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Possibly a life changing book - Philosopy and Action - What more could you want?,
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This review is from: The Transhumanist Wager (Kindle Edition)
The Transhumanist Wager is a new and significant novel that deserves widespread acclaim but seems to be little known, possibly because the major publishers rejected its controversial content. Before reading it I had hardly heard of transhumanism but now am a convert to the philosophy and its importance to humanity.
For those that don't know, 'transhumanism' is the idea that humanity will be transformed by technology. Its basic tenets are that we should use advances in technology to improve the lot of humanity, tackling disease and ultimately extending human lifespan by means of technological advances. But it goes beyond that and predicts that the advances in technology will in the not so distant future lead to a technological 'singularity' where all the advances of the last few hundred years will pale into insignificance in relation to a rapid growth in possibilities which which challenge all thoughts of what humanity actually is. It predicts that very soon we will be able to extend human lifespans indefinitely with the ultimate hope of practical immortality. And it also predicts that we will shift from our current biological state into a new technological state (via ideas such as mind uploading) and a new evolutionary path no longer hindered by our biological limitations.
Clearly, such ideas demand a new morality and will not be accepted or welcomed by all, particularly those fettered by a religious mindset. As an atheist and humanist I see transhumanism as a logical progression but this is scary stuff in the sense that we would have to re-evaluate so many of the moral concepts that define our humanity and there is the possibility that if we do it wrong then our whole existence as a species is endangered.
Given that brief background what Zoltan Istvan attempts to do in this novel (and certainly achieves, in my opinion) is to raise all of the issues that we will have to face with this (what seems to be inevitable) future.
The novel documents the life of one Jethro Knights and is set in the not very distant future (possibly even the present). Jethro is a brilliant transhumanist who wants the world to change and will stop at nothing to achieve his transhumanist goals. His life story starts as a rebellious university student who gives up all to sail around the world, paying his way as a journalist and covering world events. He starts to define a philosophy based upon what he sees as transhumanist inevitability. On his travels he meets his love interest Zoe Bach who, though basically transhumanist herself challenges Jethro's hard philosophy with a more spiritual take on the whole idea.
On Jethro's return he sets up an organisation called 'Transhuman Citizen' and enlists the support of scientists and other supporters of transhumanist ideas. But his ideas are seen as dangerous by the establishment, especially those of a religious bent and he and his pursuit are put in mortal peril by the inevitable opposition. There is action and tragedy which I will not go into, interspersed with some challenging philosophy.
Ultimately, with the backing of a billionaire benefactor Jethro is able to set up Transhumania, a floating city where scientists and all others devoted to the technological advancements transhumanism offers are able to pursue their goals without the hindrances of the outside world. And ultimately Transhumnia challenges and overthrows the whole world order. But too many spoilers - read it for ourself. I guarantee it will either change you or offend your ingrained beliefs to such a degree that you may hate what it stands for. I personally fell into the former group where I see the ideas of transhumanism as something to welcome and encourage but sadly I also see that there will be opposition and turmoil.
Zoltan Istvan is an ex National Geographic journalist who himself sailed around the world as did Jethro and he clearly is a strong supporter of transhumanism. There is obviously some autobiographical influence. However, I personally found Jethro a bit hard to like and some aspects of his philosophy were harsh and a challenge to what I define as humanity. That said, I believe Zoltan painted Jethro as a controversial character to portray the absolute opposites of the philosophical standpoints in the challenges we face. I think we need to consider these future possibiilties, and soon. I hope we can adapt to this new world order without the need of the extremes that Jethro represents. I hope we can shake off the baggage and accept the inevitable changes in a way that all of humanity can benefit.
This book has made me think more than any book I have read for a long, long time. It provides real hope for those that pursue the course of reason above outdated superstitions. There are some faults in the book, for example the funding of Transhumania is an outrageous proposition - it could never be developed for the sums mentioned. And at times it slips into action sequences that require a little suspension of belief. But you can find faults like this in any novel. The important thing is that the ideas it puts forward are significant and very important. It is a very well written and well crafted work. You will come out of reading it with either very positive or very negative feelings and to me that is the measure of a good book.
Personally I loved it and would recommend to to anyone. People bogged down by their religion may not like it but forward and free thinkers should relish the ideas within.