What can the human body do for science and technology? Healthy bodies, sick bodies and dead bodies are all tested on in research and development, for example in pharmaceuticals, vaccines and cybertechnologies. Whilst in many cases tests are voluntary, in others, a substantial payment is offered. Some could say that bodies are sold to science. For example, FluCamp pays volunteers up to £3750 to take part in medical trials which can last up to two weeks. Astronauts are often described as selling their bodies to Space where their bodies are drastically and permanently altered during and after long-term space flights. Scientists ‘need to alter humans, in some way, to accommodate Space’ (Parkhurst 2012:69).This video describes how space may have changed NASA astronaut Scott Kelly’s body:
But what can science and technology do to repair and enhance the human body? The rapid development of cyborgs, which Parkhurst describes as an opaque relationship ‘between the cybernetic and the organic’, has created a debate concerning therapy versus ‘enhancement’ or ‘upgrade’ which is ‘potentially dangerous’ (Parkhurst 2012:68-9, 70). Discourse on enhancing the human body often leads to ideas of transhumanism or the superhuman. Professor Warwick or, ‘Captain Cyborg’, has stated that those who do not embrace a post-human world, will get left behind (Warwick 2003). It is true that we are becoming more and more intimate with technologies but, in returning to the core theme of this blog, how will these advanced technologies be funded and available to everyone? Are cyborg technologies which ‘enhance’ only for the rich who can afford ‘superhuman’ bodies? The example of implanted chips for members to private clubs emphasises how pairing individuals with intelligent technology can create exclusivity and widen socio-economic gaps. Even if these technologies are provided for everyone, surely they cannot all be to the same advanced standard?
Cerqui voices her concerns on how natural and artificial hybridization can disrupt human social relations and analyses its ethical implications (Cerqui 2002). She explores the human quest for perfection arguing that ‘human beings have taken control of their bodies in order to free themselves from them…the body is…only the container for our mind’ (Cerqui 2002:103). Cerqui interviewed engineers who believed that rationality was of most value whilst emotions were irrelevant to humankind (Cerqui 2002:104). I am not so convinced. This move to rationalization links to Weber’s disenchantment of society where ‘there are in principle no mysterious, incalculable powers at work, but rather that one could in principle master everything through calculation’ (Weber 1989:13). Traditional and organic human values and emotions are arguably being replaced by the ‘magic’ of technology. Technology has become a social value in itself whilst encapsulating other social values. For example, fitness and wellbeing smart technologies reflect how we value healthy lifestyles.
Are fitness technologies cyborgian?
Cerqui argues that humans have become objects malleable to change and that desires for perfection could alienate us from our ‘natural and social dimensions’ (Cerqui 2002:106-7). This Marxist perspective views the body as partly commodified and alienated from social relations. It projects a fear of human replacement. I have already mentioned the ‘ideal body’ in my previous post, but what if the ‘ideal’ is not ‘perfect’? What of humans require technological aid to achieve it? And should they?
Many technologically focussed groups share the view that the human body is naturally imperfect and can always be improved, enhanced or upgraded. This very much correlates with everyday body ideals. However, rather than focussing on aesthetics, there is a focus on the unbreakable and invincible. The reflexive project of the self, mirrors the reflexivity of society where societies transform and progress as they examine themselves, in this case, technologically (Giddens 1991) (Beck 1992). Yet how does this affect how we value the body and the self? Pairing ourselves with advanced and expensive technologies may affect our concepts of self-worth. It contradicts the common view presented in my introduction blog post that the human body is ‘a social, organic and virtuous symbol of humanity’. Do cyborgs deauthenticate the human body? Or, is a new form of authenticity created with mind, body, soul and technology?
Beck, U. (1992). Risk Society: towards a new modernity, Trans. M. Ritter, Sage Publications, London, UK.
Cerqui, D. (2002). ‘‘The Future of Humankind in the Era of Human and Computer Hybridization: An Anthropological Analysis’’, p.101-108, Vol.4(2), Ethics and Information Technology, Kluwer Academic Publishers, Netherlands.
Giddens, A. (1991). Modernity and Self- Identity, Polity Press, Cambridge, UK.
Parkhurst, A. (2012). Becoming Cyborgian: Procrastinating the Singularity, p.68-80, Vol. 18(1), The New Bioethics, Taylor and Francis, UK.
Warwick, K. (2003). ‘‘Cyborg Morals, Cyborg Values, Cyborg Ethics’’, p.131-137, Vol.5(3), Ethics and Information Technology, Ethics and Information Technology, Kluwer Academic Publishers, Netherlands.
Weber, M. (1989). ‘Science as a Vocation’ in P. Lassman, I. Velody and Herminio Martins (eds.) Science as a Vocation, p.13, Unwin Hyman Limited, London, UK.
Featured image: http://blog.ocad.ca/wordpress/as13ic/2014/03/how-we-became-post-human/?doing_wp_cron=1458645944.4319369792938232421875