“Only the Initiates Will Have the Secrets Revealed”

Tune in for the next talk in our Lecture Series “Cultures of Research – Digitalization of Research“. On Wednesday, January 26th, Alexandre Hocquet (Fellow c:o/re Aachen, Archives Henri Poincaré) will talk about the Politics and Materialities of Open Science.

The talk focuses on software in science and its diversity of entanglements with openness. Software has been “eating” the world, and science is no exception. From Excel to complex “big” scientific instruments, via Photoshop or molecular modelling software suites, the vast majority of software used in science is not open, and a vast majority has nothing to do with computer science. When software is open, it is very often naively represented as a solution to all issues in science, especially reproducibility. Yet, even open software is full of epistemic issues, from governance to consistency, and the consequences of its influence on the rest of open science are often misunderstood, especially regarding licensing policies.

Who are ‘You’ in the Future of Humanity?

carbon fibres

STEVE FULLER

Does being human require a certain kind of embodiment?  This may sound like a strange question because we are accustomed to the equation, ‘Human = Homo sapiens’. Thus, the natural way to interpret talk about ‘animal rights’ or ‘machine rights’ these days is in terms of granting ‘rights’ in some sense to beings not embodied as Homo sapiens. But alternatively, we could simply mean extending the status of ‘human’ to animals and machines. The latter interpretation, while counterintuitive at first glance, would be truer to the uneven legal application of ‘human’ in the history of Homo sapiens. After all, we are still struggling to accept all members of Homo sapiens as ‘human’, even though ‘humanity’ has been attributed to animals, machines – and even extraterrestrials – down through the ages.

Now, you might read this last sentence as a moral indictment of Homo sapiens. On the other hand, you might say that it reveals the historical vagueness of ‘human’ as a predicate that remains even after Linnaeus’ mid-eighteenth-century coinage of ‘Homo sapiens’ to name the human animal. Only then did most modern intuitions about ‘humanity’ start to crystallize. But Linnaeus’ seemingly simplifying move has arguably only complicated matters. Consider these two countervailing developments:

(1) ‘Anthropology’ was coined (by Kant) at the end of the eighteenth century to name the science of Homo sapiens, whosespecies uniqueness has been increasingly challenged by Darwinians wanting to absorb humans into the more general study of animals. The fate of the ‘social sciences’ as separate from the natural sciences hangs in the balance.

(2) At the same time, a vast cross-disciplinary search has been launched to find something distinctive about upright apes that might make them ‘human’ – or more to the point, Homo sapiens as already ‘human’. The quarry has often been defined in linguistic or genetic terms – or both! The results have so far been inconclusive, to say the least.

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Steve Fuller

Senior Fellow at c:o/re (10/21-09/22)

Steve Fuller holds the Auguste Comte Chair in Social Epistemology in the Department of Sociology at the University of Warwick, England, where he founded the research program of social epistemology.

This checkered history in the modern study of the ‘human’ suggests that we might consider the advantages of returning ‘human’ to the status of a vague predicate. From its earliest usage, ‘humanity’ has generally implied educability. It results in what Pierre Bourdieu called habitus, which is in turn ultimately about comportment: how you carry yourself in the world. In very broad terms, the Greeks and Romans focused on self-comportment, whereas the Christians stressed comportment towards others. This helps to explain the survival of ‘dignity’ and ‘recognition’ as normative concepts throughout modern Homo sapiens-centered discussions of humanity. However, the key metaphysical point is that ‘humanity’ is presented as something that one transitions into. It’s not naturally given, but it’s available as an opportunity to seize. This explains the centrality of education in (at least) the Western imagination in both ancient and modern times: It’s the process by which (any)one can become human. It’s also why the ‘humanities’ have been historically central to the university curriculum.

Given the various exclusionary narratives that have evolved around Homo sapiens over the past 250 years, one might conclude that Linnaeus’ coinage has served to restrict – not extend – our understanding of humanity. In this context, the word cishumanity has been coined to characterize what has become our default Linnaean view: that is, to be human is to be born as Homo sapiens. The neologism is modelled on the usage of transgender activists who coined ‘cisgender’ to refer to those who identify gender with the sex of one’s birth – as opposed to the manner of one’s self-presentation. The use of ‘cis-’ in this context has aroused controversy because it draws attention to the privileging of origins – in this case, being born in the ‘right’ animal species – over achievement in the determination of one’s standing in the world. Of course, this is a familiar theme from the long history of human attempts to escape from social discrimination.

But once we take seriously the proposition that humanity is something that one is not born into but rather must achieve, the focus shifts to the criteria of humanity. ‘Criteria’ first became philosophically luminous in the hands of the Stoics, whose worldview was informed by the belief that decisions must be taken against the backdrop of a fundamentally indeterminate world. The ‘only’ question is the basis on which such decisions should be taken; hence the need for ‘criteria’. In terms of modern philosophy, this position captured at once a ‘deontological’ ethics and an ‘antirealist’ epistemology. In other words, you must set the principles of judgement – otherwise there are no principles – and then you abide by whatever follows from that decision. Kant’s greatness came from tackling the question of the ‘you’ in its clearest and most comprehensive form. However, the self-styled ‘cosmopolitanism’ (a Stoic coinage) of his moral and political writings was arguably compromised by his debt to Linnaeus in the Anthropologie.

The ‘you’ in terms of criteria for humanity is the one who decides who else belongs. In this context, I have proposed a ‘Turing Test 2.0’. Whereas the original Turing Test was about selecting out the computer from the human, its upgraded version would select in the computer — or any other being — that passes the criteria, regardless of its material origins. In the spirit of Kant’s categorical imperative, your confidence in the principles that constitute the criteria would be sufficient to judge on behalf of the entire set of beings with which you identify. (Of course, then you would be willing to live with the consequences of your judgements). Such a ‘Turing Test 2.0’ would certify a sense of ‘ontological citizenship’ that binds both the judging and judged entity in a common humanity. The resulting world is one where The League of Humanity liberates the robots in R.U.R. and all the replicants pass the Voight-Kampff test in Blade Runner.

References

Fuller, S. (2014). ‘What scientific idea is ready for retirement?: Human = Homo sapiens’. Edge.org

Fuller, S. (2019).  ‘The metaphysical standing of the human: A future for the history of the human sciences’. History of the Human Sciences 32: 23-40.  The metaphysical standing of the human: A future for the history of the human sciences – Steve Fuller, 2019 (sagepub.com)

Hernandez-Orallo, J. (2017). The Measure of All Minds: Evaluating Natural and Artificial Intelligences. Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press.

Featured image: carbon fibers, photo: Mario Irrmischer


proposed citation: Fuller, Steve. 2022. Who are ‘You‘ in the Future of Humanity? https://khk.rwth-aachen.de/2022/01/17/2086/2086/

New Year – New Fellows

René von Schomberg

This week, we welcomed René von Schomberg and Catharina Landström at RWTH Aachen university. Like Andoni Ibarra, who arrived at c:o/re in December, René von Schomberg is working on responsible innovation in research with a focus on the value of ‘openness’.René von Schomberg is a Guest Professor at the Technical University of Darmstadt, Germany, and counselor to the European Commission. In a hybrid lunch talk, he gave us a glimpse into his research program for the coming months.

Catharina Landström

STS scholar Catharina Landström, Associate Professor with a focus on environmental studies at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden, is also touching on the subject of open science. After years of intensive field work with a focus on water systems challenges, she is happy to delve into critical text analysis for the coming six month. She will explore how experts argue in writing and how they convey to environmental decision makers the validity, relevance and reliability of knowledge in the face of computer simulation modelling.

Andoni Ibarra

This introduction of the new projects refreshed the academic debate among fellows, as new overlaps unfurled. Upcoming events are meant to further explore these junctions.

First Fellows arrived in Aachen

We are excited to host our first c:o/re fellows in Aachen. They form a international group of distinguished researchers, representing a wide variety of scholarly approaches to the study of science, technology and society. Based at our research center for one year, they are enriching the diverse academic environment of RWTH Aachen University, each developing their own project, about which you can read briefly below.

Kick-off meeting on Oct. 5th. From left to rigth: Alexandre Hocquet, Markus Pantsar, Erica Onnis, Amanda Boetzkes, Ana Bazzan, Steve Fuller, Frederik Stjernfelt and Joffrey Becker.

Ana Bazzan is a Professor of Computer Science at Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul, Porto Alegre, Brazil. Her research focuses on multiagent systems, in particular on agent-based modeling and simulation, and multiagent learning for the transportation domain. In her research project, she combines techniques from network theory with agent-based modelling and simulation to investigate complex human behavior in past and present societies.

The relation between humans and so-called intelligent systems, and the social changes associated to the design of such systems – be they ontological, interactional or societal – lies at the heart of Joffrey Becker’s research project. He is a Social Anthropologist and Research Associate at the Laboratoire d’Anthropologie Sociale at the Collège de France, Paris.

Amanda Boetzkes, Professor of Contemporary Art History and Theory at the University of Guelph, Canada, focuses on a different relation: that of humans and environment. During her stay in Aachen, she is working on her project that considers contemporary art’s mediation of climate change and its production of ecological perception in the case of the Greenland Ice Sheet area and its inhabitants.

The “Homo Futura: its History and Philosophy” is one of two book projects that Steve Fuller is working on during his stay in Aachen. The Professor of the Auguste Comte Chair in Social Epistemology at the University of Warwick, England, will be exploring the philosophical and historical background of two very different approaches to grasp humanity’s collective self-understanding: transhumanism and posthumanism.

Alexandre Hocquet is a Professor in the History of Science at the Université de Lorraine, France. His research focuses on the impact that software has on the production of knowledge in computational chemistry. How does software – not only its code, but its design, its usage and licensing among other aspects – transform research? This project adresses “software as the elephant in the room”.

Erica Onnis, Philosopher from the University of Turin, Italy, devotes her work to the understanding and clarification of the concept of emergence. By suggesting a revision of the theory of causation and clarifying the scope of notion of qualitative novelty she is going to develop a taxonomy of emergent phenomena in complex biological systems.

Markus Pantsar is a Senior Researcher in Theoretical Philosophy at the University of Helsinki, Finland. His research revolves around philosophy of mathematics and connected areas, such as AI, logic and complexity. The aim of his project is to contribute to the feasibility of building AI agents with human like-intelligence by taking a computational and cognitive approach.

Frederik Stjernfelt is Professor of Semiotics, History of Ideas and Theory of Science at Aalborg University, Denmark. As the title suggests, his research spans over a broad area of the humanities and social sciences, from meaning and cognition to philosophy of science and free speech. Among other achievements, he is a leading scholar on Charles S. Peirce. His project consists in develpoing a perspectivist philosophical anthropology, as required in the context of humans’ extension onto digital and other technological media.

Fellows Welcome Event

We are holding a Welcoming Event for the Fellows of our Center on Nov. 10th, 2021 at Super C. Vice-Rector for Research and Structure, Prof. Dr. Ing. Matthias Wessling, and Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, Prof. Dr. Christine Roll, will give a welcome address.