Before financier Jeffrey Epstein was arraigned on two charges related to sex trafficking in July, he had big plans to inseminate women with his sperm, and keep them at his ranch in New Mexico, so they could then give birth to his babies and "seed the human race." This was just one of Epstein's bizarre and problematic scientific interests related to "transhumanism" that were detailed in a story published on Wednesday in the New York Times.
Transhumanism is a movement that aims to use technology in order to transform humans so that they can become "posthuman" — or physically, mentally, and emotionally superior. Epstein would talk openly about his plans to create this "baby ranch" with high-profile scientists whom he lured to elaborate dinner parties He also donated money to organizations that supported transhumanism. Creepy? Definitely. Here's what you need to know about this controversial belief system:
What is transhumanism?
The goal of transhumanism is to use technology and genetic engineering to enhance humans and ultimately become "posthuman," according to a 2017 paper in The Journal of Medicine and Philosophy. People who identify as transhumanists might do various things to their bodies to strengthen their genes and essentially level-up from normal human beings. For example, Epstein would tell people he wanted to "perfect the human genome," the Times reports. He had even hand-picked women he thought were educated and attractive enough to carry offspring.
The idea of "seeding the human race" with someone's personal DNA is a new concept in the world of transhumanism, explains Allen Porter, a PhD(c) in Rice University's Philosophy Department, who has written papers on transhumanism. "Transhumanists are definitely interested in altering or designing future human beings — through germline engineering — but I've never heard any proposals remotely akin to this," he says. "I think this idea is probably more indicative of Epstein's narcissism than it is of his transhumanism."
Is this similar to eugenics?
Eugenics is a similar philosophical movement that argues that people with "positive eugenics" should reproduce in order to improve the human race, and those with "negative eugenics" shouldn't, according to the Personal Genetics Education Project. Adolf Hitler was one of the most infamous eugenicists, and Nazi armies sterilized and killed thousands of people who he deemed "inferior and medically unfit," such as Jewish and non-Aryan people.
What was Jeffrey Epstein's "baby ranch" supposed to be for?
Epstein had a large ranch in New Mexico, where he wanted to send and house 20 women at a time to be inseminated with his sperm and eventually give birth to his children, the Times reports. People who knew Epstein told the Times that he got this idea from the Repository for Geminal Choice, aka the "Nobel Prize Sperm Bank." He believed that this extreme measure would allow him to become posthuman.
Were any scientists on board with this?
It's hard to believe that any scientist would morally be okay with Epstein's ideas, Porter says, yet he was able to attract (and lure with money) a circle of respected and intelligent people within relevant scientific communities. The Times names Murray Gell-Mann, Stephen Hawking, Stephen J. Gould, Oliver Sacks, George M. Church, and Frank Wilczek as supporters of Epstein. A literary agent who represented scientists named John Brockman reportedly facilitated Epstein's parties. But other scientists called his B.S., such as Steven Pinker and Jaron Lanier.
Why is transhumanism problematic?
People argue that it's wrong for religious reasons, because "it would be usurping God's authority to use technology to change human nature," Porter says. Then there are more practical arguments, like the fact that it's hard to predict what the side-effects of technological genetic advancements would be, he adds. And then there's the philosophical argument that transhumanism straight up doesn't make sense. "One might argue that eliminating mortality would lead to meaninglessness, at least if mortality is indeed a necessary condition of possibility for meaning for human beings," he says.