Humanistic critique of Transhumanism

In scope of the course work and the question of artificial versus human intelligence I read recently an article in the Swiss newspaper NZZ (19  June 2017) about ‘Wider den Transhumanismus / Against Transhumanism

Transhumanism can be described as a movement aiming to transform human conditions of life by developing enhanced technologies. They consider this as an evolutionary development towards ‘posthuman’ beings. Transhuman subjects were widely explored in utopian or rather dystopian science fiction and cyberpunk. What brings me to the coursework and movies as Bladerunner or Matrix.

According the authors, professors from the Universities of Oxford and Vienna, the movement demonstrates a ‘naive belief and trust in science and technology’ alongside a ‘lack of empathy for human conditions’.  A perspective that reminds of the ‘Sokal hoax’ and at times uncritical responses towards scientific methods and discoveries.  Transhumanism is relying on three main assumptions: 1. Reality is the totality of information; 2. Human beings are objects of information; 3. Artificial intelligence is basically an human intelligence.

What the authors criticise are basically those assumptions, a ‘naive’ relationship between descriptive observations and ontological reality, the restriction to information processing only, and a restriction to ‘primary qualities’ as described by J Locke for observer independent objectives facts without taken note of the phenomenological nature of humans (sensational knowledge)

“Künstliche Intelligenz kann in der Tat intelligent im Sinne der Informationsverarbeitung sein. Aber sie ist nicht mit derjenigen Existenzweise ausgestattet, die menschliche Existenz auszeichnet: der antwortenden Gabe, bedeutungshaltigen Realitäten zu begegnen, sie denkend zu erschliessen und ihren Stellenwert im Kontext menschlichen Lebens mit anderen auszuhandeln.” – Spiekermann ed. al

Translation (by me): ‘Artificial intelligence can be intelligent in the sense of processing information. But it does not constitute of the existential form characteristic for human existence: a responding gift, to encounter meaningful realities, to reason upon them and to negotiate their value in context of human social life.’

The main criteria why artificial intelligence can not be compared with artificial intelligence are listed:

  • Human intelligence consists of emotional intelligence, Nous (Greek term for mind, reason, understanding), Intellectus, ‘Gestimmtheit’ (after Schleiermacher -> ‘mood’)
  • Human beings do distinguish between essential and unessential qualities and are able to come up with ethical decisions
  • Information is not equal meaningfulness
  • Intelligence is not equal information

For the authors, human existence and the uniques human conditions are key aspects that differentiate them from information and artificial intelligence:

  • vulnerability, mood (‘Gestimmtheit’)
  • self-awareness
  • an embodied consciousness of ‘who’
  • having a sense for and value their own existence
  • seeking meaning in life
  • able to distinguish between ‘contentless states of presence and states where we process content’
  • a responsive and participatory mindfulness
  • affectivity and the ability to discern between good and evil
  • seeking for truthfulness, coherence, and beautifulness

The authors arguing with the basic condition of human life and that one should not forget ‘that we are vulnerable beings. And that our physical, mental, emotional, and personal (or spiritual) life can be damaged and deformed. Therefore, it is necessary to protect our physical and mental integrity.’

But taken their conclusion is it not exactly the rationale for Transhumanism to enhance and proceed towards a posthuman? To improve such vulnerable aspects of human beings? To eliminate the cause of failures as one can often hear or read ‘it was a human mistake’? I am still missing the ultimate reason against Transhumanism.


I found this article well argued by taken the main aspects from Transhumanism and arguing against it one by one. Personally, I completely agree with the author’s humanistic and ethical perspective by considering human beings as unique and special and protectable that cannot be reduced to information processing. Human intelligence is more than can be measured by IQ testing. Although this is still today the key measure for judging and grouping children at school (from personal communication with a Swiss friend and teacher).

Living a responsive and participatory mindful life, to be able to discern between good and evil and to have an embodied consciousness of its own existence seem to be key aspects of what it means to be human. It is not about appearance, IQ testing, or information processing and rationale decision taking.

One question open, why are those aspects of human existence that important and could a posthuman world without humans exist.

Although I was missing the ultimate argumentation in the article, I personally think that human beings have a responsibility beyond its own horizon. As explored and concluded in my reflection on Speculative Realism and OOO‘  my perspective is that embracing a non anthropo-centric perspective is one perspective for more responsible actions. Also, to overcome a rather dualistic thinking in binaries, a one versus the other, human versus artificial.

One should not forget that machines are human creations, they are part of a meaningful exploration of life. Not for all and everybody perhaps, but to maintain a critical position, as the authors did, alongside a responsible reasoning, seems for me to be key for all future endeavours. It is perhaps a ethical discussion and based on agreed conventions situated in beliefs, embracing external realities as well as subjective representations.  Nevertheless, life is too good to trash.



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