanist, and 12% Singularitarian. I am certainly Extropian, too - !

Readers, what type(s) of transhumanist are you? It is important to comprehend where you philosophically fit in, or do not belong. For example, it would be time-efficient to realize which organizations and transhumanist thought-leaders represent your views.

Please post statistics of you own pie-chart in Comments below, or send your pie chart and I’ll post it in the article. I created my pie chart here.  Also, if you believe there are additional categories, let me know.

Here are additional categories, sent to me by IEET staff members:

Steve Umbrello (IEET Advisory Board) sent me this category (below):


Cosmopolitan Transhumanism - Cosmopolitanism, coming from the Greek meaning the ‘universal city’, is a philosophical doctrine of the unity of all humans. Both the Stoic and the Cynic schools adopted cosmopolitanism as a fundamental tenet of their philosophies. In essence, cosmopolitanism says that we are not citizens of towns, cities, countries, ethnic groups, but rather citizens of the cosmos, all equal; with no individual worth more or less than another. Transhumanism on the other hand, is the philosophy of how the ethical use of technology can be used to evolve our species beyond the capabilities of biology. Combining the two philosophies is seamless, together they can increase empathy, compassion and the unified progress of humanity to become something greater than it currently is. The exponential advancement of technology is relentless, it can prove to be either destructive or beneficial to the human race, but we can only become something greater if we abandon our nationalistic, patriotic and geopolitical allegiances in favour for global citizenship that fosters cooperation and mutually beneficial progress. “I am a citizen of the world” - Diogenes of Sinope


Giulio Prisco (IEET Board Member) directed me to the category below, that he ascribes to. The definition appears in the recent book Transcendence: The Disinformation Encyclopedia of Transhumanism and the Singularity authored and edited by RU Sirius and Jay Cornell.


Cosmism is a sort of philosophically laid-back version of transhumanism. In a culture that tends to be argumentative and filled with people who like to insist that their views are correct, cosmism doesn’t care if you’re viewing the universe as information or quantum information or hypercomputation or God stuff or whatever. Nor does it ask anyone to commit to AGI or mind uploading or brain-computer interfaces or fusion-powered toasters as the best way forward. Rather, it seeks to infuse the human universe with an attitude of joy, growth, choice, and open-mindedness. Cosmism believes that science in its current form, just like religion and philosophy in their current forms, may turn out to be overly limited for the task of understanding life, mind, society, and reality – but it teaches that, if so, by actively engaging with the world and studying and engineering things, and by reflecting on ourselves carefully and intelligently, we will likely be able to discover the next stage in the evolution of collective thinking.


Here’s #10 - more information on it can be found on Facebook

Anarcho-Transhumanism is a branch of Anarchism that takes seriously the values of traditional and modern Anarchism and combines it with Transhumanism and Posthumanism… Anarcho-Transhumanism takes a stance of anti-capitalism, while valuing democracy and consensus decision-making…. Anarcho-Transhumanism is a combination of syndicalism, socialism, technology, and radical democracy, maintaining an anarchist stance of the lack of religion, the destruction of the capitalist and/or socialist State, and the idea that minds (humans, posthumans) have the right to force political, economic and religious ideas on one another… Anarcho-Transhumanism assumes that the future will bring a kind of interconnectedness through technology that will allow individuals and communities to communicate and vote very rapidly, abolishing the need for a State.


Didier Coeurnelle, IEET Advisory Board Member, sent in the following comments:

“My choice is clearly Democratic Transhumanism, but I prefer to use the word “Technoprogressism”.  As far as I know, all transhumanists are in favor of life extension. So, they are all “Survivalist Transhumanists”.

Nicole Sallak Anderson, another IEET Advisory Board member, defines herself thus:

I’m a Democratic Transhumanist, though I may border on Hedonistic because I believe that the end goal of our technological revolution should at least include the reduction of suffering for all sentient life, including animals and I’d say the entire planetary ecosystem. Ideally the Democratic process would be purified through technology and human evolution to enable a transition from a death culture (that includes the killing of humans, animals and ecosystems for profit and gain as well as allowing death to continue as a natural process) to a culture of life, where all life is honored, protected and nourished and extended in freedom.

Perhaps that internal viewpoint, one of death and destruction to one of life and possibility, is the foundation of the future on some level. That’s the idea put out by Diamandis in his books. Until we change our minds, our technology is a slave to those who fear.


Here’s my Pie Chart!

Here is B. J. Murphy‘s Pie Chart! (He’s an IEET Affiliate Scholar)

Here is Chase’s Pie Chart!

Here’s Brent Reitze‘s Pie Graph - he’s also on the IEET Advisory Board

Hank Pellissier serves as IEET Managing Director and is an IEET Affiliate Scholar.


Definitely a Democratic Transhumanist. Great article!

Here’s my chart:

Good question! To me that’s a no brainer. Like most problems you have to get up out of the box (circle in this case) to fully appreciate the issue.  Transcend it I’d say: To fully actualize the Body of Christ it has to be all of them. From a Christian perspective the categories are: Loving, Inclusive, Eternal, Hopeful/Faithful… Imagine that pie chart as a parabolic dish focused on God the Father. Can you see? All that progress becomes worship. Here is some old-time CTA religion for you right here:

There seems to be another category (which includes at least me, and I suspect a growing number of others 😉 ) which has aspects of all of the categories you cite above, and more.

I consider myself something of an eclectic humanist realist intuitive systems thinker.  I have been confident beyond any reasonable doubt that indefinite life extension was possible since October 1974.

It seems clear to me that the concept of evolution is one of the most powerful around, and it is far more than Darwin initially postulated when one views it from a strategic systems perspective.

It seems that evolution starts from very simple strategies, simple replicators, and uses differential survival in different environments to develop populations of variations.

That much of evolution most people seem to get.

What far fewer people seem to get is that it is possible to view successive levels of complexity as resulting from the emergence of new levels of cooperation within the systems.  As Axelrod demonstrated, all cooperation requires attendant strategies to prevent cheats from taking over.  It seems that there are an infinite set of classes of such stabilising strategies, and the simplest of these are in the retaliator class.

So one can see a trend in evolution where cooperation gains an ever more dominant role in the process (in terms of the emergence of complexity in a systems perspective).

Thus one can see that we as a species are on the verge of a breakthrough, where cooperation completely takes over from competition, as the dominant factor.

This systems level emergence seems likely to express in many different areas:
It seems likely to result in abundance based technology taking over from scarcity based market capitalism.
It seems likely to result in indefinite life extension, and a continuing exponential growth in tools and models.

It seems that once one enters such a realm there will likely be an explosion of diversity of phenotypes that must logically result from individuals taking personal paths of discovery through the infinite set of infinities that seem to be possible in this universe.

All existing cultural constructs fail at this point.
Market capitalism most particularly doesn’t simply fail, but actually becomes a major source of existential risk (perhaps the dominant source over the next few decades).

It seems that the sort of stability required to actually allow individuals a significant chance of living a very long time (thousands of years and beyond) requires that we have individual life and individual liberty as our major systemic values.

Our systems need to deliver the essentials of life and liberty to everyone.

Clearly, when one examines any market based system, the values are based in scarcity, not abundance.  The more there is of something in a market, the less it is worth, the less there is, the more it is worth.  This made sense when things were genuinely scarce, but makes no sense when we have technology that allows us to deliver genuine abundance through automation.
It seems clear to me, beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt, that market based capitalism has “passed its use by date”.

So I am a transhumanist, in the sense of evolving beyond our biological and cultural past, and a realist in the deep systems that actually underlie our current social systems, and what is actually necessary if we are to live a very long time.

In this sense, I don’t see any of the “thought leaders” as you call them accurately representing my view, and each of them has some aspects of it.

I call myself a Cosmist according to the definition put forward by R.U. Sirius. See here:

Of the categories in your list I am sort of halfway between Extropianism and Democratic Transhumanism, and close to Religious Transhumanism.

RE: TedHowardNZ: “Thus one can see that we as a species are on the verge of a breakthrough, where cooperation completely takes over from competition, as the dominant factor.

This systems level emergence seems likely to express in many different areas:
It seems likely to result in abundance based technology taking over from scarcity based market capitalism.
It seems likely to result in indefinite life extension, and a continuing exponential growth in tools and models.”

I agree wholeheartedly. Especially that our systems need to deliver the essentials of life and liberty to everyone, which sounds a lot like the Hedonist or TEA that Hank mentions.

Perhaps the systems thinking that you suggest is understood by many of us,  but hard to put into words. Once you enter into the systems mindset, you see, think and express yourself in ways that linear thinkers can’t understand. It includes a transition of finding your voice in a whole new way. But I agree, until our species sees the network of life systems that already exists, we won’t make the jump to living one thousand years. The answer lies in the web, doesn’t it? One can’t merely radically extend life through technology without changing the entire social system that we live within. Thus biology and society evolve, often in ways one cannot predict. But if our goal is to honor life by extending it, then the goal must also be to honor the living with a social structure of abundance and prosperity.

I would argue that some kind of Cosmism, when applied to religion, is the most powerful. This is not to say that such a Cosmism is not Atheistic as well, but within a religious context, it is more emotionally compelling. With religion, one has a previous reference frame to build from.

The next step would be to prove Cosmism as being more valid than mundane science or religion.

Hi Nicole

It seems to me that there are two major strategies that appear to be the simplest (in the systems space sense), that are likely to emerge to get us over the “activation energy” hump from market based to abundance based thinking.

One is simply the idea of abundance itself.
One method of preventing cheating is to remove any value from the goods and services.  So one way of stopping people stealing from you is to ensure that there is no trade value from those goods, everyone else already has all they need, so there is no point in taking yours.
At a more abstract level, it seems that the price of freedom always will be eternal vigilance.  At more abstract levels, there is always the possibility of cheating at a level that has nothing to do with physical goods and services.  At this level, the presence of broad decentralised trust networks seems to be the most powerful stabilising tool.
We are a social species, and require social networks.  Some of us intersect through many different networks (I have about 50,000 people who know me on a first name basis - from homeless people to street cleaners to prime ministers and millionaires).  I have trust relationships with people who are highly unlikely to form trust relationships except through some intermediary like myself.
Developing tools that allow us to share that domain specific trust data automatically with people within our trust networks seems to be a stabilising solution to the problem.

The problem I haven’t yet solved to a probability I would like, is how to create the first fully automated set of machines that can make and maintain themselves and deliver a limited range of goods and services.
My educated guess is that about $30B in today’s reality would produce such a thing (a set of groups of total about 5,000 competent individuals in engineering, robotics and mostly programmers, working for about 6 to 8 years).  I’ve had out there for over 30 years.  Robert Freitas beat me to publication of a similar idea (in a NASA publication) by a couple of years, but it took a decade for us to find out about each other - the developments were quite independent.  I first published a precursor concept about 30 years ago, but that is irrelevant.  All Ideas build on those who have come before.  I owe huge debt to the thousands whom I have read, philosophers, engineers, biochemists, observers of nature and science fiction writers (particularly Asimov and Clarke, and dozens of others).

So yes, in one sense it is a matter of organising these ideas into a form that can spread and stay and influence (a sticky meme).  I have been consciously working on that for 30 years.  Any and all help gratefully received.

How about anarcho-transhumanism?  Violent or non-violent.

Yes, Roger!  - I will post that too

I guess in some ways my thoughts regarding what Transhumanist label I’d fall under may be more of a cosmist/cosmopolitan vein.

Although, I’d argue for more of a “posthumanist” label though because of the following thought(s).

It should be safe to assume that Humanity isn’t the first, nor the last to face these existential questions (grey goo, nuclear holocaust, meteor impact…etc they are all physical possibilities).  And as a result any “Alien” species would have to had face them too (or something similar to them).  If any species made it through this gauntlet, I’m sure they would’ve seeded the galaxy (universe(s)?) with intelligence (whether it be their own or some other form), for whatever reason they so chose (unless one decides to go “Last Messiah”).

As a result of this potential seeding, and the possibility of there already having been these events countless times (in particular the grey goo scenario).  I’d say my belief/rationale follows the notion that we all may be just assemblages of “grey goo”, or “quantum foam” that readily recognize constructs such as ourselves (cognitive biases anyone?).  Although, I’ll readily admit that this is just a belief on my part.

@Didier re “As far as I know, all transhumanists are in favor of life extension. So, they are all “Survivalist Transhumanists”

True but misleading. While all transhumanists are interested in and certainly not opposed to life extension, priorities vary.

For example, I am totally in favor of life extension and I hope future generations will enjoy much longer lifespans, but I don’t think radical life extension can be achieved anytime soon, and I don’t consider it as a top priority.

Survivalist transhumanists are those like Zoltan’s Jethro, who are only interested in life extension for themselves here and now.

Scott Jeffery has documented on his blog what could be called cosmic body transhumanism or psychedelic transhumanism. It tends to emphasize transformation rather than transcendence, and concentrates on the mind rather than just the body. And the tools tend to be more chemical than mechanical or electronic. Its precedents include shamanism, Timothy Leary and Terence McKenna, and the human potential movement. Jeffery uses the depiction of Silver Age comic book heroes as an example of this type of transhumanism.

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