Sam Harris and Transhumanism

It looks like Sam Harris is flirting with transhumanism. He recently used twitter to promote some transhumanist video and described it as a “very cool introduction.”

It doesn’t surprise me that Harris would promote transhumanism, as among all the New Atheist leaders, he has always been the one with the greatest potential to wander off into crackpot territory.

Anyway, if you check out the video that impressed him so much, you’ll learn that transhumanism is about the Three Supers – super-longevity; super-intelligence; and super-wellbeing.

Super longevity is supposed to come about through advances in medical science , where we simply need the will and finances to make it happen. Super-intelligence is supposed to come about from the creation of some huge AI machine that we all plug into with some chip in our brain. And super-wellbeing is supposed to come about from genetically engineering humans to remove/edit genes that make us anxious and depressed.

All of this is silly, wishful thinking, but its allure comes from one of the appeals in the video – it seems like it is all obtainable based on “current trends.” Given “current trends,” how could it be otherwise? But that’s also where the problem comes in. It is rather naïve and simplistic to extrapolate, in any linear sense, from “current trends” to some supposedly inevitable future. Human history has never been that progressive.

To help you appreciate this point, let’s go back to 1950. An article was written that surveyed the thinking of various intellectuals of the time, asking them to predict what our world would be like 50 years later. According to their predictions, rooted in the current scientific trends of their day, we should have seen the following in the year 2000

    Most diseases would have been eradicated

    Interplanetary space travel would be common, people would be living in giant, man-made moons that orbited the Earth, and the moon itself would be inhabited.

    Overpopulation would no longer be a problem due to birth control

    Solar energy would be powering major cities and this cheap energy would bring about a life of complete leisure for most people on Earth.

    Fresh water would be extracted from the oceans to turn whole deserts into gardens.

    Because of all the cheap energy and no more overpopulation, there would be no more war.

I would say that the predictions of today’s transhumanists are not all that different than these predictions from the 1950s. Maybe one day the “Three Supers” will be reality….as we live in our solar powered artifical moon waiting for the next ship to take us to Saturn, that is.

The reality-based lesson from transhumanism comes not from some fantasy about the future, but from the display of the human condition in the here and now. Make no mistake – what we see here is faith, faith that science will bring about a utopia. As Peter Boghossian should say, the transhumanists are pretending to know something they don’t know. What’s more, it is a form of faith that revolves around Self and the ancient, human desire to become “godlike.” All birthed from a fear of death and a fear of being out of control.

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2 Responses to Sam Harris and Transhumanism

  1. ChazIng says:

    Why are they throwing natural selection out of the window?

  2. dph says:

    This is another example of why, of all the marquee Gnus, Harris is the only one who is not guilty of being boring.


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