Member 1457
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Milan/Tokyo, IT
Immortal since Jan 11, 2008
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    The human species is rapidly and indisputably moving towards the technological singularity. The cadence of the flow of information and innovation in...

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    The great enhancement debate
    What will happen when for the first time in ages different human species will inhabit the earth at the same time? The day may be upon us when people...
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    The concrete realm
    Project: The great enhancement debate
    Two realms of self-enhancement

    In three parts:
    The concrete realm
    The informational realm

    We can't be concretely unenhanced. We may only vary our degree of enhancement within the concrete realm. For this reason, the option for less concrete enhancement is not especially radical.

    Donna Haraway said we are all cyborgs.
    We are creature-stick hybrids.
    Societal institutions imply a conception of their societies' members which reflects this.


    Haraway's cyborg theory includes the assertion that technological artifacts are extensions of the body. It's easy to see in the case of a prosthetic leg, but consider also a walking stick, a shoe, skin cream applied to the foot, and toe-nail clippers. These are plug-ins, adding functionality, classed with sticks picked up by chimps. If these are extensions of our bodies, and if our bodies make up our selves (at least partly), then humans are creature-stick hybrids.

    Two notes here:

    1. It is tempting to say that modern humans are creature-stick hybrids, but it is probably all humans. Tools came before humans, and probably all humans have used tools. So, in fact, the stick has a longer heritage than this creature. (The creature may even be seen as a parasite.)

    2. Since a stick is an extension of the body, it is part of the body, so it can be extended by another stick. Consider the rubber cap added to the bottom of the walking stick, the shoelace on the shoe, the plastic seal on the end of the shoelace. So, following this through, the no-drip stand and travel pouch of your essential wine aerator are material extensions of your being. Remember that when you click to buy.

    The Professor's invention for peeling potatoes by W. Heath Robinson

    Lastly in this explanation, societies are human things, so they have embedded in them the notion of a creature-stick hybrid. That needs some spelling out.

    Generally, societies' structures betray presuppositions about their populations. For a simplistic example, when public amenities are provided in a community, it is supposed that they should be accessible to all people, as far as possible. Old-fashioned thinking had it that people were stair-climbing things, so there was little hesitation in placing steps at the access-points to, e.g., a public library. These days, the common conception of people is broader. Some people are not stair-climbing things, and so if we are to cater to them all - within reason - then we should not use only stairs, when there are other options. The conception of the community-member embedded in a stairs-only building presupposes stair-climbing ability.

    A building is a very literal example of a societal structure, but the presupposition that humans are creature-stick hybrids is perhaps clearest in more abstract structures. Another simple example: laws in developed societies are built on human interaction, but discourage public nudity. So members of those societies are assumed to be persons with clothes, and clothes are, in my sense, sticks. Furthermore,

    • many public spaces are not safely accessible without footwear;
    • you are expected to know what to do with received mail;
    • there are canned goods;
    • you must trade with money;
    • you will be required to open a door today.

    So we are all unavoidably 'enhanced' in the concrete realm, in the sense that we are creatures enhanced by sticks. Really, though, enhancement doesn't come into it; we are creature-stick hybrids. Humans are all enhanced creatures, we are not all enhanced humans. Where you draw the line of normality, marking the beginning of megahumanity (I don't want to say superhumanity), will always be open to discussion. In years to come, some humans may choose the high-dexterity, robotic, add-on limbs, although some of them will have just one. Others will just stick to the fleshy basics. Many will not be able to afford to choose. It will be as it is with cars these days. Condemned to the bus, am I 'a natural'?

    Since we cannot be without our sticks, the 'naturals' can't be picked out in the concrete realm. But, since our acceleration into the informational realm has jumped so recently, we can see some people beginning a way of being that is still almost untouched by others.

    continue to The informational realm (Coming soon!)

    I chose the Heath Robinson illustration because I am fan, and because his machines push the idea of 'sticks' as corporal extensions to the absurd edges. However, that's a good test and I think the idea still holds together. I must also take this opportunity to share, in the same spirit, the best thing I have seen on YouTube, since this may be the only time it will be even barely relevant. See these 'Pitagora suitchi' - 'Pythagorus switches'. The ultimate sticks?

    Related links:

    Donna Haraway's Cyborg Manifesto
    A Wired interview with Haraway from way back
    The social model of disability

    Mon, Apr 28, 2008  Permanent link

    Sent to project: The great enhancement debate
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    Rourke     Thu, May 1, 2008  Permanent link
    I can respond no better than a new hero of mine, Marshall Mcluhan:
    "To behold, use or perceive any extension of ourselves in technological form is necessarily to embrace it. To listen to the radio or read the printed page is to accept these extensions of ourselves into our personal system and to undergo the "closure" or displacement of perception that follows automatically. It is this continuous embrace of our own technology in daily use that puts us in the Narcissus role of subliminal awareness and numbness in relation to these images of ourselves. By continuously embracing technologies, we relate ourselves to them as servomechanisms. That is why we must, to use them at all, serve these objects, these extensions of ourselves, as gods or minor religions. A [Native American] Indian is the servomechanism of his canoe, as the cowboy of his horse or the executive of his clock.

    Physiologically, man in the normal use of his technology is perpetually modified by it and in turn finds new ways of modifying his technology. Man becomes, as it were, the sex organs of the machine world, as the bee of the plant world, enabling it to fecundate and to evolve ever new forms. The machine world reciprocates man's love by expediting his wishes and desires, namely, in providing him with wealth."

    Marshall Mcluhan - Understanding Media, 1964
    Robokku     Thu, May 1, 2008  Permanent link
    Haha! Brilliant! I like being a sex organ - it beats being a parasite, which is I think how I put it.

    Thanks for yet another utterly engrossing link. Marshall Mcluhan is indeed super: thanks for the introduction. Having skimmed the Wikipedia entry, I have a feeling that the next post in this series will answer your question in hypertext/?="The Metaphor is the Message":

    What metaphors are the message? and can Space Collective, and internet entities like it, espouse new messages in their models?

    I didn't realise until now that this series and yours had much in common...
    meganmay     Fri, Jul 25, 2008  Permanent link
    It's interesting, i never considered that in fact, at a certain point, stair-climbing beings were the only kind of human beings, and it's only in fairly recent history with advances in medical technology that the human form has been modified and extended to include non-stair climbers...which suggests some interesting implications for the concrete environment of the future. As the creatures that make up human society continue to physically extend themselves they demand a more flexible built environment based on the continued extension and modification to the human form. The flexible society of mind that we currently inhabit electronically could be extended out into the physical world...perhaps a new, more evolutionary mythos could arise from these modifications...end reverie.
    Robokku     Mon, Jul 28, 2008  Permanent link
    That's interesting. Thanks for digging out this old post! The three-parter I had in mind was supposed to move along that sort of path, actually.

    "The informational realm" (billed "coming soon" in April!) might just wriggle out of my head over the next few months, once I have finished dragging myself through a slow upheaval that has diverted my attention from Space Collective. The electronically inhabited "society of mind" might fit into that realm.