Cyborg Eschatology: Whitehead and the Posthuman (Part II)

ii. A Model for Post-Organic Actualization

The central question we will soon contend with is this: Are beings who are other than organically human to be defined as “persons” or “humans” just as readily as we define any “person” who “extends themselves” into the world through merely their organic body? One day soon, there may be a ‘being’ who extends themselves into the world through merely a computer interface. On the screen in front of us, we may see a line of text which – in that moment of time – is the only extension of a being’s body into physical space. Yet this text and its animating underpinning may contain a degree of intellect that transcends that screen: is this a being with a soul? Perhaps that being may even construe themselves as possessing no other body than lines of text or ‘code.’ Without a recognizable body or thinking capacity, can a being still be “transcendent”?

It is an obvious – and oft used – trope to respond in the negative. As others have noted, such these nihilistic replies come out of an innate fear of “otherness” or a lack of understanding of the possibility of what it would mean to answer in the positive. Yet according to computer scientists and other scientists of the mind, we are rapidly approaching the era when we cannot help but be confronted with the need to create more inclusive definitions of embodiment in the world. One useful model for studying this rapid emergence of new forms of consciousness can be found in Whitehead’s thought.

Whitehead, of course, spent much effort on creating a new approach to metaphysics; in many regards, he hoped to unite science and theology with his “process thought.” Thus, much of his focus was on describing and defining how the base elements of all existence – down to matter and time itself – functioned. As process theologian Marjorie Suchocki summarizes:

“The subject emerges in concrescence, beginning with feelings of data from the past, or the given actual world. These feelings are termed prehensions by Whitehead, so that the subject prehends the data of the past. The subject also prehends or feels the possibilities for its own future. Through the unification of these, which requires a constrasting and evaluating until the complexity is reduced to a simpler unity, the subject creates itself in the present. The movement can also be called a progression from the physical pole (actuality), through the mental pole (possibility), toward the concrete unity of the two, which is the creation of a new actuality.”

This description is of the becoming of an actual occasion of experience – or more commonly, an occasion. The entire process is creative. It is creative as the unification of actuality and possibility (“concrescent creativity”) Creative because it evokes a new becoming ( “transitional creativity” – “superjective nature of the occasion”). This Whiteheadian process attempts to describe the dynamics of all existence, on a sub-micro level, yet also on a human consciousness level.

In this light, the model can be seen as a description of our own integrally relational psychological nature… yet its primary purpose is to provide a model for understanding the “building blocks” of existence. In this paper, I hope to use the Whiteheadian model of how an actual occasion comes into existence as a guiding model to think about how new states of being come into existence. In short, it may be interesting to conceive of our relationship with post-human embodiment in the same model, writ large. Instead of moving at a sub-molecular or sub-conscious level of being in the general flux of the universe, we can observe this occasion of experience coming into being on the macro-scale, so to speak, as we watch the slower concrescence of a new being (the AI-enhanced human) emerge out of the recent “primordial” organic-only human being.

We are more than our bodies, but our present organic bodies could constitute a liminal place between our present and past and our future actuality. In this regard, it is interesting to note that Luce Irigaray writes of the body as “the threshold, the portal for the construction of . . . universes.” I would venture to say that the body, in both Whitehead and Irigaray’s thought, is the site of transformation and creativity. After all, the process of creativity, in actuality, is inseparable from the entitities of the process. As Whitehead writes in Process and Reality: “Every condition to which the process of becoming conforms in any particular instance has its reason either in the character of some actual entity in the actual world of that concrescence, or in the character of the subject which is in process of concrescence.” Creativity is, and is only, in creative actual entities. If the body instantiates and incorporates a series of “entities,” we must consider what it means to be creative with that container of entities, that generator of possibilities.

In Whiteheadian terms, all persons are so-called “societies” of actual entities: what we call the “soul” is merely a governing “strand” or thread of occasions. When we add bodily additions or begin to project our consciousness into spaces and matter that was not originally part of our organic experience, we are simply adding more – and different – “strands” of occasions to our continual transitional creativity. We are, to some extent, simply enlarging our souls as we transcend our organic bodies.

Yet how do we define such transcendence? After all, philosophers of the human mind and philosophers of the ‘computer mind’ are rapidly converging on the same problem of how one defines the moment of self-transcendence. Does this occur when a certain degree of intellectual activity is attained? Or does it happen in self-awareness? Or even in awareness of an ‘other’ as subject or object? In any case, both onto-theologians and computer programmers agree that it must take place in an essential unity of self-awareness and ‘personhood’ as an incorporated being. A being cannot be separated from its own ongoing realization. As Whitehead writes: “Thus the consequent nature of God is composed of a multiplicity of elements with individual self-realization. It is just as much a multiplicity as it is a unity; it is just as much one immediate fact as it is an unresting advance beyond itself.” Thus, it is also intriguing to find an identical concern with “unity” and “self-realization” goes beyond material or biological function in the realm of computer science.

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