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Speakers Tan, Tobias
Year 2018
See also Oxford University Podcasts

Tan -Extending the Transhuman Person: Religion as Technological Enhancement

Tobias Tan

University of Cambridge 

“Extending the Transhuman Person: Religion as Technological Enhancement”

Transhumanism readily conjures up images of enhancements to individual bodies: be they through genetic engineering, neural implants, biohacking, or the creation of cyborgs. This image carries with it a crucial assumption, namely that the relevant boundary for the human person is the skin (or, in the case of protruding technological augmentations, the skin plus things firmly attached to it). This assumption, however, has been challenged by the extended mind hypothesis (Clark and Chalmers, 1998). According to this hypothesis, restricting the mind to the skull or even to the skin is somewhat arbitrary since cognitive processes draw on a wider set of resources. Hence human cognition, although centred on the brain, is implemented by a wider system comprising of brain, body and world. This view implies that the skin is not an absolutely boundary of personhood, but personhood becomes a more distributed phenomenon with a porous boundary. An understanding of personhood which takes into account the extended mind has important implications for the scope of transhumanism. In particular, it suggests that technological enhancements need not be restricted to the skin to alter human capabilities. Hence tools outside of the body and cultural ‘scaffolds’ can be recognised as enhancements to human capabilities.

This insight raises the possibility that religion, together with its associated technologies (such as rituals and religious material culture), is itself a form of transhumanist enhancement. Such a proposal resonates with evolutionary accounts of religion which suggest that religion enhances human capabilities by, for example, strengthening social bonding, encouraging pro-social behaviour, etc. If religious technologies are themselves a form of transhumanist enhancement, this creates a potential self-contradiction for religious actors who reject all forms of transhumanism. Hence considering religion as a transhumanist enhancement ought to inform religious and theological responses to transhumanism.

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