To Fall with Grace, Not From It
The myth of Icarus is one that I've had as of late, very freshly circling the focus of my thoughts. The story resonates what to me, is an ongoing truth since the creation of this particular myth. When considered analogously, the story cannot escape certain parallels to the relationship between Technology and Man. In this aspect, we are that creature that will fly too close to the Sun, regardless of how good a thing we possess, we will carelessly push passed the boundaries and destroy even ourselves in the name of Innovation.
In brief, Daedalus is an inventor who develops wings of feathers held together by wax. He and his son, Icarus take the wings on a test flight, each with their own pair. On land, Daedalus warns Icarus to avoid flying too high, as the sun will melt the wax and cause the wings to come apart. All goes well in the air but soon Icarus becomes more and more intoxicated with the sensation of flight and ignores the previous words of his father. Icarus flies higher and higher and the sun, sure enough, melts the wax and eventually Icarus' wings come apart and he falls into the end of his life.
Cloud through cloud, ending in a death-pounding plunge into the Icarian Sea, Icarus fell. He could not contend himself with flight--an achievement in itself so marvelous that following his father, Daedalus's instructions or precautions would have proven alone, a reward. The reward of flight. True freedom of the air as the birds have long before obtained and reveled. But Icarus took advantage, saw an opportunity and decided to withdraw the most he could from the experience. Of course, he paid with his life, yet when he flew--Good God, how he flew! It could never be said in comparison to Daedalus' flight, that Icarus failed. In fact, of the two it was certainly Icarus who flew. Freely, with the confidence and command of a natural avian, something winged and biologically earned. That is the truth of Icarus' flight; while Daedalus remained a human flapping wax wings safely and thereby remaining alive, surviving his son.
Taking this myth and applying to it, one of the current and more obvious areas of human ingenuity, I find myself faced with a conflict. I am conflicted because upon reflection to Man's daring and creative spirit, I at times feel like a Daedalus rather than that plunging, screaming, wingless man falling his last seconds of life away. And I confess myself to slight disagreement with some of the transhuman/futurist sensibilities that have accompanied technological advancement in the relatively recent years. Before further diving into my conflict, let us take a moment to consider the wax wings of Daedalus and then, the wax wings of Man, Technology.
It is after all, nothing short of true to call Daedalus' wax wings a technology. Daedalus himself, known for his ability as a master craftsman, was a master engineer. Earlier, long before his son set down into the depths of atmosphere and water, Daedalus had designed the labyrinth for King Minos to trap the Minotaur. He was developing technology for flight, human flight--though biology would much disagree as it would with fish covered in fur. Despite the biological friction it may at times create, Technology is not the enemy--isn't even as harmful as it is helpful. Tools are helpful by definition and their utilitarian contributions have helped to in turn, define Man as a tool making/using animal. Craftsmanship also produces good; dams, windmills, and sewage pipes are fine examples of very innovative technologies that have withstood the test of time since their respective debuts. Since then, the light bulb, telegraph, typewriter, airplane, elevator, radio, television, cellphone, internet, maglev trains, atom bombs, an so on...We live in an age of information, of exponential possibilities, what Ray Kurzweil calls, The Law of Accelerating Returns states, technological change is exponential...we won't experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century--it will be more like 20,000 years of progress (at today's rate). Indeed Singularity (when machines converge in sophistications to match the conscious human brain) is near!
And there my friends, is when the Sun breathes too close and we heed not the previous warnings or the consequence of flying farther and faster with wax wings. In the myth, I side with Icarus. I side with the idea that no limits should hinder experience; that Man must push beyond, regardless of what consequence may result. Even if we expire ourselves in the process, we've at least lived our age to its fullest and possibly, most dangerous potential. This being my stand, one would furrow their brow to see me swiftly morph into a scolding Daedalus when Transhumanism is brought up. My position hypocritically changes. I believe, for a very valid purpose. It all lies in the aspect of mortality in the transhumanist sensibility--it seeks to extend life, indefinitely if it could be managed. I find human immortality, a perverse notion, one for which a pair of wax wings does not match as a congruent analogy.
That is my conflict. Humans must evolve but death must never become extinct. It is because of an emotional reaction that I cannot face what rationally is a sound analogy--wax wings do very much correspond with Transhumanism. A man with wings is just as perverse a notion as a man with infinite life. But since I am far removed from the Icarus myth, because in the present it no longer issues forth the same impact as when the story was originally told--we can assume that part of the story's original thrill was applying to Man domain over an unnatural and therefore exotic technology--because since the time of wax wings so many exotic technologies have been introduced and practiced, if followed linearly into the present, Transhumanism is almost a natural conclusion to wax wings. So in this logic, there is no difference between wax wings and transhumanism. And still I am a practical Daedalus who can agree with using technology to advance our senses and experience of the world, while Icarian engineers see a new playground, a new opening to peek through the eyes of a god--a blind creator.
Try as I will I cannot be upset with the Icaruses of my time because there is no separation. There is no division of Man, where this side is Icarus and the other Daedalus. Man is a unified experience of the Universe, what one man creates, all Man creates; what one man is bound to practice, all Man is bound to exercise. There is only the collective representation. So it is logical that I include myself as part of that Icarus that happens to be 21st Century Man. Elemental as I am to this 21st Century Icarus, one can see why I understand. I can pardon the reasons--Reasons, which I feel need not be apologized for in the first place--but I mourn. I prepare myself for that fall. I mourn for everything that came before that dawning descent, all the heights and cleverness that lead to the creation of wax wings. I mourn for that falling creature who flew too close to the Sun; who had a good thing before becoming curious about what was just beyond, farther and higher. Unsatisfied with following his father--Taking in the full experience right up until falling, spending his last seconds being swallowed into his death by gravity.