Training Transhumanism (I WANT TO BECOME A CEPHALOPOD)

Miriam Simun / New York, NY, USA — Jan 7, 2019

Miriam Simun, »Training Transhumanism (I WANT TO BECOME A CEPHALOPOD)«, 2018, Planetary Glitch
Miriam Simun, still from TRAINING TRANSHUMANISM instructional video (2018)

Training Transhumanism is an open-sourced web-based instructional video series for training human enhancement based on the model of a cephalopod. Each video will instruct one exercise of the Training Transhumanism (I WANT TO BECOME A CEPHALOPOD) psycho-physical regimen for human enhancement in the face of rapid ecological and technological change, developed in collaboration with luciana achugar. Exercises train new sensitivities and capabilities, focusing on embodied intelligence, shape-shifting (camouflage) and distributed intelligence. Training Transhumanism (I WANT TO BECOME A CEPHALOPOD) positions a non-mammalian animal as an evolutionary role model (rather than a machine); embraces the capacities residing in the biological human body and the pleasures rooted in bodily labors; advocates for embodied knowledge for the project of innovation; and embraces training as a technology is rooted in practice, development of internal abilities, and equity in access.

1Welcome to cephalopod evolution

Training Transhumanism (I WANT TO BECOME A CEPHALOPOD) is a PSYCHO- PHYSICAL training regimen for human evolution {{enhancement, extension, transformation}} in the face of rapid ecological and technological change. A series of exercises train new sensitivities and capabilities within the existing human biological system, based on the #role-model-organism# of the cephalopod. The regimen focuses on the internal capacity building of three key cephalopodic traits within the human: embodied and tactile intelligence, shape-shifting camouflage and distributed intelligence.

Training Transhumanism (I WANT TO BECOME A CEPHALOPOD) was developed at the MIT Media Lab (aka the future factory) by Miriam Simun in collaboration with luciana achugar.

Miriam Simun, »Training Transhumanism (I WANT TO BECOME A CEPHALOPOD)«, 2018, Planetary Glitch

2. transhumanist dreams

#trainingtranshumanism {{{transhumanism:: the physical, psychological and emotional enhancement of the human}}} not through augmentation or implantation but through TRAINING, LABOR, BODY-WORK.

The literal definition for transhuman is »beyond human.« Another definition describes the enhancement of humans’ physical, cognitive and emotional abilities. For the last half-century, transhumanism has come to be understood as a vision for the future of the human that melds human and machine. Heavily influenced by science fiction and currently heralded by silicon valley, popular transhumanist projects attempt to upload the brain to the Internet, end death, enhance cognition through neurobiological intervention and artificial intelligence, and generally and push beyond the limits of human capacity with technology.

Miriam Simun, »Training Transhumanism (I WANT TO BECOME A CEPHALOPOD)«, 2018, Planetary Glitch

A primary goal of many transhumanists is to convince the public that embracing radical technology and science is in the species’ best interest. The ultimate melding of »man and machine.«1

»Posthumanism is a description of a new form of human existence in which the boundaries between humans and nature and humans and machines are blurred, as well as a prescription for an ideal situation in which the limitations of human biology are transcended, replaced by machines. The transition from the human condition to the posthuman condition will be facilitated by transhumanism, the project of human enhancement that will ultimately yield the transformation of the human species from the human to the posthuman. As an intellectual movement, transhumanism is still very small, but transhumanist ideas exert deep and broad influence on contemporary culture and society…[I] argue that it should be seen as a secularist faith: transhumanism secularizes traditional religious themes, concerns, and goals, while endowing technology with religious significance.«2

Worship of technology. A quick image search renders the preceding images – the melding of man with machine (and one woman). Data storage, wireless brain-to-device interaction, implanted error correction devices…the predominant model for the future of the human is a computing machine.

While »solving« death and discarding with my body do not reside high on my agenda, the enhancement of capability is a worthy endeavor, and certainly one we need to contend with all these futures.

But I don’t want to become a machine.

3What do you want?

 

I WANT.

 

I WANT TO BECOME.

 

I WANT TO BECOME A CEPHALOPOD.

 

{{{ #allthewaysintobecoming }}} We are agents of our own evolution… but what is the model according to which we operate?

Embedded in all projects of innovation are the grains of desire, of vision, of ideology – explicit or not. This transhumanist project begins with a declaration of desire.

The future(s) we propose are the future(s) we desire.

Miriam Simun, »Training Transhumanism (I WANT TO BECOME A CEPHALOPOD)«, 2018, Planetary Glitch

4training as technology

This attempt at becoming requires the use of a technology rooted in bodily labors: training.

The Merriam-Webster’s dictionary offers a definition of the term technology: »the use of science in industry, engineering, etc., to invent useful things or to solve problems and a machine, piece of equipment, method, etc., that is created by technology.« In 1937, the American sociologist Read Bain wrote that »technology includes all tools, machines, utensils, weapons, instruments, housing, clothing, communicating and transporting devices and the skills by which we produce and use them.«3 The US Patent department enables the patenting of objects but also processes: methods are also understood to be technologies.

Training is a method of producing a new kind of human, out of an old one. We train pilots, astronauts, soldiers. We train trainers. We develop methods and processes in order to produce biological organisms with new capabilities. These trainings are also a technology.

Training, as opposed to devices, is a technology that requires a different kind of resource investment: of time and of labor – not simply of capital. Training does not [have to] require expensive gadgets, material goods, the newest devices. Training requires labor, diligence, commitment and effort.

Miriam Simun, »Training Transhumanism (I WANT TO BECOME A CEPHALOPOD)«, 2018, Planetary Glitch

In this way, training as technology – if wielded in thoughtful ways – can encourage equity in access. Certainly, time is a valuable resource, and hard to come by – but fundamentally – time can be made where capital and access to material technologies can not. Training is about making-do with what one has and making it better, through labor, through commitment, through effort: through sweat.

5the cephalopod

#rolemodelspecies

Cephalopods are the class of marine mollusks that includes octopus, squid, cuttlefish and nautilus. They have been in existence for over 400 million years.

Miriam Simun, »Training Transhumanism (I WANT TO BECOME A CEPHALOPOD)«, 2018, Planetary Glitch

»Cephalopods – especially octopuses, cuttlefish, and squid – have a special importance. These animals are an independent experiment in the evolution of large and complex nervous systems – in the biological machinery of the mind. They evolved this machinery on a historical lineage distinct from our own. Where their minds differ from ours, they show us another way of being a sentient organism, writes Peter Godfrey- Smith in Other Minds.«4

Another way of being, another way of seeing, another way of feeling, another way of responding, another way of perceiving, another way of being, of being, of being…

Miriam Simun, »Training Transhumanism (I WANT TO BECOME A CEPHALOPOD)«, 2018, Planetary Glitch

5embodied + tactile intelligence

»The idea is to do collaborative research, to be in touch, in ways that enable response-ability.«

– Karen Barad5

Embodied cognition is a thinking that occurs in relation to the world. It is an understanding and intelligence that occurs fundamentally in relation to a specific context. It thus requires – and is shaped by – our physical bodies and the physical, real- world environment. It is where all intelligence emerged from, and the site to which human intelligence remains tethered.

To understand intelligence as fundamentally tied to perceptive and action-based abilities that reside in our bodies.

This position presents us with an entirely other set of possibilities for intelligence and action in the world.

The cephalopod as model explores the radical extreme of embodied cognition and intelligence – neural-cognitive processes literally occurring in what we vertebrates term the »peripheral« body parts. The cephalopod represents a radical example of neurobiology – decision making with the body, without involving the ‘main’ brain.6

As Mather and Kuba describe:

»The arm contains a widespread sensory system that allows the animal to collect mechanical and chemical information from the immediate environment and to appropriately react to the stimuli.«7

Said another way by Godfrey-Smith: »In the octopus, the motions are guided by the arm’s own chemical and tactile sensors, not by vision.«8 It is the arm itself that makes decisions, based on its embodied understanding of the world.

»Cephalopods have large nervous systems…as many as two-thirds of these neurons are dedicated to the nerve cords and ganglia in the peripheral nervous system (PNS) rather than the central nervous system …«9

Miriam Simun, »Training Transhumanism (I WANT TO BECOME A CEPHALOPOD)«, 2018, Planetary Glitch

Not only is their cognitive processes localized, it is highly sensorial: »…a significant portion of the central nervous system in cephalopods is dedicated to visual, tactile, and chemosensory perception.«10

IF

{it is in large part this intimate, fuzzy and malleable relation of mind/body/environment in the cephalopod that has enabled it to survive millennia, adapting to an ever- changing environment.}

THEN

{developing and improving a thinking in humans that listens to our body and occurs in relation to our environment will develop our awareness, understanding, concern and resiliency of/for/in our surroundings; environment; ecology. The ecological crisis will only intensify if we continue to solely foreground non-situated cognition to address ecological concerns.

To stimulate our tactile capacities.

To heighten our embodied sensitivities.

These cognitive enhancements will provide us with new sensations, new awarenesses, new relations to the world, each other, and ourselves. As luciana achugar lays out »a more connected, more sensational relation« to the world.

6shapeshifting camouflage

Cephalopods can change color, texture, shape and even mimic other organisms’ movement patterns. They do this largely in order to avoid detection by predators and prey, and as a form of signaling – communicating with each other.

The malleability of representation of which cephalopods are capable makes them very resilient creatures, able to swiftly adapt to any situation. This is one of the reasons this animal – a shell-less invertebrate, essentially a giant piece of meat swimming through the sea – has been able to propagate and succeed for millennium in an ocean full of predators.

Consider also Mather and Kuba’s description of the S. sepioidea squid’s evaluation of predator behavior and subsequent response in a near-shore field study:

»Different cues elicited different responses within and across species… Could the squid be »mind reading« the intention of the fish? It is more likely that they were picking up small movement or postural cues, but the necessity to do such complex evaluations suggest a heavy pressure to succeed in these calculations.«11

Such findings show that beyond a simple color-changing camouflage capability, cephalopods practice a complex and sophisticated shapeshifting strategy for best survival. This requires an immense awareness of their physical and social environment, which they gain through highly attuned visual, tactile, and chemo-receptive sensors – as well as embodied and tactile cognition – operating both centrally and locally.

The US military is funding both biological and engineering research to better understand how cephalopod skin and their chromatophores function, in order to develop materials and tools that will enable an evolution detection-avoidance capabilities for military purposes.12 #TrainingTranshumanism takes a broader and more holistic approach. What can we learn from the complex interactions of the shapeshifter?

We define camouflage as:

  1. [A] hyper-awareness of one’s hyper-local environment, and
  2. [B] the ability to shape-shift – in role, behavior, identity or simply presentation – for utmost resiliency in said environment.

7distributed intelligence

»All vertebrates share a general body-plan, and their nervous systems show a common inheritance. Cephalopods have an entirely different organization, both in body and in brain. The vertebrate plan features a head and spinal cord, with the peripheral nervous system coming off it. This is a rather centralized design. Molluscs, along with several other invertebrate groups, developed what is sometimes called a ‘ladder-like’ nervous system. In many molluscs there are knots of neurons, or ganglia, spread along the body, linked by two kinds of connections – ‘vertical’ ones along the body and ‘horizontal’ ones across it, like a ladder. Though this was the likely molluscan starting point, in the evolution of coleoid cephalopods there was both expansion and partial centralization of this nervous system.«13

This distributed neural organization in means that intelligence – the ability to think and respond – is spread throughout their bodies. Different body parts can sense and act upon sensation without that information necessarily ever traveling to the ‘main brain.’ Even the term ‘main brain’ may provide an incorrect model for understanding cephalopodic intelligence. As Godfrey- Smith writes,

»In fact, the cephalopod nervous system is so decentralized that it might seem to be a mistake to even look for this kind of unified processing. They may have a radically different style of psychological organization from us.«14

»For an octopus, its arms are party self- they can be directed and used to manipulate things. But from the central brain’s perspective, they are partly non-self too, partly agents of their own… central guidance of the movements is never complete, and the peripheral system always has its say.«15

Perhaps then, instead of understanding the octopus as a single organism with nine brains, we should understand it as nine organisms – housed within a single skin.

There is evidence that supports this position: Even after an arm has been severed, it can continue to hunt and catch food, attempting to feed it to a mouth no longer around.16 Octopus researchers describe different arms as appearing to have different personalities that remain consistent over time: one arm curious, another shy.17 Bret Grasse, cephalopod husbandry expert at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, tells of an octopus arm that attempted to feed itself only to have the body shoot jets of water at the arm in order to get it away. This debate continued for several minutes.18

»When we act, the border between self and environment is usually fairly clear. If you move your arm, for example, you control the arm both on its general path and also in many fine details of its motions. Various other objects in the environment are not under your control at all, though they can be moved indirectly by manipulating them with your limbs. Uncontrolled movements by an object around you are usually a sign that it is not part of you…If you were an octopus, these distinctions would be blurred.«19

We train this blurriness. How might our attitudes shift if we were at times unsure if what we encounter is self or other? If we trained to be so sensitive as to inhabit another bodies’ perceptions, sensations, activations inside our own bodies? »Other bodies« can include human bodies, non-human bodies, bodies of water, etc? How might our perceptions, relations, actions change?

As a vertebrate with a centralized intelligence, total distribution is impossible. Perhaps then, achieving cephalopod evolution is impossible alone. Perhaps then, the future of the human requires more than one human; to share cognition; to enter into states of shared intention; to become, for a while at least, a sort of single organism.

The distributed nervous system not only problematizes the conception of the self, but also the relationship between self and environment:

Beyond cooperation, beyond collaboration: toward a shared intention.

 

Our own embodiment is
never fully autonomous.
We require other bodies,
that in turn require other
bodies, to bathe us into
being.20

Our skin is our sensor,
also our border, holding
this jumble of physical
organs, gases, liquids, we
call the self together. But
even our skin is a membrane
– porous.

So I want you to let this sharp distinction that we
usually carry around with
us to start to blur – just
get a little fuzzy at the
edges – where fingers touch
fabric, where weight rests
on surface, where arm
brushes leg.

7. dry training

8wet training

Now Entangled, Accelerate.

Once DRY TRAINING is complete, we move onto the advanced stage of transhumanist enhancement: WET TRAINING.

This is a whole new level. For this, we will first need to understand that

YOUR URGE TO BREATHE IS A LIE.

Miriam Simun, »Training Transhumanism (I WANT TO BECOME A CEPHALOPOD)«, 2018, Planetary Glitch

Miriam Simun, still from YOUR URGE TO BREATHE IS A LIE

  1. Hava Tirosh‐Samuelson, 2012, Transhumanism as a Secularist Faith, Zygon/r 47/4

  2. Ibid.

  3. R. Bain, 1937, Technology and State Government, American Sociological Review 2/6: 860

  4. Peter Godfrey-Smith, 2017, Other Minds: The Octopus and the evolution of intelligent life. London: William Collins

  5. Karen Barad, 2013, On Touching–The Inhuman That Therefore I Am, differences 23/3: 206-223

  6. Jennifer A. Mather and Michael J. Kuba, 2013, The cephalopod specialties: complex nervous system, learning, and cognition, Canadian Journal of Zoology 91/6: 431-449

  7. Peter Godfrey-Smith, 2013, Cephalopods and the Evolution of the Mind, Conservation Biology 19: 4-9

  8. Ibid.

  9. Zullo, Letizia and Binyamin Hochner, 2011, A new perspective on the organization of an invertebrate brain, Communicative and Integrative Biology 4/1: 26–29

  10. Ibid.

  11. Jennifer A. Mather and Michael J. Kuba, 2013, The cephalopod specialties: complex nervous system, learning, and cognition, Canadian Journal of Zoology 91/6: 431-449

  12. See Cunjiang et al, 2014, Adaptive optoelectronic camouflage systems with 
designs inspired by cephalopod skins and Harmon, 2014, Octopus-Inspired Camouflage Flashes To Life In Smart Material

  13. Peter Godfrey-Smith, 2013, Cephalopods and the Evolution of the Mind, Conservation Biology 19: 4-9.

  14. Ibid.

  15. Peter Godfrey-Smith, 2017, Other Minds: The Octopus and the evolution of intelligent life. London: William Collins

  16. Katherine Harmon, Even Severed Octopus Arms Have Smart Moves, Scienti c American, August 27, 2013 blogs.scienti camerican.com/octopus-chronicles/even- severed-octopus-arms- have-smart-moves/

  17. Jennifer A. Mather, 2008, To boldly go where no mollusc has gone before: Personality, play, thinking, and consciousness in cephalopods, American Malacological Bulletin 24/1:51-58.

  18. Bret Grasse, Personal Conversation, April 12 2018.

  19. Peter Godfrey-Smith, 2017, Other Minds: The Octopus and the evolution of intelligent life. London: William Collins

  20. Astrida Neimanis, 2017, Bodies of Water. London: Bloomsbury.

Miriam Simun

Miriam Simun is an interdisciplinary artist whose work is about the collision of bodies (human and non-human) with rapidly evolving techno-ecosystems. Bodies … seeping into the world as the world seeps back into us…pleasure is important, as is pain. I work in multiple formats including drawing, writing, performance, installation, scent, video, and sculpture. I am interested in tales of survival.

Sophie-Charlotte Opitz

Sophie-Charlotte Opitz is a transdisciplinary scholar in visual culture studies and cultural memory studies. In 2019, she is the art coordination fellow within the Digital Solitude program and works as the editor for Schlosspost,and other projects. After her degree in philosophy and art education, she wrote a PhD thesis on aesthetics and the dynamics of war and conflict photography. Opitz has published a range of articles on photography, memory dynamics, and art education, at e.g. transcript Verlag. She is primarily interested in the layers of time and space that form our everyday lives, and the politics of (in-)visibility.

Find out more about her work on her webpage.

Sophie-Charlotte Opitz

Sophie-Charlotte Opitz is a transdisciplinary scholar in visual culture studies and cultural memory studies. In 2019, she is the art coordination fellow within the Digital Solitude program and works as the editor for Schlosspost,and other projects. After her degree in philosophy and art education, she wrote a PhD thesis on aesthetics and the dynamics of war and conflict photography. Opitz has published a range of articles on photography, memory dynamics, and art education, at e.g. transcript Verlag. She is primarily interested in the layers of time and space that form our everyday lives, and the politics of (in-)visibility.

Find out more about her work on her webpage.

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