InsightNovember December 2006

Human/Non-Human Interface: The Emergence of New Forms of Embodiment in the 21st Century

Arthur Saniotis

Introduction: Human Evolution and the Roots of Consciousness

There is little doubt that the last four hundred years have seen a resurgence of humanism that has led to the development of scientific genres.  The centrality of human science in the modern age is perhaps without peer.  It is science which presently informs human knowledge of the universe while contouring technological advances in various areas.  Recent discoveries in genetics and artificial intelligence (A.I.) have impacted on traditional worldviews which privilege Homo sapiens with unique cognitive and affective faculties

The formation of different kinds of human consciousness appearing in different parts of the world in the last 100,000 years ago may be suggested to characterise the inherent creative patterns of the universe.[1]  Paleological findings reveal that in the last 40,000 years four kinds of hominids lived on the earth — Homo Sapiens, Homo Neanderthalensis, Homo Erectus, and Homo Florensiensis.  In places like the Levantine, Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens co-existed for long periods.[2]  Their cultural tool kits suggest similar kinds of cultural repertoire.[3]

The emergence of human cognitive abilities may be explained by the punctuated equilibrium theory which argues that evolution progresses in sudden leaps, followed by relative stability.[4]  In this scenario, Homo Sapiens were ready at about 70,000 years to take a quantum leap into the realms of consciousness which lead to the efflorescence of sophisticated cultural behaviours.  The evolutionary model purported by both Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme point to a time developmental universe where physical evolution coincides with spiritual evolution.  In this theory, the spiritual impetus of evolution drives physical organisms to greater complexity.[5]  Greater complexity may also mean the development of self reflexive awareness in which the universe becomes conscious of itself.  Thus, the spiritual blueprint of the cosmos is teleological ― the transformation of matter into consciousness is an inevitable evolutionary event.  Such a transformation is not only miraculous in evolutionary terms but is inexplicable to the stochastic model of science.

Notwithstanding the progressive studies in human physical evolution in the last twenty years, the efflorescence of human cultural evolution remains a mystery.  The aspect of universal creativity and consciousness has been elucidated by the metaphysical model of the Andalusian Sufi philosopher Muyhiddin Ibn 'Arabi (1165-1240).  Ibn Arabi’s model proposes a novel approach to understanding universal evolution which is set apart from Islamic orthodoxy or “mainstream Sufi tradition.[6]  Kernel to Ibn 'Arabi’s metaphysics is the notion of “self disclosure of being.”  This paper will argue for an approach towards understanding new forms of human embodiment which may arise in the 21st century which elaborates on Ibn 'Arabi’s ‘self disclosure of being.’ In order to understand how new forms of human embodiment will arise, an overview of Ibn 'Arabi’s metaphysics is necessary.

Quantum Evolution: ‘Self-Disclosure of Being’

As many scholars would agree, it is a difficult task to encapsulate the prolific nature of Ibn 'Arabi’s philosophy.[7]  In many ways his thought is an apotheosis of metaphysics and philosophy and is perhaps unparalleled by any thinker in the last one thousand years.  Any examination of Ibn 'Arabi’s notion of ‘self disclosure of being” must begin by way of the foundational Islamic ideal called tawhid (Divine Unity).  In Sufi thought tawhid testifies to the unity of existence by its plurality. On this theme Nasr states:

 The spirit of Islam emphasizes, by contrast, the unity of Nature, that unity that is the aim of the cosmological sciences, and that is adumbrated and prefigured in the continuous interlacing of arabesques uniting the profusion of plant life with the geometric crystals of the verses of the Quran.[8]

Like other Sufi thinkers, Ibn 'Arabi’s universe manifests the supernal quality of tawhid; existence is informed according to Divine beauty (al-jamal), as characterised by the organisational patterning of biological life.

Ibn 'Arabi decrees that the universe is a manifestation of Divine self disclosure (tajalli; plural, tajalliat).  The impetus for the ‘self disclosure of being’ is summed up in the famous Sufi saying, “I was a hidden treasure and I desired to be known, so I created the universe.”  In this sense, “the Divine conceives of the possibilities contained within itself,”[9] and brings them forth into existence.  As noted by A. E. Affifi:

God revealed Himself to Himself" in His "First Epiphany or Particularisation (al ta`yyun  al awwal) in which He saw in Himself and for Himself an infinity of a`yan as determinate "forms" of His own Essence, which reflected and in every detail corresponded to His own eternal ideas of them.[10]

Corresponding with the emanationist theory of the neo-Platonian Plotinus, Ibn 'Arabi classifies the Divine into two categories; being formless and beyond attributes (Ahadiyyah); secondly, possessing characteristics (Wahidiyyah) which are referred to as a’yan thabita.  Each Divine attribute is a receptacle, “a limited and determinate form of the Essence” which is differentiated from one other while being inter-dependent.[11]  Each Divine attribute is a carrier or mediator of the Divine essence and contains in itself limitless creative possibilities.  In a Batesonian sense each Divine attribute mediates universal mind.  What is significant is that for Ibn 'Arabi the creative processes which are immanent in the physical universe are also immanent in the world of dreams, the world of imagination, and the world of thought.[12]  Ideas which lead to new kinds of knowledge and invention are part of the universal entelechy towards self disclosure.  In human beings imagination, reason and sensory perception inter-relate (dawq).  Twentieth century thinkers such as Teilhard de Chardin, Thomas Berry and Gregory Bateson have reaffirmed Ibn 'Arabi’s “parallelism between biological evolution and mind.”[13]  As Bateson notes:

What is crucial is the preposition that ideas … have a cogency and a reality.  They are what we can know nothing elase.  The regularities or “laws” that bind ideaw together ―these are the “verities.” These ar as close as we can get to ultimate truth.[14]

Cognate with the Heracleitian dictum of cosmic flux, Ibn Arabi notes that the universe is undergoing perpetual change and is “being created anew at every single moment … “new creation”(al-khalq al-jadid).[15]  Izutsu commenting on Ibn Arabi points quotes, “the Absolute is continually manifesting itself in the infinity of ‘possible’ things.[16]  Cosmic creation in its entirety is continually being transformed kaleidoscopically, including the world of thought and the world of imagination.[17]  Each moment contains quantum possibilities for exploration, change and evolution.[18]  Ibn 'Arabi’s universe is poised within a dualism between possibility and reality; a dynamic evolution of new orders, new life worlds, new knowledge, and new kinds of consciousness ― a quantum universe.  “Creation never ceases while the entities are receivers which take off and put on (existence).”[19]

While it is easy to assume that Ibn 'Arabi’s metaphysics is articulated within a panglossian ambit which views a steady spiritual progress of human kind, this in not the case.  Human cultural evolution has exhibited a tendency to various defaults which have threatened societies.  Here, Ibn 'Arabi’s dualism is evident when he says that nothing exists without “its opposite existing.” (Beneito, p. 5).[20]  In social experience this may be characterised by a certain situation where there is a potential for either violence or peace to arise, or for peace to evolve out of a violent confrontation, or visa versa.

Redefining Humanity: The Age of the ‘Cyborg Continuum’

Having elucidated Ibn Ibn 'Arabi’s metaphysics, this section will unpack his notion of ‘self disclosure of being’ in relation to new kinds of human embodiment in the 21st century.

The last quarter of the twentieth century was marked by an upsurge in cybernetic technology which is referred to as the age of globalisation.  For the first time in human history human beings have been able to communicate through various technological and social scapes, to coin Appadurai.  The dawn of the global age has been promethean in that it has given homo sapiens the ability to tinker with their own evolution.

From an evolutionary point of view the present age is witnessing the hybridisation of human beings into a “cybernetic organism.”[21]  For Donna Haraway, this process is apparent in many aspects of our inter-subjective lives.  The advent of the cybernet has supplanted face to face relations into disembodied forms of sociality, blurring the boundaries between human/machine.  Here we see the use of cyber talk, cybersex and cyber relationships, mediated by computers.  The internet represents a further technologisation of the body or what Donna Harraway (1991) calls the cyborgisation of homo sapiens.  According to Harraway, “cyborgs embody the obfuscation of human consciousness which fuses imagination, production and material reality.”  “People are cyborgs” Maheu tells us “when pieces of them are undeniably tied to the computer as an extension of themselves.”[22] Haraway contends that the flexibility of cyberspace is that it has been able to transcend kinship bonds and, therefore, avoid the social responsibilities associated with kinship systems.

The global cyber network has been crucial to the creation of a global ‘noosphere’ ― a planetary matrix of online minds which communicate in ‘real time’.  When Chardin proposed the idea of the ‘noosphere’ he envisaged it as a next step in human evolution, a creative nexus of human minds which are embodied by cyberspace.  In Ibn 'Arabi’s metaphysics the global internet has created a new order for the self disclosure of being as it has enabled people to redefine the parameters of the body and mind, and to reinvent new kinds of inter-subjectivity, or what Fry refers to as a ‘cyborg continuum.’  The ‘cyborg continuum’ “consists of possible cyborg combinations that replace, assist, enhance, augment, and improve organic bodies through mechanical and artificial interventions and implantations.” [23]

Important here is that for many denizens of the internet, the cyberbody is sentient and experiential as their physical bodies.  For instance, Hamman details the experiences of a young female patient called Rebecca who has supplanted physical sexual relationships with men with cybersexual relationships with men since she believes that the former are both immoral and unsafe.[24]   Rebecca’s ‘cyborgasms’ coincides with Abrahams (p. 67),[25] and Schutz, who claim that human beings operate “both within and between various worlds and their realities.”[26]  No matter how people infer “this movement between abstracted and physical worlds or between ordinary and extraordinary states of awareness, it entails a co-existence between the individual and Other.”[27]

New Embodiments of Mind

Evolutionary algorithms have for over a billion years developed ways on improving the possibilities for the emergence of life.  Human created algorithms are a means of expediting evolution to unknown levels.  The philosopher Nick Bostrom formulates that advances in computational neuroscience and nanotechnology may transform human understanding of the mind.  Thinkers such as Bostrom and Kurzweil concur that computer intelligence will be on par with human intelligence around 2020, which will in effect make Moore’s Law redundant.[28]  From 2020 computational singularity becomes possible via a combination of quantum computers and nanotechnology.  According to Kurzweil, computer intelligence will grow exponentially.  By 2060 computers will simulate human brain power of one billion brains; by 2099 this will increase to one billion times greater than all of the human beings living on earth.[29]  An alternate estimate is offered by Eric Drexler who has calculated a computer design the size of a sugar cube which can perform 1027 operations per second.[30]  Similarly, Seth Lloyd predicts “an upper bound for a 1 kg computer of 5*10^50 logical operations per second carried out on ~10^31 bits.”[31]  Estimations aside, computers will be unlike anything which we know at present.

At present, the brain genome is underway which will lead to understandings in the brain neural network.  Understanding of the dynamics of the neuronal network may facilitate in a breakthrough in the mind sciences.  One by product of this cognitive breakthrough will be the initiation of innovative ways to improve “cognitive potentialities” among people (De Giacomo et al, p. 95).[32]  Advances in computer intelligence will work concomitantly with neuroscience leading to new kinds of fusion between human brains and computers.

Bostrom writes on the possibility of mind uploading via neuroprostheses that would allow individuals to “plug in to cyberspace.” This would entail the disassembling of brain cells, “molecule by molecule, scanning off the neural network,” and then running an emulation of the neural configuration on a computer.[33]  According to Bostrom, mind uploading is more viable than in vitro repair of the biological brain.[34]  The person’s cyber mind would then be downloaded into a robotic body.[35] Humans will be able to make back-up copies of their mind simulations, thus giving the recipient a method of surviving their biological body and ensuring “unlimited life-spans.”[36]

The neuroscientist Susan Greenfield offers an alternate view in which humans live in a futuristic virtual reality.  Based on the ideas of the physicist Freeman Dyson future humans will engage in neurotelepathy which is facilitated by the interface of electronics and the human brain.[37]  Input form the outside world would be intercepted by cyber-network and tapped into the sensory perceptions.  “By fabricating a cyber-world that taps into the senses, which then work in the usual way, neurotelepathy might have far more purchase on our minds” than the intrusion of brain electrodes.[38]

Ibn Arabi and New Worlds

The 21st century world is undergoing rapid social and technological change.  The advent of global cyber networks has informed worldwide market forces and communication systems.  The growth of the cyber network has already changed the nature of social relationships.  Using Ibn Arabi’s model cyber space has led to the formation of new kinds of social relationships and novel ways of cyber embodiments.  This trend will continue.  Greenfield notes that because the “cyber-world is endlessly accommodating and forgiving” future generations may favour cyber-relationships than face to face relationships.[39]  The more people use the cybernet the more skilled will they become in finding different kinds of companionships which ‘real life’ relationships cannot offer.[40]  One reason for this is due to the imaginative factor which is inherent in cyber net culture.  For instance, people may choose various pseudo identities and create fictional selves.  These fictional selves may offer people ways to play out fantasies in ways which are socially circumscribed.  In this way, the fantasy creation feature of cyber net culture is mythopoiec.

The mythopoeic aspect of the cyber network may enable people to be hooked up into it via uploading mind simulations which may then meld with the mind simulations of others.[41]  The fusion of multitude mind simulations may be a new evolutionary step and engender innovative kinds of subjective and intersubjective experiences and awareness.  Again, in an Ibn Arabian sense, the fusion of thousands or millions of minds with cyber space may lead to a new kind of global consciousness.  This kind of human/machine symbiosis may gradually supplant the notion of the individual and will certainly “transform how we think of our bodies.”[42] The western notion of the self will itself become redundant in a “carbon-silicon” world where reality and fantasy are blurred[43] and where human minds may become embodied within a global noosphere. The global noosphere would have at its disposal all kinds of sensory enhancements and altered mind state technologies which humans may plug into.  One possible future scenario is that a global network of human mind simulations will be analogous to a universal communitas[44] ― a new form of transcendentalism in which participants may experience a state of “flow,” “impregnated by unity … purified from divisiveness and plurality” (Turner, p. 255).[45]

Notes:

[1] Berry, op cit.
[2] Tattersall, op. cit., p. 68.
[3] Op cit.
[4] Kurzweil, Ray. 2000. The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence. New York. Penguin Books .P. 334.
[5] Berry, Thomas. (1990) “The Spirituality of the Earth,” in Charles Birch, William Eaken & Jay B. McDaniel (eds.) Liberating Life: Contemporary Approaches in Ecological Theology.  Pp. 151-158. (Accessed on September 23 2006, at http://www.radical.org/many_worlds/SpiritOfEarth.html).  Swimme, Brian. (1997) “The Universe is a Green Dragon: Reading the Meaning in the Cosmic Story.”  In Context: A Quarterly of Humane Sustainable Culture. Pp. 1-14.
(Accessed on September 23 2006, at http://www.context.org/ICLIB/1C12/Swimme.htm).
[6] Atif, Khalil. 2005. Review of Peter Coates Ibn ‘Arabi and Modern Thought: The History of Taking Metaphysics Seriously.(2002). In Journal of Religion and Society 7: 203.
http://moses.creighton.edu/jrs/2005/2005-r9.html
[7] Khalil. op cit.
[8] Nasr, S. H. 1969. “Introduction,” Science and Civilization in Islam. New York: New American Library.1969. http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/med/nasr.html
[9] Affifi, A. E. 1938. The Mystical Philosophy of Muhyid Din-Ibnul Arabi. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. P. 47.
[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid., pp. 34, 36. The Byzantine theologian, Maximus the Confessor purported a similar archetypal theory.  He says: “In God the ideas (logoi) of all things are fixed; thus…God knows all things before they come forth, for they are in him and with him….All things created are defined, both in their being and their becoming, by their own particular ideas or logoi” Gregorios, Paulos. Mar. 1987.  The Human Presence. Amity, New York: Amity House. P.76.

[12] Clark, Jane. 2001. Fulfilling Our Potential: Ibn 'Arabi's understanding of man in a contemporary context.

http://www.islamicdigest.net/love/irfan/arabi/potential.htm

[13] Bateson, Gregory. 2002. Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity. Cresskill, New Jersey: Hampton Press. P. 172.

[14] Ibid., p. 178.

[15] Izutsu, Toshihiko. 1983. Sufism and Taoism: A Comparative Study of the Key Philosophical Concepts. Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten. Found in Correspondences between the Sufi Ideas of Ibn Arabi and Physics.

http://www.valdostamuseum.org/hamsmith/Sufiphysics.html

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Bateson, op. cit., p. 44.

[19] Chittick, William. 1989. The Sufi Path Of Knowledge ― Ibn `Arabi's Metaphysics of Imagination.  Albany: State University of New York Press. Found in http://www.livingislam.org/i/gcsd_e.html

[20] Beneito, Pablo. 1995. “On the Divine Love of Beauty,” Journal of the Muhyiddin Ibn 'Arabi Society XVIII: 1-22.

[21] Haraway, Donna. 1991. “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century,” in Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York:Routledge. Pp. 149-181.

http://www.stanford.edu/dept/HPS/Haraway/CyborgManifesto.html)

[22] Maheu, Marlene. M. 2006. “The Future of Cyber-Sex and Relationship Fidelity: A Brave New World Booklet,” Selfhelp Magazine.

http://www.selfhelpmagazine.com/booklet/cyborg.html

[23] Fry, Jenny. 2000. “The Construction of Cyborg Bodies:
Fact, Fantasy and the Cyborg Continuum” Soapbox Girls: The Technology Issue. November.

htttp://www.soapboxgirls.com/soapboxgirls/nov00/articles/cyborgs.html

[24] Hamman, Robin, B. 1996. Cyborgasms:Cybersex Amongst Multiple-Selves and Cyborgs in the Narrow-Bandwidth Space of America Online Chat Rooms. MA Dissertation by Department of Sociology, University of Essex, 30 September.

[25] Abrahams, R.D. 1986. “Ordinary and Extraordinary Experience,” in V.W. Turner and

E.M. Bruner (eds.) The Anthropology of Experience. Urbana, IL: University

of Illinois Press. Pp. 45–73.

[26] Schutz, Alfred. 1970. On phenomenology and social relations : selected writing. Edited and with an introduction by Helmut R. Wagner Chicago : University of Chicago Press. P. 225.

[27] Saniotis, Arthur. 2002. Sacred Worlds: An Analysis of Mystical Mastery of Sufis in North India.  PhD Dissertation. Department of Anthropology, The University of Adelaide. February. P. 18.

[28] At present computer power is doubling ever 18 months.  If current rates of computational advancement are maintained then computers will reach human brain power by 2020. Bostrom , Nick. 2000. “When Machines Outsmart Humans,” 2000

Futures 35 (7):759 -764. http://www.nickbostrom.com/2050/outsmart.html

[29] Kurzweil, op. cit., p. 105.

[30] Drexler, K. E. 1992. Nanosystems: Molecular Machinery, Manufacturing, and Computation. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., cited in Bostrom, Nick. 2003. “Are You Living in a Computer Simulation?” Philosophical Quarterly 53 (211):243-255. http://www.simulation-argument.com;

[31] Lloyd, Seth. 2000. “Ultimate physical limits to computation.” Nature 406 31 August: 1047-1054, cited in Bostrom, Nick. 2003.

[32] De Giacomo, P. Mich, L. Storelli, M. , De Nigris, S. , De Giacomo. A. , Tarquino, C. , Masellis, R. 2004. “ A Method to Increase Students’ Cognitive Potentialities using the Elementary Pragmatic Model.” In Daryl R. J. Macer (ed.) Challenge for Bioethics From Asia: The Behaviourome Project. Pp. 95-101.

[33] Bostrom, Nick.  2000. “The World in 2050,” Broadcast by BBC Virtual Reality, August 14th, http://www.nickbostrom.com/2050/world.html

[34] Ibid.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Bostrom, Nick. 2001. “What is Transhumanism?” (Original version appeared in 1998, here slightly revised and with a postscript added in 2001)

http://www.nickbostrom.com/old/transhumanism.html

[37] Greenfield, Susan. 2003. Tomorrow’s People: How 21st Century Technology is Changing the Way We Think and Feel. London: Penguin Books. P. 66.

[38] Ibid. p. 67.

[39] Ibid. p. 78.

[40] Ibid. p. 78.

[41] Bostrom (2000) op. cit.

[42] Greenfield. Op. cit.,  p. 79.

[43] Ibid. p. 78.

[44] The term communitas was coined by the anthropologist Victor Turner.  Turner proposed that during religious rites there is a phase in which ritual participants are “betwixt and between” social categories which govern conventional life.  During this phase called communitas social distinctions between ritual participants are temporarily annulled; they are drawn to each other by feelings of comradeship, egalitarianism, unity, and equality.  Turner, Victor. 1969. The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure. Chicago: Aldine. P. 95.

[45] Turner, Victor. 1978. “Encounter with Freud: the making of a comparative symbologist.” In G. and L. Spindler (ed.), The Making of Psychological Anthropology. Berkeley: University of California Press. Pp.558-83.  Turner linked the idea of “flow” to the religious experiences of pilgrims, expressed by feelings of unity and empathy towards all

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