Monday, April 28, 2008

What is Man anyway?

I'm trying to write a proposal for a seminary paper for school and this is what I came up with so far:

Kant asked four major questions in his anthropological philosophy (or was it a philosophical anthropology?):

1. What can I know?

2. What must I do?

3. What can one hope for?

4. What is Man (which can be translated, I think, into 'What is a Human Being')?

Our query begins with Kant's fourth question and from which it expands it to ask if the technology that has been developed requires a significant change in the perception of 'What is Man'. This second question suggests an existing connection or some sort of correlation between technology and Man's essence (if one exists) or some other such answer to Kant's question.

This begs the question of what kind of technological change (quantitative? qualitative? both? neither?) should be in order for the perception of what Man is to change as well. An avalanche of questions seems to follow: What is the perception of what Man is today? What precisely do we mean by 'Technology'? Have such changes in technology and Man occurred before? Can these changes even be discerned (provided they exist)?

Each of these important questions should be asked in its own specific scientific, religious, cultural, economical, technological, social, psychological (and who knows how many more categories) context and frame of reference.

Given these questions and different possible answers and angles, can we provide a single momentous answer that would be both personal (as something I would have to connect and relate to) and general (as to aspire to get to the truth or truths of the matter)? This is also a methodological question, of course. Let us provide a methodological answer.

We will use a sort of thought experiment and examine a Human process that embodies within it several of these frames of reference all rolled into one. This is possible, to some degree, using literature and history. Let us imagine then a specific change in technology and observe its effects on Humanity.

A more than adequate example for this can be found in the 'Dune' saga by Frank Herbert. According to the story, a radical change in technology has occurred that has eliminated the use of 'Thinking Machines' - there are no more computers that are as at least as advanced as what we have today (this indicates in fact two changes in technology: the use of 'Thinking Machines' and the eradication of the same machines, but we will focus here on the second change and its effects and try to isolate them).

Given this immense change in technology then, how will (or did) it affect Humanity and the answer to 'What is Man'? This question may be answered by first listing the Human reaction, changes and adaptations through the years and next by analyzing the said behaviors and attitudes that were observed and extrapolating from there as to what is the Human image they wished to preserve (in essence, their answer to 'what is Man?').

To begin this arduous task, we will list in general the categories of Human responses to the technological shift which we can observe:

1. Social-Political.

2. Religious-Philosophical.

3. Technological-Economical.

A specific type of technology, that has many kinds and manifestations, can then be used as further example and a sort of prism by which we can learn about the Human response. By this, we mean the myriad of cognitive technologies developed to compensate for the lack of artificial cognition and to further explore the Human potential.

Lastly, these various Human actions (such as the construction of specific socio-political structures) and abilities (such as the cognitive technologies) that were put forth and created in relation or conjunction with the radical change in technology will be analyzed. This analysis, we hope, would bring us closer to understanding of the Human motif that stands at their base and runs through their very core and is the answer (to the perhaps un-answerable in any direct means) question of 'What is Man'.

This analysis will be performed from a philosophical point of view (designed to withhold judgment as much as possible but also directed to perceive and seek the hidden meanings in the Human behavior and thought) and be based upon the works of Kant, Heidegger, Foucault, Popper and others.

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