Transhumanists, in Their Own Words

Chatting with some attendees at a Transhumanist gathering in New York City.

Dec 25 2015, 12:00pm

Photo: The Phantom Limb Project/Twitter

Transhumanism, the idea that humans should use science and technology to extend our natural abilities, is the religion of the 21st century. It's a concept that has been around since the 70s, but seems to be resonating with a growing number of people. Whether it's because of the rise of smartphones, the idea of the quantified self, disillusionment with the world, or something else, transhumanist ideas have been gaining traction in the last 10 years with no signs of stopping.

A graph of the search volume for the terms "transhumanism" (blue) and "H+" (red) from Google Trends.

But as transhumanism gets bigger, the question of what exactly it is and isn't is becoming more pressing. Is it about immortality? Biohacking? The Singularity? This disagreement caused a schism earlier this year between Zoltan Istvan, who is running a symbolic campaign as a Transhumanist candidate in the US (and also writes a column for Motherboard) and the UK Transhumanist Party leader, M. Amon Twyman.

Last week, Istvan gave a talk in New York. His talk was as wide-ranging as transhumanism itself, spanning life extension, human photosynthesis, and the hand implant that allows him to unlock his car.

The audience ranged from people clueless about the subject to those who had devoted their lives to it. I stuck a recorder in their faces.

Show notes:

00:41 What is transhumanism?

3:10 Check out Motherboard's profile of FM-2030.

03:15 This is Gray Scott:


04:05 David Pearce, the transhumanist mentioned who wants to eradicate pain, has a manifesto here. Humanity+, the transhumanist organization, is here.

05:05 An excerpt from Zoltan Istvan's talk. Transhumanism is growing mostly in the millenial category, he said. For older transhumanists, conquering death is often the number one goal. For the younger generation, other augmentations are more pressing.

09:13 Shoutout to robot sex.

10:34 Shoutout to the Singularity.

11:05 "I guess it's kind of like a broad spectrum from the achievable to the more crazy, science-fiction-y stuff. Some of it is a bit out there, isn't it? Like you'd see it in a film and be like, 'what, come on guys.'"

14:10 "I really love life and I don't think it should be a shameful thing to say that because you love life you want to keep it going."

16:50 How much of transhumanism is science, versus philosophy, versus religion?

17:52 That's our show! Thanks for listening, and tune in next week when Terraform editors Claire Evans and Brian Merchant will talk about the year in sci-fi.

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