Stuff that sticks around sticks around – when applied to biology, this truism becomes the concept of natural selection. A living being's method of sticking around is simple: have the organism be compatible with the surroundings by manipulating either of the two in a manner that ensures survival and expansion. The ability to exert such influence is called power. The universe is inhabited by organisms that are host to a lust for power due to the constant struggle that encompasses life. Friedrich Nietzsche gave this the name "Wille zur Macht", a desire older than mankind itself.
It comes to no surprise then that humans keep striving to clear the barriers that limit their power. While one's physiology is the very basis of any power in the first place, one of these human limits is not the environment but humanity itself. By extension, one might think of the human body as a cage of blood and bone
or just a mere stepping stone on the path towards bigger and better accomplishments.
Transhumanism is the epitome of this notion and expresses the wish to advance beyond human confines
. It has long since entered popular culture and is discussed in multiple works such as 2001: A Space Odyssey
, Ghost in the Shell
. A notable example that does it particularly extensively is the video game Deus Ex: Human Revolution
, in which biomechanical augmentations have unforeseen consequences for the individual, society and mankind as a whole, and portrays organizations with various stances, such as the "Humanity Front", which opposes human augmentations altogether
Transhumanist Ray Kurzweil
argues that because of the exponential growth of technological advancement, as exemplified by Moore's Law, some of these technologies that are considered works of fiction today could very well become reality tomorrow. And technology has more to offer than the strength of Hercules, the wisdom of Athena and the beauty of Aphrodite. It would not be called transhumanism if it did not attempt to transcend such petty, age-old human ideals. Telepathy and digitalization of the consciousness are among the more unimaginative alterations. To use the words of Arthur C. Clarke: "The only thing that we can be sure of about the future is that it will be absolutely fantastic."
For instance, unfair distribution and availability of augmentations would lead to social discrepancy. Our present educational system already suffers from the same symptom: While the wealthy population has good access to education and thus employment, it is difficult for the poor to build the upward momentum required to step out of the vicious circle they are born into. Now imagine the same not only with education but every conceivable skill a human may posses. That would make it impossible for any unaugmented person to outperform the augmented individuals and their superhuman abilities – which, in the competitive market economy we know, means staying poor; thus carving the social structure in stone.
Another commonly raised concern is the loss of identity. The controversy surrounding the treatment of ADHD illustrates this by being of similar nature. Since ADHD affects personality to a great extend (in fact, some scholars argue that ADHD is nothing but a personality trait instead of a disorder), medication often results in personality loss or confusion, alienating family and friends as well as causing stress, especially for younger people, who have yet to discover their personality. And that does not even come close to altering the human condition radically, so the friction stemming from the significant transhumanist changes will by all likelihood exceed those. It also raises the question what personality really means when it is possible to manipulate every aspect of the self.
In more abstract terms, not only individual personality but also identification with the human race is at stake. Adversaries of transhumanism fear the loss of qualities usually regarded exemplarily human such as the ability to love, feel joy and share anotherone's emotions.
Of course, this hilariously misses the point, since transhumanism (when not seen as an extension of humanist ideals) is not emotionally attached to human qualities. What's more, the vestiges of a time when the human condition was shaped by survival of the fittest may not even be desirable. In particular, emotions, by their motivating nature, are ment to shape the organism's actions. However, being inclined towards actions that were useful in the past proves to be a hinderance for the rapidly changing requirements of current objectives. The aforementioned Ray Kurzweil makes the case of an experiment where the fat insulin receptor gene responsible for precautious building up of fat reserves was switched off in rats, rendering them more healthy and fit for the challenges of the present. As future issues such as implementing human augmentations will become more and more detached from such archaic instincts, the role of these human qualities is required to diminish.
Therefore the bigger threat is clinging to human qualities for their own sake. Another experiment involved a rat having access to a button wired to electrodes connected to its brain, resulting in pleasure every time the button was pressed. As a result, the rat pressed the button for its naturally rewarding sensation until it died of fatigue. There is a parallel to Aldous Huxley's well-known dystopian vision here. Neil Postman sums up that "what afflicted the people in Brave New World
was not that they were laughing instead of thinking, but that they did not know what they were laughing about and why they had stopped thinking". Along the same vein, people still cling to their pleasure without realizing its increasingly lost purposes. Thus it is easy to craft the image of a society in which human augmentations are primarily employed to satisfy primitive urges regardless of their function
– much like today's medicine dwells on cosmetic surgery.
What can be observed here is a race between scientific and rational growth. The double-edged sword science necessitates the duty to question the newly found power that enables greater indulgence. Think of a cave man with a nuclear bomb indulging in his anger. It is time to abandon the ape mentality.