Transhumanist shortcomings, net populism, and the discrimination of possibilities

In the week before Easter 2017, the Bertalanffy Center for the Study of Systems Science hosted three events organised by the Emergent Systems Group as a prelude to three workshops to be held by the group at the IS4SI Summit Gothenburg 2017.

The first event was a public Wednesday evening discussion on what Transhumanism stands for – which philosophical assumptions underlie the promoted technological enhancements of the human body and its blurring of the distinction between humans and machines. It was introduced by a critical talk by Janina Loh on The Utopia of Universal Control: Critical Thoughts on Transhumanism and an even stronger critical statement titled The Ghost of Transhumanism and the Sentience of Existence by Sarah Spiekermann. Janina Loh is University Assistant in Philosophy of Media and Technology at the University of Vienna and is writing her habilitation on the movement of trans- and post humanism. Sarah Spiekermann is University Professor and head of the Institute of Management Information Systems at the Vienna University of Economics and Business and works on ethical design of IT.

The group meetings that followed on Thursday and Friday opened with a talk of Tomas Sigmund referring to Transhumanism as well.

Then two other issues took centre stage, seemingly quite different from each other: the evaluation of the development of the Internet taking an ideal of world netizenship as point of departure (the co-operation of net citizens for the good of humanity starting off, e.g., the Free and Open Source Software movement), on the one hand; and the evolution of systems and information in the universe according to a rise in complexity, on the other.

The first of these two issues focussed on an item that has been gaining increased political attention: the trend towards so-called populism, post-factualism (or post truth), in particular, furthered by social media through so-called filter bubbles or echo chambers. Francesca Vidal, expert in rhetoric from Universität Koblenz-Landau and president of the Ernst-Bloch-Gesellschaft, analysed why mediated communication reinforces hate speech and violence. The discussion of political science student Thomas Zimmermann’s intervention on Critical Geopolitics showed that cultural identity is construed as purity that does not match reality, which for Rainer Zimmermann is another variety of savage thinking (Lévi-Strauss). Myths are not appropriate means to understand complexity but, on the contrary, are means to refuse the understanding thereof. As such, this ideology is orientated against science, against transdisciplinarity, against systems thinking, all of which is a requisite for humanity coping with the global challenges of today, as we can conclude. University of Vienna students Spomenka Celebic and Senka Grossauer presented a proposal of a project that intends to research social media sites by methods of digital anthropology. The logic of discourse typical of representatives of parties or movements selected from Europe and commonly characterised as populist shall be contrasted with a logic that is humanitarian and all-inclusive.

During the discussion of the second issue about information in evolutionary systems emphasis was laid on the relation of possibility and actuality, which clarified the connection to the issue of the day before. Humans (that represent elements of a sophisticated type of evolutionary systems – social systems) create information (social information) through an existential choice of possibilities by which they perform the transition to actuality. In doing so, the perspective of Boolean algebra is true only if the sets on which it operates don’t change: the negation of the negation of A is again A. However, in an evolving universe we have to do with dynamical sets. Thus we need to apply a logic that is more general and of which Boolean algebra is a peculiar case only, such as Heyting algebra: the negation of the negation of A is not A in any case. In that respect, Rainer Zimmermann referred to Schelling’s sublation of identity and difference, which might be looked upon as precursor of the unity-through-diversity principle of systems thinking. Mythology is not up to that. It does not come as a surprise that the Greek origin of critical thinking is “krínein”, “to differ”. Xiaomeng Zhang who writes a dissertation work on philosopher Ernst Bloch talked about reflexion with Bloch. The transition from possibility to actuality is not an exclusive characteristic of humans but of any evolution. Biologist Annette Grathoff widened the scope of information processing from human information to even physical systems and put Tom Stonier’s distinction of potential and kinetic information as kind of proto-information up for discussion. Artist and philosopher Renate Quehenberger suggested in her presentation to explore the role of abstract geometries in the perspective of Bertalanffy’s ideal of a “logico-mathematical science of wholeness”.


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