The Essential Human Experience
In his essay, “Human Dignity,” Francis Fukuyama discusses his fear of a technological future that includes bioengineered humans and artificial intelligences and how they would affect the human status quo - The Essential Human Experience introduction. Steve Olson’s “The End of Race: Hawaii and the Mixing of Peoples” complements these issues as he discusses the effects of physical appearance in determining humanness and yet in all actuality humans are essentially equal. Pat Cadigan’s short story, “Pretty Boy Crossover,” paints a hypothetical picture of Fukuyama’s fears for the future and how that may affect Olson’s working definition of human equality.
Looking at all three writings leads one to question how we quantify consciousness, which is an essentially unquantifiable trait. However, in Cadigan’s hypothetical universe, humans have supposedly discovered a way to quantify consciousness and download people onto computer chips where they can exist perfectly indefinitely in cyberspace as glorified and idolized artificial intelligences. Moreover, Cadigan’s writing, much like Fukuyama, questions if these cyber-manifestations are truly human anymore.
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Taking all three writers into account, it would seem that it remains a challenge to define what it is that makes us human, especially with the continuing progression of human integration with technology. This paper will make the argument that our physical environments and bodies have a direct influence on our consciousness and how we perceive the world. Fukuyama makes a reasonable attempt at quantifying humanity through his definition of “Factor X,” which is a culmination of essential human traits such as consciousness, morality, and personality.
He continues to use this working definition as a key argument “to protect the full range of our complex, evolved natures against attempts at self-modification” (Fukuyama 159). Cadigan would likely agree that Fukuyama is right to be fearful as the futuristic society he paints has become almost entirely superficial and may essentially be killing people to distill their personalities into cyberspace to market them as idols to the masses. These authors would argue for the rotection of the essential human experience. Being able to interact with our world as imperfect humans makes us who we are as a race. Unfortunately, considering the current status and effects of pop culture on today’s youth, this future is entirely possible, provided technology can accommodate. It can be seen that since roughly the 1980’s our society has maintained a disturbing level of superficiality that has a direct effect on how we perceive the world and other humans.
This advent of a superficial pop culture places great emphasis on physical appearance and takes away from Fukuyama’s Factor X and how we perceive ourselves and our value as humans. To counter this bleak outlook on the future, Olson concludes his writing by painting a hopeful picture for the human race, “As this inescapable conclusion becomes more widely held our genetic histories invariably will become less and less important. When we look at another person, we won’t think [of their race]. We’ll just think: person” (Olson 261).
Perhaps if humans are able to achieve this racial average, that Olson predicts, our outlook on what makes us human will evolve and become less superficial. This acceptance of the human condition would have a huge impact on our perception of ourselves and the world, along with how we interact with our environment. Perhaps after such a revelation, the human race could go further and attempt to achieve a balance in our environment. However, this possible future does not account for Fukuyama’s nor Cadigan’s fears for the further integration of technology in our society.
It is interesting to consider how Olson’s future may evolve as we simultaneously progress towards a more technologically dependent and integrated society. Perhaps it is possible that we may achieve this natural oneness amongst humans as a race before technology reaches the point in which the rights of altered humans become a pressing question. If such a case were to happen, we would probably redirect our technological efforts towards more ecological purposes, as there would no longer be a reason to try to improve ourselves as a race.
It is possible that we would develop artificial intelligences to help us maintain an ecological and economic balance. However, it would remain difficult to predict what sort of rights these artificial beings would have, and how we would perceive and interact with them, even after such a drastic change in perception. Regardless, it is also important to note the Cadigan himself comes to a certain conclusion about what it means to experience the world as a human in his story.
At the story’s conclusion, the protagonist rebels against superficial society and revels in his own essential humanness. “He rubs his hands together against the chill…really feeling it for the first time in a long time…He’s lightheaded with joy—he doesn’t know what’s going to happen” (Cadigan 11). In his closing paragraphs Cadigan captures truly human feelings such as spite, uncertainty, and illogical joy. It is tough to believe that the idolized digital “humans” in Cadigan’s story could feel such feelings, as they have no problems to deal with and live in essential bliss.
The value of a true human experience becomes apparent at the end Cadigan’s story, when one is forced to question if they would choose eternal superficial bliss, or a human experience that includes feeling, aging, and uncertainty. Perhaps it is enough to conclude that humanity will never be distilled into a simple neat definition, but that we should value our own ability to simply exist. This ability of existence, and what it entails, is key evidence that our physical environments and bodies play a direct role in determining our consciousness and perception of the world.
Taking these three writings into consideration, it would seem that one cannot have a truly human experience without a physical human body with which to interact with the world around us. Our physical appearances have a direct effect on how we perceive ourselves in society and how we value ourselves in comparison. The advent of pop culture has made this last point apparent. But, without the imperfections of our natural bodies, our human experience would be drastically different. These imperfections have been the driving force behind our technological advances, in which the end goal is ultimately to live longer better lives.
This constant strive to be better, has essentially become an integral part in our human nature. If we were satisfied with our physical bodies and environment, there would never have been any technological progress, and we would probably be the same as any other species on the planet. Following this logic, the way that we perceive and interact with the world around us has an essential impact on how we think and act. In conclusion, our human bodies and interactions with our environment have a lasting impact on our consciousness and help to define our own human essence. Humans have always strived to make ourselves better.
This constant progression has been as much a part of our human experience as our own physical bodies. However, according to authors such as Fukuyama or Cadigan, there may come a time in which this technological progress permanently alters our consciousness and how we perceive and interact with the world. If we were to transcend our imperfections in the ways that these two authors entail, we could open up a doorway to a new perception of the world, but we could very well lose what it is that makes us human in the first place; with a perfect form, there would be no need for the human trait of constant progression.
This same transcendence could also work to destroy our society as it becomes ever more self-involved and ego driven. Looking at Cadigan and Olson’s ultimate conclusions, it becomes clear that it is important to remember that having a human body with which to interact with the world is an essential part of what it means to be human in the first place. Without which, one could easily be perceived as not even being real.