Friday, September 23, 2011

Max More

Any research into the concept of transhumanism must lead to the writings of Max More…which makes it all the more embarrassing that I have not read him until recent months.

Interestingly enough, Max More’s academic background is not in technology but in philosophy.  This has allowed him to develop a perspective that is unique when placed against those of most tech geeks.  In the 1990 essay, "Transhumanism: Toward a Futurist Philosophy", he actually coined the term "transhumanism.”  Transhumanism’s own William Gibson in a sense.  He founded the Extropy Institute, dedicated to researching emerging technologies that will allow humans to live indefinitely.  He is also the president and CEO of the world’s largest cryptopreservation service…the act of freezing living tissues.

Most impressive to me of all Max More’s contributions is his philosophy of the Proactionary Principle—a guide to the balancing of benefits and risks in transhumanist development.  Also a means to stifle the fear-mongers.  More explains it this way:

"People’s freedom to innovate technologically is highly valuable, even critical, to humanity. This implies a range of responsibilities for those considering whether and how to develop, deploy, or restrict new technologies. Assess risks and opportunities using an objective, open, and comprehensive, yet simple decision process based on science rather than collective emotional reactions. Account for the costs of restrictions and lost opportunities as fully as direct effects. Favor measures that are proportionate to the probability and magnitude of impacts, and that have the highest payoff relative to their costs. Give a high priority to people’s freedom to learn, innovate, and advance."

That is the most copacetic response I have ever heard to the complaints lodged by transhumanism’s detractors…who interestingly enough I have heard called “humanish,” a play on the Amish opposition to technology. 
Best of all, these founding principals of transhumanism came from a man whose doctoral work was in philosophy…one of the Humanities.  Seems to me that’s an argument in and of itself for transhumanism.  Neither extropy nor transhumanism advocate for an abandonment of human principles or creativity.  In fact, it is the human capacity for free thought and innovation that allows for and entitles us to create new ways to overcome our biological defects and limitations.  Sadly, a strong segment of the opposition will come from religious sectors.  To that, More yet again says it best:

"No more gods, no more faith, no more timid holding back. Let us blast out of our old forms, our ignorance, our weakness, and our mortality. The future belongs to posthumanity."

You can visit Max More's website.  It features a full list of his writings, mostly journal articles and essays.

Also available is this transcript of his appearance on CNN's Crossfire, dealing with inane questions from a couple of tools, chief among them being Tucker Carlson.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets


  1. Hello Jon. I appreciate your comments. Looks like you've been reading a range of my writing. Your link to my website reminds me that it's badly in need of an update. Also, since I'm too busy with running Alcor and editing a collection, The Transhumanist Reader (due out next year from Wiley-Blackwell, co-edited by Natasha Vita-More), I'm not able to complete my book on the Proactionary Principle. I've put some of that book online, and will make the core chapter available soon.

    Interesting that, just below, you comments on Gaiman's American Gods. I'm a big fan of his Sandman series, and greatly enjoyed A.G. A couple of weeks ago, while in England, I was fortunate to hear and meet Gaiman (he was on a panel at the British Library).

    Since you read comics (good for you! I call this "the hobby that dare not speak its name), you might check out my compendium of "Comics of Transhumanist Interest".


  2. Max-
    I'm flattered that you took the time to read and comment on my blog. Thank you for that and for all of the important work that you do.
    I checked your link for "Comics of Transhumanist Interest." You've got quite a good many quality choices there, especially the works of Warren Ellis. Yes, I completely understand calling it the "hobby that dare not speak its name." I'm trying to get a foot in the door in academics and this seems the prevailing attitude. But a few scholars of the younger set do seem to be bringing about a gradual change of this and I say it's about time.
    Again, thank you and stop by any time.


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