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Humanstic Posthumansim Through Natural Emergence

Contemporary advances in biotechnology and computational sciences are allowing the creation of realities that where matters of science fiction only a few decades prior. At an age of exponential growth and development, speculation about the human future, is sufficient enough to be posed as a when rather than and if. The only factor that bounds the if question behind these speculations, is a constrain bounded mainly by laws of physics. Even if the rate of economic and technologic human development decreases by a significant factor but remains above zero; on a millennia timescale this pace is sufficient to maintain the momentum where new ideas are constantly being realized, even if they where a matter of speculation and science-fiction beforehand.

But what stops humans to start disregarding humanistic values for the pursuit of biologic and technologic augmentations? From a historical perspective, the Agricultural Revolution (circa 10,000 BC) gave rise to theist religions and the Scientific Revolution (initiated in 1543) gave rise to humanist religions.1 Humanism is our current predominant world view, but during the Middle Ages christianity was the most predominant world view in Europe, and 3000 years before that, pharaohs where part of the Ancient Egyptian world view. Today, pharaohs and christianity are arguably, no longer predominant ethical guidances for humanity, but humanism still is and has been for the last 300 years.2 We continue to makes humanistic decisions because we established a world view that prioritizes human-centric moral and ethical values. However, there is little reason to believe that the humanist world view will remain undisrupted forever. A revolution that seeks to fix all human imperfections which could potentially dismantle the humanist world view, is all it takes to initiate a human cybernetic transformation to a point where we are no longer recognized as Homo Sapiens. Even today we see the lengths to which some people will go to integrate themselves with machines.3

Humans are altering the way in which humans perceive their own biologic existence. This is first illustrated with human mastery of biotechnology starting about 6000 years ago, when grains and animals where selected to tailor human needs. Today, the way scientists view biology is different from how traditional biologists view the subject. It is field that aims to view all living matter as something mechanistically and chemically determinable. Views such as transhumanism of which FM-2030 was one of the most prominent proponents, believed that human deficiencies can be overcome with nanomedicine and life extension technologies. As humans condition themselves as organism alterers, it is only a matter of historic chronology before humans consider altering themselves as a commonplace occurrence.

Today, we view DNA not as molecule of life, but as a digital machine whose purpose is to ensure its own reproduction. Ongoing research is discovering new advantages for storing information in a DNA over the use of magnetic and transistor storage.4 What has once had a potential reason to attribute life’s significance to a molecule, has now become a nanotechnology in which information can be stored and retrieved. This is the essence of postman technology where “the real and the artificial, the original and the simulated, the organic and the mechanical” become “little more than semantic distinctions”5. Most of the advances in technology occur as a consequence of our shift in understanding about human nature and our irrelevance the grander scales of the cosmos. This shift of view challenges the traditional humanistic view, and questions its longevity as the predominant human moral compass.

According to the post human view, most things can be viewed in terms of their emergence. The argument that Pepperell seems to defend, is that posthumanism values the aspect of emergence; where something like the DNA is valuable only because a life can emerge out of it. The DNA in itself is not valuable if it had not had the ability to emerge into something humanistically valuable. This is even more true with the lack of human ability to distinguish consciousness from intelligence. As of 2017, humans have surprisingly little knowledge about consciousness,6 which brings into question the attempts to understande complex systems through reductional approaches. By relying on reductionism, the human view was led astray when it was believed that all animals except humans are what Rene Descrates considered to be, “mindless automata” akin a robot or a vending machine that unconsciously responds to external stimuli.7 Since then, science revealed that animals are no less sentient than humans, while a theory of consciousness is yet to be unraveled.

The current ways in which humans attempt to understand complex systems like consciousness might be proving to not be sufficient. Even evolution theory which managed to explain a vast range of nature’s wonders, is insufficient in explaining the emergence of consciousness. Evolution theory cannot explain how consciousness gave animals an evolutionary superiority. Many scientists agree however, that self-awareness evolved because of the benefits it contributes in understanding others and social situations, implying that self-awareness is intrinsically connected to the awareness of others.8

The reason why humans tend to have a lacking understanding of emergent systems like consciousness, is because most systems where attempted to be unraveled through the use of reductionism. It was previously believed that the functions of complex systems like the brain can be dissected into areas which would be determined to be responsible for certain functions of the brain. The case against reductionism which directs itself towards the scale of atoms and molecules, is that these small constituents don’t have a known complexity.9 There could be a chance these individual parts are so complex that they no longer reflect the reality of organisms, nature, thought, and planets – those which they constitute. The world of atoms and quantum mechanics does not seem to be as the world of life, planets, and stars, which are its emergent products. The scale to which humans belong to is not a matter of belief, but a matter of metaphysical identity, which becomes completely lost once we place ourselves whitin the scale of atoms.

The posthuman conception of human existence considers both the the body and the environment to exist in a holistic continuum where their boundaries are barely distinguished. In this way, “nothing can be external to a human because the extent of a human can’t be fixed”.10 This implies that human parts can be integrated into the environment and vice versa, while extent to which this integration is fulfilled, might challenge our currently held humanistic views. The question about the significance of human cybernetics must therefore be explored not only from a scientific perspective, but also from an artistic, metaphysical, and philosophical one as well. This is objective in understanding the ethics and implications of tampering with biology and altering life forms.11 If cybernetics is to be viewed as a pragmatic and functional tool for fixing human imperfections, then that could manifest transhumanism which would treat human bodies as machines that have interchangeable and replaceable body parts and organs, and that human life ought to be amortal. The alternative to such a reductionist manifestation of the human body, would be the appreciation and understanding of complex emergent systems and not attempt to reduce them into parts. Expanding human understanding about emergent natural systems might hold answers to the ways human cybernetics can be embraced in humanistic ways.

An example where natural emergent systems in some ways, outperform man-made equivalents, can be observed in the way ants communicate with each other. Ants use chemical compounds called pheromones that are used to communicate with other members of the colony similar to the way humans use speech.12 Communication through pheromones might sound as an inefficient mode of communication when compared to the human language, but it isn’t for a couple of reasons. While reacting to these signals, ants use a communication network that allows every member to proactively respond to a colony’s collective needs and treats. It might seem primitive, but it is advanced due to the way this collective communication method is integrated among each member of the colony.

While ants do not posses any form of advanced sociability, nor are they arguably, aware of every other ant in its colony; they nevertheless posses a mode of swarm intelligence which consists of a network connected to all the members of the swarm. Humans have established an equivalent of such a network which we call the Internet. But the Internet however, is not integrated with the human body. The Internet is an artificial trait to which humans don’t have a corresponding DNA code that instructs its usage. Ants on the other hand, have a corresponding DNA code that efficiently instructs them how to use their pheromone interfaces. This interface is an example of a network that emerged naturally. The significance of this interface is not just that it is functional, but also that it emerged out of nature and not developed through the use of some kind of technology. One can observe how natural selection allowed these systems to emerge into something, that in some respects, more efficient and elaborate than human networks.

If an equivalent of such an interface where to be embraced in a human context, it may perhaps an the equivalent of responding to collective human threats such as climate change, food shortages, natural disasters and perhaps even more cognitively demanding events. This level of sensing and perception is regarded as the noosphere, a term that was first adopted by Vladimir Vernadsky in 1910’s. The noosphere is defined as a third stage of the earth’s development cycle that follows the development of the biosphere (biological life) that in turn follows the development of the geosphere (inanimate matter).13 Vernadsky considered much of the “evolutionary process over geological time as a directed process” which equates the emergence of intelligence as something that is part of the “geological stratum”.14

Vernadsky’s theory provides context to the ideas of posthumanism where humans and their products of the mind are holistically continuous with the universe. Such a continuum among humans and the physical world, could redefine human conscious and condition. This may include the ability to be aware of imminent environmental dangers, develop advanced forms of cognition, and collectively solve existentially threatening issues. Other outcomes may include aesthetic purposes, such as gaining the ability to “feel” a meteor entering the Earth’s atmosphere as it emits an electromagnetic interference, or to momentarily feel distant disasters. With such a sense in play, the functionality of human empathy as well as the physiologic characteristics of other humanistic traits, could become entirely transformed. A cyborg sense of this sort was applied in 2013 by Moon Ribas who developed a special sensor that connects to a global seismograph which allowed her to feel different intensities of earthquakes around the world, starting with 1.0 on the Richter scale.15 By integrating humans with natural systems and implementing emergent systems without relying on reductionist understanding, may be a path that is humanistically significant.

It is unquestionable that the methods in which humans will choose to manifest cybernetics and posthumanism, would become a matter of politics and ideology of the future. But another view that may perhaps contrast the reductionist interest for cybernetics is the nourishment and exploration of humanistic values and aesthetic experiences. Such a method may include the incorporation of various senses that give humans the ability to become more interconnected with nature and other animals. Neil Harbisson believes that he is closer to animals because he acquired a sense that works with bone conduction, a characteristic that is distinctive to how dolphins perceive sound underwater.16 In this manner, a posthumanist ideal could be one where immensely complex emergent systems like the natural living world is accounted for its whole, and is perceived in a way that gives ethical and aesthetic value to the human state of being. This approach seems to have a greater value than reducing everything into a boring molecular world.

  1. Harari, Yuval Noah. Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow. 2017. Print. p. 98 

  2. Harari, p. 68 

  3. Pepperell, Robert. The Posthuman Condition: Consciousness beyond the Brain. Bristol, UK: Intellect, 2009. Print. p. 6 

  4. Nature 537, 22–24 (01 September 2016) doi:10.1038/537022a 

  5. Pepperell, p. 11 

  6. Harari, p. 109 

  7. Harari, p. 108 

  8. Koti, Shruti. “Evolution and Consciousness.” Berkeley Scientific. N.p., 20 Feb. 2014. Web. 14 Mar. 2017. 

  9. Pepperell, p. 64 

  10. Pepperell, p. 22 

  11. Natasha Vita-More, Brave BioArt 2, p.172 

  12. Johnson, Steven. Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software, 75 

  13. Levit, Georgy: “The Biosphere and the Noosphere Theories of V. I. Vernadsky and P. Teilhard de Chardin: A Methodological Essay. International Archives on the History of Science/Archives Internationales D’Histoire des Sciences”, 50 (144), 2000: p. 160–176 

  14. Levit, p. 165 

  15. Ellen Pearlman, I, Cyborg. p.88 

  16. Pearlman, Ellen, I, Cyborg. p.89 

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