Technological Evolution: Between Heaven and Earth

By Sigmund Lunde.


God created humans in his image. We are the most dangerous creature on the planet, yet so frail and weak with no fangs, claws, scales or spikes. Are humans animals; if not, just what are we? Our world is one of nature. Just like animals, we are dependent on the gifts of mother Earth. At least we have been, as humans differ from other creatures. We hardly live in harmony with nature, with each other, with anything. An animal has its place in ecology, in the food chain, in an environment - its place in nature. They fit so well in their places and roles, they are merged with nature. Animals do not just live in and off nature, they are nature. Humans on the other hand are able to go beyond their confinements.


The human being is the embodiment of possibility. They are able to adapt, create and develop like no other species through skill and mastery. Humans have found ways to make use of nature and develop its resources beyond what any animal have accomplished, they created something that is not nature anymore. Perhaps one could say humans are using nature through culture to reach for divinity? With technology humans are able to evolve more and at an accelerating pace too. A simple technological tool like pen and paper can be used to increase our mental capacities; it helps us remember larger amounts of things and construct complex thoughts with multiple components. We have bikes and cars which overcome our limited stamina and speed. We even have airplanes which let us break free from our grounded element. A monkey hitting a nut with a stone is not quite the same. Our sophisticated tools become extensions of our own body and mind. Through such prosthetics we close in on godhood. An artificial divinity is reached through this skill our kind has been blessed with. Whether we were created to break all boundaries, or it was caused by a glitch in a grand design, we stand today as a species above and beyond the rest of world we live in, as a kind of prosthetic God.


These things that, by his science and technology, man has brought about on this earth, on which he first appeared as a feeble animal organism […] All these assets he may lay claim to as his cultural acquisition. Long ago he formed an ideal conception of omnipotence and omniscience which he embodied in his gods. To these gods he attributed everything that seemed unattainable to his wishes, or that was forbidden to him. […] Today he has come very close to the attainment of this ideal, he has almost become a god himself. […] Man has, as it were, become a kind of prosthetic God. When he puts on all his auxiliary organs he is truly magnificent; but those organs have not grown on to him and they still give him much trouble at times. […] Future ages will bring with them new and probably unimaginably great in this field of civilization and will increase man's likeness to God still more.[1]

Through our prosthetics, we expand ourselves. We synthesize a world and context for ourselves in a world that already was. Our post-natural body is strange. We are cultural beings more than natural ones. We raise our children in this cultural world, this collective dream, and thus keep it going. This world we have created for ourselves is a reality within a reality. The other reality is often referred to as “nature”. Yet this term is also defined by humans. Koert van Mensvoort’s text “Real Nature is not Green” uses the term “hypernature” to refer to our idea of ideal nature. True nature is wild, our gardens are cultivated and protected, formed by our desires. He describes nature as a chaotic force outside our cultural control [2]. Nature is fundamentally much more than just trees and flowers. It is more than just a park.


As humans we have a human perspective and live in a human reality in the same way we argue a dog lives in a dog’s reality, yet we differ in scale. Breaking every boundary and confinement humans have been able to make their reality real, affecting the rest of the world and other kinds’ realities. As these weird god-like creatures we define the life and existence of everything within our own world, world-consuming as it might be.


Our created reality and our self-defined being does not always feel real and true to us. At certain breaking point and rifts of our minds we may experience a feeling of alienation toward what we surround us with and what we have become amidst it. Perhaps is it the harmony and serenity of nature our constructed environment lacks. Our inner selves have grown out of our bodies and created this dream-world, and the roots of the outside also reach into our soft core. We affect the world and it affects us back. Concepts like this is found within Freud’s theories of self and culture. When the human reality collapses for the individual - as in a mental breakdown - it has tremendous consequences. The world we have created could fall apart for us mentally, and cause existential doubt and despair. We endanger ourselves with our god-complex as it is often the integrity of the individual that is at stake. In our time of global changes in ecological and socio-political climate, humans as a kind and the planet as a material object is threatened as well. We tend to live our daily lives in peace between the individual victims being deemed sick and the global climate being too large and abstract. We have a tendency to trust our creation.


As we now enter a new era, one with technology so small and sophisticated, letting us live dreams of possibility, luxury and power; requiring immense amounts of resources; evolving increasingly fast, and having impact like never before. The threat of the Anthropocene era is the human reality completely overtaking the world. Nature to only exist in stories and simulations.


Going back to biblical terms, perhaps what we, the whole of human kind, are doing is trying to recreate the garden of Eden. A garden as the cultivated, controlled and beautiful form nature can be formed into. Do we long back to the womb, do we seek to recreate the paradise we were thrown out of? How could it possibly be cruel to create paradise? Another question is whether it is even possible for us, are we really godly beings capable of such a feat? It might just be that this attempt as a process is cruel as it is so butchering; we tear down God’s creation to recreate Eden for ourselves. Do humans have the right to do so? Eden was a garden made for Adam and Eve, but nature was what was outside. Nature is not our garden. I am personally fond of this biblical image. Humans should perhaps rather recognize themselves as part of a creation, as part of nature, and be content in just playing a role.

“[…] present-day man does not feel happy in his Godlike character” is Freud’s ending sentience to the above quote. As we enter the Anthropocene, we seem to face a fork in the road; a question whether to find our place in nature, and in that find personal contentment, or to develop our technological culture to the next level, to finally elevate it to godhood and truly create a hypernatural paradise. As God is dead, we must choose to either live in the creation left behind, or to overtake the role of God.


Notes


[1] Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents, 37-39.


[2] Mensvoort, «Hypernature: Real nature is not green.”


References


Freud, Sigmund. Civilization and Its Discontents. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume XXI (1927-1931). Translation by James Strachey. Norton, New York. 1961. Excerpts found at URL: http://faculty.georgetown.edu/irvinem/theory/Freud-CivDis.html [21. September 2018]


Mensvoort, Koert van. «Hypernature: Real nature is not green”. 6. November 2006. URL: http://faculty.georgetown.edu/irvinem/theory/Freud-CivDis.html [18. September 2018]

OSLO FORM LAB 2018