Human beings have yearned to transcend the pains and limitations of their condition since far back in prehistoric times. We have yearned to be free of sickness, aging, and death. Yearned to have an abundance of all good and necessary things. Yearned to have peace and deep lasting happiness. We have dreamed great dreams of near unlimited agency and being in power and joy forever. These things are not new to our species.
In pursuit of these things human beings have created technologies, philosophies, religions, societies, and science in fantastic varieties. Always striving for transcendence of the human condition.
It is easy to forget the common reaching for what we, who today call ourselves transhumanists, embrace. It is easy to think that we are more radically new and unique in all of human yearning to date. But in basic fundamental impulse we are not new but a continuation and at long last, possible fulfillment!
Many of us have great disdain for previous incarnations of that drive to transcension – particularly the religious varieties. Yet it is in religion that humanity dreamed great dreams of freedom from pain and want and suffering for countless generations. Before the technological means of achieving these dreams were within reach the strongest and clearest manifestations of the yearning for transcendence were in religion and some of the more idealistic philosophies.
The tension and distrust between transhumanism based in materialism, naturalism and science versus the same yearning for transcendence based in spirituality and religion is in my view shortsighted from both perspectives – from both great channels of the human species yearning to be far more.
What is new at this time is the we, we are privileged to be at the time or the beginning of the time when all of these deep yearnings of humanity can be fulfilled. Our science and technology has caught up in capability or likely future capability with our deepest yearnings to transcend. We live in the time of the fulfillment of all the deep dreams of our species! We should be in deep awe and awash in joy!
Beyond the Conflict
The seeming conflict between spirituality/religion and naturalism/science in part mirrors or is mirrored by a deep philosophical bifurcation at the level of metaphysics. This is sometimes as expressed as Primacy of Consciousness vs. Primacy of Matter. Primacy of Consciousness asserts that consciousness, or if you will, Mind, is primary and that all else derives from this. In religious terms all derives from the original Consciousness, from God (or the equivalent). Or Mind itself is reified free of and the creator of everything material. Primacy of Matter on the other hand asserts that matter/energy are primary and the original foundation and that consciousness/mind arises only from certain combinations and conditions in matter-energy.
Yet, look where we stand. Mind/intelligence/consciousness stands poised to gain unprecedented and some thing in principle unlimited control over the material world and local space and perhaps someday much of at least the reachable light cone. This place was reached by the Primacy of Matter side of the great philosophical bifurcation. Yet it leads to the triumphant victory of consciousness/Mind over Matter. This is very curious and wondrous!
It is as if the naturalistic/scientific worldview and endeavors made manifest the spiritual yearning and dreams – as if naturalism and science were, in a matter of speaking, the spirit made flesh. It was essential to put off supernaturalism and to deeply embrace and inquire into nature, the material world with deepest earnest honesty. There can be no fulfillment, no manifestation of our deepest desires in reality without embracing reality fully.
Does it go the other way? Is there much in spirituality and religion than naturalism/science, the Primacy of Matter, requires for its fruition. I believe that there is. As mind triumphs over matter the questions of who we are, of who we will become, of how we need to change to wield our new powers to the good run deep and urgent. When we have the power to rewrite what it is to be human what will we write? When we can build technology that can fulfill all the needs and many of the desires of everyone then how we enjoy and all partake of this abundance? What types of “gods” shall we be? Are we going to stay or can we stay pretty much as we are, somewhat evolved chimps, and wield the power safely and wisely to remap our entire genome and to raze and rebuild worlds?
One thing that spiritual communities and systems have looked into very deeply is overcoming and transcending the human psychological condition. They have inquired more deeply than any other groups on the planet what it might mean to live a life of deep self-mastery, peace and joy. They have worked for centuries to build communities to spread and concentrate attention to deep ideals and their practice in everyday life. Yes, religions have had many failings and much horrendous dogma. But they also have developed much that is needed going forward.
I believe that the two great branches of human striving to transcend are the necessary completion and fulfillment of one another. I do not advocated “putting new wine in old bottles”. That it seems to me cannot be made to work as there is far too much baggage and tradition and mutual distrust in the way. But we definitely need both the new “bottles” and this “wine”.
This is The Fulfillment.
This essay was first posted at Samantha’s blog HERE
* hero image used from here: http://top-newwallpapers.blogspot.com/2011/12/next-wallpaper-and-paint.html