Category Archives: Transhumanism

Human Enhancement in Theory, Practice and Superhero Comics 1: Human Head Transplants

Hello humans.

Welcome to the first of new series of posts where I highlight how some specific human enhancement technologies have been developed, their real world applications, their philosophical implications and how these have played out in the pages of the superhero comic book. So if what you really want to see are pictures comic book characters who have had their heads transplanted then scroll on down, because there is going to be plenty of it.

For those of you hanging around still, here’s a bit of context. If you follow this blog then you’ll already know that my name is Dr Scott Jeffery and that my PhD thesis was on the posthuman body in superhero comics (for a condensed version of the main ideas click here). Anyway, a book that draws on the thesis but is less painfully academic (I want to say it’s ‘accessible’, but that I suppose, is a question of taste) is on its way in early 2016 (more details as and when). In the meantime, as I was editing and rewriting it occurred to me that the book doesn’t really focus on specific technologies as such. So for this new series I want to go into more detail about specific technologies and how they have been presented in posthuman theory, practice and superhero comics. Saying that, this is still the blog, so the depth and breadth of each of these articles will probably vary somewhat.

We start with one that is not mentioned at all in the book but has recently been making its rounds on the hive-mind of social media: human head transplants.
Continue reading

Advertisements

Thesis Review Part Three: Reader-text assemblages

Part One of this ‘thesis review’ introduced the philosophical and theoretical concepts that guided the research undertaken in my thesis. Part Two elaborated upon these ideas- paying particular attention to the concept of the rhizome-and suggested that the field of Comics Studies could be considered as rhizomatic. It then went on to demonstrate how approaches to studying superheroes that utilised structuralist theories and/or analysed the superhero comic in terms of representation and ideology could be understood as broadly humanist and based on an arboreal model of knowledge whereby the ‘meaning’ of the superhero could be reduced to a single explanatory trunk. It then went on to argue for a Post/Humanist approach to superhero comics that, rather than an arboreal model, adopted a rhizomatic approach. To aid this understanding a cultural history of the posthuman body in superhero comic was adopted. It was then demonstrated how this moves the analysis of the superhero away from ideology by understanding the development of the superhero through the Golden, Silver, Dark and Modern Ages of comic books in terms of historically situated assemblages.

 If the rhizomatic cultural history was suggested as a theoretical corrective to the limitations of ideological analyses then it was also important to address the implied reader at the mercy of ideology in these approaches. As such my thesis involved another strand in which I interviewed comic book readers about their views on the superhero and posthumanism more generally. This was seen as a methodological corrective to the problems outlined in Part Two.

In this section then I intend to familiarise the reader with historical approaches to the question of texts and reader/audiences. Having done this I next offer a model of text-reader relations that draws on the concept of assemblages outlined in Part One. Because of the ethical issues involved and the fact it’s not officially complete yet I will not be presenting the data from my interviews here on the blog at this time. Instead this review presents a brief history of audience studies, highlighting some of the dualities that have informed scholarly understanding of reader/text relations, and how these dualities follow on from the same historically established philosophical dualities that critical Post/Humanism is generally engaged in critiquing. As such I offer a model of reader-text relations as an assemblage, illustrated by a brief overview of historically situated comic-reader assemblages in the Golden, Silver, Dark and Modern Ages of comics. Continue reading


Grinders, hackers and makers versus the “grim meathook future”

In an interesting rumination at transhumanblog the author muses that:

As the imminent emergence of a transhuman society begins to take to shape and moves increasingly from the realm of theory to fact, transhumanists and futurists are going to have to start asking some hard questions. No longer can we focus simply on the technological challenges of creating such a future, but we must also consider what those technologies imply for society and the international community. Much has been written and said about the threat of uneven distribution of these technologies…Little has been done to address these concerns though, and what has been done tends to focus on inequality within the developed nations that most futurists are from.

This is an interesting point and worth elaborating upon. Hence this post. The author above is right to raise the point that such critiques “focus on inequality within the developed nations that most futurists are from“. Given that the libertarian technological utopia espoused by some transhumanists is only made possible by a globalised economy we would do well to address the question of global disparities. As the author above goes on to write:

it is of paramount importance that we focus strong attention on the technological and infrastructural gap that exists been post-industrial and developing nations. Unless we take strong, positive action to address these issues, transhumanism will not be the global revolution we hope it to be, and we will instead take the form of the techno-oligarchs that we fear.

In a similar register Joshua Ellis has noted that:

There are nearly a billion Facebook users in the world, and half a billion Twitter users (though of course there’s probably nearly a 90% overlap between those two). Those are indeed astonishing numbers, but the problem is that sometime around March 12, 2012, we passed seven billion people living on Earth. That means that the vast majority of humans aren’t on Facebook or Twitter. The majority of people have mobile phones, but there are more people still who don’t have mobile phones than use Facebook.

Most of us never see these people, of course, except as faces briefly glimpsed in the background of news footage. They are outside our Big Room. Not because we’re intentionally keeping them out, you understand; at least, not really on any overt institutional level. Basically. We don’t do that any more, and we feel good about it.

It’s just that living in the Big Room is expensive, you see…and, well, these people can’t afford it. They don’t have Facebook because they can’t afford the technological artifacts that would allow them to be on Facebook. They don’t tweet about how much the new version of iOS sucks, because they don’t have any way to tweet and they damn sure don’t have a device that will run iOS, because these devices cost more than these people often make in a year.

For all the utopian dreaming of  transhumanist philosophers it remains the case that much of it remains rooted in a Western libertarian tradition. Continue reading


Man, if only there were a list of Posthuman Documentaries…

I thought it might be useful and entertaining to compile a list of documentaries that deal with posthumanism/transhumanism. Being absurdly busy with finishing up the PhD and gearing up for the Edinburgh Festival I haven’t bothered with any commentary on them but hopefully its useful to have them all gathered in one place. Suffice it to say that naturally they vary in detail and focus but never the less anyone wishing to know more about the subject might want to start with these. Especially if you are too lazy to read a book. Most of them are available online so links are included. Continue reading


Posthuman Social Policy

One of the things that comes up when people ask about my thesis (an action they soon regret-I do go on) is a sense of surprise. Not just because I managed to secure funding. More because the idea of the posthuman still has a whiff of science-fiction-with emphasis on the latter- to the general public. Almost everyone is familiar with say, Arnie’s cyborg The Terminator or the super-humans of The Avengers, but the notion that such beings might become a reality are generally dismissed as either ridiculous or thousands of years away. In fact, one of the problems any proponent of Transhumanism must face is the inability of most current humans to think beyond their own lifetime; or to think in deep time, if you like.

Of course, writers like Ray Kurzweill  and others argue for an exponential development of science and technology (see here for more on ‘accelerated change’. In which case our post human future is not a question of deep time but one that requires a public debate in the present. Current developments in techno-science push us ever closer to a point beyond the existential dilemma of knowing who we are to the ethical question of knowing what we want to become. Choosing which of the qualities we have come to define as human we wish to retain. If any.

At any rate, that is a discussion for another post. What I want to do here is present a list of various governmental and parliamentary reports that relate to the development of the posthuman. This is not a complete list, I’m sure there are many more of these from various countries and research groups, so if anyone knows of any please do get in touch and pass them on. I’m sure there’s an interesting comparative study to be done of the local differences of approach. A flavour of such differences may be gleaned here. I’m going to put them in reverse chronological order because I want to end by highlighting the importance of a public debate about post/transhumanism. More importantly, I hope that this list at least provides sceptics with evidence that these issues are no longer the sole province of science-fiction. These are real governmental reports addressing real questions. And of course they are all hyper-linked for your reading and research pleasure. The search for a posthuman social policy starts here!

Continue reading


Posthumanism/Transhumanism/Superheroes: A Bibliography

With the deadline for my thesis looming I have been going through the various bits and pieces and ensuring all the references are there. It occurred to me that at least one bibliography, covering the literature review on Posthumaism and Transhumanism, might be of interest to readers of this blog. I will of course put the full bibliography for the thesis up at some point after i’ts completed. In the meantime my Google Library contains several of the works I have used as well as more besides dealing with posthumanism, the body, superheroes and comics studies more generally. I try to keep the Google library updated whenever I come across across a new text so it is becoming quite a useful resource. They can be found by clicking here.

On a related note the next Comics are Magic will be a bibliography of works relating to religion, magic, mythology and superheroes. That should be up in the next couple of weeks. And since I have nothing published as yet, I can at least draw attention to my own two papers dealing with superheroes, posthumanism and Transhumanism; Producing and Consuming the Posthuman Body in Superhero Narratives and The Silver Age Superhero as Psychedelic Shaman. Or if you’d prefer just to read the abstracts for those two just click here.

Specifically, this post presents a list of those works that directly invoke the comic book superhero to talk about posthumanism and/or transhumanism (but not the many works which merely mentioned superheroes in passing). Such approaches are relatively rare, at least in academic terms, so I hope this list proves useful to anyone thinking of exploring this intersection.Where possible, I’ve tried to hyperlink them to their source. Hopefully some day my own thesis can be added to this list. It goes without saying that my thesis would not exist at all without these preceding works. Hopefully this short bibliography will prove of inspiration and use to others. So let’s begin. Continue reading


Anarchy and Posthumanism Part 3: Anarchist Superhumans

In my thesis I have made a distinction between the types of posthuman body found in comic books and how these relate to various other versions of posthumanity in philosophy and transhumanist texts. Of particular interest in terms of posthumanism and anarchy is what I call the posthuman Cosmic Body (more detail can be found by clicking on the link). This final post on Anarchy and Posthumanism (part 1 is here and part 2 is here) will consider how anarchism has been presented within superhero comics and note how these representations usually chime with this vision of the ‘Cosmic Posthuman’. Continue reading


Transhumanism,Eugenics and Human Neophobia

Nazis+Posthuman=Bad News

A forthcoming paper in the journal Ethics, Policy and the Environment entitled “Human Engineering and Climate Change” has recently caused a bit of a hoopla for daring to suggest that the notion of human enhancement deserves “further consideration in the debate about climate change“. The paper includes a disclaimer stating:

To be clear, we shall not argue that human engineering ought to be adopted; such a claim would require far more exposition and argument than we have space for here. Our central aim here is to show that human engineering deserves consideration alongside other solutions in the debate about how to solve the problem of climate change. Also, as we envisage it, human engineering would be a voluntary activity – possibly supported by incentives such as tax breaks or sponsored health care – rather than a coerced, mandatory activity.

Never the less, according to an article in The Grauniad a flurry of hostile reactions to the paper (abetted by an interview in The Atlantic with it’s lead author S. Matthew Liao) ensued:

terms such as “eugenics”, “Nazis” and “eco fascists” were quickly being bandied around. One sceptic blogger said  that the “sick” Liao and his co-authors should be “kept in Guantanamo”. Another said  the paper “presages the death of science, and indeed the death of reason, in the West”. But prominent environmentalists were also keen to denounce the paper. Bill McKibben tweeted  that the paper contained the “worst climate change solutions of all time”. Mark Lynas tweeted  that he thought it was an “early April Fool”. It was hard to disagree.

The phrase ‘it was hard to disagree’ at the end there is telling, and invites us to ask why trans/posthumanist ideas are often so quickly dismissed? It is only hard to disagree with the notion of bioengineering humans being an April Fool if it already seems foolish to you. These reactions probably highlight the twin poles of ‘human’ reactions to posthumanity. Continue reading


Psychopathenomics 2: Corporate Posthumanism

In a previous post tilted Psychopathenomics I highlighted a number of studies suggesting that the corporate world-especially high finance-attracts psychopathic personalities, and suggested that our current economic and social systems serve both to reward psychopathic behaviors and foster it in others. It got some interesting responses. So in this post I want to suggest that psychopathenomics rests on the production of a version of posthumanity that I’m going to call the Corporate Posthuman. And that moreover this ‘philosophical’ vision of Corporate Posthumanity has serious consequences for the future implementation of Transhumanist enhancement technologies.

(Although some of what follows is bowdlerised from a chapter in my thesis a discussion of the broader themes would take up too much space and lord knows my blog posts are already very long. However, if anyone wants to know more my paper Producing and Consuming the Posthuman Body in Superhero Narratives provides an overview of the thesis that should help contextualise this particular variation on posthumanity, while my paper The Silver Age Superhero as Psychedelic Shaman offers a vision of posthumanity that is in many respects the opposite of the Coporate Posthuman)

First of all its important to note that many see the emergence of the Corporate Posthuman as a natural and healthy evolutionary development. Jeffery Skilling, the disgraced former president of Enron, for example, reportedly saw Richard Dawkin’s book The Selfish Gene as providing a sort of evolutionary explanation-and impetus-for his own corporate machinations. As discussed in this here video clip from the excellent documentary Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room:

Continue reading


Superheroes, psychedelics, counterculture, magic and posthumanism: Best post ever?

Hello humans.

My paper “The Silver Age Superhero as Psychedelic Shaman” is now available HERE on Nth Mind or HERE if you’d prefer a printable version with illustrations (and who could blame you?).

I’m very happy with this one. But then, of all the types of posthuman body discussed in my thesis the Cosmic Body is the one closest to my heart and the vision of posthumanity that is most capable of ensuring the greatest happiness for all. Posthuman bodies require posthuman minds!

Valuable context is available in the first paper, “Producing and Consuming the Posthuman Body in Superhero Narratives” (click the tile to read that), which lays out my idea that the discourse of the posthuman is a matter of bodies -discourse being not just representations (talk, language), but also material practices. So for example, ‘genetic engineering’ is not just a matter of science-fiction but also a real-world techno-scientific practice. Not to mix my academic work with parlance of hip-hop but this shit is real, baby.

This posthuman discourse consists of three overlapping discursive domains-speculative Trans/humanism (also including ‘real-world’ tecno-science); critical-philsophical Post/Humanism (in which include people like Foucault, Haraway) and of course Superhumanism (the realm of science fiction, but also comic books). Superhero comics offer a delicuos smorgasboard of posthuman bodies. Considering these bodies lets us also consider how they are found in the other two discursive realms.

Without going into too much detail (you can read the paper for yourselves after all), this paper takes a rhizomatic journey through the Cosmic Body, following the hidden underground root systems that link superheroes with the psychedelic counterculture of the sixties with Transhumanism’s forebear the Human Potential Movement with eastern mysticism with Nietzsche’s critique of Humanism with shamanism with Western occultism and the scientist-shaman with Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol with One Flew over the Cuckoos Nest with, well, you get the idea.

(The paper isn’t written in this style I should add. I’m a professional, I just blog as an excitable child with a precocious interest in esoteric ideas and countercultural philosophies)

At any rate, this paper is a point where it feels my academic, philosophical, personal and creative interest came together as one. A point where, as I say in the paper, critical theory and cultural criticism can become productive and transformative practices rather than simply nihilistic and deconstructive (not that that doesn’t have its own appeal).

Make your own minds up, of course ( and anyway, in a couple of months I might think it’s rubbish) but I would love to hear any comments, criticisms and suggestions. Anyway, once again, because I wrote more there than I meant too, here is “The Silver Age Superhero as Psychedelic Shaman“.