Transhumanist beliefs and ideas echo deeply rooted desires in human beings. Why do these desires seem to find an unprecedented response through science and technology? What are the conscious and unconscious motivations of transhumanists? How could “augmented humans” feel inside themselves? Can we really download ourselves, modify our bodies, without losing what makes us human? These are the questions that the new journal Anticipation , available in bookstores, asked psychoanalyst Cristina Lindenmeyer.
Cristina Lindenmeyer is one of the few psychoanalysts to specialize in augmented humanity. “ Initially, I worked on bodily transformations in the field of somatic illnesses and eating disorders. Then, I was led to develop a research work on cosmetic surgery, on what pushes to practice this type of intervention ”, she confides to us.
His early work didn't have much to do with augmented humanity and transhumanism, but it already had some connection with the principle of body modification. Then the research center " connected and increased human health ," the Institute of Communication Sciences of the CNRS , asked him to participate in research on repair of prostheses and performance.
"Freud thought that the development of scientific knowledge would give humans the feeling of being prophetic gods"
“ The techniques which make it possible to repair man are also those which can increase it. I discovered all the interest of this field of research, which makes it possible to update the postulates of psychoanalysis. As early as 1929, Freud spoke of the feeling of helplessness in men. He believed that the development of technological objects and scientific knowledge would in the future make humans feel like prophetic gods. It is a visionary idea, since it considers the transhumanist current . Cristina Lindemeyer believes that transhumanism is largely based on illusions inherent in the psychological construction of human beings.
Anticipation: What drives human beings to want to repair and increase themselves?
Cristina Lindenmeyer:The desire to repair or increase is inherent in the psychic construction of the human person. This desire starts from the feeling of helplessness of the infant. We arrive in the world after nine months, but without the possibility of being able to evolve in it on our own. This infant is going to be filled with the excitement of being alive, but he cannot control anything himself. He needs another to help him, to take care of him. This other is the mother, or in any case the parent who motheres him. This meeting with this person, who can assist him, will appease him. This first appeasement generates a form of pleasure that will leave a mark. This will build up the desire, the quest for satisfaction. The human will then constantly seek to find this initial pleasure and will be inhabited by impulses in this direction. However, this initial pleasure is never found. He will constantly encounter limits: death, illness, aging.
In Brazil , the film by Terry Gilliam, some characters are ready to do anything to stay young…
From this original feeling of helplessness, he will feel the need to seize auxiliary objects, the goal of which is to counterbalance his failings. Basically, the process of wanting to repair and / or increase one's body with a prosthesis has always existed and we can say that, for humans, the first prosthesis is the mother. It is on this infantile ground that the technical and technological policy is organized, based on the promise to cure us of our failures. For transhumanists, technology is almost like a Salvation, as if it would allow us to experience that state of wholeness that has existed for a few minutes with the mother.
Doesn't this movement considered as "progress" mask a phantasmic regression?
This transhumanist progress, by placing all the answers in technology, evacuates the pleasure of becoming great and independent. This is part of a promise, based on infantile illusions, and in particular that some device could replace the fact of encountering limits. Transhumanists believe that new technologies can find solutions to everything. They mirror back to us our childhood desires and illusions. Human beings are complex: when we were children we dreamed of being grown up, when we become adults and grown up we dream of becoming children again ...
This desire to improve the human condition is therefore the result of a "lack »To compensate?
Yes, this will to repair is linked to the infant's original feeling of helplessness and to his experience of lack. We created the technology to come and alleviate this lack inherent in our condition. Except that where the illusion is is that this appeasement is never maintained, it catches up with us through the vagaries of our life. And fortunately, because it is the shortages that make it possible to have the will to move forward, to progress, to create.
"For transhumanists, human nature is a handicap to be eliminated"
All these human failures push us to find innovative solutions to live ... if we are no longer confronted with the vagaries of life, we lose this engine that motivates our desires. But transhumanist ideology is nevertheless obsessed with the idea of finding a way to get rid of these hazards and these shortcomings. For them, human nature, given that it comes with all its faults, is a handicap to be eliminated. They want to create new beings who will be able to overcome illness, death, aging. However, this should not be seen as the only mark of a struggle against human finitude and limits. In fact, they maintain a simplistic vision of something complex: the body is not a machine, it is the place of a story that is woven through sensations.
What would be the potential side effects of an augmented humanity?
It is not a question of underestimating the gain brought by techniques offering to individuals treatments which give them back a space of autonomy, but it is clear that these same techniques simultaneously engage them in a movement of “technological dependence”. Clinically, we observe the increasing appearance of symptoms not foreseen by these transformations. This “hybrid” state draws patients into a clinch with the technique, provokes new bodily and phantasmal experiences, of which we do not yet know all the stakes. There's a flood of complex questions… and answers we don't yet have regarding long-term effects.
"The human body cannot be seen as a machine whose parts can be repaired and changed"
The failings of the human condition are also its strength. However, as we said previously, the transhumanists are at war against these failures ... without seeing that when we try to liquidate them on one side, they will reappear on the other side in the form of new symptoms. The human body cannot be seen as a machine whose parts can be repaired and changed. When we correct one lack, we develop others. For example, the most visible these days is addiction : if we lose our cell phone, we are in a situation of anxiety.
Another example, to illustrate the idea, would be the case of Oscar Pistorius , this former athlete who has legs in carbon prostheses. Initially he was a disabled person, but with this prosthetic repair he became a high performer, one of the fastest sprinters in the world. This is a good example of increasing human capacity. Except, yes, he was running faster than everyone else ... but as soon as he stopped, he fell. These prostheses gave him the illusion of augmentation, allowed him the time of the race to be better than the others, but once he stopped, impossible to stand. In other words, when you win on one side, you always lose on the other.
Can we imagine in some people a psychological rejection of the fusion of their body with technologies?
It already exists. Doctors sometimes come up against a paradox relating to the effects of the device on patients. The situation can be summed up as follows: the intervention is technically successful, but unsatisfactory from the point of view of the effects on the patient, sometimes leading him to varying forms of rejection to the point of asking in certain cases to be “mismatched”. This gap between technical efficiency and the unexpected aspect of its subjective effects demonstrates the strength of the human dimension, which resists, which always returns.
These rejections make it possible to introduce the need to take into account the subjective dimension in these situations. When something is modified, transformed in this place which is the body, it will require from the human part a time of internal reconfiguration. It doesn't have to be done easily, sometimes it's unbearable. In these cases, the technology can even be seen as breaking into the body. The process is similar to that of illness, which requires recovery time to get better.
Transhumanists shun this body of sensations, they see the body as an inert thing. However, clinical practice often shows us the opposite. It is the place of a story.
Concerning the body, in fact, a large segment of transhumanism promotes “ mind uploading ”, which would allow humans to download themselves into computers, to live in virtual universes. How would such a situation be experienced on the level of the human psyche?
This will generate deep discomfort. By downloading, we get out of our body, so we detach ourselves at the same time from all the pleasures that are part of the body (excitement, appeasement…). The virtual is an apathetic, desensualized context. However, it would be a virtual avatar of our person who would evolve in this world ... therefore all the sensations that come from inhabiting our body disappear. It's a funny way to be in the world, because you're not really in the world.
"Transhumanists think of the body as a bulky object, they forget its pleasures"
Transhumanists think of the body as a bulky object, they forget its pleasures. If there is no more habitable body or if it is completely repaired as if it were a car, they will lose all the sensations that make the human what he is. The transhumanist discourse and its desire to control all the parameters of life lulls us with illusions of omnipotence. Watch a two year old at the beach, who will put his hand in front of the coming wave as if he could stop it. He is convinced that he can stop it, but little by little, this feeling of omnipotence will come up against limits, this is what we call in our jargon the "encounter with castration". In other words, it is the acceptance that he cannot do everything. Transhumanist beliefs, nourished by technological progress,
You are actually saying that we could not download ourselves to computers without losing something fundamental ...
Each body carries with it a whole story since its birth. Any modification of a body requires a change of story of this same body. The problem is that the transhumanist discourse tends to say that this reconfiguration is not problematic, because the body is a material that can be infinitely reshaped.
"By downloading, we lose our body and its limits, so we lose our history"
Clinical practice shows us that it never happens like this, there are always effects on the human person. By downloading, we lose our body and its limits, therefore we lose our history. It is this history within us that generates our flaws, which reveal that we are far more complex than just "zeros and ones." We cannot become algorithmic beings without no longer being.
In a society where augmented humans rub shoulders with non-augmented humans, how would the latter feel?
The "non-augmented" would be uncomfortable seeing the "augmented" being in an illusion of augmentation ... But this question raises another aspect which is of an economic nature. The inherent desire of humans to want to repair or increase themselves come together technoscientific research and the field of finance. The big digital entrepreneurs, the GAFA, are indeed investing massively in the transhumanist project. Let us not be too dazzled by the strategies of enchantment of their approach, at the risk of not seeing the inequalities that this can widen. Between innovation and alienation, scientificity and illusion, these new technoscientific means of "treating" human malaise must be the subject of urgent interdisciplinary reflection.