The sixth international philosophical and cultural congress
October 29 — November 2, 2003, Saint-Petersburg, Russia
Section 6: The prospects of transhumanism, or the man in search of authenticity
The 20th century went down in history as the century of successful scientific revolution. The acceleration of scientific and technological developments, the increase of scientific contributions to the economy and changes in modes of production have led to growing requirements for workers, increased the share of knowledge among workers, and have helped convince people that science is able to solve humankind's problems.
The orientation of Soviet and American economies towards military, economic and scientific competition has created a strong demand for engineers and scientists in both countries. This has required favourable conditions for developing the education system and organising scientific research.
While the role of science has diminished recently in Russia, the rapid development of science and technologies has continued in Europe, the USA and other countries. Emerging fields such as nanotechnologies, computing and communication technologies, artificial intelligence, robotics, and biotechnologies have the potential to transform radically all areas of human life.
However, the majority of people find the ideas of further technological development and continuing human evolution to the posthuman era contradictory to all their experiences and beliefs. This apparent contradiction is a direct result of society's disappointment in the capabilities of science and of fears caused by poor understanding scientific prospects.
Since the second half of the 20th century, society has become somewhat disillusioned with science. The hopes that science would solve all problems that we face did not come true. This disappointment and fears regarding environmental problems, global warming and accidents at nuclear power stations have led to increased fear of science.
In addition, further scientific and technological progress necessarily involves radical changes in the society. Naturally, many people perceive further progress as dangerous. The diminishing role of science has led to increased popularity of antiscientific views, and moral relativism forces people to think that all belief systems are valid and equal, regardless of their correctness.
The life led by people in the developed countries today would be impossible, if not for scientific progress, but still, in their daily lives people turn for answers to primitive systems, such as astrology. Therefore we can speak about the emergence of a new mythological worldview in modern society.
A radical example of this new negative attitude towards science is the attempt to limit scientific inquiry in certain areas or to stop it all together. To justify this position, science critics often claim that the traditional, "natural" approaches are ostensibly preferable to technological ones.
This position invariablly involves exaggerations, concentration on worst-case scenarios and ignoring the fact that the same knowledge and technologies can usually be used both for good and for evil.
The insufficient level of scientific understanding in society can be explained by the inadequacy of the education systems in most countries. The modern education system does not help to develop creativity in the students, to impart the interest in independent study and to transfer scientific knowledge. In addition, the steps taken for the popularisation of scientific achievements are inadequate.
After the break up of the USSR and the end of opposition between the two superpowers, one of the major defining factors of scientific and technological policy of Russia disappeared. The main economic problem in Russia was the transformation of the economic mechanism, not specific economic targets, such as output or productivity. And science could not provide the solution to this problem. The situation was aggravated by the fact that new company owners did not care much about the long-term prospects of their firms.
Without the need to develop science and technologies, the Russian government has severely reduced spending on science and education. Most other science-related areas have also lost government support. This has led to the fact that for more than ten years only a small minority of Russians have any understanding about scientific and technical achievements and the prospects of scientific progress.
An example of a more correct approach towards the philosophical problems today is a philosophical school known as transhumanism. Transhumanism is defined as:
The study of the ramifications, promises, and potential dangers of technologies that will enable us to overcome fundamental human limitations, and the related study of the ethical matters involved in developing and using such technologies.
Transhumanists readily accept radical changes, such as curing the aging problem, creating artificial intelligence or uploading the human consciousness into a computer. Their position results from a clear understanding of the opportunities that science and technology provide and from a willingness to reconsider philosophical and cultural norms in view of the changes in the environment.
To take correctly into account the development of science and technologies when discussing philosophical and cultural issues two conditions are necessary: a rationalist approach and a broad scientific outlook. It is impossible to discuss what effects biotechnologies, cloning or genetic engineering can have without good knowledge of molecular biology, the heredity theory, the evolution theory, the functioning of DNA and RNA, protein synthesis, organic chemistry, the structure of viruses, etc. It is impossible to discuss the creation of artificial intelligence, the transfer of human consciousness into the computer or the creation of a virtual reality with insufficient knowledge of electronic circuit technology, the Turing machine, human neurophysiology, the Gödel incompleteness theorem, binary logic, atomic theory, pattern recognition, etc.
Correctly applying scientific knowledge helps one avoid basing answers on out-of-date conceptions and assumptions about the world and to achieve maximum correctness and soundness of the arguments.