Since the emergence of transhumanism, individuals that have associated themselves with this controversial philosophy have looked to the future for improvement. This has led many scientists with futurist and/or transhumanist sympathies to develop advanced technologies to improve the human condition and beyond. From Ray Kurtzweil and his work in speech recognition technology to Aubrey De Grey and his work in regenerative medicine, the transhumanist ideology has been stamped on many technologies either in development or already developed. As many look to the future for improvement, many have forgotten many philosophies that significantly changed human civilization. From both China and Europe, philosophies that were based around the principle of driving individuals to meet and exceed their potential have been neglected due to their archaic status. So, how can philosophies from the past be used for humanity’s future?
During the Renaissance Era in Europe, Greco-Roman philosophy became the backbone for the emergence of what we now call Renaissance humanism. This philosophy was initially created by Italian scholars and writers during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, in response for a need of scholastic education. This spreading philosophy sought to create a citizenry of individuals able to engage the civic life with their knowledge of the Humanities. The main motive for this movement was for the legacy revival that originated from classical antiquity, and the universal acceptance of all individuals. One basic concept from Renaissance humanism was that humans are empowered and limitless in their capacity for development, which led people to embrace all aspects of knowledge and develop their capabilities as much as possible. One humanist, Leon Battista Alberti, said that “A man can do all things if he will”. This led to the emergence of many known polymaths, including Leonardo da Vinci, who is referred to as a “Renaissance man” or a Homo Universalis. In fact, this phrase is frequently been used by futurists and transhumanists to reflect the idea of the technologically enhanced human being.
During this time period, the ideal individual was capable of having a vast amount of knowledge in several disciplines while being fit and athletic. In fact, the Renaissance gentleman was supposed to be fluent in several languages, knowledgeable in many disciplines, and highly athletic. These days, the brain-and-brawn dichotomy is heavily prevalent within society with the addition of specialization. Another major concept accepted was sprezzatura. This concept, created by Baldassare Castiglione, is an attitude the ideal courier must have in everyday life. Sprezzatura is the ability to perform the tasks of a Homo universalis without a showy or boastful behavior. This idea mirrors the Confucian idea of the ideal gentleman, where the Confucian gentleman should perform actions with pure spontaneity instead of conscious attention. According to Confucius, this mindset produces better and nobler skill. A gentleman with sprezzatura must be able to perform tasks with the intent of appearing like little or no effort was put into his work.
Currently, many transhumanists spend much of their time focusing on one specific discipline alone and completely neglecting any other that exists. Also, many such individuals stand to be so occupied that they even neglect to keep their own bodies in peak condition. Through my own conversations with several notable transhumanists, they live in stressful situations and tend not to devote any time to physical fitness. The transhumanist can enhance their form with advanced technologies, but will one improve their lifestyle with the native abilities they are given? A person can live to an extended lifespan, but it means nothing if they cannot live a healthy lifestyle. Even though Renaissance humanism is an archaic philosophy, it has its applications within any era of human existence. The idea of maximizing the human potential resonates well within both ideologies, so the ability to integrate the philosophies of Renaissance humanism into transhumanism is most certainly possible. In this light, Renaissance humanism can be considered a predecessor of transhumanism.
The ideal human being does not come from the things an individual creates, but from the adaptation of old and new ideas. One can replace his body with a synthetic form, but it will fall victim to entropy as well without enough will to care for it. The ideology originating from the Renaissance era has a place in mankind’s future if the ones who care enough will emphasize it. The true Homo universalis or Homo futura is not a mere synthesis of man and machine, but much more. It is an individual who has the mastery of an Italian polymath, the Confucian mindset, and the integration of anatomy with autonomy.