Section 17 Course Description

Course Name: The Posthuman: From Conscious Octopus to Compassionate Cyborg
Section 17
Instructor: Jack Furlong

Currently, an enormous amount of interest among students of human/animal connections, biologists, philosophers, novelists and artists has come to focus on what is called "the posthuman." The term does not refer to what comes after the destruction of humanity, but rather to a way of understanding humans that completely subverts the common view that we are the center of the planet. Some thinkers have struggled with new ways to understand humans in relation to other animal lives, and others have speculated about an enhanced humanity with bodies genetically or technologically altered.  In both cases, centuries-old ways of appreciating what it means to be human are challenged. 
The first part of the course will explore what we know about the capabilities of nonhuman animals, questioning the various ways in which humans have tried to separate themselves as a vastly more advanced species.  The second part will contemplate advances in robotics and artificial intelligence, challenging that anthropocentric agenda from the other side: what are complex machines telling us about our vaunted cognitive and conative abilities -- consciousness, free will, morality? Given that perspective, how should we think about and act toward the nonhumans we relate to now and the machines we may relate to in the future?