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AAR Annual Meeting
Boston, MA
November 18-21, 2017

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Human Enhancement and Transhumanism Unit and Religion and Science Fiction Unit
Theme: Religion, Science Fiction, and Transhumanism
Tracy J. Trothen, Queen's University, Kingston, Presiding
Monday - 1:00 PM-3:30 PM
Hynes Convention Center-202 (Second Level)

These papers the approaching future of transhumanism, raising questions of nationalism, identity, and personhood in speculative fiction.

Juli Gittinger, Georgia College
Personhood in the HBO Series Westworld

This paper will explore the concept of personhood in the television series Westworld. Set in a future where themepark meets science lab, cybernetic beings called “Hosts” act as characters in a wild-west setting and are fodder for paying guests’ worst inclinations of violence and sexual depravity. Like Battlestar Galactica or Blade Runner, ethical behavior towards such beings comes down to a question of personhood: At what point does an artificial life become a “person,” a person who would fall under normative social parameters of ethical behavior, value, and dignity? And when does artificial life achieve true awareness of this personhood? Two characters are analyzed through Baudrillard’s concept of hyperreality/simulacra and Heidegger’s concept of authentic dasein. This paper will address both outward personhood (that is, how others perceive the Hosts) and inward personhood (how the Hosts achieve self-realization).

Robert Geraci, Manhattan College
Anchoring the Future: Transhumanism in Indian Science Fiction

Science fiction has struggled to gain traction in India, and thus has not had the same impact on scientific practice as it has had in western countries, such as the United States. Scientists and engineers in India report that the narrative landscape of India has provided fewer opportunities for intervention by science fiction authors, but with the increasing prevalence of the information technology sector and the western nations’ delight in transhumanist debates, science fiction has acquired new significance in India, and that literature now includes rich and interesting debates over transhumanism. To a considerable degree, it is transhumanism as subject matter that has permitted Indian science fiction to "catch up" to its American counterpart and take on an interpretive position that demands recognition in global studies of science fiction.

Victoria Lorrimar, University of Oxford
Science Fiction, Theology, and Human Technological Enhancement

The prospect of human technological enhancement is both a commercial and academic pursuit (particularly amongst transhumanists) and a common theme in science fiction. The relationship between transhumanism and science fiction is worth exploring -- not only have the visions and aspirations of many technological innovators been inspired by their own reading of science fiction, but many of these professionals have themselves written in the genre. There are also strong parallels between transhumanist and religious hopes for redemption from the present human predicament, even if the agent of redemption varies. The human capacity for imaginative thought suggests that applying our creativity and ingenuity to the enhancement of human nature should not necessarily be prohibited. This paper explores the role of the imagination in epistemology, suggesting that science fiction offers both a resource for discernment when it comes to human enhancement and a resource for theological engagement with the challenges posed by transhumanism.

Jeff Appel, University of Denver
Benjamin Peters, University of Denver
Smearing the Boundary: A Materiality of Soul in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora

Reading Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2015 novel, Aurora, through S. Brent Plate’s material aesthetics, Gilbert Simondon’s technical mentality, and Bruce Clarke’s neo-cybernetic theory, we offer a reading that smears the boundary between techne as art or modern technical object. We see Robinson narrating a middle way between the dominant narratives surrounding A.I. today—either to be “vigilant and aware” of its dangers or to “incorporate for the sake of singularity.” Robinson’s suggested via media suggests something similar to Plate’s conception of soul, which is a mutually informing, co-constitutive process of a materially oriented meaning making that emerges from a relationship between technics and humanity. In this way, we can read Aurora as a religious narrative in which the eventual sacrifice of Robinson’s A.I. displays one possible instantiation of Plate’s material soul.

Sean O'Callaghan, Salve Regina University