A Humanist Perspective: Transformation
By Jerry Lusa, Sunday Services Committee
The dictionary definitions for “transformation” include false hair, metamorphosis, modification of bacterial DNA, mathematical operations and grammatical operations. Who knew? Let’s stick with the more common definition: a thorough or dramatic change in form or appearance.
At first glance, Humanism does not have much to say about Transformation. The most recent revision of the Humanist Manifesto talks about how “values and ideals…are subject to change as our knowledge and understandings advance.” That’s it. There are no miraculous transformations in Humanism. Humanism doesn’t ask us to transform, and it doesn’t offer us transformation into something else. It takes us as we are. Well, most forms of Humanism anyway. There is the loosely related Transhumanist movement.
“Transhumanism is an international cultural and intellectual movement with an eventual goal of fundamentally transforming the human condition by developing and making widely available technologies to greatly enhance human intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities.”
“Transhumanism shares many elements of humanism, including a respect for reason and science, a commitment to progress, and a valuing of human (or transhuman) existence in this life. Transhumanism differs from humanism in recognizing and anticipating the radical alterations in the nature and possibilities of our lives resulting from various sciences and technologies.”
UU’s here at UUS:E should already know something about Transhumanism, because one of the movement’s leaders is among us: James J. Hughes Ph.D, who has spoken and lectured at UUS:E about his field.
My first reaction to Transhumanism was the same I got from watching the movie Frankenstein for the first time, but with modern technology. Carbon nanotubes running through our brains, making us smarter and interfacing us with computers? Titanium exoskeletons giving us great strength? Not for me! I don’t want to end up a cyborg. I want to stay 100% all natural H. sapiens!
But do I really want to be an “organic” human? I would be unable to chew most foods were it not for the metal (older) and composite (newer) fillings that have kept my teeth from falling apart. Had I not worn metal braces to reposition my teeth, I would not be able to cleanly bite off a piece of licorice (see previous problem with fillings). Without the use of custom-shaped light refraction prostheses (alright, eyeglasses), I would not be able to read easily, nor thread a needle, nor take out a sliver, nor… you get the idea. For a while I had two metal implants in my left hand to help reconnect a torn ligament after a skiing accident. Without them I would be unable to grasp things with the thumb of my left hand, a condition romantically called Gamekeeper’s Thumb. Metal implants? Yes, thank you!
We might want to think of ourselves as “all natural” but many of us, perhaps most of us, ingest manufactured chemicals to keep our blood pressure within bounds, or to make up for an underachieving thyroid gland, or to be able to digest certain critical proteins, or… stop by any pharmacy and see what it takes to keep human bodies and minds alive and well. Some of us rely on machines and devices for our mobility, others to simply stay alive. Do we consider someone who wears a Pacemaker to be a cyborg? Of course not.
My point? Some of us, maybe even most, are already transhuman. And while we might recoil from the technologies that will be available in the future, when we are faced with the choice of suffering a failing [insert body part here] or signing the consent form for the next new fix, most of us will reach for the pen.
A Buddhist Perspective: Transformation
By Nancy Thompson,
UUS:E Buddhist Group
Transformation is at the heart of the Buddha’s teachings. At the individual level, it’s about liberation from suffering by transforming our attitude of disasisfaction and complaint into one of ease and wisdom. The Buddha’s teachings were “never intended for those who are already perfect saints,” teacher Bikkhu Bodhi writes. ”It is addressed to fallible human be ings beset with all the shortcomings typical of unpolished human nature: conduct that is fickle and impulsive, minds that are tainted by greed, anger and selfishness, views that are distorted, and habits that lead to harm for oneself and others. The purpose of the teaching is to transform such people — ourselves — into ‘accomplished ones’: into those whose every action is pure, whose minds are calm and composed, whose wisdom has fathomed the deepest truths, and whose conduct is always marked by a compassionate concern for others and for the welfare of the world.”
That transformation clearly would change the community and the world.
Transforming ourselves is a process of looking “It’s not what we eat but what we digest that makes us strong; not what we gain but what we save that closely at the views and attitudes that guide our actions, questioning whether they are accurate for the current moment or remnants of past experience that color our views, and mindfully choosing how to act rather than reacting automatically. Tibetan Buddhism teaches that emotions are energies that have both enlightened and deluded aspects. For example, while anger can be poisonous and destructive, the flip side – the enlightened aspect — is wisdom. Think about it: There’s often a reason behind anger – we feel threatened or scared or disregarded or like our needs aren’t being met. With mindfulness, we can transform the anger at what is happening to wisdom that sees whether there is an injustice and looks for a compassionate way to right the wrong. By working with ourselves mindfully, moment by moment, the transformation from suffering to liberation is possible.