There’s an interesting long-read article/essay about roots of transhumanism in christian religion over at The Guardian called God in the machine: my strange journey into transhumanism. Sharing a note here for anyone interested in the topic. As always, posting a link because I think it is an interesting topic, and not necessarily because I agree.
It has always seemed to me as if parts of the singularity- and transhumansist-movements have elements and factions reminiscent of religion. (Let’s ignore for now that stating that something is “like a religion” rather common nowadays, with sometimes absurd results.) Or, to see it from another point of view: addressing some of the same human concerns. I therefore found the essay interesting because the author, Meghan O’Gieblyn, claims to have come to the movement secularized, a recovering former evangelical christian; discovering familiar hopes in a new guise. Moreover, she got into transhumansism after reading a book lent to her by a colleague – not, I would guess the common path.
That would be the technology route, after working with informatics and programming. A pure guess on my part, but I believe that there is a certain correlation between the logic of information processing and the emergence of transhumanism among the high tech crowd in the 1980’s and 1990’s.
And, I do understand it that path – the pull by that particular the train of thought. The narrative. After all, that is what made me interested in the topic. Once a certain kind of high level, hardware-remote, programming is mastered, and universal computing is intuited, it can sometimes be easier to construct narratives where the singularity happens, than a future where it fails to materialize. Those personal projections, I believe, is the most common path to transhumanism. The thought ‘makes sense’ in a certain mindset. Then the question of course is what one does with that train of thought. Weaving it into a story, as seen at least since the 1980’s cyber punk (no, since Shelly’s Frankenstein) and through to today, let it inform ones philosophy, ones direction of research or technology development, critique it, or grasp it as the last remedy for the human condition in a disillusioned world. I will not (perhaps unfairly, but in the name of actually finishing the post) not address that here.
For now, the narrative is the interesting part. The essay linked above made me think that perhaps a similar chain of thought made it good sense to believers in religion before Darwin, and the theory of evolution. The answers on offer, fitted into the mindset and the dominant culture of the times. The questions however, may linger and persist and far outlive the explanations. Today, the mindset of some seems to favor transhumanism. And, instead of hoping for salvation we aim to make our own.
Speaking of narratives, literature set in a technologically advanced speculative version of our own future will have to deal with that narrative gravity, and comment on those topics, and the existence or not of a singularity. It will become increasingly harder to dodge.
Not new, of course. Needless to say, science fiction has dealt with many transhuman themes for as long as genre has existed. I’ll end this with another reading tip of a work that, to me at least, seems to share a few themes with the religious roots of transhumanism mentioned in O’Gieblyn’s piece: Hyperion (and its sequel The Fall of Hyperion) by Dan Simmons.