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Facing the Challenges of Transhumanism: Religion, Science, Technology

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A Workshop on Transhumanism and the Meanings of Progress

Description | Podcast | Program | Participant Bios

Templeton Research Lectures Workshops
April 24-25, 2008
ASU University Club

Workshop Description

Transhumanism envisions the emergence of a new human being who will possess enhanced mental and physical traits that will be radically different from the present standards. The acceleration of knowledge in emerging fields such as biotechnology, information technology, and applied cognitive science poses an entirely new situation for humanity. Today, the human has become a design project. With genetic engineering humans will be able to redesign future generations, thereby affecting the evolutionary process itself.

Although the transhumanist vision is futuristic, it is in fact rooted in the philosophical assumptions of the Enlightenment, which together with the current technological revolution, projects the generation of a new human condition. The new genetics enables us to enhance our biological state; nanotechnology enables us to manipulate materials on an atomic scale; and robotics not only replaces the human brain with non-biological computing power, which will exceed the human brain, but also facilitates the integration of biological and information technology. Given these developments, the Enlightenment dichotomy between the observer and the observed, the human and the physical environment, nature and culture, making and thinking is no longer tenable. In short, we need a new way of thinking about progress that can address this new complex reality.

Facing the Challenges of Transhumanism: Religion, Science, Technology” is a four-year, interdisciplinary project that addresses the implications of transhumanism. The first year (2006-07) examined the transhumanist vision by focusing on the evolution of human nature. In contrast to the long view of evolutionary psychologists and Templeton Fellows Leda Cosmides and John Tooby, the second year of the project focuses on the acceleration of knowledges and technologies that are rapidly changing the human condition, exploring new ways for perceiving and analyzing a world that is far more complex than previously imagined.

Podcast

The podcasts of the various workshop presentations listed below are now available:
Templeton Research Lecture Podcasts

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Program

Thursday, April 24

7:30pm Keynote Address – “ Technology in the Culture of Progess”
Dan Sarewitz (Arizona State University, Templeton Research Fellow)
Read the text of the keynote address here

Friday, April 25


8:30am Breakfast

9:00am Welcome and Introductions
Linell Cady
Hava Tirosh–Samuelson

9:15–10:15am “Of Which Human Are We ‘Trans’?”
Don Ihde (Stony Brook University)

10:30–11:30am “The Rebellion Against the Finitude of the Human Condition”
Jean–Pierre Dupuy (École Polytechnique and Stanford University)

11:45am–12:45pm “Wrestling with the Transhuman: Is Finitude a Necessary Human Condition?”
Katherine Hayles (University of California, Los Angeles)

12:45–2:00pm Lunch

2:00–3:00pm “Cybernetics and Spirituality”
Andrew Pickering (University of Exeter)

3:15–4:15pm “Progress, Futurology, and Eschatology: How Do We Get to There from Here”
Ted Peters (Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley)
Presentation Slides

4:15–4:45pm Closing Discussion

4:45pm Closing Reception

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Workshop Participant Bios

Hava Tirosh-Samuelson (Arizona State University) is professor of history and project director of “Facing the Challenges of Transhumanism: Religion, Science and Technology.” She specializes in premodern Jewish intellectual history, Judaism and science, Judaism and ecology, and feminist philosophy. She holds a Ph.D. in Jewish philosophy and Kabbalah from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (1978) and a B.A. from SUNY-Stony Brook (1974). Prior to joining ASU in 1999, she taught at Indiana University, Emory University, Columbia University, and Hebrew Union College (New York). In addition to articles and book chapters, she is the author of Between Worlds: The Life and Work of Rabbi David ben Judah Messer Leon (1991), Happiness in Premodern Judaism: Virtue, Knowledge and Well-Being in Pre-modern Judaism (2003) and Nature and Judaism (forthcoming). She is also the editor of Judaism and Ecology: Created World and Revealed World (2002), Women and Gender in Jewish Philosophy (2004), and most recently Judaism and the Phenomenon of Life: The Legacy of Hans Jonas; Historical and Philosophical Studies (2007). She sits on the editorial board of the Journal of the American Academy of Religion and is on the academic advisory board of the Metanexus Institute.

Daniel Sarewitz is the director of the Consortium for Science, Policy, and Outcomes (CSPO) and professor of science and society at Arizona State University. His work focuses on understanding the connections between scientific research and social benefit, and on developing methods and policies to strengthen such connections. His most recent books are Shaping Science and Technology Policy: The Next Generation of Research (with David H. Guston, 2006) and Living with the Genie: Essays on Technology and the Quest for Human Mastery (with Alan Lightman and Christina Desser, 2003). Before joining ASU, Sarewitz directed the Geological Society of America's Institute for Environmental Education and worked on Capitol Hill, first as a congressional science fellow, then as a science consultant to the House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. He has written numerous articles, speeches, and reports about the relationship between science and social progress, including Prediction: Science, Decision-Making, and the Future of Nature (2000) and Frontiers of Illusion: Science, Technology, and the Politics of Progress (1996), and has done field work in the Philippines, Argentina, and Tajikistan. In 2007, he was named a Templeton Research Fellow, along with Brad Allenby, for their project, “Transhumanism, Nature, and Technology: Reinventing the Enlightenment.”

Don Ihde is Distinguished Professor of philosophy at Stony Brook University. He is the author of thirteen books and the editor of many others, including what is often identified as the first North American work on the philosophy of technology, Technics and Praxis (1979). In the mid-1970s, together with his colleagues at Stony Brook, Ihde developed an intentionally eclectic school of experienced-based “experimental phenomenology” with bridges to pragmatism, which has concentrated on elaborating the ways that instrumentation mediates between human beings and the world. His interests center around the philosophy of science and technology, with a recent focus on imaging technologies. In addition, work on intercultural perception and plural cultural patterns form part of his current research agenda. In 1990, Ihde, together with Indiana University Press, initiated a new monograph series in philosophy of technology that has since become one of the most influential collections of publications in the field. He has recently published Freedom and Nature: the Voluntary and the Involuntary (with Paul Ricoeur and Erazim V. Koha´k, 2007).

Jean-Pierre Dupuy is professor of social and political philosophy and director of the Centre de Recherche en Épistémologie Appliquée at the École Polytechnique, Paris. At Stanford University, he is a professor of French and Italian, a researcher at the Center for the Study of Language and Information and professor of political science by courtesy. A member of the French Academy of Technology, Dupuy’s research interests encompass cultural theory, social and political philosophy, the cognitive sciences, the epistemology of the social sciences, and the relationship of critical theory to logical and scientific thinking, extending to the paradoxes of rationality and the philosophical underpinnings and the future societal and ethical impacts of the convergence of nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology, and cognitive science. His book, The Mechanization of the Mind (2000), examined how the founders of cybernetics laid the foundations not only for cognitive science, but also artificial intelligence, and foreshadowed the development of chaos theory, complexity theory, and other scientific and philosophical breakthroughs. His recent publications include La Panique (2003), Aux origines des sciences cognitives (2005), and Retour de Tchernobyl journal d'un homme en cole`re (2006).

Katherine Hayles is Distinguished Professor of english and media studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. Her research interests concern topics related to literature and science in the 20th and 21st century; 20th and 21st century American fiction; electronic textuality, hypertext fiction and theory; science fiction; literary theory; and media theory. With degrees in both chemistry and English literature, Hayles is one of the foremost scholars of the relationship between literature and science in the late twentieth century. She is the author six books, including How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature and Informatics (1999), which won the Rene Wellek Prize for the Best Book in Literary Theory for 1998-1999; and Writing Machines (2001), which won the Suzanne Langer Award for Outstanding Scholarship. Her most recent book is Electronic Literature: New Horizons for the Literary (2007). The winner of numerous awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, two NEH Fellowships, a Rockefeller Residential Fellowship at Bellagio, and a fellowship at the National Humanities Center, Hayles is currently working on study of narrative and database.

Andrew Pickering is internationally known as a leader in the field of science and technology studies. He is the author of Constructing Quarks: A Sociological History of Particle Physics (1984), The Mangle of Practice: Time, Agency and Science (1995) and Chasing Technoscience: Matrix for Materiality (with Don Ihde, Evan Selinger, Donna Jeanne Haraway, and Bruno Latour, 2003). He has written on topics as diverse as post-World War II particle physics; mathematics, science and industry in the 19th-century; and science, technology and warfare in and since WWII. His most recent book, Sketches of Another Future: Cybernetics in Britain, 1940-2000 (forthcoming), analyzes cybernetics as a distinctive form of life—spanning brain science, psychiatry, robotics, the theory of complex systems, management, politics, the arts, education and spirituality. Pickering has held fellowships at MIT, the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, the Guggenheim Foundation and the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford. He is professor of sociology and philosophy at the University of Exeter, where he moved in 2007 after serving as professor of sociology and director of an interdisciplinary STS graduate program at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

Ted Peters is professor of systematic theology at the Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary and Graduate Theological Union and director of the Institute for Theology and Ethics, in Berkeley, California. The author of GOD-The World’s Future (2000), Genetic Determinism and Human Freedom (2002) and Science, Theology, and Ethics (2003), Peters writes prolifically on issues of science, theology and religion. His recent work includes Anticipating Omega (2006), Can You Believe in God and Evolution? (with Martinez Hewlett, 2006), and The Stem Cell Debate (2007). He is editor of Dialog, A Journal of Theology and co-editor of Theology and Science. In addition to his interests in religion and science, Peters writes on a broad array of theological issues. One of the most important recurring themes in his work is the willingness to converse with and learn from other religious traditions. Peters has been interviewed by a variety of media, and lectures widely on issues of Christian theology in the modern world, including concerns related to bioethics, stems cells, cloning and the implications of the new genetics.

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