How We Remained Human: Posthumans, the Technosphere, and the Selfish Meme (and the Virus)

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How We Remained Human

Posthumans, the Technosphere, and the Selfish Meme (and the Virus)

Alexander Wilson

Visual credits: Lilibeth Cuenca Rasmussen, “Being Human Being,” 2014

As early as The Descent of Man, Darwin recognized how human cultural evolution seemed to suppress the effects of natural selection. Indeed, as human evolution developed, it progressively freed itself from the pressures of natural selection, creating its own unnatural world to inhabit, with its own artificial selective constraints: the technosphere. But this raises an interesting conundrum. For, in nature, wherever the pressures of natural selection get more lax, evolution is poised to produce more variety as extravagant mutations are passed through the sieve of selection. An oft-cited example of this are the birds of paradise, who evolved their great variety of evolutionarily-expensive extravagances in contexts of relative freedom from natural selective constraints (islands with few mammalian predators, abundant resources, etc.). In particular, they developed an explosion of non-survival related erotic kinks, which sexually-selected for features like colourful plumage and complex precoital performances, in turn leading to reproductive isolation between different groups: speciation. So it is interesting to observe that when humans, with their technosphere, suppressed the effects of natural selection to a degree greater than any other animal in the history of life on earth, the very opposite happened: we stopped speciating. Why have we Modern Humans, ever since we lived among Neanderthals and Denisovans, not spontaneously speciated again into unimaginable biological forms and posthuman monsters? In this seminar, Alexander Wilson guides us through a speculative account of aesthetics and culture in terms of evolutionary dynamics, and attempts to answer the question (a nod to N. Katherine Hayles): How did we not become posthuman?

*** Given the topic’s relevance to the circumstances we face with COVID-19, we will also look at the relation between “hominization” as a branch of the “tree of life” of cellular biological evolution, in its contrast with the evolutionary dynamics of VIRUSES, which are sometimes considered to inhabit the negative spaces between the branches of this putative tree.


Facilitator: Alexander Wilson is a Canadian researcher in philosophy of science, technology, and aesthetics conversing with cultural studies, environmental humanities, and media theory. He is author of Aesthesis and Perceptronium: On the Entanglement of Sensation, Cognition, and Matter (University of Minnesota Press, 2019). He has held a postdoctoral research position in communication and culture at Aarhus University, Denmark, as well as an assistant professorship in intermedia at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada, and is currently affiliated to Institute of Research and Innovation, Paris, France. Also an accomplished artist, he has created installations, films, music, and works for the stage. He lives and works in Berlin, Germany. Visit his personal website.

Date: Saturday, March 28, 10am-2pm (EST- Eastern Time Zone)

Registration and Cost: Made free in solidarity with everyone in need of inspiring interaction in this time of the COVID-19 crisis

ReadingsPrimary: Freeman Dyson, Biological and Cultural Evolution: Six Characters in Search of an Author (or listen to the audio version below). Secondary: “Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene (excerpt); N. Katherine Hayles, How We Became Posthuman (Excerpt) “Toward Embodied Virtuality;” Giuseppe Longo and Maël Montévil, “Randomness Increases Order in Biological Evolution;” Mitoo Kimura,”The Neutral Theory of Molecular Evolution.”  Claudiu I. Bandea, “The Origin and Evolution of Viruses as Molecular Organisms

Start Time

10:00 am

March 28, 2020

Finish Time

2:00 pm

March 28, 2020


Online Seminars - Eastern Time Zone

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