THIS REVIEW INCLUDES SPOILERS
Human+ is a near future speculative fiction novel about the awakening of a new kind of transhumanism, a spiritual transhumanism. It is a story of personal transformation and the journey of awakening to a more mature level of intelligence and integration, a more profound experience of humanity that is beyond and yet encompasses the mundane materialistic world in the higher order of a more encompassing reality. Intentionally or not the novel begins to address the question of what lays ahead for us as a species as we move beyond the biological enhancements of health, performance and cosmetic to explore the enhancements of our intelligence and connectivity. With that said, the story is a good metaphor and cautionary tale for potential issues that will likely arise with technological enhancement especially when these deeply personal upgrades are bound to a corporation in a free market capitalist economy.
The story follows the journey and transformation of David, an isolated and confused but inspired artist lost not in the dark wood midway through life’s journey but in a jungle of confusion and alienation bordering on psychosis. He has visions of creatures and strange things manifesting in the world around him and follows signs, trying to piece together a meaningful hidden order amidst the chaos of the world around him. David repeatedly loses himself in drugs, psychological confusion, the inability to hold a job, maintain meaningful relationships or pay his rent. The siren song of the short lived pleasures of chemically induced highs inevitably causes him to crash on the rocks of his broken life over and over again. On one of his excursions through the tumult of life in the city he encounters a woman with a mysterious and magnetic presence so he follows her and the various signs and synchronicities that spring up in her wake like blossoms in the footsteps of Persephone. She is both his spirit guide and anima who leads him across the threshold into a new life. David retains much of his innocence and lack of confidence as new capabilities such as telepathy, lucid dreaming, astral travel, access to a deep ground of etheric knowledge and the elusive quest for precognition progressively unfold within him. His trauma and psychosis fall away like old clothes in a matter of weeks and he becomes a new man. The chrysalis of his cramped and confused self is cracked open through state of the art therapeutic and reprogramming techniques and it releases his latent but immature spiritual Self, finally able to grow and fly. The innate capacities buried within human consciousness become the ultimate tools that initiate then next stage of evolution just as the invention of language did for our ancestors 50,000 years ago.
While psychic enhancement is presented here as an antidote to the western materialistic and comfort driven lifestyle and mindset, the author Martin Higgins shows how psychic evolution is not without it’s challenges and dangers. As David masters his new found capacities he becomes seduced by them. While he develops these wondrous powers the ethical side of his psyche initially takes a back seat but compassion and loving kindness return in due course along with a healthy amount of doubt and uncertainty. And despite David’s savant capacity for developing psi abilities, the high level of mastery and control he and his colleagues attain, David realizes there are still mysterious forces that are beyond their comprehension.
Intentionally or not, I think Martin in this book has raised the question of: What is this Self, this conscious identity that Transhumanists seek to preserve and maintain? What is this Self that seeks the nectar of immortality, this technological ambrosia or soma of the gods? Much of the reading I’ve done so far in Transhumanist and Singularity literature seems to maintain a materialistic and reductionistic concept of the Self; a Self that is a singular egoic conscious intelligence or identity composed of neural structures and processes. It seems little has been done to integrate the insights of humanistic, depth or transpersonal psychology into these visions of human future evolution. I’m sure it could be argued within the Cognitive Behaviorist model implicit in much of the current literature that our innate drive toward Actualization, toward wholeness that integrates and balances the complex unconscious archetypal attractors deep with the human psyche and mystical experiences are the result of neural structures and chemical and electrical epiphenomena. My humble readings of current brain research though indicates that the human brain is a modular system, and so the conscious Self, if it is indeed limited to the brain is composed of modular subsystems. Ben Goertzel’s approach to creating an Artificial General Intelligence moves even further in this direction. If I understand him correctly then he is suggesting that generalized consciousness may be the result not only of the different organs of the brain but the organs and organ systems of our bodies. Further, philosophy professor Anthony Miccoli, author of Transhuman Suffering argues convincingly in his academic blog, Posthuman Being that the Self may not even be limited to one’s own body but a result of a distributed intelligence anchored in the Objects we surround ourselves with. And so, what is this Self? Like the Ship of Theseus paradox, if the Self is indeed modular and limited to biology, can the various parts not be replaced and still be the same Self?
The ancient meditative traditions of Yoga and parts of Buddhism, ancient shamanic traditions, new age mythologies, psychedelic experimenters and scholars in the field of transpersonal psychology arguably present alternative models of consciousness and the Self. Instead of the brain being an organ that generates consciousness, it could be a receiver for a higher order of non biological consciousness. This is the model that Martin Higgins explores in Human+ and the kind of Transhumanism he explores. One of the main themes of the book is that we can unlock the latent potential within us and become something greater; something more inspired, connected and intelligent. The main character David does this well by cleansing his body and mind and so opening the doors of perception to greater capacities, a larger more encompassing experience and definition of Self. And as we embrace a grander vision of technological connectivity through more advanced networked information systems, haptic interfaces, augmented and virtual glasses, increasingly realistic game worlds, neural implants and long distance communication then the numinous capacities of telepathy, lucid dreaming and astral travel gain new and more potent meaning. The novel Human+ leap frogs us into that future of direct post neural hyper connectivity.
The hero David is a likable character, whom I found easy to identify with. While he is not truly of this mundane world he is also not a truly transcendent character either. Human+ is very well written with a smooth flow of natural language and superb pacing. There are points where I knew what lay ahead but that did not diminish my enjoyment of the story. Sometimes I couldn’t put the book down and other times I wanted to jump ahead see if my suspicions were correct and see what happened. The novel displays a unique balance of a well written story, interesting ideas and enjoyable characters. Bottom line is that as both a writer and as a reader I highly recommend this book.
Stephen Kagan is an artist and author of contemplative poetry and the speculative fiction novel Augmented Dreams, the Singularity Palimpsest. With over 20 years of work experience in IT he currently works at the University of Victoria in beautiful British Columbia. He studied at Goddard College in Vermont, the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives in Dharamsala, India and has an MA in East West Psychology from CIIS in San Francisco. He has a long standing interest in the psychology of consciousness, ecopsychology and the melting point of psyche, technology and nature. www.augmenteddreams.net