The roots of Futurism and Transhumanism: Reclaiming “Free Will”
More and more scientists believe today that we do not have a soul, a mind of our own or a free will and they also claim that the idea of having a consciousness, is simply an illusion created by the brain itself. The idea - that everything that we regard as identity and a sense of the self - is a result of physical processes in the brain, flourishes and is nurtured within the neurosciences and computer sciences today.
The evidence for this is, according to neuroscientists, are results coming from studies made about decision making in fMRI-scans that show that the choices that we make don’t have anything to do with free will at all but with how neurons process information in the human brain. Experiments made in fMRI-scans suggest that a human being’s brain shows which choice the subject will make already 6 seconds before it becomes conscious in the brain. Neurons communicate with each other and decide for the person. There is no higher authority like a consciousness or a soul that is coordinating these preferences and choices.
The experiments made are often very simple – like choosing if you prefer bananas or apples. Yet, scientists believe that they’ve found the answer to free will or consciousness. The problems arising with such conclusions from such simple experiments should be self-evident, for anyone that knows anything about doing scientific research. Very complex decision making would require more conscious thought. What you prefer might be a habit that becomes automatic in the brain. The tests do not explain anything about human nature in general, or about consciousness or free will in particular.
This view is of course in favor of the research done today within neuroscience, robotics, brain computer interfaces, and artificial intelligence. These research areas are the most important today, for every developed country in the world.
Futurist and transhumanist Ray Kurzweil claims even that consciousness is a very subjective idea and that he is not sure if someone else has a consciousness and someone else can’t be sure that he has one.
If we were to be machinelike beings that only respond to impulses and needs created by hormones in the body, there wouldn’t have been people like Gandhi, who were able to give up their personal needs in order to work for a higher purpose. There is actually a lot of evidence that we can very much transform our own personalities and choices as a result of making use of our own free will. That this is already encoded in our brains, or that life itself doesn’t have an effect on it, is absurd.
Ethical questions arise as well, because we have built a society and a legal system based on the ideas of free will and free choice. If we are to become mechanical devices that function just like machines, what will happen to our human rights in the future?
But maybe it is more important to know where the idea that the human body is like a machine comes from and why it is so important for futurists and transhumanists.
Futurism has its roots in fascist Italy in the beginning of the 20s century. Futurists praised the machines, and rejected culture and history. They often promoted fascism as a state ideology and violence as a tool for control. Futurists gained some influence through art which they also influenced in their turn, but the same ideas also created disgust. They supported fascism mainly because they believed that by doing that, their ideas had most chance to survive and become widespread.
Transhumanism has its roots in Darwinism. According to Darwinism both humans and animals evolve throughout history because of “natural selection”. Changes in the human genes occur as people face new challenges. “Survival of the fittest” is the idea that only the strongest and the most well adapted individuals in a population have a chance of survival - in nature or societies. Social, economic, and political power, as well as wealth, social class, and status, correlate to good and bad genes. The more power, the more wealth, the better reputation, a person has, the better genes they are assumed to have. Notions about racism, cultural differences, environmental factors, and power factors are not taken into account. Darwinism is deterministic, and assumes that our genes create our future or determine our fates. According to Darwinism, man has a natural desire to be better, to evolve, and to dominate over others.
But Darwinism becomes extreme within transhumanism: Humans will in the next step of genetic evolution want to transcend their own biology with the aid of technology, transhumanists say. And that’s when Darwinism and Futurism unite to create the movement called transhumanism. While Futurism praises the machine, Darwinism believes in human evolution at any price – even at the cost of other human lives. One of their slogans is more or less: “Develop or die out!” Transcend your own humanity or become extinct. And the same transhumanists are predicting a world in the near future where people merge with machines in order to enhance themselves and to create something called the hive mind, where people share information with each other, through brain computer interfaces or ITC-implants in their brains. The same technology will at the same time create predictable human beings controlled by computer system which might have inherent punishments programmed into them, taking on the same role as a very horrific and inescapable type of “Thought Police”.
Challenging Fascism and Fascist ideals has been important for human rights movements.
Human rights movements are a pretty new development in human history. They were first invented after WWII, because of what happened in Germany, during the Nazi regimes. That would have been the end of human rights abuses, one would think, but many other human rights abuses have been going on since then every day in every country of the world. And they are still going on today.
Darwinism has been challenged by social movements like class movements, feminist movements, racial equality movements, and alike. The movements have even though led to new legislation against discrimination, has not changed our ideas about the world at a very great extent, but new divisions creating biological racism of every kind, is still promoted, both within neuroscience, medicine and within the discipline of psychiatry and criminology.
Seeing the human being as soulless machine is an extreme dehumanization and creates the risk of history repeating itself now based in what is called “scientific research”. But science is not always objective but the data gathered has to be interpreted, and it is solely an interpretation made by subjective human beings with an underlying assumption or ideology. It would be wrong and absurd to say that scientific research is free from ideology. And according to the great sociologist Michele Foucault, it is always those in power that do dictate the truth in the world, making it absolute.
The only known way to protect individuals from human rights abuses and eventual extinction in the future, to let them live a human life with all rights of freedom of choice, religion, privacy and so on, is not to jump to conclusions about what scientists claim today, but to do anything in our power to preserve our freedom in any regard.
It is time to reclaim our Free Will. And with it our human rights.
There's no such thing as free will in the sense of a ghost in the machine; our behavior is the product of physical processes in the brain rather than some mysterious soul, says Pinker.
Daniel Dennett is a prominent American philosopher whose research centers on philosophy of mind and philosophy of science; particularly as those fields relate to evolutionary biology and cognitive science. He is currently the co-director of the Center for Cognitive Studies and the Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy at Tufts University.