[Paleopsych] Transhumanism: 2000 Years in the Making

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Wed Feb 2 22:06:37 UTC 2005

Transhumanism: 2000 Years in the Making
by David Pauls, CBC board of directors

Examination of the underlying philosophy to remake the human person 
exhibits qualities that are as old as the Greeks. Disdain for the body, 
the quest for hidden knowledgce, and the goal to lead others to a higher 
plane of existence all smack of ancient Gnosticism, an idea that goes back 
nearly two millennia. Students of New Testament history will recognize 
Gnosticism as an early opponent of the newfound church, fought by the 
early Church Fathers into the second and third century.

The Gnostic impulse is first characterized by its disdain for the physical 
body and the general restraints of time and place. Since the temporal was 
thought to be evil and unredeemed, the Gnostics developed a profound 
dualistic schism between the body and the mind, which was spiritual and 
potentially immortal. The body, being bad, was eschewed while the mind was 
exalted. This led to two poles of behavior regarding the physical. One 
pole was asceticism with its denial of creature comfort. Material pleasure 
and comfort was disdained due to the undeserving nature of the body. The 
other pole was radical libertinism, with an anything goes attitude 
regarding the attainment of physical pleasure. Why worry about the body 
and behavior if it was degenerate anyway?

The second primary distinction regards redemption via attainment of secret 
knowledge, or gnosis. This knowledge was potentially available to only a 
few gifted select people who were endowed with the desire and capacity to 
attain and use this hidden wisdom. It was only through careful, diligent 
study that release from the bonds of material existence. Once attained, a 
person would be able to transcend the bounds of time, nature and history, 
reaching a plane of spiritual existence.

With the Transhumanist movement, one sees the Gnostic strain reasserting 
itself in the quest to transcend the degenerate body. The body is held in 
disdain. Advocates for enhancement technology exhibit disdain for the 
current status of the physical body. There is an abhorrence of the 
limitations that nature has placed upon the species. The insufficiencies 
of height, strength, vision, hearing, longevity and cognition are 
roadblocks to happiness and perpetual fulfillment. Nature has gotten the 
human race this far, but the inherent limits of existence are hurdles to 
be leapt.

Like the earlier Gnostics, knowledge and insight are the keys to overcome 
the deficiencies of the physical. With the accumulation of research in 
genetic engineering, nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, and neural 
network interfacing, man will be able to overwhelm the frailty and 
deficiency inherent in the human condition and transform that which was 
weak into strength. The ability to repair, replace or enhance the various 
biological systems in the body allows one to overcome the limits of 
finitude. A logical outcome of this is the prospect of a multitiered view 
of humanity. If strong advocates of transhumanism have their wish, a new 
species of Techno sapien will emerge. The vast majority of the population, 
living in an ignorant and confused state, will be led by the chosen few to 
a new utopian existence or left behind to wallow in their naiveté. The 
capability to move the mind into the machine will mark the attainment of 
the final goal of the Gnostics, that of overcoming the body completely, 
living in a psychic Nirvana with the constraints of nature, time and 
history left behind.

The old is trotted out as the new, dressed in software, DNA, and 
nanomachines. An ancient proverb from Solomon says, "What has been will be 
again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under 
the sun". His quote is as relevant today as it was two and a half 
millennia ago.

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