ANOTHER ONE FOR THE TRANSHUMANISM SCRAPBOOK: A BIONIC MAN?February 14, 2013
These were all sent to me by "Jonah" and I thought they merited passing along to you, and some commentary. The story? A team of robotics engineers, prosthetics specialists, and medical experts have built a functioning "bionic man" or rather, "bionic robot" called Rex, which stands, somewhat misappropriately, for Robotic Exoskeleton. But Rex is anything but an exoskeleton. It is, so to speak, an entirely artificial "duplicate" of a human being, complete with artificial "organs", some of which have already been used in transplants in human beings:
What I want to draw your attention to is a statement in the second article, one which implicitly conveys the transhumanist theme:
One of the most amazing aspects of Rex is the robot's legs. Rex uses a modified version of an exoskeleton created by New Zealand's Rex Bionics that literally lets the disabled walk. The Rex exoskeleton is a pair of robot legs that a user climbs into that then allow them to walk without the aid of a cane, walker, or wheelchair.
Rex's robotic legs are attached to iWalk Biom mechanical feet, produced in Massachusetts by a spinoff of the MIT Media Lab. Creator Hugh Kerr was featured in Fast Company in 2010 for building superhuman prosthetics. After losing his legs below the knee in a climbing accident when 17, Kerr successfully set off to build robotic parts better than the original ones humans come equipped with. “It's actually unfair […] As tech advancements in prosthetics come along, amputees can exploit those improvements. They can get upgrades. A person with a natural body can't,” Herr said. (Neal Ungerleider, "How To Build A Real $1 Million Bionic Man", Fast Company, http://www.fastcompany.com/3005299/how-build-real-1-million-bionic-man, emphasis added)
Admittedly, the prosthetic hand used by Bertolt Meyer, mentioned in the first article, is a good thing, a far cry and a great improvement over the metal claws and wooden pegs of only a few decades ago.
But there is an implicit assumption behind the statement that the new prosthetics constitute an "upgrade," an improvement, the assumption being that all of this is somehow "better" than version 1.0. Maybe, maybe not, for one of the questions that this emerging technological capability is going to pose, as it has never been posed before, is the relationship of the soul and the body.
Materialists argue, of course, that the idea of an immaterial or incorporeal "substance" or thing called the soul, or, to be more accurate, consciousness, the person, is merely an emergent construct of the complex processes of the human brain and neurophysiology. Others argue, in a variant, that it emerges from the the totality of physiological functions, the neural being the chief. So inevitably the question will emerge: how much of an individual's body can be replaced before the individuality disappears? Or... will we discover that no matter how much is done, there remains a unique ethereal "something," a person, that will always be associated with an individual's body, and no amount of artificial technology will reproduce or contain it? And along the way, what are the psychological and sociological effects of this?
On the other side, there has always been, as it were, an "idealist" stream in human thought(for want of a better word), and one can encounter it in the philosophies of the East, to the dialogues of Plato and his disciples and followers, that there is always an elusive "something beyond" the material existence of this world that marks us as who and what we are.
The questions are racing toward us, and doing so in a qualitatively different way than perhaps ever before.
It was, in fact, a question posed even in George Lucas' Star Wars movies... the burned and quadruple amputee Anaken Skywalker is given a host of artificial technologies and replacement limbs, and must live the rest of his life in a kind of biocontainment suit with a respirator. And then the comment: "He is more machine than a man." The technologies are going to confront us with the interrogative version: "Is he more machine than man?" Or, to put that question more precisely, what, exactly, is human nature? Transhumanism would have us believe it is a thing to be upgraded.
But no upgrades can disguise the questions that remain.
See you on the flip side.