The NEH Transhumanism seminar 2015-16

This has been one of the most intriguing, fun and intellectually stimulating seminars I have ever attended. Yes ever!  My biggest takeaway is to re-think identity beyond post-modernism’s traditional concepts. That is, p-m supposes a historically constructed identity, but often neglects the technological aspect. How does technology change what we understand as our humanity? How can we re-define what that means in the face of technological change. It is no longer possible to even rely on the “stability” of our biology, since new medical and digital technologies become  part of the body and its experiences.
My focus was technology and the law. While I drew in scientific and technological discoveries previously, they were somehow of a different sort.  The addition of stem cell questions, memory blunting, catfishing and questions of fictional on-line personas and characters for art as well as commerce, has raised new questions regarding 5th Amendment rights (memory/witnesses), 4th Amendment (warrants to access encryption), First Amendment and copyrights, legal personhood, DNA collection and the liberal individualism that undergirds our legal system.

This has changed every class module I teach in some way, not just adding a step but shifting the angle of discussion. It has provided an access into science for students and for me. Suddenly they are uniquely interested and can relate in an additional way. Students clearly integrate their learning across two disciplines and write about it–three disciplines. I will also use some of the ideas discussed here for a different class on the novel next term.

Evelyn Burg


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