HOW 2016 JUST MAY KICK OFF THE CENTURY OF MAINSTREAM TRANSHUMANISM
William Gibson, the Cyberpunk author and originator of the term “cyberpunk” once said that in our increasingly virtualized and hyper-mediated world that “Toys are us”. The future is yesterday, the science fiction of the past is becoming the science of today, but the question is – how did we get here?
The 20th century was one fraught with enormous & earth-shaking revolutions of the mind. From Freud theorizing about the inner mechanisms of consciousness to the introduction of the idea of a subconscious. Building from the groundwork laid by Freud, his nephew (arguably the father of modern propaganda) Edward Bernays was melding the new sciences of marketing, psychology and public relations. Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World, brings a vision in the 30‘s of a sort of perfectly controlled techno-topia that raised many ethical questions. People had a basic fear of creating a sort of “golem” to the likes of Dr. Frankenstein’s monster as well as the horror of Nazi eugenic protocols. During this time these ideas cast a pall over the field of bio-enhancement. Despite rocky starts amongst some misled Social Darwinists, the idea of creating something greater than ourselves using tools of our own creation proved too powerful to resist.
All throughout the 1950‘s a “Cold War” raged for supremacy amongst the World Powers. The Arms Race and the Space Race were just the tip of the iceberg. Watson and Skinner demystified the science of Pavlovian conditioning and behavioral programming. Behavioral psychology, in turn led to the understanding of how humans could be conditioned and trained to elicit new thought patterns. The rise of computing machines led to burgeoning new fields in the form of computer sciences and information technology. The findings within these fields were more often than not transferable to the mind allowing us to understand how our own “personal computers” work.
Norbert Weiner’s work on Cybernetics was an attempt to apply the protocols and methodologies of Shannon and Weaver’s Information Technology theory to Computer Sciences and our understanding of the brain. Around the same time, the founders of Transpersonal Psychology Drs. Stanislav Grof and Charles Tart had incredible results with their LSD psychotherapy (until it was prohibited from use in the 60’s). In 1957, American linguist Noam Chomsky began explaining his transformational grammar in the ground-breaking book, Syntactic Structures.
Syntactic Structures was integral in constructing the foundational architecture of therapeutic & persuasive technologies first introduced in Grinder and Bandler’s The Structure of Magic. The Structure of Magic was the first manual on Neuro-Linguistics Programming technologies, which would form the basis of the self-help and “human potential movement.”
At this same time, Dr. John C. Lilly, consciousness researcher and delphinologist, was being funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) to study altered states of consciousness by using Ketamine, LSD and other chemicals in conjunction with sensory deprivation. Lilly would refer to the “human bio-computer” and attempt to map states and spaces in order to greater assist in what he called “Programming and Metaprogramming the human bio-computer.”
Advances in psychology and neuroscience would allow us to further map the labyrinthine expanse of inner space which would continue to unfold as the decades wore on. Maslow’s client centered therapy and so-called “Third Force” of Humanist psychology veered off from Freudian psychoanalysis and Skinner’s behavioral psychology. It was this new current that led to the further growth of the Human development movement through groups like the Esalen Institute. The tools and technologies of psychology were no longer restricted to the “mentally ill”. Instead of an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality, the new psychonauts were interested in finding new ways to enhance and improve what already worked well.
Alongside all these movements in the West, Soviet Neuroscientists like Dr. A.R. Luria were attempting to expand knowledge of the mind from behind the Iron Curtain. Many of our modern nootropic substances grew out of this sort of research. Picamilon and Phenibut for instance were the result of Soviet neuropharmacology at work to create substances that would provide a focused energy without the sort of jitters that would be a liability when operating an early space age rocket. In fact, the Russians were the pioneers in studying a large portion of modern day nootropic supplements due to the vast resources that were contributed to the field.
GROWING UP CYBERPUNK
Growing up in the 80‘s I was fascinated by the rise of the so-called “cyberpunk” culture scene. Every other movie seemed to feature some augmented virtual reality or human altered, enhanced or in some way affected by technology in a way that changed the very connection between man and machine. This has gone on many times of course, the printing press, steam power, electricity, all these advancements left a world irrevocably changed. In some cases there’s even what Marshall McLuhan calls a “rear-view-mirror effect” wherein it’s hard to see where technology and the organic have blended into a seemingly natural synergy or symbiotic relationship. An example of this was brought up to me by my anthropology professor, Dr. H. Lyn Miles, back in about 2002. She reminded me that, by virtue of me wearing glasses to augment failing vision I was by the loosest definition, a cyborg of sorts.
By the 1980’s the technological wonderland that Marshall McLuhan and Buckminster Fuller had predicted for decades was now beginning it’s first upswing into public consciousness. 1980’s films like: Terminator, Robocop, War Games and Johnny Mnemonic glamorized and mystified the new and alien world of increasingly ubiquitous electronics. These movies were all made before Windows 95 even made the personal computer a common household item. Worldwide it was in this environment that the idea of a world tied inextricably to the machine was born.
Before the movie The Matrix made it to the big screen, the idea of living in a simulated program was a common depiction that was originally introduced by Nick Bostrom, one of many scientists, along with Eliezer Yudkowsky who are working on the Singularity project. The singularity derives it’s name from a bit of Physics jargon naming the point within a black hole that defies all our current models of how matter works. When working within the field of Artificial Intelligence the term describes a similarly indescribable phenomenon. Nick Bostrom surmises that the question is a matter of when, not if, because unless we abandon technology altogether (which seems unlikely) then developing a sentient and smarter than human artificial intelligence system is an inevitability.
Transhumanism gained its name from Julian Huxley, the biologist brother of the Brave New World author, Aldous Huxley. The Esalen institute’s work on human development in the 70’s and 80’s and the formation of the Extropy Institute as well as the World Transhumanists Association began the Transhumanism movement. I first started following the World Transhumanist Association list-serv group as early as the late 90’s having already had my interest piqued by Esalen and the Immortality Institute. WTA has since rebranded as H+ whos end goal continues to be (as the name, Humanity plus implies) improving the overall general condition of humanity through a positive synergy between man and machine. Exotic Transhumanist technologies aren’t restricted to esoteric topics like cryonics or mind-uploading. Self-professed “human guinea pigs” like Tim Ferris and Dave Asprey are constantly working with multiple means to enhance the overall functioning of their “human bio-computers.”
THE RISE OF BIOHACKING: TRANSHUMANISM FOR THE PEOPLE
In addition to tweaking their daily routines for optimal efficiency (diets and sleep regimens), “bio-hackers” and “human guinea pigs” like Dave Asprey and Tim Ferriss are both major proponents of neuro-protective and cognitive enhancing chemicals we know of as nootropics. Nootropics might improve cognitive deficiencies but there is evidence to suggest that their benefit may extend beyond merely improving cognitive decline. Healthy individuals have been experimenting with the neuro-protective nootropic supplements for years but with current advances in science, cognitive enhancement is now more comprehensive than ever.
Supplemental augmentation isn’t the only tactic at the hands of the 21st century bio-hacker. Cognitive tracking and bio-feedback tools such as, Personal Galvanic Skin Response monitors with USB connections and Light/Sound Machines can elicit certain brainwave states through patterns of binaural beats and patterns of light flashing. Applications are now available for smartphones like dual n-back software that might actually result in an IQ boost after regular use. With the affordability and availability of the latest in biometrics, tracking physiological metrics and cognitive activity has never been easier. Dave Asprey is not only a proponent of nootropics, but also of better living through electricity via TDCS (trans-dermal cerebro-electrical stimulation) and LLLT (low level laser light therapy).
Cognitive enhancement has been with us since the memory masters of ancient Greece however the latest in neuropharmacological and technological advancements are now available to the masses. With the popularity of the 2012 film Limitless starring Bradley Cooper and Robert DeNiro, the continued awareness and interest in mainstream cognitive enhancement has piqued.
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