Cyborg, Posthuman, Universe
Image: Jack Thompson, “Artificial Heart”
I scribbled this in my Moleskine driving through Appalachia last year.
Having both cybernetic (mechanical, electronic) and organic parts, the cybernetic organism (cyborg) is the technologically enhanced human. The cyborg is not necessarily bound to the consciousness or conscience of the individual organism (e.g. loss of autonomy within a mindplex). Any living thing can develop into a cyborg; likewise, non-living things may one day develop into cyborgs, creating a new framework for bridging natural and unnatural environments (e.g. mindware).
“The cyborg is resolutely committed to partiality, irony, intimacy, and perversity. It is oppositional, utopian, and completely without innocence” [Haraway].
Interplay between man and machine has subsumed the collective consciousness, shaping industries, identities and societies, as interfaces informed by ones and zeroes entice the flesh and organic process with the promise of immortality.
The most sensational example of this interplay is found in the biohacking space, where applied biology is combined with a hacker ethic, in this case employing the human body as the “problem” or “field of application.” DIY science is gaining popularity worldwide. It was apparent several years ago that the number of amateur scientists carrying out genetic experiments in DIY spaces was growing. In his primer for The Verge, Ben Popper introduces grinders, the emerging class of “homebrew biohackers obsessed with the idea of human enhancement who are looking for new ways to put machines into their bodies.”
Congruously, the transhumanist movement embodies the mode of existence between human and posthuman, where body, conscience, and consciousness are shaped by ascendant forms of technology. Posthuman refers to a distinctive state of post-human existence as yet undefined—meaning the mind, body and state of the species will transcend the current paradigm so as to alienate any current understanding of what it is to be “human.” Because the concept remains open to speculation and criticism, it continues to spark controversy over its intended meaning and scope.
The essence of posthumanism is the implicit knowledge that humanity is “no better” than the creatures and processes of nature once subjugated and exploited. Where previous modes of self-awareness regarded the human condition (psychology, physiology, anatomy) as a set of divine acts insulated from logic and reason (and thereby exonerating us from the burdens of inquiry and accountability), science enables us to understand the human experience as merely a part of nature—demystifying role and responsibility, and situating us within a greater universal scheme of existence.
Where the plurality and skepticism of postmodernism deconstructed (and eventually supplanted) modernist concepts of unity and authority, posthumanism confesses the fallibility of human reasoning, further decentering our constructed identities by fusing radical contradictions together, thus making the unpredictable and disordered body (both ordered and subversive) an essential part of individualization. As such, the posthuman state is regarded by some as the logical end to cosmic enlightenment.
Technological determinism, meanwhile, defines a new form of human supremacy (anthropocentrism), where artificial systems are made to mimic humans and the organisms we subjugate, including whole ecological systems. In this way the cybernetic organism represents a new collaborative paradigm where organic, non-organic and digital substrates coalesce into one central existence through which to rule time and place, and explore the universe.