The Advent of the Post-Human

Welcome back. You belong here.

The issue of the “emerging church” is picayune compared to the advent of the “post-human”. Since I use the term “post-human” in my writing quite a bit, I thought I would offer a brief piece on what I mean when I use this term.

Besides the obvious influence of too much science fiction, I was first inspired in this area of thinking by an article published in Wired Magazine written by Bill Joy titled, “Does the Future Need Us?” and later by a Summer 2000 issue of New Perspectives Quarterly (NPQ) titled, “Post-Human History?” The summer 2000 issue of the NPQ offered interviews with several thinkers, among them social philosopher Francis Fukuyama and futurists Alvin and Heidi Toffler.

One point of view on the term “post-human” describes a future in which nanotechnology and robotics have created self-evolving robots that become superior in certain ways to humankind. Bill Joy’s infamous article (Wired, 1999) takes us on an adventure down this potential future path. The fear here is one of survival. What happens when humankind encounters a superior creature? Joy, then the chief scientist at Sun Microsystems, warns of a world in which humankind becomes a kind of “cattle” species for a superior race of robots. For Joy today’s technologies create a danger greater than the nuclear and chemical weapons of the 20th century. This is a serious and important perspective and probably what most people think of when they hear the term “post human”.

A second (and even dicier) POV on the term describes a future in which the nature of humankind is changed via biotechnology. Fukuyama describes a world in which biotechnology reaches out and touches the depths of the human soul, the essence of the human. The questions that emerge here are hugely important and provocative. Will we alter ourselves at the genetic level in such a way that a new evolved homo sapien emerges on the planet? How will the power to genetically alter all of one’s descendants change humankind? How will this effect history, politics, morality?

A third even more provocative POV on the term “post-human” is one which describes a future in which some hybrid of man and machine merge together to form one operating/biological system. This would yield a totally new life form and introduce a new species on the planet: “anthropo-technology” (Peter Sloterdijk).

These last two scenarios are what I point to in “Homo Electronicus Migratus”, a letter to my children I wrote in 1999. Those of you who follow my writings will remember that I re-published this letter here around one year ago. It’s been said before that the future earth is populated by clones and cyborgs. Add to this roll call, evolving robots, anthropo-technology, and Homo Electronicus Migratus. Our quest in that world will be the same as our quest in this world: to make it human again.

To those of you who have asked, I hoped ths brief description of how I use the term is helpful. There’s a lot more to come on the “post human” future. What do you think?

See you “in the mystic…”

Alex

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14 thoughts on “The Advent of the Post-Human

  1. “…to make it human again.”

    Ay, there’s the rub. Actually, looking at our history and today’s headlines, how long has it been since humanity was “human”?

    And the struggle begins in my own heart and sphere of influence.

  2. Read your blog…Mystic ? sounds to me like you’ve spent a little too much time in Amsterdam..Hittin’ a couple cafe’s there have ya..I got your link off the CoG website..Are you a part of the Re:Formation…Good Luck….

  3. hi alex. Interesting, but not how I’d define post-human. Post-human is one who is born-again, a new creature in Christ. Unfortunately, for the time being, our new creature is cohabitating within a adamic body, but, nonetheless, a child of Deity, has transcended being a child of Man (adam). It is this new creature, and our collective new creatures, which act as God upon the earth. It is when we lean upon being human instead of Diety, we find our achilles heel. Post-human is a race, a generation, a pecular people, a holy nation, a temple of God. At least, that’s my post-human. Blessings! –ronald

  4. Ay, the rub indeed, Nick.

    Dennis, Not as much time as I’d like. In Amsterdam, that is. Yes, I’m part of the Re:Formation conference with the CoG.

    Thanks for the input, Ronald.

    You know, “superior” as in “better”…in darwinian terms.

  5. Hi Alex,

    I’ve been working through the book “A Whole New Mind” by Daniel Pink and it’s been pretty fascinating. His premise is that in our current age of automation, abundance and offshoring, we all need to move to more whole-mind thinking, not just the left-brain thinking of the information age [technical, analytical, etc.]
    Pink also gives six skill senses he believes will help us with this whole-mind thinking – Design, Story, Symphony, Empathy, Play and Meaning – and what made me think of you and this post is that he writes that those six sense are “fundamentally human attributes.”
    Maybe those that can grasp this whole-minded thinking are the ones that will help reclaim humanity.
    Intriguing, thanks for the post.

  6. This is way off topic, but this is the only place that I knew where to go. What has happened to Voxtropolis? It is telling me that the account has been suspended. No rush to get it fixed – I was just wondering what sort of time table to expect. Thanks!

  7. “how long has it been since humanity was “human”?”
    I think this is exactly correct. St. Iranaeous long ago said, “the glory of God is man fully alive.” After the sin of Adam and Eve, mankind has not been fully human. “human” being defined as mankind as God originally intended. So when God restores us and gives us a new heart and we are new creations, we are being “fully human” or “fully alive”, which gives glory to God.
    So, as far as I’m really concerned, we need to focus on being fully human, as God intended. Like you said, “Our quest in that world will be the same as our quest in this world: to make it human again.”
    The term post-human brings up some interesting thoughts and ideas like what you mentioned in the article, but how close are scientists to actually creating AI? To my (very limited) knowledge, nobody has been able to create anything that can go beyond the limited programming established by humans. I could be wrong, but this type of stuff mentioned in the article is still quite a ways from being developed successfully. But the ideas do bring up some interesting thoughts on their affect upon the church, and more importantly what affect the church would have upon them.
    Very interesting stuff…

  8. I agree with…everyone here…that the challenge here will be maintaining (reclaiming?) our humanity.

    It disturbs me that the marjority of articles one reads on this subject are very much about the mind and intelligence, as in IQ. It has been said that the ability to reason and use logic is what separates man from the animals. But is that all?

    Don’t get me wrong. I am all for learning, higher education, intelligence, etc. (in fact, as a woman, I could never marry somebody who I pervceived as less intelligent than I am; I wouldn’t respect them and it would just be a total disaster). But what about the heart? Shouldn’t that be taken into consideration when we’re looking at what defines man-kind? After all, efforts to show compassion and to assist people in places like New Orleans after Katrina, or India and Sumatra after the Tsunami, are called “Humanitarian efforts.” They are efforts we undertake because of our humanity– our compassionate desire to assist other due to a sense of brotherhood or shared-kind.

    We are mankind, not animalkind– and it is the sense of that which drives us to take pity on those like us. Is it merely a survival instinct, developed through Darwinian evolution? I doubt it. Otherwise, we wouldn’t particularly care when certain races of people perpetrated genocide. (That said, it doesn’t mean we have free license to exploit or ignore animals and the environment; far from it, knowing that we are in some sense set apart from them and that they were given to us ought to give us a sense of responsibility to care for them.)

    Even the issues addressed in the post below, about getting information from the walls, are primarily concerns of the mind. But what we do with that information must be compassionate and ethical– thus drawing on the heart again. For this reason, I wish I saw more articles addressing the future of mankind’s heart, and not just the mind.

    I suppose, though, that that is not the realm of the scientist. Maybe what we need to see, then, is more future-oriented sociologists and development workers and ministers.

    -Mel

  9. Thank you Mel for pointing out the distinction between the evolving human mind and the awakening human heart. Way too much ink is spilled about the former, and way too mushy thinking is done about the latter. Almost as if the “superior mind” promised us is shying away from the challenge of thinking clearly and connectedly and practically about love, courage, responsibility, self-sacrifice, and other things that go into being fully human.

    Rudyard Kipling thought a good deal about it, by the way. His poem “If” can be easily expanded to encompass not merely what it means to be a true man, but what it means to be truly human. At least it’s a good start.

  10. All of this commentary on future humans–and I’ve been reading about this in SF novels since the ’50s–assumes that replacing a human with a machine is even possible. I doubt it. You may make a machine that is technically advanced, able to walk, perhaps even speak, but it will never have a soul. It will never make art. It will never make music that is truly alive. A agglomeration of cunning parts won’t ever make a human, no matter how subtle it is.

    Why? Because the people making the machines don’t know what a human being is. As they do their studies their filters are far too coarse and the life-stuff that makes us go just passes right through, undetected.

    They’re welcome to try. I’m not worried about competition. Only God knows how to make real life.

  11. You’re absolutely right, Larry (imho). Machines already make beautiful art: when they are told to do so, and given proper parameters (or they tap their carefully engineered randomizer for those parameters). Machines already make music, but again, only out of obedience to a human nudge, a human desire to create but with less effort.

    The post-human future doesn’t lie so much with machine intelligence/emotion/self-identity emerging, although that will be interesting if it happens… and we may not recognize it until much later, or be able to communicate with it directly, perhaps ever (if the “global-computing-network = embryonic-form-of-cyber-life” folks are right).

    No, the post-human future lies with meshing technology with humanity. Mikel Jollett writes, in his article about neural prosthetics, “What does it mean that we’ll soon be able to change the very nature of what we are? Eventually someone will give this technology to a major league pitcher, a football player, a baby, a soldier, and they’ll be able to do things that human beings have never done before. They’ll be stronger, faster, smarter. Humans, version 2.0… Are we beginning to engineer our own evolution?

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