I’ve been skimming through cognitive scientist/philosopher Andy Clark’s book “Natural-Born Cyborgs: Minds, Technologies, and the Future of Human Intelligence” over the past couple of days and came across this bit near the end of the book.
The drive toward biotechnological merger is deep within usâ€”it is the direct expression of what is most characteristic of the human species. The task is to merge gracefully, to merge in ways that are virtuous, that bring us closer to one another, make us more tolerant, enhance understanding, celebrate embodiment, and encourage mutual respect. If we are to succeed in this important task, we must first understand ourselves and our complex relations with the technologies that surround us. We must recognize that, in a very deep sense, we were always hybrid beings, joint products of our biological nature and multilayered linguistic, cultural, and technological webs. Only then can we confront, without fear or prejudice, the specific demons in our cyborg closets. Only then can we actively structure the kinds of world, technology, and culture that will build the kinds of people we choose to be.
Clark’s ideas about the hybridity of human beings bears striking similarity to Philip Hefner’s metaphor of humans as ‘created co-creators’. For Clark, it is human beings existing in a symbiotic relationship between human and technology, whereas for Hefner it is the human being as the fusion of biological conditionedness and cultural freedom. Clark’s definition of a cyborg goes beyond the typical Star Trek or Bionic Woman visions:
For we shall be cyborgs not in the merely superficial sense of combining flesh and wires but in the more profound sense of being human-technology symbionts: thinking and reasoning systems whose minds and selves are spread across biological brain and nonbiological circuitry.
And this is coupled with the drive to create (seen also in Hefner’s idea of the drive toward self-transcendence being part of nature) where Clark asserts:
By contrast it is our special character, as human beings, to be forever driven to create, co-opt, annex, and exploit nonbiological props and scaffoldings. We have be designed, by Mother Nature, to exploit deep neural plasticity in order to become one with our best and most reliable tools. Minds like ours were made for mergers. Tools-R-Us, and always have been.
Clark’s approach is techno-optimistic, where the benefits of technology outweight the problems. However, he does dedicate a chapter to the perceived downsides of living in a world of where technology is ‘the air that we breathe’. This serves as a useful, albeit brief, starting point for such discussions.
Chapter 1 of the book is available at the OUP web site on the like above. Some interesting ideas, and I like how he clearly reaffirms the place of the body in a technological society.