Incoming Transmission: Transhumanism and the Future of the Human Body (Part 9 – Flesh and Data)

 

By our rapid drive toward increasing interactions between flesh and data, and increasing integrations of body and machine, the techno-dream of immortality is quickly transforming from a vision of science fiction into a scientific reality.  Philippe Ariès’ observation that death has become increasingly understood as a revolting transgression compliments the recent escalation in altercations we are making to our bodies.

Perhaps these are the heralds of an age where we would be no longer bound to our biology and liberated from the seemingly unalterable laws of mortality. In such an age we would transcend biological barriers and eventually become “posthuman”. Advocates of altering our biology and fostering future interactions between body and machine are known as transhumanists.

Much to the chagrin of their critics such as Francis Fukuyama, they inquire with Nietzsche: “I teach you the Overman. Man is something that is to be overcome. What have you done to overcome him?” Notice how similar Nietzsche’s rhetoric is to that of Kevin Warwick, a professor at the University of Reading in England who in 2002 had a computer chip surgically implanted into the nerves in his arm.  Warwick exclaims “I was born a human. But this was an accident of fate – a condition merely of time and place. I believe it’s something I have the power to change.”

Well known and influential futurist-thinker Ray Kurzweil envisions an age of ‘designer baby boomers’. Like Warwick, he opposes aging gracefully as a part of the cycle of life and views disease and death as a calamity to be overcome. In The Singularity is Near, he writes: “It may be ‘natural’, but I don’t see anything graceful in loosing my mental agility, sensory activity, physical limberness, sexual desire…” We may dismiss Warwick and Kurzweil’s ideologies and Enlightenment optimism but the fact remains that we are well on our way to a major technological and ideological shift.

In some strange way these two conditions, namely (1) the tendency toward prosthesis and virtuality, and (2) radical cultural thanatophobia, are intricately linked. When taken together they point towards something deeply mysterious.

We might recall here Nietzsche’s iconic words in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, notably that:

All beings have created something beyond themselves; and do you want to be the ebb of this great flood and even go back to the beasts rather than overcome man? What is ape to man? A laughing-stock or a painful embarrassment. And man shall be just that for the overman: a laughing-stock or a painful embarrassment.  You have made your way from worm to man, and much in you is still worm.  Once you were apes, and even now, too, man is more ape than any ape.

We note, as well, that Nietzsche would probably consider most reigning forms of transhumanists among the apes!

Next we might consider the sentiment among leading transhumanists who, in a sense, embody in an extreme form the radical thanatophobia that has been emerging in our culture since the Enlightenment. FM-2030 writes in one of the founding manifestos of transhumanism Are you Transhuman?:

The most urgent problem facing us is not the social – economic – political. The most pressing problem facing us ‘ALL’ everywhere is death.

All other human constraints are derivative.

So long as there is death no one is free. So long as there is death we cannot upgrade the basic quality of life.

Following Haldane’s views in Daedalus we find scientists and theorists contemplating the myriad and often mysterious shifts that human life is undergoing. In J. D. Bernal’s 1929, The World, the Flesh and the Devil: An Enquiry into the Future Enemies of the Rational Soul his optimism is taken as far as space colonization, bionic implants and mental improvements. Bernal writes:

Finally, consciousness itself may end or vanish in a humanity that has become completely etherealized, losing the close-knit organism, becoming masses of atoms in space communicating by radiation, and ultimately perhaps resolving itself entirely into light. That may be an end or a beginning, but from here it is out of sight.

 ———————-Cybject is ONLY a thought experiment ——————

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~ by dccohen on December 19, 2009.

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