Center for the Humanities at the University of Wisconsin Madison
On March 27, 2009 the Center for the Humanities at the University of Wisconsin Madison held a symposium titled “What is Human?” devoted to “exploring the limits and excesses of the human across the division of the humanities and the sciences.” These are some of the talks from that seminar.
Cary Wolfe, Professor of English, Rice University
“Introducing Posthumanism Again” MP3
Richard Davidson, Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry, University of Wisconsin-Madison
“Change Your Brain by Transforming Your Mind” MP3
Jay Martin and Walt Schalick
“Engineering the Human Body” MP3
Alastair Hunt, Jon McKenzie, Stephanie Youngblood
“The Futures and the Pasts of the Posthuman” MP3
Lewis R. Gordon, Professor of Philosophy, Temple University
“Theorizing the Human: A Pedagogical Imperative of a Philosophical Anthropology” MP3
The old cliché that the “future is not written” is an allusion to free will and the indeterminate nature of the self. Invoking hope and courage, the implicit corollary is “for we are in the process of writing it.” We may yet, it seems, create progress in spite of the looming obstacles before us.
The schism over global climate change (GCC) has become an intellectual chasm, across which everyone perceives the other side as Koolaid-drinkers. Although I have mixed views of my own about the science of GCC, and have closely grilled a number of colleagues who are front-line atmospheric scientists (some at JPL), I’m afraid all the anecdotes and politics-drenched "questions" flying about right now aren’t shedding light. They are, in fact, quite beside the point. That is because science itself is the main issue: its relevance and utility as a decision-making tool.
Take a long view of humanity. See the centuries of quotidian drudgery between periods of roiling tumult, flashes of genius amidst endless toil, billions upon billions who barely live and silently die. Ask how we are not the same.
The Enlightenment thinkers proposed that all men should be accorded the Rights of Man. Eventually this assertion of moral universalism would spread to spark campaigns for the legal equality for women, ethnic minorities, sexual minorities, and the disabled. Some transhumanists have similarly asserted that a transhuman democracy can ensure the legal equality of ur-human and posthuman citizens, and promote the rights of all persons regardless of species. But respect for diversity and self-determination, an awareness that ethical views are historically situated and not absolute, and the belief that future generations will inevitably develop a new ethics make other transhumanists hostile to the idea of any effort to impose Enlightenment values on other societies, posthumans, or animals. We need to renew our commitment to a subtler, limited form of moral universalism, and to the global political institutions it requires.
Dr. J. chats with Arika Okrent, author of In the Land of Invented Languages: Esperanto Rock Stars, Klingon Poets, Loglan Lovers and the Mad Dreamers who tried to Build a Perfect Language. Dr. Okrent holds a doctorate in linguisitics and cognitive neuroscience from the University of Chicago. MP3
The current discussion on transhumanism concerns human use of NBIC1 technologies and sciences to enhance human biology and to radically extend human life. I address this concern by bringing arts/sciences and design into the discussion. Artists and designers have been altering the human form-perceptually, conceptually and in actuality-from existing states to envisioned, preferred states. The perception of an ideal human is evident in the construction of statuesque sculptures. The conception of an enhanced human is evident in imagined mechanism in providing electronic senses and robotic extensions. The central issue now is that both the opponent and the advocate of transhumanism realize that the actuality of altering the human form is practicable, that duplicating the mind is probable, and that extending life is feasible.
What properties of consciousness and mind will remain the same in a posthuman world? Will enhanced minds look at themselves and reality like we do? What can we learn from cognitive science and consciousness studies to help answer these questions? What are some ethical consequences of enhancing the brain/mind?
Dr. Patrick Lin, director of the Ethics + Emerging Sciences Group at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, has accepted an appointment as Fellow of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies for 2010.
Geoengineering, the concept of altering the environment to mitigate climate change, has gone from fringe idea to the subject of Congressional hearings. Yet many scientists remain skeptical that it can be done safely. IEET Senior Fellow Jamais Cascio, author of Hacking the Earth, tells NPR’s “Living the Earth” program that geoengineering is ripe for ethical problems, chief among them international political conflict. Read the transcript
Three dynamic expert presenters will address the topics of anti-aging research, genetically tailored medicine, and brain enhancement during the IEET’s “Future of Medicine” event, coming in October 2010.
Within a single generation, digital media and the World Wide Web have transformed virtually every aspect of modern culture, from how we learn and work to how we communicate and even conduct war. On WNYC Radio in New York, IEET Fellow Doug Rushkoff and producer Rachel Dretzin discuss their new PBS documentary, “Digital Nation,” which investigates whether technology is moving faster than we can adapt to it.
What is this thing called “self”—this inner image of “Ben Goertzel” that I carry around with me (that, in a sense, constitutes “me”), that I use to guide my actions and inferences and structure my memories?
Mike Treder, managing director of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, is a prolific writer, speaker, and activist with a background in media and communications. Mr. Treder co-founded the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology (CRN) with Chris Phoenix in 2002, and served as its executive director for six years. Mr. Treder currently sits on the Board of Advisors for CRN. Mr. Treder is a consultant to the Millennium Project of the American Council for the United Nations University, serves on the Scientific Advisory Board for the Lifeboat Foundation, is a member of the New York Academy of Sciences, a consultant to the Future Technologies Advisory Group, and a member of the World Future Society. As an accomplished presenter on the societal implications of emerging technologies, Mr. Treder has addressed conferences and groups around the world, including in the U.S., Canada, Great Britain, Spain, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Australia, New Zealand, and Brazil.
Visions in science fiction films that portray dystopic futures involving emerging technologies, i.e. Nano, Bio, Information, robotic, etc. I argue can actually be good for both society and the emerging technologies they portray. For example, dystopic images portrayed in films such as AI: Artificial Intelligence, Gattaca, 2001: Space Odyssey, Minority Report and others paint imagined futures that, while they are both scary and unfamiliar, also serve as an exposure to these emerging technologies that might otherwise not exist without the cinematic lens to expose them. These images and scenarios put up on the screen serve a potentially valuable and positive good for society because they not only open up the minds of the viewers to the imagination of the filmmakers but also to a reality, real or imagined, that they might otherwise not have considered.
Kristi Scott is working on her PhD in Mass Communication and Media Arts at Southern Illinois University. Her specific interest is in the body and how it is technologically mediated. She has served an IEET intern, writer/blogger, volunteer, teaching assistant and coordinator since 2007 and also a reviewer, copyeditor, and layout editor for the Journal of Evolution and Technology. She is a member of Humanity+ and the American Society of Bioethics and Humanities, a Futurist Board member for the Lifeboat Foundation, reviewer for the Journal of Virtual Worlds Research, and a contributor and blogger for the Women’s Bioethics Project.