Posthumanism and the Infinite: An Historian Looks into the Abyss

By Brad Hume.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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Futurists predict a number of scenarios that suggest nothing less than the total alteration of humanity. Humans have been arguing about their nature for centuries and now we not only confront scientific narratives about “our nature” such as evolutionary psychology but also the prospect that we will be able to tamper with it in fundamental ways. But, as science studies has amply demonstrated, “science” (and therefore scientists) are fully wrapped up in the technoscientific capitalist system. Even if one questions the immediate possibilities of such technologies one must examine the implications of the very real scenario that Michel Foucault predicted where he argued that “man” was a recent appearance and would pass away. Anyone who confronts the liminal point before us must examine the potential of what it means to leave behind “man” and what the vocation of the humanities will mean or become. That “we” (moderns and postmoderns) do not wish to have a nature even as we wish to have a nature is the subject of this paper. The tentative answer that is given is that what both the historical and the essential ignore is that humanity contains within it untapped potential that is suppressed by our historical moment and which we have forgotten or deliberately ignore. Humanity includes an unboundedness that is neither transcendent nor limitless but which demands a creativity and an occupation of the future that has been frightened by modern atrocity. The alternative, I assert, is the continued commodification of life, including humanity. Born, made or created are our choices. Created is the best choice and humanists – the standard bearers of what it means to be human and of creativity – must seize the liminal moment.

Keywords: Science, Humanities, Genetic Engineering, Nanotechnology, Posthuman, Postmodern

The International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 5, Issue 8, pp.141-150. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 566.802KB).

Dr. Brad Hume

Assistant Professor, Department of History, University of Dayton, Dayton, Ohio, USA

Given my training in the history, philosophy and social studies of science and my interests in heredity, the interface between human and machine, the blurring of the distinction between life and technology, I am very concerned about the future of humans and of the humanities. Both in my research and in the classroom I grapple with fundamental questions associated with the goal of mastering nature versus the reality, whether humans control technology or not, and what it will mean to be human if genetic engineering, nanotechnology and informatics provide the opportunities for change that both detractors and supporters predict. For that reason my abstract submission is geared toward theory and is focused on framing approaches to larger questions. I teach at a medium-sized institution where I get to use the classroom as a locus for discussing the issues that my research has raised for me and beyond that to the larger questions that I get to pursue in a course on The West and the World and broad courses like Life and Technology and Sex, Race, and Science. I am interested in questions relating to sex, race and a kind of humanism that can engage the potential to be posthuman.

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