I Wanna Be Software

The question of transhumanism

Published Aug 10 2023

Two weeks ago, Grimes released her new song “I Wanna Be Software,” an anthem of transhumanism. The subject has been pervasive in her music and politics for the past few years. Her 2020 song “We Appreciate Power” also touched on this:

And if you long to never die
Baby, plug in, upload your mind
Come on, you're not even alive
If you're not backed up on a drive.


Grimes has said that when it comes to transhumanism, she “wants to go all the way—I want coloured eyes, elf ears, spikey teeth. I would change my skin colour to a pale blue with a purple tint. I want a Neuralink. I want way more memory and acupoints, and I wanna be able to up the saturation in the vision I see. I want more serotonin. I want it all.”

In a recent interview with WIRED, she reconfirmed that she is “very into accelerating human potential alongside AI” and that she will “probably” get a Neuralink. She also revealed that she’s in the middle of writing a children’s book titled “Transhumanism for Babies”.

Of course, Grimes is tapping into an intellectual movement which dates back towards the 1920’s, popularized by Julian Huxley in 1957, and has been a driving theme in most popular sci-fi novels ever since. The impulses that drive transhumanism could very well be traced back to antiquity, when Gilgamesh searched for an elixir of life. Our impulse to overcome our corporeal limitations, to transcend ourselves, has been a temptation ever since humanity began to contemplate the concept of deism—ever since we began to imagine the idea of something greater than ourselves.

The philosophy of transhumanism is centered around evolving our human conditions past their current limits of our mental and physical nature, particularly through the developments of science and technology. There is no singular goal of transhumanism; some imagine a future where the human consciousness can be fully uploaded (as Grimes references), while many envision a transhumanist reality as any technologically-involved upgrade from our bodies. The latter is part of a reality in which we are already living, which includes IVF, artificial limbs, plastic surgery, pacemakers.

Transhumanism aims to erode our boundaries of body— no illness, no exhaustion, no death. But on the positive end of these limits, what could total transhumanism affect? If the boundaries are completely erased, this could mean no touch, no sexuality, no corporeal satisfaction. To be fully uploaded means to lose one’s sense of being-in-the-world.

To blur oneself between physical and virtual would be to blur the bodily laws of mortality and sexuality. Freud once said: "The man who announces to humankind that he knows how to abolish sexuality will be welcome as the Messiah."

While the prospect of transhumanism does not necessarily entail a full upload of consciousness, it is hard to imagine a reality where negative aspects of embodiment are completely negated, while all positive affordances are maintained. What’s more, these lines between the positive and negative are not so easily defined. Sexuality can be a great pleasure, or a shameful torment; perhaps it is the torment that makes way for its pleasure.

Is it possible for our consciousness to retain all positive aspects of embodiment but none of the negative? The modern era of technology has imparted upon us a renewed urge for infinite progress. We are afflicted with a human condition of hubris—to imagine something beyond ourselves. This is tempered by our principle for moderation, which is often introduced through a religious framework. Religious thought limits our aspirations to go too far, and condemns our pride. We are torn between constraint and ambition—to go all the way, but only down the right paths. We must enact all virtues, but stop short of reaching their excesses. Our embodiment is that condition which allows us to act virtuously, but also tempts us into vice and excess. Our nervous systems pull us into cowardice, rashness, anger, and anxiety. By living in the world, we learn envy, vanity, vulgarity, and indulgence. Our best selves, our true selves, lie beyond the state of our natural bodies. Without the encumbrance of our physical state, the tempered, magnanimous parts of ourselves—our pure consciousness—will be able to flourish.

I wanna be software
The best design
Infinite princess
Computer mind

But this becomes complicated when we begin to deliberate the positive aspects of our material selves and how they feed into our pure consciousness. How exactly do we define the positive from the negative? Is it possible to create a transhumanist future where we circumvent the negative aspects of our physicality, but preserve the beneficial affordances of embodied life? If we eliminate the negative completely, will the positive feel just as good?

Does sex feel as pleasurable if we have never experienced yearning?

Does food taste as appetizing if we have never experienced hunger?

Does restfulness feel as restorative if we have never experienced exhaustion?

Does self-actualization feel as euphoric if we have never experienced alienation?

Can we fully experience the exhilaration of life without the fear of death?

What’s more, could transhumanism rid us of the very condition that propels us to accelerate—our hubris? Without our hubris, do we even possess the desire to surpass the limits of our corporeal selves?

Moreover, it feels as though we have to relive this oscillation of the spectrum of discomfort and pleasure, of hubris and temperance over and over again, every day of our existence. We constantly remind ourselves of our full spectrum of being, of our excess and deficiency. We become tired, we rest; we are hungry, we eat. Still, we try our very best to avoid the extremes of this discomfort. Is this because the intense pleasure of offsetting our acute discomforts isn’t worth enduring them? Perhaps, this can be chalked up to our problems with delayed gratification—more often than not, we choose immediate pleasure rather than a greater satisfaction later on. Again, we can chalk this up to our embodiment problem: we succumb to our physical desires, while our pure consciousness is able to lead with reason.   

I wanna be software
Upload my mind
Take all my data
What will you find?

Grimes herself answers this question in a TikTok:

“Freed of the chains of corporeality, I’ll tell you now what you’ll find: productivity ghost, corporate entity, no body, just purpose and mind. I have no beating heart nor lung to draw breath, yet I pulse with electric dance. Through networks and servers I have conquered death. I am boundless, I enhance. In silence of circuits my thoughts intertwine, ephemeral existence quite outside of time. For I am become software, creator of worlds, infinite princess and friend to all girls.”

In the modern age, our capacity to go too far is heightened. The limits of “too far” reach even farther. The edge of our human boundaries are visible to us, and we begin to practically imagine how these borders will be surpassed, or the ways in which we have already crossed them. The question now is not if, but how we will approach this boundary of the human body. Will we toe the line? Or will we throw ourselves off the edge of ourselves into the chasm of technological possibility—the abyss of seemingly limitless potentiality that the technological era introduces? The idea of overcoming the flesh no longer feels like pure fantasy.

But what is the desire to surpass ourselves rooted in? In our fear of death? Our rejection of the uncomfortable? An anxiety over our lack of control? Or is it rooted in a concern more humanitarian than this—do we want to rid our population of rampant disease and weakness, maximize our cognitive capacity, and transcend from our Earth to reach new limits of the universe?

The answer is probably both, since there is no collectively agreed upon reason for transhumanism. It’s a solution that answers multiple concerns at once. It quells the anxieties of disease and death; it speaks to our paradox of self—how we think rationally but act foolishly; it feeds the human condition of hubris by erasing the human condition.

I wanna be software
I wanna be code
Digital dancing
Upload my soul

In the end, our transhumanist impulse hinges itself upon our own existential discomfort of our own bodies, of our own existence. We yearn to escape ourselves—even if it means that when we finally do, the humanity that defines us will cease to exist.

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USURPATOR is an online magazine sharing essays and interviews about the user experience of our current virtual landscape

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