In 1957, Julian Huxley published a collection of his essays, the first of which was called Transhumanism. In this small work (only 5 pages), an outstanding scientist and public figure proclaimed the approach of an evolutionary leap, as a result of which “the human species will be on the threshold of a new kind of existence, as different from ours as ours is from that of Pekin man. It will at last be consciously fulfilling its real destiny” (Huxley, 1957, p. 17).
This prophecy, exciting and flattering, was not ignored, and the word he invented became a symbol of religion, which over more than half a century has only increased the number of its adherents. While traditional religions promise their parishioners a special relationship with the gods, for the transhumanists, the ancient gods are fiction, an “intersubjective phenomenon” (Harari, 2016, p. 147), which has no form of real existence outside the collective faith. The reason for such a cool attitude towards the gods is that they have already been nominated for a replacement. Thus, Yuval Noah Harari writes that Homo sapiens “stands on the verge of becoming a god, poised to acquire not only eternal youth, but also the divine abilities of creation and destruction” (Harari, 2016, p. 500).
How to Cite:
Halapsis, A. V. (2019). Gods of Transhumanism. Anthropological Measurements of Philosophical Research, 16, 78-90. doi:10.15802/ampr.v0i16.188397
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Such plans are not backed up by pure fantasies. Despite all the warnings of skeptics, science and technology do a surprisingly good job of constructing a paradise on earth, so it is not surprising that papal encyclicals now cause much less public resonance than an interview with Bill Gates or Elon Musk.
Classical faith in science – this is the brainchild of Modernism – does not have the nature of religious faith, for the competence of science ends on the shore of Acheron, and the wars of faiths for control over the other shore do not concern science in any way. Even the scientists and inventors who are changing this world themselves rarely consider their activities in evolutionary or religious aspects. The religion of the transhumanists is a heretical offshoot of faith in science, which seriously intended to gain a foothold on the other shore, making Charon unemployed.
This religion rests on three pillars: 1) the doctrine of creation, 2) the doctrine of perfection, and 3) the doctrine of immortality. The religious aspects of transhumanism will be discussed in this article.
Perhaps the most famous propagandist of these ideas is Raymond Kurzweil, inventor, futurologist and one of the directors of Google, who believes that many nanocomputers are capable of dramatically rebuilding the human body and this will become an undoubted blessing (Kurzweil, 2004). The ideas of other representatives of transhumanism can be found in the collection edited by Max More and Natasha Vita-More (More & Vita-More, 2013). Prospects for biological immortality were examined by Fereidoun M. Esfandiary (FM-2030, 1989, 2010), Michael Rose (Rose, 2004, 2013), and João Pedro de Magalhães (Magalhães, 2004). However, the way of biological immortality is not the only one discussed. Consciousness transfer projects are currently under consideration (Bamford, 2012), in particular, to achieve cyber immortality (Bainbridge, 2004).
All these issues are relevant, debatable, and scientists have reached no consensus on any of these positions, which implies the need for further research in this direction.
Transhumanism positions itself as a philosophical concept and secular futurology, but a number of signs indicate the religious nature of this phenomenon. The purpose of the article is to identify the religious factor in the doctrine of transhumanism, to determine its role in the ideology of this flow of thought and to identify possible limits of technology interference in human nature.
Statement of basic materials
The Bible begins with a description of Creation, so if someone wants to put a man in the place of God, he/she will have to force the former to do something even remotely similar. People are pardonably proud of their creativity, and although they have not yet created new land, the old one was assaulted enough to recognize these claims as valid. However, without Adam and Eve, creation would remain incomplete, and this circumstance was insurmountable until the old tales of golems became a reality.
Today it is hard to surprise somebody with ordinary robots: even children can assemble some of their models, although there are some who make scientific discoveries on their own (King, 2011). However, it is not they who become the heroes of the day, but humanoid robots (androids), which not only look like humans, but also are able to imitate human reactions. They may even have a sense of humor; at least, the words of the robot Sophia about the plans for the destruction of mankind were taken as a joke. Tomorrow they will be able to claim the role of an ideal companion or even a life partner. The ancient myth of Pygmalion and Galatea has never been so close to realization.
Previously, it was debated on the fundamental possibility of artificial intelligence, now AI technologies are used everywhere. Now the question about the possibility of consciousness and self-awareness of robots is being raised, and it is likely that in one form or another they will acquire such abilities. This will cause many ethical, legal and political issues.
For example, it makes no sense to talk about the “rights of robots” so far they are only mechanisms, but if they have self-awareness, there will most likely be fighters for their rights. Then the question about their legal responsibility will arise. Recently, one AI-equipped car had been going away from police pursuit for two hours while its owner was drunk sleeping at the wheel, another autopilot car checked in Uber by itself and illegally earned money by driving passengers during its tests. Now, robots and other AI mechanisms, even in case of law violation, cannot be subjects of criminal law, and the responsibility for their actions rests with the owners and/or developers. But androids with self-awareness, in all likelihood, will also have free will, which means they will have to bear responsibility for their actions. Will special laws be written for robots or will ordinary laws be applied to them? Will they be prone to illegal actions – on their own initiative or bending to the will of their owners? Can the latter be punished for “cruelty to robots,” as some countries now punish people for cruelty to animals?
If robots are massively granted citizenship (and the same Sofia has already become a citizen of Saudi Arabia), will they receive political rights? Nowadays, previously considered axiomatic claims about women’s inability to political activity look ridiculous. Perhaps for future generations, political discrimination against robots would be absurd. The European Parliament is already discussing the issue of recognizing them as “electronic personalities” (Prodhan, 2016, Jun 21), so I would not reject the possibility for robots (at least for some of their types) to obtain suffrage and even hold elected posts. Martine Rothblatt believes that a conscious computer may well enjoy citizenship, and naturalization laws can be revised so that “a person born from information technology may become a citizen in the same manner as a person who immigrates from another country” (Rothblatt, 2013, p. 324). A robot could become a mayor of the city, deputy, head of a state or government. Surely there would be a lot of voters who would be impressed by the lesser propensity of android politicians for corruption, nepotism and other abuses as compared to their human colleagues.
Human thinking is imperfect but creative, capable of non-standard reactions. Non-standard ones are not necessarily the best, and maybe not the best at all. These are reactions that do not follow from the “conditions of the problem”. Human intelligence is not only “the ability to make correct decisions” – this is just one of the facets of the human person, and we can only say that the machine that has passed the Turing test has come close to a person in intellectual terms. That is when a computer falls in love with another computer and begins to make madness for the subject of its passion, then, perhaps, I will believe that the machine has become a person.
So, mankind has created for itself non-biological assistants, capable to replace a person in many spheres of activity or to perform tasks much faster, more precisely, better. These assistants (androids and other robots) extremely quickly “evolve” and it is likely that they will soon gain consciousness and self-awareness in one form or another. And yet, this consciousness should be very different from the human one, so the motives of our actions – power, sex, money, fame, etc. – most likely, will not have the slightest value for robots. Therefore, it does not seem to me that robots will rebel against their creators, which does not negate the need to use appropriate security protocols. It is more likely that we will voluntarily give them power functions, at least part of them, in order to get rid of troubles and not lead our human brothers and sisters into temptation. The latter are less and less inclined to endure their natural bodily limitations, striving to become more perfect beings. And here we come to the second pillar of the new faith. A little more than half a century has passed since the moment when Julian Huxley voiced his prophecy, and before our eyes it began to be fulfilled. There are already a lot of cyborgs among us (Clark, 2003; Palese, 2012) and over time their number will grow. We get used to the idea that some parts of the body can be replaced by “spare” ones – donor, artificially grown or completely artificial. It is not just the further development of medicine and the sciences related to it, but a fundamental turn in the look at the person him/herself, the essence of which is the transition from human-as-integrity to a modular human.
It is funny, but the new episteme (in the words of Michel Foucault) surprisingly merges with the mechanical worldview of the Cartesian era. Moreover, in some ways it is even more radical than the old mechanicalism, because the latter never took its own image of human as a “machine” too seriously. This image helped to form ideas about the human body, about its structure and functions, but it by no means assumed that the same actions can be performed with the human body as with the mechanisms. For mechanicalism, it was just an analogy; for a new episteme, the image of the machine turns into a task that is already partially solved.
The tendency of modularity intersects with projects of cardinal transformation of the human body itself. Raymond Kurzweil predicts that a large number of nanorobots in the human body will allow them to rebuild and replace human organs with better cybernetic devices, and the human body can take any form (Kurzweil, 2004). If he is right, then the transformation of the human body under the influence of nanotechnology will turn a person into some other, possibly more perfect creature. Add biotechnology to this (Fukuyama, 2002) and the beginning of posthuman history can be ascertained.
Nowadays, adjustments to the natural body are associated with serious surgical interventions fraught with complications (remember Michael Jackson, whom the pursuit of beauty made disabled and led to premature death). In the near future, changes in the human body may be more radical, and negative consequences are minimized. Beauty will not only become the norm, as Julian Huxley predicted, but new types of (post-) human beauty will surely appear, and the current Barbie and Elf women will seem like distant classics to our descendants against the backdrop of the monstrous aesthetics of the posthumans. Fashion will move to a new level, and designers of clothes and accessories will be replaced by body designers. Height, weight, facial features, figure, age, race, gender will turn out to be variable parameters, becoming something like clothes and makeup; the decision on the optimal body for a vacation or party will be limited only by imagination.
However, individual organs or the body as a whole can become so worn out that regeneration becomes impossible or inexpedient. Then the question may arise that worn around the edges, but a valuable head should be given a young and healthy body.
Experiments with the transplantation of heads of rats and dogs have been carried out since 1908, although only from the middle of the twentieth century they began to give, if not completely acceptable, but at least some result. Of course, during these experiments, the ability to ever transplant a person’s head was kept in mind. The most important problem here is the difficulty of connecting the cut fragments of the spinal cord, without which the transplanted head simply cannot control the newfound body. However, the Italian surgeon Sergio Canavero in 2013 described the technology of transplanting a human head (Canavero, 2013), and in December 2017 he had been preparing for its practical use, but this operation had to be postponed. There are other research groups that develop similar projects. Although the difficulties associated with installing the head in a new body and “connecting the peripherals” have not yet been overcome, this does not mean that the situation will remain so in the future. At first, there will be no big problems finding a suitable body, but when the technologies are developed and the transplantation of heads (brains) can be produced en masse, the demand for donor bodies will far exceed the supply. As an alternative, cloning can be considered and it will not be difficult to imagine future clone farms that provide the riches and the few with “spare” organs or whole bodies (a similar plot is the basis of the feature film “Island” (2005, directed by Michael Bay). There is no need to talk about the ethical acceptability of such a method. Another alternative is to create artificial bodies. These bodies could be partly of organic origin, partly of purely artificial origin. I do not evaluate the realism of this alternative; at least in ethical terms, it is much preferable than the previous one.
The old man could again feel himself a youth, remaining himself, but in a new body. You can go even further, suggesting the possibility of “body selection” for individual needs. Someone does not like their height, constitution, facial features, race, gender. Someone got serious injuries, loss of limbs … During brain transplantation all at once is changed, and the set of parameters depends only on the client’s desire, his/her financial capabilities and the availability of appropriate bodies. The range of application of this technology can be very wide – from life extension and salvation from incurable diseases to self-expression with the help of an “ideal” body.
In addition to tuning the body, its modernization can also take place. The idea of a neurocomputer interface was expressed as early as 1960, when the possibility of symbiosis between humans and computers was theoretically justified (Licklider, 1960), and concrete experiments in this area have been conducted since the 1970s, and impressive results have already been achieved. These technologies find their practical application in neuroprosthetics (the creation of functioning limbs, the eyesight recovery using an artificial retina, etc.). In the long term, the task is to create an exocortex – a neuroprosthesis of the brain cortex to enhance human intelligence. These ideas were supported by Elon Musk; according to him people need this in order to keep up with robots in intelligence (“Elon Musk live at Code Conference,” 2016, Jun 2). Since in the future the line between androids (“robots human”) and cyborgs (“human robots”) will become more and more conventional (Halapsis, 2016, p. 59), we need to prepare yet today for solving the problems that will arise with it.
So, man has learned not just to change the Divine creation – to develop new plant varieties, animal breeds, etc. – but also to create creatures possessing at least some elements of consciousness practically “of the dust of the ground”. In addition, a person has learned to change, modify and tune his/her own body, and in the future, these transformations will become even more significant. The combination of these two skills is quite capable in the near future to generate cyborg-android convergence.
But there is one circumstance that prevents us from fully enjoying all this power. Mankind is mortal, and over the millions of years of its evolution this fact has not changed. Like millennia ago, today few people overcome the centenary, and certainly, we are not talking about the age of Methuselah. At last, human life is quite short, and our characterization as “mortal” pretty much cools the ardor of those who planned to storm heaven.
The faith of transhumanism needs one more pillar, so a congregation of immortalists arose, which sets itself the task of developing ways to achieve artificial immortality. The writer and futurologist Fereidoun M. Esfandiary (pseudonym FM-2030) believed that by 2030 there will be technologies that can ensure human immortality. For him, overcoming death was primarily of ethical value, and meant the elimination of the main tragedy in human life. Thanks to this, the latter will turn into a transhuman, and later – into a posthuman who will be able to settle in space, etc. (FM-2030, 1989, 2010).
Esfandiary died in 2000, without waiting for the fulfillment of his forecasts. But even death did not stop this new Qin Shi Huang, who intended to live forever. Now his body is in a cryochamber, awaiting the resurrection. However, I do not think that having lived another 30 years, Esfandiary would have found the fulfillment of his predictions. A person lives due to biological processes that wear out his/her body. We cannot stop these processes; in the best case, we can slow them down a little. Replacing individual organs or even the whole body (the head transplant option discussed above) can solve some problems, but, firstly, such interventions themselves will greatly weaken the body, and secondly, even under other favorable circumstances, medicine will run into the brain’s resource, moreover both qualitatively and quantitatively. The 150-year-old elders, who have fallen into insanity, can hardly be regarded as the peak and goal of human evolution.
However, artificial immortality can be understood not as an extension of ordinary life for an unlimited time, but as an extension of the life of consciousness in a purely electronic form or on other carriers (for a discussion of the topic “mind-substrate transfer“, see: (Bamford, 2012)). Hypothetically, one can admit the possibility of scanning consciousness, digitizing it and transferring it to another medium (for example, a computer or another person’s “formatted” brain). We are talking about technologies for artificial separation of consciousness from the brain; if successful, you will get a substrate-independent mind (SIM) that can function on different devices – from the human brain to the computer. Randal Koene believes that “SIM can be developed within the lifespan of the majority of humanity that is alive today” (Koene, 2013, p. 155).
You can also allow the possibility of changing personality by “erasing” information with subsequent “reflashing” (“reprogramming”). The Frankensteins of the future could go even further by finding ways of “exchanging bodies” or “renting bodies,” not to mention the prospect of mankind moving into an “electronic (digital) form of life,” in which the work of consciousness would not depend on a mortal human body (the brain), but on computer systems; in the latter case, the issue of artificial immortality would fundamentally be solved without demographic consequences (the virtual world could theoretically contain an infinite number of “souls”). According to Kaj Sotala and Harri Valpola, loading consciousness into a computer will be possible through an exocortex; it can also provide the unification of the consciousness of several people (Sotala & Valpola, 2012). Mike Treder suggests that “in the future we will be able to simulate the personalities of people from the past — whether celebrities, historical figures, or loved ones — and relate directly with them. It is also possible that you might (with their permission, of course) choose to integrate one or more of these identities into your own. You may also someday accept the invitation to become part of a meta-being by subsuming your identity (or maybe a copy of your identity) into theirs” (Treder, 2004, p. 195).
Now such dreams founder on the rocks of harsh reality. Of course, it is impossible to load a person’s consciousness (even if it can be digitized) onto an ordinary laptop. It is logical to assume that consciousness will feel most comfortable in a computer system that imitates the brain as closely as possible. But for the modeling of the human brain there will not be enough computing power of any modern supercomputer. Nowadays, several groups of scientists are working on this problem (Blue Brain Project, Human Brain Project, BRAIN Initiative, China Brain Project, Brain/MINDS), however, to create a full-fledged model of the human brain is still very far away. In any case, these projects are not directly related to the tasks of electronic immortality, and they are unlikely to be relevant even in the distant future.
One can admit the possibility of the human consciousness working on “non-brain-like” cybernetic systems, especially taking into account the fact that the brain spends part of its resources on physiological processes that are absent in the “pure” or “electronic” consciousness. Further development of technologies can hypothetically lead to the fact that some “descendants” of Sophia will be installed not with artificial, but with human consciousness. But I strongly doubt that in this case migration of consciousness itself will take place.
Consciousness is still uncharted land. The psychophysiological problem formulated by Descartes was supplemented by the difficult problem of consciousness (Chalmers, 1995, 2017; Levine, 1983; Nagel, 1974), the meaning of which is to obtain subjective experience in processing external information, the presence of Qualia in a person, and perception of the world “in the first person.” There are many neurobiological theories of consciousness (Kouider, 2009), there are quantum theories of consciousness (Fisher, 2015; Penrose, 2002), the theory of integrated information (Tononi, Boly, Massimini, & Koch, 2016; Tononi & Koch, 2015), etc.
Without going into a discussion of these and other concepts, I will accept that at a phenomenal level, consciousness is an experience in which we are aware (Schneider & Velmans, 2007, p. 1). Experience is at the core of human being as a person, being actualized through memory, which allows the act of self-identification “I am I”. Now imagine that somehow we managed to read all or at least the basic information from the brain of one person and write it to the previously formatted brain of another (or into a completely inhuman “brain”). Suppose further that as a result of this procedure, the identity of the double would be completely identical to the identity of the original. But after all, nothing will change for the latter, he/she will not become “two” personalities, he/she will not see the world “with four eyes,” he/she will not be in two places at the same time, etc. Even if a thousand “copies” of this person are made, he/she will not become “thousand times alive”, but will remain one, attached to his/her body and its vital functions, on which the “I” is somehow dependent. Therefore, the human “self” is always unique and individual, and an arbitrarily similar “copy” will be a different self. The “hologram” of a personality is not a personality, and even if it is installed in another body or computer system (network), the identity of the person will not be preserved, because identity is to be the same, not alike.
Apparently, the information itself is not identical to the “soul”. Of great importance is the medium of information itself, in this case, the brain and the processes occurring in it. According to Wickliffe Abraham and Anthony Robins, human consciousness has an anatomical base encoded in neuropile networks; it depends on the strength of synaptic connections and, probably, on the epigenetic structure of neurons (Abraham & Robins, 2005). In this case, consciousness is a function of brain activity, and cannot exist without a brain. However, even if it is possible someday to print the brain of a particular person on a 3D printer or load the consciousness of one person into the brain of another, I do not see how this will help solve the problem of multiplying the “I”.
So, the third ace has not played. It seems to me that no matter how powerful the post-man is, he/she will not succeed to capture the last bastion of the divine – immortality. It is beyond this bastion that the gods dwell. People create them in their own image and likeness, but from this fact (known already to Xenophanes) it does not at all follow that gods do not really exist. As long as people have no access to either the source of being, or to unraveling the mysteries of the soul, atheism will be no more than not too witty pseudo-religious fiction. And something tells me that the gods will never surrender their last bastion.
Based on the methodology of transhumanism, I examined the main options for the posthuman future. Our creations will be able to pass the Turing test in the foreseeable future, become “electronic personalities” and gain political rights, although the question of the possibility of machine consciousness and self-awareness remains open. In the face of robots, humanity creates assistants for itself, evolutionary competition with which it will almost certainly lose with the initial data. It is not about the fact that machines will take over the world (although the emergence of a new Lucifer among them cannot be excluded), but about the fact that in many areas of activity they will replace a person, performing the same work more efficiently – faster and at a lower cost. For successful competition with robots, people will have to change, ceasing to be people in the classical sense. And we have already begun to change, becoming cyborgs, and our descendants will have even less of human. Changing the nature of man will require the emergence of a new – posthuman – anthropology.
Based on the achievements of various branches of scientific knowledge, transhumanism intends to put the posthuman in the place of God. Access to immortality is a key point of this project. However, although many miracles of the past have become commonplace in our time, I do not think that scientists will ever be able to perform this miracle too.
Against the background of scientific discoveries, technical breakthroughs and everyday improvements of the last decades, an anthropological revolution has taken shape, which made it possible to set the task of creating inhumanly intelligent creatures, as well as changing human nature, up to discussing options for artificial immortality. These are not fantasies of eccentrics and dreamers like Nikolai Fedorov, but real projects for which billions of dollars are spent and specialists from various sciences are involved. Something had to happen in the self-awareness of culture, in relation to a person, etc., so that the discourse itself in such a coordinate grid became possible. Ultimately, the language of culture has changed as a consequence of the anthropological fracture noted above.
Neurotechnologies of prosthetics, organ transplantation, installation of various stimulants and implants have become the reality of today. Tomorrow it will be nanochips and nanocomputers capable of modifying the human body and enhancing intelligence. This will mean further cyborgization of people. Yet today, the human body can be subjected not only to external correction, but also to internal transformations, in the future, the possibilities of medicine in its “repair”, “renewal” and “tuning” will increase manifold. The history of man ends and the history of the posthuman begins (by analogy with the five races of Hesiod, I call him the man of the silicon race (Halapsis, 2016)). We can no longer turn off this path, however, in our power to preserve our human qualities in the posthuman future.
The forgotten topic of the soul again reminded of itself, but from a different perspective – as the topic of consciousness and self-awareness (a difficult problem of consciousness, etc.). It became again relevant in connection with the development of computer and cloud technologies, artificial intelligence technologies, etc. If a machine ever becomes a “man”, then whether a man could become a “machine”? Potential immortality is too tempting prize not to find those who would be willing to sacrifice their human nature for it.
However, even in the case when such a hypothetical probability turns into reality, it is not necessary to talk about any form of individual immortality or about the continuation of existence in a different physical form. A digital copy of the soul will still remain a copy, and I see no fundamental possibility of isolating a substrate-independent mind from the human body. The maximum that can be achieved on this path is to obtain “doubles” who can continue the work, but not the essence of the original.
In conclusion, I note another significant trend. In former times, the Church had an almost complete monopoly on the knowledge of the soul. Today, references to religious dogmas are perceived as bad form. Scientists who have become obsessed are striving by all means to retire God, wishing to play the gods themselves. In this sense, immortality is necessary not so much to stop someone’s fears or to encourage someone’s hopes but to finally resolve the religious issue. However, the gods hold the keys to heaven hard and are unlikely to admit our modified descendants there.
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