Category: Transhumanism and Anthropology

Transhumanism, Tragic Humanism, and The View From Nowhere

A number of scholars of post-humanity (such as Hayles and Wolfe) have argued that transhumanism is an unduly optimistic extension of humanism. I can’t agree – not only is it not optimistic, it is not a humanism. Transhumanism is filled with the anxiety of extinction. It also is enthused enough about non-human flourishing that it marks a departure from humanism (besides: is anything more optimistic than humanism in its enlightenment mode?). Transhumanism’s posthumanist stance is the continuation of enlightenment technoscience in so far as it centralizes human technology, even if it projects the technoscientific breakdown of humanity. However, insofar as its ideas and projected technologies propose an almost panpsychic collapse of mind and matter, it pushes us beyond reductive materialist, secular and humanist arrangements, and points to some interesting new openings. (read more...)

After, and Before, Anthropos

Filled with new atheists who see religion as “deathism,” yet animated by yearnings for immortality played out on a cosmic scale, it is easy to see why there is debate as to whether transhumanism and singulatarianism are either formally or effectively religious or religion. On one hand, the anthropologist Abou Farman has convincing argued that the one of the key historical possibility conditions for transhumanism to emerge as self-conscious social movement was religion’s loss of its monopoly on the ability to make determining statements on ultimate issues. If the Church cannot speak authoritatively about eternity, perhaps some futurists can? But Farman’s observation has to be weighed against the plethora of transhumanist organizations that have taken on religious trappings – groups like Teresem, Turing Church, or The Church of Perpetual Life. Further, there is also the claim that since striving for immortality can be given a genealogy that runs as far back as the epic of Gilgamesh, it cannot be properly classified as solely belonging to the secularism or the current secular dispensation (though this argument mistakes genealogical linkage for fixed identity). (read more...)

Anthropos beyond the Human

In their thoughtful provocation, Jon Bialecki and Ian Lowrie focus our attention on anthropos, and suggest that in transhumanists, anthropologists might find kindred spirits. Though our approaches and traditions may differ, we share “the same conceptual terrain.” Concerned as we all are about shifts in our ways of living and being in a “rapidly accelerating technological contemporary,” transhumanists and anthropologists may indeed have much to learn from each other about future forms of anthropos. But implied in their discussion is a convergence between “anthropos” and “human.” What is at stake in making this equation? Transhumanists and anthropologists alike are tuned into the future of the human, but we should also remember that futures are never very evenly distributed. My work has focused on figuring out the contours of a similar problem space. My main ethnographic study was on a network of researchers in Japan who make what they call ningen-chūshin gijutsu (人間中心技術), roughly “human-centered technology.” These take the forms of humanoid and non-humanoid robots, and various types of wearable technologies. Much of what they develop are interface technologies that operate on a variety of senses: vision, hearing, and touch, but also balance and proprioception. These researchers want to use such interfaces to make humans faster, more efficient, or more comfortable, or link them to machines to off-load repetitive tasks to free up a human for more demanding or interesting things. (read more...)

Weekly Round-up | February 24th

After a brief hiatus, the weekly round-up returns with stories on algorithms, microdosing, virtual reality documentaries, and how to read new media. As always, we’d love to showcase stuff that CASTAC members are working on elsewhere, or just cool stuff that you find around the web! Drop us a line at and we’ll throw it in the mix for next week. Algorithms have been a favorite punching bag of the blogosphere and middle-brow journals for a few years now. While they’re easy to criticize, they’re harder to engage and historicize. “Rule by Nobody” does a nice job of both, however. Adam Clair draws on Weber and Graeber to argue that algorithms should be understood as an expansion of bureaucratic rationalization. Rather than posthuman monstrosities of unfeeling code and insensate machines, he suggests that we consider them as profoundly human, sociotechnical systems, open to intervention and creative refashioning. How anthropological! The emergence of algorithms (read more...)

Anthropos Tomorrow: Transhumanism and Anthropology

Editor’s note: This week, we’re bringing you the first look at something slightly different. In addition to our regularly scheduled programming, Platypus has decided to experiment with guest-edited thematic series, which will bring together a range of anthropologists working on similar issues for a more theoretically-oriented conversation held over several weeks. Here, Jon Bialecki and Ian Lowrie introduce our first series, on Transhumanism and Anthropology. If you are interested in participating, please let them know; if you are interested in organizing a future thematic series, please do get in touch with the Editor.   Anthropologists, long relatively comfortable bearing the mantle of studying humanity, today find themselves working in increasingly posthuman theoretical spaces. Anthropos, as a unitary figure, had already began to crumble under the weight of postcolonial, feminist, and deconstructive critique during the eighties; lately, however, our empirical work is pushing us still further beyond the human. This is particularly, but not uniquely, true for those of us working on the anthropology of science and technology: we often find ourselves, whatever our theoretical commitments to the posthuman, grasping for an appropriate language as we try to figure the multispecies assemblages, vibrant matter, and sociotechnical infrastructures we encounter alongside the humans we interact with in our fieldwork. (read more...)