Shatzer, Jacob. Transhumanism and the Image of God. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsityPress, 2019.
Jetsons Fallacy: humans can remain unchanged with hyper-advanced technology and robots. As Shatzer argues, “Radical technological change will radically shape humans as well” (Shatzer 1). His thesis is a bit deeper, though. Technology can change us at our deepest root, and this includes discipleship as Christians.
He gives a neat illustration: time. We tell time differently than humanity used to. We move backwards from watches to clocks to hourglasses to candles to calendars. “Hours were marked by natural time and days by religious time” (4). If you would have asked a man in 100 AD what time it was, he wouldn’t have said “4:32 PM.” Would he even have known what that was? Here is the kicker: technology changes the way we experience time.
Time also has a public nature. A common time allows people to “synch” with each other. More concretely, it is also embedded in power relations and market relations.
Posthumanism is the futurist’s goal. Transhumanism aims at posthumanism. As one puts it, “We aren’t evolving. We are upgrading” (Peter Novak). You might say, “I don’t plan on becoming a robot.” That’s good, and you probably won’t. However, technology disciples us.
“Each tool pushes us toward the goal that the tool is best made for” (7). We say “when you are a hammer, everything is a nail.” What about if you are a smartphone? Everything is a status update. All of this is to say that technologies have the power to shape. This is what Heidegger called “gestell,” or en-framing.
Technology and Moral Formation
Binocularity: the way we shape our tools and the way they shape us (18). Take Google, for instance. Shatzer points out that “studies are beginning to show that our technology is changing us on a neurological level: our brains are changing” (19; cf. Greenfield, Mind Change). As Mary Aiken notes, technologies always come into contact with predispositions and behaviors: they amplify and escalate (Aitken, Cyber Effect, 22).
What is Transhumanism?
Definition: transhumanism seeks “to improve human intelligence, physical strength, and the five senses by technological means” (Michael Plato, “The Immortality Machine”). Posthumanism is the product. Transhumanism is the highway (Shatzer 41). Posthumanism seeks to get beyond the limits of being human.
My Body, My Choice: Morphological Freedom
We need to make a distinction between therapy and enhancement. Wearing glasses to fix eyesight is not the same thing as enhancement. I am fixing a defect. Enhancement is when I augment my body to escape the limits of being human. Futurists argue that this is a basic right along the following lines:
- They begin by saying we have a right to life and right to happiness (Sandberg, “Morphological Freedom,” 56ff).
- From this follows the right to freedom. Because I have to survive, I have to act freely in my own interest. And since different people have different conceptions of happiness, I get to do what I want.
- This means I have a right to my own body. This means I get to augment it.
The futurists throw a bone to those who might not be on board: not everyone has to accept this right.
Augmented reality: it is the overlaying graphics on the real world (Platoni, We Have the Technology, 204). Shatzer points out that we don’t simply act on tools: our consciousness reacts to tools as well (Shatzer 75). “Human minds and bodies are essentially open to episodes of deep and transformative restructuring” (Platoni). This is similar to what the German philosopher and mathematician Edmund Husserl called “overlapping consciousness.”
How so? When we use a new device, we create an interface between our minds and neural activities and the device. It “creates a circuit between the agent and the and the world that is different from previous circuits” (Shatzer). You can do this with something as simple as a stick. Your brain as a result can better distinguish between “near-space” and “far-space.”
Shatzer introduces a crucial distinction here: body image and body schema. A body image is a conscious construct that informs thought and reasoning about the body” (76). A schema is a suite of neural activity as a response to new technology.
Meeting Your Mind Clone
Goertzel: extend technology into the domain of consciousness (“Artificial General Intelligence and the Future of Humanity,” 128). We have always prized our consciousness as something that is “inner” to us. Futurists such as Yuval Harari are quite candid that view is on the way out. But is it really possible to create the type of artificial intelligence that will react to new scenarios in a way different from typical computer programming? Yes, but it will be what you think. It will start out as some sort of network or interface between human brains and artificial intelligences (Shatzer 94).
The goal isn’t simply to change human brains. It is to create a global brain or intelligence. According to Shatzer, “This idea stems from the observation that the various minds on the earth are gradually becoming more connected into a greater mind” (94). This will lead to a mental explosion, which Ray Kurzweil calls “the singularity.”
Uploading Your Mind: Can Brains be Digitized?
Mind uploading: starting with a human mind and ending with a digitized one (98). In a rather surprising move, one of the transhumanists gives a very Christian account of the mind-brain dualism. Our mind is the totality and manner in which our thoughts take place. Our brain is the underlying mechanics (Koene, “Uploading to Substrate-Independent Minds,” 152). In other words, our brains traduce our minds.
The logic is very simple: if our brains and minds are separate, can’t we simply upload our mind to a different brain? This is why Koene says our minds are “substrate-independent.” How, if indeed possible, this plays out is beyond me. What is interesting, though, is that it generates a new vocabulary and grammar:
The main problem with all of this is it reduces the human mind to a function (Shatzer, 105). Functions, moreover, can be measured on a material scale.
Shatzer ends with counter-liturgies, practices that we can do to stop technology’s discipling of us. We aren’t getting rid of technology, which is probably impossible. We are simply limiting the ways it can shape our spirits (and our brains).
“Futurists don’t want a technological future; they want a technosocial one” (Vallor, quoted on 9).
Technology has its own trinity: access, data, and speed (22).