About Me

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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019) and AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021).

Friday, December 19, 2008

Celebrating our past, imagining our future

The Journal of Evolution and Technology has just published the first three items for its new 2008-2009 volume (Volume 20 of the journal).

The first of these is my editorial, entitled "Celebrating our past, imagining our future". Here, I take the opportunity to set out my vision for the journal ... and for some mild celebration of its first decade:

Prior to my appointment, in January 2008, as JET’s editor-in-chief, I’d had four distinguished predecessors – Nick Bostrom, Robin Hanson, Mark Walker, and James Hughes – who had established the journal as a leading forum for discussion of the future of the human species and whatever might come after it. Articles that they'd published in JET were – and are – frequently cited in discussions of the human or posthuman future. With a decade of history behind the journal as I commenced my watch this year, and with JET’s fifth year with IEET now underway, we have much to celebrate. I'm personally delighted to have taken up my position with a journal of ideas that has such a rich history and so much promise.

JET is a scholarly, peer-reviewed journal. The material that it publishes may or may not be submitted by scholars and scientists currently working within the academy, but it must certainly meet the standards of well-established academic journals. Most submissions received are rejected because they don’t reach the required standard, but we are always looking for appropriate articles and reviews. We require only that they be (more-or-less directly) relevant to the human or posthuman future and that they meet our high standards of scholarship, originality, and intellectual rigor. We welcome submissions on a wide range of relevant topics and from almost any academic discipline or interdisciplinary standpoint.

Central to our thinking at JET is the idea – increasingly familiar and plausible – that the human species is about to commence, or has already commenced, a new form of evolution. This is something quite different from the slow Darwinian processes of survival, reproduction, and adaptation. It is powered, rather, by new technologies that increasingly work their way inwards, transforming human bodies and minds. According to this idea, technology can do more than merely giving us tools to manipulate the world around us; it can alter us far more comprehensively than by shaping our neurological pathways when we learn to handle new tools. This idea of a technologically-mediated process of evolution remains controversial, of course, and even if we grant it broad acceptance there is still much to debate. Just how the process might be manifested in the years to come, and just where it might take us or our successors, are both unclear. Nonetheless, the idea merits careful study from many viewpoints, whether scientific, philosophical, historical, sociological, anthropological, legal, artistic … or even theological.

Among writers and thinkers who take the idea of a new form of evolution seriously, there are bound to be disagreements. To what extent is technologically-mediated evolution already happening, bearing in mind the considerable extent to which we are currently using technology to alter our bodies? If the process accelerates or continues over a vast span of time, will this be a good thing or a bad thing – or is it a phenomenon that resists moral evaluation? How dramatic a vision of technologically-mediated evolution is really plausible? Reasonable answers to such questions range from radical transhumanist visions of sweeping, rapid, entirely desirable change to various kinds of skepticism, caution, or concern. JET welcomes a spectrum of views on all this, as long as they meet its standards, though we will never cater for the same audience as a technophobic journal such as The New Atlantis. Though we welcome many viewpoints, we are unusual in providing a forum for radical proponents of new technology to develop their visions in detail, and with a rigor seldom found elsewhere. Their ideas are then available in their strongest form for scrutiny from admirers and critics alike.

In addition to my editorial, we have published two contrasting articles, one by Eric Steinhart, which relates transhumanism to the thought of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and the other a thought experiment in the form of a dialogue by Colin Farrelly.

As mentioned in my editorial, throughout 2008 we have been clearing a backlog of (excellent) material that had built up at JET (during a transitional period in the editorial team). This is now proceeding successfully, and we'll soon be fully up to date. We've also had some teething troubles in obtaining appropriate reviews/referees' reports on some submissions. We've not always been as quick as we'd like, but we're working to improve and the problems have largely been solved. While I apologise for these delays, we're now pretty much on top of things - and we're actively seeking out material for 2009.

If you have something to say that falls within JET's remit, and you believe you can meet our standards, please don't hesitate to submit an article to us. We are also accepting reviews and other forms of writing, such as brief commentaries on previously-published articles (though it's best to get in touch if you want to submit something other than a standard article.

I'll look forward to future submissions and to another distinguished decade in JET's history.

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