The Objectivist-Extropian Synthesis

G. Stolyarov II
Issue XXVII - October 14, 2004
Recommend this page.
A sample imageMy aim here is nothing less than the union of two intellectual worlds.

These two worlds have too often been dubbed by their adherents as mutually exclusive, as a result of certain bilateral misinterpretations among many Objectivists and Extropians/Transhumanists.  I shall endeavor here to show how Objectivism, the fundamental ideological system developed by Ayn Rand, and the Principles of Extropy, established by Max More and comprising a prominent part of the body of ideas known as Transhumanism, are compatible with one another and integral to fully achieving each other’s goals. In addition, anyone belonging to the libertarian movement at large will find numerous arguments, concepts, and methodologies in both systems to aid the extension of individual liberty in a broad sense.

The Fundamentals of Objectivism

Objectivism is an intellectual system remarkably integrated by lengthy expositions and chains of argument performed by Ayn Rand in her fiction and nonfiction works. Thus, to do it full justice in a brief treatise is, admittedly, impossible. I shall attempt here to present a brief skeletal outline of Objectivism, upon which I shall elaborate as pertains to its relationship with Extropian thought.

Ayn Rand was once asked to explain the fundamentals of her system standing on one foot. Her response was as follows:

"1. [Metafysics]: Objective Reality.

 2. Epistemology: Reason.

 3. Ethics: Self-Interest.

 4. Politics: [Laissez-Faire] Capitalism."  (Ayn Rand, Introducing Objectivism, p. 3)

In other words, man inhabits an absolute, knowable universe, which he can fathom by the use of his individual rational faculty. His ultimate moral value is his own life, and, to achieve it, he should establish a social system absolutely free of the initiation of force by one human being against another. In her discoveries, Rand also developed a theory of esthetics that she had outlined in The Romantic Manifesto. Rand saw art as the “technology of the soul,” the intellectual fuel needed to inspire the rational man and motivate him to further productive endeavors, a reflection of his values in some concrete medium. All of these aspects of Objectivist thought are of potentially immense use to the Extropian and libertarian movements, as shall be further demonstrated.

The Principles of Extropy

Extropy, defined as ”the extent of a living or organizational system’s intelligence, functional order, vitality, and capacity and drive for improvement,” is a broad term covering a vast array of human aspirations and objectives. Dr. Max More, the architect of the Principles of Extropy, does not consider them a fully self-contained intellectual structure. Rather, in his most recent version of the Principles’ formulation, he dubs them “an evolving framework of values and standards for continuously improving the human condition.” Dr. More conceives of the Principles as postulates to guide individual thought and inspire intellectual progress—a purpose compatible with Objectivism, since it does not purport to replace the Objectivist hierarchy of ideas, and also harmonious with libertarianism stemming from any fundamental value system, so long as a sincere commitment to individual freedom, life, and progress is present on the part of the person examining the Principles. 

The Principles are intended to be enduring, underlying ideals and standards. At the same time, both in content and by being revised, the Principles do not claim to be eternal truths or certain truths. I invite other independent thinkers who share the agenda of acting as change agents for fostering better futures to consider the Principles of Extropy… as a shared vocabulary – to make sense of our unconventional, secular, and life-promoting responses to the changing human condition.

(Max More, “The Principles of Extropy, Version 3.11”)

Of the Principles of Extropy, there are seven, each of which is perfectly compatible with and complementary to the Objectivist fundamentals:

1. Perpetual Progress

2. Self-Transformation

3. Practical Optimism

4. Intelligent Technology

5. Open Society

6. Self-Direction

7. Rational Thinking

Perpetual Progress is the continual improvement of the human condition, and the removal of biological, social, mechanical, and intellectual factors impeding human advancement. Perpetual Progress finds its validation in the Objectivist virtue of Productiveness, which follows from individuals’ rational self-interest. Rand defines Productiveness as “the process that sets man free of the necessity to adjust himself to his background, as all animals do, and gives him the power to adjust his background to himself. Productive work is the road of man’s unlimited achievement [Italics mine] and calls upon the highest attributes of his character: his creative ability, his ambitiousness, his self-assertiveness, his refusal to bear uncontested disasters, his dedication to the goal of reshaping the earth in the image of his values [Italics mine]” (The Virtue of Selfishness,  p. 29). Thus, the Randian system not only allows but elevates to the level of a moral imperative the continual removal of human limitations and the continual extension of human efficiency.

Max More’s Principles of Extropy take the virtue of Productiveness to its logical conclusion:

Valuing perpetual progress is incompatible with acquiescing in the undesirable aspects of the human condition. Continuing improvements means challenging natural and traditional limitations on human possibilities. Science and technology are essential to eradicate constraints on lifespan, intelligence, personal vitality, and freedom. It is absurd to meekly accept "natural" limits to our life spans. Life is likely to move beyond the confines of the Earth — the cradle of biological intelligence — to inhabit the cosmos. (Max More, “The Principles of Extropy, Version 3.11”)

To fully adjust his environment to himself, man must not accept the ravages of disease as inevitable, nor consider himself perpetually chained to a single celestial sfere; he cannot content himself with painstakingly slow learning speeds and false sensations, following which subverts the ultimate value of his life (such as, for example, the sensation of hunger, which urges man to eat beyond his energetic requirement, since this impulse was inherited from prehistoric times, when man’s food supply was never assured). Above all, man must never reconcile himself with the “inevitability” of death by senescence. If the individual’s life is his ultimate value, as Rand claimed, and Perpetual Progress is the logical means to benefit this life, then death is the ultimate obstacle to both. Were it removed or substantially delayed, the individual would have far ampler abilities to continually develop his faculties in every possible respect. Man would also rise to prodigious heights of intelligence and infuse a richness into his life unthinkable given its transitory nature today.

Consider an intelligent individual who is capable of reading a single book every day. Let us suppose that this individual has set it as his goal to read the entire collection of books available at his local library, about 100,000 books. Assuming that he is fortunate enough, in the status quo, to live for 100 years, he will only have read 36,500 books, or little over a third of one library. But, were he to possess indefinite life, how many libraries would he be able to intellectually consume? As a result, how competent in terms of his reasoning, wealth of ideas, and technical skills will he become, if he is given ample time to implement his newly-found learning as well?

The Principles of Extropy view man as he is presently as a transitional stage in his advancement to what he could be and should be, which is whatever his reason and self-interest dictate. Perpetual Progress implies that man ought to depart increasingly from the animal realm whence he had evolved, and increasingly assume full, conscious control of aspects of life that the animals leave to “instinct” (i.e. fallible, automatic reaction) and sheer chance. The Principles of Extropy consider this departure a transition from man as we know him to the “transhuman,” an entity fully liberated from animal limitations. The transhuman stage can be considered a result of rapid artificial evolution by which the men of the future will fully part with their animal origins, just as natural evolution had once brought about the divergence of animals from plants from fungi from protists from primitive bacteria.  Rand also alludes to the desirability of “transhumanity” by her insistence that men lead lives fully directed by the one faculty the animals lack: volitional consciousness, from which man’s rational faculty and his ability to transform his environment to suit his needs are derived. “Man has to be man—by choice; he has to hold his life as a value—by choice; he has to learn to sustain it—by choice; he has to discover the values it requires and practice his virtues—by choice” (The Virtue of Selfishness, p. 25). Rand’s own stance in support of technology is unambiguous, and implies that, the more advanced his technology, the higher the quality of man’s life and the degree of his fulfillment will be.

In order to survive, man has to discover and produce everything he needs, which means that he has to alter his background and adapt it to his needs. Nature has not equipped him for adapting himself to his background in the manner of animals. From the most primitive cultures to the most advanced civilizations, man has had to manufacture things; his well-being depends on his success at production.


[Ayn Rand (1971), "The Anti-Industrial Revolution," Return of the Primitive, 277.]

To achieve the goal of indefinite life, many scientists and intellectuals inspired by the Principles of Extropy have endeavored to achieve practical success in this field. Dr. Aubrey de Grey, a Cambridge University biogerontologist, has pinpointed seven principal causes of human senescence, eliminating or reversing which would extend man’s lifespan to the point where the pace of further human senescence will be slower than the rate of technological progress needed to combat bodily decay at each subsequent stage. Dr. de Grey estimates that, with sufficient scientific attention, the reversal of aging (and thus the attainment of indefinite or at least extremely long human lifespans) can occur in approximately thirty years. The first step of this process involves attaining the necessary technological knowledge as well as proving to the public the feasibility of the life extension effort by artificially prolonging the life expectancy of mice from three to five years (or 180 mouse-years), for which purpose Dr. de Grey and the entrepreneur David Gobel have established the Methuselah Mouse Prize, modeled after the immensely successful X Prize for private space flight. The Methuselah Mouse Prize has already attracted six teams of researchers to compete for it. The inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil agrees with Dr. de Grey’s predictions and additionally foresees the development in thirty years of nanoscopic robots that will be embedded in the human body and brain, to provide for more efficient biological functions, the combating of senescence, and the artificial enhancement of human intelligence. 

While many “traditional” value systems do not provide support for the desirability of such advances, the Principles of Extropy, assisted by the firm, interrelated conceptual hierarchy of Objectivism, make it possible to argue in their favor on the most fundamental moral levels and reverse the prevailing mainstream paradigm which holds that such radical technological advances are either undesirable or impossible. Libertarians of all stripes should rejoice at the proximity of these opportunities, as well as their immensely beneficent implications for individual freedom. As I explained in my science fiction novel, Eden against the Colossus, resistance by governments, criminals, and irrationalist intellectuals against individual liberty and initiative will be futile once indefinite life is attained.

Let the irrationalists then prate about the unworthiness of man, or of the need to curtail his ambitions. They would have nothing with which to curtail, no means of wielding their clubs efficiently, as the pain would be nullified and the damage repaired in almost an instant. They would be able to put forth no de facto threat, no practical intimidation by which to harness the titans of the mind and force them to grovel before the witch doctors’ shriveled animate carcasses. The forces of reason and progress would have won their ultimate battle. After centuries of shielding themselves against the tide of mystic maggots, they would have devised the surefire repellant at last.

(G. Stolyarov II, Eden against the Colossus, p. 360)

If indefinite life is achieved, no longer will governments be able to claim that men are not intelligent enough to govern themselves, that, left on their own, they would not properly attend to their health and vitality, that man’s technology is better left mired in a morass of regulations instead of being allowed to show its full potential in a free market of goods and ideas. Moreover, governments will lose one of their ultimate means for wielding their power, Social Security, since senescence itself will wither away, and there will be no excuse for government’s use of taxpayer funds to support those who can take care of themselves.

As already shown, Extropian thought and laissez-faire capitalism are splendidly aligned. The Open Society Principle of Extropy implies, according to Max More, “supporting social orders that foster freedom of communication, freedom of action, experimentation, innovation, questioning, and learning… opposing authoritarian social control and unnecessary hierarchy and favoring the rule of law and decentralization of power and responsibility… preferring bargaining over battling, exchange over extortion, and communication over compulsion.”  A society committed to this principle must tolerate dissent, diversity, and competition and acknowledge in individuals the full choice to associate with whom they will, to exchange ideas how they will, and to make the material innovations they will, reaping either the rewards of their productive work or the consequences of their failure. Max More recognizes that societal controls imposed by cliques of government bureaucrats are unable to sustain a system in which individuals are allowed to pursue their highest values through the autonomous use of their reason: 

”No group of experts can understand and control the endless complexity of an economy and society composed of other individuals like themselves. Unlike utopians of all stripes, extropic individuals and institutions do not seek to control the details of people’s lives or the forms and functions of institutions according to a grand over-arching plan.”

 Rand’s affirmation of laissez-faire capitalism, and its elevation to the fourth pillar of Objectivist doctrine, follows from precisely this recognition as well. According to Rand, “… intelligence does not work under coercion… man’s mind will not function at the point of a  gun.” (Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, p. 141). In a remarkably similar passage to Dr. More’s words above, Rand writes of an ideal capitalistic society: “No one has the power to decide for others or to substitute his judgment for theirs; no one has the power to appoint himself ‘the voice of the public’ and to leave the public voiceless and disenfranchised.” (Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, p. 48).

Analysis of the other Principles of Extropy demonstrates how More’s defense of capitalism has foundations similar to those employed by Rand. The principle of Rational Thinking implies that one “not accept revelation, authority, or emotion as reliable sources of knowledge. Rational thinkers place little weight on claims that cannot be checked. In thinking rationally, we rely on the judgement of our own minds while continually re-examining our own intellectual standards and skills.“ How reminiscent this is of Rand’s recognition that there can be no ultimate authority except the reasoning mind of the autonomous individual, that feelings, visions, and commandments, or any other “extra-rational” methods are not legitimate tools of cognition! Both Rand and More agree that reason is an exclusively individual tool for dealing with reality, and, from this, follows the need to leave man free to develop and apply his own rational ideas, for no one can ultimately interpret and work with the external reality better than he in the context of improving his own situation. Thus, no external agency, public or private, should be permitted to coerce an individual into an action that his autonomous will would oppose. What logically follows from this is the absolute separation of the State from the economy and from the private decisions of individuals.

Moreover, both Rand and More recognize another fundamental pillar for the defense of capitalism: selfishness, or the holding of one’s own life as the ultimate value. More devotes three Principles of Extropy, Practical Optimism, Self-Transformation, and Self-Direction, which closely correspond to the Objectivist ethics.  Practical Optimism suggests that “living vigorously, effectively, and joyfully, requires prevailing over gloom, defeatism, and negativism. We need to acknowledge problems, whether technical, social, psychological, or ecological, but we need not allow them to dominate our thinking and our direction.” In other words, this is a view which holds the universe to be fundamentally open to man’s creative accomplishment, and the proper attitude with regard to man’s work to be the radiant, heroic pursuit of success against all obstacles. The man of Practical Optimism refuses to demean or diminish himself, and the man embodied by the Objectivist virtue of Pride would agree. According to Rand, Pride means “never placing any concern, wish, fear or mood of the moment above the reality of one’s own self-esteem. And, above all, it means one’s rejection of the role of a sacrificial animal, the rejection of any doctrine that preaches self-immolation as a moral virtue or duty” (The Virtue of Selfishness, pp. 29-30). 

The principle of Self-Transformation “implies not self-absorption but a continued attempt to understand others and to work toward optimal relationships based on mutual honesty, open communication, and benevolence.” This parallels Rand’s trader principle as the guide for human interaction. Men, according to Rand, ought to treat one another not as masters or slaves, but as mutually respected individuals who communicate to exchange value for value, be it in a material or an intellectual sense. Honesty is an explicit Objectivist virtue, as is Integrity. Both imply the refusal to fabricate reality and the sincerity of individuals in manifesting their genuine thoughts and motives to others in such a manner as may best serve their selfish interests in the objective reality. Post-Randian Objectivists, such as David Kelley, have further explored the virtue of Benevolence and the ways in which mutual politeness, respect, and toleration can foster more efficient value trading. Max More agrees. “Benevolence implies a presumption of common moral decencies including politeness, patience, and honesty. While self-direction cannot mean getting along with everyone at any cost, it does imply seeking to maximize the benefits of interactions with others.”

The principle of Self-Direction holds that each individual ought to have the freedom to determine what will ultimately become of his life and character, and the corresponding responsibility of choosing to control his inner capacities and directing them for worthy purposes. This requires that each man use his autonomous mind as his ultimate judge of deciding which aspects of his life and character to change, which to keep the same, which risks to engage in, and which associations to make. The more each man employs this autonomy, the less susceptible he becomes to the tendency to unconditionally obey others. Antithetical to this Self-Direction is the attempt by others to regulate a man against his own will. 

Coercion of mature, sound minds outside the realm of self-protection, whether for the purported "good of the whole" or for the paternalistic protection of the individual, is unacceptable. Compulsion breeds ignorance and weakens the connection between personal choice and personal outcome, thereby destroying personal responsibility. Extropy calls for rational individualism – or cognitive independence, living by our own judgment, making reflective, informed choices, profiting from both success and shortcoming. (Max More, “The Principles of Extropy, Version 3.11”)

Or, to parafrase Rand, when one uses compulsion, one locks man in a deadly double bind. He has the choice of obeying authority and defying the conclusions of his reason (linked to the external reality) and facing the punishment of reality, or of obeying his own mind, and facing the punishment of authority. Man cannot exercise self-direction at the point of a gun. ”A free mind and a free market are corollaries” (Atlas Shrugged).  

Mutual Value Trading

As they stand today, neither Objectivism nor Transhumanism, when left entirely to themselves, represent the entire range of their logical implications, often due to their willful separation by their respective adherents into needlessly warring camps. Certain Objectivists, for example, take Rand’s insistence that each entity necessarily follows its own nature to imply that man is consigned to follow some set, static, immutable “human nature” which dictates finitude of lifespan. However, this is not a fundamental conflict between Objectivism and Transhumanism, as the Objectivists in question have simply misinterpreted Rand. Rand’s sole prescription for man’s nature was that he is a being of volitional consciousness, with reason as his sole guide in discovering and applying truth. The “transhuman” will retain these fundamental characteristics, while departing only from those that are not human nature, i.e., those aspects of susceptibility to “natural” perils that modern man still, unfortunately, shares with the animals. Any flaw, fallibility, or vulnerability in man is not a defining trait of his nature qua rational, volitional entity. This, of course, includes senescence, an affliction that is indeed common among man and most animal species.

Certain Transhumanists commit errors with regard to their perception of Objectivism as well. Mark Plus, a member of the Immortality Institute has claimed, for example, that Objectivists are detached from “pro-survival goals” since “their lives are organized around constructs like ‘heroism,’ ‘self-esteem,’ ‘romantic love’ and other make-believe that distract us from our real problems.” But, if man were not to esteem himself, how would he be able to effectively deal with the problems of mortality, disease, and intellectual limitations that currently plague him? How would he be able to proudly assert his capacity to overcome these evils, instead of cowering before them submissively? If man did not have the potential to be heroic, what would he be? Mediocre? Unable to function as the conquering master of his environment and the intellectual creator that he must become in order to fulfill both the Objectivist virtues and the Principles of Extropy? If man did not conceive of his love romantically, what would separate his sexual relationships from crude, unthinking animal lust (i.e. precisely the condition that a transhuman would not exhibit)? The Extropians’ focus on practical problems afflicting man is commendable, but it should not act to the detriment of moral values and a radiant affirmation of human life through abstract principles such as self-esteem and romantic love. Rather, advocates of Extropy should seek counsel in the words of Rand: “The practical is the moral.” Each follows from the other, binding the two inextricably under a fully rational, integrated worldview. Neither practicality nor morality, the stuff of the body and mind, can exist severed from one another. As Rand would say, morality detached from practicality, a mind without a body, is a ghost, and practicality detached from morality, a body without a mind, is a corpse.

To integrate practicality and morality, an association between Objectivists and Extropians would be of utmost benefit. Objectivism has, since the days of Rand, developed an immense body of written works containing prescriptions from abstract theory to current events, as well as a growing abundance of rational painting, sculpture, and music. The Extropian movement, on the other hand, has produced a flowering of innovative scientists, inventors, and entrepreneurs, whose visions of a technological future have the potential of becoming the concrete manifestations of Objectivist theory. Objectivist art and written works can serve as the intellectual fuel to guide these creators in their endeavors and recall to them man’s potential for competence and efficacy, while the practical innovators can encourage the Objectivist theorists, writers, and artists to furnish further masterpieces by giving them vast scientific accomplishments to analyze, glorify, and depict. The worldviews of both of these intellectual movements can be broadened substantially by extending the scope of Objectivism’s influence in the sciences, and Transhumanism’s power in the humanities. Furthermore, each side can find in the other intellectual arguments in favor of laissez-faire capitalism, from various scientific and humanitarian perspectives, to supplement their already existing arsenals.

As for the libertarians examining both movements, but not explicitly belonging to either, I recommend that they extract the best from both worlds, adopting whatever principles their autonomous minds are ready to accept. No matter to what degree these ideas penetrate the mainstream culture and amplify the intellectual stockpiles of individuals, their effect will be a beneficent one.

Recommend this page.

This TRA feature has been edited in accordance with TRA's Statement of Policy.

Click here to return to TRA's Issue XXVII Index.

Learn about Mr. Stolyarov's novel, Eden against the Colossus, here.

Read Mr. Stolyarov's comprehensive treatise, A Rational Cosmology, explicating such terms as the universe, matter, space, time, sound, light, life, consciousness, and volition, here.

Read Mr. Stolyarov's four-act play, Implied Consent, a futuristic intellectual drama on the sanctity of human life, here.