Transhumanism 101 — Everything you need to know about the world without death
Update: Aug 2018
All my possessions for a moment of time.
Queen Elizabeth I
Contents of the article
- What is Transhumanism and why it matters
- The Transhumanist FAQ
- Must-read articles and links
- Documentaries and films
- Other relevant information
What is Transhumanism and why it matters
Simply said, Transhumanism is a cultural movement that affirms that the current human condition can be widely improved through technology to radically slow down the aging process and finally, eliminate death.
Eliminate death? This may sound naive, even childish, but we are at a point in the progress of our species where it seems that technology is near to allow us to slow down (even reversing) the aging process, to fix certain illnesses that just some years ago meant an unavoidable death sentence and even directly connect our brains to the Internet with immediate access to unlimited amounts of information.
In the following article you will find a list of the most usual questions raised when discussing Transhumanism and radical life extension, a recommended list of articles, books, documentaries and films and the main personalities of the Transhumanist movement plus some relevan links of cryonics companies, Transhumanist communities and Foundations.
The Transhumanist FAQ
There are lot of misconceptions with Transhumanism and, in general, with radically longer lifespans. When you talk about this concepts with the general public, usually the same arguments arise, but most of them are fallacies and others are easily refutable with some open-minded thinking. In case you are interested in a much more detailed FAQ on transhumanish, Nick Bostrom has a great Transhumanist FAQ that I totally recommend. In addition, you may also find interesting The Life Extensionist’s Guide to Logical Fallacies recently published.
So, lets go with the most frequent questions on Transhumanism:
Death is natural
Yes. It is natural. Infectious diseases are natural. Cancer is also natural. Pain is also certainly natural.
All species are born, grown up and die. But we are lucky to be the most developed and smartest species ever known and we have always been improving nature as much as we could (just think of agriculture that is per definition, unnatural). Same as above, if you can choose between a certain death in 3 months and a heart transplant, I am sure you would choose the transplant, even if it is a human intervention in nature’s plan. Nature is not always good and, in fact, it is constantly trying to kill us. There is nothing more natural than illness or a wild animal trying to kill you and eat your tasty meat. So, yes. Death is natural, but also totally undesirable.
Death is unavoidable
At least it is until now. Please, note that transhumanists usually admit that death will probably never be 100% avoidable/optional, and even if it was, the universe will certainly die (this is also a very interesting topic!) and this means that everything will die. That being said, a heart transplant was wizardry just 100 years ago and now around 4.000 hearts are moved from dying bodies to ill people that usually recovers (after a long and complicated recovery period) and enjoy a normal life. You also died of tuberculosis, influenza, pneumonia, diphtheria, etc. 100 years ago, some of them are totally eradicated and others are certainly minor cause of death today.
There are lot of analysis of the reasons of death in the past versus today (totally recommended read) and probably some new and unexpected lethal circumstances and illnesses will appear in the future, but it is reasonable to think that the scientific progress, bio-engineering, AI, nanotechnology and other innovations will find solutions to these “no accidental” deaths. And as a second worst-case scenario (being death the worst-case), cryonics and other future techniques can buy you some precious time. In any case, at least in the near-future where humans still depend on their physical bodies to survive/exist, accidental death will still be a huge threat and can really mean the end (i.e. an airplane accident that totally destroys your body and the options to “post-death” treatments like cryonics).
Only the rich will benefit
Wrong. As any disruptive innovation, at first probably the wealthiest will be the ones who can access to the techniques that allow them to have longer and healthier lifespans. In fact, some of the developments and treatments will be very expensive until a broad adoption is achieved and bigger demand exist to lower prices. It happened with cars (that at first only the wealthiest could afford), with the TV, with cellphones and with almost every single innovation of the last centuries. That’s why, no. Not only the rich will benefit from longer and virtually unlimited lifespans.
I don’t want to live forever
Seriously, have you really thought about that? I have talked with lot of people that at first says that they don’t want to live forever, that death is fine and that everyone needs to die, it has always been this way and we should accept that. But if you really, objectively, think about it, with no conditionals (and, important, without religious constraints), there is no way you would want to die. We all are conditioned by the current situation where people born, grow up and die. And that’s all.
Death is fine, it always been this way so we must accept. But no one really wants to accept it. Again, if you can choose between a certain death in 3 months or a heart transplant, would you choose death? If you are 80 and you can choose an additional healthy year, would you choose death? What if your are 99? And 199? And 999? I am sure, if you can choose, you choose life versus death.
We have bigger problems than death, people is starving in Africa!
We are not in a zero-sum game and focusing on immortality doesn’t mean that you can’t help in other problems like global hunger. In fact, if death is ever fixed, it would mean the biggest single improvement for every single human being. And, probably, in the way, lot of innovations will be achieved in the process, the same way that the space race in the 60's meant thousands of practical innovations for the global human race. In addition, focusing in “short-term”/current problems would leave us unprepared for the foresable future and the potential challenges that we will, for sure, face.
So, no, we are not selfish trying not to die while other people is malnourished. Death is the only shared fate for all of us, so finding a solution to death would be the biggest achievement ever for the human species.
Overpopulation can be an issue if people live indefinitely and still have children, who have children, who have children and so on. But accepting death as the solution to this potential problem is not right at all. In fact, if we cure cancer, the second cause of death worldwide, the population will also grow, and it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try to cure cancer.
Food is one of the critical issues of the overpopulation, but this can be “easily fixed” though technological development. From more efficient farming techniques (just compare agriculture 100 years ago versus today, and imagine how it can be in just 20 years from now… or 100), to better energy sources, genetically engineered crops, synthetic meat, food substitutes and finally molecular biotechnology.
How many people the Earth can sustain at a comfortable standard of living is a function of technological development (as well as of how resources are distributed)
And we shouldn’t forget that the space is big and we are making the first steps for the space colonization (thanks, Elon Musk!).
In addition, according to World Bank Data, global population rate is decreasing and it hit 1.16% in 2017. In fact, if you focus in developed countries, growth rate is around 0.2% with extreme cases like Japan, Portugal or Italy with a negative growth.
I don‘t want to be old forever
The premise for transhumanists is that longer (virtually unlimited) healthy lifespans can be achieved. No one wants to be 150 in a hospital bed, not being able to move, eat or talk, so the premise is always a healthy lifespan.
- First bridge: It currently exists and can be “easily crossed” to the second bridge though a healthy lifestyle, good eating and diet, quality sleep and exercise.
- Second bridge, biotechnology revolution. Potential date: 2025 / 2030. Gene therapy, stem cells, molecular regeneration, replacement of cells, tissues and organs, therapeutic cloning, etc. This second bridge can mean freezing the aging process.
- Third bridge, nanotechnology revolution. Potential date: +2045: Nanorobots will flow through our blood vessels constantly measuring all relevant variables, detecting potential problems and fixing them in real time or sending alert signals for more in-depth medical treatments. Around this date, aging could also be reversible.
I am 200 but my family and friends died long ago. This sucks.
Save as above, here the premise is wrong. Lot of people use this argument, but it just doesn’t make sense. If you are able to live 200, also are your family and friends.
Death is good for society and human species
Some people say that if death is avoidable, society will change and current values will not apply anymore. And religions will have a really hard time to justify their existence (as always). This is right, society will be radically different. It will be much better.
We don’t have enough information to vision how a future transhuman/posthuman society would be, but concepts like career, study (currently focused in your first ~25 years), personal finance or family will be radically different than today. In any case, there is not any single input that could make you think that current accepted social values will no longer apply.
It will be sooo boring
I don’t think this will be a problem. Just imagine the leisure options available today compared to just 50 years ago and now imagine how the future could look like with virtual reality, body sensors, legal drugs and your brain constantly connected to the Internet.
Also, if you are really bored of life and just want to end it all, you could always commit legal suicide or freeze yourself for a most exciting future.
Isn’t Transhumanism a religion or a modern cult?
Transhumanism has certain similarities to religion: it offers sense of purpose, defends that humans can achieve a better state than our current condition, advocates for longer (even unlimited) lifespans, unlimited bliss, supreme intelligence, etc. But there are three main differences:
- Transhumanism is based in science and technology, not in faith and worship: While the key of traditional religious movements is faith with no evidence at all, Transhumanism is based in the scientific method and the accelerating technological progress. Sometimes Transhumanists tend to exaggerate the current state of certain developments or give concrete dates to inventions/events that are, by nature, totally unpredictable, but this doesn’t mean that the principles behind such predictions are feasible and, probably, it is just a matter of time to achieve this point.
- Transhumanism focuses in the current world, not in an afterlife paradise: Religions are traditionally based in a future afterlife paradise where eternal bliss, unlimited happiness and zero-suffering are a constant, but they never make a concrete description of that. Transhumanists defend that these state can be achieved in our current -or similar- form through technological progress (want eternal bliss, hapinness and zero-suffering? Take drugs. Want godlike intelligence? Connect your brain to the internet).
- There are no dogmas in Transhumanism: Transhumanism is more a vision of the world, a thinking framework where there are no concrete dogmas or rules and where debate is always encouraged. By contrast, religion is usually based in a very specific and immutable set of rules that act as a supreme guide for their follower’s behavior.
In any case, I must admit that Transhumanism has (and will always probably have) a certain component of faith as, in lot of cases, there are no current evidences for much of the proposed scenarios and technological advances that Transhumanists advocate.
Must-read articles and links
Nick Bostrom — What is transhumanism?: Quite dense but great introduction to transhumanism
New Yorker — Silicon Valley’s Quest to Live Forever: Great article on current longevity developments
The Verge: ‘They want to be literally machines’: Writer Mark O’Connell on the rise of Transhumanists: In case you haven’t read Mark O’Connel’s book, this article is a great piece
Tim Urban: The AI Revolution (Part I): The Road to Superintelligence: A total must. This is the perfect introduction to AI and its potential
Tim Urban: The AI Revolution (Part II): Our Immortality or Extinction: Second part of The AI Revolution with numerous references to Nick Bostrom’s Superintelligence and the possible paths of AI
Tim Urban: Why cryonics makes sense: I don’t fully agree with some arguments, but this is probably the best article on cryonics
Financial Times: Inside the weird world of cryonics: A different (and skeptic) view on cryonics
Kartik Gada — ATOM: More focused on accelerating returns and its political and economic impact
Nick Bostrom — The fable of the Dragon-Tyrant: A clear metaphor between aging and an evil dragon that eats people (not joking)
Nick Bostrom — The transhumanist FAQ: Complete and in-depth FAQ on Transhumanism
Anders Sandberg Transhumanist Resources: pretty outdated but cool list of resources
Singularity is near by Ray Kurzweil: A total must if you are interested in the future. Quite dense (+600 pages), but totally worth the time, with great explanations of the exponential growth, Kurzweil’s Law of accelerating returns, singularity and other concepts.
The transhumanist wager by Zoltan Itsvan: One of my favorites, it shows a potential scenario where transhumanists ideas become more socially accepted until a wealthy billionare decides to back a transhumanist country. Lot of people compares it to Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged and it certainly has some common points, but in my opinion the book from Zoltan Itsvan is much more adult, realistic and philosophically richer than Ayn Rand’s.
Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari: More popular and easier to read than the previous books, it is a great compendium of what the future can mean for the evolution of human species.
Manna by Marshall Brain: Short essay showing a scenario where robots slowly take over all human jobs.
To be a Machine by Mark O’Connell: A skeptical view on the transhumanist movement by Mark O’Connell, Slate columnist. It is sometimes really funny andcertainly a great introduction to Transhumanism. Special mention to the chapter dedicated to Zoltan Itsvan Presidential campaign in 2016.
Superintelligence by Nick Bostrom: Will artificial intelligence destroy humans when machines surpass our intelligence level? The book goes through the paths, dangers and strategies for the inevitable future where superintelligence arises.
The telomeres effect by Nobel prize winning Elizabeth Blackburn and Dr Elissa Epel: The book covers what telomeres are and their key role in human lifespans. It is also a great guide with concrete and actionable science-backed advices on how to optimize your chances to live longer healthy lifespans.
Morir joven, a los 140 by María Blasco and Monica Salomone (only available in Spanish): It explores the last medical advances on telomeres (María Blasco field of study) and the potential implications for persons and society.
Transcend: Nine Steps to Living Well Forever by Terry Grossman and Ray Kurzweil: A science-backed nine steps plan to live forever: Talk with your doctor, Relaxation, Assessment, Nutrition, Supplements, Calorie reduction, Exercise, New technologies, Detoxification. Even if I am a huge fan of Ray Kurzweil, I must admit that there is some cherry picking in this book and not all of their advice are backed by relevant studies.
La muerte de la muerte by José Luis Cordeiro (only available in Spanish): Recommended lecture as introduction to the Transhumanist movement. The book is more focused in the moral implications and justification of the fight against death.
Documentaries and films
The Immortalists (2014): The documentary follows Bill Andrews and Aubrey de Grey in their quest to find a cure to death.
Transcendance (2014), available in Netflix: The brain of an AI scientist is uploaded to the Internet. The film shows a scenario where radical advancements like brain-computer interfaces and molecular printers are created and take over society.
Longevity now (2018): A series of 10 documentaries trying to learn from the world’s greatest centenarians and how to apply the last medical findings to extend our healthy lifespans.
Fantastic voyage (1966): A scientist is nearly assassinated. In order to save him, a submarine is shrunken to microscopic size and injected into his blood stream with a small crew. Problems arise almost as soon as they enter the bloodstream.
Don’t grow old (2010): The documentary goes through the last scientific progress and interviews several medical researchers on the main advances on aging.
Singularity weblog (Youtube Channel): Hundreds of interviews with personalities treating topics from medical advancements to radically increase lifespans to philosophical implications of the potential Singularity.
Author, computer scientist, inventor and futurist, probably the prime figure in the Transhumanist movement, he is the author of numerous books including the essential The Singularity is near and How to create a mind. Kurzweil is a radical optimistic futurist that foresees the singularity for ~2045 and has extreme visions of the short-term future including nanobots floating in our blood vessels and a direct brain-computer interface. The documentary Transcendant man (2009) is focused in his life, his predictions and his view of the world.
Aubrey de Grey
Educated as Computer Scientist, Aubrey de Grey is a self-taught biologist (Cambridge finally awarded him the PhD in Biology in 2000) who current focuses his efforts regenerative medicine and the prevention of the aging process. He is also the founder of SENS (Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence) and one of the most respected figures of the Transhumanist movement. 2014 documentary The Immortalists gives a good understanding of his life and research field.
Swedish philosopher at the University of Oxford, Bostrom has written numerous essays on the existential risk of a foreseeable superintelligence for the human race. His website is one of the best compendium of Transhumanist material you can find. He is also the author if the best seller Superintelligence.
Geneticist, molecular engineer and chemist he is knows for his contributions in the sequencing of genomes and the interpretation of such data. According to Wired, “Church believes that amortality and age reversal will seem difficult and fraught with issues … until they aren’t. He is currently experimenting with age reversal in dogs using gene therapy that has been successful in mice, a technique he believes is the most promising of nine broad approaches to mortality and aging”.
Joao Pedro de Magalhaes
Portuguese microbiologist currently working at the University of Liverpool where he focuses is to cure aging. He is also advisor of the Lifeboat Foundation.
CEO of GeoStar and founder of SiriusXM Satellite Radio, Martine is of the author of numerous transhumanist essays and the founder of the religious movement of Terasem, that tries to merge faith with technology and defends that God is technological.
Libertarian futurist, journalist and entrepreneur, Zoltan is known by his Presidential run for President of the United States in 2016 and his quest with the Immortality Bus. Zoltan is one of the visible heads of the Transhumanist movement and is currently Candidate of the Libertarian Party in the run for Governor of California in 2018. He is also author of The Transhumanist Wager.
Philosopher, futurist and since 2011, CEO of ALCOR, the leading cryonics company. He is also the founder of the Extropy Institute and has written numerous essays on Transhumanism, the nature of death, etc.
José Luis Cordeiro
One of the most active and rebellious personalities in the Transhumanist movement, especially in the Spanish world, José Luis is VP of the Humanity Plus Foundation and author of the essential book La muerte de la muerte.
Fereidoun M. Esfandiary was an author, teacher, philosopher, futurist and athlete notably know for changing his legal name to FM-2030 to celebrate the hope and belief to turn 100 in the year 2030. He was a prominent author and one of the first supporters of the Transhumanist movement.