Nietzsche on Human Enhancement – Philosopher Interview

Staying on the path of digging into Nietzsche, I was able to catch up recently with Professor Mark Anderson of Nashiville’s Belmont University. Specializing in Nietzsche and the ancient greeks, Prof. Anderson shared some if his insights into Nietzsche’s potential views of human enhancement. Our correspondance is below.

Daniel Faggella:

1) If Nietzsche had known of the idea of Artificial General Intelligence (an intelligence trillions of times more capable than human intelligence), would he have deemed it to be the proper course of things to have this “AGI” expand across the universe, gobbling up all matter and transforming it into “computational substrate”? It seems as though this is a VERY serious and real application of the idea of “Will to Power” carried out on a scale far beyond what we as a race might ever be capable of doing. (Maybe I am wrong in this assumption – would Nietzsche have seen this expansion as just/proper/right?)

2) Nietzsche’s philosophy leans very much into the idea of self-overcoming and development of self and culture. If he were alive today, would we suspect that he would be a firm supporter of enhancing our physical and cognitive abilities by a merger with machine (computers)? Why or why not?

Prof. Anderson:

I think the answer to both your questions is No. I say this because the questions stress the expansion of (a certain sort of) intellect and/or power at the expense of what Nietzsche thought of as culture. He measures most social/historical movements against what he considers the high point of human cultural development, namely, the culture of the Greeks from, let’s say, around 600 to around 450 BCE.

These were the Greeks of Nietzsche’s so-called “Tragic Age” who created great art. I can’t imagine Nietzsche trading Homer (100 years before the era I just mentioned) or Aeschylus for a computer enhanced mechanistic expansion of life. For example, when students learning of Nietzsche’s will to power and praise of war, and of war for the control of Europe no less, say they can understand why N has been associated with the Nazis, I have to make clear that he would not have approved of the ends for which the Nazis wanted power and went to war.

For all Nietzsche’s talk of power and the enhancement of life, he always assumed (even if he did not state it explicitly on every occasion) that there are good and bad (different from good and evil) uses of power and inferior and superior forms of life. And N makes these comparative measurements according to the standards of highly literate 19th century philologist with an almost Romantic (fully Romantic in his youth perhaps) love of music, poetry, and the other arts. Given this perspective, I think he would regard our mechanistic and technological impulses as a sort of brutalization of the species, not an enhancement.

I hope that was helpful!

Insights and Thanks: 

It seems as it the “technological” is usually associated with the cold and “mechanistic” (“machine” in the sense of a car, or a microwave). If in fact this is that case, I believe that much in fact would be lost – and “brutalized” if and when the race was dominated by a kind of technological intelligence.

If, however, this technology had not only a tremendously developed intellect (trillions of times that of humans), and also had a sentiment, artistic sense, and creativity of the same caliber, there might not only be seen unthinkable levels of “cold calibration,” but of creativity and inspiration in this enhanced consciousness. I ponder, however, if even here Nietzsche might be tentative to advocate for the dominance of such a sentient force…

Again I’d like to thank Prof. Anderson for conversing with me on the perspective of Nietzsche with regards to matters of technology and transhumanism.