The Birth of Modernity and Perspectives on Transhumanism – with Professor Khalil Habib

To whom to we give thanks for our modern perspective on science and man’s will to understand / overcome his condition? How do these outlooks and mindsets translate to future developing faster than any era before it?

Dr. Khalil Habib heads the Pell Honors Program at Salve Regina University in Newport, Rhode Island. Though a “generalist,” much of Khalil’s study has involved the works and impact of Hobbes, Machiavelli, and Bacon.

These thinkers (as well as John Locke and others) were massive contributors to a scientific and technological society that unfortunately they themselves would not be privy to experience.

From Soul Back to Earth

A great deal of the philosophy and thinking before this era of the “Enlightenment” had to do with man as an extension of God, a child of God, or in reference to a higher, untouchable state of ideals / virtues.

Bacon, Machiavelli, and others in this modern era believed that we should focus not on comparisons and subservience to Gods and ideals, but to leverage our own will in our own present time to improve upon our condition ourself.

In other words, a shift occurred from searching for salvation outside oneself, to total self reliance and meaning-making in a world otherwise void of meaning, which would not provide salvation without the express will and efforts of man. Man’s solutions were to be found in his deliberate and intelligent efforts to solve them, not in prayer and deep thinking.

If the world was once half God’s will and half chance, it now shifted to half Man’s will, and half chance. As Professor Habib put it:

“The shift at this time was a push not to ‘contemplate’ the universe, but to ‘manipulate’ it to improve our conditions. Any movement forward in art and science had to yield something, it had to have a result.”

Ramifications of This Line of Thought

In this view, man can and aught to take dominion over land, sea, air, and all other creatures. Our nature is directed to self preservation, and with no higher savior in this life or any other, we’d have to make our own progress in all regards.

Granted, these Enlightenment thinkers might have held a bit more respect for animals if we knew then what we know now about the intelligence of dolphins, apes, etc… However, writers of the day like Hobbes and Locke would argue that our goal should be to appropriate them, mix them with labor, and use them for our benefit, just as we do with wood or another inanimate and useful material.

Whether this view be right or wrong, it is evident to Prof Habib that this “paradigm shift” of seeking salvation in an afterlife to seeing one’s will and effort as the key to one’s improvement was a key factor in the development of Europe and western society as a whole.

An Old Motor for a New Movement – Lucretius

Extending these ideas forward, oddly enough, brings us much farther backward in time to one of the major intellectual influencers of the Enlightenment – Lucretius (~99 – 55 BC).

In the age of the┬áRenaissance, many thinkers were studying Lucretius – the famous Epicurean poet and philosopher. In many ways, his ideas mesh well with the spirit of the Enlightenment, and the ideas and ideals of Bacon and Machiavelli.

Lucretius believed in a world composed of but two fundamental elements: atoms (matter), and void (space). In addition, he saw one of the primary purposes of philosophy as a tool to set people free from dogma (including the religious kind), superstition, and terror, and to understand more genuinely and fully. In this regard, we should cease to lean upon the pillars of an unknowable afterlife, or of “signs,” and omens, but to become self-sufficient.

Carrying These Thoughts Forward

It is interesting indeed to study what appear to be the very shifts in human thinking that make questions of transhumanism and the future of consciousness possible.

This leap from salvation elsewhere and making sense of the world and phenomena through superstition – to a belief instead in man’s own will and effort to make his own way and improve his own condition in the world to no limit – is indeed a quantum leap.

Bearing this new paradigm in mind, let us consider the what the future might hold in store. Machiavelli, Bacon, and many of the enlightenment thinkers would argue that we aught continue to drive for the improvement of man. We must manipulate this planet as much as we can, and if we run out of animals, lumber, or planet itself, we must (and in good faith – WILL) either create more, or find more – and continue our quest as the only rational beings aiming to live better and better in a world otherwise void of intelligence or meaning.

I do not necessarily agree or disagree with this idea, but through the lens of these thinkers we can see more accurately the view of many optimists.

Beyond Man Himself? Closing Thoughts on Lucretius

Lucretius, oddly enough, seems to have thought beyond this idea of “progress” as limited to man. Prof Habib states that Bacon and Machiavelli would have seen the improvement of man as the final frontier, Lucretius did not share this notion.

Instead, he believed in the likelihood of other species, superior to man, who in his eyes, as Professor Habib explains, would have similar justification for appropriating humanity as we do with appropriating cattle. We are likely, in the view of Lucretius, not the final destination of sentient life, but one small manifestation – which is likely holding back a different, better, or higher manifestation – which may come forth from earth, from another galaxy… or – in the view of the 21st century – from technology.

This view seems to mesh exceptionally well with the concept of the Singularity, which would imply a tremendous shift in the nature of life and sentient potential – and a massive enhancement, aggregation, and potential merger of intelligence that may imply the elimination or assimilation of mankind.

Lucretius believes – as I happen to believe in a very common-sense fashion – that all which is brought into the world must eventually leave it – and that all which comes to be must come to no be. This may occur through a self-overcoming, a change in circumstance, supremacy of other entities or factors, etc…

There will only be one way to find out if this assumption is correct… but it seems we would ourselves need to overcome biology in order to live long enough to know this ourselves.