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From automata to transhumans

The conference “From automata to transhumans, Debating human nature and its limitations 1600-2000” takes place in Pisa and online on April 21 and 22, 2022.

An important part of the contemporary debate on human nature was shaped by debates taking place in early modern Europe in the attempt to remove the animal part of the human mind by turning it into an abstract monad while converting the body into a machine. Humans gained the promise of certain and universal knowledge (mathesis universalis) but began thinking of themselves as automata, bereft of individuality and real agency. Much of the questions raised back then resonate with us still nowadays:

  • Is human nature something immutable or is it the product of history and social conventions?
  • Do humans even have a nature? And what does it mean for humans to have a nature and to what extent does biology condition what we are?
  • Is it desirable to use technology to enhance the desirable characteristics of the human species?
  • What instruments, images, analogies, models and literary strategies were used to further such a project?
  • How does the early modern debate on automata and man-machine (homme machine) predates the modern on transhumanism and posthumanism?
  • How does the debate evolve after the eighteenth century?

The conference aims at exploring such questions from a multidisciplinary approach, bringing together scholars from different fields, interests and periods. It is thought to take place as an open debate, with keynote speakers discussing the early modern philosophical and ethical implications of mechanical philosophy and with attendees focusing on the modern and postmodern impact of the early modern debate. By doing so, the conference aims to bring the research about the automata up to date and to connect historians of philosophy, arts and literature with researchers of transhumanism and artificial intelligence.

Today, the characteristic tropes and patterns that once defined the course of early modern mechanical philosophy are witnessing an extraordinary resurgence of interest among scientists, scholars and laypeople concerned with the fate of human beings. The reasons are numerous and of various kinds: the outstanding progress of Artificial Intelligence (AI), the pervasive influence of the Internet of things (IoT) and the combined synergy of neuroscience and nanotechnology, to mention only the most relevant ones. Philosophically speaking, the field of possibilities is growing by the day.

Deadline CfP: February 14, 2022.
Deadline registration: February 28, 2022.
More information is on the conference website.