The Many Posthuman Aspects of PacificRim

Posted by on October 22nd, 2013

Or: the candy-coated man/machine rescue mission.

Pacific Rim is many things. Many shiny, spectacular, immersive, self-aware, monster genre mashing, robot smashing, crowd pleasing, city destroying, heroic dancing things. But apart from its surface appeal, it’s also the delivery system for some incredibly out there, subversive, challenging ideas. This may just be my reading of it, and that’s fine. But I suspect Guillermo Del Toro is guilty of being a clever, clever human and knew exactly what he was doing with this blockbuster movie.

Allow me to explain my thinking here. This is not a review. It’s a “User Guide for Humans”, from barely opened, posthuman eyes. This is an analog mind-meld, I mean drift; an English language sequence as slow-boot brain update. Are you ready to accept Singularity?

Want some Candy?

Taken at face value, Pacific Rim is… completely absurd. And if that wasn’t immediately apparent from its premise, it’s clear by halfway through the film that’s it’s winking hard at you. And shouting at you with Idris Elba’s mandatory “the apocalypse is cancelled” speech at the climax, that amazing actor barely containing the joy on his face in getting to deliver an epic line like this. Pure man-child bliss… just the kind you might expect to find in a mech suit vs kaiju fightfest.

Now those of the Otaku-bent might want to do a detailed analysis of the origins and influences and details of Pacific Rim, and that’s exactly what this post on Medum.com has done, if you want it.

I’m not anti-Otaku. Hell, I raced home as a kid to watch Robotech, and collected what Transformers I could afford. When I toured Japan in ’09 I stumbled onto the Mobile Suit Gundam arcade game and played it every day I was there. I clutched my pilot card when I walked into the preview screening of Pacific Rim, and wore the pirate Neon Genesis Evangelion tee I picked up in a store in Akihabara.

I have been absolutely psyched for this film, and its complement Elysium, all damn year.

What I am saying is there’s a lot more going on below the surface of Pacific Rim. Just don’t expect it to cohere into a logical whole.

Go Borg or Stay Human

First we have the “dance-dance pilot systems”. With its shiny video game aesthetics, and drama engine device, it is first and foremost pro-Borg; celebrating the union of more than one human conscious into a greater whole. There’s been a lot of Borg-hate going on since Google Glass dropped into the world, and I’m looking mostly at Stop the Cyborgs.

Mind you, I walked into this movie with my head having been resident inside in Ramez Naam’s Nexus’verse for a good month. One of the elements of that future world is human hate of anything group-mind (not unlike the linear future world of the Star Trek-verse’s Federation), following various terrorist attacks and cult fiascoes.  So to immediately recognise that there were Borg heroes, front and centre in this film was yet another joyful moment.

Then we have the Robo/Borgsexuality.

Posthuman Gender & Robosexuality

It’s fair to say there are fans going into this already fetishising being inside giant robots…

…which brings us to the giant confusion of posthuman gender. Because what does that even look like from a human perspective? Maybe it’s two buff guys in shiny suits merging through a shared childhood to form a union with a rocket punching, sock’em bot? Maybe it’s also some weird, ritualised staff fighting sequence that isn’t a romantic, courtship sequence… because that would make the two brothers incestuous and homoerotic and is anyone else getting uncomfortable thinking deeply about this?

Let’s cut to the heroic scientist “drifting” with a random chunk of giant alien brain… why on Earth would a Kaiju fanboy ever be turned on by humongous glial cells of extra-dimensional origin?

Chief prosecutor for the homoerotic subtext of jockeying flightsuits argument, thinly fictionalized Quentin Tarantino, explains:

YouTube Preview Image

you want subversion on a massive level…

 

Those of us raised on Robotech also obsessively watched Top Gun as teens. Hell, my gaming nick was Maverick for much of my youth. So the reconciliation scene at the end of Pacific Rim, the begrudging acceptance of the owner of worst Aussie accent ever and our hero… totally recapitulates Top Gun.

And if you’re still not convinced, you haven’t been watching True Blood; same actor, explicitly homoerotic mind-meld:

YouTube Preview Image

Message received collective unconscious!

Make what you will of the fact that I really hope we get to see the bulldog don a mech suit and borg it up with friendly, genetically engineered Kaiju in a sequel. Plot that on your human linear Kinsey scale!

Move over Seven of Nine, the new borg sexiness is definitely here.

Posthuman Battlesuits

Once you’ve accepted that, the “city as a battlesuit [Matt Jones guest post on io9]” is a not a stretch of the brain meats at all. The mech suit as embodiment of the merger of humanity and its infrastructure; the champion of the Anthropocene. Especially visible when you’ve got ships being used as baseball bats and “Gipsy Danger [using] shipping containers like brass knuckles”.

Each Jaegar is built to defend a city, but really, it’s manifesting its surrounds, even merging with them.

As Matt Jones quotes from a British architecture journal:

While Batman’s Gotham City and Superman’s Metropolis largely reflect the character of the superheroes who inhabit them (Gotham is grim, Metropolis shines)

And as he compares to a hero of The Authority:

“Hawksmoor defeats the giant, monstrous sentient city by wrapping himself in Tokyo to form a massive concrete battlesuit.”

Posthuman defense systems with local characteristics.

And while we’re stretching that long bow of your mind, let’s add that you can argue that its also a recapitulation of one Earth’s oldest tales: Marduk the City God vs the Serpent. The Jaegar as the city turned God-like, and if the Kaiju aren’t the contemporary incarnation of the “monster of primeval chaos”, than what is?

“It’s not Posthuman without going Post-State”

It’s not a posthuman tale without things going post-state. The foolish, political human types gripped by their illusions of control decide that building a giant wall trends much better in the polls, and it’s within that construction effort that we find our hero lurking at the film’s commencement. Kaijus walk right through megastructures dramatis (or thinly disguised metaphors at the political penchant for building barriers to keep out unwanted arrivals). Anyway… our pragmatic, military leader, Idris Elba (TV’s Luther), unencumbered by the requisite trope of giant wall of video-screened suits ordering him turns to… “extra-legal funding sources”, continuing the rescue mission by any means necessary.

In this case, dealing with a bizarre caricature of a bad guy with great shoes; the hybrid Spy Kids enemy / Bond Villain. (Ranking the film just above Contact on someone’s “Top 10: Projects funded by an absolute Bond Villain?” list)

But let’s not miss the metaphor of the real villains; the Kaiju themselves. Thomas Hobbes described the State as a Leviathan. And what better way to portray the entities that have really destroyed the climate of this planet for their own ends, what more apt depiction of rogue geoengineers than as giant monsters?! It’s definitely how the various manifestations of corporate-democratic empire looks to the rest of the world.

And this is the most subversive element of all snuck into the subconscious of the audience for a gigantic popcorn flick by a Mexican director. Perhaps no surprise then that the film did terribly in the US, but made serious bank globally.

 

Maybe it’ll take the US a decade or so to appreciate it, as critics are just now accepting Southland Tales, but when you’re watching Elysium wondering why augmented super soldiers are battling with swords and chainsaws over the rights of a breakaway civilisation to exist, remember that Ron Perlman probably said it best in the post-credits scene:

where is my other shoe? -^

When will it drop?

Disproving its antecedent film on things that lurk in the cracks of the earth, beneath the waves, The Abyss: “They want us to grow up a bit, and put away childish things. Of course, it’s just a suggestion.

With Del Toro it’s posthuman man-children dancing off to the rescue, and that’s just super by me.


neoteny and neo humans

Posted by on October 2nd, 2012

Live from linear time, here’s another series of ways to look at our mid-Singularity situation.

  1. an edited excerpt from 1978′s Nova Convention, featuring William S. Burroughs, Timothy Leary and a heckler:
  2. a key part of Grant Morrison’s Supergods:

    And, as if to confirm that ours was not the only universe, it was explained to me that what I was seeing was a nursery of some kind. In order to grow their “offspring,” the chrome angels had to “make” time, because, as they pointed out reasonably, only in time were things able to grow as I understood it. Time was a kind of incubator, and all life on Earth was one thing, a single weird anemone-like mega-Hydra with its single-celled immortal root in the Precambrian tides and its billions of sensory branches, from ferns to people, with every single detail having its own part to play in the life cycle of a slowly complexifying, increasingly self-aware superorganism. It was as if I had been shown an infant god, attached to a placental support system called Earth, where it could grow bigger, more elaborate, more connected, and more intelligent. Growing at its tips were machine parts; cyborg tools made from the planet s mineral resources. It kerned to be constructing around itself a part-mechanical shell, like armor or a spacesuit. “It” was us, all life seen as one from the perspective of a higher dimension. I was told to return and take up my duties as a “midwife” to this gargantuan raw nervous system. It was important to ensure the proper growth and development of the larva and to make certain it didn’t panic or struggle too much when it woke up to its true nature as a singular life form. Incidentally, what we experienced as “evil” was simply the effects of inoculation against some cosmic disease, so I wasn’t to worry much.

  3. the Neo Human rant from 2001′s Waking Life:
    http://www.vimeo.com/50643386
    transcript:

    (A very intense man is talking in front of a fish tank, gesturing wildly – Eamonn Healy, Chemistry professor at University of Texas at Austin)

    If we’re looking at the highlights of human development, you have to look at the evolution of the organism and then at the development of its interaction with the environment. Evolution of the organism will begin with the evolution of life perceived through the hominid coming to the evolution of mankind. Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon man. Now, interestingly, what you’re looking at here are three strings: biological, anthropological — development of the cities — and cultural, which is human expression.

    Now, what you’ve seen here is the evolution of populations, not so much the evolution of individuals. And in addition, if you look at the time scales that are involved here — two billion years for life, six million years for the hominid, 100,000 years for mankind as we know it — you’re beginning to see the telescoping nature of the evolutionary paradigm. And then when you get to agricultural, when you get to scientific revolution and industrial revolution, you’re looking at 10,000 years, 400 years, 150 years. You’re seeing a further telescoping of this evolutionary time. What that means is that as we go through the new evolution, it’s gonna telescope to the point we should be able to see it manifest itself within our lifetime, within this generation.

    The new evolution stems from information, and it stems from two types of information: digital and analog. The digital is artificial intelligence. The analog results from molecular biology, the cloning of the organism. And you knit the two together with neurobiology. Before on the old evolutionary paradigm, one would die and the other would grow and dominate. But under the new paradigm, they would exist as a mutually supportive, noncompetitive grouping. Okay, independent from the external.

    And what is interesting here is that evolution now becomes an individually centered process, emanating from the needs and desires of the individual, and not an external process, a passive process where the individual is just at the whim of the collective. So, you produce a neo-human, okay, with a new individuality and a new consciousness. But that’s only the beginning of the evolutionary cycle because as the next cycle proceeds, the input is now this new intelligence. As intelligence piles on intelligence, as ability piles on ability, the speed changes. Until what? Until we reach a crescendo in a way could be imagined as an enormous instantaneous fulfilment of human? human and neo-human potential. It could be something totally different. It could be the amplification of the individual, the multiplication of individual existences. Parallel existences now with the individual no longer restricted by time and space.

    And the manifestations of this neo-human-type evolution, manifestations could be dramatically counter-intuitive. That’s the interesting part. The old evolution is cold. It’s sterile. It’s efficient, okay? And its manifestations of those social adaptations. We’re talking about parasitism, dominance, morality, okay? Uh, war, predation, these would be subject to de-emphasis. These will be subject to de-evolution. The new evolutionary paradigm will give us the human traits of truth, of loyalty, of justice, of freedom. These will be the manifestations of the new evolution. And that is what we would hope to see from this. That would be nice.

The True Revelation is where we see things as they truly were/are/shall be.


who wants to live forever?

Posted by on May 21st, 2012

This is a bit big. As Bruce Sterling reminds us, “Anything that can be done to a rat can be done to a human being.”

Researchers at the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre (CNIO), led by its director María Blasco, have demonstrated that the mouse lifespan can be extended by the application in adult life of a single treatment acting directly on the animal’s genes. And they have done so using gene therapy, a strategy never before employed to combat aging. The therapy has been found to be safe and effective in mice.

The results were recently published in the journal EMBO Molecular Medicine. The CNIO team, in collaboration with Eduard Ayuso and Fátima Bosch of the Centre of Animal Biotechnology and Gene Therapy at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB), treated adult (one-­‐year-­‐old) and aged (two-­‐year-­‐old) mice, with the gene therapy delivering a “rejuvenating” effect in both cases, according to the authors.

Mice treated at the age of one lived longer by 24% on average, and those treated at the age of two, by 13%. The therapy, furthermore, produced an appreciable improvement in the animals’ health, delaying the onset of age-­‐related diseases — like osteoporosis and insulin resistance — and achieving improved readings on aging indicators like neuromuscular coordination.

The gene therapy consisted of treating the animals with a DNA-­modified virus, the viral genes having been replaced by those of the telomerase enzyme, with a key role in aging. Telomerase repairs the extreme ends or tips of chromosomes, known as telomeres, and in doing so slows the cell’s and therefore the body’s biological clock. When the animal is infected, the virus acts as a vehicle depositing the telomerase gene in the cells.

This study “shows that it is possible to develop a telomerase-­based anti-­aging gene therapy without increasing the incidence of cancer,” the authors affirm. “Aged organisms accumulate damage in their DNA due to telomere shortening, [this study] finds that a gene therapy based on telomerase production can repair or delay this kind of damage,” they add.

In 2007, Blasco’s group demonstrated that it was feasible to prolong the lives of transgenic mice, whose genome had been permanently altered at the embryonic stage, by causing their cells to express telomerase and, also, extra copies of cancer-­‐resistant genes. These animals live 40% longer than is normal and do not develop cancer.

The mice subjected to the gene therapy now under test are likewise free of cancer. Researchers believe this is because the therapy begins when the animals are adult so do not have time to accumulate sufficient number of aberrant divisions for tumours to appear.

Also important is the kind of virus employed to carry the telomerase gene to the cells. The authors selected demonstrably safe viruses that have been successfully used in gene therapy treatment of hemophilia and eye disease. Specifically, they are non-­‐replicating viruses derived from others that are non-­‐pathogenic in humans.

This study is viewed primarily as “a proof-­‐of-­‐principle that telomerase gene therapy is a feasible and generally safe approach to improve healthspan and treat disorders associated with short telomeres,” state Virginia Boccardi (Second University of Naples) and Utz Herbig (New Jersey Medical School-­‐University Hospital Cancer Centre) in a commentary published in the same journal.

With regard to the therapy under testing, Bosch explains: “Because the vector we use expresses the target gene (telomerase) over a long period, we were able to apply a single treatment. This might be the only practical solution for an anti-­‐aging therapy, since other strategies would require the drug to be administered over the patient’s lifetime, multiplying the risk of adverse effects.”

This is a good start. Read it in full at Science Daily.


From 2023 with Love (#meetthenewgods)

Posted by on February 29th, 2012

The progressive development of man is vitally dependent on invention. It is the most important product of his creative brain.

~ Tesla (via @NikolaTeslaBot)

 

Viral video of the year goes to:

Meanwhile in the DANGERZONE… err, WIRED’s Dangerroom, fusing man and machine:

The body’s own nerves are arguably the biggest barrier towards turning the dream of lifelike replacements into a reality. Peripheral nerves, severed by amputation, can no longer transmit or receive any of the myriad sensory signals we rely on every day. Trying to fuse them with robot limbs, to create a direct neural-prosthetic interface, is no easy task.

“We think the interface problem is key to enabling the neuro-prosthetic concept,” Dr. Shawn Dirk, one of the researchers behind the finding, tells Danger Room. “And solving that is how we’re going to give amputees their bodies back.”

Dirk, alongside colleagues at Sandia National Laboratories, the University of New Mexico and the MD Anderson Cancer Center, set out to develop a synthetic substance that could act as a scaffold — that is, an artificial structure that can support tissue growth — successfully merging severed nerves with robotic limbs.

Of course, researchers have already made plenty of efforts to directly integrate nerves and prosthetics. But, according to Dirk, they typically “didn’t use technology that was compatible with nerve fibers,” which are tightly bundled and flexible. “Nerves need to grow and move around; they’re not going to integrate well with a stiff interface.”

Yes, the material comprising the scaffold had to be flexible and fluid, but it also needed to be extremely conductive. Nerve signals are highly localized, and also very, very subtle. An effective neural-prosthetic interface would need to transmit thousands of different signals per second to mimic the behavior of a real limb and its relationship to the brain and body.

To create that ideal interface, Dirk and his colleagues developed their own biocompatible polymers, meant to mimic the properties of nerve tissue. The material is also porous, so that nerves can extend through it, and lined with electrodes, to vastly enhance conductivity.

“There was a very limited inflammatory response,” Dirk says. “That’s important, because we’re looking for an interface that won’t be rejected by the body. We want something that can last years, decades, and hopefully entire lifetimes.”

The finding marks a huge, huge improvement over previous research efforts. Even Darpa, the Pentagon’s far-out research arm and a leader in prosthetic science, couldn’t seem to figure out a direct neural-prosthetic interface that was adequately sensitive and had a lifespan longer than a few months. In 2010, the agency asked for new research proposals that’d solve both those problems.

And while new prototype prosthetics have some incredible abilities, none of them include a direct interface. In fact, they’ve been designed to avoid one altogether. One Pentagon-funded project used “targeted muscle reinnervation surgery” to develop prosthetics that transmit signals from a bundle of nerves in the chest. Another, led by Johns Hopkins scientists, uses brain-implanted micro-arrays to transmit cues to an artificial limb.

A direct neural-prosthetic interface still remains years away. But if this polymer holds up in subsequent tests, it’ll mean prosthetics far more lifelike than even the most impressive artificial limbs currently in development. Most importantly, in the words of Darpa, prosthetics hooked right into the nervous system “would incorporate the [artificial] limb into the sense-of-self.”

 

But wait, perhaps I can interest you in immortality? Meet Brooke:

“Brooke is a miracle,” says her father, Howard Greenberg. “Brooke is a mystery,” says Lawrence Pakula, her pediatrician. “Brooke is an opportunity,” says Richard Walker, a geneticist with the University of South Florida College of Medicine. They all mean the girl from Reisterstown, a small town in the US state of Maryland, who may hold the answer to a human mystery. At issue is nothing less than immortality: Brooke Greenberg apparently isn’t aging.

She has no hormonal problems, and her chromosomes seem normal. But her development is proceeding “extremely slowly,” says Walker. If scientists can figure out what is causing the disorder, it might be possible to unlock the mysteries of aging itself. “Then we’ve got the golden ring,” says Walker.

He hopes to simply eliminate age-related diseases like cancer, dementia and diabetes. People who no longer age will no longer get sick, he reasons. But he also thinks eternal life is conceivable. “Biological immortality is possible,” says Walker. “If you don’t get hit by a car or by lightning, you could live at least 1,000 years.”

And we can’t talk about the New Gods without mentioning CHRONICLE (aka #newgodsproblems). Talkback anyone?