115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Human Being and Becoming: Depictions of the Techno-Posthuman

Elizabeth Lockard, Chaminade University of Honolulu

Of the fantastical depictions of aliens in science fiction lore, the least realistic depiction is that of the human being of the future—who are almost always represented identically to the human of the present. Yet humankind will undoubtedly have evolved in ways that we cannot apprehend. But unlike biological processes which span millennia, evolutionary change through our incorporations with technology will lead to revolutionary, abrupt, transformative possibilities. We will not remain human in the conventional sense—but what does it mean then to be ‘posthuman’?

Proposal: 

Literary tropes of the ‘human being of the future’ have been somewhat unimaginative—which is ironic given the fantastical ways in which alien creatures have been conceived, but not surprising. Depictions in science fiction emanate from our deepest fears and greatest hopes of the future, with visions ranging from the dystopian/nihilistic to the utopian/idealized. The human characters who embody one ethos or the other are always dialectical in nature, and as a result, tend to be reduced to mere caricatures: the superhuman (hero), the inhuman (monster), or the nonhuman (other). Rarely are we offered a more complex or nuanced amalgam of those tropes to actualize a more moderate, contradictory, layered identity of who ‘we’ will become. More often, the philosophical/ontological focus is on whether aliens are human (constituting us) or monster (constituting other), but not whether humans can still be human if they are neither superhero nor monster. Given these stark dichotomies, we are forced to choose between empathy or alienation, but not both.

This begs the question of what it first means to be human, and then, in the context of the future, what is means to be posthuman. This paper will examine the question of human being and becoming through the following lines of inquiry:

What are the modes of evolution? (biological, cultural, technological)What are the current factors for human evolution? (the relationship of the three modes in terms of human evolution; and the notion of engineered evolution)What are the possible trajectories for future evolution based on circumstantial variables (migration to space, relationship to the environment)

The focus of the paper will be on an analysis of liminal conditions and interstices, with the intent to better understand the process of becoming, over dialectical reductiveness that only aims to instantiate being. The concept of posthumanism will be discussed from both epistemological and ontological perspectives, citing the scholarly work of N. Katherine Hayles, Donna Haraway, Robert Pepperell, Jane Goodall, Bruce Clarke, Andy Clark, Kevin Kelly, Chris Hables Gray, Tom Boellstorff, and Sandy Stone.

 

Topic Area: