Transhumanism is quintessentially a 21st Century movement. Gaining widespread awareness and spreading through the internet to dozens of nations. But its origins lie a century before in the 20thCentury. A creation of 19th-century-born intellectuals from Russia. Transhumanism’s ideas were first established in Russian “Cosmism”.
In 1906 ‘Russian Cosmism’ was created by Nikolai Fyodorovich Fyodorov (1828—1903), an advocate of radical life extension by means of scientific methods, and the search for human immortality through science. Fedorov believed that humanity needed to reconcile the difference between the power of technology and weakness of the human physical form. He stated, “The transition is overdue from purely technical development, a “prosthetic” civilisation, to organic progress, when not just external tools, artificial implements, but the organisms themselves are improved, so that, for example, a person can fly, see far and deep, travel through space, live in any environment.” He pioneered the idea that only general scientific studies of aging, death and postmortem studies can deliver the means to overcome death and promote an indefinite healthy lifespan. Ideas which have caught fire today and motivate several biotech companies toward Transhumanist longevity research.
Another Cosmist, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky (1857—1935) proliferated the idea that colonising space would lead to the perfection of the human race, with immortality and a carefree existence. He believed that humans would eventually colonise the Milky Way galaxy. His original ideas preceded the establishment of mankind’s ascension into space by several decades, significant predictions of his have become realities. In particular, Korolev saw traveling to Mars as the more important priority, Stating, “I am sure that interplanetary journeys will bcome a reality”. In his work, Exploration of Outer Space by Means of Rocket Devices, He predicted multi-stage rockets fueled with liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, spaceships spun to create artificial centrifugal gravity, and pressurized spacesuits that would protect spacefarers from the bitter, deadly environment of space. All in 1903 as mankind had only just seen the first sustained flight by the Wright brothers. ( See the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XFSI5T62sXc ) Tsiolkovsky adhered to a mechanical view of the universe, which he believed would be controlled in the millennia through the power of human science and industry.
Almost twenty years later, In 1923, British scientist and scholar of Russian philosophies, J. B. S. Haldane published “Daedalus; or, Science and the Future” presenting an early vision of Transhumanist thought to the West. Influenced by the root ideas of Cosmism, he spoke of the advances medical, biological and other sciences (here paraphrased for brevity and relevant content):
“…Developments in this direction are tending to bring mankind more and more together, to render life more and more complex, artificial, and rich in possibilities…I would ask you to…dismiss from your minds the belief that biology will consist merely and physical and chemical discoveries as applied to men, animals and plants…There are perhaps equally great possibilities in the way of direct improvement of the individual, as we come to know more of the physiological obstacles to the development of different faculties…We must regard science then…as man’s gradual conquest, first of space and time, then of matter as such, then of his own body and those of other living beings…”
This idea of improving the human condition beyond the limitations of nature using the power of applied science is a key concept of Transhumanist belief.
The groundbreaking ideas of these fathers of Transhumanism quickly gave way to ever more advanced Transhumanist thought. In 1951 evolutionary biologist Julian Huxley, in an historic talk in Washingtom D.C. coined the term “Transhumanism” and established the Transhuman ideal as we know it today; describing the philosophy as, “the idea of humanity attempting to overcome its limitations and to arrive at fuller fruition.”
These baseline ideas would live on beyond the lives of their creators, influencing the birth of modern Transhumanism in the work of Fereidoun M. Esfandiary who published the book “Up-Wingers: A Futurist Manifesto” in 1973. A short but densely illuminating work of Transhumanist thought established the foundation of Transhumanism’s core ideas, and first labelled thoseexploring this thought as Transhumanists.
Inspired to action, Natasha Vita-More published The Transhuman Manifesto in 1983. The modern constitution of Transhumanism which establishes the Movement’s core charter for future generations of futurist thinkers. It has, intentionally, undergone several revisions since its original inceptions and continues to be a living document to this day. It is to these historic visionaries that we owe our thanks for the birth of our Transhumanist Movement.