Like other pro-neuro-enhancement movements such as transhumanism and extropianism, posthumanism is a concept that has also undergone a lot of scrutiny in the scientific space.
The big question of “is posthumanism ethical?” has been subject to endless debate, as well as the distinctions or similarities that be between humanism and posthumanism.
First of all, it is a big world, filled with people who think very differently. You will be in awe at what people consider doable or ideological, and eventually, this is what has kept humanity evolving.
On posthumanism, many have attempted to understand what it is and its distinctions from these other similar concepts. Unlike the others, it is a theory that does not seem to have gained a proper footing and following scientifically. Therefore, it is still in its wake to be comprehended and accepted or rejected by people.
Posthumanism in the literal sense means beyond or after humanism. It is a philosophical perspective that proposes that with the use of technological advances, human beings can be transformed or transcended.
The use of the prefix ‘post’ insinuates the beginning of a new period’ a period that is after humanity as we know it. For a better understanding, you can look at it from this perspective: Humanism or humanity is very centered on the individual, ‘the human’ as a pinpoint in understanding world relations. Post-humanism differs in that it focuses on the human as well as the non-human as a whole. It is an intellectual concept that lies somewhere between science, socialism, and philosophy. Posthumanism has a very similar concept and ideology to transhumanism. Transhumanism is the use of advanced technology to enhance human physical abilities to essentially create a better society. The difference, however, is that transhumanism serves as more of a gateway or guide towards posthumanism.
Due to the ambiguous nature of the concept of posthumanism, different sub-concepts exist based on varying interpretations that people have of it. Some of these include cultural posthumanism, philosophical posthumanism, antihumanism, posthuman transhumanism, AI, et cetera.
For proper clarity, some of these sub-concepts will be explained.
Anti-humanism, for example, is a theory that is critical of traditional ideas about humanism and the human condition; and AI takeover is a variant of posthumanism that does not necessarily believe in enhanced humans, but rather the replacement of humans by Artificial Intelligence.
One of the most prominent early theorists of posthumanism was Ihab Hassan. He was an Egyptian theorist and literary writer who passed away in 2015. He was the one who coined the term ‘posthumanism’ in his book titled ‘Prometheus as Performer: Towards a Posthumanist Culture’ written in 1977. In the book, he uses Prometheus, the mythical character as a metaphor to explain what posthumanism meant to him. The term was mentioned somewhat playfully but he did state that ‘five hundred years of humanism may be coming to an end.’ He argued that posthumanism should be seen as the portrayal of two opposing aspects of our reality such as myth and technology, or imagination and science, merging as one. He was strong of the belief that the end of humanism was close and unavoidable and that we as a species just needed to accept that fact. He further believed that this end of humanism would be the birth of a posthumanist era. He believes that this situation is merely ‘a sudden mutation of the times’. Hasan argued that humans must fight for a ‘unified conscience’ if they want they are ready to evolve into the transformative Homosapien. According to him, one of the agents of posthumanism is Artificial Intelligence (AI) which will help transform the image of man. He believed it likely that transhumanism and the human search for technological advancements and enhancement may lead to the end of man. Since the term was coined by him, it has been claimed by numerous theoretical positions. The common denominator between these positions is that they all question the idea of man at the center of the universe, acting as an autonomous agent.
Still on the origins of posthumanism, one of the first recorded gatherings of individuals in relation to posthumanism was the gathering of visionaries and scholars in the early 1980s at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). Other important figures include Max More (popular for extropianism), Nancie Clark, FM 2030, born Feredium M Esfandiary (known as the father of transhumanism), and Eric Drexler (nanotechnology concerning posthumanism).
Autoevolution is another concept that post-humanists are very aware of. They are aware of it but do not make use of it as they would rather use other terms such as post-Darwinism. Autoevolution is an advanced stage in human existence where humans no longer need to follow the randomness of biological evolution, but rather take total control over their own evolution. Posthumanists believe that autoevolution would lead to a world where mutations will be rational, ethical, and moral. However, the reason why they do not speak of it often and strongly believe it is a concept that should remain within the pages of their research is simply that they have seen how the global space tends to treat new theories and scientific research. They have seen firsthand how a lot of new theories are abused by those who do not know much and can even be influenced by economics, social and political climates.
A branch of post-humanists believes that we are headed to a world where a posthuman becomes a symbiosis of humans and artificial intelligence or uploaded consciousness or a total synthetic artificial intelligence or cyborgs as a result of cumulative technological enhancements. As for the posthuman future, different theorists have different beliefs as to what that might look like. Some believe that it will be possible to cohabit with regular humans. Others however believe that even if they cohabit, the posthumans will be leaders and will dominate society due to their advanced abilities. Another concept under posthumanism that is relatively new is post- posthumanism or post cyborg ethics. This questions the after-effects of having undergone cyborg enhancements and subsequent removal.
In conclusion, posthumanism has not developed enough as a concept to even fully consider its possible effects. The effects would be similar to those of transhumanism which is the argument of is it right to decide to scientifically enhance individuals with no underlying health issues just for the sake of an unproven theory, whereas there are people who need actual help.
As long as posthumanism stands as an after-life concept in today’s world, it is offered little significance and considered unethical by many who prefer to find solutions to during-life problems. Until such movements as transhumanism and its derivatives take a solid footing in the world, ambiguous concepts such as posthumanism stand lesser chances of gaining recognition as an ethical practice.