How Can I Incorporate Transhumanism Into My Daily Life?

Transhumanism has been defined as the use of science and technology to improve the human condition, and the aspiration to go beyond what is traditionally defined as human, but it can be something broader: rational self-improvement while ignoring the boundaries set as typical. There’s a lot of “self-improvement” out there, and a fair deal of promoting rationalism in debate and analysis, but these don’t always come together. For instance, a highly rational individual might spend their entire day in front of a computer, neglecting exercise, and failing to take opportunity of a huge category of potential self-improvement. Conversely, someone preoccupied with “self-improvement” might believe in trendy nonsensical ideas about self-improvement that don’t actually work.

People usually start off in life with a certain set of aptitudes, such as brains, social skills, strength, or looks. A fun way of embracing life is to try to maximize these qualities no matter where you start out on them. Even though I tend to fall on the “nature” side of the nature-nurture debate, I still think there is a tremendous amount that can be done to improve shortcomings that people make excuses to avoid improving. Social skills would be one example — several transhumanist friends of mine have remarked how they used to be socially inept, and now are clearly extremely comfortable in social situations, because they made simple choices, like joining a rationalist community or a debate team.

This broader transhumanism means feeling personally obliged to improve yourself, both for your own benefit and for those around you. Let me focus a little bit on those around you, because there’s been so much discussion on improving for yourself. Many groups and communities are only as strong as the average of their weakest members, due to aggregation effects that can be hard to explain. That’s why an effective team working towards a goal needs to have every member be disciplined; one undisciplined member can be a thread that unravels the whole tapestry. When you neglect your physical appearance, your social skills, or your intellectual standards, you don’t just hurt yourself, but those around you. Of course, no one can be perfect. The point is not to be perfect, but to at least try to improve, and put your ego aside to the extent that you are willing to accept criticism from others, sometimes even so-called “unconstructive” criticism. “Unconstructive” criticism tends to contain a grain of truth that can be the seed for future self-improvement.

Because the body is the seat of the mind, and the human animal’s mind is deeply interconnected with their body, the first priority of self-improvement should be a healthy lifestyle. Being overweight is linked to anxiety and depression. Exercise is connected to positive mood, self-esteem, and restful sleep in dozens of studies. Rigorous exercise, rather than lazy shortcuts, lead to real benefits. It’s not really a question of time — tremendous benefits can be gained by exercising rigorously for as little as 30 minutes a couple times a week. There is no one who is too busy to exercise. A transhumanist who professes to be interested in transcending the human who is too lazy to exercise is like a Christian who is too lazy to pray or attend church — a lemming attaching themselves to a social label rather than someone who can live up to the ideas they value. You have the tools to improve yourself now — take advantage of them! Don’t sit around for decades waiting for a pill to solve all your problems. If you aren’t active yet, starting thinking of yourself as the type of person who should be active, and behavior will follow.

After making a commitment to improving the body, you should improve your mind. Intellectuals should be expected to have a book in their queue pretty much perpetually. Books are quite cheap, and there is so much to learn that anyone not reading is someone who is neglecting their intellectual curiosity. Articles on websites tend to be short and emotionally charged, not the kind of careful analysis or inspired literature that exists in books. Reading quippy front-page articles on Reddit or Digg is not a good cornerstone for a balanced intellectual life. Don’t even get me started on television. I’m not saying that people shouldn’t get information from diverse sources, but that the true foundation of intellectualism is, and has always been, books. “Infotainment” like the Colbert Report is just entertainment.

After you get your information, you have to process it properly. Be aware of cognitive biases. Never trust anything you think the first time. The greatest enemy of rationality is not the church, or the mainstream media, or the Republicans/Democrats, but your own brain. A true rationalist can be exposed to the most idiotic information sources and still extract useful evidence and insights by applying their own frame to the facts, rather than using the framing of the presenter. A rationalist does not get emotional while arguing, because nine times out of ten, emotions get in the way of proper analysis. Do a cold, clean analysis first, then, maybe a few hours or days later, you can start indulging in the emotions that flow from true beliefs. Maybe it’s even best never to get emotional at all. Emotions are fast-and-frugal heuristics for processing information, far inferior to dispassionate analysis. I like to get emotional about issues that aren’t really important, like my favorite songs or games. For those issues that really do matter, like geopolitics, social psychology, philosophy, and science, I try to keep emotions to a minimum.

Don’t be so sensitive. We are all idiots in comparison to what is possible. Human beings are just monkeys, a node on the chain of being. One day in the not too distant future, minds will be created that put all of our best to shame. Don’t worship the human spirit as if it were a god. The human spirit is nice, but it has plenty of flaws. People are balanced when they are slightly skeptical about everything by default, not when they embrace everything by default. Remember that skepticism triggered the Enlightenment, and if it weren’t for skepticism, we would probably still be in the Dark Ages. Praise people who are skeptical of your ideas in good faith, don’t discourage them.

Improving ourselves is not easy. That the definition of “improvement” itself has many subjective elements is part of the challenge, though many types of improvements tend to be self-evident in retrospect. The hardest part of improvement may be the willingness to make yourself vulnerable to criticism from others. All of us have our downfalls — we’re overweight, lazy, irresponsible, or overconfident. To some degree, I am all of these things. I’ll bet most of you are too. Since everyone tends to have weaknesses, the idea is not to eliminate all weakness, or achieve some social standard of competence and then give up, but to whittle away at your weaknesses and reap the benefits from incremental gains. That’s what transhumanism is — slow improvement, using the best tools at our disposal. Never giving up, and never saying we’ve done enough. There is always more to do — more to read, more to learn, more to say, and more to act on. Go out and do it.

Comments

  1. Opencures.org is a project started by Reason at the fightaging blog. Bounties are outlines used by do it yourself biochemists who want to speed the rate of discovery for different aspects of SENS.

    Besides enhanced intelligence, I cannot think of another feature more important of being transhuman than living longer than either biblical or FDA approved four score and twenty (two).

    There is a need for skilled biologists capable of understanding and explaining fairly complex scientific procedures so others can repeat them.

    It is a paid position. 10 cents per word.

  2. Oops, just realized I didn’t post a direct link.

    Here: https://www.opencures.org/bounties

    Also, it isn’t ‘four score and twenty’ just plainly 120 years in the bible, but there is someone whom Guiness certifies to have lived to 122 — Jeanne Louise Calment.

    ok, I’ll stop spamming your website now.

  3. Jahed

    I know you were just using Buddhists to illustrate a point, but elements of Buddhism can include just the meditation aspect, and that has been shown recently to have very real cognition-enhancing benefits and tangible effects on brain plasticity. I’m sure you can find the relevant articles yourself.

    Not a practicing Buddhist, just thought it was a funny coincidence that I was considering including an element of Buddhism in my daily life for the purpose of self improvement.

  4. Arnie Christianson

    Improving yourself physically is easy. So is, I think, improving yourself mentally. We are surrounded by information. Read, read, read. It’s easier than ever with Audible, Kindle, and even standard dead-tree books. I typically have three books going at once. All the time. The idea that you have to understand every sentence of every book is nonsense. Gather your knowledge bit by bit.

    The hard part is rationalism. As someone who fights anxiety, I struggle with this daily. Your primate brain is not easy to overcome, but it can be done.

    I would recommend “The Demon-Haunted World” by Sagan and Druyan as the best place to start for the budding rationalist. There are hundreds of other great sources, but that book is pretty much my rational bible.

  5. Michelle Waters

    The one problem is time. I can practice Karate or I can practice French, I may not be able to practice both and also keep my bathroom clean and look for work.

  6. Nice motivational article. I’ll consider reading it part of my daily self-improvement!

  7. Abhay

    A powerful personality comprises of 4 important aspects : –

    1.Physical Strength
    2.Intellectual Strength
    3.Moral Strength
    4.Spiritual Strength.

    Each of these four needs to be developed in order make our whole personality strong and meaningful.

  8. Excellent article. Too often in the transhumanist community I see a general malaise towards the tools already at our fingertips. Its important to remind ourselves of all the can be accomplished now rather than indulging ourselves in nostalgia for the future.

    Just as important is the concept of having a purpose to one’s life, something which transhumanism provides in striving to transcend the human condition. I you want to live forever without knowing why you’d want to live forever you are not a transhumanist.

  9. mkehrt

    “A transhumanist … who is too lazy to exercise is like a Christian who is too lazy to pray…” is an amazingly good quote.

    Also, I’m always amazed at the kooks your posts bring out.

  10. anonymous

    Transhumanism is slow improvement using available tools? If that’s the case the future has now officially slowed down on this blog. I don’t know what’s particularly transhumanistic about it anymore.

    Why not say transhumanism is about improving the rate of improvement, constantly seeking smarter and therefore quicker ways to improve oneself? And that, primarily through improving available tools, because there’s no much you can do only by improving the techniques of using available tools.

    Agree with mkehrt, lots of “original” thinkers among transhumanists or people interested in it. You’ve admirably kept the worst offenders out of the public face of transhumanism (particularly the Summits). It must be a constant struggle, I’m sure.

  11. anonymous

    I would add that, transhumanism, to me, is specifically seeking to achieve breakthroughs, disruptive leaps in capability, not gradual slow improvement. Those kinds of advancements have never been achieved by working completely within the status quo scientific framework. You have to be somewhat of an outlier to find outlier solutions, which the general public and the media often unfortunately equate with kookiness.

    The kooks who have been proven right by history, can say that the reason their ideas sounded crazy was not because they were crazy, but because everyone else was crazy. The things we now take for granted with computers would have sounded crazy to even to the inventor of the integrated circuit.

  12. Michelle Waters

    Be careful, most things that sound crazy are. Even things like continental drift, which were perceived as kooky but are now accepted really did need some additional work. For instance, Wegener sounded kooky when he proposed continental drift. This is because without plate tectonics, the idea of moving continents really didn’t make sense. Similarly, Copernicus had a bunch of epicycles in his conceptions of that solar system. It took Kepler to truly make heliocentricity make sense.

    I would not try bleeding edge stuff simply because it is bleeding edge, unless the cost of trying it is fairly low. I would also try to make sure that whatever you try fits with basic physical, chemical, and biological knowledge.

    In particular, with self-improvement, natural selection has already come up with most of the easy tricks for improving young organisms.

  13. Paul Tiffany

    Hi Michael,
    I was surprised by the direction of your article after reading your title… when I think about I incorporate H+ into my life, I’m thinking about the missionary work. Specifically, the small things. Things like creating a shooter “Fun Theory” and introducing my bar customers to the whole Overcoming Bias side of things. Or at my old job telling cigarette smokers to enjoy their nootropic, occasionally prompting questions answered with a noot-heavy ImmInst elevator pitch. These small H+ memes cost nothing and bring joy.

    • To do effective “missionary work” I think you need to be a good example yourself, that’s what’s hard for some people to focus on, because self-criticism can be uncomfortable. I agree that inserting h+ memes into daily conversations is fun, sure, but after all day of working for SIAI and daily reading, I sometimes get sick of talking about h+ casually, to be honest!

  14. Jake Howeth

    I would add drugs to the transhumanist toolbox:

    http://lesswrong.com/lw/45u/a_rationalists_guide_to_psychoactive_drugs/

    Amphetamines/methylphenidate are my personal favorites, your mileage may very.

    Also, unrefined (extra virgin, not the partially hydrogenated stuff), coconut oil is great for an energy boost.

  15. PariahDrake

    I agree with many points in this post.

    But not all.

    One should always be careful with blame assignation, as the very process is an abdication of responsibility.

  16. Gerhard Stoltz Jr

    Thanks for presenting a coherent and thoughtful argument for the power of continual improvement and emotionless analysis.

    I do so wish that the idea of the rational society were to be brought to frution. I guess we can all work steadily and slowly to bring that into being.
    Unfortunately it`s an uncomfortable line between the capacities of human rationality and the capacities of material reality. What it can do and what we can do through it is not currently expressible. Such a shame really, so many phenomena are left outside of human discourse due to our incapacity to discuss them. Which makes it so depressingly understandable that people infatuate themselves with answers instead of questions and curiosity.

    Thanks for trying!

  17. Its good to add technology in our life. But more use of technology in life make our life more short also. We are become more dependent on machines then ever. Physical activities are reduced every day that’s the main reason of unhealthy bodies.

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