- V.R. Manoj,
Post Graduate Student of Microbiology,
1160, 6th Avenue, Z-Block, Annanagar, Chennai - 600040, India
- Jayapaul Azariah, Ph.D.
President, All India Bioethics Assosiation,
New No. 4, 8th Lane, Indiranagar, Chennai 600 020. India
Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics 11 (2001), 178-183.
AbstractThis paper examines ethical issues associated with cyborgs. A core issue is whether the cyborg body offers a fredom for the fantasies of the mind. It is a freedom that enables the mind to explore into the new environments. To characterize such a cyborg based freedom for fantasy creation, we propose the term "CYBOFREE". 1. Introduction Weiner (1948) first introduced the concept of cyborg and coined the word cybernetics. A "Cyborg" means a human being who is technologically complemented by external or internal devices that compliment or regulate various human body functions. In other words a cyborg organism is constituted by part-machine-part-human systems. Such a chimera of living and mechanized components is immortalized in the movie series "Robocop" (1987). A technical and socio-philosophical study is termed as "cyborgology" which deals with the development of various types of cyborgs leading to the formation of a cyborg society. In more recent times, the impact of cybernetic concept and cyborgology have been so immense that initiated a critical analysis of the social aspects of cyborg society, which has opened a new discipline of "Cyborg Anthropology". For further detailed background see the appendix to this paper (online only). A core issue that we wish to analyse is whether the cyborg body offers freedom for the fantasies of the mind. It is a freedom that enables the mind to explore into the new environments. To characterize such a cyborg based freedom for fantasy creation, we propose the term "CYBOFREE". In order to have a clear understanding on the ethical dilemmas posed by cyborgs and cyborgation of the human being, it is required to consider a few basic factors, which can be made easy if there is a simple and proper system of classification of the cyborgs. An example of one such classification model is as follows: Stage I: Cyborg Replacement or augmentation of human body (skeletal) parts such as Wooden legs, hook for lost arm/hand, false teeth, contact eye lens/ spectacles - correction glass. Stage II: Cyborg Replacement or augmentation of muscle such as mechanical hand for lost hand, other prosthetic devices, mechanical heart valve, replacement of eye-lens. Stage III Cyborg Replacement or augmentation of parts of the peripheral nervous system, autonomic nervous system and the neuro-endocrine system. Examples: Bionic arms and legs, pacemakers, automatic biochemical pumps. Stage IV Cyborg Replacement or augmentation of parts of the nervous system. Examples: Video "eyes" for the blind. Air force fighter plane control (tangent: cyborg consciousness: http://www.carleton.ca/~claughli/tutcynor.htm) Cyborgs can be classified into two basic categories based on their structure and functional role play. Structurally cyborgation can take place either externally or internally (Fig. 1). The former may refer to any external provision of an exoskeleton (Fellon ,1999) and the latter cyborgation includes bionic implants. Functional role-play is directed towards the " mind " and the " body ". A Portfolio Cyborg of the " mind " aims to be futuristic and it transcends any physical limitations whereas the physical aspects is directed to satisfy the altered fancy needs of the " body " (convenient cyborgs). The other form of cyborgation is for the restoration of lost body parts (conditional cyborgs). During the entire process of cyborgation (Fig.1) and its manifestation of part-human-part-machine interaction, information must be generated which can be either from internal or external sources. Such a detailed classification will be used to address questions of irreversibility and permanency when once cyborgation is achieved. Moreover such a typology of cyborgs may provide several clues with which ethical constructions can be built (Figure 1). Referring to the above classification, cyborgs can be divided into two types: conditional cyborgs and convenient cyborgs. A critical perusal of the role play featured by cyborgs, in movies, may revel the presence of four major stereotyped categories namely (1) Unique/solitary cyborgs (2) Social cyborgs (3) Futuristic cyborgs and (4) Reluctant cyborgs. The cyborg fantasy is becoming more and more a feasible reality. The human body is increasingly being enmeshed into the technological realm. Until now, a cyborg stood out as part machine, part human. But soon, with the rapid development in the area of human-computer and bionic technology interfaces, this distinction may soon be lost. The machine would become a part of us and will no longer be alien . Current advances in biomaterials and neural interfaces make it possible for the human body to accept and feel the bionic parts as if it were it's own. Such technology is extremely beneficial to the CONDITIONAL CYBORG. But the real ethical implications arise for the CONVENIENT CYBORG which would utilise the merger of body and mind for pleasure. 2. Why a cyborg body? To understand the implications of a cyborg body, it is important first to know the way or the identity by which the natural body is being treated. The relationship between the body and the mind is a unique one. If we were to think of the body and the mind as two separate entities (according to western philosophies or according to fiction), then the mind is surely one that shows emotions and the body is just a communication medium. Biologically stated, this would mean a constant hierarchical interaction of body cells. Spiritually speaking, it is the relationship between "Body and Soul". Whatever may be the perception, the mind is to be satisfied first. This kind of thought brings to mind the possible idea that the body may be obsolete without the mind. Therefore, the body is seen as a display device for the mind. We could translate the body as a facilitator of pleasure. The mind uses the body as a medium of expression to exhibit various intentions to an interactive environment. The body has always been adorned with external finery as a medium of expression. This may be for intimidation, social status or just plain freedom. The various tattoos and body art are such examples of attempts to express the mind through the body. Now, the constant provision of pleasure by the body to the mind creates a sense of growing addiction towards the body. Addiction gives rise to the idea that the body, in it's present state, is not adequate for the expressions intended to be conveyed by the mind. The body soon becomes an enemy to the designs of the mind. It is, as if the body is denying the mind from the pleasure that is due to it. But, since the mind is fundamentally superior to the body, it chooses to change. To achieve this end, the mind uses Figure 1: Scheme of Classification (Typology of Cyborgs )
Figure 2: Relationship among human, machines and cybofree state accessories such as technology. Thus comes the need for an improved body, where corrections have to be made to suit the fantasies of the mind. Thus, the "Cyborg" is born. Cyborg body is dictated by the following perceptions: 1. The constitution of a cyborg body is to overcome the barriers posed by a natural body to the actual intentions of the mind. 2. The need to totally immerse the body into a state of complete intentional construction, thereby making the natural body obsolete. 3. The intention and hope of becoming a higher power with higher hope. " The hope is that, in not too many years, human brains and computing machines will be coupled very tightly and the resulting partnership will think as no human brain has ever thought and process data in a way not approached by the information handling machines we know today" (Lider,1968). 4. The view that the cyborg body is a platform for entering a state of complete embodiment or disembodiment into a machine interface. Assuming that we would choose to be cyborgs, our choice can be due to various reasons. The cyborg self allows us to maintain a sense of control over the uncontrollable natural body. It is a zone of satisfaction of human quest for power. A body that is made of iron, timeless, ageless is a strong ally to the fantasies of the mind. 5.The increasing immersion into modern technology would mean that the cyborg body is aesthetic in nature to human-machine relations. If we were to look up to a cyborg body, there is a view that the cyborg appears to provide greater levels of pleasure that humans cannot attain with normal bodies. So a seductively wired existence tied to a particular kind of knowing not previously experienced through previous technologies. 6.A cyborg body is seen as a state of technological development. This is mainly because the present body is viewed as a prison and the cyborg body offers a partial fulfillment towards freeing the mind. According to STELARC (2000), "The body is neither a very efficient nor very durable structure. It malfunctions often and fatigues quickly; its performance is determined by its age. It is susceptible to disease and is doomed to a certain and early death. Its survival parameters are very slim - it can survive only weeks without food, days without water and minutes without oxygen". So, the idea projected is that the body is obsolete and it needs to be enhanced. The core issue is whether the cyborg body offers a freedom for the fantasies of the mind. It is a freedom that enables the mind to explore into the new environments. To characterize such a cyborg based freedom for fantasy creation, we propose the term "CYBOFREE". The overall fantasy of possesing the cyborg body leaves out several gaps in the fundamental foundations of human perceptions about fantasy and reality. There is a reduction or a dehumanization which is described by the term, "Cyborg Subjectivity" (Luckman 1999). In cyborg subjectivity concept, human beings try to become agents or vehicles with an aim to merge with the constructed reality of technological networks. STELARC (2000) suggests " In fact, to function in the future and to truly achieve a hybrid symbiosis the body will need to be increasingly anaesthetized". The fuel for such an inclination for a merger has been the fantasy of the "Seduction of the Cyborg". The whole talk about, "what the Cyborg means to us?" can be put as the "Cyborg Discourse". Such forms of thought may sound logical, but they posess serious ethical questions. The importance of a natural human body is not only physical, but also religious. The very thought of altering the natural body for the sole reason of it's inadequecy is ethically disturbing. A. Dehumanization The cyborg body is seen as a step towards the merger of the human body with machine. But rather than placing machines to enhance the body; as the body being fundamentally superior, the current view is to fuse the body into the machine realm so that the body is just a facilitator for the functioning of the cyborg unit. This view leads to an idea of an "Electronic Dissociation" (Wellman, 1997). This dissociation states that the resultant cyborg is more powerful and thus bears no moral obligations to human values because it is seemingly above it. Part machine and part human, the cyborg has the power to destabilize accepted boundaries and open spaces for liberatory action (Hayles, 1996). In this view, the cyborg becomes an alien. It can no longer be seen as human. The cyborg is thus dehumanized, objectified and virtualized. Thus, a sense of transcendence is achieved which can be compared to an evolutionary stage from the present human state. The interesting and implicating factor is that the entire nature or the identity of the human mind is now being dictated by the fantasy promised by the capabilities of the machine. The addition and replacement of body parts may cause radical, unpredictable and even chaotic transformations of the entire human definition, both in a physical and in a psychological or spiritual approach. This can be seen as a penetration or invasion into the delicate balance of basic human nature. This penetration in "Cyborg Discourse" has been refered to as "Law of Bidirectional Penetration" (Tangent: Cyborg consiousness). In a cyborg discourse, the body is just a "collection of parts " which is symbolised as secondary and replacable (i.e.) without value. What has been left out is that the potential for replacement also signifies other kinds of loss, the principal among which is the detachment of human values and morality. (Jamison, 1994 ). Such a dehumanization shows a reduction or a simplification of life. There is a commodification of the entire body (Awaya:1998). Everything is being compared in the concept of a machine. The advent of genetic engineering has made us define an organism as a complicated network of arranged genetic code, comparable to a circuit board. The progress of thought and action as electrical impulses. Therefore, everything is being compared to a basic systematic approach. Every unit of life is being stripped down to it's basic chemical units. Life, instead of being understood is being broken down. In the words of Donna Haraway, "Biology here is a kind of cryptography. Microelectronics mediates the translations of labour into robotics and word processing, sex into genetic engineering and reproductive technologies, and mind into artificial intelligence and decisison procedures". In this light, the fundamental and instinctive inclination would be to view the entire human biology as a prison, offered by destiny. Thus, comes the view of neglect and disrespect to the human biology and the surrounding moral, spiritual, social relations that it has. B. Seduction The entire cyborg concept is a seductive discourse. The body, seen as an object and thus a dehumanised person, is obsolete in front of the promise and seduction of the cyborg. The cyborg fascinates & seduces us. In doing so, it allures us into a fantasy world where the human mind is free to explore. Such a freedom is a difficult concept. The real cyborg first envisioned by the two NASA scientists to facilitate space travel was to facilitate man by taking care of normal functions. Thus leaving man free to explore the other experiences of space in an explorative nature. But, in the seduction of the cyborg, such is not the case. The seduction is brought about by all the visual and print media which treat the cyborg as a higher power, offering freedom of individual choice. It would surely seem great for anyone to have bionic arms that could match the strength of the legendary Hercules. So, the seduction of the cyborg, promises pleasure to the mind's curiosity to explore and pursue questions of meaning, relationship and freedom. Seen from the human nature of depression and failures, the cyborg body offers a seduction that leads us to believe that total cyborgation would offer us freedom to a truly unique experience. What it points to is still unceratin. The seduction that is being implied here is not one where we can say technology offers much promise. What is being expressed in this concept is the seduction that leads us to believe that the cyborg body offers a sense of evolution and transcendence. In order to lead us into this seduction, the cyborg fantasy uses past knowledge of our own sense of inadequacy and sense of comparing future possibilities to lure us. But, the objective of this seduction is uncertain and is thus brutal and cold in it's nature. This dark view remains shielded from us because of dehumanisation and reduction of values that we have placed upon ourselves. We really do not know where the "Bigger, Better, Stronger" outlook is taking us, but we are being seduced into such a path. This is the seduction of the Cyborg. C. Power The cyborg, besides it's dehumanizing and seductive features, it possesses ourselves, offers and possesses an incredible amount of power. The cyborg is capable of much more. Some consider it to be free from all moral obligations and therefore seems a much higher being. The true power of the cyborg rests in the social reality. Society has always embraced newer technology and fantasy. Society has trashed the older, the older being human biology, which is organic, degradable and powerless in front of the indestructable, immortal cyborg. Seen as a direct comparision, the cyborg is much more powerful and efficient, both physically and logically. Logic has always been devoid of emotion or ethics. Logic does not obey morality, a term that is religious and spiritual. If logic be the cyborg, then perhaps it does need to be given credit for it's superior power in making the human body seem incapable. Mizrach (2000) points out " The limitations of the body need not be obeyed. It can be made to live longer, or be healthier, through artificial organs and by nanotech "magic bullets". It can be made stronger and more dextrous through steroids and enhancing nervous signal transmission. The mind can be extended as well, it's memory or perceptions or intelligence can be increased. The primitive man's desire to imitate and become one of the gods can be met. " This power offered by the cyborg points out that the natural body is an incapable and an uncomplimentary ally to the enormous flexibilities of the mind, which the cyborg can handle. The true transcendence would be when the human body is made totally obsolete by uploading the whole personality or the defined mind, now nothing more than an electronic jumble into a machine and thus become immortal, the ultimate fantasy. At this stage, it may not be possible to call it a cyborg. So, such is the power of the cyborg. 3. Cybofree The first generation of bioethics has been medical ethics, involving the dilemmas of the practice of medicine. The second generation has come into grips with the biotechnological revolution. Now, comes the third generation who's main dilemma is going to be CYBOFREE. The concept of CYBOFREE puts the human being on an evolutionary abortion caused due to confused and uncertain expectations. 'Evolutionary abortion' is a phrase by which human beings are aborted from the expected mainstream evolutionary descent of organism. CYBOFREE is going to affect society at large in the near future. It is a problem of the present 21st century, the new millenium. Most science fiction books introduce the concept of "Non-adaptability Syndrome" (Toffler, 1984) where people who fail to integrate with the machine technology become obsolete and/or are eliminated. This concept is shockingly true if we consider the dehumanization, seduction and power of the cyborg discourse. The cyborg is an object of absolute power which has seduced us beyond doubt. The advances in bionic technology have now made it possible to yearn for the fantasy of the cyborg. The cyborg is more confident, better equipped and efficient for survival. The mind wishes to extend the body with available technology. This leads to the concept of the body being a facilitator of pleasure to the mind. Once the right expression is achieved by the mind through a cyborg body, it experiences FREEDOM. Such a freedom is called CYBOFREE (ie) to be free because of the Cyborg being. What then is 'FREE' in CYBOFREE ? If the desires and fantasies are merely met by the mechanical augmentation or replacement of the human body, does that really mean freedom? The mind is still trapped in a physical realm and is totally dependent on the cyborg body for it's pleasure. In this scenario, the cyborg is again becoming a restrictive body from which newer aspirations of the mind would arise. The mind is never satisfied. The mind would also evolve to a stage where even a cyborg body may not be sufficient. The mind of a cyborg, would still be organic in nature as the brain and the body would still retain human part. Any progress beyond this level would require the total detachment and the translation of the mind into a virtual environment where absolute freedom is gauranteed. This view, however is going beyond speculation (see Figure 2). What we are intending to say is that even if a proper cyborg body is developed, the mind is still trapped. The cyborg is not the end. CYBOFREE is then really a term of fantasy, where the freedom, in a true sense, is still not gauranteed. The process of development would continue beyond cyborgation, just as genetics has continued beyond DNA structure and Watson & Crick. But, what is more important is that with each stage of technological advancement, there accompanies further detachment from accepted moral and ethical values. Already, we are experiencing conflicting values of ethics with the advent of modern technology. Perhaps CYBOFREE offers us a direct comparision with this reality factor. Is CYBOFREE really free? 4. Contradictions Cyborgation of the human body for fanciful needs leading to "Cybofree" has several contradictions which clearly indicate that this is a misunderstood notion. The entire concept of becoming "free" with the help of a cyborg body and thus experiencing Cybofree is therefore wrong because of the fundamental flaw in treating the mind and body as two separate entities. The majority of eastern philosophies treat the body and the mind as one singular integrated unit (ie) bodymind and not as separate entities. For example, Pali Buddhism's view on the mind-body relationship has been brought out in Peter Harvey's paper "The Mind-body relationship in Pali Buddhism : A philosophical investigation"(Harvey 1993). The basic belief is that the mind and the body are not separate spheres. But, this does not seem to indicate that they are fused in any way. It only suggests that the relationship between the mind and the body is so intense and entwined that it is not possible to treat them as separate. The term given to here is "body mind" and not "body and mind". In such beliefs, life itself is not biological but is rather a consciousness, which manifests itself from the moment of conception. Such a life-force is meaningless or without purpose if there is no body. There is also no biological location given as to where the mental aspect may reside in the physical body. Therefore, it is accepted in these philosophies that the mental consiousness is manifested throughout the body and is once again is an integral and inseparable part. However, there are indications that define the influence of the mind or the body on one another. The views being dealt with in this paper will be brief. One of the ways described by which the body can affect the mental is by perceiving objects in the immediate environment. The reverse is also true. This reverse ratio must be the fanciful term used to describe the notion that a healthy mind leads to a healthy body. But, in fact, all philosophies of eastern origin strongly suggest that there should be a strong value placed for the body and on the mind as an integrated unit. One reference also strongly points out that the consciousness is dependent on the different physical states. Another point is that the mind can create a body of it's own to move through cosmic proportions in a meditative state. The above views seem to suggest that neither is the victor. Both the body and the mind are equally matched and integrated. Thus, it can simply be said that any reductionist view of the human body as being inferior by itself and to the mind, is simply unethical. The very concept of "Cybofree", a condition that results from such a misunderstanding is therefore, also unethical. This is because the mind can never solely influence the body without a reverse reaction taking place akin to the third law of Newton. What can be said about cyborgation is that a Cyborg body can influence the individual into believing the concept of "Cybofree". This is a view that is increasingly popular in both fiction and reality. The real underlying factor is being misunderstood because of a general disrespect towards accepted and traditional philosophical viewpoints.However, the continued belief in "Cybofree" will invariably lead to possible psychological problems for the future Cyborg and current radicals. 5. Cyborgs - the education Education is very important in imparting ethical values to the younger generation. "It is the only resource that is yet available in human hands to save human beings from extinction… Human education can be transmitted to the next human generation...it is the transmission of ideas, which enables humans to choose between one thing and another" (Azariah 2000). The prospect of providing education about the cyborg dilemma may or may not be too late. But it is better late than never." Finally, we can no longer give our cyborg students an option: they are already cyborgs - beings who are systemic interfaces-and the technologies of the internet will give them the muscles to make their cyborg selves stronger than they are at present." (Allen and Lothar, 1998). We would like to introduce the proposed term "CYBOFREE" also into the new stream of thought. CYBOFREE is an interesting concept which addresses the following issues : 1. CYBOFREE attempts to find out the extent of freedom and creativity offered to the mind by a cyborg body. 2. CYBOFREE asks questions of direct consequence to the seduction of the cyborg discourse. 3. CYBOFREE is a term that can be used to explain other venues of bioethics such as getting into grips with the possible outcome of radical genetic or biological research. Since both involve human identity and ethics in a technological revolution, it would be beneficial to foresee a parallel study of CYBOFREE and BIOETHICS. If people are not made aware of this "Non-Adaptability Syndrome", they may face serious ethical dilemmas when cyborgation becomes the norm. Therefore, there is a need to educate the people about CYBOFREE. The following steps are to be taken: 1. A survey may be taken among the members of a society as to what importance they give to ethical values of the human body and life as a whole. It may help to draw out the real implications of how society would react to total cyborgation and how it would conceive "CYBOFREE". 2. There is thus a need to address this forthcoming issue of CYBOFREE in textbooks and circular newsletters, which would equip the younger generation to interact in a prepared way with technology. Already, certain new fields are emerging such as CYBORG ANTHROPOLOGY, CYBORG BIOETHICS, CYBORGOLOGY. Therefore, CYBOFREE should also be taken up as a critical question for analysis. The explanation of CYBOFREE takes away the mask of fantasy from cyborgation. It is asking serious questions, which will have serious implications in the future. The proper education of CYBOFREE would enable the development of a responsible and ethical technology where the importance of life is not considered obsolete. 6. Conclusions The word "Cyborg" basically stands for "Cybernetic Organism". The primary intention of this word was directed at a radical proposal to change the human anatomy with technological supplements. The possibility of cyborgation has led to advances in technology which has also made it's reflections on fantasy and superhuman roles. These fantasy roles combined with the real technological possibilities has led to a reductionist approach to the natural body. So, the idea of cybofree was proposed in this paper and it's contradictions have also been discussed. The reality however is more challenging. If we were to look at the advancement in bionic technology. It is very much obvious that such a technology is most important for the rehabilitation and full functioning of the disabled. This is a most significant achievement. Therefore, it is highly necessary for bionic technology to reach it's full potential, for which bioethics education is the tool. The real problem lies in the social factors and the attitude of people to bionic body parts. At present, people with advanced prosthetics are welcomed by the society. But, if we were to call them "Cyborgs", then it is an offensive term to most. People do not wish to be called as "Cyborgs" just because they have an artificial body part. In the future, bionic technology will advance to a level from which it will be possible to enhance the biological body with technology. At such a level, will the people with bionic body parts be discriminated against people with normal body parts? For example, will a person with an extended memory chip be given an equal status as that of people with natural parts? Another issue is the question: whether human rights would be applicable to bionic humans or cyborgs? Macer (1998) states that no matter what material a being is made from it should be judged on whether it is rational and capable of loving others. Will Cyborgs be considered to be more suitable for a technologically advanced society? Such issues and notions such as "Cybofree" can lead to serious psychological problems and incompatibility issues in the coming future. It may be wise to recall that such technology has already arrived and therefore, there is an immediate need for addressing such issues through proper education. The advancement of technology has meant certain kinds of loss. One of which is the loss of moral based thinking. Cyborgation means that the natural body is becoming part machine. In such a case, which ideals should it follow? The question remains as to whether it should follow the logical thinking of machine or the moral values of humanity are to be followed? Such radical thoughts lead to the fact that there is a gradual disrespect or a mistrust of the human body. Scientific advances give us unlimited fantasies. "Science can't produce ideas by which we could live. Even the greatest ideas of science are nothing more than working hypothesis, useful for purposes of special research but completely inapplicable to the conduct of our lives or the interpretation of the world." (Azariah,2000). In reality, if ethical judgment is followed, then it is likely that the human body is an incredible work of divine art. The complexity of the human body can never be matched by any amount of technology. In the Old Testament of the Holy Bible, it is stated, "I will praise Thee: for I am fearfully and wonderfully made" (Ps139:14a). The natural body is capable of incredible feats, as can be seen in martial arts such as "Kalaripayyattu". (Manoj 2001). " With all this talk about augmenting our bodies and ourselves through technology, let's not forget to use the resources that our brains and bodies already have, as features, which we can expand upon through discipline and practice." (Musick, 2000). References Allen,M and Lothar R 1998 Are we yet Cyborgs ?University students and the practical consequences of human-machine subjectivity. Computer networks and ISDN systems 30: 597-601 (1998).'
(Paper presented at the Sixth International Tsukuba Bioethics Roundtable: Bioethics, Health and the Environment (TRT6), 27-29 October, 2000)