I never thought I’d be able to write that title. During my UG studies, I’d been fascinated by the Frankenstein, by the other, partially-not-human, and the bioethical considerations that arise from artificially modifying humans. And now, after cataract surgery, I find I am carrying round two implants that restore to me my lost vision.
Sure, the intraocular lenses (IOLs) don’t seem like much, and cataract operations are performed everywhere, every day. The difference they have made to my vision, however, is outstanding: from a smudged and darkened view on life, even with glasses, I now see brilliant colours once more and the objects around me have well-defined edges.
The bathroom mirror, though… hmm, it lies, of that I am now sure.
The point is, the simple implants have transformed my life just as other, invisible implants have transformed other lives. But are we cyborg? Are skate-sprinters cyborgs? What about those with replacement limbs or pacemakers? And what about those with almost-invisible replacement hip and knee operations?
It raises an interesting question: Where does cyborg start? None of us can function well without our implants and prosthetics, and what we are given makes us able to be better-integrated in human society again. But how ‘other’ are we? Sometimes the scars can be seen even when we wear everyday clothes; many times they can’t, so the cyborg – the partially-artificial – can never be detected.
There are more cyborgs around, even today, than we might realise.
Of course, I am drawing a distinction between prosthetics we wear on the outside (a capped tooth, for example, or a pair of spectacles) and the more permanent, perhaps internal prosthetics. But is that a reasonable distinction? And there is a another consideration: is someone who has supporting bolts and metal to hold together broken bones a cyborg too? In some cases, the supports are removed, so the individual moves from human to cyborg and back to human: the individual changes state. Is someone wearing spectacles or using a crutch partially cyborg, too? In both cases, the item is artificial…
I occasionally see arguments against implants and extending human capabilities artificially when, in fact, we are extending many human’s capabilities every single day. The argument is complex, and long and I cannot hope to do it justice here, but very often the dividing line is simply whether or not the implant makes us better than ‘normal’ humans (remember the two types of blade Pistorias had to use in the Olympics/Paralympics?).
But even that dividing line is an illusion: it is ‘natural’ for humans to age and have problems with their bodies. By giving them implants we are raising them above the ‘normal’, degenerating and accident-prone life that is human. How can an argument really be raised against a pain-removing hip operation or light-giving cataract surgery?
Once you start arguing against such beneficial operations the logic progresses stage by stage and takes you down some horrifying routes, blocking even stitches, plaster casts or even the use of medication. But there are remarkably few of us nowadays who can ever say that we have lived our lives with no external support at all.
We are almost all, or have been at one time, cyborg: the science fiction is here and now. And I, for one, am relieved at the incredible medical advances that enable us to be so.
[Featured Image: IBM & Bausch (C) ibmphoto24,
Flickr, Creative Commons ]