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Beyond Posthumanism?


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final lecture of the Becoming Posthuman course at the University of the West of Scotland, December 2011.

final lecture of the Becoming Posthuman course at the University of the West of Scotland, December 2011.

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  • The main function of this lecture is to provide a round up of the course and hopefully offer some insight into how you might think about the conclusions of your essay. At the core of our inquiry remains this central concept of posthumanism, which still remains an open concept as i mentioned at the start of the course.   Becoming Posthuman has been running for 7 years now and back then the concept was only just beginning to gain visibility. It arose in books like Fukuyama's or the Halberstam text or in Elaine Graham's work but there was not a great deal out there. Yet, the prospect of the posthuman was beginning to enter a range of applied discourses this is why, when we think about what we need to study in order to come to terms with this subject matter there is no single subject perspective that we can take. Studies of posthumanism require insights from philosophy, sociology, cultural studies, science communication, bioethics, media studies and so on. It is a subject that engages each of these areas and, since 2001/2, there has been a vast growth of interest in this area from each one of those disciplines.   In short, there is no expert on posthumanism out there that we can point to for help in unravelling what this is all about or even what this concept means. This is why, again as i mentioned at the start, the course aims to prepare you for postgraduate study by encouraging your own development of ideas, rather than relying on the ideas of others. This is both an opportunity and a challenge, as it is incumbent on us to derive the theory to theorize what posthumanism ought to involve. This is also why the course has had such personal value to me, having pursued this concept over that period and having tried to help shape this emerging discipline which now is giving rise to positions in universities that are focused on this subject and large investments from funding bodies to scrutinize in 2004/5 alone there were 3 european inquiries that touched on this area equally, the National Institute for Health in the USA has just funded a large project looking at applications of human enhancment in the military so, when thinking about this concept, it is essential that we cast a wide net the philosophical, social and philosophical provide the structure for that inquiry.
  • Jo Zylinska's book is a great manifesto for why we take this kind of approach her view - and the view of a number of cultural theorists - is that we need to relocate ethical debate into a range of disciplines and revisit some of the values that underpin scholarly inquiries. Her 'ethics of cultural studies' makes this case, arguing that cultural studies has lost its way and that it needs to be repoliticized. her more recent book '  and extends that thesis and is a really great extension of Katherine Hayles 'how we became posthuman' so, authors like jo have arrived at 'bioethics' from cultural studies and she has spent time trying to analyse the industry of bioethics that operates around emerging technology issues at the same time, the development of 'science communication' has informed this area - because the importance of doing this work is high for a government which seeks to ensure the public are supportive of scientific innovation so debates about science enter the public domain partly for this reason today, scientists are under great pressure to develop 'public engagement' work in order to justify their activities so again, this is both a political issue and a moral one - the debates provide opportunities for members of the public to engage, but that engagement is shaped by a political agenda to increase scientific complicity fukuyama is a useful case in point here he used to sit on the US President's council of bioethics he is a professor in political science and has developed a view on the future that is quite dystopian so, through Fukuyma's work we see the intersection of these areas but he is also inadequate as a posthuman theorist he never develops a thesis on posthuman ism but simply discusses what he sees as the inevitable commercial charcer of biotechnology arguing that this will be the end of humanity these three areas of transhumanism, cyborgology and posthumanism are also building blocks for our inquiry we can look at those concepts and map out the different contributions to this subject from the early transhumanist ideas of Max More, to Donna Harway's cyborg manifesto, to the book by Gordijn and Chadwick on 'medical enhancements and posthumanity'
  • SLIDE 3 but amid all of these ideas, we should always return to the initial questions uch as 'what is posthumanism?' how do we inform that concept and what resonance does it have in the broad transformations that are happening within our society? in short, how should we locate studies of posthumanism within their broader context? for instance, the position that posthumanism is at all meaningful implies that there is something after the human, something that leads to a shift in how we should think of the human subject and this espouses a view that commits to the idea that change does occur and not does it only occur, but it may even transform us in such a way as to require a change to our species categories but there is also a critical cultural life to this concept that merits our attention this is not a course about mapping evolutionary change rather, we examine the way in which claims about humanity changing are articuated via a range of cultural texts to this end, we might see posthumanism as part of the fetish for the new the desire to mark out new eras and to proclaim that humanity is both at the end of something and on the verge of something new another central part of what posthumanism involves is the reliance on speculation and we should reflect on that for a moment speculation is a very divisive concept in scholarly research a historian willl tell us that anything that's closer to use than 20years ago cannot yet be understood and many scientists argue that we can only study what already exists in the world, not what may become this is why speculation is something to be treated very carefully in what we do as scholars of posthumanism we must be skeptical of speculations not just because they may not have credibilit, but because predicting the future is not really what research is about yet, this subjetc of posthumanism relies heavily on the concern that decisions that are made today about the future of technology could have an irrevocable impact on what happanes next this is often described as the 'slippery slope' argument for eg. if we permit sex selection for 'family balancing' ie family with 3 daughters, want a son next - then we may slip towards permitting selection for all kinds of other reasons 56 equally, the way we imagine the future could be changed dramatically very easily 56 so while we may imagine genetic modiication to free us from the burden of biological suffering, it may also lead to us having to accept routine medical interventions 56 just to keep us well 56 and the precise conditions of that may be very hard to predict 55 so again, posthumanist studies are charcterized by the need to investigate the culture of speculation and try to weed through the credible views on the future, versus the uncredible 55 we may also look at posthumanism as a subject that befits a particular kind of set of social conditions 54 for instance, a world where enhancement is seen as a necessity rather than just a luxury 54 of course, as societies become increasingly capable of attending to essential human needs the pursuit of other desires may become more important 54 and even come to define what it means to be human 53 so while we now appeal to human rights to permit, say, the freedom to create a family without imposition, we might one day claim the right to have children with specific forms of optimized charcateristics 53 whatever they may be 53
  • SLIDE 4 53 Paul Virlio's work is helpful here too 53 he writes about our contemporay world as being characterized by the pace of change 52 but, despite this, he still recognizes that there are ways in which humanity is still drawn together in profuond ways 52 he is suspicious of the idea that we are living in postmodern times - that we no longer have reference points in the world 52 and that we are all just free floating signifiers latching on to anything that may come along 51 he is mistrustful of the idea that globalization has occured, drawing attention to the reliance on virtual worlds to provide the sense of this global village 51 in making his arguments, he reminds us that, even if we accept that posthumanism is upon us, it does not mean that we have no reference points 50 or that we are all somehow bound towars anarchy as a result 50 a view that Fukuyama espouses 50
  • slide 5 50 so amid all this change, we can still recongize that the loss of orientation does not mean the loss of humanity 49 the sky will not fall if we use cosmetic surgery or if we permit embryonic stem cell research 49 however, there are crucial conceptual transformations upon us that will change our view of humanity 49 and our place in the natural order 48 the collapse of the distinction between the human body and technology is one such transformation 48 the implications of accepting this collapse are extraordinary 48 as, in part, it may mean questioning such things as species boundaries or processes of evolution 47 it may require accepting that technology has usurped evolution and even, perhaps, that this in itself is cosistent with evolution - our evolution enabled our ability to finally use technology to speed up evolutionary proceses 47 and here, we begin to see why the subject becomes so controversial, as it appears 47 to have neo-eugenic qualities 46 that humanity should be interested in propagating only particular kinds of humans - optimized humans 46 Stelarc is a useful exemplar here of the posthuman 45 his artistic manifestations command our attention because they realize what these optimized humans might look like or what they will be capable of 45 howevr, crucially, Virilio's rejection of cybersex helps us understand why the sky is not falling 45 though as a caveat, i think he is wrong about this 44 his proposition is that cybersex involves the technological replacement of emotions 44 this view is not supported in research into cybersexual experiences 44 but what he's worried about is replacing humanity with machines - the similar kind of concrn that Fukuyama has 44 that something about technology will diminish an essence of humanity that we should seek to preserve 44
  • SLIDE 6 43 so where does this leave us? 43 what is the status of the posthuman today - 7 years after this course begun - and many more years since inquiries about the increasing relationbship between humanity and technology has been discussed? 43 has humanity changed fundamentally, or are still very much the same? 42 this is a core question in posthuman studies 42 one of the problems with posing the question in this way 42 is that we can theorize different views of 'change' 41 we might think of it as a complete break from something - a kind of catastrophic shift 41 or we may think of it as an incremental shift 41 for instance, Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote about 'family resemblances' 41 40 to discuss how we may examine claims about essential properties - such as what defines the human species? 40 in this case, there is no single property that we could add or remove that would completely require the transformation of a category, but over a period of incremental changes, then we may mark out such a shift having occured 39 a lot of the debates surrounding this subject of posthumanism are of the kind that is concrned about removing essential properties and this implying the loss of our humanity 39 but wittgenstein shows why this view is not particularly convincing 39 so even the pursuit of and realization of artificial intelligence 38 need not involve a complete replacement of humanity 38 in fact it is not at all clear that beings that have AI would a) see themselves as completely distinct from the human species or b) feel the need to assert their identity as separate - so the kind of scaremongering around possible artificial beings is not really warranted 38 in fact it is not at all clear that beings that have AI would a) see themselves as completely distinct from the human species or b) feel the need to assert their identity as separate - so the kind of scaremongering around possible artificial beings is not really warranted 37 likeiwse, the possibility of creating genetically modified athlets need not mean the loss of all virtue or ethical conduct 37 or the creation of monsters and demons who will ruin humanity 37 or the creation of monsters and demons who will ruin humanity 37 in fact, taking the broad view on technology - as noted earlier - requires that we accept humanity to have always been technologically conditions 37 and posthumanism may be little more than coming to terms with that view of our species 36 not just as 'tool user', but as constitutively technological 36 slide 7 36
  • slide 7 36 all of these discussions lead the posthumanist scholar to have some very difficult challenges 35 it is critical to not be seduced by visions of the future 35 or the appeal of proclaiming that revolution is upon us 35 it also requires to be skeptical of the way in which 'morality' enters into this debate 35 which is always with a particular context behind it - whether it is stem cells in the USA or physician assisted suicide in the UK 34 yet, it also requires us to scrutinize the way that debates about the future are imbued with moral expectations - why is so much science fiction dystopian? what kind of biases exist around how different types of people theorize the future? 34
  • slide 8 33 It is possible that the term posthumanism has nothing to do with becoming a different kind of human at all 33 instead, it might involve changing our views about the way in which people are treated - by the state and by others. 33 this is why we can read Haraway's cyborg manifesto as a posthumanist text 32 and why Chris Gray' 'bill of rights' for cyborgs is helpful, as it reminds us that, today, societies are still unable to treat HUMANS with adequate respect 31 to this end, the posthumanist philosophy may be seen as the expansion of the historical treatment of humans towards a new definition that is, certainly, more liberal, but also more progressive in recognizing the entitelemt to pursue what Anders Sandberg calls our 'morphological freedom' - the freedom to change our biology how we see fit 31 and accept this without concluding that it means the end of humanity or the acceptance of some subhuman status 30 this is why ethicists have tried to show why the new genetics has nothing to do with the Eugenics of Nazi germany, for instance. 30 it is possible to be posthuman, while retaining those accepts we value about being human 30 whether this is our rationality or our emotion 29 in fact, an expanded definition of humanity may allow us to more adequately realize the interests of more people than is presently the case 29
  • SLIDE 9 29 CErtainly, this brings new challenges 29 some of these challenges have been around for many many years, but we havent really attended to them very well 29 some of these challenges have been around for many many years, but we havent really attended to them very well 28 again, the range of views of which posthumanism is a part occupies the territory of concern about such matters 28 such as concern for ecosystem health, ownership of genses, the fair distribution of health care 28 among othes 28 others 28 thus, the view that embracing posthumanism involves withdrawing from those resposibilities could not be further from the truth 27 in fact, it is more likely that our responsibilities are taken more seriously when adopting a posthuman approach to humanity 27 we remain human despite the modifications that we make that allow us to occupy the conceptual space we call posthumanity 26 and this duality is what makes the subject both intriguing and mundane 26 but mundane in this sense 26 26 in that we act out aspects of our posthuman character already 25 through our use of mobile technology, our reliance on flouridized water, even through the artificial sunlight that we use to illuminate our homes at night 25 these mundane cyborg experienecs are as human today as language 24 but the problem with just reducing posthumanity to established human practices is that it requires us, once again, to revisit what we mean by the human 24 of which there are many contested views 24
  • SLIDE 10 24 the prospect of the posthuman is also seen as problematic because it is treated as a change that may not be possible to reverse 23 for eg. affecting our gene pool by genetic engineering would have implications for all future generations 23 and it might be that, what's at stake around posthumanism, is the capcaity to effect such dramatic changes which have, as yet, unknowable outcomes 22 yet, we cannot reduce this discussion to just debates about whether we should or should not use new technology. 22 as we discussed last week, the view of technology that takes into account that humanity is persistently located within an environment requires that we look to nature to learn how to advance technology 22 not turn our back on it 21 recent debates in nanotechnology and AI confirm the importance of this relationship 21 so posthumanism may involve a paritcular way of looking at technology as intimately connceted with nature 21
  • SLIDE 11 21 so what comes next? what will i be discussing in another 7 years with students on this course? 21 is there a post-posthuman literature waiting to be written? 20 how will our relationship to many of these issues look in a decade from now? 20 well, we have some certainly about some matters 19 for instance, we know that there is a strong chance of people being able to afford a personalized genetic profile, where presently it costs around £100,000, it could easily be £1,000 in 10 years, and soon perhaps an integral part of our medical care - perhaps the most important part 19 so we know that technology will continue to develop at a pace which will bring about some important changes for us 19 we dont know how these will be regulated or commercialized 19 and this is why posthumanisn occupies a period that calls upon people to assume agency for their biological future 18 we might find that the fuutre of technology involves its being seen in increasingly alignment with nature 18 we see such principles apparent in the ongoing discourse about enviornmental concern - that we need to be 'greener' or need to address the waste output generated by society and so on 17 we dont yet know how much of the developments in technology will be informed by the public 17 the mechanisms for engagement remain relatively weak 16 but we are much better positioned than we were even 15 years ago, when the human geneome project was nearing competion. today, there is a lot more work that attempts to engage people with their posthumanist citizenship 16
  • SLIDE 12 16 but a lot remains very vulnerable - not least of which is the pursuit of knowledge itself 15 we see in the UK struggles to support the pursuit of the natural sciences with government cuts to funding and the social science / humanities /arts will be even more vulnerable 15 so even asking the kinds of questions we have been asking on the course - irrespective of the answers - is in jeopardy 14 yet, Elaine Graham's focus on monsters reminds us why it is so important 13 to enrich debates about the future with critical analyses of cultural texts - the stories that are told about monsters and aliens become the subject of popular discourse which, in turn, become parrt of our popular imagination of the future 13 which can have a dramatic impact on what kind of future we create 13
  • SLIDE 13 12 accommodating change is always a challenge for societies - both small and big changes. so, the problem of posthumanity may be a problem of coming to terms with change 12 and the media debates about all of the issues we have discussed remind us of htis 12 particularly since those changes become the interests of certain people, communities, governments and so on 11 so, depite the credibility of the view that we have always affected our natural qualities 11 the ongoing tampering with nature is bound to create divisions 11 if only because people hold strong (religious) beliefs about the value of doing that 11
  • SLIDE 14 10 despite the fact that there are many aspects of humanity that remain similar to how the have been for centuries, the pace of technological change, coupled with the expansion of the public domain make it diffuclt to conclude that we are just the same as we always have been 10 despite the fact that there are many aspects of humanity that remain similar to how the have been for centuries, the pace of technological change, coupled with the expansion of the public domain make it diffuclt to conclude that we are just the same as we always have been 10 posthumanism may reflect the in between stage of humanity, not quite a radical transhuman, but not a natural human either 9 alternatively, posthumanism may involve accepting that posthumanism is the recognition 9 that there is no singular definition of huamnity that we can apply 9 that there is no singular definition of huamnity that we can apply 9 there is no human out there 9 that represents us all 8 simply a series of posthumans 8 and so, to conclude 8 posthumanism may be simply the acceptance of the idea that humanity has no special status 7 no privileged position in the natural order 7 no ties to nature that cannot be violated 6 this is why posthumanism should be treated as an ideology, rather than a statement abouthumanity's relationship with technology 6 agoanonymous:
  • when we think of posthumanism as an ideology- a way of seeing the world - our obligations expand not just to humans, but to non-human species as well. 3 this is why, ironically, we may think of posthumanism not as a humanism at all, not focused on humanity, but as a view that draws together a range of biological interests and considers what kinds of priorities exist around those interests 3 so, 'beyond posthumanism' 2 there is a lot of work still to do 2 ok, i will conclude there 2
  • Transcript

    • 1. Professor Andy Miah [email_address] @andymiah Faculty of Business & Creative Industries BECOMING POST HUMAN Final lecture
    • 2.
      • Where did we begin?
        • Political, social, and (moral)philosophical implications of posthumanism
          • Joanna Zylinska ‘ethics of cultural studies’ (2005)
          • Communication of science through media
          • Question found in centuries of philosophical thought (see Fukuyama)
        • Different ways of characterising the human
          • Transhumanism, cyborgology, posthumanism
    • 3.
      • What is posthumanism?
        • Fetish for the new (though Posthumanism has been around as a formal area of scholarly inquiry since 1990s)
          • The new is characterised by speculation
            • eg. We may imagine a future where people are genetically modified to avoid all suffering brought about by biological dysfunction, but such a future may require an overwhelming burden of health surveillance throughout life
        • Consequence of a leisure society
          • Where enhancement is seen as a necessity, rather than just a luxury
    • 4.
      • Paul Virilio (humanist)
        • Speed is characteristic of these times
        • Suspicious of modern/postmodern
        • Globalisation or virtualisation?
        • We are not fragmented communities
        • We retain ‘grand narratives’, such as a concern for justice
    • 5.
      • Paul Virilio
        • Critiquing the ‘Art of Technology’
          • Immediacy and instantaneity
          • Loss of orientation
        • The Transplant Revolution
          • Collapse of the distinction bw the human body and technology
          • Concern for ‘neo-eugenics’
            • Critique of Stelarc for becoming the last man before automation
        • Rejects Cybersex: technological replacement of emotions
    • 6.
      • What is the status of the posthuman?
        • Is the posthuman ontologically transitory?
          • What happens after AI?
          • What happens after athletes are genetically modified?
          • Does the sky fall or does it just challenge our imagination in a very difficult way?
    • 7.
      • Let’s imagine that world
        • Genetically modified, surgically enhanced, super-intelligent, forever young, politically superficial, communicatively reductionistic,
      • Not so different from present day
      • Why have technological futures been characterised as dystopian?
    • 8.
      • Status of posthuman remains the same
      • Being human is not affected by these tendencies
        • We do not become unhuman, subhuman or inhuman
        • We do not lose our rationality or consciousness
        • We retain many of our characteristics
        • We still feel emotion, care about others
    • 9.
      • It does, however, create new burdens
        • Responsibility towards ecosystem health
        • Patenting human genes
        • Rationing health care resources
      • But we are used to this.
      • We remain human, despite these things
        • But this still begs the question ‘what is human’
            • Is it intelligence? Is it morality? Is it our capacity to feel and articulate emotion?
            • These are all good arguments
              • (defining the posthuman requires defining the human)
    • 10.
      • Once posthuman, can we then ever turn our backs on technology?
        • The implication being that, even if it is not wholly explained by technology, that the posthuman is constitutively technological
        • But, posthumanism is more than technology, even if technology is constitutive of the posthuman
          • Our view of the world changes through technology
        • Technology also become a way of returning to nature - environmental technology
    • 11.
      • What comes after the posthuman?
        • Does it reveal a linearity towards something?
        • Is posthumanity necessarily ‘after’?
        • Is posthumanism a reaction to high-technology and its infiltration of culture
          • Seeking a return to the natural
        • Posthumanism has been used in a way to counter our acceptance of technology
          • It instils fear
            • Cf. Fukuyama
          • But this is merely its untheorised, superficial articulation, where it has been used in a same way as…
    • 12.
      • “ Monsters, aliens and others still function as important monitors and mediators of understandings of what it means to be post/human” (Graham 2003).
    • 13.
      • Perhaps becoming posthuman entails becoming comfortable with this kind of future/present
        • Relinquishing us from the ties of the ‘natural’
          • Even though we have always tampered with nature
    • 14.
      • It would be superficial to conclude that we are still human, but also inadequate to argue we are posthuman
        • Are we in limbo?
        • We have already contested the definition of humanness
        • At most, we can conclude that there are many ways of being human and, as individuals, we appropriate these different ways in different contexts
          • We are not always representing the posthuman
          • But posthumanism acknowledge diversity
    • 15.
      • But if there is no clear definition of being human, then posthumanness might be an acceptance of this
        • Different ways of being human
          • Gray’s definition of the cyborg
        • Which is why it is primarily an ideology and not a statement about the human use of technology
    • 16.
      • We are already
      • posthuman.
      • Agree or disagree?