Hominin evolution has involved a continuous process of addition of new kinds of cognitive capacity, including those relating to manufacture and use of tools and to the establishment of linguistic faculties. The dramatic expansion of the brain that accompanied additions of new functional areas would have supported such continuous evolution. Extended brain functions would have driven rapid and drastic changes in the hominin ecological niche, which in turn demanded further brain resources to adapt to it. In this way, humans have constructed a novel niche in each of the ecological, cognitive and neural domains.
‘Human enhancement’ is at least as old as human civilization. Not only is enhancement unquestionably part of today’s cultural zeitgeist, questions about humanity’s quest to move beyond natural limits go back to our earliest myths and stories. Trying to enhance their physical and mental capabilities, sometimes successfully – and sometimes with inconclusive, comic and even tragic results. The ancient Greeks told of Prometheus, who stole fire from the gods, and Daedalus, the skilled craftsman, who made wings for himself and his son, Icarus.
Up to this point in history, however, most interventions, whether successful or not, have attempted to restore something perceived to be deficient, such as vision, hearing or mobility. Even when these interventions have tried to improve on nature the results have tended to be relatively modest and incremental. But thanks to recent scientific developments and convergences in areas such as nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology and cognitive science, humanity may be on the cusp of an enhancement revolution. Bionics, cybernetics and neuro-enhancers are not just figments of fertile movie-making imaginations.
Both advocates for and opponents of human enhancement spin a number of possible scenarios. Some talk about what might be called ‘humanity plus’ – people who are still recognizably human, but much smarter, stronger and healthier. Others speak of ‘post-humanity’ and predict that dramatic advances in genetic engineering and machine technology may ultimately allow people to become conscious machines – not recognizably human, at least on the outside. In the enhancement debate it is important to distinguish the concerns and the arguments that are provided for and against the moral and ethical significance of various types of enhancement. In this particular domain, the rhetoric is often intense and feverish and it is important to be mindful of whether one is examining a concern or an argument about the moral permissibility of a particular kind of enhancement.
I think it is about time for exploring the potential future trajectories of our species by considering both historical and emerging technologies, as well as their cultural and ethical contexts. To develop a new kind of humanities/ posthumanities, a redefinition of humanity’s place in the world by both the technological and the biological or ‘green’ continuum in which the ‘human’ is but one life form among many. What does this revolution mean to think beyond human capacities? This question formulates a journey of possibilities of revealing a new transition phase for the human species into an as yet unknown living form. It all starts with an examination of what it is that constitutes posthumanism in a wider perspective, uncovering some social phenomena in relation to the theme, such as technophilia, technophobia, current issues and discourse in relation to gender fluidity, bioengineering, androgyny, cyborgization, etc. A journey to the boundaries of what it means to be human—boundaries of the body, boundaries of the species, boundaries of what is socially and ethically acceptable. Should we enhance ourselves, or seek to modify our descendants? Are we approaching a singularity of human-machine hybridization or de-skilling ourselves through our ever-increasing reliance on technological extensions of the body? Is extended human longevity a wonderful aspiration or a dire prospect for the planet? A philosophy, ethics and interpretation that goes beyond the classic humanist divisions of self and other, mind and body, society and nature, human and animal, organic and technological. What does it mean to be human today and tomorrow?
I do understand that enhancements are specific, often double-edged changes—beneficial in some settings for some purposes but not in others. My intuitive worry, a set of philosophical concerns, are about the implications of new biomedical enhancement interventions for our common understanding of human nature and the future of our species. Authenticity and the experience of authentic achievements diminishing the character of the user, alienating them from themselves and those around them, and diminishing bonds of solidarity.
‘A posthuman future where the materialized abstractions or the intensifying communicative networks of a technoscientific social are absorbing us within an artificial environment that we are shaping but is shaping us as well. This is the realm of our posthuman reengineering project where we are remaking the very nature of both our environments and our modes of thinking and being, reassembling out of bodies, memory, time, space, and unconscious desire the technospheric relations of a new worldview’.