3:1–Posthuman–Post 1 of 3

Quantum_Man

This summer I presented at a conference at York University where we discussed what it could mean to be posthuman in the context of international relations, and specifically for security studies. How can we define the posthuman? How would we know if we are posthuman? How about if we were never human (Haraway) or never modern (Latour)?

In my work, I write about the more than human; how human bodies, with their many messmates and commensals, can be used to think about politics in a complex, interrelated world. The pure human doesn’t exist and never did. In my side projects and teaching, I like to think about the human and technology. Cyborgs, robots, enhancements, medical technology. I focus on the drawing of the line between who we see as human and who doesn’t make the cut: when do we become nonhuman/posthuman/superhuman in this context? If we have a pig valve in our hearts? Cheetah legs for running? Exosuits for battle? Laser eye surgery? Performance enhancing drugs?

So, for fun I thought I might ask this question: Rather than biologically or technologically, how could we define a quantum posthuman? Metaphorically speaking. There are many new ideas in physics explaining quantum mysteries, new formulations on the behavior of light, and explanations for quantum entanglement, or spooky action at distance. If they aren’t making your mind explode, you ain’t reading ‘em right. What does thinking about bodies at the quantum level do for us up here?

Last month, The New Scientist featured an a new approach to quantum mechanics that explores quantum weirdness as a “sign of many ordinary but invisible universes jostling to share the same space as ours” rather than the early many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics in which the universe splits into pairs of parallel universes when a wave function collapses. In early interpretations, this means Schrödinger’s cat is both dead and alive depending on the universe in which you find yourself. The worlds do not interact.

In this new theory, argued by Howard Wiseman, at Griffith University in Australia, parallel worlds have always existed, and these universes interact by bumping or colliding into each other. This means the number of worlds would be finite and, with careful experiments, scientists could figure out how many worlds there are in total. And, amazingly, this raises the possibility that we could communicate with other worlds—and our twins that live there. Schrödinger’s cats could meet or go to each other’s funerals, I suppose. If there are multiple humans, occupying the same space, experiencing different lives, this seems to take questions of human subjectivity and individuality away from the traditional monist v. dualist debate. Our division between self and other breaks down—we are multiple versions of ourselves, unique but sharing the same space-time. We are always already Othered. Future theories of the human, (the posthuman?) would have to leave behind much of the current thinking that rests on the human as an individual. Like the sculpture above, Quantum Man, what if we are slices, or smears on a universal map of sorts?

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12 thoughts on “3:1–Posthuman–Post 1 of 3

  1. I don’t really see how adding these layers/complexities really change any of our lived senses of ourselves and more importantly for politics how we make our decisions. We really aren’t adding any new voices to the process (who will speak for the trees and how?) and at least in the US more diversity in government has added more tensions and resulted in more gridlock, no?
    As we already can’t handle the limited complexities we generally deal in/with how does adding more help?

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    • OHHHHH, the “so what” comment (a personal favorite for me too). I wonder about that sort of thing all the time when I am reading Haraway — so what? The comment “we have never been not cyborgs” or “we have never been modern” both strike, at first, a super critical note, but then moments later the gravity seems to lessen and one solution is “if we have never been not cyborgs, then being cyborgs is a universal thing, and therefore nothing particularly unique or interesting.” I am not sure I am willing to take that line of thinking to its logical conclusion; however, I can see the position being appealing to many.

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      • for me (not surprisingly) the point of emphasis is not on the abstractions but on what people are actually doing (and or are capable of doing), easy to manufacture all sorts of imagined imperatives with catchy names not so easy to assemble truly new ways of doings things off the page.
        For example academics regularly change the vocabularies (and occasionally/generationally the people representing differing related categories) they salute while leaving the organization of their depts/schools largely untouched.

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  2. A world without the “Human” was not really an option for me until recently in my academic career. Perhaps unknowingly in the past I was exposed to all manner of nonhuman agency (interest in ghost machines or machines taken-over by ghosts), fictional depictions of human/alien hybrids (as part of my love of sci-fi and fantasy novels), and a young obsession with human appendage augmentation (for example, I was really too interested in Schumann’s “finger strengthening device” used to make him a better pianist [even though now, looking back, I think he really only had advanced syphilis]). The only difference is — we didn’t call any of it posthuman even though perhaps some of it was.

    Here is a small beef I have and I’d appreciate some dialog on it. Part of what made those sorts of posthuman themes so interesting was likely exactly that the “Human” was so firmly entrenched in my/our thinking. So, what makes the posthuman interesting in a world without a stable sense of the human or individual? What I mean by that it is, what is the posthuman a viable alternative to if the human is not at least a little bit convincing. As Bartelson once said about state rejectionists (i.e., scholars that say “the state does not exist!”), having a critical theory of the state is somewhat akin to having a critical theory of unicorns or leprechauns — if the object of study is so unbelievable, critically rejecting it becomes intellectual horseplay at best. How does the posthuman dynamic makes sense of that?

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    • Part of what I am gesturing to in the first paragraph is about this very beef, Nick. Ultimately, I am not sure thinking about the “posthuman” as a category does much good methodologically. I talk about the more than human in that I do a assume something human and add to it. We decided at the workshop that it wasn’t really that useful. I think the interesting bit for me is what happens when we take away humanhood. The post human is a good foil for seeing what happens when people are seen as less/more than human in politics. I am trying to think it through in the sense that we have never been posthuman, I guess. I think our third blogger will push this further.

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      • Okay, “more” or “less” human is an interesting case for boundary work with some possible real-world applications too (lots of these divides in sociology over the last century — deserving versus the undeserving poor, for example).

        Also, this is just a side note: when you say “gesturing” in your response, what does that mean? I’m not trying to be a Socratic ninny on on this one, but what makes a gesture in this context a gesture rather than something else? Just curious.

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  3. dmf, I respectfully disagree–I think our very gridlock in US politics is that we don’t have enough diversity/plurality. Many voices can’t be heard institutionally (Tweedism is a big problem as well as corporate ownership of our Congress and Senate. What point is there in voting in an oligarchy where elite voices are the only ones heard? http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-echochambers-27074746). There are people who literally can’t breathe in America, and the rest can’t see or empathize.

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    • are you saying that the people representing us in government (and the people able to vote for them) isn’t more diverse than it was after WW2?
      even if we put that aside I think it doesn’t really address the how questions I raised, how do we add to the mix and how would it/we really be different from what we do now other than more data to potentially be processed?

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      • For my work, the posthuman is wrapped up in my ideas on the environment. It isn’t adding categories, but rather changing them that makes the difference. Dolphins rather than BP. I guess that I think if we can change the way we think about ourselves as humans (the green movement needs an affect that is different than “tree hugging”). We also can’t use “ecology” as a new opiate of the masses (Zizek says this well in the movie Examine Life) but rather as a way to not see the earth as only use value.

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