Incoming Transmission: Transhumanism and the Future of the Human Body (Part 12 – New Life and New Heroes)
Opposing Death: In the context of Freud’s discussion of the Death Drive a Transhumanist might want to free herself from her own nature and interrogate her biology. She might ask for increased Excitation instead of a return to Quiescence. (After all, isn’t this similar to what Nietzsche found so repulsive about Wagner and what attracted him to Bizet?) The transhumanist might go out of her way to ignore the so called ‘natural’ demands of her body, engineering (or even removing entirely) her mortal Soma cells to render them immortal or vastly more resilient.
Furthermore has the cultural sentiment not interrogated the necessity of returning to a primordial condition? This is after all what we are noticing in our hi-tech, genetics and cloning culture. Thus the engineered human may be roused to action on an issue such as global warming and planetary destruction, looking for ways to continue living and certainly finding no solace in a biological drive aimed at homeostasis and tuned to Wagnerian ‘primordial flowing E chord’.
It is not by coincidence that we come now to Stephen Hawking’s remarks following an incident a couple years ago with the ‘Doomsday clock’. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, alongside prominent climatologists, announced they moved the minute hand of the “Doomsday Clock” two minutes closer to midnight. But once again, at least in Halifax, where I was at the time, this did not appear particularly alarming to my contemporaries. Hawking offered a response in part to the decision of the Bulletin. In a BBC interview he said:
The long-term survival of the human race is at risk as long as it is confined to a single planet,” he said. “Sooner or later, disasters such as an asteroid collision or nuclear war could wipe us all out. But once we spread out into space and establish independent colonies, our future should be safe.
There isn’t anywhere like the Earth in the solar system, so we would have to go to another star.
If we used chemical fuel rockets like the Apollo mission to the moon, the journey to the nearest star would take 50,000 years. This is obviously far too long to be practical, so science fiction has developed the idea of warp drive, which takes you instantly to your destination. Unfortunately, this would violate the scientific law which says that nothing can travel faster than light.
However, we can still act within the law, by using matter/antimatter annihilation, and reach speeds just below the speed of light. With that, it would be possible to reach the next star in about six years, though it wouldn’t seem so long for those on board.
Hawking has responded to the threat of environmental destruction by offering his conception of the possibilities for humankind. Nowhere in Hawking’s statement do we find the desire for death, for homeostasis, for the organic, for the earth, et cetera… On the contrary, we find a radical thanatophobia.
Furthermore we find a thinker who, in contrast to Nietzsche’s Last Men, would rather die with earth and understands the true meaning of heleocentrism. But some, such as Mary Midgley take scientists with views akin to and far more radical than Hawking’s to be “ not interested in making our existing human life any better…but simply getting away from it. Their central motive does not seem to be any kind of reforming idealism, but simple fear” or, we might add, laziness.
New Heroes: There is a scene in Darien Aronofsky’s recent, and rather fascinating, film The Fountain where one of the lead characters, Tom Verde, boisterously exclaims: “Death is a disease, it’s like any other. And there’s a cure. A cure – and I will find it.” Throughout the film he comes to the realization that this is may not be the case. And this is the direction I want to turn to in this final section in order to make way for our next discussion. Verde encounters the “fiery everturning sword” alluded to in the book of Genesis. The Mayan who holds the sword exclaims cryptically “Death is the road to awe.” (see Genesis 3:24). Throughout the tradition we find the received view that thought begins with death and that it is life that consumes thought. Great works of art and literature stem from our lack of eternal life, such a lack spurs us to create. (Perhaps this is what AI researchers have left out of their equations.) One might ask what the use is in prolonging life or granting ourselves further strength. Such a figure might declare:
We know the flaws of having faith in strength! Yet you want us to develop? Myopia leads to distress. Distress leads to discontent. Discontent is the harbinger of great thought. One should forget their spectacles more often!
Furthermore, what will happen to our greatest myths and our finest heroes? Our finest heroes, from Achilles to Martin Luther King Jr. are revered for their self-sacrifice and their ability to, in death, thrive in the spirit of the community. The notion of the ‘hero’ becomes strange in a posthuman future where death is seen as an imposition and a tumor to be cut away. In J.F- Lyotard’s Postmodern Fables, we find a hero that Bernal or Haldane may have approved of, one bent on escaping from his dying universe. To do so he must alter his form to the extent that he can escape the entropy of the universe. He writes that the
“human species is not the hero of the fable. It is a complex form of organizing energy…the exile’s hero…will have to be more complex than the human species is at the time when the fable is being recounted, since this species does not have the means of its exile, although it is the most complex organization of energy we know in the universe…That’s why the fable lets it be understood that the exile’s hero, destined to survive the destruction of terrestrial life, will not be a mere survivor, since it will not be alive in the sense we understand the word.” (from Lyotard’s Postmodern Fables)
So what sort of a hero do we have in the quote above? Certainly under the prevailing view he would not be a hero. After all, heroes love the earth, cowards are indifferent to its wellbeing. Perhaps it is that heroes are men of the earth and cowards men of space. Perhaps the future yields to a breed of noble coward, acutely thanatophobic, unafraid to embrace technologies outside of his flesh and no longer rooted in the earth.
——————————Cybject is only a thought experiment——-