In this weekend's Telegraph Review, the article, Touching the Void, by Astronomer Royal, Martin Rees poses exactly the kind of questions that I hope to evoke with my degree show installation. Evolution, not just of our own humble species, but on a cosmic scale. Where is it that we have come from, and where are we headed?
In exploring post-humanism and the evolution of humanity, I became drawn to the origins of life on Earth. I have been mesmerised by the incorporeal cyanobacteria. A mysterious blue-green algae invisible to the naked eye yet responsible for so much that we take for granted. Cyanobacteria are a form of micro-algae, tiny micro-organisms many of which contain chlorophyll (as plants do) yet have the ability to move towards light and nutrients via the use of whip like tails (flagella), as an animal might. They exist today, as they did billions of years ago, in the oceans and their ability to create oxygen in the atmosphere was ultimately responsible for all other life on earth.
Researched for their potential to create bio-fuel and for their properties as nutraceuticals (health food supplements), they are also highly prized for their intense blue-green pigment. Like the ‘oltramarino’ of renaissance Italy, cyanobacteria possess that impalpable quality of the colour blue, of coming from beyond the seas and beyond the skies.
One might argue that these tiny beings enabled the existence of humankind. Their origins are unclear and debated amongst scientists. There is an other-worldly quality that connects them to the cosmos. The enticing possibility that they hail from a star far beyond our solar system, that they are the remnants of an intelligence that we cannot comprehend at present.
Evolution of intelligence as Rees points out, has the potential to present a hyper-real scenario not unlike that depicted in the Wachowski brothers' The Matrix. Rees suggests that such a world will not be possible without post-human intelligence. The post-human conjures up images of science fiction. Today, the collaborative relationships between artists, scientists, technologists, ethicists and philosophers mean that the reality of the post-human is creeping into the broader public perception. Cloned animals, crops genetically bred to resist disease, glow in the dark mice and zebra fish, human embryos cultivated to avoid genetic deficiencies. These are all possible today and fifty years from now it may be commonplace to combine human DNA with that of other species to eradicate disease, boost intelligence, increase life expectancy, or even to better our chances of survival on another planet. Human intelligence is evolving to incorporate the possibility of life beyond human. It is a reality that may still seem alien in the present, but it is a inevitable aspect of our future. It is the future that we know, that we are able to predict and describe. An entirely human construct. What we must expect therefore as we move towards the post-human is the unknown: the future that is not ours to shape.