Report: Biotechnology convergence

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  Satyrs, Frankenstein, Machine Men, Cyborgs

The idea of hybrid beings between man and non-human entities can be traced back to mythology: mythologies, European and non-European are populated with beings which are both human and non-human, and which, because of this non-humanness, have served as reference points in the human endeavour of understanding what it means to be human. Perhaps "being human" is not even a meaningful phrase without the possibility to identify ourselves also with the negation of humanness, that is, to be human through the very possibility of identification with the non-human.

While in classical mythology, such being were usually between the man and animal kingdoms, or between the human and the divine, the advent of modern technology in the past two centuries has countered any such irrational representations of humanness. The very same supremacy of rationality which deposited the hybrid beings of mythology (and of religion) on the garbage heap of the modern period and which attempted a "pure" understanding of humanness, has also been responsible for the rapid advance of technology and which in turn prepared a "technical" understanding of the human.

The only non-human world which remains beyond the animal and divine worlds is the world of technology. The very attempt of a purist definition of the human ran encountered difficulty; the theories of Darwin and Freud undermined the believe that there was something essentially human in human beings, something that could be defined without references to the non-human.

Early representations of half man - half machine creatures echo the fear of the violent use of machinery, as in wars. Mary Shelley published Frankenstein in 1818, only a few years after the end of the Napoleonic wars. But machines are not only a source of fear exploited in fiction literature, their power and makes their non-humanness super-humanness. The French philosopher and doctor Julien de La Mettrie argues in his famous Machine Man that human beings are essentially constructed like machines and that they obey to the same principles. Machine Man provides a good example of how the ideas of the Enlightenment of human autonomy are interwoven with a technical discourse of perfection.

What human minds have later dreamed up about - usually hostile - artificial beings has segmented in the literary genre of science fiction. Science fiction seems to have provided the "last" protected zone for the strong emotions and hard values which in standard fiction literature would relegate a story into the realm of kitsch. Violent battles, strong heroes, daring explorations, infinity and solitude, clashes of right and wrong and whatever else makes up the aesthetic repertoire of metaphysics has survived unscathed in science fiction.

However, science fiction also seems to mark the final sequence of pure fiction: the Cyborg heroes populating this genre have transcended the boundary between fact and fiction, ridiculing most established social theories of technology based on technological instrumentalism. Donna Haraway has gone a long way in coming to terms with the cultural and social implications of this development. "By the late twentieth century, our time, a mythic time, we are all chimeras, theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism; in short, we are cyborgs", Haraway states in her Cyborg Manifesto. In cyber culture, the boundaries between organisms and machines, between nature and culture become as ambivalent as the borderline between he physical and the non-physical: "Our best machines are made of sunshine; they are all light and clean because they are nothing but signals".

In the Flesh Machine the Critial Art Ensemble analyses the mapping of the body, as in genetics, as one aspect of keeping state power in place, the other two aspects being the "war machine" and the "sight machine". The mapping of the flesh machine is a logical and necessary consequence of the development of the other two "machines". Cyborgisation is in the words of CEA, the "coming of age of the flesh machine", which, although it has "intersected both the sight and war machine since ancient times ... is the slowest to develop. " Representation is a necessary preliminary to violence, since "Any successful offensive military action begins with visualization and representation. The significant principle here .... is that vision equals control."

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Biotechnology convergence
    biotechnology summary
-3   body and mind as defects
-2   Implant technology
-1   Biotechnology: robotics and artificial intelligence
0   Satyrs, Frankenstein, Machine Men, Cyborgs
+1   Beautiful bodies
+2   The third industiral revolution. Life as a product.