"Julian Huxley’s Transhumanism"

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Alison Bashford

(University of Sydney)

"Julian Huxley’s Transhumanism"


Paper presented to the conference:

"Crafting Humans:From Genesis to Eugenics and Beyond"

8-10 September 2011, Queens College, Oxford


Second Annual Conference of the Berendel Foundation, in association with the Centre for health Medicine and Society and History of Race and Eugenics Research Group at Oxford Brookes University, the University of Oxford, and the Wellcome Trust


Abstract: “The human species can, if it wishes, transcend itself,” wrote Julian Huxley in 1957. Claiming for himself the new term ‘transhumanism’, this evolutionary biologist had long been excited by the possibilities of new and different forms of human life, and alternative conceptions of age and time. In this paper, I trace the substance of his ideas and interventions from the 1920s through the 1960s. Huxley early researched the life extension of individual organisms, (“alas, only the flatworm,” The Times was disappointed). But later, interest in tissue cultures and grafting made him think again about the processes by which age might not depend simply on the lapse of time. Rejuvenation is part of the history of transhumanism. By the postwar period, Huxley had left individual organisms behind, and was thinking deeply about populations, and total human possibility and species improvement, what he sometimes called “eugenics in the true sense,” and at other times simply put as “improving quality of life.” Julian Huxley was a pre-eminent science communicator, whose research life spanned the decades of high modernity, decades of future-oriented possibility, as well as apocalypse that needed no science fiction to envisage. Over the great events and heaving politics of the twentieth century, the possibility of crafting humans, and crafting humanity within an evolutionary framework was Huxley’s great mission. This paper explores the evolution of transhumanist ideas in their context, and how Huxley, and others imagined their politics.


Short Bio: Alison Bashford is Professor of Modern History at the University of Sydney. She is the author and editor of numerous books in the history of modern science and medicine, most recently Oxford Handbook of the History of Eugenics(2010, co-edited with Philippa Levine). She is currently completing “Geopolitics and the World Population Problem: Life on Earth in the Global Twentieth Century,” a study of the linked biopolitics and geopolitics of population after the First World War.



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