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1 . I N T R O D U C T I O N It has become increasingly common in recent years to hear predictions, whether fearful or celebratory, about the alarmingly transformational future in store for human subjectivity. Given the unprecedented advances made over the last few decades in genetics, neuroscience, and information technology, as well as anticipated innovations in nanotechnology and robotics, no aspect of the human condition seems impervious to radical alteration. Optimistic observers see the rate at which previously insurmountable bodily deficiencies and frailties are now routinely overcome, and new powers or capabili­ ties granted, to be evidence that there is no inherent biological limitation that cannot in principle be transcended. Such eschatological discourses welcome the potential for new technologies to transform and improve our inherited situation by relieving suffering and reversing aging, as well as boundlessly enhancing our intellectual capabilities through chemical and technological interventions into the brain. As the famous inventor and seer of the digital age Ray Kurzweil claims, “[we’re] going to gradually merge and enhance ourselves. In my view, that’s the nature of being human—­ we transcend our limitations.”1 In progressing toward “this future man, whom the scientists tell us they will produce,” as Hannah Arendt so presciently wrote sixty years ago, humankind seeks to exchange “human existence as it has been given, a free gift from nowhere (secularly speaking) . . . for something he has made himself.”2 By overcoming facticity with a state of pure self-­ creation we would finally have surpassed our finitude. The foundations for this increasingly intimate integration of the biological and the technological were laid by the cybernetics movement of the 1940s and 1950s, and brought into popular consciousness by contemporary science 2 I n tr o d u c ti o n . fiction writers. However, the vast leaps made in our scientific understanding of the brain and the human genome, along with advances in computing, have led to the recent acceleration of this tendency. An exemplary case is the emergence of quasi-­ miraculous neurotechnologies, which establish a direct channel of communication between a brain and a machine. From a philosophical perspective, their novelty and significance lies in the fact that they appear to present the possibility of overcoming the most general limitation of human subjectivity, namely, our confinement to the interiority and privacy of the mind. Such technologies represent a passage to the limit at which subjective interiority meets that which is irreducibly external to it. Rather than prostheti­ cally extending particular faculties or organs and triumphing over specific finite constraints, they act on the very limitation of finite selfhood as such. Our restriction to a self-­ enclosed interiority, known as ipseity in the philosophical literature, is, as F. W. J. Schelling says, the “original limitation” from which all experience derives.3 It is the grounding and most general mark of our finitude, underlying and conditioning all particular limitations, whether bodily or intellectual. Neurotechnologies therefore represent something of a terminal point in the narrative of human enhancement and a testing ground for speculative enquiries into the extent of our abilities to technologically transcend our limitations, which humanists such as Kurzweil consider to be of the very essence of human nature.4 By allowing for mental events to automatically bring about physical events, or for the thought of an object to be automatically externalized, the technologies in question intervene at the very limit point between interiority and exteriority , offering a truly unprecedented immediacy: an intention automatically brings about its own realization, a desire its own fulfillment, an idea its own expression. In short, possibility coincides with actuality with no delay and no effort expended. The primary question for us will be whether this amounts to a surmounting of the finite distance separating that which belongs to the mind and that which exists outside of it and beyond its power (the I and the not-­I in the language of Fichte). What remains of the interior-­ exterior structure of finite experience once we are endowed with a faculty of intervening directly with the mind into the outside world or other minds? How does this affect human creativity and how will it alter our sense of communicating with others? Beforeproceedinganyfurtheritwillbenecessarytospecifyindetailexactly what is meant by this term neurotechnologies and in what respects they rep- 3 I n tr o d u c ti o n . resent genuine novelty. The name neurotechnology refers to any technology that establishes a direct communication pathway between the activity of the brain and an...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781452956442
Related ISBN
9781517903329
MARC Record
OCLC
1038717089
Pages
240
Launched on MUSE
2018-06-11
Language
English
Open Access
No
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