20 Feb 2009

Bostrom, "Why I Want to be a Posthuman When I Grow Up," 3, Becoming Posthuman

Can we begin to envision the unimaginable wonder of our posthumanity?

Nick Bostrom
"Why I Want to be a Posthuman When I Grow Up"

III. Becoming Posthuman

Bostrom now illustrates how becoming a posthuman might unfold. He tells a short story.

We suppose that we develop into a posthuman. We have an elongated lifespan, enhanced cognitive, and emotional capacities. At the beginning, we enjoy all the advantages of a posthuman lifestyle. Here is what that would look like:
You cherish your improved health: you feel stronger, more energetic, and more balanced. Your skin looks younger and is more elastic. A minor ailment in your knee is cured. You also discover a greater clarity of mind. You can concentrate on difficult material more easily and it begins making sense to you. You start seeing connections that eluded you before. You are astounded to realize how many beliefs you had been holding without ever really thinking about them or considering whether the evidence supports them. You can follow lines of thinking and intricate argumentation farther without losing your foothold. Your mind is able to recall facts, names, and concepts just when you need them. You are able to sprinkle your conversation with witty remarks and poignant anecdotes. Your friends remark on how much more fun you are to be around. Your experiences seem more vivid. When you listen to music you perceive layers of structure and a kind of musical logic to which you were previously oblivious; this gives you great joy. You continue to find the gossip magazines you used to read amusing, albeit in a different way than before; but you discover that you can get more out of reading Proust and Nature. You begin to treasure almost every moment of life; you go about your business with zest; and you feel a deeper warmth and affection for those you love, but you can still be upset and even angry on occasions where upset or anger is truly justified and constructive. (5)
And our interests become more sophisticated.
Clearly our lives have improved.
In fact, they exceed all expectations we have of normal life.
You have just celebrated your 170th birthday and you feel stronger than ever. Each day is a joy. You have invented entirely new art forms, which exploit the new kinds of cognitive capacities and sensibilities you have developed. You still listen to music – music that is to Mozart what Mozart is to bad Muzak. You are communicating with your contemporaries using a language that has grown out of English over the past century and that has a vocabulary and expressive power that enables you to share and discuss thoughts and feelings that unaugmented humans could not even think or experience. You play a certain new kind of game which combines VR-mediated artistic expression, dance, humor, interpersonal dynamics, and various novel faculties and the emergent phenomena they make possible, and which is more fun than anything you ever did during the first hundred years of your existence. When you are playing this game with your friends, you feel how every fiber of your body and mind is stretched to its limit in the most creative and imaginative way, and you are creating new realms of abstract and concrete beauty that humans could never (concretely) dream of. You are always ready to feel with those who suffer misfortunes, and to work hard to help them get back on their feet. You are also involved in a large voluntary organization that works to reduce suffering of animals in their natural environment in ways that permit ecologies to continue to function in traditional ways; this involves political efforts combined with advanced science and information processing services. Things are getting better, but already each day is fantastic. (5)

As we see, the further we peer into posthumanity, the more difficult it becomes to imagine what posthuman life would be like. For the one thing we do know is that we cannot begin to know the wonders of a posthuman lifestyle.

Bostrom will now look at posthuman levels of general human capacities. He will show that some are already tending towards posthuman lifestyles in these areas. So those who reject Bostrom's claim also must explain what is wrong with the way things are even today.

Nick Bostrom. "Why I Want to be a Posthuman When I Grow Up." Forthcoming in Medical Enhancement and Posthumanity, eds. Bert Gordijn and Ruth Chadwick (Springer), 2007.
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