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Humanity: What Is It?

Eschatology seems to be a theme in the media lately. A couple weeks ago, The Guardian featured an article in which Kate Ravilious asked â??10 scientists to name the biggest danger to Earthâ? and assessed the chances of it happening. I figured that Christian fundamentalists might want to take stock in how the timing of a Second Coming might be crucial. By the time Jesus reentered the scene, humans could very well be extinct through telomere erosion or supplanted by super-intelligent robots. And then, what if the earth were swallowed by a black hole? That last one made me hungry and I opted for a snack, feeding my stomach while lightly chewing over in my mind how a literal bodily resurrection would work.

In the most recent issue of Utne, the possibility of altering the human body and mind is addressed in Alyssa Fordâ??s article, â??Humanity, the Remix.â? In the past Iâ??ve relegated terms like transhuman and posthuman to the stuff of science fiction. But modern advances in nanoscience, bioengineering, information technology, and cognitive science are bringing some of these concepts into the mainstream.

Alyssa Ford ends her article:

Amid the debate over whether these powerful new tools should be controlled, or even can be, one thing is sure: If we ever find ourselves stepping into a posthuman future, it will be for all the usual human reasons.

Not altogether comforting.

At the very least, such speculation compels us to reevaluate what being human means. Anne Skare Nielsen zeroes in on this topic in her article, â??New Technologies in the Dream Societyâ?:

The new technologies affect our myths and stories of what it means to be human, and what the natural boundaries are. When these 'irrational' feelings aren't respected, but rejected as misunderstandings, superstition, ignorance, and stupidity, it really isn't very strange that many people feel provoked and reject biotechnology en bloc.

Also:

The common view of humanity in the Western world is based on mankind being free and unique, and on species being static quantities that only slowly change. This collides with the scientific facts that tells us that many of our traits are genetically determined and constantly changing, and that there's no such thing as species boundaries. There's simply no biological evidence to support the claim that mankind is unique, sacrosanct or dignified and in possession of an integrity that protects us from anything. And if we talk about natural and unnatural, it is mankind that is the most unnatural in all the world. Compared with the majority of living organisms, everything from our sexual habits to our work to our ways of solving conflicts really is quite odd.

Oh, and here I thought being â??oddâ? made a distinctive statement. Looks like oddness is run-of-the-mill for humans.

Nielsen ends the article speaking about the importance of retaining a core of deep personal values, â??keeping a dynamic inner equilibriumâ? in the midst of a changeable society. That leads me to wonder how many humans would be proficient in discerning â??only the messages that have relevance or energy.â?

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