Essay: Patrick

Annie Y. Patrick
Dr. J. Collier
STS 5305
9 December 2016

Transhumanism is both a movement and a study (Bostrom 345). It is a movement in that it acknowledges not only the desire to change the definition of what it means to be human, but recognizes that there are very real possibilities on the forefront of science and technology that will allow these desires to manifest. As a subject of study, transhumanism examines the effects that these changes could have on humans and humanity. Transhumanism embraces a belief that technology can be used to improve the physical human body. However, changes to the human body are not the limit of transhumanism, transhumanism also encompasses an idea in which people having more control over their lives.

The technologies that are associated with transhumanism are varied in their use. Take for example, biotechnology. The contributions of biotechnology are evident in our day to day activities. Biotechnology research and development is key in the development of drugs such as insulin, interferon products, human growth hormones, and for diagnostics in the field of medicine. The products of nanotechnology are found in everyday items such as automobiles, eyeglasses, computers, and sunscreens and other more novel items such as smart textiles, wearables, and solar cells. However, molecular nanotechnology is a future branch of nanotechnology that goes a step further into the modification of atomic particles in objects and within people. And while those technologies may appear to be beneficial to humans, this is not where the interests of transhumanism ends. It is at this fork in the metaphoric road of science, technology, and humanity that I wish to examine. Though biotechnology, genetic engineering, and molecular nanotechnology offer benefits that people would readily accept, there are also developments that are risky. For example, biotechnology also includes the study of bioweapons (Bostrom 354). In addition, there are other technologies that are more concerning to their effects on humans. For example, super-intelligence is the desire to have an intelligence that far surpasses even the most intelligent of individuals today. Uploading is the process to capture the intellect from a biological brain and transferring it to a computer. The singularity is a “final” step in that it is the hypothesis that that as artificial intelligence progresses a positive feedback loop will be created in which a system will create a more intelligent system, which will then create a system even more intelligent than the previous, thus leading to singularity.

Though the ideas of super-intelligence and uploading may seem far-reaching, they only seem that way if we do not reflect on our technological history. The technologies that we use today, such as the Internet, computers, and cell phones would have seem just as far-reaching 200 years ago. In that light, molecular nanotechnology, superintelligence, and uploading are very possible options.

For this academic essay, I wish to explore the vulnerabilities of technologies associated with transhumanism from the perspective of Martin Heidegger’s writing, “Question Concerning Technology.” Though a complex reading, Heidegger’s reading is heavily centered on certain modern technological developments such as machine-power and modern physics. I wish to explore another modern technological development, transhumanism in light of Heidegger’s thesis.

Heidegger states that humans in this age of technology are challenged forth into revealing. What is the revealing? Initially, the revealing is about nature and nature is the primary fixture that holds the standing energy reserve. For the longest time, the only standing reserve has been nature. However, modern technology changes what can exist as standing reserve. Standing reserve is no longer within nature. Instead because of the abilities of modern technology, standing reserve is everything and everywhere. Even man has become standing reserve. A tree is a tree, right? However, with the technological instrument of a saw or chisel the tree is the standing reserve for a table, a chair, or even a house. When the object is water, the technology of a dam or a water wheel transforms the water into a standing reserve of energy and power.

When transhumanists speak of biotechnology, genetic engineering, and such discoveries, we are in fact looking at how this revealing has changed the very limits of standing reserve. Biotechnology and genetic engineering are now the instruments. I ask this question: How are these technologies applied? How do these technologies bring forth a revealing? For example, stem cells are the standing reserve because technological instruments have been developed (revealing) the cells for regenerative medicine and cancer treatments. Stem cells are derived from humans, therefore, if stem cells are the standing reserve for regenerative medicine, humans has become a standing reserve, thus fulfilling Heidegger’s argument. Biotechnology and genetic engineering are the instruments that are developed by science and technology that bring forth the standing reserve in mankind. If the instruments of technology is what transforms the world into standing reserve, what is to become of humanity with the instruments that are now at man’s disposal? The concern here is that to elicit the standing reserve from an object, there has to be modifications or even destruction of the object that contains the standing reserve. Going back to the example of the tree and water. To access the standing reserve of power and energy of water, a dam or water wheel can be applied with minimal change to the water. However, to obtain the standing reserve of the tree (for a table, chair, house), the tree has to be destroyed and can never be a tree after it becomes a table. To what extent will biotechnology, nanotechnology, and genetic engineering transform humans? As of now, are we simply the water? But what happens when we become the tree? Have we (humanity) taken the time to ponder just how far we are willing to go with science? Or in the blindness of our scientific and technological accomplishments, not able to see that we are on the path of becoming the tree? Heidegger would venture to explain that man is now in the danger from the revealing and enframing.

Enframing is the concept of how destining is ordain in a way of revealing. The essence of technology is within the enframing (Heidegger 19). Destining is the driving force that puts man on the path of revealing. The revealing is important because it is the factor that pushes man forward on only one path. In doing so, other paths are blocked or ignored. Though man may believe that the pursued path of revealing is the best, in fact, the unknown places man in danger. For Heidegger, when the concealed is unconcealed (revealed), it is in fact misconstrued and misinterpreted because man has closed himself from the knowledge of the other paths and possibilities due to man’s singular pursuit of “a” revealing.

The further danger here is that what is now revealed and brought to knowledge is of no concern of man, because from the prior discussion, man has now become the standing reserve. In becoming a standing reserve, man takes the place of nature and concurrently places himself on a pedestal as “lord of the earth Heidegger (19).” Of course, man on this pedestal is unable to glean knowledge from the blocked and ignored paths that were not revealed during his singular route of destining. In this way, the destining and revealing is the danger that has placed man in peril (Heidegger 19). A proper decision cannot be made if all possibilities are not considered. The danger that in man’s self-elevation, there is a lack of information to make a truly objective decision. This is akin to a judgement from a court after only hearing one side of the argument. Whatever decision that is made from this point forward, is fraught with subjectivity and a singular angle of thought. Reflect back on the example of the tree as standing reserve. The standing reserve of the tree is limited to the path of becoming house, though the tree may actually be best for a table, the destining has already pushed the tree forth in one direction only because that is the only direction that can be seen. Thus the tree is forever changed and yet not optimized. Reflecting back on biotechnology, it is the same scenario. Man in the success of his accomplishments has placed himself on a pedestal and is unable to see all the paths of that technology.

Ironically, one of the transhumanist’s desires is to become an intellectual supreme being (Bostorm 354). This plays very closely with man taking the place of nature and becoming the “lord of the earth.” In this drive for intellectuality supremacy, the argument is what intellect is and who decides what makes one an “intellectual supreme being.” Does objectivity have a place in this conversation?

Enframing blocks the shining forth and holding sway of truth (Heidegger 20). It is not technology that is the threat, but technology’s essence. Enframing hides revealing and the bringing forth, however, the bigger concern is truth. Enframing challenges ordering that prevents one from seeing the revealing and by doings damages the relation to truth (Heidegger 22). Nature is no longer the single, pure standing reserve, but with man taking its place, truth has no option, but to withdraw (Heidegger 19). Does transhumanism block truth? In a roundabout manner, Heidegger argues that through enframing, revealing, and destining, we come to this place were truth is blocked. Nature is no longer the singular standing reserve and therefore withdraws to where?

Enframing is the act of gathering in which man is challenged forward to reveal what is real (Heidegger 16). I do not believe that this is a conscience act and this is where the danger of the destining and revealing that Heidegger speaks truly gains its power. I believe that man in this process of destining, enframing, and revealing is not completely aware of the effects of his discoveries. This “ignorance” is where the true danger lies. Perhaps if man was aware of the destruction that lies ahead, something could be done to circumvent the destruction. Granted, Bostrom (354) presents that dangers of these technologies with the examples of self-replicating nanobots, bioweapons, and even just the unknown. Does this mean that we are in a place of safety because we are considering the dangers? Or does it imply that we are simply aware of some of the dangers?

The manipulation of technology is the means to the end (Heidegger 10). And this is where I am concerned with the effects of transhumanism. Is transhumanism the end to what it is to be human? I suppose to answer this question, one must take into account, exactly what it means to be human. Is this focus on transhumanism a reflection of a dire need to master technology as it slips from human control (Heidegger 10)? Technology is a way of revealing that never comes to an end (Heidegger 12). The concept of transhumanism’s singularity speaks to this. The purpose of this essay was to argue that transhumanism has threats and vulnerabilities that have not been fully addressed and that Heidegger’s stance, in light of enframing, revealing, and standing reserve provides a foundation to explore these threats and vulnerabilities. I believe that much of what is written in Heidegger’s “Questions Concerning Technology” is a good foundation to address the future of transhumanism and more importantly, the future that can be created by transhumanism.

Works Cited

Bostrom, Nick. “The Transhumanist FAQ” Readings in the Philosophy of Technology, edited by David Kaplan, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2009, 345-360.
Heidegger, Martin, “The Question Concerning Technology.” Readings in the Philosophy of Technology, edited by David Kaplan, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2009, 9-24.

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