Metanexus: Cosmos, Nature, Culture

2009 July 19

Natasha Vita-More: "Transhumanist Aesthetics: A Theoretical Approach to Enhanced Existence"

Part of a session on "Transhumanism: Perils and Promises"

The emergent course of our human bio-technological transition is leading toward a species transformation. In light of this, approaches to transhumanism are varied and some are without clear conceptual apparatus; people want to extol its far-out promise or decry its fearful premise. How can the forecasts of converging sciences and technologies be better understood? Discussions need to include how we might experience an enhanced existence. I suggest aesthetics as a means by which we can gaze onto the topography of human enhancement and into the core of transhumanist experience.

Human enhancement aesthetics pursues a perceptual grasp of human futures, including the cyborg, transhuman, posthuman, and possible whole-brain emulation upload. The qualities of each of these transitional stages must be gauged by the uniqueness of each stage. The elements of aesthetics that cultivate perception are brought about by new experiences. The aesthetics of human enhancement suggests that the link toward understanding enhanced existence is located in the "experience", not in a proviso for human preconditions as critical reflections on the current state of existence. That would be like a shamanistic Bushman preconsidering a human life by his standards and needs, without any awareness of a thing called the Internet. Therefore, if we are to discuss transhumanism, we must engage in transhumanist experiences in order to perceive what the transhuman or posthuman might value.

The basic concepts of aesthetics of enhanced existence could be imagined by introducing new media’s immersive, interactiverole in constituting experience (Dewey). This offers an opportunity to partially, if not naively, experience the sentiment of what enhanced existence might be like.In media aesthetics, logical description cannot replace personal participation (Schirmacher).Yet, there still remains a tension between the act of experiencing the world and a need that it depict a world worth living (as a precondition) (Nozick).

Enhanced existence evokes dramatic narratives, which generate uncertainty. Taking it from one posthumanist perspective, embodiment will give way to its reconfigurement by the machine (Hayles); from another it would upload (Kurzweil). Taking it from alate-transhumanist perspective, identity will give way to multiple selves or distributed selves (Vita-More). The scenarios, if approached like events, forgo the experiential exploration into aesthetics of enhanced existence. Life simply is not a blatant shift in materiality; it includes sensory and emotional experiences along the way.

Nevertheless, the issue remains: How can we thoughtfully assess an enhanced human existence if we cannot identify and gauge the existence through our current sensory-emotional apparatus? My task is to address this question.

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Metanexus: Cosmos, Nature, Culture

Metanexus Institute

Metanexus 2009 conference was held in Phoenix, AZ, July 18-21 on the theme of "Cosmos, Nature, and Culture."

No one knows for sure, but it is estimated that there are something like 10 to the power of 24 stars in the universe. When talking about numbers…

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Metanexus 2009 conference was held in Phoenix, AZ, July 18-21 on the theme of "Cosmos, Nature, and Culture."

No one knows for sure, but it is estimated that there are something like 10 to the power of 24 stars in the universe. When talking about numbers so unimaginably large, our world seems cosmically insignificant. But as far as we know, we're the only ones who count—in two senses of the word: We alone can count the stars, and it seems to count for something that we do. As Aristotle begins his Metaphysics, "All men by nature desire to know." There is something within us—manifested as it is in the entire spectrum of human endeavor, from the sciences, to philosophy, to religion, to the arts, to ethics—that demands we pursue the whole story of the whole cosmos if we are to be whole persons, in order to know who we are, where we are from, where we are going, and how we should live.

As Carl Sagan wrote, "the Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be. Our feeblest contemplations of the Cosmos stir us—there is a tingling in the spine, a catch in the voice, a faint sensation, as if a distant memory, of falling from a height. We know we are approaching the greatest of mysteries." If we are truly to understand the cosmos and our place in it, as well as our relation to each other and to the divine, we must adopt rich transdisciplinary approaches that deeply respect yet cut across the various fields of knowledge, institutional boundaries, cultural borders, and religious traditions that frame our intellectual and spiritual pursuits.

Join us for the 10th international Metanexus Conference when philosophers, biologists, physicists, cosmologists, neuroscientists, cognitive scientists, theologians, scholars in religious studies, and other researchers and educators will discuss these and other profound questions of cosmos, nature, and culture in a rapidly evolving and complex world.

Among the attendees will be representatives of the Metanexus Global Network of multidisciplinary Local Societies from more than 40 countries.

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