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About this book

This book is designed to offer a comprehensive high-level introduction to transhumanism, an international political and cultural movement that aims to produce a “paradigm shift” in our ethical and political understanding of human evolution. Transhumanist thinkers want the human species to take the course of evolution into its own hands, using advanced technologies currently under development – such as robotics, artificial intelligence, biotechnology, cognitive neurosciences, and nanotechnology – to overcome our present physical and mental limitations, improve our intelligence beyond the current maximum achievable level, acquire skills that are currently the preserve of other species, abolish involuntary aging and death, and ultimately achieve a post-human level of existence. The book covers transhumanism from a historical, philosophical, and scientific viewpoint, tracing its cultural roots, discussing the main philosophical, epistemological, and ethical issues, and reviewing the state of the art in scientific research on the topics of most interest to transhumanists. The writing style is clear and accessible for the general reader, but the book will also appeal to graduate and undergraduate students.

Table of Contents

Frontmatter

1. Stairways to the Sky

Overcoming the limitations of our short lives has always being among the deepest, most heartfelt of human desires, no matter how arrogant this may sound. And, by the way, just look at the original Latin root of the verb “desire,” a combination of “de,” which indicates “lack of something,” and “sidus,” that is, “star.” To desire literally means “to miss the stars,” to feel a need for them. Transhumanists, like many others, want to fulfill this “human, too human” desire to reach for the stars, and in a quite literal sense. Reaching the stars, living among them, becoming like Gods, and, of course, living forever, without ever having to meet the Grim Reaper.
Roberto Manzocco

2. A New Tower of Babel

And here we are, at the real Transhumanism; this strange hybrid movement that expressly wants to retrace the footsteps of the builders of the famous biblical tower, with the awareness that, this time, there won’t be anyone to confuse the languages. Considered by some an ideology or a philosophy, by others a kind of faith, by others still a mixture of theories waiting for scientific validation or denial, this movement – precisely because of its interdisciplinarity and the way in which it mixes political agendas and theoretical speculations – is still difficult to define. Wikipedia considers Transhumanism “an international intellectual movement that aims to transform the human condition by developing and making widely available sophisticated technologies to greatly enhance human intellect and physiology.” Not bad, as a program, but then, neither were the forerunners kidding.
Roberto Manzocco

3. Living Forever

As this is a chapter about death and the human search for immortality, I was tempted to begin it with some kitschy rhetorical statement about “the dream of eternal life that has always motivated human beings,” the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden, the Fountain of Youth, and so on. Nothing you don’t already know; that’s exactly why I’d rather begin with something different, that is, a concept not very well known to the masses: TMT, the Terror Management Theory.
Roberto Manzocco

4. Plan B

Transhumanists are incurable optimists, no doubt about that. They do strongly believe in techno-scientific progress, and they hope that physical immortality is really around the corner, that they are going to enjoy a limitless life. I feel nothing but sympathy for these nerds, and, in spite of my skeptic background, I admit that these are normally very educated and smart people. That’s why they know that the transition from human to post-human – a package that includes physical immortality – might take some time, that it might take too many decades or too many centuries. What can they do then? How can they cheat death? They need a “Plan B,” and the solution is a magic word: “cryonics.”
Roberto Manzocco

5. Nanometer Cornucopia

In the course of this book, we have often encountered nano-machines and nanotechnologies, and the time has come to clarify some things about them. First of all, a dictionary definition: nanotechnology consists in the manipulation of matter at the atomic and molecular levels. In particular, the extended version of this concept speaks of precise atomic and molecular manipulation, with the aim of producing objects for everyday use – a hypothetical technology also known as “molecular nanotechnology.” The National Nanotechnology Initiative, the American federal program for the development of nanotechnologies, defines nanotechnology as the manipulation of matter in which at least one of the dimensions, i.e., length, width or height, is between one and one hundred nanometers. A nanometer corresponds to a billionth of a meter – more or less the order of magnitude of molecules, so to speak. You can already imagine how the term “nanotechnology” is currently an umbrella under which very different ideas and practices are included. So, we ask: what are nanotechnologies made of now? What fields do they include, what devices do they use, in short, what do they do and what do they produce? Let’s take a brief look at this.
Roberto Manzocco

6. The New Flesh Rising

Faster than light, able to fly, practically invulnerable, Superman is the forefather of a long series of characters distinguished not only by a more or less garish costume and a secret identity, but also – and above all – by a large series of powers of all kinds. Apart from some outsiders, like Batman and Iron Man, the bulk of superheroes differs from us common mortals for intrinsic capacities caused by exceptional events that enable them to perform actions that a human being, however gifted, would never be able to do. And so, Hulk has literally monstrous strength, and he can jump over the atmosphere and hold his breath underwater for hours; Spider-Man naturally adheres to vertical walls and has a “spider sense” that warns him of danger, while the Human Torch can ignite and reach the temperature of a nova; and these are just some of the many superheroes who have been haunting comics, movies, video games and TV series for decades. In short, we are now accustomed to hearing about superpowers, and there is no reason to be surprised if many expect that, thanks to the science of the near future, these capacities are destined to become real. To the point that there are those who, obviously lacking patience, have decided to get to work on obtaining these powers. This is how the concept – very Transhumanist, but now rapidly spreading outside of this context – of human enhancement was born, a fairly neutral term that hides the “human, too human” ambition to become post-human.
Roberto Manzocco

7. Colonizing the Mind

With a metaphor destined to become very famous, in 1942, the famed neurophysiologist Charles S. Sherrington defined the brain as “the enchanted loom.” As well as being a scientist, Sherrington was also a poet, and he never missed the opportunity to combine his two passions, coloring brain activity with poetry. And it is truly enchanted, that bizarre kilogram and a half of matter that lies behind our eyes, which, for some unknown reason, is capable of thinking. Not that we have not tried to understand the brain; indeed, especially in the last two decades, thanks in part to magnetic resonance – which has given us the opportunity to look inside of this biological puzzle – our knowledge on the subject has grown considerably. But the mystery remains, as we see now.
Roberto Manzocco

8. The Bright Day of the Soul

Just to be blunt, what is the point of living forever if you cannot live happily ever after? In other words, do we want our ordinary lives, with all of their messes and hassles, to go on indefinitely? To keep working like dogs, to be bored during a rainy Sunday afternoon, to suffer for love or for the lack of it, to feel lonely, and so on? In short, why would someone repeat the banality of life forever and ever?
Roberto Manzocco

9. All Hail the Technological Singularity

The hyper-technological avalanche that will swamp us, transfiguring us, already has a date of arrival, 2045, and also a name: the Singularity.
Roberto Manzocco

10. The God-Builders

Certainly, simply living forever and escaping the entropic process that will slowly extinguish our universe cannot be the final goal of Transhumanists, right? After all, what are you going to do with all of that time to fill? Evolution might be the answer, or one of the possible answers. Another one, which will appear to be full of hubris to casual readers – and not just to them, I have to say – would be to become, or to build, God Himself. Not a bad goal, as a way to fill the eternal life that you have just obtained. But, before jumping to conclusions and labeling the entire Transhumanist movement as just plain crazy, bear with me for a moment. In truth, I have at least to point out that Transhumanists are not alone in this dream – that is, the desire to become just like God. They are in good company, actually, as the concept of “theosis” – of being elevated to the level of God – can be found in a number of different Christian denominations, and not just Christian ones at that.
Roberto Manzocco

Backmatter

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