The Transhuman Metaphor


« Scientific revolutions are in fact metaphorical revolutions. »i

I´d like to reverse this assertion and to generalize it. Any metaphorical revolution opens the door to scientific, philosophical and political revolutions.

Any truly new and powerful metaphor bears a vision, a projected, imaginary view of the world, and therefore, in favorable circumstances, can engender new changes in the real world, or even new worlds.

A good metaphor carries the seeds of a new « narrative », of which it is only the first image, the initial élan. Any truly revolutionary vision is the first sign of an archipelago of new concepts in the making, with their potentially disruptive power.

For example, the idea of a « noosphere »ii, coined by Teilhard de Chardin, reveals an « envelope » of thoughts, bathing humanity with its flows and energies, and will have unimaginable implications on the social and political level.

The metaphor of the « transhuman » (trasumanar), first used by Dante in the Divine Comedy, is perhaps even more brilliant, since it points to the actual existence of a « meta-sphere » of consciousness and life.

“Trans-humanity » is in perpetual transhumance. It has a vocation to reach unheard of worlds.

Dantesque « transhuman » and modern « transhumanism » should not be confused. “Transhumanism », a recent word, embedding a new ideology, has nothing to do with the metaphor initially proposed by Dante more than seven centuries ago.

There is nothing metaphysical about “transhumanism”. It only contains the idea that technical and scientific evolution will, it is assumed, favor the appearance of a « singularity ». Vernor Vinge and Ray Kurzweil are its prophets. This « singularity » will embody a tipping point towards an intellectually and physically « augmented » humanity.

This « transhumanism », it seems to me, is flatly reductive. Science and technology are the bearers of considerable openings, but it is naïve to believe that they alone will determine the conditions for a transformation of humanity, its leap, its passage towards transhumanity.

More than forty thousand years ago, the caves of the Palaeolithic were already secret, deep sanctuaries, frequented by shamans, some of whom were also artists.

The Palaeolithic religion, to which the cave paintings bear witness, still escapes the best informed analyses today (the enlightening work of Alain Testart show the intrinsic limits of the modern approach of paleo-anthropology).

All of these paintings, whose execution is spread out without discontinuity over a period of many thousands years, testify to an assumed perception of a ´transcendence´ by men in the Palaeolithic. Cro-Magnon Man, already a Homo Sapiens, was perhaps wiser than modern man, in this regard, — wiser by a wisdom of which the world today has no idea.

BirdMan Lascaux

The former President of the French Republic, François Hollande, was not known to be a specialist in transcendence. But, in a speech delivered before a Freemasonic Lodge, he ventured into a few considerations on the future of humanity.

He declared in particular :

« You also wanted to think about the incredible mutations that the new technologies of the living allow us to guess: this is what is called transhumanism or augmented man. This is a formidable question: how far to allow progress, because progress must not be suspected, we must encourage it. How can we master these serious ethical questions? What is at stake is the very idea of humanity, of choice, of freedom. So in the face of these upheavals that some people hope for, that others fear, the vision of Freemasonry is a very precious compass in these times, and a light that helps to grasp the issues and to respond to them. »

When it comes to metaphors, there is a great deal of freedom allowed, of course, but it is important to maintain a minimum of coherence.

Comparing the « vision » to a « compass » and a « light » seems to be a somewhat twisted trope.

The « gaze » of the pilot is guided in the direction indicated by the « compass ».

But the compass depends on the law of magnetism, not optics.

It is then strange, baroque, to suggest that a « gaze » or a « vision » may be a « compass », as if it could create an imaginary North, at will, and as if it could moreover and ipso facto generate an illuminating light.

Throwing metaphors around without care, just brings more disorder in the great circus of the world.

iMichaël Arbib, Mary Hesse. The Constructions of Reality. 1986

iiCf. The work of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin