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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Transcendence

My friend, Matt, said to me "if you become transhuman, and I stay the same..." and I forget where he went from there. I've been wanting to make a point on that subject, and the point is that if the word "transhuman" has any meaning at all, then it already applies to us both. The idea of transhumanism is that to gain abilities beyond our genetic endowment and do things beyond our normal spatial and temporal grasp. We already have lots of such abilities, and they have nothing to do with electronics or nanotech (aside from the electronics of your nervous system, and the nanotech of your cells).

The first is language. The ability to communicate is within out genetic endowment, but the specific ideas that are communicated are technologies that are discovered, built, and passed on. To the extent that an individual devotes themselves to the construction of such a mental technology, one can say that it is a part of them. By passing that part of themselves on to others they spread themselves both in space (by distributing the ideas geographically) and in time (by causing them to be taken up by others in the future).

Thus, transhumanity is at least as old as language. Perhaps even older: music could be described to undergo similar development, and music occurs in species other than humans. Birds learn songs, and their songs are passed on and evolve. This is another example of a pattern being spread across time and space through biological mediums that are born and die, though in the case of birdsong there probably wasn't ever some 'genius inventor' who originated the idea of the song and passed it on. Come to think of it, how true is that even for humans? Specific humans get credit for ideas as having been the first to publish them, but their development and discovery undergoes a similar evolutionary process in the dialog of science and art.

What we're really talking about when we speak of transhumanity is this passing of essence from medium to medium; labling it "transhumanity" is a misnomer that makes it seem homo-chauvinistic. We might as well loose this awkward round-about description and just call the phenomenon memetic evolution, where patterns of memes that aggregate and are distributed spatially and temporally can be called "memetic organisms" (just as aggregations of genes that reinforce and support eachother's cooperation are genetic organisms).

I suspect that the driving need that some people feel to express themselves is analogous to the genetic urge to reproduce. Why do some feel so passionate about music, but indifferent to sex? Perhaps becasue a much greater portion of themselves is composed of the "memetic organism" than the genetic one. In such a case, the content of their minds is passed on at the expense of the genes.

And this, I think, hints at the dichotomy that underlies much of human experience. As individuals, we're composed of two very different types of organisms who's interests aren't always in synch. Balancing the demands of each leads inevitably to conflict. This has been expressed in the past as serving "God, Country, and Family," where "country" is yet another kind of organism that places demands on the individual, and could more generally be called "social group."

So when these interests are out of synch, we experience suffering. How do we choose which to appease? Asking the question in such a way may imply having more control over the situation than we really do.

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