[ExI] The denial of death, transhumanism, and the abolition of embodiment

Charles Holland neuro_chemical_engineering at hotmail.co.uk
Thu Jun 9 18:30:29 UTC 2011

Hello all,

I am writing a paper that tries to relate transhumanism (posthumanism) to the ideas expressed in Ernest Becker's Denial of Death. My question is how technological changes/enhancements to our body might affect our 'anality' (as Becker puts it). Taking this to the theoretical extreme, suppose a large part of society is uploaded and living in a virtual environment. Suppose a child is uploaded immediately after birth and grows up in this virtual environment.

The first thing that would be different in such a virtual world is the absence of some basic bodily functions: we would no longer require eating (and thus defecating). This is not to say we could not still enjoy it, but it's a constraint released, and thus something we no longer have to find a place for in our worldview.

Taking a 'Second Life' approach to such a virtual world may conjure up an image where people can perhaps dress a little funny and choose to have athletic bodies, but still be embodied. People would still be able to walk should they want to, be able to place one foot in front of the other, and feel the sensory feedback as their feet touch the pavement. We would still feel as being embodied in a certain location in space. This still holds if we should choose to embody ourself in some more exotic forms, such as a bird or a fish (be they androgynous or not). To what degree will we still experience the Oedipal complex in this situation?

Taking a step further, living in a virtual environment may permit an unembodied existence, but this is hard to think about because none of us can probably imagine such an existence. However, supposing that such a form of existence will eventually be made possible, will this finally and completely abolish the dualism between our symbolic and physical selves?

The technology that might one day allow this kind of virtual existence, according to Becker, has come about precisely due to the burden of our bodies, and the ensuing heroism projects. Supposing that the answer to the previous question is 'yes', would this imply that, because this ultimate human drive has fallen away, most if not all technological (or artistic) development will essentially come to a halt?

I would very much appreciate discussion on the points raised in the previous paragraphs. Of course I don't mean to insinuate that I have the answers to any of the above questions, or even after (a hopefully fruitful!) discussion on this list. However, I feel that talking about these issues is quite essential to a transhuman philosophy, so they warrant our attention.

With regards,Charles

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