India Future Society

Transhumanism – From the Eastern Perspective

by Harish Shah

TranshumanismIn December 2013, I published an article on this Blog with the title, Singularity – From the Eastern Perspective. More than 16 months on, I now present before the world, on this very Blog, along the same lines and principles as the article on Singularity, as the title herein indicates, the Eastern take on Transhumanism. Before conversing about the Eastern take on Transhumanism however, it is necessary to visit the East versus West discourse on Singularity, as the topics are intertwined or interrelated, in both schools of thought.

More than 15,000 years ago, according to the Eastern school of thought, the human civilisation had developed very powerful, very advanced, very sophisticated knowledge, sciences and technologies beyond our present abilities to fathom. Somewhere along the course of time, the human intellect and prowess declined, causing us to lose all we had developed, until a turning point 3-4 thousand years ago, when again, we began to rediscover science and technology.
While the Western world has come to embrace a concept of “Singularity” as a modern prophecy of a soon come era, where human created technology will supersede human beings, the Eastern concept of Singularity, dating far before what Western Historians believe to be the beginning of humanity, is a return to a Golden Age, that once preceded the decline of humanity into barbarism before a turnabout leading to our current state of progress. That Golden Age would be characterised by the harmonious co-existence of all living beings, humans, fauna and flora, on the planet as implies the Sanskrit statement Vasudeva Kuttumbakam (All of God’s creations are of the same heritage).
As I wrote in Singularity – From the Eastern Perspective, the Western notion of Singularity would serve the Eastern notion of Singularity overtime, possibly as follows:
1. It aid in the acquisition and development of knowledge, thereupon which wisdom, to bring about universal singularity for the preservation of life through harmonious existence
2. It serves as the tool or platform for the creation of systems and structures to ensure harmonious existence and continuity of life
3. Both of the above
Along with the emergence of the Western notion of Singularity, the concept of Transhumanism in the Western school of thought has also emerged, where with the use of technology, the human being, will transcend the natural biological human form. And this is where, concepts of uploading consciousness and implanting of chips into the human brain arise.
With the concept of Singularity in the Eastern school of thought that has been around for far far longer, the concept of Transhumanism, has always really been around, with evidence present in ancient texts such as the Vedas and the Puranas. In the Eastern school of thought, we already do transcend this human form. In the Eastern school of thought, we are not the human body. In the Eastern school of thought, we are souls, passing through this dimension in mortal existence, within the biological form, that is a product of nature, a facility of sorts, that facilitates our human experience, temporarily. While in the human form though, which we have gotten for a purpose we need to discover and serve, we must make the most of it, deriving happiness thus, for ourselves and others around.
The difference between the Eastern and Western school therefore, is firstly, that in Western thought, one has to become Transhuman, whereas in Eastern thought, all of us, already are. And that is just a minor difference.
The Western Transhumanist, seeks to transcend the human body, by forgoing it. The Western Transhumanist wants to turn into something else. The Eastern thinker, who does not want to bother calling himself a Transhumanist nor desires to become one, knowing he or she already Transcends the form, sees a mission, tied with the Golden Age, or Singularity, from the Eastern Perspective.
To bring about universal harmony, to enable harmonious existence on earth that is total and unconditional, we need to evolve as a society, a civilisation and a species. That evolution, needs to take place firstly and primarily, in the human mind. That is the big difference between the Eastern Perspective of Transhumanism and the Western one.
To forgo the human form, in the Eastern school of thought, we are all destined, through death. To forgo it by any other means, senseless and counter-productive to our interests. We do not invite death. We accept that eventually, ultimately it will come, in form or another. The universe itself through its cycle must end, along with all within it. Hence, death and therefore the parting of us and our human forms is inevitable.
What needs to happen, to alleviate the human experience, without forgoing the natural biological form, is enhancement of our usage of the brain. Basically it means, living in the human form, transcendentally. This does not mean, there is no place for science and technology. To quite the contrary, it is very much still about science and technology, more so, than it is in the limited Western concept of Transhumanism.
In Western Transhumanism, it is about mechanisation and digitisation of the body and the consciousness. Then what? To too much an extent, it does not even make sense. Imagine a human brain being mapped then being uploaded onto a digital network. Will that be the person whose brain has been recorded or just a recording of the brain pattern, the functioning of which is imitated by a system? Likely, it will always be the later. The problem with consciousness, is that it can neither be contained, nor created, except through biological cloning, through which duplication will not be possible, because it will be a new consciousness, just modelled after another.
In Eastern Transhumanism, it is about knowing, understanding and communicating enough so that the adverse is minimised to the maximum and the positive is enhanced, also to the maximum.
For example, the Western Transhumanist will speak of bionics and prosthetics as solutions to limitations of amputees. The Eastern thinker, will speak of new cloning and cell engineering processes or methods, to return or replace lost biological limbs to amputees. For enhancement of human capability, the Western Transhumanist will speak of robotic implants or merging man with machine. The Eastern thinker will instead think of genetic modification to enhance and prolong youth and health, as well as enhancing human capacity, such as strength, speed, endurance, stamina and so on. The Eastern school of thought, is about thinking much more, much deeper, much further, much higher and much harder. In the Eastern school of thought, the thought itself or our capacity for it can evolve. And that is the biggest difference yet.

Ultimately, in the Eastern Perspective, Transhumanism, is about being human, but living life, by transcending the limits of the human form, with knowledge, wisdom and thought; pretty much the power of the mind.

To the Western Transhumanist, technology, created by human engineers is superior, because it calculates and processes information faster. In Eastern thought, the creator is always superior because even though the machine does what the human cannot without the machine, the machine exists because of the human and for the human. And responsibly as well as ethically, no machine or system should be created, over which the human cannot maintain control. Where Western Transhumanist thought is predominantly limited to technological evolution, the Eastern thought on Transhumanism see technological evolution as an imperative for supporting the human evolution. While the Western Transhumanist seeks to alter or escape nature, the Eastern thinker seeks to transcend the human form with humility before nature, seeking to evolve within it, in respect of it, in tandem with it. While the Western Transhumanist will seek to defer death by means of escaping the human form (one has to wonder what worth that will bring), the Eastern thinker will choose to explore means of prolonging life through improving the human form and experience. It is about out-thinking the situation, rather than trying to escape it.
While the view of the Western Transhumanist, is in seeing robotics and programming as a survival option, the Eastern thinker believes, that all sciences must be respected, mastered and harness, for both survival and continued prosperity, not material, but immaterial, in the form of contentment and happiness, for all, as the Sanskrit statement implies, Samasth Loka Sukino Bhavantu (May all beings be happy).
I leave you with a question; Can a machine or a system experience happiness or imitate it? Think about which perspective you’d rather embrace for your evolution and that of your descendants.

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