“Fear is a survival instinct; fear in its way is a comfort for it means that somewhere hope is alive.”
Theodore Sturgeon, More Than Human (1953)
I have flown in my dreams and for once I did not fall.
That mad feeling of momentarily becoming more-than-human left me feeling dizzyingly exhilarated. Well, until I finally crashed back down to earth as the hazy aftertaste of superpowers got replaced by the sudden and natural need to evacuate my bowels after my distinctly average muddy black coffee. The cigarette that followed was fantastic, mind. I remember wondering how I could revisit that groovy sensation. Of course, certain psychoactive chemicals will do it, or they may leave me cowering on the kitchen floor as that tree, right there in the middle of the linoleum floor gets ever closer. Can’t you see it? That fucking tree with the face of Mary Whitehouse.
If there was a method or a process to send me back, would it ever be the same as that surreal and lost alpha wave induced night-flight?
Futurists speculate that in the future, there may appear another way.
The fizzling world of the technological 21st century blooms out of the smoky industrial echoes of the past, yet mankind’s hardwired violent, tribal and divisive instincts continue to manifest in the same old tired expressions, giving the idea that humans somehow innately progress a right royal kick in our, low hanging and hairy, simian balls.
Some use plastic surgery, struggling against gravity, in a futile attempt to physically perfect themselves; transforming themselves into a grotesque parody of youth, even as the slow and unrelenting rub of time gently melts these fleshy candles down, every second of every minute of every hour. While others strip themselves of their natural body hair (being a hirsute individual, I do, of course, have a personal grudge) in order to assimilate the infantile plastic spirit of consumer culture that gives their internal Jungles cheap and immediate thrills. Still others carve themselves up like frustrated pink turkeys in a search for sexual identity in an echo of the American “right” to happiness, where Dionysian aestheticism trumps Apollonian logic, expressed by obsessively studying themselves in a reflective surface thereby becoming truly absorbed. Does this intimate genital gazing and refinement of our physical state imply the birth pangs of a fundamental paradigm shift into what biologist Julian Huxley, in 1957, termed Transhumanism, or in the parlance of our current epoch, Human 2.0?
“Death implies change and individuality,” so said Dear Old Uncle Al Crowley (Book Of Lies, 1913), therein lies the bugbear for Transhuman thinkers. This new form of technological transcendentalism sees the flight from the corporal as the escape from the harmful inherent in us. As a culture, we have already experienced a form of entanglement (quantum, or otherwise) with the internet, our newly created otherworld, where trolls lurk under the keys to all our desires. What if we can go further than just a mental and systematic dependency on the Net? What if we can merge with it?
Futuristic Guru, the Peter Pan of Post-humanism, and now the head of Google’s AI research division, Ray Kurzweil offers this little acorn of opinion : “We will combine our brain power—the knowledge, skills, and personality quirks that make us human—with our computer power in order to think, reason, communicate and create in ways we can scarcely even contemplate today” (The Futurist, March-April 2006). Kurzweil sees a three pronged trident of the technological wave that will alter our lives and the very question of what it means to call oneself a “human” : Genetics, or biotechnology; nanotechnology; and in Kurzweil’s eyes, the most important is robotics, or more specifically, nonbiological intelligence, with such software as the IPsoft created Amelia continuing to develop into something beyond the soiled tissues on a geek’s floor.
Kurzweil terms, almost with religious fervency, the point in time when these aspects of technology combine to change our lives, the Singularity.
If it ever does come to pass, then all bets are off.
I doubt if we shall ever see half human, half robotic centaurs stood in the queue at the local Food Mart clutching packets of GM Wheetie Puffs (although I never could have predicted that twerking would have become a major issue in the fight against cultural appropriation. More fool me, brothers and sisters), however the technological change may manifest itself discreetly, in ways unseen yet experienced. As the microchips that power our smart communication devices get smaller every year, computers become increasingly invisible. Not only that vibrating friend in your pocket (no sniggering), but in your clothes, your bags, your accessories, your kitchen, living room, bedroom, car and office.
Of course, since the first heart pacemakers, computers have been implanted into the human bodies and recent surge in the idea of biochips possibly combining with identity tattoos and even medicines. This leads to thoughts of sending the consciousness of a cybernaut into cyberspace through an implant or pill, or controlling nanobots by thought alone; to cure disease, access past dream-states or having the microscopic robots stimulate or restructure your synapses into giving you the psychedelic experience of your fevered reveries. Or the most nanobot-stimulating-nerves-and-making-you-experience-the-birth-of-stars orgasm. Why bother with robotic limbs when a pill can just construct a new one out of air?
As we download ourselves into the virtual world and genetic engineering produces cancer free clones, will we wear our bodies like we do our clothes, branded by the corporations, uploading our tired and worn out souls into Gucci Corporal Tall Dark and Handsome, or Nike Flesh Nubile Blonde?
By joining the brutal self-preservatory Jungle parts of ourselves, along with our imagination with the mathematical and inhuman artificial intelligence, there lies a possibility to create a utterly new form of awareness. The transformation may sublimate our rapacious natural urges, but as long as we remain, at least, partially human, the chances of them becoming completely extinguished appear to be nil. In fact, if, as Howard Bloom quotes Daniel Goleman in The Lucifer Principle (1995) that, “Madness … is the exception in individuals, but the rule in groups,” then I wonder how much more ruthless damage the human post-animal can achieve if the individual allows him/herself to become subsumed into the Über-Jungle that the Web continues to grow into. What factions and cyberwars will it conjure? What genetically-modified diseases, or nanobot gassy terrors could come forth?
Technology has allowed for the development of scientific wonders that I would have never believed could manifest themselves into our lives, yet ” … without railways, the telegraph and poison gas there could have been no Holocaust” (John Gray, Straw Dogs, 2002).