Transhumanism, often abbreviated as H+, is an international intellectual and cultural movement that affirms the possibility and desirability of fundamentally transforming the human condition by developing and making widely available technologies to eliminate aging and to greatly enhance human intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities.
Transhumanist thinkers study the potential benefits and dangers of emerging technologies that could overcome fundamental human limitations, as well as study the ethical matters involved in developing and using such technologies. They predict that human beings may eventually be able to transform themselves into beings with such greatly expanded abilities as to merit the label ‘posthuman.’ Transhumanism is therefore viewed as a subset of philosophical ‘posthumanism.’
The contemporary meaning of the term ‘transhumanism’ was foreshadowed by one of the first professors of futurology, FM-2030, who taught ‘new concepts of the Human’ at The New School of New York City in the 1960s, when he began to identify people who adopt technologies, lifestyles and world views transitional to ‘posthumanity’ as ‘transhuman.’ This foresight would lay the intellectual groundwork for British philosopher Max More to begin articulating the principles of transhumanism as a futurist philosophy in 1990, and organizing in California an intelligentsia that has since grown into the worldwide transhumanist movement.
Nikolai Fyodorov, a 19th-century Russian philosopher, advocated radical life extension, physical immortality and even resurrection of the dead using scientific methods. In the 20th century, a direct and influential precursor to transhumanist concepts was geneticist J.B.S. Haldane’s 1923 essay ‘Daedalus: Science and the Future,’ which predicted that great benefits would come from applications of advanced sciences to human biology—and that every such advance would first appear to someone as blasphemy or perversion, ‘indecent and unnatural.’
J. D. Bernal speculated about space colonization, bionic implants, and cognitive enhancement, which have been common transhumanist themes since then. Biologist Julian Huxley, brother of author Aldous Huxley (a childhood friend of Haldane’s), appears to have been the first to use the actual word ‘transhumanism.’ Writing in 1957, he defined transhumanism as ‘man remaining man, but transcending himself, by realizing new possibilities of and for his human nature.’ This definition differs, albeit not substantially, from the one commonly in use since the 1980s.
Computer scientist Marvin Minsky wrote on relationships between human and artificial intelligence beginning in the 1960s. Over the succeeding decades, this field continued to generate influential thinkers, such as Hans Moravec and Raymond Kurzweil, who oscillated between the technical arena and futuristic speculations in the transhumanist vein.
The first self-described transhumanists met formally in the early 1980s at the University of California, Los Angeles, which became the main center of transhumanist thought. Here, FM-2030 lectured on his ‘Third Way’ futurist ideology.
At the EZTV Media venue frequented by transhumanists and other futurists, Natasha Vita-More presented ‘Breaking Away,’ her 1980 experimental film with the theme of humans breaking away from their biological limitations and the Earth’s gravity as they head into space. FM-2030 and Vita-More soon began holding gatherings for transhumanists in Los Angeles, which included students from FM-2030’s courses and audiences from Vita-More’s artistic productions. In 1982, Vita-More authored the ‘Transhumanist Arts Statement.’