Monday, February 18, 2013

More than meat? Posthumanism

The readings and videos for E-learning and online culture MOOC (EDCMOOC) om post-humanism gelled nicely with the past couple of weeks in the Intro to Philosophy MOOC where we've been looking at epistemology and radical scepticism and then brains, minds and computers.

Ever since the decline of the view of humans as the imago Dei, the image of God, we've been struggling to see what defines us. Of course some of us still hold to this view, but nonetheless want to take seriously the complexities of culture, comparative biology, the effects of technology and so on.

Rene Descartes asked us to believe in dualism. Simply put, reductionism, the view that the explanatory arrow always points downwards, led to the idea that everything was just meat - we were meat. Not being able to tolerate this I suspect from as much the phenomenological point of view, let alone the theological statement of humans as imago Dei (image of God), posited dualism. Since dualism is widely rejected in philosophy, identity theory identifies mind states with physical states (either tokens - each mind state is identified with a brain state or types, each type of physical mental state is identified with types of physical states). This view is considered too simple by Hilary Putnam, suggesting it is too anthropocentric. Evolutionary convergence shows intelligence and consciousness (of sorts) has arisen in different mental architecture several times, and so platform independence of things like pain (i.e. different animals and potential aliens) feel pain but using different brains suggests that a functional view of mind is more useful.

The point of all of this? What does it mean to be human? Apart from God, it can be hard to pin down. Is humanity plastic because drugs can alter personality? Can we find drugs that not only enhance us physically, but morally as well? Nietzsche declared God is dead, postmodernism declared the author as dead; has neuroscience killed the human?

And now posthumanism? Given homo sapiens is the thinking ape (if thought it not an illusion) and a tool using ape (ok granted the Gombi chimps, we still do so to a much greater degree), haven't we always augmented our reality with speaks, axes, clothes, shelters, and then writing, art, mechanization, modern medicine and finally computing. So in all of this - is our humanity advanced (if it exists) or is it perverted? 

From the outset I want to assert that I believe in the imago Dei in humans, and therefore hold onto what some would call a pre-modern view of humans. I also see this as a functional ontology, and hence it is less about how we are human but what we are human for - and this is relationship to God, each other and to the created world around us. So if technology draws us away from God, it does not enhance what it means to be human. If it seeks to make us Godlike - quite apart from what I perceive of the blasphemy of such an assertion (tower of Babel anyone?), it is the ultimate act of hubris if not delusion (singularity delusions). If it doesn't draw people together (hence the week 3 articles for EDCMOOC on the human touch) then it subtracts from what it means to be human. And if it replaces (rather than providing a degree of protection such as housing, clothes and good meteorological science and technology does) our contact with nature/creation, it takes away from what it means to be human. There is already research to show that cutting down trees is bad for our health.

So genuinely posthuman technology means just that as we will be less than human, beyond all that we value. Technology in of itself doesn't do that - but somethings come with an ontology that steers us in that direction.

No comments: