George Dvorsky muses on a more practical manifestation of the transhumanist urge: rather than wait for the ol’ silicon Rapture to take all the effort out of transcending the limitations of Meatbag Mk. 1, why not use what we already know about the body to get the best out of it? Dvorsky suggests that the latter is true to the spirit of the transhuman project, while the former is a sort of futurist hipsterdom – a lip-service gig, like carrying around unread Nietzsche books at college.
Indeed, there are a number of things we can do to extend our capacities and optimize our health in a way that’s consistent with transhumanist ideals—even if it doesn’t appear to be technologically sophisticated. While the effects of these interventions are admittedly low impact from a future-relativistic perspective, the quest for bodily and cognitive enhancement is part of the broader transhumanist aesthetic which places an emphasis on maximal performance, high quality of life, and longevity.
Consequently, anyone who professes to be a transhumanist, but does nothing to improve upon himself, is a poser. These are the people who are waiting for the magic to happen, and by consequence, are neglecting their full potential in the present moment. Transhumanism is something that’s applied in the here-and-now; it’s a recognition of the radical present and all that it has to offer.
Sure, part of being a transhumanist involves the bringing about of a radical future, including scientific research and cheerleading. But it’s also a lifestyle choice; transhumanists actively strive to exceed their body’s nascent capacities, or, at the very least, work to bring about its full potential. In addition to building a radical future, a transhumanist is someone who will, at any time in history, use the tools and techniques around them to maximize their biological well-being. And while there are a number of technological interventions at our disposal–things like pharmaceuticals, implants, and hand-held devices—there is an alternative and seemingly old-fashioned approach to bodily enhancement that’s gaining considerable currency in transhumanist sub-cultures.
Interesting for two reasons: firstly, it places transhumanism at the far end of a much longer and older tradition of physical and mental self-improvement (which, come to think of it, is a legitimising argument in favour of the transhumanist philosophy that does much to normalise it away from the utopian technotranscendence thing); secondly, Dvorsky seems to be subtly drawing a line in the sand between the dilettantism of what I’m starting to think of as “street-culture transhumanism” and the serious practice of those transhumanists whose real goals are longevity/immortality and a personal transcendence of corporeal human limitations.
This is another of those schismatic fractures that keep appearing as the H+ meme spreads and mutates through the global body politic; I suspect the Paleotranshumanists have realised that the philosophy is getting diluted, and are trying to fence off a set of core “pure” ideologies and practices with which to define themselves in opposition to (or to the outright exclusion of) the dilettantes. Or, to put it another way, Dvorsky is arguing for a concretisation of transhumanism’s narrative metaphor: an acting-out of stated principles in the best ways currently available, rather than a thumb-twiddling wait for the tools that will complete the job with one swift wave of the magic technowand.
As stated earlier, the primal approach is a stop-gap measure for transhumanists until something better comes along. Those looking to optimize their health and performance in the here-and-now should seriously consider adopting this lifestyle.
This approach is certainly a “soft” form of transhumanism and it’s definitely no match for what’s still to come. Our transition away from Homo sapiens will be accompanied by more impactful technologies—interventions like genomics, cybernetics, neuropharma, and molecular nanotechnology. Once we have access to these technologies we will truly be able invoke the “trans” in “transhumanism” as our species migrates into a posthuman and potentially post-biological condition.
Not quite “put up or shut up”, but a definite attempt to redefine transhumanism as a physical practice rather than a purely intellectual pursuit.