A paper of mine, entitled “The ambiguous magnificence. Life and art between evolution and creation”, has been published in the bilingual volume (Polish/English), edited by Dmitry Bulatov, Die, and become! Art and Science as Conjectured Possible, Gdańsk, Łaźnia Centre for Contemporary Art, 2017. This text is an excerpt from my opening keynote to the homonym conference, held in Gdańsk on November 27, 2016. The conference and an art exhibition were curated by Dmitry Bulatov and coordinated by Jolanta Woszczenko. The artists in the exhibition were James Auger and Jimmy Loizeau, Dmitry ::vtol:: Morozov, Louise-Philippe Demers, Where Dogs Run: Olga Inozemtseva, Natalia Grekhova and Alexey Korzukhin, Thomas Feuerstein, Heather Dewey-Hagborg, Pedro Lopes, and Verena Friedrich.
An excerpt of my paper:
“Expanded organisms and Third Life
On one side science and technology operate on the human body, in a process that has been developing with evolving techniques since the dawn of human history. Today muscles, skin, bones, organs, brain, genes could be cured, enhanced, modified and substituted, generating a sort of expanded humanity. Many ideas that for centuries have been pivotal in societies’ existence are put in discussion, redefining the meaning and the limits of “human nature”, “human condition” and “human culture”. This process can be noticed in the attention that today is paid to environment issues and to animals’ rights, and it is evident in movements like Transhumanism and Posthumanism.
On the other side scientific and technological evolution seems leading to new living entities. The living is the best model when making tools, machines, devices, organisms, that beyond being useful for humans have to survive to damages, errors, defects and viruses. They have also to be able of self-repairing to a certain extent, to autonomously work in and adapt to the environment, to interact with unexpected situations and hitches, like the living normally does. Hence the living is the best model, because it has demonstrated its efficiency in the last four billions years of evolution, it already has experience of the world. Modified and expanded organisms, autonomous agents, Artificial Life forms, Robotics and Biorobotics constructs, nanoentities, organic/inorganic hybrids, synthetic matter and life, clones, extinct organisms revived through De-extinction by means of genetic engineering and selective breeding [Shapiro 2015]: we are going to assist in an extension of the idea of life to a complex panorama with organic, inorganic and intermingled life forms. These entities and organisms originated from human culture could evolve constituting a “Third Life”, being “First Life” the natural organic life and “Second Life” the life in the symbolic realm (that has not to be confused with the famous 3D virtual world) [Capucci 2009, 2013].
These processes could lead to an evolutionary step. The rise of symbolic intelligence in our ancestors generated an outburst of tools and artefacts, and deeply changed the interaction with the environment creating the anthropic world we know. In an early phase – since Palaeolithic – the new forms depend on humans and, although increasingly complex, they are mainly human extensions that expand the body, the senses and the mind. But step by step this forms are becoming autonomous, and due to the pressure of the anthropic environment they are evolving as living entities, organic, hybrid and inorganic. These forms are not the result of natural selection, they are selected by human culture and habitat instead. The more the anthropic environment expands and develops, the more these forms proliferate, diversifying and evolving.
Creating life has a historical foundation: since ancient times humankind has been trying to simulate or emulate the living in order to participate in the Myth of Creation. Beyond the arts, that for millennia have been representing nature and life, worth remembering the Greek Talos, the Jewish Golem, the medieval, Renaissance and eighteenth century automata [Truitt 2015], the nineteen century Frankenstein, the twentieth century robots, androids, cyborgs and replicants in cinema, literature and art, the contemporary social and industrial robots, the explorer machines that are on Mars. Automata and robots, the “children of our minds” [Moravec 1988; Fung 2015], are historically present in many cultures, from Europe to Russia, to Islam [Zielinski and Weibel 2015], to China, to Japan. And since prehistory humans have also been modifying and creating life giving birth to new varieties of animals and plants by cross breeding the existing ones, for particular – also artistic – tasks and goals.
Today Nature and evolution seem going beyond the mere biological roots, expanding and overstepping the biological realm, in an evolution that originates from human species. Human culture is the pollinator of this new, natural genesis. On one hand, human species increases its awareness and consciousness; on the other hand it is the initiator of a speciation process that brings to life new entities starting from what is called the “artificial”, that is the “natural” peculiar of human species. Therefore humans copy and/or modify Nature and build the human artificial, which in turn becomes able to create its own artificial – a second order artificial.
Why does all this originate from human species? To what extent will humans be able to lead and manage this process? Will this configure an evolutionary leap, the diaspora of a species that cancels itself in its cultural heritage?”