[extropy-chat] Re: [wta-talk] Jean Paul Baquiast - A propos du transhumanisme

BillK pharos at gmail.com
Sat Oct 15 14:05:32 UTC 2005

On 10/15/05, Giu1i0 Pri5c0 wrote:
> It is a long article, I have no time to translate it all. Too bad
> because I agree with a good 95% of what Jean Paul says.
> He describes the content of the FAQ then makes his main points:
> 1) Transhumanism should distance itself from its early "science
> fiction cult" image.
> 2) Transhumanism should open itself to contemporary social issues:
> "Aussi faudra-t-il, pour éviter cela, que les promoteurs du mouvement
> transhumaniste s'intéressent en priorité aux perspectives d'améliorer
> la société d'aujourd'hui."
> 3) Transhumanists should not lock themselves in an intellectual ivory
> tower but learn how to "talk to the people". This is how I read the
> last sentence whose literal translation I gave in the message quoted
> below.
> Also in my own opinions, these 3 points should be the main agenda
> items for transhumanism (besides getting sufficient funding to do
> them).
> G.

Oh, all right then. I wasn't going to bother doing a translation if
nobody showed any interest, but here is a quick effort, with the help
of translation software. Some sentences are a bit back to front in
English, but that's the way they talk in French.  :)   If I get too
colloquial in English, then it strays rather far from the original.
Translation is an art as well as a science.


In connection with transhumanism.
Presentation and comment on the Transhumanist FAQ, a collective work
published by the World Tranhumanist Association
by Jean Paul Baquiast 14/10/05

Here already a few times we have wanted to introduce to those of our
readers who are still unaware of it, a philosophical movement which
appears future-rich to us, Transhumanism. The happy chance occurred in
Madrid, at the time of the Conference of 5/7 October devoted to
European technological sovereignty, to meet one of the fathers of this
movement, the philosopher and scientist Nick Bostrom. The occasion was
ideal to bring closer the thoughts of the transhumanist school and
those which, from time to time, we approach in our journal by in
particular examining the consequences of emergent sciences
(Nano-bio-info or NBIC) on the future of humanity.

We propose to you to do it here by presenting and discussing a booklet
published at the same time on the Web and in the form of a paper
document, The Transhumanist FAQ.

To know some more
The Transhumanist FAQ,
version HTML http://www.transhumanism.org/resources/faq.html
version pdf http://transhumanism.org/resources/FAQv21.pdf
The World Tranhumanist Association
Personal page of Nick Bostrom http://www.nickbostrom.com/
Future The of Humanity Institute http://www.fhi.ox.ac.uk/

Let us announce for the French-speaking people the opening of a new
site, "Perspectives post-human", created by a Belgian expert of
emerging technologies, who collaborates sometimes in our journal,
Alain De Neve http://www.post-humain.org/

Definition. What is transhumanism?

Let us summarize the booklet initially quickly, for those who do not
know English well.

The Transhumanist FAQ (FAQ means: answers to the frequently asked
questions) presents initially a definition of transhumanism, in which
most of us will recognize their concerns when they practise or study
the development of new sciences. Transhumanism proposes the theory
that mankind has not reached its final state and undoubtedly awaits,
like all the other species, multiple evolutions in the future. This
gives to mankind the possibility of changing while growing rich by all
the contributions of new sciences and technologies.

One finds the concept of augmented (enhanced) mankind more and more in
use today. Augmented mankind will give up many of the forms and the
behaviors which characterize it today, but it will have to be, the
transhumanists believe, with the profit of new values extending those
which make the best current humanism. Transhumanism does not yield to
happy optimism. These new sciences and technologies carry as much
risks as promises. It is thus necessary to discuss them and propose
ways of controlling them, within forums and debates bringing together
the scientists, the philosophers, the political and economic decision
makers, without forgetting, obviously, the citizens agreement also.

Transhumanism is distinguished from Posthumanism which, according to
authors', is more radical. Posthumanism considers a futuristic world,
where humanity would have succeeded in extending to environments and
places which are currently inaccessible to mankind and his thought,
for example the networked world or the intergalactic medium.

To be a transhumanist, like being a posthumanist also, from this point
of view, thus consists in believing (it really is a question of
belief, we will come back to that), that a truly different future,
thanks to new sciences, is possible and desirable for the humanity of
today. The tranhumanist endeavours to facilitate the transition
between the current world, very largely past inherited and encumbered
with contradictions, towards a world more open to profitable

It was F.M. Estfandiary (renamed FM 2030) who posed the concept of
transhumanism for the first time in a book already old "Are you a
Transhuman? Warner, 1989) See http://www.fm2030.com/. But it was the
philosophers Nick Bostrom and David Pearce who really founded the
movement, by joining together several tens then today several
thousands of participants and members. The principal objective of
David Pearce is to abolish the suffering (see http://www.hedweb.com/

The Transhumanist FAQ presents then, in a 2nd part, various sciences
and the developments that they expect during this next half-century,
which will be able to cause the transition towards transhumanism.
These are biotechnologies (in particular genetic engineering, cell
stocks, cloning), nanotechnologies (with their most revolutionary
aspect although not yet controlled, molecular nanotechnologies), super
or ultra intelligent systems   associating artificial intelligence and
neurosciences, virtual reality, cryonics, methods of uploading the
living and the cerebral contents of mankind on artificial systems, all
of this leading to the Singularity promised by the futurologists, in
particular Ray Kurzweil (see his last work "The Singularity is near",
about which we will speak later). http://www.singularity.com/

All this does not present any new character for the readers of this
blog. In what concerns us however, we will not agree necessarily with
the transhumanists in the interest that some of them carry to
cryogenics, i.e. the way of freezing a dead body and hoping that it
could be resuscitated in future centuries. It seems like a folklore
which makes wrong other sciences. On the other hand, we propose to
retain the distinction made in the work between weak superintelligence
and strong superintelligence. The first aims at accelerating the
processing of information by the brain (if our basic cycle were
accelerated 100 times, time for us would be shortened by the same
quantity, which would increase in theory our capacities for adaptation
and reasoning). The strong superintelligence adds to that the
possibility of providing to the brain multiple new information about
the world, provided thanks to new instruments and new networks. As for
uploading and the Singularity, it is wise to think of it in order not
to let it surprise us by always possible emergences. Let us add for
our part, to the list of new sciences likely to upset the methods of
calculation, the quantum computer.

Therefore, one sees that to understand the problems of transhumanism,
it is necessary to have well understood the possibilities of NBIC.
This is not always the case, unfortunately, in particular in France.
The majority of the philosophers and decision makers seem to refuse to
be open to the sciences and their stake in it.

The Transhumanist FAQ, in a 3rd part, attempts to answer the multiple
objections made to the transhumanist approach. Will it profit only
rich people? Will it support eugenics? Will it create insurmountable
risks? Won't it worsen the current problems, in particular
overpopulation? Will it not benefit the future to the detriment of the
present?.... More generally by which ethical values will it be
inspired? What will be exactly, finally, the transhuman society, a
nightmare or a paradise?

These questions are discussed in detail in the booklet. We will not
repeat the arguments here, about which one can guess the tone.
Generally, transhumanists support liberalism. Each one will have to be
able to remain free to choose their way of life and the modes of
evolution of their body and spirit. Those who do not want to evolve
too quickly must be able to remain faithful to their traditions. But
on the other hand those who are eager to try new adventures should not
be opposed by inherited laws, moral beliefs or past inherited policies
  that have no more reason to exist. It is obvious on this point that
faced with a new science, society tends to be divided into two unequal
parts, the majority who are afraid of an uncertain future, criticizes
and wants to possibly prohibit all new experimentation - and the
minority who are willing to bet on the beneficial effects and want to
be organized so that this bet succeeds. We line up obviously, like the
majority of our readers undoubtedly, in this last camp. But, in
democracy, one should not refuse confrontations. Still it should be
done by people who know exactly what they talk about and do not
support fantasies or worse, political arguments intended to make them
famous by the media.

In its 4th part, The Transhumanist FAQ wonders about the relations
which transhumanists will be able to maintain with nature, human
nature and, in the broader aspect, the natural environment. There
still, one should not lend to nature qualities which it does not have.
It was said of human nature ("I do not see, remarked the geneticist
Cricks, that current mankind is so perfect that one should not seek to
improve it"). It is the same for all the rest. The biosphere and more
generally the physico-chemical medium in which we live present many
risks for mankind and the future of the current world. Admittedly, to
intervene there mistakenly can cause increased risks, but not to try
to improve the conditions under which the men of the future will be
able to exist would be a failure, almost a crime.

The Transhumanist FAQ raises the question which everyone expects. How
this new step forms part of the old history of more than 2.000 years
of the relations between philosophy and science? The work quotes the
sources of the movement, since the Age of the Enlightenment and more
recently, with the multiplication of the texts published in particular
in the United States in connection with the prospects for new
sciences. It then discusses the various "currents" which share the
transhumanist space. That these currents exist and tend to be opposed
one to the others is normal. But it is not necessary that they harden
on quasi sectarian attitudes which would harm the overall movement,
just as the multiple currents which share medical space harm medicine.

A last question finally is tackled in this 5th part. It is for us
essential. Let us return the reader to the recent analyses which we
made of the modern materialistic thought
(see for example the materialists and their detractors
http://www.admiroutes.asso.fr/larevue/2005/67/materialisme.htm ).
The authors of The Transhumanist FAQ specify that transhumanism, like
a religion, proposes a vision in the very long term of what could make
the safety of humanity within an improved environment. But contrary to
the religions, sects and various mystics, it does not refer to
supernatural sources or divine interventions that churches and priests
would claim to impose on mankind. It is restricted to continue by
extending it the march of Western rational and scientific thought,
marked by agnosticism if not atheism. That certain transhumanists
refer to God for their account, it is their business - just as certain
scientists are spiritualistic - but these references, especially if
they were incarnated in fanaticism and intolerance, would be
unacceptable. For as much as transhumanism does not want to set up in
dogma, it is agnostic. It acts, according to promoters of the
movement, as a family of evolving worldviews open to all new
experiments and suggestions.

The work does not finish there. It proposes then a certain number of
answers to practical questions. We return the reader there.


Within the questions and answers evoked in The Transhumanist FAQ or on
the various sites relating to transhumanism, we would like for our
part to look again at some questions insufficiently treated, in our

1. Doesn't transhumanism mix in a hazardous way science and science
fiction? Such a mixture can discredit the movement, whether it is to
the scientists themselves or an informed public. The naive ones are
indeed likely to leap on the prospects for long-term transformation of
the world evoked by certain transhumanists, by thinking that these
prospects will be carried out tomorrow. That will do nothing but
encourage them to turn to the false prophets of science, illusionists
and spiritualists who proliferate already in current society.

Let us take the assumption of the multi-universe or multiverse, about
which we have often spoken in this journal. It is a conjecture
suggested by certain cosmologists, who readily recognize that nothing
makes it possible today to prove it or to falsify it starting from
experimental data. This assumption is undoubtedly useful for science,
as are all those which discuss unsolved questions of the various
disciplines. It encourages and will encourage research. Can one
however base on them the thoughts of the future proposed by the
transhumanists or the posthumanists? Undoubtedly, but with infinite
precautions, and while repeating, as we have just done it, the
warnings. Very different will be the attitude to be adopted for
concrete prospects, that interest the humans of today or those of the
next years, for example with regard to therapeutic cloning or the
development of autonomous robots.

This mixture of genres between what concerns the scientific
imagination and what rises from science into the daily newspaper
undoubtedly pushes away the majority of scientists from transhumanism.
The majority of them, who are generally materialists if not
scientistic, should join this school of thought. But they will not
make it if they have the impression that they must take hazardous if
not sulfurous routes likely to discredit them.

As it will be necessary to avoid that, the promoters of the
transhumanist movement are primarily interested in the prospects to
improve the society of today. It is good that this is so for the most
famous of them, encouraged besides by universities or even by certain
political authorities. Let us quote for example the creation of the
Future of Humanity Institute, attached to the James Martin School for
the 21st Century at the University of Oxford, of which Nick Bostrom
has been appointed director.

More generally, it will constantly be necessary to distinguish between
what concerns the belief in science (a little like religious belief
and undoubtedly resting on the same neural basis) and what concerns
experimental scientific practice.

2. Can one, as seem to think the promoters of transhumanism, decide in
a voluntary way what will be the transhuman future of our societies,
either with regard to the status of the individuals, or with regard to
the functions of the institutions? The determinists are tempted to
think that it is the unrestricted evolution of science and technology,
resulting itself from unforeseeable and unverifiable factors, which
defines what will be the future. Even the concepts of transhumanism or
Singularity were not invented by the futurologists who contributed to
popularize them. They appeared at a certain time in the evolution of
Western society, in the form of emergence. They are spread today
according to processes of the now well-known memetic contamination.
Science and technology relating to NBIC will continue to practically
develop without any control of the governments and public opinion -
this perhaps under the influence of laboratories working in an
irresponsible way for the military of certain countries. What good is
it then to discuss it in public think tanks?

The response of good direction to this argument is that, on the
contrary, not being able to say what influences or not a complex
development unrolling in chaotic mode, the fact that the citizens try
to adapt themselves to the prospects for a transhuman future can do no
harm to anybody. One thus should not give up trying to direct
evolution according to the values which one gives oneself.

3. Let us finish this short presentation of the transhumanist movement
by a thought inspired of an old individualistic, undoubtedly
inappropriate thought. Many people of quality feel repulsed by what
appears to them to be an futile intellectual pursuit. This results in
the disaffection of certain good spirits with regard to political
movements or intellectual circles that were agnostic like
frank-maçonnerie or free-thought. We think that the transhumanist
movement will not progress, at least in France, until it opens up a
little to humour and lightheartedness, by giving up the kind of
Protestant rigour which still permeates it.

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