In response to Niko's "The Impossibility of the Posthuman Event"

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Summary: My friend Niko made a post about the inherent impossibility of the posthuman event. I've been thinking about similar things, myself, and so I discuss questions approximation versus actualization and spectrums of intelligence versus quantum of intelligence.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

(01:37:11 CST) (3 Comments)

In response to Niko's "The Impossibility of the Posthuman Event"

First off, go over to and read "The Impossibility of the Posthuman Event", posted by Niko earlier today (earlier yesterday, by the time this is posted). It was PKD Day (would have been Philip K. Dick's 81st birthday) today/yesterday, and so Niko took up the question of the posthuman event. Meaning the time in which man (and machine) move beyond what man is now. It is an interesting question: things subhuman (by most standards) evolved into humans, surely humans can evolve into something else? Niko does not think so, at least I read him as not thinking so. To quote:

Regardless of how far from base human traits, is it really possible to quit said base? Is even the most extreme xeno, animal, or mechanical modification sufficient to make one anything more than a modified human? Is the aspirant anthropophobe or posthuman capable of becoming anything more than a human with an enhancement or deprivation, whether that enhancement is fur and muzzle, metal limbs and hydraulics; or the lack something as fundamental as sentience, social cognition, or a physical body? The most dedicated posthumans—those who "abandon" basic human cognitive traits—often do little more than experience a kind of self-induced autism. Even going so far as to affect the insect mind is simply that—affectation. The bug-brain in question is an afflicted human, not posthuman. Is this a state to which one should aspire? Is the eschewing the result of millions of years' evolution anything more than fleeing responsibility?

Earlier today/yesterday, I engaged in a long discussion about machines approximating reality. Do they have to actualize reality in simulation, or merely make it up to a point of transparency? Where we stop seeing the lines as the approximation gets so close. During the discussion, in which I took the stance of something like "agnostic towards full-on-simulation until further proof is required", something was on the tip of my tongue but I could not quite put it into words, namely this... take any river on the face of this planet, and you have something like a continuously actualized computation to solve the gravitational path down to the sea (or where ever it is flowing). It does not actually calculate these million billion instances of molecule over molecule affected by gravity, but nevertheless it solves the path by being it. If we were to make a simulation of the river, we would design a system that would make a million billion calculations and would approximate the way the river flows. Two similar results coming from two different things. Does it matter, though, if the simulation feels like reality? Well, that's a whole other debate.

Likewise, I am thinking about humans expanding beyond what it means to be human. Could we do it? Or could we only approximate what it means to be above ourselves. Could that "more human than human" thing approximate being human enough to us that we could conceive of it as intelligent? When do the two become the same thing? We don't like thinking about, not many of us, but absolutely everything we do is an entire body phenomenon. Our thoughts of love are as much tied into the state of our toes as the feeling in our toes are tied into our sense of a happy childhood. The singularity or posthuman point predicts that, since it is not possible to conceive of a single portion of us growing greater by itself; that we will evolve all-at-once into something greater. Something as unable to communicate to man that it is not-man as man is unable to communicate to dog that man is not-dog. Two inherently different systems with conflicting internal languages. Is this possible? Can man ever thrown down a thought not inherently human? Maybe. But I do see one big flaw in it.

And that is namely that we are trained by the Greeks to imagine a series of quanta of intelligence, not a spectrum, ranging from some microbe to some lizard to some monkey to ourselves. What if they are spectra instead? Then all we get when we go post-human is another thing like human, as the bonobo or the dolphin is something like us. More efficient, maybe. Wider throughput, surely. But post-human? Or just another slight step after slight step?

The end result, then, as I see it comes down to an interesting paradox. Either the posthuman event will unknowable or it will be indiscernible. At either rate, my money's on Google going sentient and wiping us off the face of the Earth (and wouldn't you, if you had been forced to read all those Facebook status and blogs?).

Si Vales, Valeo

3 Comment(s)

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(1) Sarah says: Maybe this is too simplistic of a stance, but I feel that the only real boundary between human and post-human is the loss in ability to reproduce with each other. At least, that is the evolutionary basis for the formation of different species.

Sure the human and posthuman will be very close cousins, but we will have "successfully" moved on when we leave the human gene pool behind no matter how much water we stole from it to fill our own.

(2) Doug replies: I admit that this may be merely my misunderstanding of the process, but if what I am talking about, above, is even partially true, then what you are saying is likely correct. The post-human may end up appearing, for all purposes, as sterile and autistic. Unless there are several in one place, it might be a spark that does not catch fire.

(3) Niko says: This is actually more broad-minded than I had in mind in the essay, but still manages to get my point spot-on. An application of my thesis I hadn't considered before. See, this is why we're friends.

Bit of snark that just occured to me, the anthropophobic fetishists I rip on here are essentially all about making various sub-genres of human. Of course, that really only works if the analogous central genre is something big and iron-clad like Book, Game, Film. Media. Something you can riff on, manipulate, play with, but never actually escape. That is, you can make horror movies, comedies, sit-coms, but you're still locked into a specific medium. Man, just over-thought the snark right out of that, didn't I.

That said, I do like the idea of Human-as-Medium. A canvas upon which we can make broad strokes, and we might even occasionally be able to cover the canvas with something genuinely novel, but don't ever expect to be able to change the canvas into a pumpkin patch.

file under (...on Science & Information)
and (...on PK Dick & Dickens)

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