There are more things in heaven and Earth, Western Man,
Than are dreamt in your philosophy
Western thought is built on the strange belief that body and soul are separate. This belief, originally, from Plato’s theory of dualism, has permeated through both religion and philosophy and extended to our conception of matter. Its new avatar is the Posthuman which Katherine Hayles dissects in her essay “How We Became Posthuman?”.
First, how did this happen? (A pre-requisite to understanding the Posthuman)
Confoundingly, the answer is not in the Bible. The Torah, the sacred Jewish text, contains no clear reference to the afterlife or the soul per se. There are some mentions of “Sheol”, a place for the dead, in Isaiah, Numbers and Psalms, but nothing specific. Additionally, the berit or covenant between Yhwh and the Hebrews explicitly references rewards in this world, and not the next.
In comparison, Sumerian, Egyptian, and Mesopotamian have afterlifes in their myths. Gilgamesh in tablet seven of his Epic journeys to the Netherworld or “house of dust”. Egyptians believed in an underworld called “Duat” which pharaohs could reach after death. The notable caveat is that all those netherworlds were corporeal. Gilgamesh’s companion Enkidu journeys with his body to the House of Dust. Pharaohs were entombed with all their belongings because earthly possessions traveled along with them.
The Greek philosopher Plato holds the blame for this grave ontological error. He was born around 400 BCE in the temporal vicinity of the Torah's writing. His widely popular Theory of Forms posited the existence of an invisible world of Reason inhabited by ideal forms. Whereas the physical world we lived is inhabited by imperfect representation of said forms. This abstraction of material reality is what Katherine Hayles evokes as the “backhand” in her essay. However, it was not yet reconciled with Judeo-Christian perceptions of body and mind. Jesus, declaring the new covenant in Matthew 26:26-28, says “This is my body / This is my blood”, still no presence of the soul.
This abstraction absent in the original Hebrew scriptures found its way into Judeo-Christian thought through a contentious translation. Philo of Alexandria, whose writings were influential to the new Christian communities of the first century AD, bridged the gap between Platonicism and the Torah. In the Septuagint, the Greek bible, Genesis 2:7, the original Hebrew “nephesh hayyah” which means “living being” is mistranslated perhaps as “living soul”. And Philo used this translation to fuse Platonic dualism with the scriptures. At this moment, as Philo’s writings grew in popularity, began the slow death of the Body in the Western World.
Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
The metaphysical implications of the severance of soul and body are severe. For instance, a belief in the soul and its continuation post-mortem positions the Earth as a mere transitory passage place before ascension onto Heaven. Many eco-feminists claim this belief in “Sky-Gods”, is responsible for our less-than-sustainable behaviours on this planet. But I digress.
What does Hayles mean by "Posthuman"?
For Hayles, posthumanism can be understood as a philosophy which privileges “informational pattern over material instantiation”, consciousness as an epiphenomenon, the body as prosthetic and being as compatible with intelligent machines.
I strongly agree with Hayles on the contentiousness of those claims and their implications. She poignantly claims that “virtuality is a cultural perception” as a strong example that despite the powerful array of physical and material technologies rendering the virtual perceptible, we chose to believe that what we perceive in the virtual is real, hence the paradoxical misnomer of “virtual reality”.
Posthumanism is the terminal stage of the teeming cancer of Platonicism. As thought evolved in the West, the body became secondary to mind, but at least humanism still centered its philosophy on human consciousness (even if its definition of human was limited). Posthumanism takes the gambit further, decentering consciousness, making it secondary, incidental, a mere epiphenemon. The body is now prosthetic, read “contingent”, perhaps even “fungible”.
Your little intelligence, my brother, which you call ‘spirit’, is also an instrument of your body.
Friederich Nietzsche, Of The Despisers of Body, Thus Spoke Zarathustra
Do not trust those who deny the existence of the corps.
The central event of the 20th century is the overthrow of matter
Alvin Toffler, co-author for A Magna Carta for the Knowledge Age (and known Despiser of Body)
To Descartes’ cogito ergo sum respond sum ergo sum!
I’ve written in my previous essay on Heidegger’s Question Concerning Technology about the danger or terror (to use Lyotard’s terminology) of technology. The danger is the death spiral where Human is continuously displaced until He is no more. This is the finality of the posthuman project.
The truth that technology reveals is one of dehumanization, loss of Being, and ultimately Extinction.
The Posthuman is the Robotic-Horseman of this Extinction. Make no mistake Dasein is a body.
In Western plains, the Body lays immobile corporeal flesh rotting from two millennia of homicidal attacks
And still hyenas, technologists, vultures, philosophers peck at it.
I pray, dear Reader,
You revenge its foul and most unnatural murder.