Transhumanism – where no man has gone before?

The simple answer is no.

But, since I don’t want to leave it at that, because I announced that I would be writing this post a long time ago and got round to it now, it would be a dreadful anticlimax. The concept of Transhumanism has been around for some time now, otherwise known as H+,which allows for human enhancement of their own capabilities through technology. It could be for strength, health, communicative purposes amongst I imagine, quite a few others and subsections of these. What has brought it into the spotlight however, is not only how far these technological enhancements have come, but also its use in politics. In August this year, Italy saw its first Transhumanist MP Giuseppe Vattino. You can read his interview here about how he towards the mixed public reaction, his political stance and how he became interested in transhumanism.

But transhumanism is not all about bionic eyes and microchipped limbs. Aspects of hybridisation between man and “machine” or “tool”  is a rather old concept, and can even be seen to be traced back in documentation even to Adam and Eve’s desire to cover their modesty ( the use of clothing as a human enhancement). To say that transhumanism is merely a feature of an extrapolated, melodramatic future is somewhat myopic (without the use of corrective lenses – which is of course, another human enhancement!). Since the dawn of time, we have devised and used tools to enhance our modes of living of course; these tend to become more specialised as time goes on as environment and society perpetually evolve. These new modes – or as Donna Harraway puts them – informatics of domination, we start seeing a increasing shift towards technology and the use it has in our lives. It’s not just limited to the individual enhancement and trying to simply better yourself – Giuseppe mentions the use of nanotechnology to solve energy and environmental problems.

After the Olympics and Paralympics this year, we were given an amazing display of what humans are capable of, focusing on the can rather than can’t – which I also saw in the Superhuman collection at the Welcome Trust Collection (which I think ends next week? Don’t quote me on that). With displays from monocles and eye glasses to prosthetic limbs to contraception and even err… phallic replacements, the collection housed a timeline of contraptions/technology and how they have enhanced (or to take from Heidegger) or enframed our lives.

I was also fortunate to see the performance art – We are all a cyborg – featuring spoken word Richard Tyrone Jones on his operation to recover from heart failure with an implanted defibrillator to Sarah Ruff on the contraceptive implant. We also dressed up a manikin (I think its name was Gene at the end) with different tags to show where our enhancements are and/or enhancements in people we know.

I’m not that clued up on the whole of transhumanism but there are a lot of ideas that are coming more into play today than ever, and it’s something I’m interested in exploring. I will come back to it and write a follow up post as already I have a lot more to say but don’t want to ramble on this one post. Even from the issue with adding fluoride to the water in order for people to become less susceptible to tooth decay – who gets a say in who wants these enhancements, even if they are for the greater good, for example?

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3 Comments

  1. I like the idea of transhumanism being old, but I think there are some other ideas that need to be in place to make it work in this context.

    People like thinking of themselves as cyborgs because they wear glasses and use smart phones, but it seems to stop there. People like Oscar Pistorius and Aimee Mullins probably get the best reactions. Steve Mann and Kevin Warwick are eccentric professors. Stelarc and Lepht Anonym are just considered weird. Responses to even their modest modifications quickly becomes more mixed and less supportive.

    More fundamentally, there are too many consumers. Most of our technology is hard to unscrew, dismantle, repair, reprogram, or otherwise understand because those aren’t things that most people care about right now.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that I think the idea, in this context, does itself a disservice. You got a freebie: you’re already a cyborg, you didn’t have to work for it, and everyone who goes farther seems to be a weirdo. It reduces the incentive to learn about the world or make new things.

    Maybe. Please tell me if you think I’m wrong. I never get to talk about transhumanism.

    Reply

    1. Indeed! I know what you’re getting at – my introductory stance on the matter is that (as I plan to write more about this) is that people only think of transhumanism as something recent, as something alien, but because it has been old, because it has been hard wired into us to improve ourselves to survive, that it shouldn’t be seen as weird. The exhibit I went to illustrated that, from the past to present, but with the future very much open ended. I think there is incentive to make new things, but it’s overshadowed by mass consumerism and the desire to get more results faster – so anything cosmetic that can “transform” something will be more received than anything more meaningful in the long term, which is very unfortunate. The people who want to “dismantle” in order to make anew are often kept in these shadows, I think. The canonic binary of good/bad, nature/artificial in Science Fiction has a role to play in it, in my opinion – which is probably why Steve Mann and Kevin Warwick have such a mixed reception.

      Reply

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