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  • Artificial Skin

    November 16th, 2012 by Kim Hewitt

    How far science has come! Here is an article about the development of artificial skin that has sensation! http://theweek.com/article/index/236320/breakthrough-self-healing-electronic-skin-thats-sensitive-to-the-touch

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    Cyborg Soldiers

    August 20th, 2012 by Kim Hewitt

    Interesting article posing the “masculine desire to escape the realities of the body” with the technological enhancements of soldiering:

    cyborg-soldiers

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    Meditation on Suffering

    May 17th, 2012 by Kim Hewitt

    Two simple and trenchant observations in this article from the Journal of Evolution and Technology http://jetpress.org/v19/marsen.htm First unlike animals, humans cogitate on our own suffering. More importantly, we cogitate on the suffering of others.

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    Jane Goodall: “what is a human?”

    September 27th, 2011 by Kim Hewitt

    By lovely circumstance I caught an interview with Jane Goodall (the chimpanzee researcher) on NPR this morning. A caller asked “what makes us human?” and Jane’s answer was “words.” She explained her belief that our ability to communicate verbally with language has allowed our unique intellectual development. Really interesting interview. Thanks NPR!
    My question is: how does language have to change in order for us to evolve to a higher level as humans?

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    Evolving

    September 5th, 2011 by Kim Hewitt


    Very nice web site of a company who deems it self to be enabling the human race to evolve via technology http://www.sarifindustries.com/en/#/video/

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    Brave Optogenetic Mice

    May 17th, 2011 by Kim Hewitt

    Everyday more research points to the biological basis of personality and “the mind.” The more concrete this research becomes, the more adept we’ll get at developing techniques to manipulate behavior, personality and perhaps even what we once thought of as learned character traits. An article in a recent Science section of the NYT (Control Desk for the Neural Switchboard by Carl E. Schoonover and Abby Rabinowitz, May 17, 2011) charts the progress of optogenetics experiments with mice. Optogenetics implants fiber optic strands in the brain to control neural activity and activity of circuits in the brain via light. Using these optogenetic methods, researchers seem to be able to induce risk-taking behavior and manipulate levels of anxiety in mice. Mice with certain neurons activated by the light therapy were bolder in crossing an expense of cage, whereas before the optogenetic therapy they had cowered against the wall. David Barlow, founder of the Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders at Boston University cautions against reading too much into the experiments or oversimplifying the effects of manipulating very complicated brain circuitry. The research points to the ability to change behavior by turning specific neurons on or off, but there is still much that is unknown about brain circuitry. More importantly, engineering neurons to be responsive to implanted fiber optics may not be feasible in humans. Still, this research leads to intriguing speculation about the possibility of precise targeting of neurons to engineer the functioning of the nervous system and human behavior and responses. In contrast, for example, psychiatric medications are “scattershot” and can produce a wide array of responses and side effects. Optogenetics may lead to new and more exacting knowledge about how the brain works and the mind-body relationship. Certainly, optogenetics could lead to an entirely new symbiotic relationship between man and machines.

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    Donor Cyborgs or Redefining Death

    May 2nd, 2011 by Kim Hewitt

    Ah, back to some of my favorite topics that are woven together to form core questions of posthumanism: the body, death and humanness. In the 1995 Cyborg Handbook (Chris Hables Gray, editor, Routledge) an essay by Linda F. Hogle explores the relationships between these topics (“Tales from the Cryptic: Technology Meets Cyborgism in the Living Cadaver, pp 203-216). Technology that can keep the human body alive long after brain death problematizes the concept of death. Hogle questions the categories of living human (and therefore “person”), versus dead human (and therefore “object”) and living cadaver… which has an ambiguous status. Brain death can circumscribe the loss of personhood and it can define death legally. But long after brain functioning has receded, machines can keep pumping blood through the body, forcing air into the lungs, and extracting toxins from the body. All kinds of techno-magic can be implemented to keep tissues viable and organs fresh and functioning in anticipation of being transplanted into another human who needs a kidney, heart, etc. So what is the function of this no longer human, but not quite object cadaver? Aside from legal questions and medical complications, this ambiguous state problematizes the definition of humanness and its relationship to the body and the “mind” (whatever that is).

    The donor cyborg is a body dependent on machines for functioning. It has no agency, no independent life and no possibility for intellectual or emotional functioning that we can witness. Yet, it is not dead. Is it a human being? If it is, it seems a bit odd to be parceling it out like slices of bread. If not, them when does it become dead and who initiates its death? Is there some moral obligation to keep it functioning ad infinitum, or is it simply a box of living commodities that we can toss in the trash once we’ve harvested all the good parts? If we solidify the categories of human / not human disregarding the life of the body, then what does that mean about what a human is? Is a human noncorporeal? Is humanness contained only in the brain? Can it be measured only by brain activity? If so it seems only a matter of time before we measure brain activity to define a human being. Maybe people with more brain activity are more human than others. Currently, when brain function falls below a certain level we can legally declare the person dead. In the future we can tamper with those levels for social convenience. Perhaps we’ll decide that the real value of “someone” with extremely low emotional and intellectual functioning is not as a human being, but as an organ farm. Or perhaps we can create entire farms of “nonhuman” bodies to provide tissue and organs for bodies that are legally living and therefore legally people. We’re already deep into blurring the line between life and death, human and nonhuman, what next?

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    Body Modification

    April 14th, 2011 by Kim Hewitt

    For a long time I’ve loved learning about all forms of body modification. After stimulating conversations with one of my students who is studying piercing and tattooing, I felt a new surge of affection. The Body Modification Ezine has a nice variety of photos and writings on body modification, including some interesting information about Mayan cranial and dental modification.
    Is this posthuman territory? Technology in the days of the Mayan empire certainly wasn’t what it is today, so I argue it posthuman: a desire to reshape the human body. It may be more adornment rather than functional, more about cultural standards of beauty than enhanced performance, but ultimately it is an exertion of human effort to apply ideas to the human body. I really love the section on scarification as well (not for anyone who is squeamish about blood or cutting!).

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    Psychological “technology”

    March 15th, 2011 by Kim Hewitt

    While searching for conferences on cultural neuroscience I encountered a blog entitled Somatosphere that featured an entry about a medication known as Anabuse (disulfiram). I had heard of Anabuse in the 1980s when I was a teenager when a family friend named Stu stayed with my family for awhile, for reasons I can’t recall. Stu (RIP) was what us kids knew as a “real hippy.” He and his wife lived in a tiny run down shack near the old train tracks, with no running water and a baby who ran around naked most of the time. Stu had long hair, played guitar, smoked dope and was chronically unemployed. My mom and I often took boxes of food over, and spent time just hanging out visiting. Stu was the son of one of my mother’s friends and always had a beer in one hand. During his protracted stay with us, he apparently cleaned all of the mouthwash out of the bathroom cupboard in order to consume it. He had been taking Anabuse, a drug that was supposed to make your body reject alcohol. Upon becoming anxious and sick from not drinking, he hoped the alcohol content of the mouthwash might soothe his nerves. Anabuse was an extreme measure, a measure for serious alcoholics who had not responded to other efforts to quit drinking. It not only prevented the body from experiencing any pleasant effects of alcohol consumption, it primed the body to respond to alcohol with hyperventilation, extreme nausea and/or chest pains, perhaps even death. The blog entry (above) reveals an interesting interpretation of Anabuse. It seems so many people were convinced that Anabuse was dangerous if mixed with alcohol, it became common to implant subdermal doses of “protracted release” Anabuse. The substance implanted however, was inert. Still, people changed their behavior and did not drink alcohol. Perhaps it was a Pavlovian response after one reaction bout of illness. Perhaps it was a placebo effect. Perhaps the power of the mind is that strong. If medication (pharmaceutical technology) is imbued with a hefty enough ideology, it can change behavior. Can it change the body? Would any of these people get sick if they consumed alcohol, even though the “Anabuse” implant was a neutral substance? I’d love to know. We think of mind over matter when we see pictures of fire walkers, not when we take medication. Yet, in this case, evidence points to the power of persuasion. Apparently, sometimes we don’t even need a physical technology to re-engineer ourselves. All we need is the suggestion that we can. The link above to the blog entry will also offer a Radiolab podcast on the topic.

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    “Alone Together”

    February 27th, 2011 by Kim Hewitt

    Sherry Turkle, a professor of social studies of science and technology at MIT has a new book called Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less of Each Other (Basic Books). It sounds like a fascinating study of how the internet has changed how people interact and what we want out of friendship. NYT review: . You may need an account log in. Turkle finds that internet-mediated friendships and the ways in which we communicate instantly are creating a certain kind of shallowness to the ways we interact. I’d read the book and post more in the future, but I don’t really want to read the entire book, let alone discuss it with friends (and god forbid not face-to-face!), I just want a txt message synopsis.

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