Transhumanism’s “Futurama” Future

Every child who grew up in the 1970s knew for a fact that Walt Disney’s head had been “frozen” to await a future in which science has progressed enough to heal his cancer-ravaged body and restore him to life in order to provide joy for future generation.

None of that was any more true than the flights of fantasy transhumanists continue to sell like techno-new-age hucksters with university posts, but that doesn’t keep them from trying.


Nick Bostrom, professor of philosophy at the Future of Humanity Institute [FHI] and his co researcher Anders Sandberg have agreed to pay an American company to detach and deep freeze their heads in the advent of their deaths.

Colleague Stuart Armstrong is instead opting to have his whole body frozen. Preserving the full body is technically more difficult to achieve and can cost up to £130,000.

Bostrom, Armstrong, Sandberg are lead researchers at the FHI, a part of the prestigious Oxford Martin School where academics complete research into problems affecting the globe, such as a climate change.

 Nick Bostrom is an intellectual moron. He’s mostly notable for pitching the idea that we’re all living in a computer simulation created by our descendants, and even did some math to “prove” its likelihood.

Naturally, this is such a phenomenally dumb idea that its transcendent wrongness loops around the minds of the self-styled brights and appears to meet on the other side at that gossamer dividing line between “dumb” and “brilliant.” You can read the whole fatuous bit of pseudo-intellectual onanism here, but I’ll spare you the boring bits and get to the conclusion:

A technologically mature “posthuman” civilization would have enormous computing power. Based on this empirical fact, the simulation argument shows that at least one of the following propositions is true: (1) The fraction of human-level civilizations that reach a posthuman stage is very close to zero; (2) The fraction of posthuman civilizations that are interested in running ancestor-simulations is very close to zero; (3) The fraction of all people with our kind of experiences that are living in a simulation is very close to one.

If (1) is true, then we will almost certainly go extinct before reaching posthumanity. If (2) is true, then there must be a strong convergence among the courses of advanced civilizations so that virtually none contains any relatively wealthy individuals who desire to run ancestor-simulations and are free to do so. If (3) is true, then we almost certainly live in a simulation. In the dark forest of our current ignorance, it seems sensible to apportion one’s credence roughly evenly between (1), (2), and (3).

Unless we are now living in a simulation, our descendants will almost certainly never run an ancestor-simulation.

See people: this is why you don’t drink the bong water. So many faulty assumptions, not the least of which being that transhumanism or extinction appear to be our only options. It’s not like selling panicky bullshit about the immanent end of humanity is anything new: this is just The Rapture for atheists. It’s just that most sensible people pass by the guy with the “End is Nigh” sign rather than giving him lucrative speaking gigs.

And it’s profitable, too. He’s now accepting donations!  Hey, it’s worth it!

Whilst the Future of Humanity Institute is currently small, it arguably represents humanity’s best effort to understand its future prospects and the existential challenges confronting our species.

They tell us themselves that “FHI is pioneering research of immense importance” (No it’s not.) and it’s just not right to make them sit around filling out grant applications when you can kick a little something in the kitty. Because dreaming up implausible future scenarios is really expensive for some reason. Pulp science-fiction writers did the same thing for pennies a word, and did it better. Our future will be inspired more by Star Trek and Doctor Who than by anything dribbling out of FHI.

But let’s get back to the heads-in-a-jar for a minute:

Speaking to the Sunday Times, Sandberg said that life with just a head would be limited, but that he hoped by that point the process could involve downloading his personality and memories onto a computer.

Armstrong, whose wife Miriam is heavily pregnant, has chosen the Cryonics Institute and even plans to take out a policy for his unborn child. “It costs me £25 a month in premiums to cover the cost of getting cryo-preserved, and that seems a good bet,” he said. “It’s a lot cheaper than joining a gym, which is most people’s way of trying to prolong life.

“If you picture the world in, say, 200 years, when reanimation is possible, it will probably be a wonderful place. I want to sign up the baby so she has the same chance.”

So much stupidity, and so densely packed! Why, yes, life without a body would be limited, although it doesn’t stop Nixon from becoming president again in a thousand years. I assume the gym line is a joke, but it does say a lot about the mindset that thinks only of extending life using technology, and views the body not as integral, but as merely in the way.

The idea that the world of 200 years hence will “probably be a wonderful place” really gives the game away. Only a thin veneer of philosophical, mathematical, and pseudo-scientific jargon separates them from your garden variety new age nut. Give it a wild-eyed stare and an extra bit of crazy, and it’s Heaven’s Gate. These human popsicles think that, upon death, they are boarding an ark through time on a journey to a future earth where the magical healing power of technology has made everything wonderful and cured humanity of its intrinsically fallen nature. Their bodies are limitations to be shed, not divine creations.

It never seems to occur to them that such a techno-Utopian future would inevitably be fascistic, with the poor and “unworthy” of society excluded or eliminated. In their imagined perfect future, eugenics is baked right in the cake, and grotesque inequality between a cybernetic Ubermensch over a merely-human Untermensch is a given.

The only people opting for this treatment are a wealthy, self-selecting elite of self-styled intellectuals, which means if this did work, our future would be run by atheistic, moneyed techno-fascists. In other words, there’s no good ending to the story. This is the kind of thing Jaron Lanier warns about. It’s the Utopia of the “cybernetic totalists” who see us as meat computers with limitations to be overcome, rather than unique, organic, ensouled creatures in whom embodiment is integral to being.

Transhumanists are the neo-Gnostics, maintaining a dim view of the human body. If they could shed their flesh for a nifty new memory bank or a shiny robotic shell, they’d do it in a heatbeat, and that should frighten any sensible person.

The post-human world they imagine will never come to pass because they’ve planted their flag on the wrong side of the mind-body debate, and all their errors of thought flow from that fundamental mistake. You cannot separate mind from body and maintain human nature, and you cannot postulate a human consciousness that is simply “brain” and no more. They are right to speak of “post-humanity,” because whatever would emerge would be a thing, not a human. Naturally, the soul plays no role at all in their calculations, because they deny its existence.

We’re in a moment that is seeing the ascendancy of the physicists and the neuroscientists in the debate about being.  This moment will pass, and when it does, it will take post-humanism with it. And we’ll be left with just a lot of silly frozen heads in jars that someone, some day, will need to provide with a dignified burial.


H/T Dale Price for the initial story.

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About Thomas L. McDonald

Thomas L. McDonald writes about technology, theology, history, games, and shiny things. Details of his rather uneventful life as a professional writer and magazine editor can be found in the About tab.