Friday, 19 April 2013

There's more than one way to become a posthuman

I've just finished re-reading Peter Dickinson's Eva, which I'll be using as one of my case studies for my PhD thesis. My thoughts about the book, which I wrote about in last week's post, haven't changed much from my initial reading. The way I see it,  Eva is not merely something other than human; she is posthuman because she finds a way to synthesise her human-ness and her chimp-ness into something new, and live a meaningful life in a future world. She is not merely rejecting humans and embracing chimpanzees, she is incorporating aspects of both and in doing so becomes a version of what it might mean to be posthuman.

Next on my reading list is Kevin Brooks' iBoy. iBoy offers a different perspective of the possibilities for posthumanity, one that is probably closer to the more popular perception of the posthuman because it incorporates technology. Despite the dissimilar ways in which Tom and Eva become 'other', however, they share the distinction of being 'one-off' posthumans. There will never be another Eva - subsequent attempts at human brain into chimp body transplants during the narrative fail, and result in the death of the patients. Similarly, Tom's transformation is the result of an assault; the iPhone fragments have not been strategically placed in his brain; and so the impacts of technology on his brain are random and could not be duplicated.

The basic plot of iBoy is that Tom, a teenager living in a rough London suburb, ends up in hospital after someone throws an iPhone at his head. The phone shatters and parts of it embed in his brain. These shards somehow transform Tom’s brain and, as he wakes from his coma and is then released from hospital, he realises he has become “connected”: 
“I could hear phone calls, I could read emails and texts, I could hack into databases…I could access everything. All from inside my head. I was connected.”. 
Through this event, Brooks explores the moral and ethical dilemmas of having an enhanced brain. Tom is faced with situations where he can use his 'powers' to exact revenge on those who assaulted him, as well as those who raped his friend. The consequences for his actions are beyond those he has imagined; however, and he must deal with the repercussions in the same way that any human would. That is, while Tom's altered brain gives him powers that other humans don't possess, they do not give him any extra insights or abilities to dealing with the ramifications of his decisions and actions. In this way, Tom's posthumanism is more based in physicality than Eva's. Whereas Eva is able to successfully synthesise the chimp and human aspects of herself to become something other, Tom struggles with the powers his altered brain functions give him. At one point towards the novel's conclusion he considers suicide as an escape from his permanently altered brain and the problems it brings him. Although he rejects suicide as a solution, the struggles he faces due to his "connected" brain highlight that the transition from human to posthuman is not an easy one. Furthermore, an 'enhanced' brain does not necessarily remove the need to address, or improve the ability to successfully navigate, moral and ethical choices.

Thus it could be argued that, by the end of the novels, Eva is more posthuman than Tom. However, the possibility exists for Tom to more fully integrate his 'powers' and thus evolve into something other than human in both a physical and psychological sense.