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Facing the Challenges of Transhumanism: Religion, Science, Technology

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A Workshop on Transhumanism and the Concept of Human Nature

Description | Podcast | Program | Participant Bios

Templeton Research Lectures Workshops
Monday, April 16, 2007
University Club

Workshop Description

Humanity stands on the precipice of a new phase in human evolution, referred to as “posthumanism” or “transhumanism.” This new phase–in which humans become their own makers–emerges due to the confluence of new developments in the life sciences, technology, and neurosciences. Today human beings are not only able to enhance their own performance and make important strides against devastating diseases, but also endow humanly–engineered traits to future generations. These new technologies have the potential to produce human beings with enhanced capabilities who will live longer and have the capacity to create, clone and modify existing forms of life, altering nature, the environment, and human nature itself.

The transhuman vision, which places much confidence in the ability of humans to change nature, including human nature, conflicts with the claims of evolutionary psychology that there is a universal human nature on the one hand, and the new brain sciences on the other. The workshop seeks to evaluate the claims of the transhuman vision. Do the claims of transhumanism indicate a lack of understanding about human nature? Or will it be necessary to abandon the notion of a shared human nature that undergirds Western moral and political theory? How will the genetically enhanced transhuman differ from the norms of non–enhanced humans or from super–intelligent machines? Will the transhuman suffer from the existential problems that plague the human condition such as shame, anxiety, fear, frustration, depression, and isolation? Will we be able to speak coherently about “human dignity” and “personhood” in the posthuman or transhuman age?


The podcasts of the various workshop presentations listed below are now available:
Templeton Research Lecture Podcast

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8:15–8:45 Breakfast

8:45–9:00 Welcome
Linell Cady
Hava Tirosh–Samuelson

9:00–10:00 “The Blind Spot of Humanism and Transhumanism: The Scientific Study of Human Nature”
Pascal Boyer (Washington University)
Presentation Slides (6.8 MB)

10:15–11:15 “Can Beauty Build Adapted Minds? Neural Self–Assembly in a Changing World”
John Tooby (UC–Santa Barbara)

11:30–12:30 “Could Transhumans Be Humans After All?”
Sander van der Leeuw (Arizona State University)
Presentation Slides(2.5 MB)

12:30–1:30 Lunch

1:30–2:30 “A Missing Global Blueprint for Integral Life and Culture: The Maturation of the Human Species”
Ashok Gangadean (Haverford College)

2:45–3:45 “Happiness, Virtue and Transcendence in a Neurotechnological Future”
James Hughes (Trinity College)
Presentation Slides (15.6 MB)

4:00–5:00 “Transhumanism at the Crossroads of Science and Religion: A Closing Discussion”
William Grassie (Metanexus Institute)

5:00–6:00 Reception

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Participant Bios

Hava Tirosh–Samuelson (Project Manager of Transhumanism) is Professor of History at Arizona State University. She specializes in premodern Jewish intellectual history, Judaism and science, Judaism and ecology, and feminist philosophy. She holds a Ph.D. in Jewish Philosophy and Kabbalah from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (1978) and a B.A. from SUNY–Stony Brook (1974). Prior to joining ASU in 1999, she taught at Indiana University, Emory University, Columbia University, and Hebrew Union College (New York). In addition to articles and book chapters, she is the author of Between Worlds – The Life and Work of Rabbi David ben Judah Messer Leon (1991) which received an award from Hebrew University for the best work in Jewish history for 1991. Her most recent book is Happiness in Premodern Judaism: Virtue, Knowledge and Well–Being in Pre-modern Judaism (2003). She is also the editor of Judaism and Ecology: Created World and Revealed World (2002) and Women and Gender in Jewish Philosophy (2004). Her current projects include a book on Nature and Judaism (Rowman and Littlefield) and the edited volume Judaism and the Phenomenon of Life: The Legacy of Hans Jonas; Historical and Philosophical Studies (2008). She sits on the Editorial Board of Journal of American Academy of Religion and on the Academic Advisory Board of the Metanexus Institute on Science and Religion.

Pascal Boyer (Washington University) is Henry Luce Professor of Individual and Collective Memory in Arts & Sciences. An anthropologist and psychologist, he is internationally recognized for his studies of how people and communities perceive and understand characteristics of their culture. His work centers on questions concerning the understanding of culture and its scientific investigation as it relates to the mind and the brain. Most of his research is focused on the cognitive processes involved in acquiring, storing and transmitting cultural knowledge, norms and preferences. The aim is to show how the organization of the human mind influences human cultures by making certain types of ideas or norms extremely easy to acquire and communicate. He has done anthropological and psychological research on the transmission of oral epics in Africa and on the transmission of religious concepts. He currently is engaged in cognitive experimental work on young children’ concepts of animate beings and numbers. Professor Boyer is the author of a numerous books and articles, including The Naturalness of Religious Ideas: A Cognitive Theory of Religion, which has been called a landmark study of religion and of cognitive approaches to culture, and most recently, Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought.

John Tooby (University of California, Santa Barbara) is Professor of Anthropology and co–director of UCSB’ Center for Evolutionary Psychology, where he and his collaborators use cross–cultural, experimental, and neuroscience techniques to investigate specific cognitive specializations for cooperation, group psychology, and human reasoning. Under Tooby’ direction, the Center maintains a field station in Ecuadorian Amazonia in order to conduct cross–cultural studies of psychological adaptations and human behavioral ecology. He is particularly interested in documenting how the design of these adaptations shapes cultural and social phenomena, and potentially forms the foundation for a new, more precise generation of social and cultural theories. For the last two decades, Tooby and his collaborators have been integrating cognitive science, cultural anthropology, evolutionary biology, paleoanthropology, cognitive neuroscience, and hunter–gatherer studies to create the new field of evolutionary psychology. His numerous scientific papers and publications include, The Adapted Mind: Evolutionary Psychology and the Generation of Culture, and two forthcoming books—Universal Minds: Explaining the New Science of Evolutionary Psychology and Evolutionary Psychology: Foundational Papers. He has been the recipient of a J. S. Guggenheim Fellowship and has served as President of the Human Behavior and Evolution Society. Tooby and his principal collaborator, Leda Cosmides, were named Templeton Research Fellows by ASU in 2006.

Sander van der Leeuw (Arizona State University) is Professor and Director of the School of Human Evolution and Social Change at ASU. An archaeologist and historian by training, Van der Leeuw’s research interests have been in archaeological theory, reconstruction of ancient ceramic technologies, regional archaeology, (ancient and modern) man–land relationships, GIS and modeling, and Complex Systems Theory. He has done archaeological fieldwork in Syria, Holland and France, and conducted ethno–archaeological studies in the Near East, the Philippines and Mexico. Since 1992, he has been involved in a series of research projects financed by the European Union in the area of socio–natural interactions and environmental problems as well as the history of archaeology and its uses in the creation of national and regional identities. Among these projects are “Archaeomedes,” concerned with understanding and modeling the natural and anthropogenic causes of desertification, land degradation and land abandonment and their spatial manifestations, “Environmental Perception and Policy Making,” “Concerted Action and Environmental Communication,” and, most recently, the creation of a Europe–wide network of Long Term Socio–Environmental Research sites. His publications include Modeling Socioecological Systems, Quelles natures voulons–nous? Pour une approche socio–écologique du champ de l’environnement, and Archaeology: Time, Process and Structural Transformations.

Ashok Gangadean (Haverford College) is Professor of Philosophy and was the first Director of the Margaret Gest Center for Cross–Cultural Study of Religion at Haverford. His primary concern throughout his career has been to clarify the universal logos or common ground at the heart of human reason and rational life. He is Founder–Director of the Global Dialogue Institute, which seeks to embody the dialogical powers of global reason in all aspects of cultural life. His book, Meditative Reason: Toward Universal Grammar (l993) attempts to open the way to global reason. A companion volume, Between Worlds: The Emergence of Global Reason (l997) explores the dialogical common ground between diverse worlds. His forthcoming book, The Awakening of the Global Mind further develops these themes for the general reader. He is co–convenor of the recently formed World Commission on Global Consciousness and Spirituality which brings eminent world leaders together in sustained deep dialogue to cultivate global vision and wisdom for the new millennium. This high level Commission has been supported generously by the Breuninger Foundation and has held annual retreats in the past three years at their Wasan Island Retreat.

James Hughes (Trinity College) is currently Associate Director of Institutional Research and Planning at Trinity College in Hartford, where he teaches Health Policy, Drug Policy, Infectious Disease Policy, and Research Methods in Trinity’ Graduate Public Policy Studies program. In 2004, Hughes was appointed the Executive Director of the World Transhumanist Association and he became Executive of the affiliated think tank, the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. He is a Fellow of the World Academy of Arts and Sciences, a member of the American Society of Bioethics and Humanities, and a member of the Working Group on Ethics and Technology at Yale University. Dr. Hughes speaks on medical ethics, health care policy and future studies worldwide. His work is characterized by a hopefulness that technology and democracy can help citizens overcome some of the root causes of inequalities of power. He is the author of Citizen Cyborg: Why Democratic Societies Must Respond to the Redesigned Human of the Future in which he explores many of the issues and possibilities as technology increasingly changes the nature and character of being human. He also produces the weekly syndicated public affairs talk show Changesurfer Radio and contributes to the Technoliberation project and the Cyborg Democracy blog.

William Grassie (Metanexus Institute) is the founder of the Metanexus Institute, executive editor of the Institute’ online magazine and discussion forum with over 40,000 weekly page views and over 6000 regular subscribers in 57 different countries, and national program director for the Templeton Research Lectures on the Constructive Engagement of Science and Religion. He has been a visiting professor at Temple University, Swarthmore College and the University of Pennsylvania, and specializes in the philosophy of science and religion. Grassie lectures widely on topics related to science and religion. His recent projects have included a series of conferences, workshops and symposia on “Beyond Intelligent Design, Scientific Debates, and Culture Wars: Towards a Constructive Theology of Evolution.” He has also written recently on the topic of transhumanism in the context of the dialogue between science and religion.

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