Beyond Enhancement: Anthropologically Bounded Posthumanism


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Presentation for Talk given at the Anthropotech Conference, Bristol 9-10 January 9-10

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Beyond Enhancement: Anthropologically Bounded Posthumanism

  1. 1. David Roden, Open University
  2. 2. Posthuman Possibility Space (PPS)Impossible PosthumansPossible Posthumans
  3. 3. Comprehending {PPS}{PPS} Set of possible posthumansNick Bostrom:A posthuman is a being with:“a central capacity greatly exceeding the maximum attainable byany current human being without recourse to new technologicalmeans”Nick Bostrom, “Why I Want to be a Posthuman When I Grow Up’, in Medical Enhancementand Posthumanity, ed. Bert Gordijn and Ruth Chadwick (Dordrecht: Springer, 2009), pp.107-137.
  4. 4. Posthumanism: Alteration vs. Enhancement IIDE) P is an F-enhancer if and only if• Some S has function F.• Doing P makes S a better F’erBrains have the function Learning.If taking Ritalin makes brains better learners,Ritalin is a Learning-enhancer.
  5. 5. Posthumanism: Alteration vs. Enhancement III1) Doing P makes S acquire a new function F*.AND S loses F or gets worse at Fing.2) Doing P creates a new system S* with a new function F*AND S loses F or gets worse at Fing.OR S* replaces SNeither 1) nor 2) constitute enhancements.
  6. 6. Posthumanism: Alteration vs. Enhancement IIITechnology as “Dangerous” supplement• Real examples: Language, submarines, symbolic search, rocketry, etc.• SF examples: The Borg, Instrumental Elimination of the Folk
  7. 7. Instrumental Elimination of the FolkOnce the channel is opened between two or more people they canlearn (learn) to exchange information and coordinate their behaviorwith the same intimacy and virtuosity displayed by your own cerebralhemispheres. Think what this might do for hockey teams, and balletcompanies, and research teams! If the entire population were thusfitted out, spoken language of any kind might well disappearcompletely, a victim of the "why crawl when you can fly?" principle.Libraries become filled not with books, but with long recordings ofexemplary bouts of neural activity. These constitute a growing culturalheritage, an evolving "Third World," to use Karl Poppers terms. Butthey do not consist of sentences or arguments.Churchland, Paul 1981. “Eliminative Materialism and the PropositionalAttitudes”, Journal of Philosophy 78(2): 67-90.
  8. 8. Posthumanism: Alteration vs. Enhancement IV“Enhancement” does not comprehend all of{PPS}But, then what does it meant to be“posthuman”and how (if at all) do we delineate PPS?
  9. 9. Posthumanism: Speculative and CriticalSpeculative Posthumanism (SP)• Concerned with the implications of possible successors to humans brought about by technological agency.Critical Posthumanism (CP)• Interrogates the foundational status of the human in ethics, politics and epistemology.Are SP and CP antithetic or complementary?
  10. 10. Speculative Posthumanism(SP) Wide Descendants of current humans could cease tobe human by virtue of a history of technical alteration.Exclusive consideration of biological descendants of humanity as candidates for posthumanitywould be excessively restrictive. Future extensions of NBIC technologies may involve discrete bio-technical modifications of the reproductive process such as human cloning, the introduction oftransgenic or artificial genetic material or very exotic processes such as personality uploading or“mind-cloning”. Thus entities warranting our concern with the posthuman could emerge viamodified biological descent, recursive extension of AI technologies (involving human and/or non-human designers), quasi-biological descent from synthetic organisms, a convergence of theabove, or via some technogenetic process yet to be envisaged.“The Disconnection Thesis” (forthcoming in the The Singularity Hypothesis: A Scientific andPhilosophical Assessment).
  11. 11. The Disconnection ThesisA Wide Human Descendant is a posthuman:1) If it has ceased to belong to the Human Social/Technical Network as a result of technical alteration.2) Or if it is a wide human descendant of a posthuman.
  12. 12. Critical PosthumanismQ: What are Critical Posthumanists critical of?A: Humanism . . .. . . or, rather, anthropocentrism. A humanism is just a philosophy with ananthropology and not all humanisms are anthropocentric!A humanism qualifies as anthropocentric if its anthropology privilegeshumans or some notional human standpoint.CP enjoins the evaluation, critique and rectification of anthropologicalassumptions in order to overcome anthropocentric thinking.
  13. 13. Sampling the Diversity of CP The “subject” of writing does not exist if we mean by that some sovereign solitude of the author. The subject of writing is a system of relations between strata . . . the psyche, society, the world. Within that scene, on that stage, the punctual simplicity of the classical subject is not to be found (Jacques Derrida, Writing and Difference).Inspired ultimately by Immanuel Kant, correlationists are devoted to the human-world correlate as thesole topic of philosophy . . . this has become the unspoken central dogma of all continental and muchanalytic philosophy.Graham Harman, Quentin Meillassoux[The] posthuman does not really mean the end of Naturalism is, among other things, thehumanity. It signals instead the end of a certain metaphysical hypothesis that theconception of the human, a conception that may objective world is not constrained byonce have applied, at best, to that fraction of any reasons or standards of reasonableness (James Ladyman andhumanity who had the wealth, power and leisure to Don Ross, Every Thing Must Go).conceptualize themselves as autonomous beingsexercising their will through individual agency andchoice. (N Katherine Hayles, How We Became Posthuman)
  14. 14. Anthropological Bounds on SP• Not all conceivable posthumans belong to PPS (i.e. some conceivable posthumans may be impossible).• Given any WHD, anthropology plausibly constrains the scope for disconnection.
  15. 15. How Anthropology Bounds Posthuman Possibility• A disconnection requires a posthuman difference-maker (e.g. a technological singularity)• Anthropology bounds the posthuman by constraining possible difference makers.
  16. 16. Thesis: There needs to be SynthesisSpeculative Posthumanists must evaluate CP claims about thedeficiencies of humanisms to understand the scope fordisconnection.
  17. 17. The ontic axis specifies distinguishing human attributes: having a humanessence, belonging to a natural kind or a historically differentiated populationThe transcendental axis specifies conditions of possibility for subjectivity,objectivity, Being, value, etc(Transcendental Humanism, Agent Instrumentalism . . .)
  18. 18. I was reading Hans Moravec’s Mind Children: The Future of Robot and Human Intelligence, enjoyingthe ingenious variety of his robots, when I happened upon the passage where he argues it will soonbe possible to download human consciousness into a computer. To illustrate, he invents a fantasyscenario in which a robot surgeon purees the human brain in a kind of cranial liposuction, readingthe information in each molecular layer as it is stripped away and transferring the information intoa computer. At the end of the operation, the cranial cavity is empty, and the patient, now inhabitingthe metallic body of the computer, wakens to find his consciousness exactly the same as it wasbefore.How, I asked myself, was it possible for someone of Moravec’s obvious intelligence to believe thatmind could be separated from body? Even assuming such a separation was possible, how couldanyone think that consciousness in an entirely different medium would remain unchanged, as if ithad no connection with embodiment? Shocked into awareness, I began to notice he was far fromalone. (Katherine Hayles, How We Became Posthuman)Hayles is no doubt right. (Cary Wolfe, What is Posthumanism)
  19. 19. • If Hayles is right, uploaded persons do not belong in posthuman possibility space.But increased substrate dependence widens thescope for disconnection through morphologicalvariation.
  20. 20. An object is a possible object of human experience. Any object ofhuman experience is knowable (transcendental phenomenology)That p entails that p is knowable (verificationism) Given TH, there can be no unknowable facts or things in themselves. It is conceivable that there would be facts about posthumans humans cannot know. TH rules out such posthumans.
  21. 21. 1. The ability to have beliefs (thus desires, intentions) requires a grasp of what belief is since to believe is also to understand the possibility of being mistaken2. Believers must understand that others might have true or false beliefs about the same topic.3. Thus no belief can be adopted by someone not already involved in evaluating her own and others’ attitudes according to shared standards and norms.4. Language is the only intersubjective framework in which beliefs can be assessed.5. Only language users are believers.• Since intentions and desires presuppose belief, only language users are agents.• Since knowing that p entails belief that p, only language users are knowers.
  22. 22. • Ascribing belief/agency to non-language users is only a predictive strategy, implying zero ontic commitment.• There are currently no non-human agents/knowers, anywhere.• Agency Instrumentalism rules out non-language-using posthumans.
  23. 23. Conclusions:• Posthuman possibility is anthropologically bounded.• SP’s metaphysical scope varies according to CP’s critical hits and misses.• SP/CP are not antithetic projects.• The enhancement debate does not address “our” future in PPS.