July 31, 2003

Cyborg Liberation Front

The Village Voice provides an in-depth analysis of the World Transhumanist Association conference that took place last month at Yale university.

The opening debate, "Should Humans Welcome or Resist Becoming Posthuman?," raised a question that seems impossibly far over the horizon in an era when the idea of reproductive cloning remains controversial. Yet the back-and-forth felt oddly perfunctory. Boston University bioethicist George Annas denounced the urge to alter the species, but the response from the audience revealed a community of people who feel the inevitability of revolution in their bones.

It's surprising how quickly discussions about these kinds of topics becomes perfunctory. I've observed that people may be shocked upon initially hearing or reading a posthuman or Technology Singularity scenario, but they adapt to the idea pretty quickly. Maybe there is a sense of inevitability, even for the non-enthusiasts.

Which is not to say that everyone is convinced. A while back I ran across the follwoing Cullen Murphy quote (from the Atlantic) delivered by way of Charles Murtaugh:

The human organism—the corporeal thing itself, its needs and wants, its likes and dislikes, its limitations, its shape—is the most conservative force in human society

I retain considerable faith in the staying power of our pre-posthuman selves. Enhancement arrives with the audacity of Napoleon; the body responds with the inertial resistance of those two great Russian generals, January and February.

Nice imagery, that. I like to return to these words whenever I fear that I might be getting a little carried away with all this stuff. Still, I can't help but wonder: is this the humanistic wisdom it seems to be, or the early 21st century equivalent of "You can say whatever you like, young man, but long after everyone gets tired of the noise and stench of your so-called auto-mobile, people will be using horses and carriages to get around."

More from the Village Voice piece:

For now, though, the dialogue sounds like a space-age parlor game. Why should the noodlings of a relative handful of futurists matter? The easy answer, and that's not to say it isn't a true one: As with science fiction, the scenarios we imagine reflect and reveal who we are as a society today. For example, how can we continue to exploit animals when we fear the same treatment from some imagined superior race in the future?

Exactly. A good scenario provides a more focused view of what's possible, which in turn opens up our thinking such that we can create new possibilities. The possibility space that I keep referring to has as much to do with our lives in the present as it does the future.

Posted by Phil at July 31, 2003 07:50 AM | TrackBack
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