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Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies





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Transhumanism: there are [at least] ten different philosophical categories; which one(s) are you?

Hank Pellissier


Ethical Technology


http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/IEETBlog

July 08, 2015

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 SingularityWeblog.com 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.

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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 hank@ieet.org 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):

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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