Everyone Faces Their Own Transhumanist Wager
by Chris T. Armstrong
Zoltan Istvan / Speech Humanity+ Event / 2013
“Ladies and gentlemen, we have a problem. Each one of us has a problem. In fact, no matter where you go on the planet, no matter where you search, no matter who you turn to, every single person on the planet has this dire problem.
“That problem is our mortality. That problem is called death.
“The reason it’s a problem is because we all love life. We all love the precious chance of existence. Even in one’s darkest psychological despair, or one’s most exhausting hardship, or one’s most catastrophic horror, the thing we call life is miraculous. We cherish it and we don’t want to lose it or have it end. But end it will! No matter how much you wish otherwise. The stark truth has always been right before your eyes—that nothing will save you from death. The obviousness of this overwhelms us every time we see a loved one or a friend whose body is lifeless, never to reach out, touch, and communicate with use again. Death is final.
“The great irony for our species is that we don’t just have this one problem, but we actually have two problems. The second problem is nearly as vicious as the first. The second problem is the fact that most people around the world are just not worried about the first problem—they’re not worried about dying. They’re either religious and have the supposed afterlife all worked out, or they just don’t care, or they just don’t think immortality is possible. Whatever people’s reasons, they just don’t see the first problem as serious enough to warrant immediate concern—especially in a meaningful scientific way that makes them not die. And by not recognizing death as a problem, many people have no reason to attempt to defeat it.
“I have made it a mission in my life to make people aware of these two problems. It is why I wrote my philosophical novel The Transhumanist Wager. The concept of the Transhumanist Wager is simple. Through a simple fictional story, it explains that in the 21st Century, it is a betrayal of ourselves (and the potential of our best selves) to not tackle and solve our two most pressing problems. More importantly, my book explains how we can solve these two problems.
“But first, some of you are asking: What is a transhumanist? What does such a person want? What are the main goals? Many people around the world still don’t even know what transhumanism means. When explaining the term to people, I find it easiest to use the Latin translation. “Transhumanism” literally means “beyond human.”
“Transhumanist goals are broad and varied, but mostly they revolve around human beings using science and technology to improve and enhance themselves, their lives, and society. Transhumanists tend to concentrate on eliminating or reversing aging—we are often called life-extensionists or longevity advocates. Transhumanists are often, but not always, nonreligious. They find meaning in their own lives, without a divine creator. The philosophies of transhumanism make it possible that in the future one may become a so-called divine creator. Without exception, transhumanists prefer reason over any other method of understanding to guide themselves in life.
“Every transhumanist comes to their own realization of why they’re a transhumanist. Each path is unique, personal, and totally different than another. I want to tell you briefly about my path. I was first introduced to transhumanism as a philosophy student attending Columbia University in New York City. For a class, I was assigned to read a magazine article on some of the recent breakthroughs in cryonics. The article told of a small but passionate group of scientists who believed that science and technology would be able to bring frozen patients back to life in the future if they were preserved properly. The article also discussed the transhuman movement, which it described as a community of reason-based futurists who wanted to use science and technology to live indefinitely. I was deeply intrigued. I finished that article and wanted to know more. I spent the next ten years reading everything I could on future technologies, human enhancement, and transhumanism.
“But it wasn’t until I was in the jungles of the demilitarized zone of Vietnam as a journalist for the National Geographic Channel that I came to dedicate my life to transhumanism—that I came to the powerful conviction that human life should be preserved indefinitely, at any cost. While in the jungle filming Vietnamese bomb diggers searching the ground for unexploded ordnances to recover and sell, I almost stepped on a partially unburied landmine. My guide pushed me out of the way, and I fell to within a foot of the mine. Tens of thousands have died from landmines in the DMZ in the last forty years, and I was lucky I was not one of them.
“For me, nothing was ever the same again after that moment. The landmine incident reminded me how fragile the human body was—how precious our minutes alive on this planet are. Upon returning to the Unites States, I began writing The Transhumanist Wager. The reason I tell you my personal story about becoming a transhumanist is that every one of us has their own story. But the two main problems we each face: death, and general apathy of death—and the choice we must make regarding them: the Transhumanist Wager—that is not just for some people. It is for every reasonable, straight-thinking person in the world.
“The Transhumanist Wager is not just a novel or a philosophical text. It’s an ultimatum—the gravest one you will ever face. In the 21st Century, it’s also the only reasonable option. If you love life, you will dedicate yourself to finding a way to preserve that life. Transhumanists will not preserve their life via religion, false hopes, a mystic super spirituality, or otherwise. There is only one way transhumanists will do it: through the tools they can create with their own hands; through the reason their brain can muster; and through the rational conviction their being prompts of them by not wanting to die. To do otherwise in the 21st Century is to remain irrational and suicidal. In a world where we have the technology to travel to Mars, where we can video chat on our cell phones to someone 5000 miles away, or we can replace someone’s heart with an artificial one, it’s our evolutionary destiny to significantly extend our lives and to be transhuman.
“Once you have identified the human race’s two main problems, and you understand that you each face the Transhumanist Wager, the question is: what to do? How can you solve these problems and make the right choice in the wager.
“It’s quite simple, really. The journey of the transhumanist requires no ritual, no prayer, and no mystic sacrifice. It requires only your ability to reason. Ask yourself how you can best dedicate yourself to a specific cause of the the life extension movement. Then do it! For some, this may mean going into science as a new career. For others it will mean volunteering in transhuman groups that need help. For some it will mean going into politics and pushing for more science-friendly laws. For others, it will mean donating resources to scientific centers. For some, it will mean creating transhuman art and using it a vehicle to gain life extension support. For others it will mean just talking with friends and family about why you think science and technology are the best drivers of civilization.
“Whatever it is that one can do, be transhuman-minded! Be people that belong to a bright, rational scientific future, not one dogged by religious dogma and heritage. Be transhuman, and rise to your evolutionary destiny.”