Sunday, March 2, 2008

On transhumanism

A little about myself:

I am planning to earn a PhD in neuroscience.

I am hoping to find the rest of the genes which influence intelligence (Robert Plomin et al. have started the work already, and I hope to help finish the work!), and with that information, I'd like to make people smarter.

I am a supporter of transhumanism, which is a doctrine that says humanity deserves to be 'better than well' (see for a small introduction). A large part of this entails improvement of the human body by mechanical and biological means. There is already some fusing of the human body with technology, such as the use of prostheses and implants, a few of which interface with the neural network (there are chips in existence which allow the blind to 'see' with their tongue), and Wisconsin's own professor Paul Bach-y-Rita, who is sadly the late Paul Bach-y-Rita, pioneered the use of neuroprosthetics particularly as they relate to neuroplasticity. If we can use these for therapeutic functions, why not for enhancement?

The general arguments against transhumanism seem to stem from the religious or bioconservative groups (bioconservative meaning 'don't touch biology, let it be the way it was before Homo sapiens put its pink fleshy hands on it!'). Religious groups seem to claim transhumanists want to 'play (insert imaginary friend of choice here)', largely because transhumanist technology would impart unto folks qualities that religious people usually ascribe to their deities or qualities that are 'superhuman', such as super strength or the ability to manipulate certain material. The bioconservative motivation is self-explanatory, so I won't explain that much more.

Personally, I'm all for uploading my brain and becoming one with the Series o' Tubes!

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Peggy said...

While I think some of the ideas of the transhumanist movement are interesting, I really have mixed feelings about their claims. My problem is not that I'm a "bioconservative", since I don't think that there is something sacred about our flesh. What I take issue with are their bold claims about how soon we will be ready for upload, which seem to vastly underestimate how much we actually understand about the brain works. It's not just a matter of finding all the genes involved; it requires understanding how the genetics actually translates into brain function, which I think is a much more difficult task, especially since we can't perform experiments on humans like we can in mice. We may have simulated lobster neural networks, but that's a far cry from replicating human intelligence.

BTW Have you read Stross's novel Accelerando?

Anonymous said...

Cool to see that you have a post on transhumanism. I don't have time to read too many of your older posts right now, but at a glance I see that you have lots of topics I'm interested in. I saw the Dawkins too when he came to NYC! Yay!

kldickson said...


I've changed my mind on brain uploading; go to and read the posts about the differences between brains and computers.

No, I didn't read Accelerando .