To Be Perceived - Technology, Part 3



Finally, part 3 in the series on technology. As with the last entry on the subject, this post will also focus on Transhumanism and evolution, doing so by taking what seems to me like the only logical next-step: by briefly talking about Autism. Yep. Your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you. Autism.
Essentially, the main focus of this post is the question: can posthuman goals truly enable us to surpass our natural limitations, or will they simply prevent us from achieving greater wonders than any posthuman we, as humans, can possibly cook up? The best way to see that there are no clear answers is by looking at Autism. 

And, some of you may be wondering why all this talk of transhumans instead of simply getting down to that definition of “technology” that I promised in the first instalment of this series. Two real reasons: I don’t like doing things the normal way, and no other subject helps put things—especially technology—in perspective like Transhumanism and Artificial Intelligence. 
Here it’s important to note that my goal throughout this series is merely to outline the key Futurist concepts and arguments; the slew of irresolvable questions (as seen in the previous posts), as well as the complexity of the sciences involved and their possible, yet-to-be-discerned applications and implications offer multitude views and interpretations and, consequently, not only is there strong opposition to Transhumanistic ideals, but not all transhumanists agree on what steps we should take to become posthumans. The views multiply further when those of other Futurist branches like Neo-Futurists are thrown into the mix.  How human.      

However, it can be said that all posthumanists believe themselves to be optimistic, progressive, forward-thinking visionaries, and although that’s true if the sole criterion is one’s attachment to the current state of the human race minus its shortcomings—all this being highly subjective—then I have to question just how accurate that label is, and not obtuse, limited, linear-thinking from self-important, socially maladjusted pessimists and whiners?  No offense to Transhumanists intended; I’m just calling ‘em as I see them, and that is one side of the possibility coin.
There’s an aspect of the Transhumanist (TH) mindset that presents a condescending and bleak judgement on humankind which may in fact prove to be highly limiting and recursive rather than progressive.  This is especially true in regards to any giddy impatience for the Singularity, that moment when the first machine self-actualizes—what qualifies / characterizes that moment is the subject of passionate debate, more on this in a later post.  Nonetheless, people who genuinely anticipate the Singularity have yet to provide a human-flattering reason as to why they should want to put their own species at risk of extinction.  And any argument to the contrary is, ironically, faith-based. No-one can realistically predict with any precision how, if at all possible, a higher-thinking “race” will act towards us. If we’re the model, this can’t bode well.

So, back to Autism.

Now, I ask you, which is a more progressive way of thinking?

Autism:
1. It’s a disorder! Modern techniques will allow us to eradicate it.
2. God did it.
3. Wow! Could we be watching evolution and a speciation event at work?
4. Autism. Is that some kind of sick pervert who enjoys making love to cars?
 
In the interest of individual freedom, all answers are valid, but in case you’re wondering, the right answer is 3.
1 arises out of that restrictive, all-too-human kill-and-dominate attitude we know full well.
2 doesn’t preclude 3 nor, in a way, 1, although it may very well explain why someone would say 4. But then, if one believes 2 to be true, why even read this or ask any questions when all you need is the answer?  

Although it would be unreasonable to claim with any degree of certainty whatsoever that we are looking at 3, evolution, the undeniable plausibility of such a proposal may not push people away from 2, but it should at least force a re-assessment of 1, however brief. This is key. 

Autism presents a particularly interesting case due to its neurodevelopmental symptoms, genetic underlying causes, and frequency of cases.  Many aspects of Autism are still unknown, but nearly all specialists agree that Autistics do not perceive and understand the world the same way as non-Autistics; this is the important point I want to drive. True, this can also be said in regards to other disorders, but again, Autism presents a special case. I'm hoping this will suffice in the context of what should be a short blog post and not a scientific paper. For further details, there's tons of information already available on the Web. If readers want me to defend this view, leave a comment and I'll be happy to delve further into this subject in a later post. 

So, taking into account that Autistics perceive and interpret the world differently, rather than shift our focus away from us, we try to bend their reality to ours through various forms of treatments that will hopefully enable them to adapt to our standards of normalcy, but what if the real problems lies in our inability to understand them, not through investigation, but at a purely linguistic level and our stubborn belief that ours is a better world to which they should adapt? Could Autism be nature’s way of reshaping and rewiring our brains so our species is eventually better equipped to adapt and efficiently deal with the information explosion we’ve snowballed towards for the past 200,000 years?
Aren't we all, in a way, willfully imposing on ourselves, and thus gaining, Autistic-like qualities through our obsession with technological interfaces that shift and change human interaction as well as our ways of perceiving the world?
Is ADHD another example, the result of our fast-paced lifestyles, gadgets, video games, and media outlets of all sorts that bombard our kids before they are fully conscious, all of which do not reward or help in the development of concentration and attentiveness and which, rather than adapt our teaching practices and the likes to the growing number of cases, we'd rather kill off with Ritalin and other drugs?

Palaeontologist and evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould has clearly indicated that, throughout all of our known history, there have always been long periods of stability before speciation events.  Are we at the beginning of such an event?
Or is Autism an undesirable result of TV waves and Monsanto products? And even then, isn’t this form of mutation (using the term loosely) equally important to evolution?  If Monsanto ever rules the world—what is a frightening possibility given the current regulatory trends—would Autistics be better suited to survive than transhumanists?

Autism may be unwelcomed, representing failings rather than nature’s glories, but this view is both limited and driven by raciocentric thinking and survival instincts.  
If our current mental prowess imposes limits on our current modes of conceptualisation, can we possibly conceive a future version of humans that is entirely free of all our trappings and current confines? Is this form of re-modeling actually a way of forever restricting us to our understanding of what is human nature and is therefore far less progressive than it purports, as this may push us further away from new, miraculous wonders? Will a new, guided-yet-uncontrollable tranhumanist stage lead to a compounded result of typical human blunders and short-sightedness, taking us down an irreversibly detrimental route and our eventual doom?  No-one, not even any computer model, can answer this at the moment.       

So what is it that Transhumanists are hoping to circumvent with technology? How do we differentiate between ‘undesirable’, ‘adaptive’, and ‘speciation events’ without basing any of our assumptions on concept-limited, ideal-human biases which are in themselves wholly restricted by our own current mental and physical capabilities?
Given our inability to fully envision the long term consequences of our actions (we’ve got a hard time getting near-term projections right), how can some Transhumanists be so arrogant as to claim that transcending human limitations through transhumanist means is the only meaningful and logical direction for the human race?

This smells a lot like religion to me.



Keep on clicking!
PDL

© 2011, Pascal-Denis Lussier
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