What is Transhumanism?
Transhumanism is a term used synonymously to mean “human enhancement.” It is an international cultural and intellectual movement that endorses the use of science and technology to enhance the human condition, both mentally and physically. In support of this, transhumanism also embraces using emerging technologies to eliminate the undesirable elements of the human condition such as aging, disabilities, diseases, and involuntary death. Many transhumanists believe these technologies will be arriving in our near future at an exponentially accelerated pace and work to promote universal access to and democratic control. In the long scheme of things, transhumanism can also be considered the transitional period between the current human condition and an entity so far advanced in capabilities (both physical and mental faculties) as to merit the label “posthuman.”
As a theme, transhumanism embraces heady questions. What defines human? What does it mean to defeat death? If minds are software, where do you draw the line with programming them? If machines and animals can also be raised to sapience, what are our responsibilities to them? If you can copy yourself, where does “you” end and someone new begin? What are the potentials of these technologies in terms of both oppressive control and liberation? How will these technologies change our societies, our cultures, and our lives?
Post-Apocalyptic, Conspiracy, and Horror Themes
Several themes pervade Eclipse Phase, some with which the reader may not be intimately familiar. The following helps deﬁne these themes so that as players read further into this rulewiki, they gain a solid understanding of how Eclipse Phase builds on such themes to create its unique setting.
Post-apocalyptic is a term used to describe ﬁction set after a cataclysmic event has ended human civilization as we know it (usually accompanied by loss of human life on an almost unthinkable scale). The exact mechanism of the disaster is usually unimportant: nuclear war, plague, asteroid strike, and so on. The importance of the theme is the human condition. If the world we know is torn away from us and humans suffer horrors beyond imagining in this transformation to a post-apocalyptic setting, how does humanity cope? Do we survive and thrive and overcome? Do we lose our own humanity in the process? Or ultimately fall to extinction? Those are the questions that drive this genre.
To conspire means “to join in a secret agreement to do an unlawful or wrongful act or to use such means to accomplish a lawful end.” As such, a conspiracy theory attributes the ultimate cause of an event or a chain of events (whether political, societal or historical) to a secret group of individuals with immense power (political clout, wealth, and so on) who hide their activities from public view while manipulating events to achieve their goals, regardless of consequences. Many conspiracy theories contend that a host of the greatest events of history were initiated and ultimately controlled by such secret organizations. Of equal importance is the silent struggle between clandestine groups, waging a secret war behind the scenes to determine who inﬂuences the future.
Horror takes many forms, but in Eclipse Phase it is more psychological than gore. It is the uncertainty of survival, the suspense of finding malevolent things among the stars, and fear of the unknown. It is the dread of facing Things That Should Not Be, the revulsion when encountering alien things, and the sickening realization of the wrong and ghastly things that transhumans are capable of doing to themselves and each other. Horror also arises both from the comprehension that there are scary things beyond our understanding inhabiting our universe and that transhumanity may be its own worst enemy. Despite all of the technological tools and advances available to future transhumans, they still face terrors like losing control of their own identities, their perceptions, and their mental faculties—not to mention their future as a species.
Eclipse Phase takes all of these themes and weaves them together in a transhuman setting. The post-apocalyptic angle covers the understanding of all that transhumanity has lost, the ﬁght against extinction, and how much of that is a struggle against our own nature. The conspiracy side delves into the nature of the secret organizations that play key roles in determining transhumanity's future and how the actions of determined individuals can change the lives of many. The horror perspective explores the results of humanity’s self-inﬂicted transformations and how some of these changes effectively make us non-human. Tying it all together is an awareness of the massive indifference and the terrible alien-ness that pervades the universe and how transhumanity is insigniﬁcant against such a backdrop.
Offsetting these themes, however, Eclipse Phase also asserts that there is hope, that there is something worth ﬁghting for, and that transhumanity can and will pave its own path toward the future.