March 13, 2002

From Gerald R. Lucas

I’ve been thinking lately about my new job. Now that I’ve been able to successfully get myself in as a tenure-track Assistant Professor, I’m actually going to have to perform: i.e., get published. This has been a difficult road. Yes, I have managed to get a couple of things out there, but nothing truly significant. As gao says: I must begin thinking like a professional.

I’ve also been thinking more about posthumanism: the inevitable collision and combination of human bodies with technology, both ideologically and literally. It seems to me that our bodies are inextricably linked to their environments. Can our bodies resist technological improvements as we destroy their environments? Since the industrial revolution, we have increasingly corrupted our world with the burning of fossil fuels, the destruction of ecosystems, and the refusal to admit that these practices are destructive. It seems that the arrogance of man (yes, I think men are mostly to blame), we see ourselves as distinct from the environment, at least ideologically. This might be our downfall.

It seems logical to me that the destruction of our “natural” environment (i.e., the environment that, through mutation and natural selection, constructed our present biological reality) will necessitate humans becoming posthuman if we want to survive. The rapid destruction of our habitat will make technological augmentation of the human an inevitability if the human is to survive the radically changing environment. Only manufactured bodies will be able to exist in rapidly manufactured, technologized environments.

Does posthuman mean, then, “outside the environment”? As we necessarily change our bodies through technology — genetics, nanotechnology, robotics — will environment finally cease to be a factor in our further development and how we see ourselves in relationship to the universe? Will posthumanity entirely free itself from nature only to prove once-and-for-all that we are self-determined entities solely determined by the technology of the body? Will technology finally offer the answers to the philosophical questions that have plagued us since our first sentience? Will technology finally make it clear that we are the ones who have always been the authors of our own destinies?

Or, in our quest for posthumanity — a position that seems increasingly inevitable based on our careless destruction of environment — will we become casualties of technology? Will Lovelock’s Gaia finally tire of us and produce some super flu or ultra El Niño to finally rid herself of the human infestation? Or we, as Bill Joy fears, finally have some lab accident that destroys humanity though a dropped beaker: “oops”?

In the literature that I have been reading lately, there seems to be a combination of these scenarios, yet humanity always seems to continue in some for or another: usually in the form of what I call posthuman. Others, like Max More see humans developing in almost mystical way with technology toward a transhumanism that “would be achieved through science and technology steered by human values.” What does More mean by “human values”? Are these utilitarian ethical codes applicable to all? He quotes Nietzsche’s musing: “Man is a rope, fastened between animal and overman--a rope over an abyss... What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not a goal.” Indeed, then the human values he discusses lead from the past and will permanently mark the future. The “trans” then is a progress, a becoming, something else; More interprets this change as progress — what he terms “extropian,” though many, I think, would argue.

However, both More and Kurzweil suggest an techno-historical moment is coming that will change the course of humanity in ways that we cannot predict with our current technology and thought. They call this a “singularity,” borrowed from the event horizon of a black hole, a place beyond which one cannot see. At this point, science and technology have progressed at such a rapid pace that it will precipitate a technical and ideological break with the past.