Linda Negata: The Bohr Maker – A Posthuman Fable

Nikko, who was in truth only a program himself, a modern ghost, an electronic entity copied from the mind of his original self, had little patience for Dull Intelligences.

– Linda Nagata, The Bohr Maker

“By the beginning of the twentieth century , it was becoming clear that the engines of life operated at the molecular scale. How can we understand such machines, and how does their operation relate to the macroscopic machines of our everyday experience?”1 Reading Linda Nagata’s The Bohr Maker is like entering that moment of transition between our everyday world of commonsense and the ultrareal worlds of advanced NBIC technologies. Caught between the “folk image” of our ancient world views, centered in magic, religion, and voodoo; and, the realms of the “scientific image” in which rationality alone is the guide, Negata enacts her fable of our posthuman molecular destiny.

As one early commentator on nanotechnology once stated nanoscience and nanoengineering are leading to unprecedented understanding and control over the fundamental building blocks of all physical things. This is likely to change the way almost everything—from vaccines, to computers, to automobile tires, to objects not yet imagined—is designed and made.3 The key words here are “designed” and “made”. Some have likened the powers of these new convergent sciences to humanity’s secular striving to replace the old theological notions of God with “Man the Maker” or Homo Faber. Henri Bergson also referred to the concept in Creative Evolution (1907), defining intelligence, in its original sense, as the “faculty to create artificial objects, in particular tools to make tools, and to indefinitely variate its makings.”

It was Richard Feyman’s vision of miniature factories using nanomachines to build complex products, this advanced form of nanotechnology (or molecular manufacturing) would make use of positionally-controlled mechanosynthesis guided by molecular machine systems. MNT would involve combining physical principles demonstrated by chemistry, other nanotechnologies, and the molecular machinery of life with the systems engineering principles found in modern macroscale factories.

But it would be Eric K. Drexler who would be the visionary driver behind nanotechnology, spurring it on, feeding the fires, proselytizing governments and corporations, media and the world. As he states it: “In 1986 I introduced the world to the now well-known concept of nanotechnology , a prospective technology with two key features : manufacturing using machinery based on nanoscale devices, and products built with atomic precision.”4 As he would say,

The key is to apply atomically precise nanotechnologies to build the machines we use to make things. Large scale, high-throughput atomically precise manufacturing is the heart of advanced nanotechnology, and in the coming years it has the potential to transform our world.

Again this notion of “make” is the central metaphor: machines making machines at nanoscales.

The Bohr Maker

Enter a future where molecular nanotechnologies exist in abundance, where they have become so commoditized that specialized laws have been enacted to keep the worst case scenario of a nanoapocalypse at bay. Negata portrays a world based on the emerging Neoliberal globalist vision, yet one in which a vast Commonwealth exists not as some supreme court of united nations but rather as the imperial arm of the one Law:

The law: there was no simple, profound statement that could contain it. The law of the Commonwealth was a very human thing, built on conviction and avarice, riddled with loopholes, as alive as the genetic record of the species and in as constant a state of change. An edifice built to address a primary concern: what is human? With the passing years, the answer to that became ever more difficult to define.(Nagata, 22)

 Yet, there was a defining feature to ‘The Law’: mix and mingle active human genetic material as you like—change your color, change your size, change your face. Replace the genes for disease, for aging, for personality disorders with more socially acceptable versions. But do not mingle the human inheritance with nonhuman or artificial instructions. Do not augment the human mind with machine intelligence. (Negata, 22) But how to insure such a programmatic notion? This is where the Enforces come in a legal system beyond all laws, a system that could override all nations, local and human laws with force (if necessary).

Commonwealth society could not have functioned without an army of Dull Intelligences to oversee routine regulatory and analytical functions. But adaptive, volitional, or conscious machine intelligences were banned. By the law, creativity was a function reserved for human minds. (Negata, 22) So machine intelligence was controlled to the point that invention and creativity were closed off, while analysis and surveillance were allowed and mandatory.

At the head of this enforcement system is Chief of Police Kirstin Adair, whose Gaian philosophies condemned any artificial advance in the physiology of the human species—a view that meshed nicely with the secular laws of the Commonwealth. Negata as if she’d been reading Bruno Latour or James Lovelock envisions a new Goddess centered religion, but one that is aligned with secular philosophy and thought. As Matthew David Seagull of Footnotes 2 Plato will tell us Latour’s message is simple: human creativity (art) replaces the creativity of God. Or perhaps there has been no replacement; rather, creator and creature are no longer separated, but have been hybridized.

As Molly Grogan on Exeunt will remind us in a review of Latour’s recent Gaia Global Circus the show’s focus – and its toughest criticism – are directed, however, at both the climate-skeptic political establishment and the international community. The most successful skit – in which a prime minister urges the world to consume natural resources and pollute the earth as quickly as possible so our children can get busy right away dealing with the staggering consequences of global warming – turned a typical climate summit speech on its ear. (Grogan: Bruno Latour: Gaïa Global Circus

In his Gifford Lectures Latour would offer this version:

There could be no better theme for a lecture series on natural religion than that of Gaia, this puzzling figure that has emerged recently in public discourse from Earth science as well as from many activist and spiritual movements. The problem is that the expression of “natural religion” is somewhat of a pleonasm, since Western definitions of nature borrow so much from theology. The set of lectures attempts to decipher the face of Gaia in order to redistribute the notions that have been packed too tightly into the composite notion of ‘’natural religion’’.

 The thrust of the lecture would show Latour’s proclivities toward demythologization and dissolving the very notion of nature as a theological construct, instead he would shift the problem somewhat, telling us that the question becomes not to save or resurrect “natural religion”, but to dispose of it by offering at last a ‘’secular’’ version of nature and of the natural sciences. Once nature and the natural sciences are fully “secularized”, it becomes possible to revisit also the category of the supernatural. Then, a different landscape opens which can be navigated through an attention to agencies and their composition. Such a freedom of movement allows the use of the rich anthropological literature to compare the ways different “collectives” manage to assemble and totalize different sets of agencies.

For Latour Gaia is not the face of religion but is rather its urgent message offers a much more enigmatic set of features that redistribute agencies in all possible ways (as does this most enigmatic term “anthropocene”). It’s this notion of “agencies” that seems to coalesce with Negata’s novel nicely, for in it we meet Nikko Jiang-Tibayan, a hybrid creature manufactured by the molecular technologies: a graceful being adapted to the new environment, able to function in vacuum without pressure suit or air supply, equally at home in a corridor of one of the orbiting cities. And that was why the Commonwealth despised him—he was the future they were afraid to accept. (Negata, 18)

Nikko is her lover, or should we say his “ghost” is. One imagines Negata having either read Shirow Masamune’s original comic book version of The Ghost in the Shell, or seen the animated film version by Oshii. The notion of “ghost dubbing” was invented in this work: a process by which the mind or spirit of a human is transferred to a another in order to all communicative enhancements (i.e., in the Oshii it is the gynoids, in Negata it is Atrium’s or alcoves that allow molecular programs “ghosts” to visit).

We discover the basic theme and plot are connected to Nikko’s permit being terminated when he reaches thirty:

The permit had been issued by the Congressional science advisory committee for a period of thirty years. Dad had been required to build the expiration date into his design. At the time he hadn’t seen that as a problem. In thirty years, Fox had expected artificial humans would be commonplace, and that he would have no trouble in getting the permission to reverse Nikko’s condition. But instead the passage of time had ossified the nascent bigotry of the Commonwealth. There had been no extension on the research permit that allowed Nikko to exist. In a few more weeks, it would expire. (Negata, 19)

What’s of interest is that Kirstin, the Chief of Police is 122 years of age, has clones in the various space-enclaves scattered around the galaxy for the elites. Nikko has sold himself to her as a sex-slave in hopes that she may stay his execution. Yet, Kirstin being an almost tyrannical believer in the Goddess religion of earth sees him as an abomination to be toyed with like a rat in a maze, then slaughtered. Nikko is himself the first “post human”–genetically engineered to life in the airless void of space. But he is already feeling the slow countdown to death happening in his body, as the molecular tick has begun an insidious, pre-programmed failure that will end in his death.

He has a plan to find what is called the Bohr Maker – an illegal and extremely powerful nanotech device created by Leander Bohr. Kirstin, a firm believer in the law, will chide Nikko saying, “You remind me of Leander Bohr in his last days.” And, we learn:

Bohr had been a Gaian terrorist when he’d taken on a very youthful Kirstin as protégée and lover. He was still considered the greatest molecular designer who’d ever lived. Entirely self-taught, so the legend said. Unnumbered orphan from the slums of Berlin—some contemporaries swore Leander hadn’t known how to read until he’d designed Bohr’s Maker. Then the molecular machine taught him, illegally rewiring his neural architecture in the process.

Legal Makers were programmable molecular machines endowed with a Dull Intelligence that would enable them to execute only one function, or at most a series of functions leading to a single objective, such as the construction of a ship’s hull or a set of clothes. By contrast, the Bohr Maker’s capabilities were more open-ended. It could adapt itself to the needs of its host through an illegal self-programming feature.

At its essence, the Bohr Maker was a microscopic packet of instructions. But once the instructions were executed, it became a molecular communications and design system that would insinuate itself throughout the body and mind of a single host, resulting in profound physiological change. The host individual would own the talents of an expert in molecular design, along with the physical mechanisms to execute those designs.

Most Makers had a learning function that would allow them to refine their programming through experience. But the Bohr Maker could develop entirely new programming functions, at a rate that far exceeded the best human minds. The Bohr Maker was illegal under the law, not only because of its status as a volitional intelligence, but because its activities compelled the corruption of human physiology. (Negata, 23)

 Without ruining the expectations of future readers I’ll leave off the rest of the plot with the exception that Nikko will instigate a set of events that will eventually release the Bohr Maker onto the world. After the death of Leander Bohr, the Bohr Maker is locked away in a file at the Police Headquarters, but is released by a student of Bohr’s who makes a full copy of it then destroys the original. He leaves the space stations and descends to earth proceeding to get himself killed by local thieves. His body is discovered by a young girl Phousita and her clan who farm a substance called “fluff” which is part of the molecular recycling processes of the local rivers. In helping her boyfriend, Arif, to sink the body where it will become fluff for the clan Phousita is accidentally penetrated by a needle containing the dread Bohr Maker is becomes a carrier of its machinic powers. The story will be weaved upon what she does with the Bohr Maker, along with all those involved who seek either to use and manipulate its powers (Nikko), or destroy it and those who hold it (Kirstin).

As Kirstin will acknowledge as enforcer

“The Bohr Maker is too dangerous to retain. Police Makers can’t compete with it. We’d have to violate our own laws against adaptive artificial intelligence systems to make anything that would really threaten it. It has all the advantages. If it ever got loose, it could rearrange the balance of power in the Commonwealth as easily as it rearranged Leander’s brain.” (Negata, 25)

We learn that Kirstin lives in a space city known as the Castle. The city was the seat of Commonwealth government, a bubble of life at the end of the space elevator that rose out of India. Atmospheric rockets had been banned for decades, and the elevator was the only means of travel between Earth and the orbital cities, creating an information bottleneck presided over by the police. The police maintained Gates at both ends of the elevator which logged the identity of every traveler going to or from Earth, while scanning them for illegal molecular material. In the early days of its construction, critics had mocked the elevator as the Imperial Highway, and the name stuck, as resonant names usually do. (Negata, 25-26)

We will discover that Nikko’s father or creator, Fox lives in a site known as Summer House where he has invented marginal-tolerance Makers, programmable molecular machines that came questionably close to modifying human, environmental, or artificial intelligence systems beyond the limits imposed by Commonwealth law. But the law was an artificial constraint. Its restrictions had created a seething, boiling frontier of creative energy, crushed between the successes of the past and the limited present. It was an unstable situation, ripe for provocation. . . . But Fox had always refused to cross the line. (Negata, 45)

This battle between Nikko and his Father over the permit that will soon make him extinct drives much of the plot, forcing the Father to enact certain events which I will not spoil by relating other than it is one of the elements that Negata handles so deftly and ties the story into a complete whole. There is subplot as well when Nikko uses his brother Sandor as a ploy, which leads to various circumstances that eventually turn the screw of the tale toward darker climes.

The Neoliberal Future as Totalitarianism

Zizek will tell us that at the heart of the Neoliberal project is the need to “liberate the essence of man”. From this need he will ask: Is not the ultimate “totalitarian” vision that of a New Man arising out of the debris of the violent annihilation of the former corrupted humanity?5 When one studies both posthuman and transhuman discourse one gets the eerie feeling that Zizek is on to something. For is it not this need to invent or construct a new humanity out of the corruption of the neoliberal world order (Globalism) that is at the heart of these projects? Are we not seeking to surpass Humanity 1.0 with Humanity 2.0? Or we not Nietzsche’s Last Men? And whether it is by way of augmentation and enhancement (Transhumanism) or through uploading one’s essence into some synthetic or clone based alternative life-form (posthumanism) is this not bound to an erasure of our present human estate?

 Again Zizek will ask:

Is not Lacan’s basic materialist position that the lack itself has to be sustained by a minimum of material leftover, by a contingent, indivisible remainder which has no positive ontological consistency, but is simply a void embodied? Does not the subject need an irreducible pathological supplement? (ibid., 152-153)

In the novel by Negata the Bohr Maker is this pathological supplement, a substance that could reontologize the very notion of not only humanity but the earth itself. The Commonwealth seems to be the tyrannical arm of Neoliberalism that seeks stasis, to live in a bubble of safety, a future of no future, a zero sum world without outlet where the disposed and poor live lives of utter degradation, while the rich live in floating cities above the earth with replaceable body-parts that extend their lives indefinitely.

Do we truly need to be sustained by this supplement, this lack and leftover? Or could it be that the opposite is true that we desire is not a fantasy to fill a lack, but rather ‘an actualisation, a series of practices, bringing things together or separating them, making machines, making reality’. Conceiving desire in this way disrupts the binary opposition between thinking subject and object of thought. In this way we go along with Deleuzian materialism as a materialism that resists an epistemological separation between the real and representation. It refuses representation: desiring machines produce the real and are themselves the real? The point being that desire is productive rather than lacking? That instead of a void with an essence, we have a pleroma or plenitude continuously producing and productive of uncanny forces?

Yet, Zizek will ask is our migration into software, the digitization of humanity 2.0 a new twist on Nietzsche’s “eternal return of the Same”? Is the eternal return rooted in the human finitude (since the gap between virtuality and actuality only persists from the horizon of finitude), or does it stand for our uncoupling from finitude?2 Is our need to escape our embodied subjectivity, this celebration of a rootless, migratory, nomadic, hybrid humanity becoming-animal, becoming-cyborg, becoming-machine, etc., does not digitalisation provide the ultimate horizon of this migration , that of the fateful shift of hardware into software, i.e., of cutting the link that attaches a mind to its fixed material embodiment (a single individual’s brain), and of downloading the entire content of a mind into a computer, with the possibility of the mind turning into a software that can indefinitely migrate from one to another material embodiment and thus acquiring a kind of undeadness. The metempsychosis, the migration of souls, thus becomes a question of technology.

The idea is that “we are entering a regime as radically different from our human past as we humans are from the lower animals” : by uploading yourself into a computer, you become “anything you like. You can be big or small; you can be lighter than air; you can walk through walls.” In the good old Freudian terms, we thus get rid of the minimum of resistance that defines (our experience of) reality, and enter the domain in which the pleasure principle reigns unconstrained, with no concessions to the reality principle? (Zizek Mind-Factory, KL 322) Ultimately a body without shit, one that discovers other ways to stave off entropy? The posthuman body as an entropy machine, immortality literalized.

What if the utopia— the pervert dream of the passage from hardware to software of a subjectivity freely floating between different embodiments— and the dystopia— the nightmare of humans voluntarily transforming themselves into programmed beings— are just the positive and the negative of the same ideological fantasy? What if it is only and precisely this technological prospect that fully confronts us with the most radical dimension of our finitude? (Zizek Mind-Factory, KL 376)

Is this what the Bohr Maker represents: a confrontation with our finitude?

Kenneth Gross will tell us there’s something so loaded, and odd about the very word “puppet” in English: the word derives from the Latin pupa, for little girl or doll, a word still used in entomology to describe the mysterious, more passive middle stage of an insect’s metamorphosis, as the larva is covered in a chrysalis, and awaits reemergence as a winged thing. Such an analogy has some resonance, and yet the word “puppet,” itself a diminutive, still sounds a little like a child’s word, as well as being a word for a child. Used metaphorically, it gets applied to a thing or person both insignificant and subjected to the power of others—not a word people will readily apply to themselves. In Shakespeare’s time, “puppet”—sometimes “poppet”—might be an endearment, but also a term used to derogate both actors and servile politicians, or to mark a woman as a painted seductress, even a prostitute.6

Puppets have existed from the earliest cultures and civilizations. Ancient Chinese, Arabic, Indian, and Javanese texts offer glimpses of puppet theater from millennia past—shadow puppets, marionettes, and hand puppets, both sacred and popular. There are traditions in which the puppet is an almost magical, tabooed entity, at once vitalizing and dangerous. At times, the puppet shares with the mask a power to give form to gods and demons, to the spirits of the dead; it is a tool to convey the substance of ancient truths. In such cases the manipulator, even the puppet itself, can take on the guise of a priest or shaman. (Gross, 158)

Puppets share in what Angus Fletcher calls “the hysteric roots of the gift of impersonation”. In their extremity, …puppets give us a glimpse of that aspect of actors which shows them as “acrobats of the heart,” a heart whose gestures belong to it as an objective, opaque, almost material thing, mad, shameless, at the borders of the human. They give us a glimpse of a hidden mystery, a piece of an inner life neither quite body nor quite thought. It is as if they could give us a glimpse of the roots of all theater. (Gross, KL 608) Fletcher will elaborate on this in Allegory: The Theory of a Symbolic Mode, with its moving descriptions of the apparently abstract, even dead agents in allegorical writing as more like daemons, or resembling robots, automatons, and obsessional persons, persons driven by a fixed idea, at once free and bound within their hyperstructured worlds. (Gross, KL 229)

Are we not seeing in these strange liminal creatures of the borderlines between social acceptance and derision, these automatons moved by strings and hands, manipulated on stages filled with satire and comedy the return of suppressed culture? In our time we see the slow return of German Idealism in our speculative philosophies, and in the emergence of liminal creatures such as cyborg hybrids, androids, robots, etc. are we not seeing a shifting of the guard from the older physicalist sciences toward the quantum and mystery? We’re not speaking of obscure practices, but of that which cannot be pinned down, described, brought under the observant eye except as temporary event and force.

As Victoria Nelson in her The Secret Life of Puppets will tell us the roots of this Renaissance worldview lie in the Mediterranean world of the second to fourth centuries C.E., where the matter-spirit split central to Western culture was forged in the syncretic mix of religio-philosophical schools and sects that included Neoplatonism, Hermeticism, Gnosticism, and Christianity. The paradoxical link between human simulacra and the idea of soul also begins here, in these ancient schools and in the automated moving and talking holy statues featured in many theurgic sects.7 The point of Giordano Bruno program, and the reason for his burning at the stake, is bound by the ideal of Renaissance Hermeticism and Neo-platonism: the divinization of the human. (Nelson, KL 62)

Is this the goal of convergence technologies? Is the neoliberal project a long march toward the fantasy of self-divinization, of god making?

Transhumanism as neoliberal project

Humanity stands to be profoundly affected by science and technology in the future. We envision the possibility of broadening human potential by overcoming aging, cognitive shortcomings, involuntary suffering, and our confinement to planet Earth.
– Transhumanist Declaration (2012)

One reads the above and realizes Who wouldn’t want to overcome aging, our cognitive shortcomings, and physical suffering; and, the ultimate ability to finally leave the mother, Earth? But is this what we want? And, at what price are those who seek such things willing to pay? And by pay I do not mean just the economic incentive of gold. No. What in the way of our long held beliefs will we have to give up to attain such wondrous powers and capacities? And, will we have to give up something else? Our actual physical embodiments? Or will we be magically augmented with medicines, neuro-implants, nanotech and biotech molecular agents? Will we give up our lives to the technological agents in exchange for such great wonders? And if we are to give up our human freedom to the gods of technology: What then? Are we willing to pay the price?

The Transhumanist Declaration declares that they favor morphological freedom – the right to modify and enhance one’s body, cognition, and emotions . This freedom includes the right to use or not to use techniques and technologies to extend life, preserve the self through cryonics, uploading, and other means, and to choose further modifications and enhancements.5 In other words the right to self-modification, self-improvement, self-enhancement, etc.

What is morphological freedom? Transhumanists would view it as an extension of one’s right to one’s body, not just self-ownership but also the right to modify oneself according to one’s desires. The right to life, the right to not have other people prevent oneself from surviving, is a central right, without which all other rights have no meaning. Morphological freedom is the right to modify oneself. (The Transhumanist Reader, 56)8

Transhumanists argue, technological intervention in the capacities of the human body and mind will lead to alterations so dramatic that it will make intuitive sense to call the deeply altered people of the near or not-so-near future posthuman: they will be continuous with us but unlike us in many ways. On the transhumanist picture, we are not posthuman yet, but we are a bridge, or a rope, between historical humans and beings with posthuman capacities. The transformations we intend are transformations of ourselves. And what do we plan to transcend? Not the order of nature, but merely our own limitations. (The Transhumanist Reader, 422)

Sound familiar?  Listen to Ficino from the Platonic Theology: ‘Man is a great miracle, an animal meet to be worshipped and adored; he knows the race of the demons, being naturally their kin, and turns into God as though he himself were God’. This self-divination, this overcoming of finitude at the heart of the transhumanist project is a revitalization of the old Hermeticism in a new guise. As one transhumanist states it:

Transhumanism adds one more core idea: that the Great Transition is beneficial, something to be welcomed. Transhumanism , then , does not merely describe the world. Transhumanist   philosophies, rather, are philosophies of self-transformation and self-overcoming. (The Transhumanist Reader, 422)

This Neoliberal agenda focuses on humans alone, nothing about the planet or animals, etc. It seems to turn on power, privilege, and money leaving no hint of the destiny of the poor and disposed. Their dream of endless life where the biological clock stops and even enters into an equilibrium rather than being bound to the laws of entropy and decay is at the heart of it.

Biological organisms have obvious overall biological clocks with physiological manifestations. Roughly put, an organism grows when more cells are produced than are destroyed, an organism is at maturity when the rate of produced cells to destroyed cells is equal, and an organism is ageing when the rate of cells destroyed exceeds the rate of cells produced. If some means can be found to keep the number of cells destroyed equal to the number of cells produced for an indefinite period, then the organism will exist with arrested growth/ageing for the indefinite period of this equilibrium point. That is, it will so exist if nothing in its environment prohibits this balance.6

But how to attain such a medical miracle of equilibrium and stasis? A time-machine, the body as a light, an infinite loop? Why mess around with organic cures when one could create a synthetic being, one that would allow for remodeling, changes, self-improvements on the fly, interminable updates, etc.? Are we not back in the old metaphysical game of circumventing death? As Asher Seidel will remind us the notion of update after update or replacement of body parts can only go on so long, ultimately such replacements will move us into that liminal zone in which biological humans consciously and willingly evolve into nonbiological entities may appear a natural goal, given the sort of part-by-part replacement of major organs considered above. (Seidel, KL 629)

Serres in his book Parasite will tell us that equilibriums do not last, cannot last:

The chain of parasitism is a simple relation of order, irreversible like the flow of the river. One feeds on another and gives nothing in return. Asymmetry is local on a chain and is propagated globally the length of a series, through transitivity. They make a line.… For parasitism is an elementary relation; it is, in fact, the elements of the relation.

The relation upsets equilibrium , making it deviate. If some equilibrium exists or ever existed somewhere, somehow, the introduction of a parasite in the system immediately provokes a difference, a disequilibrium. Immediately, the system changes; time has begun. (182)9

So while enhancement and overcoming ageing for biological humans seems worthwhile we discover it might be better to transcend the organic altogether, move on into merging with our machines in some form yet to be discovered. Yet, as Brown admits most people have a horror of this notion of inhabiting a robot like artificial body, etc. And, above all. If people no longer age, not longer grow old and die out, what happens with the accumulation of humans? When we commoditize life into its immortal flavors how will the earth support such an accumulation of undying beings? Obviously that brings the news of escaping our entrapment to earth.

As you read Linda Negata’s The Bohr Maker remember a few of these strange thoughts.

I had already posted details on Benedict Singleton: The Accelerationist Cosmism of Nikolai FedorovFor Fedorov death was not an essential feature of the human condition as most philosophers of finitude would assume, but was rather something to be eliminated and overcome through medical science and cured of its dark hold on humankind: “Death is a property, a condition. . . but not a quality without which man ceases to be what he is and what he ought to be” (47). Like a visitor from some futurial zone beyond ours Fedorov retrieved the datamixes of that native lair returning to us with messages of life beyond gravitas and mortality. There was no resting spot for this traveler from beyond to rest his head, and for us he offered little or no respite, either; but, rather and endless journey that even if the goal of weightlessness and immortality were achieved there would still be the duty, the imperative to continue struggling toward “more dimly specified objectives to emerge during the outward expansion of the human species into the rest of the universe” (503).

All the above seems more like fantasy and half-baked gibberish. I have asked myself many times how so to speak hardcore secularists could buy into the transhumanist and posthuman discourses. Why do we seek to escape our finitude? Our biological determinism which ultimately leads to the slow clock countdown and death? Why do we seek immortality? Religions were always the engines of immortality, except they offered it as a promise, as a sort of gift given my the gods or God. Poets were offered this fierce power of immortality, but only of their verse.

Such neo-Marxist ideologues of the merger of Freud and Marx as Marcuse, Brown, and Becker would offer varying views of this matter. Brown would say

The death instinct is reconciled with the life instinct only in a life which is not repressed, which leaves no “unlived lines” in the human body, the death instinct then being affirmed in a body which is willing to die. And, because the body is satisfied, the death instinct no longer drives it to change itself and make history, and therefore, as Christian theology divined, its activity is in eternity.7

This is a time-machine rather than an immortality project. That point he makes that the “ death instinct no longer drives it to change itself and make history“: so what does it do? Does it accelerate into light, spin in a circle? Is this like Land’s City that is a time-machine with varying levels of becoming-time? (see here) Brown will speak of mysticism:

Mysticism, in the mind of the general public, is identified with that flight from the material world and from life preached by such popularizers as Evelyn Underhill and Aldous Huxley  —which, from the psychoanalytical point of view, may be termed Apollonian or sublimation mysticism. But there is in the Western tradition another kind of mysticism, which can be called Dionysian or body mysticism, which stays with life, which is the body, and seeks to transform and perfect it. Western body mysticism— a tradition which urgently needs re-examination— contains three main strands: the Christian (Pauline) notion of the “spiritual” body, the Jewish (cabalistic) notion of Adam’s perfect body before the Fall, and the alchemical notion of the subtle body. (Brown, 310)

Is this the digital body of light that the posthumanists seek? Or the perfect body of organic delight of the transhumanists? Whose body is this anyway?

Brown would finally see this strange incarnation of the resurrection myth as a social project facing mankind as a whole, one that would become a practical political problem when the statesmen of the world are called upon to deliver happiness instead of power, when political economy becomes a science of use-values instead of exchange-values— a science of enjoyment instead of a science of accumulation. In the face of this tremendous human problem, contemporary social theory, both capitalist and socialist, has nothing to say. Contemporary social theory (again we must honor Veblen as an exception) has been completely taken in by the inhuman abstractions of the path of sublimation, and has no contact with concrete human beings, with their concrete bodies, their concrete though repressed desires, and their concrete neuroses. (Brown, 317-318)

Brown was a prophet of what many would term now ‘critical posthumanism’ exemplified by such authors as N. Katherine Hayles whose book How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics would provde the basic theme of a critical appraisal of the sciences. Speaking of feminist critics of science she would argue, there is a relation among the desire for mastery, an objectivist account of science, and the imperialist project of subduing nature, then the posthuman offers resources for the construction of another kind of account.8 As she would state it as long as the human subject is envisioned as an autonomous self with unambiguous boundaries, the human-computer interface can only be parsed as a division between the solidity of real life on one side and the illusion of virtual reality on the other… This view of the self authorizes the fear that if the boundaries are breached at all, there will be nothing to stop the self’s complete dissolution. By contrast, when the human is seen as part of a distributed system, the full expression of human capability can be seen precisely to depend on the splice rather than being imperiled by it. In her version of the posthuman model human functionality expands because the parameters of the cognitive system it inhabits expand. In this model, it is not a question of leaving the body behind but rather of extending embodied awareness in highly specific, local, and material ways that would be impossible without electronic prosthesis. (Hayles, 290-292)

In Linda Negata’s fable it is this intersection between the artificial and the human that forms the base taboo: the law against which the Commonwealth is the power of the hammer to enforce. The Commonwealth was forged to keep the AI’s from merging with humanity. My question is the same question asked by David Roden in his new book Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human  (see my review). Should we breach that boundary, cross that Rubicon?

In the first section Roden will face objections to his disconnection thesis from both phenomenological anthropocentrism and naturalist versions of species integrity, and find both wanting. Instead of going through the litany of examples I’ll move toward his summation which gives us his base stance and philosophical/scientific appraisal. As he states it:

…the phenomenological species integrity argument for policing disconnection-potent technologies presupposes an unwarrantable transcendental privilege for Kantian personhood. Since the privilege is unwarrantable this side of disconnection, the phenomenological argument for an anthropocentric attitude towards disconnection fails along with naturalistic versions of the species integrity argument such as Agar’s. Thus even if we accept that our relationships to fellow humans compose an ethical pull, as Meacham puts it, its force cannot be decisive as long we do not know enough about the contents of PPS (posthuman possibility space) to support the anthropocentrist’s position. What appears to be a moral danger on our side of a disconnection could be an opportunity to explore morally considerable states of being of which we are currently unaware.

As Roden will suggest against the threat of phenomenological species integrity is one that attacks the actual foundations of the whole ethical and political enterprise rather than an specific or putatively “human” norms, values or practices (Roden, KL 4130). I think its safe to say that most of the species that have ever existed (99%) are now extinct according to evolutionists. So humans are part of the natural universe, we are not exceptional, and do not sit outside the realm of the animal kingdom. When it comes down to it do we go with those who fear extinction at the hands of some unknown X factor, some unknown posthuman break and disconnect that might or might not be the end point for the human? Or, do we opt for the challenge to participate in its emergence and realize that it might offer the next stage in – if not biological evolution (although transhumans opt for this), but technological innovation and evolution?

Negata will open a door in her novel, one that will open out into this new realm beyond the Rubicon of humanity, and into the unknown disconnection where the posthuman is our next step.  And since this nove is part of a quartet I will continue reading the next three works in future reviews.

One can find out more about Linda Negata and her works at: http://mythicisland.com/


 

1. Hoffmann, Peter M. (2012-10-30). Life’s Ratchet: How Molecular Machines Extract Order from Chaos (Kindle Locations 2351-2353). Perseus Books Group. Kindle Edition.
2.
Nagata, Linda (2010-11-04). The Bohr Maker (The Nanotech Succession)Mythic Island Press LLC. Kindle Edition.
3. Bennett-Woods; Deb (2012-05-14). Nanotechnology: Ethics and Society (Perspectives in Nanotechnology) (Page 109). Taylor and Francis CRC ebook account. Kindle Edition.
4. Drexler, K. Eric (2013-05-07). Radical Abundance: How a Revolution in Nanotechnology Will Change Civilization . PublicAffairs. Kindle Edition.
5. Zizek, Slavoj (2003-10-12). The Puppet and the Dwarf: The Perverse Core of Christianity (Short Circuits) (p. 152). MIT Press. Kindle Edition.
6. Gross, Kenneth (2011-09-01). Puppet: An Essay on Uncanny Life (Kindle Locations 124-131). University of Chicago Press. Kindle Edition.
7. Victoria Nelson. The Secret Life of Puppets (Kindle Locations 40-43). Kindle Edition.
8.  (2013-03-05). The Transhumanist Reader: Classical and Contemporary Essays on the Science, Technology, and Philosophy of the Human Future (p. 55). Wiley. Kindle Edition.
9. Asher Seidel. Inhuman Thoughts: Philosophical Explorations of Posthumanity (Kindle Locations 605-609). Kindle Edition.
10. Brown, Norman O. (2012-04-15). Life Against Death: The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History (p. 308). Wesleyan University Press. Kindle Edition.
11. Hayles, N. Katherine (1999-02-15). How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics (p. 288). University of Chicago Press – A. Kindle Edition.
12. Serres, Michel (2013-11-30). The Parasite (Posthumanities) (Kindle Locations 197-198). University of Minnesota Press. Kindle Edition.
13. Roden, David (2014-10-10). Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human (Kindle Locations 3832-3834). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

 

 

 

 

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