Skip to main content
Biomedicine in museums

Transhumanism and 'converging technologies' as a museum topic

By December 19, 2007No Comments

In my humble opinion, transhumanism is one of the most interesting intellectual movements today. It attracts some philosophers; quite a few high-ranking people from the fields of nanotechbiotech, information tech and cognitive science; and some accomplished artists and writers as well, like Michel Houellebecq. It has also drawn some severe criticisms, for example from Francis Fukuyama (in Our Posthuman Future, 2002).

Yet it is a publicly rather neglected intellectual movement. True, the social, political, ethical etc. consequences of some specific aspects of its technoscientific base — the so called ‘converging technologies‘ (i.e., nano-bio-info-cogno, or nbic for short) — have given rise both to scholarly research and to some public debate. But alas the movement as such and its credo has not been under much public scrutiny.

Unfortunately, because if one understands some of the ambitions and hopes that makes individual transhumanists tick — and thereby make them behave collectively as loosely defined anticipatory intellectual movement — one will probably also understand some of the drives behind the contemporary convergence of nano-, bio- and information technologies — and as a consequence some of the phenomena of today’s university and knowledge politics.

After all, what happens in laboratories today is not just a question about publish-or-perish or about venture capital investment — there is most probably also individual and collective cultural visions behind. And, for better or for worse, transhumanism is a good candidate for such a collective cultural vision. 

One of the key historical documents that throws some light upon the movement and its constitutive technologies is the proceedings (Converging Technologies for Improving Human Performance, 2002) of a strategic workshop organised in December 2001 by the National Science Foundation and the US Department of Commerce on the potential impact of the nbic-field “on improving human capabilities at the microscopic, individual, group and societal levels” (pdf-file here).

I think transhumanism could be a great conceptual frame for a critical museum exhibition on future medical technologies and human enhancement. Such an exhibition won’t be easy to make. The constitutive topics of nano-bio-info-cogno are technically difficult to make sense of. Much of their material base in invisible and intangible. And much the visual material only exists in the brains of the members of the movement. Like many anticipatory intellectual movements it exists primarily in the form of dreams — and in words.

Yet, the movement is very real, and the technoscientific base (nbic) is very real too. So it would be a rewarding exhibition for an STM museum to take up on its program. 

Thomas Söderqvist

Author Thomas Söderqvist

More posts by Thomas Söderqvist