We are living in age of “posts”: post-truth, post-capitalism, post-colonialism, post-modernism (indeed: also post-postmodernism). But the problems of our time also force us to rethink our view of man, and we are observing weak signals of “post-humanism”: to think beyond the paradigm of humanism that has been dominant in many Western modern thought. We see three strands of a posthumanist paradigm emerging.
- In her book “Philosophical Posthumanism”, Franscesca Ferrando describes that are living in a time of an integral deconstruction of the fixed categories by post-modernism, the epistemological impact of quantum physics, increased role of technology in the formation of human identity leading to hybrid humans. Philosophical posthumanism is the onto-epistemological and ethical approach that uses these insights to discharge modern dualisms and hierarchical legacies and wants to go beyond humanism and anthropocentrism. As such, it is a philosophy of mediation that suits the geological time of the Anthropocene: it focuses on decentering the human from the center of discourse.
- Karen Barad in her book Meeting the Universe Halfway recognizes agency to the nonhuman realm, based on a relational ontology and agential realism based on insights from quantum physics. The quantum entanglement means that there is no ontological separation between subject and object, but onlyintra-acting agencies between “entangled agencies”. As such, many phenomena “emerge” as a result between various agents and of various sorts (e.g. the Ebola phenomenon was not a virus itself but an interaction of the actual virus with human and non-human actors, such as human bodies, discourses on Africa, global politics, news channels, feelings of fears, medical technology and so on).
- We have written before that excessive use of digital technology and the proliferation of companies thatare fighting for our attention also mean that we are becoming increasingly distracted. This “attention crisis” puts pressure on the foundations of our moral theory and ideas of freedom, and forces us torethink our ideas about everyday practices. As such, our digital living worlds are redefining what we mean by concepts like “autonomy”, “agency” and “freedom”.
- Yuval Harari states that mankind has long been plagued by three main evils: poverty, famine and sickness. By understanding social structures as data processing systems, and given the rapid advances of AI systems and the abundance of digital data, Harari expects that autonomous smart systems could help mankind to get rid of these three evils. As such, we are moving beyond the traditional boundaries of human kind, and transforming from homo sapiens into a homo deus. This belief in the “sanctifying” powers of digital technology is what we have called “technological divination”.
- Luciano Floridi in his book The Fourth Revolution: How the Infosphere is Reshaping Human Reality as we increasingly interact with the world and with our technology through ICTs (as well as ICTs interacingamongst themselves invisibly), we are going to interpret the world in ICT-friendly terms: informationally. And on the other hand, by creating digital living worlds, we will see the world as inherently informationally. This thinking and acting about and in the world informationally recreates reality as an “infosphere”: the whole informational environment constituted by all informational entities, their properties, interactions, processes, and mutual relations. For example, we increasingly perceive biology as a technology, perceive everybody as a self-tracker, or see football referees as information systems.
- Last week, in collaboration with Brainwash and Frascati, we speculated about “the future of man” and discussed three different “post-humanist paradigms”: animism, transhumanism, and nihilism.
Connecting the dots
In their book “Humanisme”, Bert Gasenbeek and Piet Winkelaar describe five humanist starting points and principles (pp.58-76). First is the that the human is central in the worldview and search for meaning, implying that there are no “afterworlds” or transcendent beings outside human experience and that we know reality and that we can gain objective knowledge of reality and the cosmos using our human senses and knowledge. Second is the positive anthropological view of man, seeing man as a worthy and ethical being upon which we can found moral principles. “Good” are then those things that make life “humane”, and “evil” are those things that make life and reality “inhumane”, and we often do so by using our “humanistic” capabilities, such as art, reasoning, and showing compassion. Third is the idea that every human being is equally worthy, irrespective of race, gender, religion, and so on. Although not every human being has the same physical and mental capabilities, we should have equal opportunities to develop ourselves. The fourth principle stresses human autonomy and individuality, meaning that every human being is a unique being and an identity formed by their own history and personality. The last is the idea of freedom: human beings have an inalienable freedom to act and think irrespective of external determinants (e.g. totalitarian regimes), which also makes us responsible moral agents. In correspondence to these five starting points, Gasenbeek and Winkelaar also describe five humanist principles: i) the emphasis on rational and scientific method and eschewing of superstition and irrational belief, ii) respect and tolerance for other human beings and their freedom, iii) the equality of human beings leads to the political form of democracy and equal rights for citizens, iv) solidarity for others, as well as rights and plights, and v) the principle of self-determination to let people chose to live their own life as they like (e.g. whether to end their lives, the right for abortion).
However, it seems that many of these humanistic starting points and principles are being criticized andpressured. First, the ongoing ecological crisis not only requires a radical overhaul of the principles of industrial modernity and economic and societal meta-rules of our socio-technical systems (i.e. a Deep Transition), but could also point to a crisis of our anthropological conception of man. If human beings actively undermine one of our “living conditions”, this might have something to do with our idea that man is at the center of the cosmos and reality. Indeed, this is one of the principles of the emerging paradigm of deep ecology that opts for a radical decentering of the human. Second, it is increasingly doubtful that human nature is being seen as something inherently good, given the problems of rampant socio-economic inequality, poverty and exploitation (of both humans and non-humans). As we own increasingly powerful technologies that create a vulnerable world, more studies are examining an earthly future without the human kind (e.g. omnicide).
Third, we see that the rise of populism, nationalism and xenophobism increasingly criticize the idea that every human beings is the same, both in an abstract, racist sense (e.g. there is a hierarchical order in human beings) and a concrete, cultural sense (e.g. human cultures are not similar and can be hierarchically moral order). Fourth, the autonomy and individuality of human beings is increasingly pressured. This is because surveillance capitalism undermines individual self-determination and decision-right by steering our behavior and predicting our actions by means of digital and automated systems that adapt to our behavior and emotional data. Furthermore, our “attention crisis’ means that we are increasingly distracted, eroding our sense of autonomy and moral responsibility. Lastly, these developments share in common that they opt for a restriction of human freedom in a certain sense, whether by constraining economic freedom (e.g. taxation, prohibition of certain consumption practices such as meat consumption), as well as political freedoms (e.g. the process of “reglobalization”).
But what do we see as a new paradigm to think beyond humanism and to find an anthropological solution to the problems of our age. The first is “animism”: the belief that we are inherently related to nature and technological beings. As such, we should decenter the human from the center of the universe and develop a new ethics of responsibility and care for both biological and non-biological beings. Transhumanism states that there is no “pure human being” but that human beings and technology co-evolve. Digital does this in particular, and future technologies will continue but radically alter our “human condition” (e.g. living in a metaverse) and redefine what a human being is. Nihilism is another “post-humanist” paradigm: it stresses the inherent sense of meaninglessness and purposelessness of reality and human life, but in its active form urges people to embrace this “absurdity” and realize human potential to the fullest. Importantly, this should not decay in hedonism and irresponsibility (its passive form) but in realizing the inherent. But as human beings are not defined by an essence but have the freedom to choose what to do with their existence, this opens the ethical space of real moral acting and responsibility for our own acting.
Although nihilism, animism and transhumanism differ in certain aspects (e.g. how to relate to technology, how to define moral categories like “responsibility” and “agency”), they share three main tenets of what a future philosophical posthuman paradigm will look like:
- One could claim that all sciences use a certain philosophy of man, especially the social sciences. As such, the “post-humanist turn” will have significant effects on the models and theories of e.g. economics and finance (displacing the homo economics), psychology (animal rationale), or humanities (e.g. the ideal of the autonomous and individual genius shaping world-historical developments).
- The relational ontology and intra-acting agency postulated by posthumanism is related to other emerging paradigms, such as objected-oriented ontology (OOO), new materialism, and speculative realism. Posthumanism and shares with OOO that hey reject the Cartesian mind/body (i.e. humans as res cogitans and nonhuman animals and inanimate beings as res extensa) dualism. Likewise, new materialism does not pose a division between biology and culture: biology is culturally mediated as much as culture is materialistically constructed, making matter is an ongoing process of materialization that bridges the nature/culture divide into a “natureculture” proposal (e.g. cyborg) and a new materialist theory of entangled nature and culture as we can change ourselves from purely the product of genetic heritage to being a product of technology (like a kind of Lamarckian evolution based on heritage). Posthumanism and speculative realism both stress that objects and subjects, relations and relata (i.e. correlationism) are co-constituted in agential realism and as intra-acting agencies.