Our transhumanist present. Interview with Natasha Vita-More

Natasha Vita-More is a key figure in the transhumanist movement, known for her pioneering work in shaping the philosophy and direction of the movement. She is considered one of the most important and influential voices in transhumanism today, and her contributions to the field have been widely recognized. Vita-More is the author of the “Transhumanist Manifesto,” a seminal text that lays out a vision for using technology to enhance human physical and cognitive abilities, extend lifespan and improve overall well-being.

She is the co-founder of the “Transhumanist Arts and Culture” and “Humanity+” organizations, which have played a crucial role in promoting the transhumanist movement and its ideas. She is also known for her work on the concept of “posthuman,” which envisions a future in which humans have significantly enhanced physical and cognitive abilities through the use of technology. Her work and ideas have been widely discussed and debated in the media and academic circles, and she is a frequent speaker at conferences and events on transhumanism and related topics.

We interviewed her on transhumanism, anti-aging, and investments in this direction.

1. From the introduction pages to the volume “The Transhumanist Reader”, edited by you as a futurist and Max More as a philosopher – it is clear how the definition of the term “Transhumanism” has undergone modifications, settling, and refinements over the years. What challenges did Transhumanism have to face before finding a perfect definition? Do you think there will ever be a definitive one?

The definition of transhumanism has not changed to: “the continuation and acceleration of the evolution of intelligent life beyond its current human form and human limitations by means of science and technology, guided by life-promoting principles and values.” Transhumanism includes theories that share these properties and functions but might differ in their approaches in seeking the continuation and acceleration of the evolution of intelligent life beyond the current human form and human limitations through evidence-based science and ethical use of technology.

It can be briefly stated that it is a theory and practice that the human species can and will evolve beyond its current biological limitations. For example, some transhumanists strive for longevity through diverse approaches such as biomedical interventions, healthy lifestyle and exercise, paleo or keto diets, and caloric restriction, for example. Some transhumanists might opt for living long enough to live well past 100 years, while others might opt to secure a cryonics policy. Relatedly and more future-specific, some transhumanists might see their future selves as a whole brain emulation (upload), co-exist in multiple substrates, or choose to live in solely the biosphere.

Others might want to live off the planet. Another area where theoretical approaches differ is in the area of religious or spiritual practices such as Christian Buddhists, and other beliefs, while others might be agnostic or non-believers. Another area of diversity is the political practices where transhumanists span the political spectrum, largely based on the governance of their respective countries. 

Transhumanism continues to be a study of the nature of knowledge, reality, and existence at the interface of advances in technology and science that can potentially change the limits of biological lifespans and aim to bring about health, and longevity while improving upon physical and cognitive states. What has changed and challenges the applications of transhumanism is the advance of new protocols, methods, and applications of technology and the further development and discovery of the sciences.

2. The history of Transhumanism is a history-as noted in the Reader-metaphysical, if not religious. It is your published research that uncovered that its inspirers are Dante, the vitalist biologist (and Jesuit) Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and the metaphysician T. S. Eliot. In general, moving from one stage to another is characteristic of metaphysics. Is secularized transhumanism possible, or will one always have to consider, in the form of the state not yet come, a metaphysical openness?

[This particular research on the history of Transhuman and Transhumanism was researched, authored, and published by me in the 1980s. It was further codified in my doctorate dissertation.]

Philosophy examines the nature of reality and specific to transhumanism is the relationship between mind and matter and the science of being in the world (existence)e and the meaning of knowledge, which are speculative and evoke abstract thinking. Because of this, philosophy examines the nature of the human relationship with God as well as other abstract concepts such as consciousness, theories of mind, and events such as the Technological Singularity, the Simulation hypothesis, and other theories concerning space and dimension.

Transhumanism has always been secular but has never stipulated or required that transhumanists be secular. Religious and spiritual practices are deeply rooted in historical societies, both past and current. Plato, Aristotle, and even Socrates thought of themselves as religious, even if their particular beliefs were different. Teilhard was more of a cosmic theologian and Eliot was a spiritual poet and Christian. 

The change to the stronghold of religion on society stems from a convergence of spiritual beliefs, self-help culture, alternative medicine, Eastern spirituality, and the many questions about the world and injustices. Consider the philosophy of humanism, which is a secular outlook or system of thought that focuses on human needs and rational ways of solving human problems outside and without divine or supernatural matters.

Transhumanists are concerned about the human condition, which includes the ecosystem of the human relationship with all life forms on and off the planet. If you are a Christina, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, etc., and value the tenets of transhumanism and your practices do not contradict the value of these tenets—you can be transhumanist.

3. What kind of obstacles has Transhumanism had to fight since its founding? And how have the obstacles changed as cultural patterns have changed?

There are two areas that have big obstacles.

First, the obstacle of technology not advancing fast enough in the areas that would bring about the transhumanist vision. These include human health and biomedical innovation that reduces the life threatening results of disease, the impacts of aging such as cognitive functions and muscular-skeletal impairments.

These also include planetary safety and AI-nanotech innovations to provide safe and clean energy, reduce the amount of pollution in all ways, to better protect Earth and its biosphere, and to advance space exploration. Further, these include the architecture of diverse environments, such as virtual worlds, digital communications, telepresence, and the advances of machine learning and other applications to help analyze data and improve decision-making.

Second, the obstacle to human knowledge is emotionally and intellectually hindered by prejudice and fear. This hindrance is gridlock on how we see ourselves and our ability to accept change, adopt and advance toward a shared humanity that finds peace in its diversity.

This is the largest obstacle because if only a small percentage are willing to accept people’s differences and agree to a peaceful co-existence regardless of personal choices, the majority who live by a code of bias and predetermined judgments based on personal beliefs (religious and/or political) will govern our future that could limit and/or prohibit the choices of others.

“aging is a disease. The aim is to mitigate aging and extend life beyond the maximum lifespan. The criteria for measurements chronological age are changing and countering the biases of ageist behaviors that restrict and damper peoples’ purposefulness in life.”.
from the transhumanist manifesto

4. Transhumanism indicates a human is always in transition. The post-human, which at the beginning of Transhumanism represented a sublimation of that discourse, always has to be set aside to make way for the imagery of transition alone. The rite of initiation–to use some of the roots written about in the Reader’s introduction–seems never to obtain a conclusion. Is it in the nature of such a philosophy to never be satisfied with every achievement? Or is it in its properly contemporary nature, in the sense that one can only invest further than the thinkable?

The posthuman is not at the beginning of the philosophy of Transhumanism. If you are referring to the essay at the beginning of our book, it is included here because it suggests an idea of what humans might become. To become posthuman, one would need to start by being transhuman—a human biological animal in transition to becoming something other such as not exclusively biological with a limited lifespan. One such option is as a posthuman, although no one knows what that will be because we have not experienced it yet.

The physical change state in becoming posthuman as a state as a “reaction” of being a transhuman is not a transformation. Perhaps the word “sublimation” is what concerns me. There is no definite conclusion about the evolution of humans because no one knows what our future will hold. The nature of the philosophy of transhumanism is to be fulfilled in knowing that the world is fluctuating—is mutable–and that a person within this world is continually acquiring experiences, and knowledge, and growing more aware.

It is not that a transhumanist is “never” satisfied at all. I am satisfied on a daily basis with some of the delights of rewarding experiences and also dealing with and overcoming some painful encounters. There is no final perfect state—transhumanism is a pragmatic logic of the fluctuations and adapting, changing, and evolving.

5. Is the Precautionary Principle – whereby before any new technology is developed, it is good to think through all possible consequences – in danger of inhibiting any intervention in the future? Conversely, does the absence of a Precautionary Principle risk producing malicious attempts at technological innovation?

The Precautionary Principle places the burden of proof on the new idea or innovation rather that achieving a balanced approach in decision-making. It is largely a binary approach and can be dangerous because it is biased against change rather than rationally understanding that all decisions will have some level of consequence for someone or something.

Rather than removing the Precautionary Principle entirely, it is far better to include it as one approach that could have ill effects. For example, using horses to move people from one location to another might have been far safer than using a steam engine, but the benefits of the steam engine outweighed the horse-drawn carriages. Horses need to be fed, groomed, and protected. They leave feces on the roadways that could contain Salmonella that can spread, such as in the 1894 historic crisis in the UK. Should we have not had steam engines because they used coal?

The Precautionary Principle does not suggest nor offer a binary approach to the pros and cons of technology. Instead, it suggests all sides of the issues concerning any given topic or circumstance must be discussed, explored, and strategized before decisions are arrived at and legislated.

6. One of the big questions about progress is whether it comes from “conservatives,” “liberals,” “progressives,” and so on. Who, in short, is the one who is revolutionizing a certain field. How does transhumanism relate to questions of ideology and contemporary politics more generally? How does it escape being a philosophy of an ideological or political party?

Philosophy does not have to align with a political view. Philosophy looks at life in a pragmatic manner while trying to understand why existence. The Precautionary Principle supports this approach by not aligning with any one political view.

Revolutionizing a field can be done by a person, a team of people, and/or a new technology or scientific revelation. Transhumanism relates to questions of one’s beliefs based on the core values of transhumanism, which is to help bring about the continuation and acceleration of the evolution of intelligent life beyond its current human form and human limitations by means of science and technology, guided by life-promoting principles and values.

A person’s political views would need to support these values as best they can. A political party is secondary and can surface in all views, whether conservative liberal, or progressive. The problem is when a person is dogmatic about their political party and places that above the values.

6. You spent part of your youth in Italy, in Ravenna, and studied art. Your field of study, as a transhumanist, is precisely that of body design, as well as that of longevity. What are the relationships between Aesthetics, Human Biology, and New Technologies?

The relationship between aesthetics and biology is evident in nature, even though aesthetics is often sequestered to the arts alone. And the relationship between aesthetics and moral judgment in neuroscience shows historical links between what pleases us visually, for example, affects decision-making. The appreciation of beauty is often arrived at through our senses and perceptions, regardless of the logic of design principles. The process of transformation is also an example of aesthetics, such as in the dynamics of change.

Observing the aesthetics of the shape and form of a human body, as in sculptured forms, is one thing but observing the inner mechanisms of biology too can be quite beautiful. Human biology and new technologies take us to so many areas of possibility. For example, virtual and augmented realities offer new design protocols that affect our senses on many levels. The prosthetic devices that replace human limbs are often stunning in their design and functions. When I designed Primo Posthuman I considered the aesthetic appeal of the whole-body prosthetic in both mathematical and emotional ways.

7. Technologies such as Quantum Computing and Cryopreservation are developing new models for longevity. Will these models of technological development produce novel results?

I am not an expert in the domain of quantum computing. Nevertheless, it offers the potential in combining abstract phenomena of quantum mechanics and classic computing algorithms. Because of this, it could uncover information that is difficult for traditional thinkers to identify.

Cryopreservation is an area I am more familiar with and the model it has developed for longevity is that by preserving a human through the method of vitrification at -196 degrees C, in a solid state. While the person is considered legally dead the person is actually in a solid state that could be revived when technology and biomedical science advance. This advance includes the innovation of nanomedicine’s nanorobots, which are currently being developed, and in the future other protocols that are in the theoretical stage.  This means that people who are terminally injured or whose disease lacks a cure could opt for cryonics over death.

8. Transhumanism is a philosophy that is, at least in part, optimistic. It assumes-unlike many other intellectual models-that the future exists, and that there lie the answers, as Karl Popper claims. Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Metaverse: are there topics that transhumanism cannot make use of? Is there a field it has not yet made use of but could graft into its discourses?

Transhumanism has always been at the forefront of new ideas and processes. Cryptocurrency, encryption, blockchain, nanotechnology, whole brain emulation (upload), and the specific areas you mention are part of the Transhumanist portfolio of innovation.

Even space exploration and future humans, ethics, more humane humanity, ecology, psychological concerns, and so forth, have been part of the discussion. Outside of this vast scope of visionary ideas, I am not sure to be brought into the discourse.

“Eco-friendly and sustainable technologies ought to be engineered to help prevent and stop environmental damage. We all want this! Because transhumanism is concerned with the human condition, one of the conditions is the pollution that causes changes to our environment that affect the bio-landscape and ecology. If people are living longer, the environment in which they live must be as healthy as possible. If people are evolving with technology, that technology must be safe. Ethics is crucial when considering transhumanist currents and the future. This is extremely important to transhumanism”.
natasha vita-more

9. How can transhumanist discourse be transposed to developing populations?

If you are referring to developing countries, my answer is through education. For example, many people in Ethiopia live in impoverished towns and the impact of technical progress is daunting for them. Transhumanism, through Humanity+, Inc., a nonprofit educational organization, has been working with a group of Ethiopians to teach coding through the program “Digitruck – Close The Gap”. Currently, we are helping to build the financial security for this program. I am also involved with the “Afrolongevity” project out of South Africa, as well as working with professors in Nigeria.  

10. Can transhumanism and sustainable technologies go hand in hand?

Yes indeed. Eco-friendly and sustainable technologies ought to be engineered to help prevent and stop environmental damage. We all want this! Because transhumanism is concerned with the human condition, one of the conditions is the pollution that causes changes to our environment that affect the bio-landscape and ecology. If people are living longer, the environment in which they live must be as healthy as possible. If people are evolving with technology, that technology must be safe. Ethics is crucial when considering transhumanist currents and the future. This is extremely important to transhumanism.

11. Are there technologies not yet known that are bound to change the way we think about the human body, its durability, its aging, and all its systems?

There are technologies that are not known by the mainstream that will change the way we think about the human body. Nanomedicine is one of the outliers that will be mainstream in the coming years. Nanomedicine will develop biocompatible nanorobots that are being developed to work in conjunction with biology to repair and rejuvenate cells and cellular systems.

Another technology that has been conceptualized is the whole body prosthetic, with its many systems such as smart skin and metabrain for enhanced cognition and to upload and download, for example, as I wrote:

This project has been furthered by the most recent advances in emerging and speculative technologies. Because design is the creative process of problem-solving, I turn to design as a foundation and aesthetics as a means to build narratives for human futures. Other areas of interest include developing concepts for society/culture of life extension, including the elderly, the injured, and those who want to overcome disease no matter their geographical location. The field of prosthetics has grown over the past decade and is far more advanced science I first developed this innovation and now is nearing the vision I had in the late 1990s.  Prosthetics currently is interlaced with haptic systems, neuro-interfaces, and narrow AI. Soon nanomedicine will provide teams of nanorobots to repair, and rejuvenate cells and DNA mutations for healthier lives.

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