Transhuman After All

Much of the tech world is buzzing about the Singularity. Futurist Ray Kurzweil calls it the point at which humans “transcend biology.” Although he never fails to appreciate the human body’s complexity, he doesn’t seem particularly attached to it. He refers to it as a substrate and believes that we will soon be able to transfer ourselves to more suitable substrates. Until that day comes, we will be modifying our bodies with nanotechnology. That’s already happening.

Many people strongly oppose the idea of tinkering with our own biology. Underlying this opposition is a false dichotomy between technology and nature, as discussed by Robert Pirsig in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

To get away from technology out into the country in the fresh air and sunshine is why they are on the motorcycle in the first place… I just think that their flight from and hatred of technology is self-defeating. The Buddha, the Godhead, resides quite as comfortably in the circuits of a digital computer or the gears of a cycle transmission as he does at the top of a mountain or in the petals of a flower. To think otherwise is to demean the Buddha… which is to demean oneself.

What antitechnologists really hate is not technology but the misuse of technology. There is nothing inherently bad or evil about technology. Just as a blade can be used for murder or surgery, technology can be used in ways that support or destroy nature. We live in a society in which people use technology in a lot of ways that destroy nature; and this has the unfortunate consequence of causing some people to assume that technology itself is opposed to nature. Jacque Fresco of The Venus Project is actively developing a vision of society in which technology is used only in ways that support harmony between humans and nature.

Of course, “man vs. nature” is also a false dichotomy. Humans are part of nature. When ants build a mound or birds build a nest, we consider those structures to be natural. Yet, when humans construct a building or a computer, we consider these to be artificial. This is an arbitrary distinction based on the pre-Darwinian belief that humans are not part of the animal kingdom. In a sense, because humans are part of nature, everything that humans do is strictly natural. Then what do I mean when I speak of using technology to increase harmony between humans and nature? I mean that instead of polluting the environment, ourselves, and other species, we use technology to benefit the entire planet.

The antitechnologist’s concerns may be allayed by the following consideration. You are already using technology to modify yourself. Do you ride in automobiles? Or do you believe that such would rob you of the more human experience of walking? The antitechnologist Amish still ride around in horse-drawn carriages, but how is that any less a departure from “human nature” than riding in automobiles? Where do we draw the line? At what point does technology become too much? Is it when the technology becomes internalized? Then I guess we better do away with pacemakers and intrauterine devices.

What is “human nature” anyway? Too often has this term been used to justify and perpetuate systems of oppression and control. For example, governments tirelessly assure us of their necessity by arguing that humans are naturally selfish and violent. Homophobes tell us that humans are by nature exclusively heterosexual. It’s not human nature we’re moving beyond, but the very concept of human nature. Humans are extremely variable, versatile, and adaptable. We have the ability to mold ourselves. We can be whatever we want to be.

Transcending biology does not mean that we will become mindless machines. We won’t become less human; we’ll become more human. Enhancing ourselves with technology will enrich the human experience. It will allow us to do more of what makes us human.

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