I recently read an article on cyborgs published in the US magazine Wired. The topic itself is not new, and there are already a number of adherents to this post-philosophical concept in the West. From Donna Haraway’s “A Cyborg Manifesto” written in 1985 to the adoption of a bill on cyborg rights proposed by cyber activist Rich MacKinnon in 2016 at the SXSW Conference in Austin, Texas, which became known as the Cyborg Bill of Rights v1.0, this kind of subculture has become rather influential and claims to be one of the trends in the modern world.
The author of the article, Noam Cohen, notes that a cyborg is any human being who implants artificial devices or machines in their body. And by that definition, writes Cohen, even someone with a pacemaker would qualify. The subject of his article, however – a young man called Kai Landre – is a completely different phenomenon. He has decided to be permanently attached to a machine because, in his words, “it makes him feel more fully himself”. He is also aware that some might see this as a paradox.
According to Landre, “[t]here are a lot of people who are afraid of stopping being human, so this is what makes people want to turn aside from technology. They think technology doesn’t belong to human nature […] I consider it a part of our evolution, as we actually created the technology. It came out of our minds.”
Landre is planning to install a system in his body that he has designed himself: an apparatus that will sense the unseen cosmic rays all around us. The device that will soon be implanted in his arm – he currently wears it on his hand – detects and converts these rays into musical notes, which Landre has mapped to the rays’ various frequencies. It converts these notes into the vibrations of a set of metal rods that will one day be implanted on the surface of his skull using a wireless connection.
In his words, “[b]one conduction lets me hear the cosmic rays inside of my mind without having to take away one of my other senses, which is sound.” At a recent concert, he even demonstrated how the music in his head sounds.
Once the devices are implanted, he believes that keeping them charged will be a simple matter of electrical induction. Instead of removing the devices from time to time and reattaching them as he does now, they will charge while he is asleep.
Landre gives talks at conferences to promote this idea of a new kind of implant, yet for all their focus on technology, he describes the achievements as a journey of self-discovery. He is part of a group of “transhumanists” who want to cast off the burden of what we call human. To dehumanise themselves, in other words.
Landre is not the first person who has decided to alter their combination of senses.
Neil Harbisson became the first official cyborg in 2004. Born with a congenital disorder that meant he could not distinguish colour, Harbisson came up with a unique way to solve the problem. He attached a device to his head that converts the colour spectrum into sounds. With the help of these sounds, he began to distinguish colours, and a device like a small antenna was fixed to his head. This “person with an antenna” became famous around the world and is an example of how technology can help people with limited capabilities. Leaving aside medical interventions like modern super-technological prosthetics, which are designed to compensate for lost or missing capabilities, “transhumanists” represent a more aggressive group of people whose objectives have not been defined and whose possible actions are unclear.
While Landre finds it “annoying to be limited to five senses” and contemplates how good it would be to have night vision like a cat, others want to experience something more extraordinary. People who are excited by ancient myths and legends, as well as modern-day fantasy films and stories (not to mention occult sects), are losing touch with reality faster, while relying increasingly on new technologies.
One such example comes from Korea, where a woman called Jang Ji-sung was able to use virtual reality headset to communicate with her daughter, who had died three years before. Judging by Jang Ji-sung’s own comments after the virtual reality seance, she rather liked the experience. However, experts have noted that the long-term psychological impact is still to be examined.
Undoubtedly, there is something dark and disturbing about stories like these. The post-modern mind will probably just accept “transhumanists” as a given, but how should the issue be regarded in terms of tradition? While the modern era’s more astute thinkers warned against such traps (Martin Heidegger on technology), religious authors and teachings were even stricter in their definitions. The Catholic philosopher Gabriel Marcel, for example, referred to the “technical man” as “one”, while technology itself is the result of degradation with regard to creativity. The “one” is also the result of degradation. By acknowledging him we create him, thereby allowing degradations to affect the appearance of reality. And who, these days, does not acknowledge the innovations of cyberbanking, telehealth, and other miracles of technology?
Marcel also notes that “a world where techniques are paramount is a world given over to desire and fear; because every technique is there to serve some desire or some fear.” Therefore, the triumph of technology is destroying the pillars of Christianity – the rejection of faith and hope at the very least. They are being discreetly replaced by some kind of technological simulacrum based on either a new kind of hallucination or the manipulation of physiological stimuli that will heighten the senses, but will be unlikely to replace the depth of a person’s spiritual connection with God. The freedom of choice rests with the individual.