Waking up from transhumanist dreams: reframing cancer in an evolving universe
Keywordstranshumanism, cancer, evolution, relationship to nature, quest for perfection, immortality, vulnerability and suffering
Technological dystopias incarnate transhumanist dreams of a this-worldly blissful immortality. Underlying these and others is a globalized technocratic paradigm, the loss of an overarching cosmic world view, rise in consumerism, a gnostic repudiation of the body, and a neo-pelagian aspiration to individualistic self-sufficiency. One response to these transhumanist dreams is to remind ourselves of how nature actually works, its origins, constrains, and future. Our relationship with nature spills over to how we feel standing face-to-face with pain and suffering. In this article I reframe cancer as a journey of maintaining harmony with nature instead of a war against death that we are destined to lose. I argue that understanding the limits and constraints of the natural world help us come to peace with the reality of cancer, and perhaps find meaning in suffering. Instead of avoiding the inevitable at all costs, vulnerability and suffering have their own lessons. In contrast to transhumanist dreams, being human presents an opportunity to welcome the reality of imperfection, to be liberated from our addiction to control and excessive technological manipulation of nature, to draw together as a community, and to live the lessons of each stage of our finite life to its fullest. I hope this reflection, grounded in scientific literature and engaging with richly embodied medical humanities readings, can help us all change how we relate to cancer, from books to bench to biotech to bedside.
Archer, Margaret S. 2000. “Personal identity: the inner conversation and emotional elaboration.” In Being Human: The Problem of Agency, 222-249. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Atwood, Margaret. 2003. Oryx and Crake. Toronto, Canada: McClelland and Stewart.
Bostrom, Nick. 2005. “The Fable of the Dragon-Tyrant.” Journal of Medical Ethics 31(5):273-277.
Bouyer, Louis. 1988. Cosmos: The World and the Glory of God. Petersham, MA: St Bede’s Publications.
CGP Grey. 2018. The Fable of the Dragon-Tyrant. Accessed 1 June 2019. https://youtu.be/cZYNADOHhVY
CGP Grey. 2017. Why Die? Accessed 1 June 2019. https://youtu.be/C25qzDhGLx8
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. 2018. Placuit Deo, On Certain Aspects of Christian Salvation. Accessed 30 May 2019. http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20180222_placuit-deo_en.html
Dobzhansky, Theodosius. 1973. “Nothing in Biology Makes Sense except in the Light of Evolution.” The American Biology Teacher 35(3):125–129.
Francis. 2015. Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home. Vatican City: Vatican Polyglot Press.
Goodsell, David. S. 2016. “Cellular Signaling Networks.” In Atomic Evidence: Seeing the Molecular Basis of Life, 99-105. Cham, Switzerland: Springer International Publishing.
Guardini, Romano. 1998. The End of the Modern World. Wilmington, DE: ISI Books.
Hanahan, D., and R. A. Weinberg. 2011. “Hallmarks of Cancer: The Next Generation.” Cell 144(5):646–674.
Hanahan, D., and R. A. Weinberg. 2000. “The Hallmarks of Cancer.” Cell 100(1):57–70.
Hayter, Charles. 2003. Cancer: “The Worst Scourge of Civilized Mankind.” Canadian Bulletin of Medical History 20(2):251–264.
Hazell, Sarah. 2014. “Mustard gas – from the Great War to frontline chemotherapy”. UK Cancer Research. Accessed 8 July 2019. https://scienceblog.cancerresearchuk.org/2014/08/27/mustard-gas-from-the-great-war-to-frontline-chemotherapy/
Heinlein, Robert A. 1958. Methuselah's Children. New York, NY: Gnome Press.
Ishiguro, Kazuo. 2005. Never Let Me Go. London, UK: Faber and Faber.
Jonas, Hans. 1992. The Burden and Blessing of Mortality, The Hastings Centre Report 22(1):34–40.
Kurzgesagt. 2017. Why Age? Should We End Aging Forever? Accessed June 1 2019. https://youtu.be/GoJsr4IwCm4
Life Extension Advocacy Foundation. 2017. Help Us Crowdfund the Cure for Aging — Be a Lifespan Hero: Join Us! | Lifespan.io. Accessed 1 June 2019. https://youtu.be/b5fPuHkkGRU
Lineweaver, C. H., Davies, P. C. W., and M. D. Vincent. 2014. “Targeting cancer’s weaknesses (not its strengths): Therapeutic strategies suggested by the atavistic model.” BioEssays 36(9):827–835.
López Ruiz, Francisco Javier and Geoffrey Woollard. 2016. “Pierre Duhem and scientific truth: contextual, partial and real.” Scientia et Fides 4(2)/2016:319-341.
Lynch, M., Field, M. C., Goodson, H. V., Malik, H. S., Pereira-Leal, J. B., Roos, D. S., Turkewitz, A. P., and S. Sazer. 2014. “Evolutionary cell biology: Two origins, one objective.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111(48):16990–16994.
Methuselah Foundation. 2019. "Who We Are." Accessed 15 August. https://www.mfoundation.org/who-we-are/
Mithen, Steven J. 2019. “Becoming and Being Human: evidence from the archaeological, fossil and genetic records.” In What Does It Mean to Be Human? Third Annual Conference of the Society of Catholic Scientists, University of Notre Dame, 7–9 June 2019. Accessed 6 July. https://youtu.be/VoK4mQc0Uao
Mount, B. M., Boston, P. H., and S. R. Cohen. 2007. “Healing Connections: On Moving from Suffering to a Sense of Well-Being.” Journal of Pain and Symptom Management 33(4):372–388.
National Science Foundation. 2012. Workshop on Evolutionary Cell Biology. Accessed 31 May 2019. https://www.nsf.gov/publications/pub_summ.jsp?ods_key=bio12009
New York Times. 1948. Dr. G. A. Soper dies; fought epidemics, June 18, 23.
Novo Villaverde, F. J., Pereda, R., & Sánchez Cañizares, J. 2018. Naturaleza Creativa. Madrid, Spain: Rialp.
O’Rourke, Fran. 2016. “Aristotle and the Metaphysics of Evolution.” In Aristotelian Interpretations, 144-82. Sallins, Ireland: Irish Academic Press.
Rodríguez Valls, Francisco. 2018. “Orígenes del hombre.” In the Science, Reason and Faith Group Seminar, University of Navarra, 18 September 2018. Accessed 16 June 2019. https://www.unav.edu/web/ciencia-razon-y-fe/origenes-del-hombre
Sontag, Susan. 1977. Illness as Metaphor. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Stempsey, W. E. 2015. “Hope for health and health care.” Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy 18(1):41–49.
Turbón, Daniel. 2013. “El hombre antes del hombre.” In the Science, Reason and Faith Group Seminar, University of Navarra, 29 May 2013. Accessed 16 June 2019. https://www.unav.edu/web/ciencia-razon-y-fe/el-hombre-antes-del-hombre
United States President’s Council of Bioethics. 2003. Being Human: Reading from the President’s Council of Bioethics. Washington, D.C.
Wikipedia. 2019. “Tree of Life.” Accessed 31 May. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tree_of_life
Woollard, Geoffrey, and John G. Brungardt. 2019. “Review of Naturaleza Creativa.” Scientia et Fides 7(1):247–267.
How to Cite
CC BY ND 4.0. The Creator/Contributor is the Licensor, who grants the Licensee a non-exclusive license to use the Work on the fields indicated in the License Agreement.
- The Licensor grants the Licensee a non-exclusive license to use the Work/related rights item specified in § 1 within the following fields: a) recording of Work/related rights item; b) reproduction (multiplication) of Work/related rights item in print and digital technology (e-book, audiobook); c) placing the copies of the multiplied Work/related rights item on the market; d) entering the Work/related rights item to computer memory; e) distribution of the work in electronic version in the open access form on the basis of Creative Commons license (CC BY-ND 3.0) via the digital platform of the Nicolaus Copernicus University Press and file repository of the Nicolaus Copernicus University.
- Usage of the recorded Work by the Licensee within the above fields is not restricted by time, numbers or territory.
- The Licensor grants the license for the Work/related rights item to the Licensee free of charge and for an unspecified period of time.
FULL TEXT License Agreement
Number of views and downloads: 2
Number of citations: 1