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Post Human

January 1st, 2005 | Filed under: Backgrounds | 5 Comments »

We need to distinguish between “post humanism� and “post human.� Post humanism refers to a change in culture, along the lines of the change from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance, or from the Baroque to the Enlightenment. Post human, on the other hand refers to the possibility that, due to new technologies, we are on the verge of becoming no longer human, that is to say a different species.

Post Humanism

Humanism might be described as the notion that the human being is the central entity in the cosmos, standing above God and nature. Humanism can thus be contrasted to the notion the God is the central entity in the cosmos, and to what might be called an “Eastern� view that God, humans, and nature are a unity.

We usually refer to ancient Greece, the Renaissance, and the periods from the Enlightenment through Modernism as humanist cultural periods. It is interesting to note that Frank Lloyd Wright, whose Organic approach parallels the Eastern notion of unity, specifically listed Greece (post and lintel), the Renaissance (“the Renaissance was the setting of the sun that all of Europe mistook for dawn�), and some European Modernism as architectures that he disliked. Thus we might say that Wright is not a humanist. Thus Post Humanism would be what ever is going on now after humanism, but of course that is a negative definition.

The Enlightenment

The humanism of the period from the Enlightenment through Modernism is closely associated with reason, which is to say with science and rationalism. The science that so successfully led to an understanding of and control over nature, was extended to humans as well in the “social sciences.�

A notion of human being that rejects these rationalist notions might be called post humanist.

Post humanist thinking is not fully formed, and has yet to distinguish itself from the long tradition of questioning of rationalism in Vico, Goethea, Jung, Joyce, Surrealism, Dada, etc., but that is another discussion.

Post Human

Post human, the notion that we are on the verge of changing (or have actually changed) as a species and may soon be no longer human, itself has two variants.

The first holds that contemporary technologies, particularly electronic, digital, and communications technologies, have so altered our physical and cultural environments (and, from a McLuhanist point of view, our sense perception structures) that we are justified in positing a species change.

To sustain this argument, one would have to show that the impact of contemporary technologies is qualitatively different from that of others, such as agriculture and industrialization. It remains to be seen if that can be shown.

The second variant holds that the kinds of biotech and electronic technologies we have today are on the verge of actually changing us on the species level. Here we may well be on the verge of something totally new. Among the things we see underdevelopment are:

Genetic engineering, in which we can alter genes in sperm and ova before fertilization, affecting future individuals
Genetic therapy, in which we can introduce new genes into even adult individuals through virus vectors
Cloning, in which we can select a natural or altered human cell and coax it to develop into becoming a (post) human
Chip implantation, in which chips planted into the brain or nervous system can interact with the nervous system and communicate in unique ways with the environment
Extreme life extension, in which we can approach practical immortality
The development of artificial intelligence
Nanotechnology, which may make it possible to integrate tiny machines into our bodies.

Many of those addressing he implications of these issues are extreme technological optimists, and many of them are not literate about the human and cultural implications of these developments. Two terms in common in circles addressing these issues are transhumanism and singularity:

Transhumanism

This is the term used by some for technologically enhanced humans. The term we coined by techies who do not know that you are supposed to coin terms prefixed by “post.�

Here are some places where these issues are addressed.

PostHuman.Com
From the Web Site: “What does ‘posthuman’ mean? It describes a sentient being that started out as a human or as a mind with a human way of thinking – and then by use of technology changes into someone who is no longer human. Such posthuman beings do not exist currently, therefore any more detailed description of what they would look like or how they would think and behave is pure speculation.â€?

An excerpt from:
How We Became Posthuman:Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics
by N. Katherine Hayles
From the Web Site: “You are alone in the room, except for two computer terminals flickering in the dim light. You use the terminals to communicate with two entities in another room, whom you cannot see. Relying solely on their responses to your questions, you must decide which is the man, which the woman. Or, in another version of the famous “imitation game� proposed by Alan Turing in his classic 1950 paper ‘Computer Machinery and Intelligence,’ you use the responses to decide which is the human, which the machine.1 One of the entities wants to help you guess correctly. His/her/its best strategy, Turing suggested, may be to answer your questions truthfully. The other entity wants to mislead you. He/she/it will try to reproduce through the words that appear on your terminal the characteristics of the other entity. Your job is to pose questions that can distinguish verbal performance from embodied reality. If you cannot tell the intelligent machine from the intelligent human, your failure proves, Turing argued, that machines can think.�

World Transhumanist Association
“Transhumanism is an interdisciplinary approach to understanding and evaluating the possibilities for overcoming biological limitations through technological progress. Transhumanists seek to expand technological opportunities for people to live longer and healthier lives and to enhance their intellectual, physical, and emotional capacities. The World Transhumanist Association is a nonprofit membership organization which works to promote discussion of the possibilities for radical improvement of human capacities using genetic, cybernetic and nano technologies.�

Betterhumans
From the Web Site: “Connecting people to the future so that they can create it, we explore and advocate the use of science and technology for furthering human progress…. Betterhumans doesn’t just cover science and technology. Rather, we explore and advocate the use of science and technology for advancing humanity and continuing human progress. Our philosophy revolves around our goal of helping people understand, anticipate and create the future. We’re dedicated to having the best information, analysis and opinion on the impact of advancing science and technology.â€?

Extropy Institute
From the Web Site: “Extropy Institute sees enormous potential in advanced decision making and strategic thinking, coupled with emerging sciences and technologies, to quicken humanity’s resolution of these fundamental problems. We aim to gradually but firmly change the rules of the game called “being humanâ€?. In pursuit of our mission, Extropy Institute assembles individuals from diverse domains of expertise. We gather these ambitious, daring minds to combine creative and executive approaches to expose the fundamental roots of our problems. We see this advanced, multi-faceted solution-seeking as the best way to create a radically better future. We need not remain slaves to our cultural and evolutionary history. For centuries, cultures around the world saw human slavery as part of the natural order, until they were shown irrefutably otherwise. Likewise today, many of us passively accept or stridently defend the inevitability of human stupidity, malice, conflict, aging, and death. We invite you to participate in our mission to connect and cultivate the ingenious and intrepid shapers of the future.â€?


5 Comments on “Post Human”

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