In her first piece for #itchysilk lecturer and writer Ashby Solano brings a most profound discussion–what is this thing called ‘humanity’. It’s a question we have pondered for thousands of years. While we have brought a plethora of suggestions from some of the great minds and philosophers, we ultimately remain clueless.
In her piece, Ashby Solano sees technology as the potential answer/s to this question. Of course further questions (like the proverbial rabbit hole) will always follow when hard scientific facts are difficult to come by.
One of my most tangible childhood memories is standing by the window of my house wondering what is this, what is this humanity and how does it work? I suppose this was the same question that many or some of our ancestors asked themselves. At some point in the search for answers religions were born.
Although the obvious would be to find the answers in these religions, the path of my profession has led me to specialize in some technologies, and in these, I have found some similarities that have helped me to believe that I understand a little more about the human being and my humanity.
This perspective or technology-human connection is not at all innovative. Great philosophers have discussed the body as a machine. Today it is well known that the neural networks of Artificial Intelligence (AI) (to give one example of many)- are inspired by the functioning of the brain and our models of biological neurons.
But as in the film Being John Malkovich (1999), if the body is the machine, who runs the machine? Who inhabits it? Part of my theory – which still does not answer this question – is that humans are the natural/biological model and technology is our artificial clone. Our body is the hardware, tangible. Our senses are the sensors, connecting our environment with our processing system; the eyes are cameras that capture our existence; the heart is the source of power-(Paul Pearsall talks about this in his book The Heart’s Code, 1999); the brain processes the information and generates the connections.
At this point all the conflicts begin about where the mind, the soul, or the spirit is located…is it in charge?
As technology advances and we find ourselves in a world immersed in microprocessors, robotics, extended realities, metaverses, quantum computing. It is more common to hear or read that people are looking for the answer to our existence in digital technologies.
Are we just a simulation? Is life a video game? Are we just the repetition of an episodes of a Netflix series controlled by a more evolved society that seeks answers in its past? Is this perhaps the beginning of the boom of techno religions?
There are already records of some self-proclaimed futurists, who believe in a technological god or theories that we will be transformed into a new species called Homo Deus (2015) by Yuval Noah Harari. Giving man the supreme gift of divinity and immortality through technology.
Though it sounds like a science fiction story, it is only necessary to google Neuralink and Elon Musk to enter a spiral of information related to the development of brain-computer interfaces. Connecting the artificial machine with the ‘natural one’, linking both operating systems through nervous electrophysiology and brainwave recordings, for different purposes.
No one knows the scope, to upgrade our mindware, to exponentiate our abilities limitlessly, brain hacking? One of the most attractive scenarios: download the information from our brain to external memory and transfer this to another body in better conditions, as a chapter of Altered Carbon (2018); or even direct it to the web and thus no longer need the body.
All this is summarized in a mechanistic philosophy, which states that nature, its structure, and functioning are comparable to the mechanisms of a machine. All living bodies, human, animal, vegetable, and their intrinsic processes, as well as their parts or components, must be understood or studied according to the natural laws of matter and movement. In the body seen as biological, natural, not artificial machine.
If this were a radical and totalitarian perspective, the human body would be synthesized to be a Zord controlled by a Power Ranger. We would be a kind of Mazinger Z (1972), Titans of the Pacific (2013), or Iron Man (1970). Our body would be the structural machine of bones and muscles, controlled by an internal character, a Gundam with its Mobile Suit (1979).
Here I could enter an infinite loop of questions. If the human body is the exo-skeleton of the brain, but at the same time the same human body can be inside another exoskeleton (Prosthesis Mech Racing), how many times can we be outside or inside what we consider our being or the point of origin. How many levels could this Matrioshka have?
These theories of the body as a machine seem to answer some of the initial questions, but they are limited to materiality, the physical and tangible. The brain processes the information, makes the connections, and sends all the instructions to the rest of the organism, as a response to an external or internal stimulus; working with a learning model based on its experiences that evolves naturally from the data it analyzes. And before all this (and again), where is the mind or the soul?
Mind is described as a set of cognitive capacities made up of imagination, memory, consciousness, thought, and perception. What we can manipulate through creative processes, is imagination. What we store on our hard disk is related to our past, memory. Reason, judgment, the construction of stereotypes or types of thinking, is thinking. The interpretation of sensations, perception. Last but not least the knowledge of our environment and ourselves, consciousness.
Soul / Spirit– ensuring we do not enter strict comparisons between these two concepts of soul and spirit, let’s talk about this mystical, intangible vital power; this existentialism that Plato describes as imprisoned in the body.
In the newspaper El País in the article Goodbye to the Soul?, the author quotes Henri Berg “if humanity does not give the soul, the spirit, a chance, it will be crushed by the weight of its technological progress.”
We could say that the soul is the representation of what we are, our stamp, our essence, the imprint of an accumulation of experiences, memories, sensations, relationships, traces, the compass that guides us towards our truth and higher self. Maybe (just maybe) the body is just a physical medium to collect those experiences. Could the soul be part of the mind, the mind part of our brain, the brain part of our body?
Who am I that writes? I am my soul, I am my mind, I am my brain responding to external stimuli. I am a biological software that writes on an artificial software that communicates with another biological software reading this article, all through our mechanical bodies.
Maybe there is no real answer. Are our minds even evolved enough to make in-roads into the question? Or more simply could the answer merely be whatever answer makes sense to us.