Stepping Stones through the Posthuman Swamp

Living in the early 21st Century is sure wild, isn’t it.

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Welcoming Figure, Aquamarin Hair Salon, Jena, Germany

Think of it. You go in this building to get your hair done, which is such a very social act, and instead of images like the ones below to greet you and to inspire you towards an up-to-date look…

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source

… you have this:

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Human is not what human was. That’s a curious thing, though. There are notions bound up with this, which are really quite profound. Jena is the city where the contemporary self was born as a relativizing scientific tool. It is now a fetish. In contrast, the biological human body …

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… reveals itself as a form of cosplay:

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Whether the “self” here is reacting to broad cultural norms (the beautiful black woman above) or the norms of selves created in the reading (inhabiting) of fantasy selves, themselves constructed out of intersections of cultural and physical scraps and projections (as in the beautiful blue woman above) makes little difference. The two responses to society and identity are virtually the same. They rely on identity being the moment of “self” described by Rene Descartes …

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Franz Hals’ Portrait of Descartes

… in his famous slogan:

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Thing is, there’s a body and a self that exist in a physical world, and there’s another that is the insertion of a self separate from the body, which exists in social and intellectual space. They aren’t the same. In the Sufic tradition I learned on the Northern Camino, at the point of emptiness, the point at which Descartes lights on thought being entirely his own and thus a foundation for knowledge, the world inhabits human form and opens within its faculties. Descartes’ conception is secondary to that moment of presence. Thought embodied (just listen to the word) in bodies knows this, because it’s what bodies, the points of perception and presence, know. That’s why the following image is so powerful:
6031395839_a7df8a5f66_bIt represents the moment at which these two selves confront each other. Is reconciliation between them possible? Yes.

nycc-comic-con-cosplay-justice-league-batman-robin It is, however, as the image above (and the one below) show, often the act of reading, translated into gesture.7802567130_e4c85d9059_o

Don’t forget, though, that this is ultimately a model displaying her body by concealing it and revealing not her thoughts or her being but the points at which she fits into a conceived environment. Even if she were like this on the street, however, she would remain that: an expression of an urban environment, treated by fiction as if the book were the human body and then reread in the world as if the environment were the earth. All humans are creations of their environment and means of reading it, in ways like this. The concept of doing so in ways called “individual” is called humanism. The 21st century version of means by which this reading is made and transposed into other forms of book identity is called creativity. In humanist society, it is almost everywhere. I offer as an illustration the image below of a re-envisioning of Descartes’ slogan, stencilled in military print (the kind used on metal weapon cases) on a wall (a kind of stencilling of human identity space and human bodies), with a space left for a human body (out of focus), to form a comma in a thought.

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It’s complex stuff, but it’s essentially no different than this:

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Just as these two images are essentially the same as well, although one is a humanist representation of body space and the other is a cosplay one (you decide which is which):

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They are both identical to the following six images, two from Canada and four from Eastern Germany, where people are still adapting to the 1989 identity switch:

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They are bodily gestures, created out of an interface with built environments, whether those are physical or cognitive or complex arrangements of both at the same time. Ultimately, they are stencils, like the one below, a gesture constrained by created boundaries:

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That is one reason why adapting notions of identity and creativity is essential for work at revitalizing the relationship between this stencilling, this creativity, and the world of creation.

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New Life in a Seasonal Wetland

This, too, is the self, but it is not stencilled.

To navigate this territory, 21st century culture gives us psychological notions of creativity, including one from a professor of psychology and a professor of creative writing, both friends of mine, at the University of British Columbia Okanagan. They have co-written this article … dangling

Here’s the table of contents …

Tassel

I promise, these are not the swamplands they mean:

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They mean instead a kind of metaphor, or cosplay, something like this:

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I think the paper’s notions of creativity, self and society are a form of stencilling. They certainly do not represent any part of my life, but then, since I draw my energy from the earth, and creativity is drawn from stuff like this …

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… I’m not a creative person. I have the tests to show it:

brain test

Pretty lacklustre, eh. The tests, you see, are not designed to test the work of bodies and minds in the world, but to test familiarity with certain cultural pathways towards inward embodiment of dominant cultural forms. I’ll be talking in depth about Professors Gabora and Holmes’ essay next, but for the moment, two related body images:

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Rodin’s Thinker

This statue is often used to represent Descartes’ philosophy. It doesn’t. Notice how the body is holding the head, a ball like the earth that Atlas carried on his shoulders, in perfect balance on its fist.

Here’s Atlas:

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Rodin’s piece, in comparison, is a reduction of human power to the human head, where once was the world. The following variation is very different and yet the same.

These sculptures are not, however, by any contemporary definition, creative. Neither is this:

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It’s curious: in a culture which defines worth by individuality, some areas of individuality are closed, even taboo, yet issues like this…

Posthumanism or post-humanism (meaning “after humanism” or “beyond humanism”) is a term with seven definitions:[1]

are not. Pay special attention to numbers 5-7.

  1. Antihumanism: any theory that is critical of traditional humanism and traditional ideas about humanity and the human condition.[2]
  2. Cultural posthumanism: a branch of cultural theory critical of the foundational assumptions of Renaissance humanism and its legacy.[3] that examines and questions the historical notions of “human” and “human nature”, often challenging typical notions of human subjectivity and embodiment [4] and strives to move beyond archaic concepts of “human nature” to develop ones which constantly adapt to contemporary technoscientific knowledge.[5]
  3. Philosophical posthumanism: a philosophical direction which draws on cultural posthumanism, the philosophical strand examines the ethical implications of expanding the circle of moral concern and extending subjectivities beyond the human species [4]
  4. Posthuman condition: the deconstruction of the human condition by critical theorists.[6]
  5. Transhumanism: an ideology and movement which seeks to develop and make available technologies that eliminate aging and greatly enhance human intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities, in order to achieve a “posthuman future“.[7]
  6. AI takeover: A more pessimistic alternative to transhumanism in which humans will not be enhanced, but rather eventually replaced by artificial intelligences. Some philosophers, including Nick Land, promote the view that humans should embrace and accept their eventual demise.[8] This is related to the view of “cosmism” which supports the building of strong artificial intelligence even if it may entail the end of humanity as in their view it “would be a cosmic tragedy if humanity freezes evolution at the puny human level”.[9][10][11]
  7. Voluntary Human Extinction, which seeks a “posthuman future” that in this case is a future without humans. Source.

 I’m not saying that the discussions should be taboo on either side, but there’s a confusion here between self and person that perfectly embodies the decayed state of the earth as well, and it’s dangerous. We’ll be talking about that next, through the doorway opened by the metaphors of Liane and Nancy’s essay..

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