So I’ve recently been thinking about posthumanism, and particularly transhumanism – that is the idea that the human condition can be surpassed, and particularly avoided by technological means. In transhumanism this usually runs along lines of predicting a technological singularity, involving the creation of advanced AIs who will then lead to a cascade of technologies that, among other things, abolish death. It’s pretty clear to me that this is, in a sense, religion for atheist technophiles, the aptly named “rapture of the nerds”, complete with messiah and forthcoming new age that will bring life for believers. The existence of a so-called “Mormon transhumanist society” doesn’t really falsify that, since it turns out that tends to go along with rejecting essential LDS ideas about the death & resurrection of Jesus Christ (as opposed to technology) bringing resurrection to all mankind, let alone ideas about God.
Now there’s lots that could be discussed about these ideas. On one level, they could be potentially scary – people wanting to create super-intelligent AIs and turn themselves into machines does sound a little like something out of a technological dystopia, particularly with the somewhat naive hope that said new AIs would rain gifts rather than nuclear weapons down upon humanity (has Terminator taught us nothing? More to the point, wouldn’t Terminator give the AI ideas?) That is, it would be scary if I considered it all that possible at all. I don’t – progress is not inevitable, technological progress is not inevitably exponential (indeed in lots of fields it has slowed down), I severely doubt strong AIs are possible, and I don’t believe uploading someone’s memories, even if possible, entails immortality (if possible at all, it’d just be creating a AI with a copy of your memories, particularly evident if you leave the original alive…)
That said, I can understand some positive reasons as to why the idea would be attractive. The human condition comes with a lot of frailties. Death seems to be the one mentioned most in transhumanist circles, but there’s also sickness generally. I can definitely understand that one – I’m not dying, but I’ve certainly felt pretty grotty the last few days, and sure wish I could surpass that limitation. Then there’s the various weaknesses we have, the limitations on our abilities, on our minds and our bodies. When put in those terms, the desire to exceed the limits imposed by our present existence can be understandable.
Yet, as I have realised the last couple of weeks, it is the restored gospel that has this, and indeed the only real way to do this. We understand from revelation that we lived prior to our earthly existence, prior to assuming our earthly, mortal existence (D&C 93:29, Moses 3:5, Abraham 3:22-26). Our life as a human being is to help prepare us for eternity (Alma 34:33). Our personalities will in some fashion persist (Alma 34:34), as will our social relations (D&C 130:2). But much of what is the human condition is temporary. Rather, if we are faithful we can progress, receive all that the Father has (D&C 84:38), “receive of his fulness” (D&C 93:19) and become “gods”, “from everlasting to everlasting”, and having “all power” (D&C 132:20).
Our mortal existence then is somewhat like that of a caterpillar – limited, but a stage of existence through which we have to progress, and which through the gospel we may transcend completely. This is the only real hope for a genuine transcending of the human condition. In comparison, transhumanism offers to augment the caterpillar. It has no real power to turn the caterpillar into a butterfly.