Should We Be Hesitant to Embrace Transhumanism?

Transhumanism existential threat

The human body has somewhere in the vicinity of 50 to 100 trillion cells, depending on who you ask. Each of these cells has .07 volts of electrical energy potential — a relatively small number you might say. But when you multiply those .07 volts times 50 to 100 trillion, you get somewhere between two and a half, to five trillion volts. We are powerhouses of electrical energy potential. 

Yet for some, this potential isn’t enough. In the minds of transhumanists, the body is a work in progress — one in which we must actively improve toward some perceived ideal. In some circumstances they may be right; our bodies are not all created equally, some face deformities and defects, or aren’t built as sturdy as others, making a good argument for the need to artificially augment.

But according to researcher and author Gregg Braden, this is a slippery slope — one in which we must tread with caution while appreciating the truly high-tech construction of the biological suits we’ve found ourselves born into.

“All of the technology that is now being developed in the world around us, and I worked in the Cold War years in the defense industry, space-based lasers, ‘Star Wars’ Defense Initiative… and I have yet to this moment, seen any tech in the world around us that does not mimic what we already do in our cells, except our cells do it better,” Braden said in a recent interview with Regina Meredith on Open Minds.

With advancements in microchip technology, futurists envision a world in which we begin to work toward almost complete integration with technology and computers. Some even go so far as to believe we will one day be capable of transferring our consciousness onto a hard drive composed of microscopic silicon chips, experiencing the world through that mechanistic, binary scope of the computer — potentially allowing humans to achieve something that looks like immortality.

But this reductionist mindset of the materialist, scientific lens is incredibly arrogant, Braden said. 

Firstly, science’s “hard problem of consciousness” currently limits it from understanding what exactly consciousness is and where it comes from. And secondly, would this really even be the same kind of consciousness? Can you separate consciousness from our biological nature? And if you could, why would you?

Those are the two trains of thought when it comes to the views of our advancing technology and the transhumanist movement, Braden said. 

One side views it as, “If we were never supposed to learn how to achieve such a feat, why have we gotten this far?”

While the other side says, “Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.”

This leads Braden and Meredith into a perceived bifurcation of thought in our society and the extremes it appears to be leaning toward. On one end of the spectrum, the technocratic/futurist worldview sees the inevitability of our advancements and the near-utopian future it brings as the best possible outcome. While the other end harkens back for a more Luddite or parochial return to past lifestyles where economies were more decentralized and humans lived closer to nature.

Could it be possible to find a middle ground? This should be a consideration of those at the forefront of the movement developing technology that is setting the framework for a transhumanist future.

Braden mentions the work of Elon Musk’s Neuralink project, which is working on developing a neural mesh that can be implanted in the brain allowing it to interface with a microchip and supplant damaged systems within a neural network. Neuralink’s initial efforts are aimed at helping those with issues such as paralysis and severe brain injuries to regain function of nervous networks within the body— a noble endeavor that takes prosthetics one step further. But eventually, this technology will advance and become cheaper to produce, opening it up to consumer markets for uses beyond medical reasons, such as advanced cognitive abilities or even just the ability to control digital devices semi-telepathically. But Musk has even admitted he fears what this future may portend.

This is when things begin to get strange — when the human body and our digital devices begin to blur. It becomes a step in the direction of what futurists and transhumanists call “the singularity;” a point at which all human consciousness coalesces into one collective consciousness inside a computer. But again, is this even possible, and would we ever let it get to that point?  

Listen to Braden’s further thoughts on the matter in his interview on Open Minds titled “Facing Our Transhuman Future.”



Scientists Create Human-Sheep Hybrid; Are We Playing God?

close up of a sheeps head against white background 2

A team of scientists successfully bred the first human-sheep hybrid, developing technology that could expand the availability of organs for transplant procedures. The embryo wasn’t allowed to develop past 28 days, but that hasn’t made this creation of chimeras any less controversial.

Human-Sheep Chimeras

The recent breakthrough is the second of its kind after scientists successfully crossbred human and pig cells last year. They initially chose pigs as an ideal candidate for hybridization due to similarities in organ structure, but their attempts yielded too low of a human cell count to effectively grow compatible organs.

With this latest chimera, scientists have increased the cell count ratio of human to sheep cells to one in ten thousand, a tenfold improvement from the human-pig hybrid. But in order to grow a human organ, the team thinks it would need to improve that ratio to one in a hundred.

 

human sheep hybrid

 

The demand for healthy organs continues to rise globally, with over 115,000 people on a waiting list for a lifesaving organ in the U.S. alone. On average, there are nearly 100 transplants that take place in the U.S. every day.

With the demand for certain organs outpacing supply, some countries have used questionable practices to appease those shortages. The development of hybrids through genome editing and stem cell research has presented a potential opportunity to solve the problem without the need for a human donor. Though it hasn’t been met with universal acceptance.

Scientists use the CRISPR and Cas9 gene editing tools to isolate specific strands of animal DNA and replace them with human DNA, essentially hacking into the evolutionary process. In addition to sheep and pigs, the technology was used to cure disease and implant human brain cells in rodents, inevitably begging the question of whether this could result in humanlike consciousness in animals or any number of other horrifying possibilities one might imagine.

Though the ostensible intentions of these project are benevolent, some feel as if scientists are playing god. It’s not hard to imagine countries with fewer ethical dilemmas acquiring access to the technology and creating deformed creatures with a greater capacity for consciousness.

But scientists working on the project have attempted to assuage those fears, saying their work could save the lives of thousands waiting for a transplant if research is continued further. In many countries, including the U.S. and U.K. there are laws preventing scientists from developing hybrid embryos past a certain stage, though this latest research has started to open up the possibility for approval on a case-by-case basis.

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