Transhumanism: Building a Better Reincarnation

In this blog I’ve expressed skepticism about transhumanism despite being something of a transhumanist myself. I’ve been skeptical about ideas of immortality, about the risks, and that some transhumanism is really just a hope for a kind of techno-secular heaven.

My concern roughly is that transhumanism too often becomes a race to preserve a limited sense of identity, when that limited sense of identity may actually be what we need to transcend. I take this inspiration both from observation, and my studies of oft-referred-to, little-understood thinking by Buddhists and Taoists.

Or to be blunt, a lot of deep thought about human identity is that the human identity, that is identifying with a transitory mind and ego, is the core of most of our problems, and maybe we ought to seek to deal with that first. Uploading our brains to computers and such can kind of wait because this “us” we want to preserve is part of the problem.

The ultimate question of transhumanism is one of identity – and how we deal with that.

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The Six Realms of Existence And One Little Dog

Bhavacakra via Wikimedia commons
Bhavacakra via Wikimedia commons

Theres a concept in Tibetan Buddhism (and I think used in other Buddhist traditions) called the Wheel Of Life.  It’s a great mandala, showing the cycles of the world, clutched in the hands of Yama, lord of death.  It’s a vast, symbolic work that you could spend ages analyzing as it represents the sources of suffering, the nature of living beings, and the liberation off the wheel.

Most notable – and famous – are the various realms of existence portrayed on the wheel.  The lore states that there are six realms one can be born in:

Devas – The gods.  Beings who enjoy bliss and pleasure and power.  However, Devas do age and die, and their happiness often means they don’t develop wisdom or compassion.

Asuras – The Angry Gods, sometimes translated as “Titans”.  They conted with the Devas.  Powerful, fierce, and forceful they’re also jealous and paranoid.

Humans – That’s us.  We’re usually ignorant, but also are in a balanced world and state where we can learn wisdom, compassion, and get off the Wheel via enlightenment.  We’ve got anger and bliss and so forth, but it’s not overwhelming or crippling.

Animals – The realm of creatures of instinct.  Animals tend to prefer sameness, indulge desire, and often lack humor.

Hungry Ghosts – The realm of addiction.  Hungry Ghosts are mournful spirits haunting various desolate parts of the world, seeking to consume things they desire and unable to enjoy them.  Scary-looking, they’re rather pathetic creatures.

Hell Beings – The realm of fear and anger.  Hell beings are born to torment in this horrible realm.

Metaphysically it’s an interesting cosmology, but it can also be viewed as metaphorical – that these are different psychological states we can experience.  I’ve seen the psychological model talked about by a number of people, such as Mark Epstein and Pema Chodron; it’s really fascinating.

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