The augmented myth of Narcissus

Transhumanism is an international “intellectual and cultural movement that affirms the possibility and desirability of fundamentally improving the human condition through applied reason, especially by developing and making widely available technologies to eliminate aging and to greatly enhance human intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities” ( The purpose of all transhumanists is to achieve enhancement of all human cognitive, physical and psychological capacities (senses, skills, organs) using reason and science. Transhumanism looks forward to conscious self-evolution without  ethical or moral constraints which may interfere with nature in order to ameliorate the human condition. Countless strands of this movement exists, but there are two which, although working in parallel, aim at different goals: on the one hand, mind-uploading is at the heart of the development of technologies which would permit an independent, disembodied survival and development of the brain (see, among others, Kurzweil’s efforts); on the other, the whole body prosthetic projects aim to construct  networked avatar bodies with embodied brains (see, cited with permission). It is this second one that concerns us here.

1.     It is not yet clear why there is, nowadays, such an incessant and in many ways exaggerated desire not to accept one’s existing body and a concomitant yearning to multiply, transform, and act upon it.  Much has been written and discussions abound about the Narcissistic age we live in, where “selfie” is the word of the year 2013, according to the Oxford dictionary gurus. Imagining building functioning avatars of ourselves is simply an extension of this love of the self. If indeed transhumanism sanctions the enhancement of everything that is human, then any feeling (many of which are scrutinized in Greek myths) will be augmented. Thus, “loving oneself” will acquire new meanings when I fall in love with all my avatars (i.e. “loving one’s selves”). If the myth of Narcissus makes a cogent statement on the precarious balance of one’s love for oneself, then enhancing one’s avatars’ love for each other is not a laughing matter. But if technicians build in a safety feature which stops my avatar from loving me, then what type of avatar of me would it be? The technicians would have to have an answer to the question “At what intensity does the love for one-self become suicidal/desctructive, as the Greek myth suggests?” After all the effort spent in building avatars, it would make sense that suicide is not one of the options for their actions. The answer, however, does not lie in technology.

2.     The idea of avatar bodies of one biological entity which allow for an independent (if networked) existence presuppose an infinity of conditions. The crucial need, however, is not the working out of the processes which lead to uploading and bio-techno-cognitive connections. One crucial need is energy. Specifically, if the aim is to construct avatars (of whatever type), then energy is required for their existence – whether bio- or techno- or solar or mechanically based, or of any as yet not invented types. The avatars need to “eat”: it does not matter where the energy they need comes from. In the present world, where our gadgets rely on non-renewable energy, and where electrical batteries’ life is really and painfully limited, the existence of avatars based on similar types of energy production is impossible.

3.     Not the least of the problems with the interesting idea of avatars of ourselves is the fact that these will probably have to be employed somehow (in both meanings of this phrase: 1) they will have to employ themselves doing some activity/engaging in thought and 2) someone will likely have to employ them in some activity). Even augmented avatars of ourselves will probably suffer from cabin fever… The solution for now has been “work” – see, as a concrete example, the first article of the Constitution of the Italian Republic.  In a world which sees dramatic rise of unemployment figures, adding even only one avatar of each person would mean doubling the unemployment problem. Therefore, the definition of “work” must be improved upon.

The conclusion to these ideas points to the fact that technology by itself is not the answer not only to our survival but also to a transhumanist world.


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