Stefan Lorenz Sorgner
Prof. Dr. Stefan Lorenz Sorgner teaches philosophy at John Cabot University in Rome and is director and
co-founder of the Beyond Humanism Network, Fellow at the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies
(IEET), Research Fellow at the Ewha Institute for the Humanities at Ewha Womans University in Seoul,
and Visting Fellow at the Ethics Centre of the Friedrich-Schiller-University in Jena. His main fields of research
are Nietzsche, the philosophy of music, bioethics and meta-, post- and transhumanism. His bibiliography includes
Metaphysics without Truth – On the Importance of Consistency within Nietzsche’s Philosophy (Utz Verlag,
München 1999 and University of Marquette Press, Milwaukee WI. 2007, revised); Menschenwürde nach
Nietzsche: Die Geschichte eines Begriffs. (WBG, Darmstadt 2010); Transhumanismus: “Die gefährlichste Idee
der Welt”!?. (Herder, Freiburg i. Br. 2016); Ranisch, Robert/Sorgner, Stefan Lorenz (Eds.) (2014): Post- and Transhumanism:
An Introduction. (Peter Lang, New York et al.). He is also Editor in Chief and Founding Editor of the
“Journal of Posthuman Studies: Philosophy, Media, Technology”
which will be forthcoming with Penn State University
Press from 2017 onwards.
They affirm a great plurality of perspectives, but agree upon the following three insights:
- A move from a dualist towards a non-dualist anthropology;
- A radical increase of anthropotechniques
with the power of enhancing human capacities so that the likelihood
of the coming about of the posthuman can be increased;
- The posthuman can come about by means of digital technologies or with the help of biotechnologies
whereby the field of genetics is particularly relevant. These three basic insights lead to massive bunch of
intellectual, social, political, ethical and economic challenges which I will address within this talk.
We are in an age where paradigm shifts occur in many fields of the life world. The coming about of the posthuman perspective is particularly relevant in this context. It is related to the following insights:
1. A move from a dualist towards a non-dualist anthropology.
2. A radical increase of anthropotechniques with the power of enhancing human capacities so that the likelihood of the coming about of the posthuman can be increased.
3. The posthuman can come about by means of digital technologies or with the help of biotechnologies whereby the field of genetics is particularly relevant.
These three basic insights lead to a massive bunch of intellectual, social, political, ethical and economic challenges. Here I will present a selection of emerging questions and by means of a fireworks of intellectual stimuli I will present suggestion how they can be addressed in an appropriate manner. You may not agree with me concerning all the solutions that I will present, but you have to realize the incredible relevance of the related questions. Taking the stance that these developments should not occur and demanding that these technologies should not get developed is not a realistic option. If these technologies do not get developed in your country, these events will occur in another one. If scientists and engineers do not get permission to undertake research in any country, they will create permanent dwellings at sea outside the realms of national governments. Oil platforms and floating islands are particular relevant for that purpose. The US presidential candidate for the newly founded transhumanist party, Zoltan Istvan, published a novel entitled “The Transhumanist Wager” in 2013 in which he plays around with the possibilities of seasteading. It is worth reading, not because I agree with all the ideas he presents, but because it broadens your horizon concerning a great multiplicity of ways how the future can be shaped. The following fireworks of stimuli will reveal some of the most relevant issues which we will have to deal with today and in the not so distant future.
1. Non-dualist understanding of human beings
Zarathustra might have been the first who created a rigid distinction between good and evil. This categorical distinction in most philosophies goes along with categorical dualist ontological distinction, and in particular with the understanding that all human beings consist of an immaterial soul, consciousness or mind and a material body. It is this insight which has been dominant in Western philosophies at least since Plato’s thinking, which clearly separates the realm of forms which we can access by means of thinking, from the sensual realm in which we live. This basic insight was accepted by most Western philosophers. Each one adapted it to her or his individual understanding. According to both Plato as well as the Stoics, all human beings have a rational soul. However, for the Stoics this is a reason why all human beings ought to be considered moral equals, too, which was not the case from Plato’s perspective. Descartes agrees with the stoic insight of human beings possessing a rational soul. However, he holds that only human beings have any type of soul. Animals consist of matter only. The stoics and Plato, on the other hand, claim that there are further types of souls which animals and plants possess. In many respects, Kant agrees with Descartes’ understanding of animals and human beings, but Kant uses these insights for developing a complex ethics on this basis, an ethics which is still widely taken for granted today. It is even the intellectual basis of the German foundational law which is founded upon the concept of human dignity, a concept which can only be fully understood when having a grasp of Kant’s ethics. Only human beings have dignity. Animals, plants and stones ought to be treated like things. They all fall under the object law. It is the distinction between subjects and objects or in moral terms between things and persons that has its intellectual root in the dualist anthropological tradition which has been dominant in western countries at least since Plato onwards. It also has significant practical implications from the prohibition of peep shows via the prohibition to shoot down hijacked planes that fly into nuclear power stations to the moral status of animals and how animals can be treated when making experiments.
However, this anthropology has become less and less plausible from the end of the 19th century onwards due to insights put forward by Darwin, Nietzsche and Freud. We no longer regard ourselves as being categorically separate from this world concerning our ontological status – we no longer hold that we have a material body and an immaterial soul. It is a more modest way of thinking, as it moves away from the traditional human hybris of possessing a categorically special status in the world. This does not mean that we do not possess special qualities. Learning a human language might merely be possible for human beings. However, animals also have such special qualities. Vampire bats manage to detect blood by means of infrared sensors. It is their special capacity. Animals, too, can have special capacities. Moving away from the traditional anthropology implies that it is no longer plausible that only human beings participate in the immaterial realm, and consequently are being attributed personhood, whereas all other beings are seen as things or objects. Even though, this is still the qualification which is legally valid in Germany and in many other countries.
I am not claiming that we ought to replace a dualist anthropology with a non-dualist one concerning the legal realm, because in this way we would replace one fundamentalist view with another one whereby both are not being shared by all citizens. However, this insight leads to my suggestion that such strong anthropologies and ontological positions should not be a part of liberal democracies because they are in conflict with the great plurality of world views which we can find in all liberal democracies today. It is this shift that is of fundamental relevance for all the other developments about which I will be talking. Seeing ourselves merely as gradually separate from all other animals implies that in the same way as they have come about on the basis of evolutionary processes, this also applies to us. In the same way as all other species of animals can die out, this insight also applies to us if we do not adapt ourselves in the appropriate manner. If we do not adapt ourselves to the permanently changing environment, we will die out, but if we do so, we will develop further, via transhumans, i.e. further developed humans, towards the posthuman, i.e. members of a new species, if we are lucky. This is one reason why technologies are of immense relevance for us, but it is by far not the only reason for using technologies.
2. Personhood for animals, robots and artificial intelligence (AI)
One of the implications of the revised understanding of human beings, which I have just described, is the relevance of moving away from speciesism. Peter Singer was right when he explained that attributing personhood solely and exclusively to human beings implies speciesism. Moral recognition should depend on morally relevant capacities and not solely on someone’s belonging to a specific species. I am not embracing Singer’s counter suggestion, as it is not regarded as plausible by most enlightened people. However, it represents a move into the right direction. Personally, I suggest that an interplay between three pillars, i.e. widely shared moral intuitions, the latest scientific insights, and a recognition of the relevance of negative freedom, should provide us with a basis for evaluating the moral status of any type of entity. In addition, the cultural embeddedness needs to be taken into consideration. My approach is a narrative and a hermeneutic one which stresses the relevance of discourse plus recognition of the relevance of the just mentioned three pillars. This position takes into consideration that social situations and moral evaluations are permanently subject to change and that it can be the case that such changes are relevant for the legal evaluation of entities. In addition, it is a procedural solution which does not aim for a perfect state and solution because it recognizes the relevance of movement and change in the field of morality.
This position can also integrate new developments, like the option of creating hybrids. The UK has permitted creating chimeras consisting of animals and humans, if they are being destroyed within the initial two weeks after their realization. However, why should they have to get destroyed? We lack a basis for evaluating the moral status of these hybrid entities. They do not go against human dignity, as these entities are not human beings. The potential of these beings can be enormous. Dutch scientists have already managed to genetically engineer zebra fish such that they can use photosynthesis for nourishment purposes. The fish turn slightly green as part of this process, but it works. Genetically zebra fish are not so different from human beings. Maybe, the little green human beings from Mars are actually our future.
Furthermore, it needs to be considered that we are hybrids already. On our skin and in our intestines there is an enormous amount of bacteria and other microbes. A human body consist of more non-human cells than of human cells, and we could not survive without these cells. This insight can be particularly relevant for the future of xenotransplantation. Martine Rothblatt, who is a transgender transhumanist, owns a pig farm for genetically engineering pigs such that their lungs can be transplanted into human beings without the risk of them being rejected. It seems to be a promising attempt. She is particularly interested in it because her daughter is suffering from a life threatening lung disease.
However, the move away from attributing a categorically special status solely to human beings can also imply that given the appropriate developments, it can be the case that we will have to attribute personhood to computers or AI. Researchers are already trying to check whether consciousness is a phenomenon which is based upon the complexity of neuronal structures by attempting to imitate the complexity of a cat’s brain using one computer per neuron. However, it might be that consciousness is not even needed for gaining a special moral status. How should we treat a computer with super-intelligence? Data from Star Trek represents an excellent fictional example. Data not only possesses super-intelligence, but it can be argued that this capacity is also connected to hyper-autonomy. If autonomy is the basis for dignity and personhood, is hyper-autonomy the basis for post-personhood? Maybe, we do not even have to imagine such a complex being as Data. What about a further developed human who possesses nano-sentience, i.e. who has the capacity to not only feel the surface of a table, but also finer levels of a table like the atoms? Such a being would also be much more prone to suffering. If morality is connected to the capacity to suffer, would we not then be obliged to attribute to such a being post-personhood? On the other hand, it needs to be noted that equality has become more and more important as a cultural norm. This might be a reason for claiming that further developed beings will also see the achievements that are connected to the norms of freedom and equality.
3. Dissolution of the moral prohibition to treat a person merely as a thing, as both personhood as well as thinghood no longer exist in their traditional form.
The person-thing distinction, which goes back to Kantian philosophy, has many general moral implications. One of them is the moral prohibition to treat a person merely as a thing. In Germany, this principle implies that peep shows are legally forbidden and that it is forbidden to shoot down a hijacked plane which seems to fly directly into a nuclear power stations as long as there is one innocent being on board. In both cases, it would be the case that a person is being treated merely like an object. In the case of the hijacked plane, the innocent pilot on board would die anyway and a million’s people’s lives could be saved if the plane was shot down. However, here the government would treat the innocent pilot merely like an object to save the lives of a million people on earth. Such utilitarian calculations go against an ethics of human dignity and the traditional understanding of personhood that leads to the above-mentioned moral prohibition. However, if the traditional personhood-thinghood distinction is no longer plausible, the moral prohibition is no longer applicable either. Hence, we need to find a new basis for moral principles, which is not an easy task, because the traditional understandings of personhood and thinghood are part of many legal constitutions and have highly significant implications for our life world. It is a task with which we need to deal with for morally shaping the future.
4. The plurality of the good
Once we take this new anthropology seriously and we understand that all aspects of our existence participate in evolutionary processes, the following question needs to be asked anew: What can we say about living a good life? Some transhumanists suggest strong concepts of the good, like the validity of the Renaissance ideal. It might not be possible for all of us, but we really want to be intelligent, beautiful, strong, healthy, and have all the other strengths which are associated with the Renaissance ideal of human perfection. Other liberal or naturalist bioethicists, e.g. Julian Savulescu, are more sympathetic with a common sense approach. You live a good life if you possess the following qualities:
1. Not being disabled whereby disability is seen as context dependent quality;
2. No disposition for mental illnesses;
3. Having good health;
4. Good capacities for communication, memory, and empathy;
5. High intelligence.
I do not regard these suggestions as plausible, as universal validity implies that it applies to all human beings at all times in all parts of the world. I, on the other hand, regard a radically pluralist account of the good life as most plausible. Only by listening to and acting in accord with someone’s psychophysiological demands does a person become authentic. Consequently, the following acts can be understood as being based on authentic wishes. This does not have to be the case in all instances, but it can be the case: (1) Person A wishing to die; (2) Person B desiring to have her healthy leg removed; (3) Person C wishing to eat parts of himself; (4) Person D not wanting to be cured from her manic depression; (5) Person E regarding his deafness as an advantage but not as a disablement. The list of potential examples could easily be continued. If the Renaissance genius account or the common sense account of the good were universally valid, these wishes could not be accepted as authentic ones, but would have to be seen as expressions of an ill mind.
I do not think that this has to be the case. By claiming that these wishes represent insane states of the mind, these persons are being treated paternalistically and violently: their wishes are not recognized as their own and others claim that they know better than oneself what is in one’s own interest. I regard such a way of treating people as highly problematic because the otherness of someone else’s wishes does not get appreciated appropriately. On the one hand, there are culturally dominant paradigms of leading a good life; on the other hand, there are the needs of one’s own psychophysiology that do not necessarily correspond to these general demands. A pregnant woman who wishes to have sex with men other than the father of her child, a student who enjoys sexual intercourse with several people at the same time, and a young girl who is longing for erotic encounters with a woman thirty years her senior represent three examples in question. All of these desires do not get approval from culturally dominant paradigms of a good life; but there are people with such desires, and it is aggressive, violent and paternalistic to approach them by claiming that they do not understand themselves in an appropriate manner because these types of acts do not correspond with the concept of the good life, which the culture in question regards as true. Initially, it was difficult for me, too, to imagine that it can be the case that a deaf person is not disabled but merely different. However, by recognizing the wide range of preferences, choices, tastes, and cultures in all parts of the world at various times, I came to realize how important it is to recognize that a different human being might regard different capacities as important and different shapes as attractive.
This approach has implications for dealing with the concept of the family. A good example is the option of creating children with three biological parents. The UK is the first country worldwide that approved the technologies necessary for having such children. It is a very simple technology by means of which the nucleus of one female egg gets removed and it gets replaced with a nucleus of a different egg. In this way, the risk can be excluded that a mitochondrial genetic disease gets transferred from a mother to her child. The mitochondria are not in the nucleus but in the cytoplasm which surrounds it. Afterwards, the new egg gets fertilized so that the child with three biological parents can come into existence. The UK has approved this procedure solely for mothers with this mitochondrial disease. However, it could also be a useful tool for a lesbian couple or two women and a man having a biologically related child. If three adults have a biologically related child in this way, why should not they be allowed to marry, if this is what they want? Adults plus a biologically related child are the basic constituent for a legal family in most cultures. However, this example reveals the enormous social implications, if posthuman perspectives are being considered.
5. Self-overcoming and the good life
It is possible to also make claims which are valid for a great percentage of people. In this respect, a good health and a prolonged health span are widely shared qualities. Furthermore, it can be said that permanent self-overcoming is often identified with an increase of fulfilment. The following thought example helps to understand this issue. Life as a child in a protected family is easier than life as a student. However, if you asked a student whether they would want to be a child again, most students would decline that offer because they value the cognitive capacities, intelligence, and knowledge they possess. These goods are not solely positional goods, but they are also intrinsic goods which people do not wish to give up again once they possess them. In the same way as children cannot imagine what it will be like being a student, students cannot imagine what it would be like being a posthuman. However, given this analogy applies we have a reason to hold that once you are a posthuman, you would not want to be a student anymore.
6. Autonomous self-overcoming and heteronomous self-overcoming
It is important to stress that the technologies which are being discussed should not be used to legally force people to use them in a certain way. We agree that it is a wonderful achievement living in a liberal and pluralist society. Consequently, there are two options for using emergent technologies: By means of autonomous self-overcoming and by means of heteronomous self-overcoming whereby the second option does not allow political and religious leaders of other institutions to make a decision concerning who gets altered, but it refers to the very special parent-child relationship in which such decisions are necessary and useful. Yet, it can be the case that certain technologies become so cheap and reliable that they get widely accepted, e.g. the use of smartphones, or computers for writing essays in universities. Due to these developments, it can be practically impossible not to use some technologies if you live in a technologically advanced country. Still this development depends on the advantages connected with the technology in question.
7. Our silicon-based future vs our carbonate-based future
The technological domains which are particularly important at the moment and promise to continue being so are silicon- and carbonate-based-technologies, like gene technologies and IT technologies. In the first case, human beings can transcend themselves by developing capacities they have never had before or maybe by even increasing the likelihood of the coming about of a new species. In the second case, alterations concerning cyborg technologies and maybe even the option of mind uploading can be realized.
8. Gene technologies
Even though philosophically the option of mind uploading cannot be excluded, I regard human progress to being more closely related to a continued carbonate-based existence which is particularly related to genetic research: gene creation by means of synthetic biology; gene modification (in particular CRISPR/Cas9); gene selection and gene analysis; and big gene data are four highly relevant fields in this context.
Synthetic biology is the attempt to create biologically useful systems. Craig Venter’s research is particularly notable in this field. He has created a partially synthetic species for which he is trying to get a patent which raises the ethical question concerning gene patents. He also claims to have been the first to have created synthetic life. However, the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues holds that it is not the case that he has created life. A closely related field is that of biohacking which refers to a movement of do-it-yourself-at-home-biologists who conduct gene sequencing by means of easily accessible methods and technologies. Both fields are thriving and it is worth getting further information about them.
A separate but related and much more intensely discussed field is that of genetic modifications. For the past 15 years, it has been the subject of intense ethical discussions, and most leading ethicists in the world have taken a stance within this debate. Most noteworthy from a bioconservative perspective is the analysis and position Jürgen Habermas presented. He regards genetic modifications for therapeutic goals as morally legitimate because in this case an all-purpose goal is being promoted. The use of genetic modifications for enhancement purposes, on the other hand, is morally false, according to him, because in this case persons get treated merely like objects. In addition, he presented reasons for rejecting a powerful pro-enhancement argument which analyses genetic enhancements and traditional education as structurally analogous procedures. In both cases, parents are making decisions for their offspring. Habermas claims, however, that genetic modifications are always irreversible and educational modifications are always reversible. Contemporary gene research and in particular epigenetics show that both premises are highly dubitable, if not clearly false. Consequently, there are strong reasons for claiming that genetic modifications and traditional education are structurally analogous processes. As structurally analogous processes also ought to be treated morally analogously, the conclusion can be drawn that genetic as well as educational modifications can be both morally blame-worthy as well as praiseworthy from which follows that genetic enhancements do not have to be morally objectionable. This was a very short summary of an argument that I have developed in great complexity and was published in the Journal of Evolution and Technology in 2015. It also needs to be noted that genetic modifications cannot yet be done on a day-to-day basis. However, scientific research shows that gene modifications can be undertaken and they can be successful without having to have side effects. This reveals that it is merely a matter of further research to turn this technology into a reliable one.
Another separate issue is that of gene selection. Here it has to be noted that it is already a reliable technology. It presupposes in vitro fertilization, which means that an egg gets fertilized by means of a sperm within a petri dish. After several divisions of the fertilized egg it is possible to take one fertilized egg and analyse it genetically. Thereby, a great variety of information can be found, e.g. character traits, health information as well as responsiveness to certain pharmacies. Then, it can be decided whether the fertilized egg from which the cell was taken ought to be implanted into the womb or not. Several issues are being discussed in this context: What is the moral status of the fertilized egg? What is the status of the analysed cell which gets destroyed? Is it moral to select a fertilized egg after IVF and PGD, e.g. preimplantation genetic diagnosis? Habermas responded in the same way as in the prior case: It is immoral because a person is being treated merely as an object which indicates that it is an immoral procedure. However, he does not recognize that it does not have to be the case that fertilized eggs are being identified with a person. For many people, a fertilized egg that consists of eight cells is merely a lump of cells and should not be identified with a fully grown human being. This position gets further support from the fact that 7 out of 10 fertilized eggs which come about by means of traditional procreation are never being realized, but are flowing out together with a slightly stronger monthly period. In addition, it needs to be understood that selecting a fertilized egg and selecting a partner for procreative purposes are structurally analogous procedures. In the same way as a government should not interfere concerning one’s selecting a procreative partner a government should not interfere when we wish to select a fertilized egg after IVF and PGD.
Even more relevant than gene selection will be the case of gene analysis. Progress in this field is particularly noteworthy given the parallel creation of big gene data. Such an analysis can tell you how likely it is for you to get a certain disease, it can tell you something about your reaction to certain pharmacological products, and it can describe some of your strengths and weaknesses. It is of your interest having had such an analysis. On the basis of such an analysis you can change your life so that your life goals are being promoted by considering your genetic dispositions. The costs of such an analysis are permanently getting lower. However, then the issue of gene privacy comes in or rather the dissolvent of the concept of your gene privacy. The problem is already an explicit one. Let us consider the German legal system. It is already a legal obligation to give away the information of an already made gene analysis if you wish to take out insurance with a high financial risk for the insurance company. Consequently, anyone considering the option of having such insurance cannot realistically take the risk of having their genes being analysed, even though it could be in their personal interest of having undergone such a gene analysis.
However, it is not only you who is interested in your genetic information. Potential future employers, insurance companies and your government could also be very interested in this information. Once, the data are available, it is digitally and hence publically available because we have reasons for holding that anything which is digitally available on the internet is no longer private information because it is already part of the internet panopticon. Still, the challenge goes even further than that because you are sharing many central aspects of your genetic data with many of your family members. Even if you are not willing to give away this information yourself, it is possible to get hold of the same data by asking your brother with whom you might not have spoken for years. Furthermore, you also need to consider that by giving away your genetic data because you wish to know better your own family tree, you are giving away information about your sister, too, even though she does not want this information to be out there. The question of gene privacy represents a significant further stepping stone concerning the future of technological developments.
Here the realms of gene technology and computer technologies merge. We have big gene data which encloses important information about your physiology and big IT data by means of which important psychological information is being revealed. Furthermore, cartographies of all our movements are being stored digitally, by means of public surveillance plus facial recognition software, one’s telephone traces and the GPS data of our in-car navigation systems. All three fields of data are digitally being stored and processed via the internet, which again turn all the information about you into publicly available data. All central aspects of your personality are revealed within the internet panopticon in which citizens of all technologically-advanced countries are being imprisoned. It is a situation which is unpleasant and by means of which your behaviour is being altered, once you are fully aware of your situation, as you are permanently aware that you could either be legally or morally sanctioned for all of your acts. However, a solution for this situation is far from clear. The best way to deal with it from my perspective is the following one. On the one hand, big data is extremely useful as it provides us with many new insights and information. On the other hand, we fear of being sanctioned for what we did. Yet, if a radical concept of the good is socially accepted, and legally implemented, then we neither have to fear social nor legal sanctions, while we at the same time can continue getting hold of new insights using big data. To make people aware of the relevance of negative freedom as a norm and the plausibility of the radical plurality of goodness are the best ways for living a good life within the internet panopticon.
9. Information Technologies
After having dealt with our carbonate-based future, I am addressing some central issues concerning our silicon-based future, cyborgs and AI. Cyborg enhancement, AI, superintelligence and the danger of human extinction, mind uploading, and cryonics and immortality are topics which most people identify with posthuman reflections. I merely wish to highlight some specific insights which I regard as particularly noteworthy.
One of the first topics that is addressed when talking about transhumanism is that of immortality and mind-uploading, as it has been shown in the Johnny Depp movie “Transcendence”. I merely wish to point out that hoping for the possibility of having one’s personality downloaded to a computer is not being affirmed by all transhumanists. Philosophically, the option of mind uploading cannot be excluded but there are many serious challenges related to it, e.g. it is unclear whether life can exist within a silicon-based entity. Is a computer virus a living entity? To define what life is, is already an enormous challenge. In principle, transferring our personality should be possible because it is already clear that all human cells regenerate themselves every seven years. In addition, there is no categorical ontological difference between a computer and a human being if you affirm a non-dualist Neo-Spinozian ontology. However, the question remains whether the personality can be transferred from a carbonate- to a silicon-based entity? This is a tricky question. Concerning the option of mind-uploading, I suggest letting us wait and see the progress concerning the technologies related to mind uploading.
Yet, what is important to me is that it is not an option for gaining immortality. Whoever advertises such a thought does not have to be taken seriously. Immortality in the sense of not having to die and not being able to die is not an option which can consistently be thought as a realistic option on the basis of a naturalist, non-dualist or immanent world view and most transhumanists as well as I regard such a world-view as most plausible. You just need to take a global perspective to understand this thought. Let us consider two options concerning the future of our universe. Option 1, it will freeze and it will come to a total standstill. How should any uploaded human survive such a state? Option 2 could be the collapse of the universe such that a state of infinite density will be reached. Again, I do not see any realistic option of human survival. Hence, I wonder how human immortality should simply be thought on the basis of a naturalist world-view?
Still, it does make sense using the concept of immortality for advertising a certain insight, namely the insight that an increase of our health span is in the interest of most human beings. Here, personal immortality functions as a utopia to highlight a specific insight, namely the importance of the duration of our health span. I think that most utopias in our cultural history had such a role. Philosophers such as Plato, Bacon and Marx presented utopias not because they thought that such a state can actually be realized, but in order to highlight some specific elements of their philosophical insights.
Cryonics is another central transhumanist issue, which is not in my main focus because I regard other technologies as more promising. Cryonics is the low temperature preservation of recently-diseased organisms with the hope of their future revival. What is most relevant concerning this topic is the following thought. When you are dead and you are being buried, you have no chance of being revived again. When you are dead and you are being cryopreserved, there is a chance of you being revived. Consequently, it can be reasonable buying this lottery ticket if you have got a sufficient amount of financial means for doing so.
These rather hesitant remarks are not meant to imply that AI, cyborg enhancements and automation cannot be expected to have a deep impact concerning the future. It is highly striking what can be done already. Deep brain stimulation is incredibly useful to treat Parkinson patients. It is also very effective for treating severely depressed patients whose treatment by all other means was unsuccessful. The research by the engineer Kevin Warwick is particularly noteworthy. Let me just describe one of his fascinating examples. His brain was connected to a computer via a non-invasive brain-computer interface while at Columbia University New York. The computer was linked via the internet to his computer at the University of Reading in the UK and there it was combined with a mechanical arm with sensors at his fingertips. Warwick was able to move the mechanical arm towards a table just by means of having the appropriate thoughts while sitting in New York. The fingertips of his mechanical arm touched the table and sent the sensation of the surface of the table to Warwick’s brain so that he consciously experienced feeling the table in the UK. It was a risky enterprise because it could have destroyed his brain and he did not try this experiment with animals beforehand. However, it was successful and thereby revealed that humans and machines are not as different from each other as we used to believe.
10. The future of education
All these developments are such that they are relevant for a great variety of fields within our life world. Education is a particularly relevant sector in this context. I have already explained that genetic and educational modifications are structurally analogous processes and that the relevance of gene analysis in particular due to big gene data can hardly be underestimated. Both will play a central role concerning the future of parental education. However, these developments also play a role concerning the future of the humanities which ought to get transformed to something I am referring to as metahumanities. Humanities embrace dualist ways of thinking. Nowadays non-dualist approaches become more and more relevant. The metahumanities do not replace dualist with non-dualist approaches but promote an inclusive way of thinking by presenting dualist as well as non-dualist approaches. What this means becomes particularly clear given the birth and death of dualist media.
The birth of dualist media occurred when the ancient Greeks invented the drama and performed it in newly-created theatres. Dualisms were created in various domains: 1. A rigid separation between actors and audience was introduced; 2. The separation was amplified and made more rigid by creating the architecture of ancient theatres with a rigid separation between these two groups of people; 3. This way of thinking was amplified by introducing a separation between the protagonists and the chorus. This tradition has continued during the history of media until the 20th century when non-dualist thinking has become more and more relevant. One of the most striking, fascinating and relevant examples is the metabody project directed by the Spanish artist and intellectual Jaime del Val. You could check out his Pangender Cyborg video on YouTube for a start, or check out www.metabody.eu and www.metahumanism.eu.
11. Automation and the future of work
The relevance of all these developments even has an enormous impact on the future of work. Studies show that it is likely that half of the jobs in the USA we know today will be automatized 10 to 20 years from now. The consequences of this insight are enormous for economists, lawyers and politicians. Will we need to consider the option of introducing an unconditional basic income? I do not necessarily think so, because it is dependent on political decisions whether people will lose their jobs or not. Still, it is an issue all of us will have to think about and take into consideration. There are versions of an unconditional basic income guarantee that might work.
12. Technologies: A means or a meaningful human activity?
A widespread worry, which is particularly strong in a tradition closely connected to Heidegger’s thinking, claims that it is dangerous to treat technologies merely as a means to various ends. Technologies ought to be a part of meaningful human practices. This claim leads to the demand that the basic philosophical concepts that are dominating our political practice ought to be reformulated to generate a new way of meaningful thinking. Even though I can understand their worry, it is a claim I am not sharing. I do not think that moving away from a system that is closely connected to freedom, equality and solidarity is one which is in our interest. It is not a move I am in favour of. I think that nihilism in all its shapes, be it an aletheic as well as an ethical nihilism, is a wonderful achievement. Any attempt of overcoming nihilism will create new kinds of dangerous and violent paternalistic structures. I think it is important to remember that we as citizens of enlightened countries live in a very special cultural realm. It has not been like that during most other times of our cultural history and it is still not the case in many countries today. 1000 years ago the political and religious leaders had the right to decide according to which concept of the good citizens ought to live. During the Enlightenment, politicians, artists, scientists, inventors and regular citizens were fighting for their right of living according to their very own idiosyncratic concept of the good. Thereby, the recognition of the norm of negative freedom, absence from constraint to live according to a certain concept of the good, was achieved. I am happy that the norm of freedom has been widely recognized and accepted as a central achievement, as it avoids morally problematic and violent ways of treating others. It is a special, wonderful and praiseworthy achievement and I am doing my best to show what an exceptional achievement it is. By considering freedom as a wonderful achievement, we will also be able to deal appropriately with all the future challenges we are bound to be facing.