Please see my introduction into this series on the Extropian Principles for context. As before, unless otherwise noted, I’m sharing my own feelings and interpretations of the Extropian Principles which may differ substantially from the original author’s. I also want to reiterate that I do not consider myself to be a model Extropian at all. Extropianism is a key to my own personal philosophies, but like most worth philosophies it’s very difficult to fully follow.
Perpetual Progress from an Extropian view means never-ending efforts towards the goal of improving ourselves and humanity. Most Transhumanists see Posthumanity as the ultimate goal or purpose of humanity, and as worthy a target as that may be, Extropians focus on progress that can be made today and in the short term, as that is what will propel us towards the future. Daydreaming about The Singularity and what it may be like to be Posthuman doesn’t help get us there.
In the Principles, Max More wrote that Extropians seek “more intelligence, wisdom, and effectiveness, an open-ended lifespan, and the removal of political, cultural, biological, and psychological limits to continuing development.” This emphasizes the individualistic nature of Extropianism as well as the understanding that cooperation on a national/international and cultural level will be required to maximize the effectiveness of our goals.
One of the recurring themes of Extropianism is that boundaries blocking progress must be shattered. Governments which emphasize the nation over the individual may place significant barriers against self-experimentation or even expression. Extropians seek to find positive ways to remove those barriers by pushing political agendas which stress individual liberties. This is one of the key reasons so many Extropians have traditionally been Libertarians.
Extropians also work to break cultural barriers against Transhuman progress as well. Many Transhumanists are proponents of radical body modification including limb replacements, implantable sensors, etc. Many first world cultures frown on this movement looking upon it as something worse than tattoo culture which was taboo up until a generation or so ago.
Similarly, many Americans and Western Europeans react in horror at the concept of cryonics, another Transhumanist favorite, in which adherents have their bodies (or sometimes just their heads) cryonically frozen at death in the hope that a cure for whatever killed them may be available when they’re thawed. Currently, in the United States, cryonic suspension is only available after a patient has died, which can result in severe cellular damage if the body isn’t preserved quickly enough. Extropians push for legislation allowing cryonics patients to be preserved before their body has died.
Even the trademark Transhumanist goal of greatly extended lifespans is mocked and treated with derision by the mainstream. Nearly any online discussion of open-ended lifespans devolves into accusations of playing God or concerns about overpopulation or dwindling resources. Since I’ve been following Transhumanism, though, I’ve noted that the subject is taken more seriously now than in the past. Thanks to the work of serious scientists like Aubrey de Gray and Google’s new efforts in the area, more people have woken to the fact that indefinite lifespans may be a possibility.
Dr. More also describes Perpetual Progress as “growing in healthy directions without bound.” This simple definition resonates with me because the healthy part seems to defuse a lot of the accusations people make about the “immorality” of curing death or body transformations, etc. Extropians should oppose unhealthy growth — that which might undermine others’ rights or property or “progress” which ultimately would be proven to be unhealthy. If a particular body modification was proven to be a detriment, Extropians would abstain and find another way to solve that problem or extend that ability.
“Without bound” is also key here and another key Extropian value. Extropians don’t want to figure out how to double or triple human lifespans; they want to learn how to extend it indefinitely. A human should be able to live hundreds of thousands or millions of years if she so chooses. Extropians don’t want to be smarter than any human who ever lived; they want to be as smart as the universe will allow anything to be, and smarter than that if there’s a way around even that barrier. Extropians don’t want life better just for themselves or Extropians; they want to figure out how to make life better at nearly no cost for all of humanity, or at least all who choose to have their lives improved.
To be Extropian is to refuse to sit still and let things happen. To be Extropian is to make things happen, things which propel them towards their goal. The “trans” part of Transhumanism implies a transitionary phase between where humanity is now and Posthumanity. Extropians work to ensure that that period will be as short as possible for themselves and everyone else.