- Post-and Transhumanism: An Introduction ed. by Robert Ranisch, and Stefan Lorenz Sorgner
What is at stake philosophically, ideologically, and aesthetically in distinguishing between “transhuman” and “posthuman”? What are people saying about themselves and their beliefs when they choose to self-identify as “transhumanist” or “posthumanist”? Readers may explore these questions with the aid of this excellent collection of nineteen essays, edited by Robert Ranisch and Stefan Lorenz Sorgner. The editors begin by describing the lay of the land in this new, beyond-human territory. Noting the geology of its ideas and the tectonic forces of controversy they inspire, the editors trace the developments that brought the terrain into being and shaped its intellectual landscape. Their map shows two distinct regions, separated by a body of water that looks distinctly like the English Channel. On the north side is the realm of the transhumanists, who hold a neo-Darwinian worldview and pursue ideals which might to some seem like an extension of the Enlightenment. On the south side are the posthumanists: postmodernists chary of technology and bemused by the lack of aesthetic sensibilities among those across the water.
Transhumanists and posthumanists are somewhat at odds with respect to their use of terminology. This is not unlike the situation epitomized in Winston Churchill’s quip that the British and the Americans are two peoples separated by a common language. For both posthumanists and transhumanists, the summum bonum is a “post”–human state, but the two sides do not agree on what this means.
However, the trans/posthumanist divide is more than merely semantic, as Sorgner and other contributors to this volume attest. Drawing from the writings of James Hughes (a contributor to this volume), Sorgner fairly states in his “Pedigrees” chapter, “The great majority of transhumanists have a this-worldly, materialist, naturalist, relationalist or immanent understanding of the world” (30). Sorgner discusses the human enhancements that transhumanists advocate, via modification of their genetic endowment, pharmaceuticals, implants, and so on, in order to develop super intelligence, increased memory, long health span, extended lifespan, increased physical beauty, and improved morality. Sorgner [End Page 532] refers to these bodily improvements as carbon-based transhumanism, since carbon is the essential element in our biochemistry. At least a few of these modifications may be considered objectionable by some who are not transhumanists, but such objections are mild when compared to the heated condemnations that often accompany the transhumanist goal of mind uploading, or whole brain emulation. Many transhumanists imagine that our ultimate future—our truly posthuman future—can only reach its maximum potential when our minds are freed from their fleshy brains and re-instantiated in cyberspace, where space, time, and matter are all malleable and subject to our will: a virtual heaven. Sorgner refers to the advocates for this course of development as the silicon-based transhumanists.
Turning towards posthumanism, we cross the Channel south to arrive on a different terrain. Sorgner suggests that “if the transhumanist’s notion of ‘posthuman’ implies the membership in a new species” then it is at odds with the Continental understanding of that term. He claims that the Continental tradition posits “a new understanding of human beings” via the deployment of “a special methodology and continental philosophical way of thinking” that attempts to “get rid of categorical dualities” by grasping the world through a “propositional form” (32). This is in stark contrast to the transhumanists—most especially the silicon-based transhumanists—who, Sorgner writes, “presuppose a dualist understanding of human beings” (31). It also contrasts with the evolutionary orientation of all transhumanists who hope to become posthuman someday, a case made for example in the essay by Sascha Dickel and Andreas Frewer, which raises the question of the continuity of identity between human and posthuman conditions. The attempt by posthumanists to get rid of the body/soul dualism entails the immediate realization of present existence as already posthuman: “concerning our self-understanding we have become posthumans—a cultural move has taken place” (33). Transhumanists may imagine a future day when they move into...