“Human, all too Human?” Transhumanism, Posthumanism and the “End of Education”
no. 02_september 2018
In 2045 it will be possible to cheat death. This, at least, is the future vision of Ray Kurzweil, engineer in chief at the Google Corporation, leading thinker of the transhumanist movement and eventually the most renowned researcher in the field of artificial intelligence (AI). In this techno-utopian vision, either ‘Nano-bots’ – minuscule robots circulating in our bloodstreams – will be able to fight diseases and help overcome the finiteness of human existence.
Posthumanism is broadly concerned with the questioning of human exceptionalism and the foundational role of ‘humanity’ as it has been constructed in modernity. Rejecting any clarity of distinction between ‘nature’ and ‘culture’, it works against dualism and the binaries we have tended to draw on to define what it means to be human.
Let’s start with the obvious. If you look at the word “post-human-ism”, it contains three elements: there’s the human in the middle, there’s the “post-” in front of it, and there’s an “-ism” at the end. An “-ism” usually tells you it’s a discourse, like humanism, too, is a discourse, in the sense that everything that is being said about the human, or to make sense of the human, is part of that discourse.
Concerns about the state of the environment, accompanied by calls for government action and education responses, have been around for decades. These concerns have focused on a variety of issues, most recently through the media alerting us to the need to respond to climate change, species extinction, and waste (particularly plastics) management issues.
The humanities have lost their prestige, funding, identity, and public purpose. Many metrics attest to crisis on undergraduate and graduate levels in the United States: low enrollments in humanities courses; decline in the number of majors; fewer degrees earned; the loss of positions; fewer graduate training programs; lower numbers of tenure-track jobs advertised and poor academic job markets.
It is assumed that the term transhumanism was coined in 1957 by Julian Huxley, a British researcher and the first director general of UNESCO (Wolbring, 2008). It nowadays refers to an intellectual movement that calls for the need to fundamentally improve the human condition, including overcoming the process of ageing, eliminating illnesses, physical and mental disabilities, and mental dysfunctions, through the use, as well as creation and development, of new technologies (Bostrom, 2003).
Genetic science has begun to escape the dark biological politics of twentieth-century eugenics. Since the sequencing of the human genome – the entire genetic structure of human DNA – was accomplished by the Human Genome project in 2003, ‘postgenomic’ science has advanced considerably.
I have long been an interested observer of the emergence and development of posthuman, actor-network and socio-material approaches to education and educational technology in the UK and elsewhere. I have seen friends and colleagues whom I respect devote a great deal of their time and effort to these approaches.
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