Transhumanist FAQ

5. Transhumanism as a Philosophical and Cultural Viewpoint

5.2 What currents are there within transhumanism?

Is extropianism the same as transhumanism?

There is a rich variety of opinion within transhumanist thought. Many of the leading transhumanist thinkers hold complex and subtle views that are under constant revision and development and which often defy easy labeling. Some distinctive – although not always sharply defined – currents or flavors of transhumanism can nevertheless be discerned:

Extropianism. The name is derived from the term “extropy”, coined by T. O. Morrow in 1988, referring to “the extent of a system’s intelligence, information, order, vitality, and capacity for improvement”. Extropianism is defined by the Extropian Principles, a text authored by Max More (1998), who co-founded the Extropy Institute together with Morrow. Version 3.0 of this document lists seven principles that are important for extropians in the development of their thinking: Perpetual Progress, Self-Transformation, Practical Optimism, Intelligent Technology, Open Society, Self-Direction, and Rational Thinking. These are meant to codify general attitudes rather than specific dogmas.

Democratic transhumanism. This strand of transhumanism advocates both the right to use technology to transcend the limitations of the human body and the extension of democratic concerns beyond formal legal equality and liberty, into economic and cultural liberty and equality, in order to protect values such as equality, solidarity, and democratic participation in a transhuman context (Hughes 2002).

The Hedonistic Imperative. Another transhumanist current is represented by advocates of “paradise-engineering” as outlined in David Pearce (2003). Pearce argues on ethical grounds for a biological program to eliminate all forms of cruelty, suffering, and malaise. In the short-run, our emotional lives might be enriched by designer mood-drugs (i.e. not street-drugs). In the long-term, however, Pearce suggests that it will be technically feasible to rewrite the vertebrate genome, redesign the global ecosystem, and use biotechnology to abolish suffering throughout the living world. Pearce believes “post-Darwinian superminds” will enjoy genetically pre-programmed well-being and be animated by “gradients of bliss”.
Singularitarianism. Singularitarian transhumanists focus on transhuman technologies that can potentially lead to the rise of smarter-than-human intelligence, such as brain-computer interfacing and Artificial Intelligence. Since our present-day intelligence is ultimately the source of our technology, singularitarians expect the technological creation of smarter-than-human intelligence to be a watershed moment in history, with an impact more comparable to the rise of Homo sapiens than to past breakthroughs in technology. Singularitarians stress the importance of ensuring that such intelligence be coupled with ethical sensibility (Yudkowsky 2003) [see also “What is the singularity?”].

Theoretical transhumanism. This is not so much a specific version of a transhumanism as a research direction: the study of the constraints, possibilities, and consequences of potential future trajectories of technological and human development, using theoretical tools from economics, game theory, evolution theory, probability theory, and “theoretical applied science” i.e. the study of physically possible systems designs that we cannot yet build. For some examples, see Bostrom (2002, 2003a) and Hanson (1994, 1998). Investigations of ethical issues related to the transhumanist project – the project of creating a world where as many people as possible have the option of becoming posthuman – can also be included under this heading (see e.g. Bostrom 2003b).

Salon transhumanism. Transhumanism as a network of people who share certain interests and like to spend long hours conversing about transhumanist matters on email lists or face-to-face.

Transhumanism in arts and culture. Transhumanism as a source of inspiration in artistic creation and cultural activities, including efforts to communicate transhumanist ideas and values to a wider audience [see also “What kind of transhumanist art is there?”].

Bostrom, N. “Existential Risks: Analyzing Human Extinction Scenarios.”
Journal of Evolution and Technology. (2002), Vol. 9.
Bostrom, N. “Are You Living In A Computer Simulation?” Philosophical
Quarterly. (2003a), Vol. 53, No. 211, pp. 243-255.

Bostrom, N. “Human Genetic Enhancements: A Transhumanist Perspective.” The
Journal of Value Inquiry. (2003b), forthcoming.
Hanson, R. “What if Uploads Come First: The Crack of a Future Dawn.”
Extropy, Vol. 6, No. 2 (1994).
Hanson, R. “Burning the Cosmic Commons: Evolutionary Strategies for Interstellar Colonization.” (1998).
Hughes, J. “Democratic Transhumanism.” Transhumanity, April 28, 2002.
Pearce, D. The Hedonistic Imperative (version of 2003).
More, M. “The Extropian Principles, v. 3.0.” (1998).
Yudkowsky, E. “What is the Singularity.” (2003).

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