Thus Spoke Zarathustra

It has been some 130 years since Friedrich Nietzsche exposed the world to one of arguably the most profound, and most misinterpreted, expressions in the history of modern philosophy; specifically, that man is something that shall be overcome – a concept that has found its home in everything from Nazi eugenics programs to transhumanism and the quest for artificial intelligence.

Man is something that shall be overcome! We are merely a path between the apes and the Overman, whatever that is! What have you done to overcome him!

What a concept!

There is an scientific basis for this idea, in theory. If we (and at the moment, only we) consider that we are at the apex of natural selection, then it stands to reason that we should also consider that we are on a path towards something else. Time, after all, marches relentlessly on. However, I think it is a huge leap of hubris to consider that we can fully conceptualize what this is, much less somehow steer ourselves towards it.

There is no Santa Claus driving the non-chance retention of chance mutations that led to the specific attributes we currently classify as Homo sapiens. The only gift that evolution hands out is survival; the only lump of coal is extinction. We will only continue to thrive on this planet as long as the environment continues to support a natural selection process that favors our survival. We have neither earned a right to be here, nor is there a divine purpose. We are merely here, until we’re not.

Indeed, although we may have demonstrated some ability to alter our local environment to enhance our survivability, this is not to be confused with an ability to alter the fundamental principles of evolution. If we use our environment-altering ability to somehow save the planet from an extinction-level event, then we will have won the prize of surviving for another day. If we use that same ability to create an extinction-level event, then we will simply cease to exist. But, in neither case will we have risen above evolution, nor subverted it. Evolution will continue to work inexorably on our species as long as we survive, and will continue elsewhere if we don’t. The universe will not weep for us.

So, what of this Overman? Since we cannot step outside the unimaginably complex interplay of environmental optimizations that have brought us this far, then anything we conceptualize is bound to be limited by our experience. Thus, the Nazis conceived the Overman as some kind of perfect strain of the human genome that could be obtained through careful breeding, because that was the level of their understanding and technology. Later, it would be proposed as perfection through genetic manipulation. Current thinking involves some kind of transhumanism, whether by mechanically/biologically extending the human form, or creating something else entirely. But always from the human form, with humans in charge; in keeping with the “human as pathway” philosophy; per our limited understanding of the path of natural selection.

However, if we are fundamentally unable to alter the path, then we are fundamentally unable to alter the destination. We may succeed in creating various offshoots from the evolutionary line, but the Overman will be what it will, no matter what we currently conceive it to be, because it is simply not in our limited power to know otherwise. We are as much in control of where we are going as a spider clinging to a windshield.

The best we can possibly do is concentrate on overcoming the present, and let the Overman take care of itself. And that, Mr. Zarathustra, is the only reasonable answer you can expect.


Filed under Technology, Transhumanism

7 responses to “Thus Spoke Zarathustra

  1. Damn, this is a seriously great piece!

    “The universe will not weep for us.” I like that.

  2. What a rare treat!
    You might be interested in this: Nietzsche’s Superman

  3. Pingback: Better than human? | The Cosmogonic Grunt

  4. Pingback: On consciousness, part 2: The human condition | The Cosmogonic Grunt

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