Is This What We Want?
I was happy to see a thorough discussion of transhumanism in Slate a while back. I didn’t read the entire debate, but I thought that they posed an interesting question: do we humans want to merge our bodies with technology? the answer that one author gave was yes, even though ” Western Civilization, as a whole, has trained itself to fear the Promethean hubris of stealing our evolutionary fire from the gods of nature.”
It’s a theme that has through our consciousness for millennia, and this is of course why I myself chose the pseudonym “Prometheus”. we want fire, we want power, we want knowledge, but we fear these things because we have noticed that as we’ve grown smarter and more powerful our suffering has increased along with our well being. We have no parents to make sure we don’t hurt ourselves with the powerful toys we create, and so we must hurt ourselves to learn how to act differently.
We are afraid of knowledge/power for good reason. With our science and our technology we have slowly been alienating ourselves, stripping down what it means to be human one level at a time, until soon we will look back and realize that we’ve taken everything away, that we’ve essentially killed ourselves. We fear knowledge/power for a good reason, because through it we will lose everything.
And even scarier than the fact that our identity is about to become meaningless is that we seem to want it to happen. of course no one would say they want to strip away their humanity, but we continue to put pacemakers and cochlear implants in our bodies, and we will continue to slowly augment ourselves because it’s what we want. We want our grandmothers to hear us, and our fathers to stay alive with the help of a pacemaker. We even want to be stronger and to live longer.
So is this what we want? well, who’s we? if “we” are patterns of information driven by evolutionary processes, then yes, I suppose you could say we “want” to transcend matter and merge together, though I think it’s more accurate to say we will do this. if we consider ourselves humans who value identity, life, and existence, then no, we don’t want this. Do we want to want this?
The question posed is simply absurd because we are talking about abandoning the very notions that “we” exist at all, that we are separate and special beings. this lack of self already confuses our notions of desire: we want to eat lots of junk food and laze about, and we want to not do those things and be productive. deciding what we “want” is a matter of locating an identity somewhere along a continuum of conflicting desires and impulses.
Sometimes when Io asks me something simple like “do you want to take a walk” I freeze up in confusion, not knowing where to locate myself amongst my desires. I know the fresh air and a bit of exercise would be good for me, but I also want to relax. likewise our desire to help ourselves is sometimes in conflict with our desire to help humanity (which often means helping ourselves out more down the line) for instance, I want to steal that candy because it would be delicious and free, but I also don’t want to because I would be labeled a thief and I don’t want to hurt the success of the store owner.
In the big picture, we want this. there is no way we couldn’t want this (we being the intelligence that will continue and expand after the singularity). Those who don’t want this are free to leave life or earth at any time, and in that way eventually everyone will be on the same page.