Home > Uncategorized > Minds in a world of transhumanism, cyber IT, nano- and bio-technology

Minds in a world of transhumanism, cyber IT, nano- and bio-technology

Id – The quest for meaning in the 21st century

by Susan Greenfield

Minds in a world of transhumanism, cyber IT,
nano- and bio-technology.

– As IT is merging cyberworld with reality,
nano technology is merging human bodies with
the outside and biotechnology promise
to create healthier, enhanced humans with prolonged
lifespans –
What will the 21st century be like?
What should we hope for?
Will we be more comfortable and have more fun,
but without a real human identity and without
experiencing any real ”meaning” in our lives?

The book presents a number of the emerging
technologies along with the possible
consequences:

In one version of the future, human identity
and individuality might be threatened, as people here
live ”screen-dwelling’ lives with short attention
spans, thinking in icons rather than abstract ideas.
Good at hectic ”fact”-field activities,
but no longer capable or good at placing isolated events
in a context.
Sure, the absence of self consciousness might be desirable as
an intermittent state. Drugs and fast-paced sports
(whose dominant feature is the raw
quality of the sensations, devoid of cognitive content, where one momentary
experience is superseded by the next) have always been popular
activities. As have excessively strong sensory stimulus
from music/wine/food or sports/sex in rapid succession.
All the stuff that leaves us
with no time to think about content and meaning.

But in the long run surely you would want a full
personal identity, as well as full selfconsciousness
from time to time….
Something the reactive,”screen-dwelling” life
of many future cyberworld realities obviously wont give you.
At least not if it is a process heavy/content light
activity world, where personalized brain connectivity is either not
funtional or absent altogether.

And if tech doesnt end up making us totally reactive, stimulus oriented –
then we might end up in the other extreme,
where people are living lives fired up to be creative,
excited by revelation and discovery and
with a robust sense of self. A future where self realization
and creativity reaches new heights.
But where such brain modes creates people who are unable to
form successful relationships and interact successfully with others.
The end of human society.

Finding the balance is of course going to be difficult.
The balanced version where there are time slots for being creative
with a robust ego, slots for working together in
team efforts, slots for creating meaning to our existence and
slots for ”letting go” through e.g. excessively strong sensory stimulus.

But Susan Greenfield does seem to think that it will
be possible. Even though many new technologies (in excess)
surely will push us away from the balanced future we want.

Biologist Julian Huxley came up with the term ”transhumanism”
in 1957 to describe the future point we are
now moving towards – ”on the threshold of a new kind of existence”.
Transhumanism optimistically holds that there is room for
improvement even in the healthy human brain and body.
Francis Fukuyama on the other hand has described transhumanism as
the ”worlds most dangerous idea”.

For the body, we might introduce an artificial
24th chromosome to complement the twenty three
we already have. The extra chromosome will then act
like an extra coathanger for genes.
Or we might introduce new genes in germ cells, along with
killer genes with enzymes that can destroy it.
The killer genes can then be activated by certain pills, e.g. so that
your ”unnatural genes” are ejected from sperm and eggs
when you want to reproduce.
Brazilian neuroscientist Miguel Nicolelis has developed
a technique for implanting a microchip into the brain, to translate
the nerve impulses into electric pulses – hooking the brain
up to computers for doing all the cyborg stuff.
Some devices can convert soundwaves into electric signals
the brain can understand, and other devices can convert
brainwaves into sounds known as phonomes. Ultimately minds can
be connected through the internet with this technology.

Still, it is a bit more tricky to improve on the mind,
because it is less than obvious what a perfect mind is.
But, surely we can improve on even the best of us –
Even the current ideal: ”the super-outgoing individual,
wih perfect recall, who is monotonously and unconditionally
jolly all the time”?

300 years ago most people were cogs in the machinery
of feudal society. The concept of individuality, i.e. someone truly
and completely unique, not all that obvious.
Now we are bound up in an armsrace to own more and
achieve more – to be individuals – leading to stress
and frustration and an increase in depression and
anxiety. The basic needs – to feel secure, part of a group,
competent and autonomous- have given way to products that
can enhance your status. Where status is important as it gives you
attention – i.e. love (The worst feature of a lowpaying
job is not the low pay, but that others treat you like a
machine – someone who doesnt exist. No attention).
In Japan more than 1 million people, mostly young males,
are hikikomori, locked away in their rooms – living a screen life.
Perhaps already living the ”screen-dwelling’ life with short attention
spans, thinking in icons rather than abstract ideas.
Good at a hectic ”fact”-field activities,
but no longer capable or good at placing isolated events
in a context?
Perhaps a future Google will be able to advise such users
on career moves and use of leisure time (all
deduced from each users particular history of queries).

But the way back to healthy, unique and creative minds
are surely not going to be so easy.
Certainly it will take a lot of understanding and wisdom
to point to a future of happy,mature minds and a civilised
society.
Susan Greenfields book is an excelent starting point though.

-Simon

January 25th 2010

Simon Laub
http://www.simonlaub.net

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