Before we all go around yelling “My creation will make me more than what I am!” I’d like to ask all transhumanists: what does it mean to be human? And what does it mean to transcend that? What are you? And what does it mean to be more than yourself?

It’s pretentious to assume that you have answered these questions for all of humanity, especially if your answers are formed from Western ideologies. Transhumanism is the epitome and a “latest stage” of the Enlightenment notion of intelligence, humanity, and reductionism, in the same way “the idea of development is the most recent stage of the Enlightenment notion of human progress as a continual process of internal and external expansion based on values of rationality, secularity, and efficiency.” [1] Seems like our imperialism in terms of physical territory has stopped – only because there isn’t any land left to fight over – but our imperialism in ideas and in ways of being is still going strong.

If you think you know what intelligence is, here’s something to think about:

It’s pretentious to assume that you’ve answered the questions that humans have been present, but not fully answered, since possibly the beginning of consciousness or self-awareness. It is even more pretentious to assume that you have answered these question for people in the future. Human nature and humanity is constantly changing. What you consider to be human or “more than human” now probably isn’t what someone in the future will. Do you consider yourself to be more than human if you wear contacts or glasses? If you have a pacemaker? A prosthetic leg? A hearing aid? If you can get to the other side of the world in less than a day? Do you consider yourself to be more than human if you can rely on an external body of knowledge (i.e. internet) instead of memorizing everything? [2] Someone from a few centuries ago probably would.

Let’s look at “transhumanism” for what it really is. Here’s the Google definition, because Google knows all: the belief or theory that the human race can evolve beyond its current physical and mental limitations, especially by means of science and technology.

First, if you assume that science and technology will make us more than human, you are assuming that science/tech are not human. You really are just adopting the other side of the science/tech dehumanizing us idea. Alright, so it’s not really the idea of “becoming more than human”. It just means moving beyond current physical and mental limitations. So how are you going to measure this? Each person has a different level and quality of physical or mental limitation. And who are you to define what should be considered a limitation? Take a peak into deaf culture, they don’t consider their deafness a limitation. Or indigenous Australian cultures, they don’t consider their lack of GPS technologies/devices a limitation. [3]

Second, this doesn’t make sense since we are constantly “evolving” beyond our current physical and mental “limitations.” The idea implies that there is some threshold which we will hit in the future, some line to cross. How do you know there is even a line? And who should define it?

What it comes down to is this: your ideology a misnomer. I bet our friend George Carlin would have something to say about it:

Let’s get real, y’all are really cyborgists.

[1] Castles, S. (2001). Studying Social Transformation. International Political Science Review.

[2] For more on memory and how the advent of writing has changed our ways of knowing and learning, check out Moonwalking with Einsten by Joshua Foer.

[3] Check out Lera Boroditsky’s work with Australian Aboriginals. For an overview, here’s an NPR article and a Radiolab story. For a deeper dive, here’s an academic paper.

Further reading: One Half A Manifesto – Jaron Lanier on “Cybernetic Totalism” (the comments are particularly interesting, ignoring the fact that everyone participating is a white male, pardon me, there was one female contributor)