Many of our universities are currently stuck in an internal debate about online course offerings, attempting to determine whether the potential gains of Internet-based instruction outweigh the costs. On one side of the ledger, the online student is afforded new levels of individualized education that no longer restricts them to the institution-centric forms of physical, in-class environments. On the other side, many educators caution whether this technologically-mediated methodology undercuts the nature of the learning enterprise, treating students as disembodied entities rather than as physical men and women. The center of the proverbial storm is the body. Does physical presence matter—not just in the university environment—but as a touchstone to understand community more broadly? Or, put more succinctly, is physical embodiment a necessary feature of the 21st century person? Continue reading What Does It Mean to Be (Trans)Human?
This is the second post of a two-part essay on Frankenstein, transhumanism, and community.
Transhumanism, simply put, is the belief that the human condition is not unchanging. Through the use of applied reason, humanity has a moral obligation to use technologies in an effort to advance far beyond the current human situation. This advancement extends beyond personal modification, but rather, it includes a general societal evolution whereby Homo sapiens evolve into Homo technologicus, a post-human reality made possible by the application of technological advances. Practically speaking, such a philosophy opens the door for body augmentation (e.g., robotics), enhancement (e.g., certain gene therapies), and, in its more extreme forms, Ray Kurzweil’s vision of uploading human consciousness onto some digital, silicon-based substrate.
Allow me to offer a brief analysis of this controversial philosophy and then put it into conversation with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein tale. Continue reading Homo Sapiens et Homo Technologicus
This is the first post of a two-part essay on Frankenstein, transhumanism, and community.
In the middle of my fourth grade year, my father received a job offer in a new city, forcing my family to leave the quiet farm-town neighborhoods of Bakersfield, California, and venture south to cosmopolitan Orange County. My new school was an overwhelming tide of unfamiliar faces, dress codes, and unwritten rules. Being a natural athlete, my only hope to win some measure of peer acceptance was to prove myself on the basketball courts and football field. Every male classmate had their eyes on me, scrutinizing my every step, all for the singular purpose of determining if I could help recreate the 1984 Los Angeles Lakers between 10:30 and 10:45 every morning at recess.
As human creatures, we are naturally suited to be in community—arranging the boundaries of interpersonal associations across a variety of criteria: race, gender, creed, class, economics, or the ability to catch a football. Such divisions create the perhaps-necessary designations of “insider” and “outsider,” with the former appropriately holding the crucial markers fit for inclusion and the latter attempting to earn or prove those same characteristics.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is a terrifying examination of the oft-fuzzy borders of human community, where the creator and the creature both experience a dizzying degree of alienation. Continue reading Building the Perfect Monster