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FleshFactor: mission revisited

A E C  F O R U M - "F L E S H F A C T O R"

What's going on with this FleshFactor thing?  Is this simply the
body as personal site revisited at the end of the 1990's?  What's
all this talk about humanness in a post-human era?

Last year there was a discussion about genetics and memetics,
about genes and memes [see Memesis: the Future of Evolution,
http://www.aec.at/meme/symp/].  Richard Dawkins had put forth the
idea of the selfish gene back in the mid-1970's and with all the
more recent talk of 'emergent behaviour' the time had naturally
come to think about selfish memes: images or ideas that may drive
or orchestrate the way humans act or perceive or construct their

The Memesis discussion necessarily focused on large scale, complex
systems that seemed to be developing a life of their own; a week
doesn't go by when I don't read or see a story about the
internet's potential for hatching the first manifestations of a
post-human intelligence.  I'm as optimistic as the next person,
but this reminds me of when Frankenstein and his monster were
having their first meaningful conversation in a cave somewhere, I
believe it was in Switzerland.  The monster said, "you are my
creator, but I am your master."

What we're trying to do this year is focus on the persons in relationships
with these large, complex systems, including their relationships with
other people and their communities and states, so commonly hyper-mediated
by technologically-based systems and networks.  What is the position,
status or condition of the individual in these interwoven global
techno-cultures?  While this question leads us to question where we've
come from or how we've gotten here, this FleshFactor symposium is
basically a call to take stock of the present. 

We've necessarily begun to fuse electronics and digital systems
with biology and natural systems because at some recent point in
evolutionary history, our cultures began to influence the
development of the human brain in ways that Darwin didn't
anticipate.  A couple of weeks ago I found myself in Boston having
dinner with a living cyborg named Steve Mann, who was so wired he
was uploading my image and ideas to his website as we spoke.  A
friend of his told me Steve was going to California soon to have
some brain imaging done to see if his synaptic flow had been
altered by the ever-present gear since his last neural 'pictures'
were taken.

Or in another conversation with Branan Edgens, a young man in
Syracuse particularly concerned about the predominance of
outright, embarrassing media illiteracy in today's youth, Branan
told me if something isn't done to make these people more aware of
how they're being manipulated by corporate media, "they're going
to wake up someday to find they're the only organic components in
their home entertainment systems."

Such is the talk of organity or cyborganity...the changing nature
of humanness.  I was reading Tom Wolfe's "Sorry, But Your Soul
Just Died" <http://www.forbes.com/asap/120296/html/tom_wolfe.htm>,
where he surveys recent popular awareness of neuroscience and
genetics, the wonders, the threats.  Wolfe believes E. O. Wilson
is the second coming of Darwin, having created and named the field
of sociobiology.  He says that Wilson has compressed
sociobiology's underlying premise into a single sentence:  "Every
human brain, he says, is born not as a blank tablet (a tabula
rasa) waiting to be filled in by experience but as 'an exposed
negative waiting to be slipped into developer fluid.'  You can
develop it poorly, but either way you are going to get precious
little that is not already imprinted on the film."

Wolfe goes on to outline the controversies around such a concrete
definition of humanness, expanding his interest in the new science
of human nature to include the discovery of 'the gay gene',
biological differences between the sexes, how some are genetically
fixed to be violent, and every other manifestation of the 'we are
hard-wired to be who we will be' meme.  All of this adds up to the
inevitable 'death of the self', where "the notion of a self--a
self who exercises self-discipline, postpones gratification, curbs
the sexual appetite, stops short of aggression and criminal
behavior--a self who can become more intelligent and lift itself
to the very peaks of life by its own bootstraps through study,
practice, perseverance, and refusal to give up in the face of
great odds...is slipping away...is slipping away."

When reading Wolfe's positioning of these issues, its hard not to
think about how management science already seeks to eliminate
unruly, irreverent creativity at every opportunity.  Many of us
are already suspect of having 'the creativity gene'.

But this riddle of the human mind and the riddle of the human mind when it
comes to know itself absolutely only serves as the cover story when it
comes to describing the persons in all of our person-machine
relationships.  This is our mission, to describe ourselves as a species in
the present, in our relationships with and/or in those relationships with
others mediated by our technologies.  This may be a huge endeavour, a
study of the self at a scale the likes of The Human Genome Project, a
stereo 'snapshot' of human nature taken simultaneously from human and
post-human perspectives, including the breadth of cyborgological points of
view, a collective multi-vision of the individual person in this day and

Share in the authorship of a large, complex system called the
self.  To help us keep this unruly, polymorphous, global polyphony
comprehensible, we'll simply understate its nature.  We'll call it
the FleshFactor.  

Tom Sherman, moderator, FleshFactor Net-Symposium

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