Transhumanism – where no man has gone before?

The simple answer is no.

But, since I don’t want to leave it at that, because I announced that I would be writing this post a long time ago and got round to it now, it would be a dreadful anticlimax. The concept of Transhumanism has been around for some time now, otherwise known as H+,which allows for human enhancement of their own capabilities through technology. It could be for strength, health, communicative purposes amongst I imagine, quite a few others and subsections of these. What has brought it into the spotlight however, is not only how far these technological enhancements have come, but also its use in politics. In August this year, Italy saw its first Transhumanist MP Giuseppe Vattino. You can read his interview here about how he towards the mixed public reaction, his political stance and how he became interested in transhumanism.

But transhumanism is not all about bionic eyes and microchipped limbs. Aspects of hybridisation between man and “machine” or “tool”  is a rather old concept, and can even be seen to be traced back in documentation even to Adam and Eve’s desire to cover their modesty ( the use of clothing as a human enhancement). To say that transhumanism is merely a feature of an extrapolated, melodramatic future is somewhat myopic (without the use of corrective lenses – which is of course, another human enhancement!). Since the dawn of time, we have devised and used tools to enhance our modes of living of course; these tend to become more specialised as time goes on as environment and society perpetually evolve. These new modes – or as Donna Harraway puts them – informatics of domination, we start seeing a increasing shift towards technology and the use it has in our lives. It’s not just limited to the individual enhancement and trying to simply better yourself – Giuseppe mentions the use of nanotechnology to solve energy and environmental problems.

After the Olympics and Paralympics this year, we were given an amazing display of what humans are capable of, focusing on the can rather than can’t – which I also saw in the Superhuman collection at the Welcome Trust Collection (which I think ends next week? Don’t quote me on that). With displays from monocles and eye glasses to prosthetic limbs to contraception and even err… phallic replacements, the collection housed a timeline of contraptions/technology and how they have enhanced (or to take from Heidegger) or enframed our lives.

I was also fortunate to see the performance art – We are all a cyborg – featuring spoken word Richard Tyrone Jones on his operation to recover from heart failure with an implanted defibrillator to Sarah Ruff on the contraceptive implant. We also dressed up a manikin (I think its name was Gene at the end) with different tags to show where our enhancements are and/or enhancements in people we know.

I’m not that clued up on the whole of transhumanism but there are a lot of ideas that are coming more into play today than ever, and it’s something I’m interested in exploring. I will come back to it and write a follow up post as already I have a lot more to say but don’t want to ramble on this one post. Even from the issue with adding fluoride to the water in order for people to become less susceptible to tooth decay – who gets a say in who wants these enhancements, even if they are for the greater good, for example?

A post long overdue… amongst other things

So for those who don’t know, I’m half Burmese and half English, which people never seem to guess (except one person, actually), and still I haven’t been to Burma or become proficient in the language. With hope, one day I will make my journey there and in classic traveller vlog style will my brain finally get to grapple with the intricacies of another language before it becomes firmly settled in my cranial cavity.

Of course, Burma has been media heavy as Aung San Suu Kyi has been able to make her inspirational speeches and addresses after her harrowing house arrest of so many years. At the Southbank Centre I saw her live in the flesh and the atmosphere was astounding to say the least. Her people had come in waves, all beaming and ready to support her. It was an amazing feeling and one I won’t forget seeing in Southbank.

We also managed to help a man out who had just finished his studies in Leceister University and after taking out time to travel in Burma, wanted to learn more about the culture and to meet her himself. He didn’t know he was going to get a ticket from us and it was really refreshing to see how much he enjoyed the opportunity. I must really visit Burma. I know I keep saying this, but hearing the speeches in Burmese and not being able to get a firm grasp of the powerful words she was saying (thousands of people in the room were almost struck dumb) really struck a chord with me.

We also saw the classic Burmese song and dance, which I’ve always wanted to learn, as well as meeting so many different people, all with their story to tell. I won’t forget this day in a hurry!

SciFi London – To boldly go?

It’s strange using a split infinitive in the title, but it’s just… artistic license, I guess. Anyway, the week long event was great to see a snippet of how the world interpreted the term “SciFi”, albeit a contained one of course. There were many great plots, most of which centered around dystopia, surveillance and being trapped in many forms – in the wrong society, in the wrong place, in the wrong body to the wrong job or the wrong partner.

When you think about this, these are the common fears that many of us face – the rise of social media and the way technology tracks us and teaches us – the role of gender becoming blurred and society molding to our peaks and troughs with the resultant backlashes, the class and gender gap which comes in and out as often as the tides. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see many great films that I wanted to see – I especially wanted to see “Ghosts with Shit Jobs”, but I enjoyed watching “True Love” – a delve into the individual and marital unit (albeit a shallow one with the time allowance) and to prove how much faith and trust you can invest in a world where every move is tracked.

I especially enjoyed listening to the podcasts – and how many tv series and films like Battlestar Galactica and Blake’s 7 expounded on fears on terrorism and the unsettling uncertainties of our future – like most science fiction. It deals with our past, present and future – while on a surface level, many people believe it to be solely on the latter. How can you define this genre? Does it need the paraphenalia like spacecrafts, aliens, time machines, constant surveillance? These are just metaphorical instruments – representations of the fears we have had and some that we continue to hold. It is a beautiful metaphorical language that has many layers and we can choose how deep the rabbit hole goes… heh.

It’s amazing to see how well a language can be crafted and taken apart, when we add our own perceptions and the weave totally changes (I’m not going to go into Barthes now!), but yes. It’s opened my eyes in many ways.

Susan