Transhuman Art

About

The Transhuman Art Gallery features a select cast of international artists focused on examining the transformative technologies of today. The work presented transcends a multitude of mediums, including new media like 3D printing and virtual reality. The Transhuman Art Gallery is a virtual collection of vanguard artwork, attempting to evoke an anticipation for the future. The challenge of defining a transhumanist aesthetic is concerned with an attempt to find new forms of representation.

 

“Transhuman”

©Natasha Vita-More, PhD

Chairman Humanity+

Visiting Scholar, 21st Century Medicine

Fellow, Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies

Fellow, Hybrid Reality Institute

TRANSHUMAN – WHAT IS THE AIM?

The transhuman establishes a framework for artistic, design-based approaches concerned with the human future, prolonging human life and sustaining personal identity. To delineate, the transhuman is at the core of life expansion, which will ultimately increase the length of time a person is alive and diversify the matter in which a person exists. For human life, the length of time is bounded by a single century and its matter is tied to biology. The transhuman goal of life expansion, located within the scope of human enhancement, navigates between the fields of art and design, science, technology, engineering, and philosophy. Through this course, the critical and creative approaches seek to uncover invisible borders between interconnecting forces that alert ethical concerns, including morphological freedom and extinction risk, and the use emerging and speculative technologies.

 

1—A BRIEF HISTORY 

The transhuman marks the beginning of a self-directed modification of human physiology. The scope of this modification includes human enhancement of the somatic and cognitive body, including attempting regenerating damaged cells and to prolong the human lifespan beyond its maximum limit[1]. This enhancement signals the acquisition of technology to append the biological body and to improve a person’s physical, cognitive and perceptual abilities.

The transhuman can be understood as a transitional stage of human existence, developed through the careful application of technological support systems and fostered, in large part, by a desire to live longer, healthier lives. The inevitability of shedding the universally accepted species-typical biological exclusivity is apparent in the transhuman. This self-directed evolution includes the larger scope of potential for human futures, including expanding persons onto semi- and nonbiolgoical platforms. The conjectured innovations that coalesce science, technology, biology, aesthetics, ethics, engineering and design, will indubitably challenge many of the historically accepted universals about life and death.

The concepts that earmark a transhuman agenda have originated within diverse cultures and over varied timeframes. We can find traces of transhumanist thought in our earliest inventions and discoveries. From symbolic narratives painted on the Lascaux prehistoric cave walls over 17,000 years ago, to the space missions and transmitting signals across light years of space, ingenuity has illustrated humans’ use of technology. The desire to extend life and push beyond human limitations has catapulted the human species toward a theoretical and actual evolution from human to transhuman. In doing so, the passions to explore the unknown and to learn the not-yet-understood are often cultivated by a need to resolve the relationship between a person and/or society and the environment. The locus of experience is situated within an identifiable urge to mend the torn aspects of the human body, human behaviors and psychology, and the social attitudes. In every aspect of this urge—each inch—each thought—creativity is in action. It is the fire behind passions. It is the fuel igniting hope and determination. No matter how diminutive or how colossal an idea, it is in the creative impulse that seeks its outcome.

The transhuman proposition is the result of a certain human desire to overcome disease and the inevitability of death and the continued development of methods by which this could come about due, in large part, to the acceleration of technological advances in medicine, nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, neuroscience, cognitive science, prosthetics, molecular biology, cryobiology, etc.

 

2— A SEEDING OF TRANSHUMANS

Cultural movements carve eminent marks on history as their trends ripen into social norms or dissolve when newly found social passions come along.  Culture and its many movements are forever evolving forward in a perpetual state of progress, overcoming chaos and conflict, changing how we view the world and our place in history.

The formation of vastly divergent ideas is often the result of the many shifts in the social environment.  Based a central tenet, these formations, like natures own manifestations, come about because the world and society do change and distinct voices need to be heard. These voices splinter off into established points of view and eventually into formal affiliations.

Established as a philosophy, transhumanism has grown from an elegantly designed seed of thought to an expanding worldview.  Within the expansion—pushing and pulling at the very core of the ideal, our transhumanist potential is realized.  Transhumanism will continue to expand outward, but the very core of its meaning cannot falter.  This ideal—to better the human condition, to work toward making the world compatible with our needs and concerns, and to consider the emerging and unprecedented possibilities, challenges, and dangers of the future, is the foundation of transhumanity.

Where the word specific notion of the “transhuman” came from, no one is quite sure, as it has been used at different times for different meanings. The central and spirited ideas can be traced from the transition and transformation of humans in overcoming odds.  However, the very first known reference to the transhumanism was written by poet Dante Alighieri in his magnum opus Paradiso of the Divina Commedia (1312).  It is in this masterpiece that Dante invented the world “transhumanized” to describe what happens to humans through a “beatific vision.”[i]

Centuries later, T.S. Elliot, recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature (1948), wrote about the isolation of the human condition. “You and I don’t know the process by which the human is Transhumanized: what do we know of the kind of suffering they must undergo on the way of illumination?”[ii] Biologist Julian Huxley wrote about evolutionary humanism, “… ‘transhumanism:’ … once there are enough people who can truly say that, the human species will be on the threshold of a new kind of existence, as different from ours as ours is from that of Peking man.” (1957)  FM Esfandiary (aka FM-2030) wrote about transhumans as an evolution from human to posthuman: as  “… a new kind of being crystallizing from the monumental breakthroughs of the late twentieth century. … the earliest manifestations of a new evolutionary being.”  Max More wrote the modern philosophy of transhumanism as “philosophies of life, such as extropy, that seek the continuation and acceleration of the evolution of intelligent life beyond its currently human form and human limitations by means of science and technology, guided by life-promoting principles and values.”  In 1983, Damien Broderick referred to the transhuman in his science fiction story Judas Mandala around the same time I authored the “Transhuman Manifesto” and “Transhumanist Arts Statement” (1983).

Each, in his or her unique way, has carved the beginning of transhumanism.  FM was an ideological force behind the concept of the transhuman as an evolutionary being – from human to posthuman.  Yet, transhumanism, as a philosophy and movement, is brought about distinctly though the vision of Max More and through his philosophical writings and critical assessment of how future technological could affect the human condition.

The transhuman actually developed in the 1980s and in the very early 1990s as a cultural movement, whereby a new aesthetics for the future in designing and developing the social architecture and aesthetics of human potential.  As a “design” for the future, it is paramount that society aim toward creating a world that fluidly adapts to change.  An essential aspect of this adaptation is to recognize the beginnings of cultural changes as they are seeded and developed, and then to actively to promote the deeper emotional and intellectual investment in progress. It is the inclusively of all of humanity that will create a ultramodern culture that evolves beyond an arguable human restraint and hostility, territoriality and obsession, labeling and segregating, and beyond the postmodernist agenda that, while offering valued insights in helping humanity move beyond universals, scientism, and into a world of multiplicity and appreciation for the other, it is too strongly tethered to a dystopic vision.  Alternatively transhumanism and the transhuman offer new potentials. Further, if transhumanism is to mature as a cultural movement and become a valued period or era in history, it must stand for human rights, human differences, morphological freedom, and diversity.

Because transhumanism was not a product invented by one person and a commodity to be bought and sold, and because transhumanism is the brainchild of a handful of people from diverse backgrounds, some of its meaning is left to interpretation.  The formation of organizations with which to market the philosophy has grown over the years.  From the initial birthing of transhumanism, there have been a number of principles, statements, FAQs and essays written which provide a varied interpretation of the ideas from the perspective of each organization.  The key issue is that the philosophy and its values be preserved over time.  It is up to the cooperation and collaboration of the many organizations within the transhumanist culture to work to ensure that transhumanism is built upon, rather than torn down.

Like most cultural movements, no one knows precisely what event, however large or small, propelled transhumanism forward. Perhaps it was a tipping point, or a wild card, or simply the result of a series of social changes inviting conflict and chaos, resulting in a drive to renew worn out ideas and dusty reasoning.  Thinking back, it makes sense that the 1980s were the actual starting point of transhumanism, especially in areas where intellectuals, artist and radicals converged.  Futurist and transhumanist events flourished in and around Los Angeles, at UCLA, Extropy Institute, Foresight Institute, Transhuman Art (TransArt) and Alcor Life Extension Foundation.  It also makes sense that UCLA futurists’ classes, the Extro conferences, along with articles, televised interviews, and arts exhibitions, did ignite the fuse.  The explosion of transhumanism occurred when the Internet broadened and hastened communication, bringing people around the world onto the Extropy Institute “extropians” e-mail list.

The essence of transhumanism is an aspiration to drive society forward.  Hope, desire, and a sense of purpose provide a reason for living.  No matter the era or the place in history, this common thread—a desire to move forward—has become the core of futurists today and has crystallized in the transhumanist movement.  In and of itself, transhumanism is a decided break from a pre-determined lifespan and the limitations, not the advantages, of being human.  The revolt against the humanity’s limited lifespan and the many restrictive boundaries to human growth, potential and happiness, distinguishes transhumanism from any other philosophy of the future.  Thus, like other movements of the 20th Century, transhumanism was formed as a radical break from the “norm” and started out as a viewpoint with which to address our future.

This “movement” is a different concept than that of being a transhuman or a posthuman, which may or may not be attached to a philosophical or ideological viewpoint.  Rather, transhumanism, as a movement, echoes the “attitude” of individuals who intentionally become part of the society which views progress as essential for our future.  The elements of optimism, desire for peace, encouragement of long life and good health, and prosperity are essential to transhumanity.  The act of necessitating due diligence, both to question and support the development of science and technology to improve life as we know it and, applying critical thinking to world issues, and fostering knowledge and supporting individual choice for society that are spun together forming the backbone of the transhumanist culture.

Transhumanity has developed a certain “cultural sensibility” which has come about through combined efforts of people and across disciplinary boundaries.  There is no one single domain of expertise that has effectuated this cultural sensibility, as it lies within a multi-disciplinary approach.  Even though technology has been at the forefront as a driving for of social change, it has not been alone.

The technological advances that strike us as potentially most rewarding and dangerous are biotechnology, nanotechnology, and artificial intelligence.  While transhumanity is reaching forward, it is also well aware of the need for carefully contemplating benefit vs. danger.  This careful assessment is also applied to biotechnology in areas such as therapeutic cloning and genetic engineering, for example.  Nanotechnology has become a key work in the early part of this century and for good cause, as molecular engineering could be a solution to many of the world’s problems, both environmental and otherwise.  Along with technological innovation and advances for accelerating change, there has been futuristic views about economics, education, the arts, artificial intelligence, robotics, super computing, communication, transportation, business leadership and practices, health care and medicine, political views, and so on.  People influence each other and the transhumanist culture ardently pursues a proactive approach toward dealing with world issues that affect all of society.  It is not how much we learn, it is the quality of learning that gives transhumanism dignity.

After all, what is culture, but the result of learning and teaching?  Culture is a union of acquired behaviors, either passed down from one generation to the next, or self-learned through trail and error.  The consciousness of a society’s culture is like a self-portrait of its values, and these values, in all their forms and array of colors, are shaped by skills and knowledge that form a “cultural template.”[iii]   Within culture, there must be a consistent and agreed upon relationship between the meaning of words, the representation of symbols, and the ethics or behavior of a set of people.  This knowledge is developed through a process of perpetual negotiation and agreements, as culture is a fluid and changing state.

 

3— TRANSHUMAN CONDITION

Under conditions of transhumanism, we are faced with a move toward a new type of transbiosynthesis of conditions: biology, technology, multiple-reality, in which people actively constitute themselves and construct their own identities. The weight of tradition and established values are retreating as global transhuman culture interacts.  The social codes that formerly guide choices and activities have significantly loosened in the world, and the transhuman offers an alternative the cyborg by fostering a more humane humanity, a theoretical approach to life extension and human enhancement and a culture and society for those who are looking for alternatives to the postmodernist agenda.  This means that transhumans are constantly responding and adjusting to the changing environment around us, and more and more people are adopting transhumanist perspectives.

There are more and more transhumanist organizations starting up, and more diversification to the culture.  This has its upside and its downside.  The upside is that we are growing, and such good news cannot be restrained.  The underside is that transhumanism could be watered down or spiked up with all sorts of derivatives.

One pivotal tenet of transhumanism is the newly developed Proactionary Principle, a principle developed to counter social resistance to social change and technology.  In order to design a future that is both safe and functional for society, that has a sense of sustainability and progress, that provides an environment for innovation, and that is both comfortable and nurturing, it is understood as essential that we do so with a fair amount of intelligence, creativity and rational. Another is Morphological Freedom. There are other theoretical ideas as well, and we need to build these ideas into actions.

When journalists write about the transhumanism, they often become bogged down in the science and technology of the future, rather than including the cultural movement itself and the “design” of the future.  As an artist and designer, it is the vision of the future that is most alluring about transhumanism—the architecture of its culture, the aesthetics of its future, the smells, sounds, visuals, and feelings that heighten the senses.  How might we become transhuman and capture the qualities of being human that are highly valued and open new opportunities for qualities that we might design? It is the sense of design of the future that inspired my design “Primo Posthuman” as a future body prototype.

When I wrote the Transhuman Manifesto and the Transhumanist Arts Statement as a manifesto to transhumanity, I saw the need for a heightened sense of aesthetics as a necessary component of our culture.  There had been an over abundance of technology and science and not enough aesthetics.  Thinking back, I was influenced by Alighieri Dante while at the Accademia Di Belle Arti in Ravenna, Italy in 1975.  Ravenna is the very place where Dante completed the Divine Comedy by writing Paradiso.  I remember thinking about human evolution and human nature transcending itself during those years.  Perhaps my earliest influences about transhumanism were imprinted in Ravenna, while living amongst the very writings and ideas of Dante.

In memory to and encouragement of catalytic ideas that continue bloom while embracing what is known, facing toward the unknown, and challenging what is yet to become, I say:

TRANSHUMAN MANIFESTO
AND TRANSHUMANIST ARTS STATEMENT 

 

We are transhumans
our art integrates the most eminent progression
of creativity and sensibility merged by discovery.

Our evolution has been a cumulative process.
Footprints across time have left traces of human potential to
overcome odds and challenge the norm.
From the earliest plebeian cultures to the advanced complexities of
social systems, the future has been unfolding.
Today we are on the threshold of the present evolution—the transhuman.

Transhumans and Transhumanists Arts represent the aesthetic and creative culture of transhumanity. Our aesthetics and expressions are merging design with science and technology in developing increased sensory experiences, increasing understanding, and extending life toward an ecology of awareness and responsibility.

If our art represents who we are, then let us choose to be transhumanist
not only in our bodies, but also in our values and to
embrace the creative innovations of transhumanity.
We are ardent activists in pursuing infinite transformation,
overcoming death and exploring the universe.

As Transhumans and Transhumanist Arts come into focus—
as more artists join our efforts
as more designs are produced
as more music is composed
as more stories are written
as the tools and ideas of our art continue to evolve—
So too shall we.


[1] The maximum human life span is approximately 122-123 years.