In his book Spike, Broderick claims, “by the end of the twenty-first century there might well be no humans (as we recognize ourselves) left on the planet.” This claim is absurd on a number of levels. For there to be a trans-human or post-human world, one thing must be conquered before we blast off into the future.
This one thing is so simple and perhaps this is the precise reason it has been overlooked by technologists and scientists. No amount of theory or practice can alter this one fact of reality. There cannot be a trans-genus event without solving one basic problem. Simply stated, how does one overcome the cycle of ingestion, digestion and excretion? How does one overcome birth and death or the need for gestation and corruption? How does one cross or cut the tube that leads from mouth to anus. Philosophers, writers, artists and mystics have attempted to give an account of this problem. One can turn to Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels to see how the disgust with the body is treated. Swift’s criticism of science in “A Voyage to Laputa” gives us much to think about. He writes,
His employment from his first coming into the Academy was an operation to reduce human excrement to its original food by separating the various parts, removing the tincture, which it receives from the gall, making the odor exhale and skimming off the saliva. He had a weekly allowance from the society, a vessel filled with human excrement about the bigness of a barrel.
Swift’s criticism of the science of his time can be equally applied to the claims made by the trans-humanists. We cannot go beyond being human without first understanding what it is that makes us human. Attempting to make ourselves better is one thing, but attempting to make ourselves other than human is another matter.
What would it mean to escape from death? The ancient Egyptians were the first to practice cryonics. We have seen the results of their attempts in museums. No mummies walk among us, newly resurrected. No one has been able to achieve physical immortality. In a physical and natural universe, all things decay and die. The problem with Broderick and other supporters of trans-humanism, is they do not take the obvious into account. The artificial cannot erase what is natural. To be mortal is to die. Our inventions may last longer, but they too will eventually become antique. The life that is unaware has already been controlled. The unaware life is a mechanical life. A life has been programmed. Being programmed is not to be free. Yet, we are told that becoming cyborg is the next step in human “advancement.” These are positive aspects to being a cybernetic organism. For example, immunization and psychopharmacology have transformed our way of life. I question the extent to which we must be hooked into the grid.
The chip on our bankcard may lead to a chip implanted within our bodies. Both are already disciplines of control and accessed restriction. The result of advancement might be the devastation of what is human. Would nature be the ultimate smart weapon–a weapon with real intelligence that protects itself against the artificial deformation imposed on it?
In Civilization and its Discontents, Freud writes, “Man has, as it were, become a kind of prosthetic god. When he puts on all his auxiliary organs, he is magnificent; but these organs have not grown on him, and they still give him trouble at times.” The human as prosthetic god becomes a technological death bound Icarus.
In Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of Nano-technology, Eric Drexler argues that what we can do depends on what we can build. Nano-technology promises to handle individual molecules and atoms with precision. If we think of technology in terms of the possible, the achievable and the desirable, the following issues arise. What is possible may not be desirable. What is desired may not be achievable. What is achieved may not be desired. Nano-technology would allow healing and repair to take place on an atomic level. Healing would not be the first order of business. Military applications would dominate ethical, social and medical concerns. Drexler sees technology as that which can save humanity. He argues that the dinosaurs were extinguished because they were stupid. They were too stupid to build telescopes to detect asteroids that would kill them. Perhaps Drexler is being too harsh on the dinosaurs. If we have enough trouble controlling viruses, bacteria and flies, how will we control the technology we invent when it exceeds our control? Again, we come to the point that thinking well is the main technology. The history of our species shows that we do not yet know what thinking means.
John Gray in Straw Dogs writes, “humanity’s worst crimes were made possible only by modern technology.” Modern technology is a tool. Human choice is to blame for the catastrophes that result from the use of technology. The hammer is not blamed if it is used to crush a skull. The destructive potential, contrary to Ballard’s claim, does not lie with technology. The human mind is the ultimate smart weapon. It has become a weapon because it has forgotten what wisdom means. Wisdom means to see what is real. To have wisdom is to live without illusion. Wisdom, and philosophy as a way of life, may help to release us from the stupor that surrounds us.
Gray argues, “Rigor of mind should not need a university department of its own.” He is correct in his assessment. Philosophy requires a university of its own, but the money is reserved for the next product, the next mini-series,America’s next top model where enlightenment means, “finding your inner fierceness.”