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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
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MATTHEE, Machdel. Cyborgs and the future of the human spirit. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2013, vol.53, n.4, pp.530-557. ISSN 2224-7912.

This article reports on the influence of an important project of our time, the creation of thinking machines or cyborgs, on the essence of human spirituality. The popular work of Kurzweil was used as a starting point. Kurzweil believes that the cyborgs or man-machine hybrids will not only be a simulation of human cognition but also of consciousness and spirituality. In fact, they will be more than a simulation; they will enhance and alter consciousness and spirituality in a radical, unfathomable way. The basis of Kurzweil's argument is his law of accelerating returns, which predicts such a progress in technology that, if an algorithm for the working of the brain can be formulated, it will be possible to develop software emulating the conscious brain. In this way, current limitations experienced by human beings, including mortality, will be overcome. This assumption was investigatedfrom an anthropological view using Janicaud's concepts. The cyborg is seen as an illustration of people's innate desire to overcome the human condition. Humanity is characterised by a constant struggle to find a balance between the superhuman and the inhuman as the extreme states of human spirituality. This also characterises human liberty - humans are free to choose. Given this characterisation of humanity, the nature of the cyborg as superhuman is then considered. Different possibilities are sketched: the superhuman who will exercise the pure will to power (awakening the inhuman) or a person with a complete naïve freedom. The future is not easy to predict. Janicaud considers the view of the cyborg as superhuman to be a myth. The real danger facing humanity is the inhuman. The growth and progress of technology do not guarantee moral progress. Currently, technology seems to create a sharp divide between a privileged few and the rest. The two world wars in the previous century illustrated ways in which technology could be used to commit cold-blooded barbaric acts on a mass scale. In addition, biotechnology and other technological innovations could give rise to new forms of violence which can effectively be spread by new media. The inhuman is a place from where it is difficult to return. The challenge of our time is to carry the responsibility of our freedom in such a way that we can defend ourselves against our inhumanity; but in a manner that would enable us also to open up to the radical creativity and strangeness of superhumans lying dormant in us. It is clear that now, more than ever before, human spirituality needs to be as alive and rich as possible to rise to the challenge. However, the belief in technology as utopia enslaves the human spirit. We forget that we are the creators of technology and fabricate excuses for moral and intellectual abdications. Furthermore, the assumption that cognition can be mechanised or formalised leads to the disembodiment of intelligence and thought. Humans are placed outside of the world to which they belong. We become estranged from ourselves and each other. The human spirit seems to be wounded by the prevailing metaphors of disembodiment and mechanisation accompanying technological dominance. This article contributes to the call for the struggle for the re-enchantment of the human spirit. It is imperative that thinkers and innovators - leaders - create new metaphors to provide richer descriptions of humanity. Social sciences, having studied the human condition for centuries, might contribute valuable ideas. Technology can be used in this struggle, but only if human beings understand their own paradoxical nature as well as that of technology. The fortified spirit is one that accepts its mortality andfragility but takes responsibilityfor its freedom. In this way, meaning is re-introduced in the lives of human beings.

Keywords : cyborg; human spirit; re-enchantment of the spirit; artificial intelligence; technology; superhuman; the inhuman; mechanisation; post-humanism; human condition.

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