On the Path to Transhumanism

By Alex Newhouse

Every day we accelerate toward longer life, healthier life, fewer diseases, and better recovery from those diseases we can’t cure. Every single day our technology progresses, building on itself in all sorts of ways that we can’t imagine yet, slowly but steadily directing us toward an ultimate end point. Chances are, we will at some time in the future reach that point.  

Among academics and enthusiasts studying the future, this point is referred to as a singularity. It is fully within the realm of possibility that within the not-too-distant future, we will cease to be affected by the forces of time or disease, and instead we can constantly revive our bodies indefinitely. Either by organ generation, artificial augmentation, or full mental transplantation, we might be able to transcend the natural state of human existence.

This is the goal of the transhumanism movement. And what an absolutely unbelievable achievement it would be! The goal of transhumanism plays into that most base of human instincts, the drive to survive. The conquest of death would fully absolve us of that innate, extremely powerful and primal fear of destruction. Such an achievement would grant the gift that countless religions have claimed to give, eternal life.

But we aren’t just animals. We aren’t just slaves to our innate desires. We have a huge, complicated, diverse structure of more high-level goals and dreams created by our mind. We have deep, troubling conflicts within ourselves not about the fact of survival, but rather about the spirit of living—we are the only living creatures to experience existential crises and to wonder about our place in the universe. Innumerable books have tackled how to live meaningfully and to extract every ounce of happiness and satisfaction out of the life we’ve been given. We know no other way to live, than to live respecting the inherent limits of our lives. To take down those limits would be to undermine the very fabric of our society and to throw into turmoil the decisions that we make every day. What does if mean to lead a “meaningful” life when that life is endless? How do you approach your career when you’ll be working for 400 years, instead of 40? How do you entertain yourself when you have more than enough time to do anything you’ve ever wanted, and to make the money to enable yourself to do all those things?

Transhumanism sounds ridiculous on face value, but the fact of the matter is, technology is creeping toward this point. It’s not too early to start really considering what will happen when our elders consist not of 80 and 90 year olds, but of bi- and tri-centenarians. And it’s never too early to start wondering if our currently accepted way of living needs a new coat of paint, or even an entirely new foundation.The pervading life philosophies all have something to do with striving to reach some greater goal. Whether that be happiness, joy, spiritual enlightenment, mental liberation, love, or anything else, the focus is almost always on the necessity of a journey toward some sort of awakening. We all have to strive for something. And even if the focus isn’t on the destination, import still weighs on the journey. After all, the oft-quoted statements does suggest that “it’s the journey, and not the destination, that matters.” This gets at a crucial element of truth: we must recognize the value in the present, in our current state of affairs, rather than always look down the road to our goals.

But the problem with this, and the reason why we often fear the transhumanist singularity, is that even this suggestion puts undue focus on the motion. No one ever tells us that’s okay to not even go on the journey in the first place. We rarely, if ever, get the acknowledgement that where we are, right this instant, without any regard to future goals or moving towards anything, is good and worthwhile for its own sake. We are uncomfortable with the notion of doing nothing. The idea of being, in a sense, sedentary—not physically, but rather mentally and emotionally—never receives its deserved consideration. There is something so beautiful and transcendental about the art of not moving. It represents contentment. Too often we forget to find and acknowledge when we are content. Too often we preclude ourselves from ever even feeling that emotion at all. To use an analogy: hiking is one of my favorite activities because it affords me breathtaking views and a rejuvenating exposure to nature, but I have found more joy and more peace during days when I allow myself to simply sit in a chair in nature, with no destination or even motion. I firmly believe that the ability to metaphorically sit motionless and be content is conducive to greater happiness and greater satisfaction with all of life. And life brings us countless moments for us to forget the goal and forget the motion and simply be. It takes an effort to pull the mind back down to the lowest level, to focus on the immediate and not the far-off,  and to break day down into each individual moment, instead of allowing it to flow together and escape.

This is how we solve those moral quandaries of transhumanism. This is how we approach a world in which we live longer and healthier lives and where the specter of meaninglessness grows. It takes a refocusing of life onto what it means to be during each second, rather than what it means to strive toward something. But this doesn’t have to wait for scientists to develop the technology for us to live indefinitely. These existential problems are not unique to transhumanism, but are simply scaled up to fit the longer time frame. We face these issues every day. But we solve the issues of boredom and aimlessness by acknowledging the fact that we don’t have to aim anywhere. We don’t even have to move anywhere. We can just be present, comfortable in our situation, content with the world we make for ourselves.