How Long Are You Willing To Fight For Your Dreams?
by S.E. SEVER Views: 2892
Labelled by The New York Times as “the first female philosopher of Transhumanism”, Natasha Vita-More joined us to tell a fascinating account of beliefs, dreams, media, and idealism. Before we unleash her highly inspiring story, I would like to mention briefly what Transhumanism means.
The term “Transhumanism” was originally used by Dante Alighieri in the Divine Comedy proposing that humans must “go outside the human condition and perception” to transform. Many years later the term was used by T.S. Eliot in The Cocktail Party. Yet it was not fully related to evolution until 1957 by Aldous Huxley’s brother Julian Huxley. Julian was a strong proponent of natural selection and a leading biologist in the mid-twentieth century. Yet he placed a limit on the concept of transhumanism when he said “man remaining man, but transcending himself”, which is “a gender-based assumption based on scientism”, according to Vita-More. Nevertheless, his use of language was so sophisticated that when no word seemed to suit his means, he invented one. He’s also been credited for the phrase “ethnic group”, which he used instead of the word “race”.
“Transhumanism is a class of philosophies of life that seek the continuation and acceleration of the evolution of intelligent life beyond its currently human form and human limitations by means of science and technology, guided by life-promoting principles and values.” (Max More, 1990)
The transhumanist movement was formalised by a heady group of philosophers, computer scientists, nanotechnologists, futurists and artists in the late 1980s. Their mission was to support the use of emergent technologies to allow an increase in intelligence and strength. Natasha Vita-More became involved with the movement in its very early days, and she authored the Transhumanist Arts Statement, and produced a cable TV show, TransCentury Update.
Today, we’ll discuss Natasha’s thrilling vision and learn from her experience with regards to chasing our targets and dealing with the media.
S.E. Sever: Welcome to Mash Stories, Natasha. Can you please tell us how the transition from your background in arts to science happened?
Natasha Vita-More: My background as a fine artist and performer transitioned to that of designer and theorist after many years of painting, printmaking and making videos and wondering what I was actually contributing to society.
During my youth, I had volunteered for organisations that helped those in need, especially individuals who were physically disabled, terminally ill, impoverished, or discriminated against. However, in my adult years I was more concerned with the poetics of my own praxis and the international elitist world of the high arts. At what could have been a height in my career, I experienced a tragic illness.
While I was able to survive this illness, the realisation that I had not contributed much to society affected me deeply. The transition began with this realisation. I set out to make a difference: first I met individuals who had influenced society. Then I developed an educational TV show in Santa Monica on the future of technology. Next I joined a non-profit organisation that was creating think tanks for topics such as nanotechnology, biotechnology, artificial intelligence, etc. Once I felt that I had enough knowledge, based on meetings with primary thought leaders, I started writing, designing and building ideas.
S.E.: What made you want to be involved in Transhumanism? Where did you start from?
Natasha: I heard about the “transhuman” in 1982. It was the first time I was actually able to link the dots between emerging technologies’ potential effects on the vulnerability of the human body and the fragility of life, and, alternatively, the possibility of reversing psychological damage caused by illness and injury and protecting life. I was keenly inspired.
I authored the “Transhuman Manifesto” in 1983, created the TransCentury UPdate cable educational show, developed new videos about transformational identity, and started building myself anew. It was not easy – a career change is often a bumpy road to travel.
S.E.: In your talk at the Anticipating 2025 event in London, you mentioned how you were bullied by the media, and the difficulties you had in explaining to the public what this movement was about. What other difficulties were you faced with?
Natasha: There is a saying by Mahatma Gandhi:
Even writing/saying these words gives me chills because they are so true. Just recently, I was having brunch with Michael Masucci of the famed EZTV in Los Angeles, and Michael said to me: “You were 90% right in the 1980s”, in reference to how emerging technologies were going to enhance the human body and how I proposed aspects of a post-human future. Back then my friends raised an eyebrow and, even though they cared for me, they pretty much ignored what I was saying.
When the press heard about the concept of the transhuman, mostly through FM Esfandiary’s seminal work and later due to Max More having developed the philosophical worldview of transhumanism, I started getting a lot of calls about my work and ideas. But I was naïve because I didn’t realise that I had not prepared myself sufficiently to articulately argue and defend the larger scope of the ideas. For example, the LA Weekly, the most-read magazine in LA, wrote a feature on my work and placed me on the cover. I thought it would be great. But it backfired because the journalist exaggerated and even fabricated information about my ideas on radical life extension to make me look foolish. I was devastated.
Another example was when I was on a TV talk show as a guest and the producers planted people in the audience to ask foolish questions to make my ideas look unsubstantiated.
The next stage is “they fight with you”, and this is also true. Drs Francis Fukuyama and Leon Kass, both members of the former president George W. Bush’s Bioethics Commission, claimed that Transhumanism was the world’s most dangerous idea. Then there were people who started criticising Transhumanism and claiming that I hated my body because I was designing a future body, or that I didn’t want to be human just because I proposed something more compassionate and intelligent for human psychology.
Bioethicists started sprouting from all corners ready to attack those who were interested in human enhancement and radical life extension. But today, what is occurring is worth the effort because most people who claimed that Transhumanists were not worth listening to, or that we were a science fiction joke, or the enemy, have come around and are paying attention and even repeating what I and others have said over the years.
S.E.: Were there times when you felt stuck and how did you deal with them? What was the foremost goal that you dreamt of achieving?
Natasha: I am a deeply impassioned person who has a sense of accomplishment in my work and life; yet, I continue to strive forward. I inherited this from my lovely mother, who has always been an inspiration to me and my greatest supporter from childhood. The foremost goal that I dreamed of achieving has been to contribute to the domain of human enhancement and radical life extension. I have touched on this with my future whole body prosthetic design called “Primo Posthuman” and its iteration in developing “Platform Diverse Body” and for preserving and extending the brain and consciousness, what I call “Substrate Autonomous Persons”.
But these projects took years to develop and early on, in the 1990s, my ideas were not accepted, even by many of my artist peers, including bioartists. The worst part was at events such as Electronic Café where a successful elite would bandy around their accomplishments and I was not included because of my Transhuman views. One such person pushed me aside when the camera started rolling for an MTV filming. Another issue that was troublesome for me to comprehend was that when I first started moving from the arts into the sciences, some elitist technocrats did not include me as a viable voice because I had an arts background rather than a computer science background.
Of these people, Eric Drexler, the “father of nanotechnology”, Marvin Minsky, the “father of AI”, and Robert Freitas, who coined the term nanomedicine, held out a helping hand to me. Today, this is all a moot point, since I hold two masters degrees and a doctorate.
One thing is certain to me: the future cannot develop in a way that is beneficial to all humanity if we approach it with solid lines between fields of inquiry.
A transdisciplinary approach, providing diversity of expertise, is essential.
S.E.: Where are you now? How do you feel about your achievements?
Natasha: I have accomplished a large part of my foremost goal, designing the future human body prototype, which embraces the core of Transhumanism. Along with this, my aim has been to provide reliable information about Transhumanism and fuel its vision, especially through my book, The Transhumanist Reader: Classical and Contemporary Essays on the Science, Technology and Philosophy of the Human Future (Wiley-Blackwell) 2013.
Another achievement has been finding peace of mind in my work and life. I am happy: I love teaching, so being a professor is rewarding. I love working with people to expand knowledge. I feel good about my achievements so far, but there is much still to do. As ideas stir in my head, I’ll just continue to debunk ageist thinking that thwarts vitality.
S.E.: Having all this knowledge and experience in your hands now, if you could go back in time and meet your younger self, what would you tell her?
Natasha: Enjoy and be happy! Don’t be intimated when others cannot understand complexity. Take time off – relax, keep learning, and be kind.
S.E.: You’re also a writer. As you know, a career in writing is like a constant battle to improve your skills, enhance your imagination, get your voice heard, become a published author, play an active role in marketing your work, and then do this all over again with each book. What’s your advice for young writers? What should they do to remain determined during those times, when all the doors are shut in their face? How can they remain motivated?
• Find a writer whose content is comparable to your theme, and whose style you admire because s/he will become a mentor for your own approach.
• Examine abstracts and introductions to a paper, and then look at the conclusion. Then, find the meat of the material and what the qualifying and quantifying evidence is that the author is using to persuade his/her readers.
Ask yourself: is what I want to say worth reading? Who else is saying this? How can I say it differently?
• Pay homage to those who came up with the ideas and went through the trenches to make the ideas known to the public.
• Regarding getting published, keep sending your proposal out, no matter how many times you are rejected. Meet people, ask questions, and if you still cannot find a publisher, then write a brief synopsis of no more than one page double spaced (rather than a full manuscript or full proposal) of your idea and send it to friends so that they can offer their suggestions on finding a publisher.
• Believe in your book and try to fill a gap in a specific area.
For my own book, The Transhumanist Reader: Classical and Contemporary Essays on the Science, Technology, and Philosophy of the Human Future, (Eds. More, Max & Vita-More, Natasha 2013), I had sent it out to many publishing houses before Wiley-Blackwell, a top academic publisher, offered us a contract. I had almost given up. But – and this is the key – I believed in the book and I knew it filled a gap and would be the first and most valued book on the core of Transhumanism.
S.E.: Were there any books or influential people that inspired you on your way?
Natasha: The books and influential people who inspired me come from diverse sources. But that is how I travel – with a sense of crossing boundaries: Susan Sontag’s Against Interpretation, Lynn Margulis’s What is Life?, Herman Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game and Siddhartha, Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, Eric Drexler’s Engines of Creation, Buckminster Fuller’s Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth, Friedrich Nietzsche’s The Portable Nietzsche, and FM Esfandiary’s Optimism One.
S.E.: What’s next for Natasha Vita-More? And what’s next for the Transhuman movement?
Natasha: I have several projects in the works, most recently a scientific research project, a book on Transhuman Fitness, and a documentary on life extension. I’d like to continue teaching and develop a curriculum that incorporates transhumanist aims.
S.E.: Natasha, you have been a great inspiration for us. You’ve reminded us, once again, that persistence pays. Thank you for your openness and great advice.
And for our readers, if you’d like to find out more about the transhumanist movement, here are some sources for you:
• Exotropy.org: The original transhumanist organisation
And I will finish by saying:
S.E. is the Founder of Mash Stories. She has had short stories published in fiction magazines across the US and the UK. One of her stories was included in The Subtopian: Selected Stories. Her poetry book, Before Me, is published by Thought Catalog Books, New York. She is currently working on a science fiction novel called Split Watch. You can read some of her short stories and poems at http://sesever.com.
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