Posted: Sat, February 23, 2013 | By: Samantha Atkins
The Most Exciting (and dangerous) Time
There comes a time in the developmental history of every intelligent evolved species that requires a significant set of choices for the species to survive and thrive. A species comes to this point when its intelligence is great enough that it discovers technology of sufficient power for either transcendence and freedom or ultimate enslavement and conflict leading to annihilation. Humanity is such a species at just such a critical point in its development.
Any evolved species will have a set of characteristics acquired through its evolution. These characteristics include psychological and social/cultural patterns that enabled evolutionary success. As the species gains more and more sophisticated technology the pace of change and the nature of the challenges and opportunities faced individually and collectively increasingly diverge from what can be successfully handled by the species’ evolution acquired characteristics. In the case of humanity we can refer to the totality of these characteristics as “human nature”.
The Good News
When technology reaches a great enough potential the very basis of the evolutionary milieu is open to change. The species acquires the knowledge of its own internal “coding”, its genetics, evolutionary mechanisms, psychology and cognitive structure. It gains increasing deep understanding of and increasing fine grained control of physical matter. With the advent of increasing dense computational resources the species acquires greatly increased effective intelligence and inter-communication among all its members. Increasingly the species has the means to greatly increase its health and the longevity and physical well being of all its members. All of its members potentially have access to most of the collective knowledge of the entire species and both the time and tools to use this bounty to increase the resources, knowledge and well-being of the species exponentially. This is the Good News.
The Not So Good News
The not so good news is that the species evolution instilled proclivities were forged in a very different environment and are only effective enough at leading to species survival in a world that is increasingly no longer present. The increasing technological mastery acts as a magnifier greatly extending the reach and impact of the species. Technology acts as a magnifier at all scales down to the single individual. Old balances of power and influence unravel with ever greater speed. Nations and groups and individuals live in growing uncertainty and with growing levels of fear.
In this environment it is very important that some new deeply integrative and compelling visions arise that enable the species to have some sense of direction and a grounding and peace in the midst of so much uncertainty and danger. Such a vision needs to be of great power if it is to create a bridge to span the move from evolution bred characteristics to re-creation of the species’ psychological, social and even physical aspects to match the quite different conditions with all their glorious possibilities and deadly dangers that the species now faces.
Role of Spirituality and Religion
For humanity, and likely for any evolved intelligent species, such a deep integration that builds off of human nature and suffuses so many aspects of life and outlook is the province of spirituality/religion.
While there are many quite problematic aspects to human religiosity, religion is also essentially a repository of human aspiration for something better, for meaning and hope, for an integral view of life and society and inspiration and strength in achieving happiness and peace. Within some spiritual traditions we find also explorations of human nature and development and refinement of tools and techniques for mastering or channeling to a more useful goal many of our human proclivities. Much of this is likely to be very useful to the work that needs to be done. Most importantly religions have developed a lot of mastery at bonding human beings into integrated groups with deeply shared aspirations and devotion to individual, group, organizational and world change in accordance with the underlying vision. Religion is so strong because it ties so many aspects of human nature and aspirations together.
Of course there are many problematic aspects of human religion. We should expect there to be given human nature, our limitations, and the much less sophisticated knowledge at the time the current religions were founded. Much has also accreted to the founding vision over time as those same human proclivities made use of the religious framework for all matter of needs and ends often having nothing to do with the underlying vision and aspiration. And yet, religion is still a primary motivating force in humanity. If we are dedicated to seeing humankind successfully navigate these extremely challenging times then we need to use whatever tools will most likely succeed as skillfully as we can.
Many of the evils of current religion come from confusing the form and literature historically associated with the religion with the important vision and aspirations the religion was founded to achieve. This essence of a religion gets lost or only vaguely apprehended by most adherents leaving little more than rigor in clinging dogmatically to the form, teachings and mythology as some grasping reach for something more that it seems [to the adherents] cannot exist without the particular forms.
Transhumanist religion must be deeply grounded in science and reason to avoid the danger of getting lost in beautiful aspirations and mythology and to keep free of dogmatic clinging to old forms. Transhumanist religion keeps the vision and aspiration always upfront and uses these to discriminate among particular forms and practices. As this name implies the fundamental aspiration is the transcendence of human limitations and suffering and the transformation of humanity and human organizations that we may have far greater possibilities, vastly longer lives, abundance for all and transform this world into a relative paradise. There may be many visions or aspects of a vision regarding what kind of future we wish to create. But transhumanist religion recognizes that we must form a vision and integrate as many aspects of our activities as possible to its realization or we will drift in default and at ever greater speeds toward ultimate failure and annihilation of humanity.
Transhumanist religion with its grounding in science can actually bring about the fulfillment of many of the human aspirations found in existing religions. Unlike many religions we can offer much more than teaching how to develop oneself and organizations to avoid adding to suffering through unskillful use of our minds. While these teachings are good and important we can go beyond this to remove most types of physical suffering and many physical and mental limitations that until recently most religions have had to assume as simply the given. By using high technology for high aims we can in this very life and this very world create overflowing abundance of all good and necessary and desirable things for everyone. It may fairly be said that transhumanist religion is not here to supplant current religion but to fulfill all that is best in them.
Transhumanist religion is about creating “Heaven on Earth” and beyond. It is about the theosis of humanity – humanity casting off its chains and awakening from its dreams to become as gods.
The essay first appeared in Samantha’s blog HERE