What is the body to a transhumanist? Let us spend some time understanding his viewpoint.
The dominant metaphor in transhumanism is the machine, in particular the computer. In the transhumanist’s estimation both our bodies and the larger universe are fundamentally isomorphic to Turing machines. Our mind runs on the computational substrate that is the brain without being uniquely tied to it, in the same manner that software to hardware. As such, the transhumanist holds that the “algorithms” that make up human life may be simulated or replicated and that as such we may upload our consciousness into a machine, or otherwise have it be overtaken by machine. In this view our bodies are a mere contingency to our consciousness.
There is also an emphasis on those aspects of nature which are predictable and controllable in the way the behavior of a machine (ideally) is. This entails a focus on the quantifiable aspects of nature (which are more susceptible of strict prediction and control), and thus on a mathematical description of physical systems as paradigmatic of scientific rigor.
Aristotle's Revenge 44
The tradhumanist does not deny the utility of the machine metaphor. We may discover incredible things through the formalization and systematization of the body. What I deny is the idea that we as living organisms are reducible to these machinic descriptions. There is something about being alive that is transcendental. Yet at the same time–inside of this transcendental experience I am able to speak in this formalized, symbolic manner. It is only in that we both share alike bodies and thus alike experiences that shared symbols could come to exist.
When we have these shared symbols, we may begin to play wonderful games with them. Here are the rules I will play by: when I say body, I will mean “everything about ourselves that we may point towards and describe.” By spirit, I mean “everything about ourselves which we experience but cannot symbolically capture.” By mind, I mean “that which is able to communicate about body and spirit.” Rather than a mind-body dualism, it is my mind that perceives a body-spirit dualism. This dualism collapses in the individual themselves, but the mind must experience it. Like language, the mind is self-reflexive and capable of querying itself. The mind is able to not only observe something, but it also observes that it observes.
To reiterate, the body is that which the mind may observe and describe while the spirit is that which the mind may observe but only hint at. This is ultimately a research project, so let us turn to of which we may speak. Within our bodies we find a great store of knowledge…
[Tacit knowledge is the idea that] the explicit content of all our cognitive and perceptual states presupposes a body of inexplicit knowledge, where this knowledge is fundamentally a matter of knowing how to interact with the world, rather than a matter of knowing that such-and-such propositions are true. It is knowledge essentially embedded in bodily capacities.
Aristotle's Revenge 95-96
Our rational facilities can only be made sense of when we recognize them as taking place in union with our bodies. If we attempt to wrest our intellect from the body it will fall through our fingers like sand. Transhumanism is simply incorrect when it asserts that we upload our minds into a machine. There exist no computational symbols in the body. It may be the case that we advance in some understanding of the world by treating the mind as if it were a machine, but fundamentally cognition is not operations on disembodied computational symbols. Rather, cognition is embodied action.
By using the term embodied we mean to highlight two points: first, that cognition depends upon the kinds of experience that come from having a body with various sensorimotor capacities, and second, that these individual sensorimotor capacities are themselves embedded in a more encompassing biological, psychological, and cultural context. By using the term action we mean to emphasize that sensory and motor processes, perception and action, are fundamentally inseparable in lived cognition.
The Embodied Mind 173
The tradhumanist holds that we are embodied. Further, each of our bodies has a unique history. We may distinguish between two types of history: that which actually happened and that which is said about what happened. Once again we find something transcendental here: that which actually happened cannot ever truly be compressed into speech or any other symbolic representation. However, our only knowledge of history is what has been written and preserved. We are ever in the process of re-interpreting history in text and texts about texts and texts about texts about texts…
Within this history certain structures will ever re-arise and be re-created. This is why they are traditions. The transhumanist has no use for this deep time, and so it dismisses tradition. History is regarded as something we are eager to get away from. Statues have no meaning here, the Singularity is coming! The Singularity is coming! The transhumanist is dominated by an orgiastic expectation of desire that is only ever in the future. The tradhumanist connects the future to the past through his considered actions.
Up next, we’ll consider virtue ethics. So far we have a telos and a narrative history. How can we write our narrative future to achieve telos? Virtue has the answer.