Technological Enhancements of the Human Body. A Conceptual Framework

Ursula Deplazes

Summary: 1 Introduction. 2. Research questions and approach. 3. Theoretical foundations of the conceptual framework. 3.1 Systems theory. 3.1.1 Modularity. 3.1.2 Emergentism. 3.1.3 Generalized pattern of evolution of complex systems. 3.1.4 Self-organization. 3.1.5 Cybernetics. 3.2 Principles for conceptualizing the homo cyber-sapiens. 4 Proposed conceptual framework. 4.1 System ‘homo cyber-sapiens’. 4.1.1 Human being. 4.1.1.a Irreducible nature of the human being. 4.1.1.b Irreducible dignity of the human being. 4.2 Higher-rank systems. 4.2.1 Interpersonal system – Human interpersonal dialogue. 4.2.2 Corporeality and spirituality. 5. Discussion of life-prolonging technological enhancements. 5.1 Technological enhancements. 5.1 Level of corporeal system. 5.1.1 Technological enhancements aiming at life extension. 5.1.2 Technological enhancements aiming at overcoming mortality. 5.1.3 Fear of technological enhancements. 5.2 Level of the human being. 5.2.1 Continuous technological enhancements. 5.2.2 Disruptive technological enhancements. 5.2.3 Boredom. 5.3 Level of human interpersonal system. 5.3.1 Social consequences. 5.1.2.a Distributive justice. 5.1.2.b Generations and families.

Abstract: Literature proposes a variety of theories of technological enhancement of the human being. These are often based on diverging ontological assumptions and thus do not allow to draw generalized conclusions across various theories. This paper proposes a conceptual framework that allows for a generalized approach to ethical issues related to the technological enhancement of the human being. The framework is based on foundations provided mainly by systems theory. Central concepts such as modularity, emergentism, and cybernetics paired with the notions of corpus and anima are paramount. The article maintains that the human being can be seen as a hierarchical complex system composed of two sub-systems, i.e. corpus and anima. Each of these sub-systems can be viewed as a complex system that can be further subdivided into sub-systems of lower rank. Each system and sub-system participates as a whole and in its sub-parts in higher-rank systems within and beyond the system observed. There is thus a network of interconnected complex systems where the human being is but one – even though relatively special - integrated part. The proposed systemic view of the human being implies that there are – at system level -  emergent properties by definition irreducible to its sub-systems. At the level of the human being, we distinguish between essential emergent properties determining what the human being is in its essence and secondary emergent properties subject to change in the course of the evolution of the human being (e.g. posture). The article concludes that the human being viewed as a complex system has essential emergent properties which can be enhanced, but not significantly altered. Hereby, enhancement is associated with a linear evolution of a human being, whereas alteration is associated with a disruptive change of the human being that gives rise to a new species. Technological enhancements can be associated with the sub-system corpus. I distinguish between two types of technological enhancements: (1) continuous technological enhancements, and (2) disruptive technological enhancements. The first type of enhancements maintains the essential emergent properties of the human being. They might be enhanced, but not altered. This view suggests that there is a linear evolution of the homo sapiens sapiens towards the homo cyber-sapiens, the main driver being continuous technological enhancements of the human being. By contrast, the disruptive technological enhancements alter the essential emergent properties of the human being. The result is a being that is not within a linear evolution of the homo sapiens sapiens, as the very essence of the human being has been modified. The article illustrates the argument based on the fundamental emergent property of mortality. It is concluded that technological enhancements aiming at prolonging life, thus maintaining mortality as an emergent property, are compatible with human nature and thus with the essence of the human being. However, technological enhancements aiming at overcoming mortality are not coherent with human nature. A non-mortal being would be situated beyond the boundaries of the human being.

Keywords: anthropology, cybernetics, emergentism, human body, technological enhancements.