But there is truth in the view that hope springs eternal in the human breast, and false hope is no exception. In the world that we are now entering there is a striking new source of false hope, in the “trans-humanism” of people like Ray Kurzweil, Max More and their followers. The transhumanists believe that we will replace ourselves with immortal cyborgs, who will emerge from the discarded shell of humanity like the blessed souls from the grave in some medieval Last Judgement.(HT: ALD)
The transhumanists don’t worry about Huxley’s Brave New World: they don’t believe that the old-fashioned virtues and emotions lamented by Huxley have much of a future in any case. The important thing, they tell us, is the promise of increasing power, increasing scope, increasing ability to vanquish the long-term enemies of mankind, such as disease, ageing, incapacity and death.
But to whom are they addressing their argument? If it is addressed to you and me, why should we consider it? Why should we be working for a future in which creatures like us won’t exist, and in which human happiness as we know it will no longer be obtainable? And are those things that spilled from Pandora’s box really our enemies – greater enemies, that is, than the false hope that wars with them? We rational beings depend for our fulfilment upon love and friendship. Our happiness is of a piece with our freedom, and cannot be separated from the constraints that make freedom possible – real, concrete freedom, as opposed to the abstract freedom of the utopians. Everything deep in us depends upon our mortal condition, and while we can solve our problems and live in peace with our neighbours we can do so only through compromise and sacrifice. We are not, and cannot be, the kind of posthuman cyborgs that rejoice in eternal life, if life it is.[emphasis added] We are led by love, friendship and desire; by tenderness for young life and reverence for old. We live, or ought to live, by the rule of forgiveness, in a world where hurts are acknowledged and faults confessed to. All our reasoning is predicated upon those basic conditions, and one of the most important uses of pessimism is to warn us against destroying them. The soul-less optimism of the transhumanists reminds us that we should be gloomy, since our happiness depends on it.
Yes, it would be wrong to be overoptimistic about the coming of the singularity, but that's not the pessimism Scruton's calling for. He wants pessimism about the idea that massively extended lifespan or immortality could be consistent with being human.
Let's take the limit case then. At what point does expanded lifespan cease making us human? Once we've doubled average life expectancy? Surely not: we've already done that since the middle ages and more. Would our medieval ancestors not recognize us as human? Of course. Once we've increased it by a century? Two centuries? Lazarus Long certainly seems human to me.
I can agree that if immortality is achieved through uploads that we might well not recognize those descendants as being human. But various cyborg life-extending implants? Why not? Are folks with pacemakers not cyborgs too? I count them as human. How about cochlear implants? Future versions of cochlear implants that give normal folks augmented hearing? Future artificial organs that can be indefinitely replaced? Uploads seem a category shift; the rest seems pretty much on the continuum we're already on.
I can't see anything about the human condition that requires short lifespans. Joy in the young, reverence for the old, love, friendship, happiness - I can't see these doing anything but augmenting with longer time horizons. I can buy arguments that uploads wouldn't be human, but I'd definitely prefer being uploaded moments prior to death than not being uploaded.
I'm far less an "immortality through kids" guy than "immortality WITH them".