Transhumanism and Human Flourishing: A Critical Engagement

Transhumanism and Human Flourishing: A Critical Engagement March 10, 2020

In June of 2019, a group of scholars gathered in Oxford to share ideas and discuss the impact of technology on humanity. A follow-up to the 2018 conference on personhood, this conference is the 2019 contribution to the ongoing research project “Human Flourishing in a Technological World: A Christian Vision,” directed by Jens Zimmermann. The lectures here focus on the mutual relationship between humanity and technology. How do humans use technology to shape the world around them? And, reciprocally, how is technology shaping and impacting its human creators? The explorations captured in video, below, explore these questions by examining the live issues of genetic engineering (human and non-human), human enhancement, robotics, artificial intelligence, and the nature of consciousness.

Dr. Scott Midson: Critical Posthumanism and Human Flourishing

In this presentation, Dr. Scott Midson takes us on a tour of posthumanist theory and practice, offering probing suggestions for theological engagement in this important area of research. Posthumanism is a rich, complex, and sometimes confusing set of theories, technologies, and practices, and Dr. Midson breaks down the various strands of the posthumanist movement with clarity and critical theological awareness. Watch the video not so much for definitive answers as for these intelligent questions: Do we know what it means to be human and how our technologies either contribute to or hinder our human growth? Will we ever “arrive” at a point of perfect technical and humanistic relationship? How do the theological notions of “the image of God” or creatureliness contribute to the posthumanist discussions? These questions and more are raised through summary and engagement of key posthumanist texts, theories, and various fascinating and (perhaps) troubling examples of how technology and humanity are deeply and perhaps irrevocably intertwined.

Prof. Dr. Dr. Thomas Fuchs: Embodied Cognition and the Neo-Gnostic Roots of Transhumanism

In this lecture, Dr. Thomas Fuchs engages with a fundamental inclination of transhumanism: the notion that human beings are imperfect, particularly in our fleshly, embodied existence, and that advances in technology will allow us to be freed from the imperfections and limitations of the body. He analyses one key proposal which springs from this transhumanist philosophy: the possibility of “uploading” human consciousness from the brain to a computer, thus severing the link between the human mind and the imperfect human body. Fuchs suggests that this possibility is thoroughly misguided notion. He engages in careful criticism, arguing that the mind cannot be so severed from the body. The human being is a mind-body unity, a living person. It is not only the logical impossibility of this “uploading” which Fuchs criticizes, but also the ethical and spiritual worldview which underlies such disdain for finite, embodied existence. For rigorous philosophical argumentation, and rich insights into the human condition, watch this lecture from Dr. Fuchs.

Dr. Anders Sandberg: The State of Transhumanism

Dr. Anders Sandberg discusses, in these remarks, some very specific problems which transhumanism faces as a movement. He sketches a broad overview of transhumanism, referring to philosophers and fiction writers from past decades and centuries. As this history unfolds, Dr. Sandberg suggests that transhumanism is not a unified perspective or worldview. The key challenge here is the lack of a unified value theory, as many different transhumanist communities and individual thinkers have vastly different notions of what values should undergird the expansion of human possibility and capacity. Dr. Sandberg also includes some lighthearted anecdotes about young transhumanists concerned with absolutely optimizing themselves through diet and sleep patterns. And he also discusses current transhumanist projects, particularly cryogenics (medically freezing the sickened or dead body until medical advances can restore it to full health). Watch below for an intriguing discussion of the history, debates, and activities of transhumanism from a scholar who strives in his own thought and action the meaning of transhumanism.

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