Posted February 26, 2015
“Transcendence: The Disinformation Encyclopedia of Transhumansim and the Singularity”
By R.U. Sirius and Jay Cornell
By AUDREY WINKELSAS
Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species” has dominated scientific discussions of evolution for the last century and a half. Transhumanism may provide the impetus to usurp this fundamental biological process, as people use science and technology to overcome the natural limits placed on humankind.
In “Transcendence: The Disinformation Encyclopedia of Transhumansim and the Singularity,” R.U. Sirius and Jay Cornell offer an easy to digest account of much of the science surrounding transhumanist thought as well as an occasional personality involved in the movement.
Although most certainly a non-fiction work, science fiction readers will love this book. Concepts that seem to be the products of pure imagination are on the contrary very real. The book ponders questions such as how can we prevent disease and death? Can taxes be fun? Can we construct a brain in the lab that is complete enough to allow consciousness to occur?
In the book we learn that we interact with artificial intelligence on a daily basis, that there are cyborgs among us, and that there was recently for sale a $325,000 hamburger made from meat grown in vitro.
Sirius stated that the book was intended to be an A to Z guide for providing conversational proficiency in transhumansim. They succeeded in achieving this aim by not including too many details that make it incomprehensible to the everyday reader. Most scientific terms are defined which makes it readable by non-experts. Yet because the content is eye-popping and mind-boggling, the book is not so simplistic as to be inappropriate for scientists.
The first page of the book following the introduction includes a quote concerning gene therapy that reads, “If cunningly applied, a combination of the cellular enlargement of the mesolimbic dopamine system, selectively enhanced metabolic function of key intra-cellular sub-types of opioidergic and serotonergic pathways, and the disablement of several countervailing inhibitory feedback processes will put in place the biomolecular architecture for a major transition in human evolution.”
The bad news is that since this occurs at the very beginning, many non-experts will put the book down, expecting the remainder of the book to be written in a similar, jargon-rich fashion.
Don’t! The good news is that it’s not. If you understand the above excerpt, the rest of the book will be smooth sailing. Even if you don’t understand it, you’re not doomed. The book is a composite of short articles and comprehension of one does not mandate knowledge from a previous entry.
R.U. Sirius and Jay Cornell model their book after an encyclopedia. It contains close to 90 entries arranged in alphabetical order. As compared to the 32,640 pages in the “Encyclopedia Britannica” however, “Transcendence” is a modest 288 pages.
Organizing the book as an encyclopedia enables the authors to cover a wide range of topics. Furthermore, it allows readers to easily pick up the book and set it down because they are able to find closure even if they only have time to read one or two entries during coffee break.
Science enthusiasts may claim that it is impossible to put down, but this is unlikely to be the case for the general population. As opposed to a traditional novel, there is no climax and enthralling suspense since there is no plot.
The authors of this book portray transhumanism as though it is a religion. Indeed, it makes many of the same promises, namely, “immortality in a sort of heavenly place” free of disease and scarcity. There seems to be an entire culture surrounding transhumanism.
R.U. Sirius is an all-around cyberculture celebrity and was previously the editor of MONDO 2000, a popular digital culture magazine. Jay Cornell is a Web developer and former editor of h+ Magazine, a publication focusing on transhumanism. Cornell is also on the advisory board for the Lifeboat Foundation, which is dedicated to saving humanity from existential risks and misuse of technology. These geeky men write with a quirky sense of humor and sarcasm that other technology gurus will surely appreciate.
The cover of Transcendence foreshadows the cheeky remarks found throughout this book. There is no logical explanation for the way in which R.U. Sirius decided to abbreviate his name on the book other than for humorous effect. The humor on the pages that follow may be a little crude for some people’s liking, especially as it involves a fair amount of profane language. In any case, this distinguishes the book from an average encyclopedia and helps to make it anything but boring.
One shortcoming is the lack of photographs that are characteristic of many good encyclopedias. There were plenty of opportunities to incorporate pictures, as simple as portraits of transhumanist personalities.
The breadth of topics covered include genomics, information technology, nanotechnology, neuroscience, and robotics. It follows that individuals from many different interest groups will all find this book insightful. Even those more interested in the social sciences, such as alleviating social inequities, will find a connection with the book when they read about the technologies being discovered that can help alleviate human suffering. In the end, it will be up to you to decide whether you are a transhumanist or a “deathist.”
- “Transcendence: The Disinformation Encyclopedia of Transhumansim and the Singularity”
- By R.U. Sirius and Jay Cornell
- Published by Disinformation Books, San Francisco
- Available in paperback or for Kindle
- Released on Jan. 1, 2015
- 288 pages