How a Depressed Transcendentalist Became a Curious Transhumanist

This post is part of a series of personal narratives written by members of the Mormon Transhumanist Association. Each tells their story of how they became a Transhumanist. Guest: Joni Newman.

I’m probably not the most obvious person to be interested in the transhumanist movement. For starters, I’m an English teacher. I spend my time reading and annotating Jane Austen and helping my students understand the brilliance of Harper Lee. I grade nearly interminable piles of essays. When I get home, I cross stitch to wind down, and throw fuzzy balls at my cat while I watch Jimmy Fallon or something from the BBC. I own three copies of the first Harry Potter book. The closest I get to scientific exploration most days is an episode of Doctor Who and the occasional National Geographic article.

So my path towards interest in transhumanism really started with another famous group - the transcendentalists. I grew up with a fascination of transcendentalism that began with the Alcotts and worked its way towards Emerson. There was something so wonderfully beautiful about the prospect of humanity willing itself into a better existence. The utopian vision of people living and working together to rise above the natural man appealed to me.

Of course, further study on the transcendentalists led to a bit of discouragement. The group was full of good ideas but the application of those ideals was generally flawed and, ultimately, a failure. I still believed that their ideas were beautiful, but how does anyone make them work?

It was my study of the humanities that led me to see how desperately we need the sciences as part of progress toward being like God. The Doctrine and Covenants teaches that the Lord tells us in our minds and in our hearts what is true - thus suggesting that things will make sense to us both emotionally and logically. We are also taught that God’s house is a house of order - is that not the essential goal of any science? To find the order and logic and construction of the universe?

I grew to believe that miracles are only miracles until we understand the laws of the universe that govern them. What it is that allows the Savior to calm the storm, walk on water, and heal the sick is not magic - there are laws of science - of the priesthood - that allow such things to happen. I grew to believe that the universe was created through intense understanding of the laws that govern creation. Although I am an amateur scientist at best, I was drawn to the ideas of transhumanism - especially after I realized how deeply my life had been blessed by God through scientific development.

I’ve always been a believer that God expects humans to do the best that they can to improve their quality of life, but I have never believed that more fully until I needed to apply those principles to my own life. For about four years after college graduation I was incredibly depressed. It started out slowly, but increased to incomprehensible levels that left me, a relatively logical and practical person by nature, in tears more than once a week and feeling utterly debilitated and in a horrible state of despair. For all of those four years I prayed and studied my scriptures and begged for help from heaven. My family has a history of clinical depression, and a history of suicide in part because of poor management of that depression, and I did not want to go down that road. I didn’t want to turn my emotions over to medicine.

Things changed when my younger brother and his wife had their first baby. It had been hard enough watching a younger sibling get married while I have been perpetually single; it was even harder to watch him become a father. What should have been a joyous event for me was instead an occasion for resentment. I knew something needed to change. In prayer I felt as though God were telling me that it was time to talk to a doctor, so I went, and I got help. It was as miraculous an event to me as the healing of the blind man on the streets of Jerusalem. Where once everything had seemed dark and hopeless, things that I loved suddenly seemed marvelous again. I was a better teacher and co-worker. I had been afraid that getting medical help would turn me into someone else. Instead, it helped remind me of who I was and helped me to have more time in my life for the things I loved, rather than spending so much of my time trying to stay emotionally stable.

When I discovered transhumanism, thanks to the Facebook comments of some friends and by following the General Conference twitter feeds, the ideas of humans making their lives better and being directed by God through scientific principles just made sense. My life has benefitted from scientific discoveries in so many ways - how can I but believe that these are gifts from God? And if science, as we have it, has blessed my life - how can I not believe that further scientific discovery can draw me closer to becoming like God and promoting a world where others can as well? To me - transhumanism just makes sense.