Waking up from transhumanist dreams: reframing cancer in an evolving universe

Geoffrey Woollard

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.12775/SetF.2019.020


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.


transhumanism; cancer; evolution; relationship to nature; quest for perfection; immortality; vulnerability and suffering

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