Literary critic and writer N. Katherine Hayles presents an interesting perspective on the discussion of the man’s transcendence beyond mere human. In her book, How We Became Posthuman, Hayles seeks to reinstitute the importance of the body within the post modern understanding of human intelligence. Her initial assertion is that human intelligence is equally derived from body, gender, race and society, and not solely the brain. Of course, this idea runs contrary to the views of other postmodern writers, such as Hans Moravec, who asserts that intelligence is a product of the mind alone. Hayles attributes this subset of thinking is in large part to twentieth century cybernetic theoretical evolution, which did at some point conclude that systems are about information. This notion led to the idea that human intelligence, too, is merely informational and independent of materialism. The logical arguement thus is that if human intelligence is information, and information be transmitted, uploaded, or otherwise processed, then so too can human intelligence.
Although Hayles seems to reject this idea, or otherwise disagree with the massive leap from human to the “posthuman-information being”, she does rely upon the cybernetic theory. In doing so, Hayles rationalizes that the human will reach the posthuman phase in three stages. The first two manifest when humans cast away outdated biological bodies in exchange for better cyborg bodies, which will house uploaded information intelligence. The final stage occurs when humans shed the cyborg husks, officially marking the posthuman advent. While Hayles’ work is highly theoretical, it is still a fascinating framework to retain when observing current endeavors to achieve the second stage, and acquire the “cyborg body”.
According to the BBC article “The Immortalist: Uploading the Mind to a Computer,” by Tristan Quinn, Russian millionaire Dmitry Itskov has spent his money funding research that aims to unlock the human brain’s secrets. The logical justification here is that by mapping the brain, we will understand human intelligence; from that point, scientists may begin to devise ways to capture such intelligence and export it onto a computer. Ultimately, this is done in the hopes that humans will one day be able to upload individual consciousnesses into eternal mechanical receptacles. In doing so, Quinn states, humans would essentially be freed “from the biological constraints of the body,” and virtually immortal.
What’s interesting about both this article and Hayles’ book is that the two rely on the notion of appreciating human intelligence as a means for humans to transcend the biological body. For Hayles’, this is inherent in her first stage of transition into the posthuman; for Quinn, this is shown by Itskov’s hope to have multiple cyborg bodies that house his consciousness. Hayles’ seems to have predicted this transistion: or at least foreseen that this effort would be pursued as technology advanced and man sought to use this to achieve immortality.
While Hayles argues that we are already posthuman within the confines of her book, I think it is prudent to look at her work within the scope of scientific research; Her outline can be understood as a map of human development. Still, even the most optimistic nueroscientists agree that the current understanding the human brain, as well as the technological means by which we do so, are vastly limited. As such, the future Itskov seeks, they agree, is still a long way from becoming a reality. Time will tell if Itskov’s quest to live forever will follow the trajectory set forth by Hayles’ map of human development.