Transhumanism is the belief that, in the future, science and technology will enable us to transcend our bodily confines. Scientific advances will transform humans and, in the process, eliminate ageing, disease, unnecessary suffering, and ultimately our earthbound status.
Artistic representations of humans uploading their minds to cybernetic devices or existing independently of their bodies abound are seen pictured through the Freudian propaganda networks.
In Altered Carbon (2018-2020), for example, we are introduced to a future where human consciousness can be downloaded onto devices called “cortical stacks”.
This technology reduces physical bodies to temporary vehicles or “sleeves” for these storage devices which are implanted and swapped between various bodies:
There are many more examples that explore our transhuman future in monstrous creations — examining the boundaries between human and machine.
But these speculations are not limited to art and science fiction.
The public intellectual Sam Harris and world-renowned physicist David Deutsch imagine a future where we are able to download conscious states and live in matrix-like virtual simulations.
The historian Yuval Noah Harari suggests, in the not too distant future, these technological advancements will transform us into new godlike immortal species.
Some thinkers, like the philosopher Nick Bostrom, believe we might already be living in a computer simulation. Elon Musk is developing brain-machine interfaces to connect humans to computers.
These imaginings of our transhumanist future take many divergent forms, but they share the idea science will enable us to ‘free our minds from bodily constraints’.
But these ideas aren’t modern.
In fact, the desire to transcend our nature is a continuation of the Enlightenment ideal of ‘human perfectibility’.
Today’s ideas of transhumanism can be directly traced back to two 18th century thinkers.
MARQUIS DE CONDORCET
Life will have ‘no assignable limit’
Marquis de Condorcet (1743-1794) was a French revolutionary who wrote and spoke extensively on the notion that the new scientific age of ‘enlightenment’ would bring about unprecedented progress.
He has been called “the last witness” of the Age of Enlightenment; a period of history that has been written to depict a wonderful ‘progression’ of the world — but was really an upheaval that laid the foundationfor the birth the eugenics movement.