Mar 04 2012

Upgrading The Human Machine

""){ ?> By Valkyrie Ice


I’m sure you’ve probably heard about the “man without a pulse” artificial heart recipient, who’s been in the news so much lately, but if you haven’t, Popsci has an excellent article on it here. I’m bringing it up today because it’s an illustration of one of the biases that we as transhumans will have to overcome to actually become “Trans” humans.

Which bias is that, you ask? The idea that the human body as it currently is constructed is either “perfect” or that any “enhancements” must mimic how the body currently functions. I can remember the projections once made about the Jarvik heart, including this “commercial” that made it into Robocop which predicted the “Jarvik Sports Heart” for the athletic heart patient. Yet here we are in the future predicted to have completely replaced transplants with engineered replacements, and the artificial heart that “beats” is still a fantasy. Why?

You might as well ask why we don’t yet have airplanes with flapping wings. Then ask yourself why nature never evolved birds capable of flying faster than sound. The answer is that nature doesn’t always come up with the “best solution” – just one that works. Just like Leonardo’s flapping machines never flew, a beating heart has not merely proven exceptionally difficult to reproduce, but has proven to be needlessly complex in comparison to the likely future solution, a heart that has no beat, no pulse, and which pumps blood in a continuous flow, via turbine based “jets”.

And as the article explains, there are people who have been living without a pulse for more than five years with no ill effects. One was even a Central American man who after receiving a “assist pump” disappeared for 8 months during which time his heart completely shut down, yet without any medical supervision not merely survived, but reported he “felt fine” which was why he never reported back to the doctors for a checkup. Think about that. Then compare it to a Jarvik heart recipient who was confined to bed and connected to an air compressor 24/7.

We don’t need a heartbeat to survive. Or thrive. In fact, shackled as we have been by trying to make a “beating heart” due to the bias of thinking we had to duplicate nature, we’ve spent decades failing to create that future predicted in the commercial above. The “Natural Solution” has proven to not be the “Only Solution”, merely the one that evolved and was never replaced because biology has never had the option of “temporary shutdowns” to install upgrades.

And, like so many other features of our daily lives, we assumed that just because it HAD always been that way, that it MUST always be that way.

And that is a bias that we will have to face head on over the next several years, as we continue to find solutions to various problems that have existed for so long that many people can’t even recognize that they ARE problems. For example, has it occurred to anyone that even the artificial heart above continues to suffer from this cognitive bias? As the article points out, a single turbine has been sufficient to allow people a normal life, so why is the twin pump design of the heart STILL being copied? Why stop at two? Why not a network of smaller turbines distributed around the body, with enough redundancies that even in the case of multiple pump failures (due to, say, traumatic injury) their ability to supply blood flow to the body would be unimpaired? Why needlessly duplicate the twin pump design of the biological heart? Why design a centralized system at all? Yes, the human body might be designed to operate with merely one single heart, but that system is not the ONLY option, as this artificial heart proves.

The same goes for numerous other systems in the human body. For example, the human eye has a blind spot due to the rather ridiculous fact that the retina is constructed in such a manner that the optic nerve is connected to the FRONT side of the retina, which not only requires the nerve to be transparent in order to allow light to reach the retina, but it passes THROUGH the retina to connect to the brain. In order to compensate for the blind spot of the optic nerve, the eye has to twitch to construct a composite image of what’s in the blind spot. In other words, YOU CAN’T SEE WHAT’S DIRECTLY IN FRONT OF YOU! And in low light conditions, you can’t see anything there at all because of the brains inability to gather sufficient information to form a composite. Want to see this blind spot in action? Stare at a fixed point for more than a few seconds and you will notice the details vanishing from the center of your vision. It’s a very well established flaw with human eyesight. And it’s merely one of hundreds of peculiarities that the human body is riddled with.

So, the question is, will future recipients of artificial eyes suffer this same curse? Will they be shackled by this same blind bias that insists that we MUST copy EXACTLY the solution that nature used, or will they be laughing at all us poor people still tied to nature’s mistakes? How many other systems in the human body could we improve on? How many will we refuse to improve? And how long will “improvements” continue to try and duplicate nature before they realize that nature doesn’t need to be duplicated? How deeply imbedded in our psyche is the belief that we can’t improve on nature? How strongly well we need to fight to overcome this rather comical insistence that we have to duplicate the solutions evolution provided before we allow ourselves to realize that those solutions are neither singular, nor always the most efficient, simply the best nature managed to provide over the course of our evolution?

Nature could never “stop the machinery” to rebuild from scratch. It HAD to go with what worked, and build from there. Yes, until now we’ve never had a choice, we simply had to accept what nature gave us. But that is no longer true, and growing less so every day. We no longer have a choice about refusing to acknowledge that we have a choice. And the longer we refuse to recognize that the “human machine” is not only upgradeable, but direly in NEED of upgrading, the longer we condemn ourselves to lives shackled by the limitations blind evolution created for us.

So in the end, the question is why would you choose a life of limits, when you could have a future without them? And once people begin to realize that this IS the fundamental question of human enhancement, and more and more people begin to overcome these limits, maybe that question will become why did we ever allow ourselves to be limited in the first place?

  • By maximo ramos, March 5, 2012 @ 6:17 am

    This latest missive from Marvel Comics has so many errors in regards to basic human biology that I will leave it to Charles Xavier to explain…

  • By maximo ramos, March 5, 2012 @ 6:21 am

    also, the Nazi Double Eagle on your silly graphic is most relevant…steampunk nazi googles, soooo keeewl!

  • By R.U. Sirius, March 5, 2012 @ 9:56 am

    Article authors are not responsible for silly graphics. Are you serious?

  • By maximo ramos, March 5, 2012 @ 10:57 am

    don’t be asinine, Kenny. someone picked it, was it you? if so, hang your head in shame. How in hell am I supposed to know who chose it? Do you have worse taste and judgment than Mr. Ice?

  • By R.U. Sirius, March 5, 2012 @ 11:13 am

    Well, I mostly allow your comments… so the evidence is against me. Are you serious?

  • By maximo ramos, March 5, 2012 @ 11:24 am

    Graduate from the 4th grade, Ken. This is a _long_ overdue milestone in your personal development.

  • By More Goggles, March 5, 2012 @ 1:47 pm

    Steampunky funky sepia gogglenazi graphics is not just cool, but formally Cool. Go check yr Gropius, ‘ramos’. I likey.

    Seriously, ‘k, keepy uppy good work, Seriously.

    Anyway, it is the view from the Aesthetit Box. Fucksake.


  • By trollhunter, March 5, 2012 @ 1:51 pm

    It’s enough to make a bod wanna spike a troll. Call in the Sandman to sweep an Ass off the stage. But m ramos and his her its variations have a right(?) to share this space too, like, and, like, um, stuff.

    waste of fucking taps on the keys.

    Yeah, I gotta mind to spike a troll.

  • By Mr. Jelly, March 6, 2012 @ 8:13 pm

    The active Imagination is the preeminent mirror, the epiphanic place of the Images of the archetypal world; that is why the theory of the mundus imaginalis is bound up with a theory of imaginative knowledge and imaginative function–a function truly central and mediatory, because of the median and mediatory position of the mundus imaginalis. It is a function that permits all the universes to symbolize with one another (or exist in symbolic relationship with one another) and that leads us to represent to ourselves, experimentally, that the same substantial realities assume forms corresponding respectively to each universe (for example, Jabalqa and Jabarsa correspond in the subtle world to the Elements of the physical world, while Hurqalya corresponds there to the Sky). It is the cognitive function of the Imagination that permits the establishment of a rigorous analogical knowledge, escaping the dilemma of current rationalism, which leaves only a choice between the two terms of banal dualism: either “matter” or “spirit,” a dilemma that the “socialization” of consciousness resolves by substituting a choice that is no less fatal: either “history” or “myth” (Mundus Imaginalis, or the Imaginary and the Imaginal, by Henry Corbin).

    French philosopher and theologian, Henry Corbin (1903-1978) was one of the most important intellectuals and scholars of the twentieth century. I first heard of him in the mid ’90’s, after immersing myself in the writings of James Hillman. The latter saw him as a carrier of the torch of Soul, when many in those days were denying its value. In 1949, Corbin attended the Eranos Conference in Asconia, Switzerland, in which he would play a large role, along with C.G Jung.

    Most of us are aware of what Corbin means in the above passage by “active imagination.” If you’re not, read Gary Lachman’s wonderful essay at Reality Sandwich.

    We know the power and value of this gift that Jung rediscovered for our generation. It was by no means a Jungian invention, for mystics and seers have used it for millenia to enter another, more subtle world. Corbin dubs this realm mundus imaginalis, the world of the imaginal. He uses “imaginal” to differentiate from “imaginary,” and the disparaging connotations it carries in our rationalistic culture.

    Corbin’s worldview requires a complete cosmology and metaphysics of presence. The West once possessed this, but lost it when the Aristotelianism of Averroes swept aside the Avicennan cosmology in the twelfth century. From that point on, the emphasis would be on res extensa and res cogitans.

    Our typical idea of historical consciousness of a world of cold, dead objects and linear time will not work here. According to Tom Cheetham, “the human presence spatializes a world around it in accordance with the mode of being of that presence” (The World Turned Inside Out, p 66). This is very Heideggerian, reminding me much of Dasein. In fact, Heidegger was a major influence on Corbin’s work. This mode of being requires a qualitative, not a quantitative space. Our normal idea of space is much too limited for the limitless depths of Soul. That is why our urge to personify machines, as in the seemingly never-ending quest for so-called artificial intelligence, will never produce anything more than a cold, lifeless calculator.

    The mundus imaginalis is the realm of Soul, the metaxy, mediating between the physical and spiritual universes. It is the middle course Icarus was instructed to fly by his father, but disobeyed and perished. It is the abode of the Archetypal Images of all existence and the realm of all mythology, which provides for us analogical knowledge by which we can peer into multiple levels of being. Cheetham says,

    It is a measure of the depth of the catastrophe to which we have succumbed that we have come to regard this realm as just a fantasy in our heads. It is a realm of Being with its own characteristics, its own laws, and to which we have access by an organ of cognition appropriate to just this realm. The organ of cognition that gains us access to this universe is the active Imagination. It has a cognitive function just as fundamental as sensation or intellection, and like them, it must be trained. Therefore there are a perfectly objective imaginative perception, an imaginative knowledge, and an imaginative consciousness (ibid, p 69-70).

    I don’t know about you, but these are very exciting ideas.

  • By Jamal Hasibullah Faqiry, April 19, 2012 @ 3:55 am

    This is the greatest web site!

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