Transhumanism is an international intellectual and cultural movement supporting the use of science and technology to improve human mental and physical characteristics and capacities. The movement regards aspects of the human condition, such as disability, suffering, disease, aging, and involuntary death as unnecessary and undesirable. Transhumanists look to biotechnologies and other emerging technologies for these purposes. Dangers, as well as benefits, are also of concern to the transhumanist movement.
Although the first known use of the term dates from 1957, the contemporary meaning is a product of the 1980s when futurists in the United States began to organize what has since grown into the transhumanist movement. Transhumanist thinkers 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 sometimes referred to as a form of transformational activism influenced by posthumanist ideals.
Although some transhumanists report a strong sense of secular spirituality, they are for the most part atheists. A minority of transhumanists, however, follow liberal forms of Eastern philosophical traditions such as Buddhism and Yoga or have merged their transhumanist ideas with established Western religions such as liberal Christianity or Mormonism. Despite the prevailing secular attitude, some transhumanists pursue hopes traditionally espoused by religions, such as immortality.
Several controversial new religious movements, originating in the late 20th century, have explicitly embraced transhumanist goals of transforming the human condition by applying technology to the alteration of the mind and body. However, most thinkers associated with the transhumanist movement focus on the practical goals of using technology to help achieve longer and healthier lives, while speculating that future understanding of neurotheology and the application of neurotechnology will enable humans to gain greater control of spiritual experiences, and thus achieve more profound self knowledge.
Transhumanist thought and research depart significantly from the mainstream and often directly challenges orthodox theories. The very notion and prospect of human enhancement and related issues also arouse public controversy. Criticisms of transhumanism and its proposals take two main forms: those objecting to the likelihood of transhumanist goals being achieved, and those objecting to the moral principles or world view sustaining transhumanist proposals or underlying transhumanism itself. However, these two strains sometimes converge and overlap, particularly when considering the ethics of changing human biology in the face of incomplete knowledge.
Critics or opponents often see transhumanist goals as posing threats to human values. Some also argue that strong advocacy of a transhumanist approach to improving the human condition might divert attention and resources from social solutions. Sometimes there are strong disagreements about the very principles involved, with divergent views on humanity, human nature, and the morality of transhumanist aspirations.
One transhumanist solution proposed by Nick Bostrom is differential technological development, in which attempts would be made to influence the sequence in which technologies developed. In this approach, planners would strive to retard the development of possibly harmful technologies and their applications, while accelerating the development of likely beneficial technologies, especially those that offer protection against the harmful effects of others.