As a former Buddhist monk, Professor James Hughes is concerned with realization. And as a Transhumanist—someone who believes that we will eventually merge with technology and transcend our human limitations—he endorses radical technological enhancements to humanity to help achieve it. He describes himself as an “agnostic Buddhist” trying to unite the European Enlightenment with Buddhist enlightenment.
Sidestepping the word “happiness,” Hughes’ prefers to speak of “human flourishing,” avoiding the hedonism that “happiness” can imply.
“I’m a cautious forecaster,” says Hughes, a bioethicist and sociologist, “but I think the next couple of decades will probably be determined by our growing ability to control matter at the molecular level, by genetic engineering, and by advances in chemistry and tissue-engineering. Life expectancy will increase in almost all countries as we slow down the aging process and eliminate many diseases.” Not squeamish about the prospect of enhancing—or, plainly put, overhauling— the human being, Hughes thinks our lives may be changed most by neurotechnologies—stimulant drugs, “smart” drugs, and psychoactive substances that suppress mental illness.
“I’m pretty optimistic that, barring giant asteroids or Godzilla or whatever,” he speculates, “we’ll make a lot of progress.”
Hughes is a professor at Trinity College in Connecticut. He is also Executive Director of the Institute for Ethics in Emerging Technologies and leads the “Cyborg Buddha” project with two of the Institute’s board members, one of whom is a Zen priest. The project’s mission is to “promote discussion of the impact that neuroscience and emerging neurotechnologies will have on happiness, spirituality, cognitive liberty, moral behavior and the exploration of meditational and ecstatic states of mind.”
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