Prosthetics & Posthuman Body Futures
Not all of us can declare, with any degree of certainty, that we have been human since the beginning, nor that we are only that. Karen Barad [Barad, 2007] uses the term ‘posthumanism’ to note a denial in taking a distinction between ‘human’ and ‘nonhuman’ for granted.
But, what is it in our behavior that we can call specifically human; that is special to us as a living species? Uncanny robots that mimic human activities, might elicit an innate fear of death, and play on subconscious fears of reduction, replacement, and annihilation, or remind us of our mortality [Mori, 1970].
Seeking for the future of the human body, and with a similar curiosity with the man of the 20th century who tried to imagine all the possible ways for the technological progress of his future, we suggest a new prosthetic version of the human subject. Click here for more information on the Polymelia Project. Like a Tati of the 21st century [reference his movie ‘Mon Oncle’, 1958], or similar with the posthumanism theory, we try to elaborate alternative ways of conceptualizing the future of prosthesis and of humanity. The relationship between the technological other and the human has shifted in the contemporary context, to reach revolutionary degrees of intimacy and intrusion. Vitruvian Man has gone cybernetic. Contemporary information and communication technologies exteriorize and duplicate electronically the internal of the human body. This introduces the process that Deleuze and Guattari call ‘becoming machine’ which is linked to the project of releasing human embodiment, to become bodies without organs. This aims to rethink our bodies as part of a nature-culture continuum, and sets the framework of recomposition of the bodily materiality [Braidotti, 2013].
The Reinvention of Normal: A Series of “What If”
In our case, by ‘extending’ the body, we do not only refer to its appearance, neither to the creation of an exoskeleton, nor a prosthetic structure, in order to simply upgrade one’s bodily performance. What we seek to do, is to frame an entirely new experience of perceiving the world, with the participation of our brain, muscles, and senses, every part of our current or future body.
What if we could create an augmented reality in the future, wherein we will be able to meet, interact, or sense people that are distant from us? Our brain and neural system structure is capable of recognizing stimuli under a given way in which it is already proficient. However, what if we can evolve the human body and its cognition in a degree where sensing and recognition could elicit more than their current state? In any case, will the unconscious be able to know the difference between the virtual and the actual, the intention and the action? What if our ‘metamorphosis’, ends up alienating not only the external appearance, but the inside of our body as well; if our upgraded future body results in dissociating people’s relationships? What if we start losing our ability to feel, think, and perceive the way we used to? Will that new body conclude being in our own interest, or were we supposed to be satisfied with our given initial form?
The Body As An Evolutionary Machine
The process of joining together bodies and machines is not about a manufacture or even just an artifact. What is primarily important is how an item of prosthetic technology is experienced. It is of secondary importance how a particular prosthesis is formed and utilized, operates or looks like, and how is esthetic success and its practical success influence its wearer’s ontology– the body’s experience of itself [Smith, Morra, 2006]. Duchamp, Bellmer, Stelarc, all of them considered the body as an initial prosthesis, as the original canva that they need to manipulate and redesign. Material reality and society are no doubt being reconceived, but so is the self. Contemporary science and the technologically mediated world, under a more socio-cultural frame, seeking on develop a ‘panhumanity’ [Braidotti, 2013] that indicates a global sense of inter-connection among all humans, and which also emerges an uncanniness under this new global proximity, these new forms of wanted and unwanted intimacy.
Prosthesis’ evolution, not itself living, whereby the human is however defined as a living being, composes the reality of the human’s evolution, as if with it, the history of life were to continue by means other than life [Stiegler, 1994]. Braidotti argues that life is like an addiction, an open-ended project that one has to work on. We don’t own it, but it is just passing and we inhabit it, not unlike a timeshare location. In this way human organism is an in-between that is plugged into and connected to a variety of possible sources and forces, like a machine. The subject is an evolutionary engine, occupied by its own embodied temporality, both in the sense of the specific timing of the genetic code and the more genealogical time of individualized memories [Braidotti, 2013].
Nonetheless, the body assisted by technical prostheses is a body without soul. Thus, the body itself is threatened with loss. It is not easy to imagine a society that would deny the body, after having increasingly denied the soul; however, that is what we are heading towards. We are progressively detaching ourselves from ourselves [Smith, Morra, 2006]. The extra-vehicular advancement in prosthetics is exiling us from ourselves, and in the near future will probable make us lose our ultimate physiological reference, that of the weighty mass of the locomotive body, axis, or rather seat of behavioral mobility and of identity. However, we cannot but reject any negative assumption this declares. Because in whatever way, we accept the body as being an evolutionary machine.
As Deleuze and Guattari enlighten us, thinking is about the invention of new concepts and new productive ethical relations. In this respect, theory is a form of organized estrangement from dominant values. More practical than critical, the Polymelia concept is becoming amputated from the classical visions of subjectivity and seeks toward an expanded vision of vitalist, transversal relational subjects. Just as we do not know what prosthetic bodies would be able to do, we cannot even begin guessing what post-prosthetic embodied brains will actually be able to think up.
– Karen Barad, Meeting the Universe Halfway, Duke University Press, 2007
– Masahiro Mori., The Uncanny Valley, IEEE Robotics & Automation Magazine, 1970
– Rosi Braidotti, The Posthuman, Polity Press, 2013
– Marquard Smith. Joanne Morra, The Prosthetic Impulse: From a Posthuman Present to a Biocultural Future, The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, London, England, 2006
– Bernard Stiegler, Technics and Time, 1994
– Gilles Deleuze. Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, 1980