Friday, 22 February 2013

#EDCMOOC: Week Four: H+: Re-defining the human

It’s week four already! I will be so sad when this wonderful MOOC is over! Next week the artefact - agggghhhhh! Started the day with a Google Hangout with @andydmmitchell – talking about life, the universe and all things EDC – and he has wonderfully offered to help me put my artefact together next week… I know that the tutors have said to start this week – but Friday is my MOOC day, so today I do the viewing and reading – and posting… Next week I hope to put both Thursday and Friday aside for artefact production.

As a learning developer interested in creative, authentic and engaging teaching, learning and assessment practices, I have for a long time been promulgating (?) the setting of just this sort of an assignment in modules across the University, but it is only now in this MOOC that I can truly see the potential of this. In a couple of weeks I have a practical hands-on resource-making session booked with a group of Anthropology students, as you can imagine, I will be showing many of our artefacts to try and inspire theirs… And if you can think of any that I definitely should show – please let me know?

Week four: H+: Re-defining the human
Some truly beautiful films this week - especially Robbie and Gumdrop - both on the subject of Artificial life  - and both moving in very different ways. 

Film 1: Robbie (8:45)

Watch on Vimeo

Short, haunting and beautiful film about what is a good life – and a good death – through the eyes of AI Robbie. It made me cry…

Film 2: Gumdrop (8:05)

Watch on YouTube

Yes – it is true – after crying at Robbie, Gumdrop made me smile: a totally different perspective on AI and being ‘human’. Magic.

Film 3: True Skin (6:12)

Watch on Vimeo 

Yeah baby – here we are back at the dystopia that a misanthrope like me can relate to! This is Blade Runner+ … monetised, augmented, brutal… and not so scifi – ‘they’ are already buying the body parts of the poor…

Film 4: Avatar Days (3:54)

Watch on YouTube

Not really on the same theme as the others, to me… This is an exploration of our avatars – made ridiculous perhaps by striding through the ‘real world’… but… 

So what's so special about augmented reality?
When I was oh so much younger we played Dungeons and Dragons – I was an Elf - with magic powers – and we made up a board and built our strange world and played together – on quests – gathering ‘treasure’ …  and it was compelling and we were engaged – and thus it was real.

Winnicott (1971) argues that play is essential to counter the implicit threat of transitional spaces: between worlds, between social classes, in alien educational settings – he also argued that it is only in play that we are really our true fiercely alive selves. No wonder we love these virtual, augmented spaces so much. It is not technology, but the monetised world that dehumanises us all.

I was reading Rick’s thoughtful blog:  and commented as he does on the recurrent trope: the fear that these virtual spaces diminish us – reducing our emotional intelligence, make us inhuman … but when I walk in the real world and parents teach their children not to move aside for other pedestrians and not to smile at their neighbours and not to care for the elderly or the infirm – surely *that* is what makes us inhuman? When neo-con governments offer us ‘choice’ – by which they mean giving the care of the social side of our lives to private corporations to cut costs, wages, accountability, services… surely *that* is what makes us inhuman? (Oops – back here again! Moving swiftly on…)

In this post, I am going to focus on just one reading:

Bostrom (2005) ‘Transhumanist values’ reproduced from Review of Contemporary Philosophy, Vol. 4, May (2005)

Reflection on the potentialities offered to us mere mortals if we were trans-human or post-human (H+) – oh the wonders that we could behold, the things that we might do… 

I do see and understand the arguments made here – but so many of us could do so much in the scant years we have been allotted if only we lived them!

Think Groundhog Day – after the protagonist cursed with living the same day over and over stops trying to kill himself he learns to play the piano, he learns to love life and he finally learns to love his fellow human beings – and he is allowed to live his normal life again.

Fear, insecurity, insurance policies and pensions – all convince us to keep quiet, don’t rock the boat, don’t reach for the stars; to stay in our box and not live the life we could lead… Sadly I see that this H+ debate contributes to this worst side of us fearful humans. As I read , I hear, if only, if only, if only… If only I had been born rich, a boy, a girl, healthy … someone else altogether. If only I’d been dealt a better hand… been braver, stronger, more independent.

Whilst wrapped in intellectual justification and reasoning, debate on the potentialities of an H+ future seems to be just another aspect of the addiction of being in capitalism. Capitalism needs us to want and to buy – it requires us to yearn and to strive - to be restless and discontented. Capitalism needs us to be forever unhappy … always to project towards tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow… an endless stream of tomorrows of greater potentiality and happinesses – all purchasable – no down payment necessary.

Well – that is addiction pure and simple. The addict is never in *this* moment – but always yearning for another moment… or, as Schopenhauer put it, only oscillating between the pain of wanting something and the despair of having it.

There is only today and the life we have, the health and class and gender and aptitudes that we have … This video (will change your life) is serendipitously moving around FB atm and seems to capture it so well:

Live your life . Feel your dream. Find your joy – and do that thing.

It’s no surprise that so many lose themselves in the wonder of augmented reality given the paucity we accept in our real lives. It is only a miracle that more don’t disappear into the virtual forever… So don’t just save the Whale or the otter or the Greater crested newt – let’s save ourselves – now and in this life and today…

So I really cannot take H+ and that debate too seriously – yes – wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was telos – and teleology - the world developing positively: the work and the wealth and the wonder shared equitably; life and technology moving forward ethically and with concern for justice, kindness and love - but it ain’t so.  But I/we do have today – and I/we do have this very shabby body (well, I do) – I/we do have this limited life span – and if I/we try to live this one well… then being human *will* be enough.


Willa Ryerson said...

Sandra, I absolutely love the way you write! I agree with everything you say about living in the NOW and accepting the limitations of this "mortal coil". I mentioned somewhere, that "post human" isn't all that appealing to me. I've always loved this quote and to me says it all.“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children…to leave the world a better place…to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.” Ralph Waldo Emerson."

Deborah L Gabriel, PhD, MD said...

Sandra, I like your very thoughtful way of eliciting a truth I agree with, and thank you, Willa for the Emerson quote, lifted my day

Britt Watwood said...

Good post, Sandra. I was thinking about your remarks about Rick's post and the fear that these virtual spaces diminish us – reducing our emotional intelligence, make us inhuman … and yet I have found some neat "human" moments in this massive online course. Our interactions between students and with our Fab Five Faculty - to me - are enhancements, not diminishments (is that a word???)

Sandra Sinfield said...

Absolutely, Britt... I am much more disconcerted by the casual indifferences of real encounters in the street than I am by the virtual per se... and this particular MOOC experience has been full of life and joy and warmth ... And very real people.

Cathleen Nardi said...

Sandra. I really liked this post, mostly because it resonates so well within me. I was thinking the same thing as I read Bostrom's piece. Why would I want that? I, too, want to live each day as if there was no tomorrow, revelling in the beauty of this place called earth. Thank you for touching our souls. I love the Alan Watts video (it's going around more than just FB), and Willa, thank you for reminding us of Emerson. I love this quote!!