Hannah Arendt took notice on an event which caught the world's attention in 1957, a year before her book The Human Condition (1958) was published. And she opened the prologue:
In 1957, an earth-born object made by man was launched into the universe,[...] to be sure, the man-made satellite was no moon or star, no heavenly body which could follow its circling path for a time span that to us mortals, bound by earthly time, lasts from eternity to eternity. Yet, for a time it managed to stay in the skies; it dwelt and moved in the proximity of the heavenly bodies as though it had been admitted tentatively to their sublime company. 1
What made Arendt begin her book with this event, "second in importance to no other, not even to the splitting of the atom?2" The news on the world's first artificial satellite launch would have sounded to her as a starting gun to change the history of mankind and the earth. As Arendt mentioned; "It is in the nature of beginning that something new is started which cannot be expected,"3 the first satellite launch was preliminary to the first human step on the moon in 1969. And it set off a train of events which led to develop artificial intelligent, robotics, and nano-biotechnology. What is the common aim of modern science and technology developments? From some significant issues that we are currently confronted with: climate change, global warming, destruction of the ecosystem, deforestation, and the prospect of nuclear warfare, their desired outcome seems to be the preservation of human race 'only.'
Until a while ago, quantum mechanics was dismissed as a myth or superstition. But it has now been turned to a noteworthy foundation of modern science and technology, and the turn led Hollywood film industry to produce large quantities of science fiction movies that deal with quantum physics. Among the SF films of the 2000s, Interstellar (2014), is based on a story about humanity's survival on another habitable planet through the successful evacuation from the earth. The film seems to show the fundamental intension of the very first satellite launch and the first human on the moon as well as the ultimate aim of modern scientific discoveries and technological developments. The 'happy-end' of this filmdoes not reach to me as a euphoric message, neither to Arendt, but brings out what she questioned: "Should the emancipation and secularization of the modern age, which began with a turning-away, not necessarily from God, but from a god who was the Father of men in heaven, end with an even more fateful repudiation of an Earth who was the Mother of all living creatures under the sky?”4
However, if we look at the cases of space probes these days, the ending scene of the movie doesn't seem to be only a science fiction. It might be an inevitable consequence of mankind's history to leave behind earth as cosmologist and theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking said:
“Although the chance of a disaster on planet Earth in a given year may be quite low, it adds up over time, becoming a near certainty in the next thousand or ten thousand years. By that time we should have spread out into space, and to other stars, so it would not mean the end of the human race.”5
Nevertheless, before we move forward to achieve it, we should question wether human beings can exist alone in a complete separated and independent conditions by treating the earth which was formed 4.6 billion years ago and all other living creatures as scientific experimental objects and consumable commodities. Arendt claimed that men are “conditioned beings” because everything they come in contact with turns immediately into a condition of their existence6. This is why men cannot live without man-made things that are the conditioners of human existence. Furthermore, it is even more impossible to live without "earthly nature may be unique in the universe in providing human beings with a habitat in which they can move and breathe without effort and without artifice" since "the earth is the very quintessence of the human condition."7 There is however no reason to doubt the desire to escape from the earth, that could soon turn into a common will of human beings as well as scientific and technological development, would become stronger, insofar as the destruction of the ecosystem and the global warming keep in radical progress. Even if men could successfully settle in another planet, the new life wouldn't be the same one as men had on the earth, as Arendt mentioned:
The most radical change in the human condition we can imagine would be an emigration of men from the earth to some other planet. Such an event, no longer totally impossible, would imply that man would have to live under man-made conditions, radically different from those the earth offers him.8
The first moon landing in 1969 opened up a door to the new era that changed the future of the human race. Since then, scientific and technological development has been exponentially growing. Especially, artificial intelligence (AI) research has been predominantly focused for the last twenty years, and great levels of investment are running into this technology. According to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the U.S government pays almost $140 billion a year for research and development (R&D).9 Within this amount of the money, approximately $ 5 billion has been invested into AI sector in the United States in 2017. European countries, in parallel, are fighting it out to become leaders in AI with an aim by the European Commission to invest €20 billion in AI research and innovation by the end of 2020. What is the justification for spending all the money on this technology? What are the potential benefits of AI? Why did it become an economically valuable technology more than space technology these days?
AI is nothing new and nor robots. The term “artificial intelligent” was coined by computer scientist John MacCarthy in 1955, defining it as the science and engineering of making intelligent machines in order to make human life better. The exponential growth in computational power over the last fifty years, as well as big data collection, accelerated the proliferation of AI. It is obvious that AI already forms a major part of our daily lives through mapping applications, autocorrect, self-driving cars, and smart devices, so-called the internet of things (IoT). But it is merely the beginning. Especially with deep learning based on an artificial neural networks which is modeled after the human brain, the potential of AI is unimaginable and improbable. As an intelligent machine and toolkit, AI can advance and benefit humanity by augmenting our capabilities and assisting our jobs and daily situations. But we can't naively believe that it will remain as only a tool since many AI experts and researchers, including S.Hawking, acknowledged the possibility that AI could surpass human intellectual capacity and challenge the human-robot relationship.10 In addition to super-intelligent AI, cyborgs that are beings combined organic and inorganic parts and transhumans (superhumans) are the potential consequence of this new technological revolution along with biotechnology (genetic engineering) and neuroscience. Those scientific and technological attempts to enhance human performance along with the constant space exploration are perhaps the preparation for surviving in the extreme-artificial conditions, entirely different from those the earth provides us.
However, isn't it the principle of consumption in modern capitalist society to throw away old and destroyed things and buy new ones? In the sense, to leave the damaged and useless earth and migrate to new planets seems to be a “pathetic'' but “smart” choice in super-intelligent society. As Korean Buddhist monk Beop Jeong holds; “If we are desensitized and insensitive, we can not be a whole human being.”11 If we consider that it is a reasonable and rational decision to abandon our home planet, does it means that there is no more sensibility left among the future humans? By a deadening of our sensibilities, Boep Jeong said, even sympathy which refers to feelings of pity and sorrow for others' suffering will be weakened, and we, after all, will lose empathy which is the ability to understand another person's feelings, thoughts, or conditions.12
From this sentimental paralysis, if we should decide to abandon the earth, it wouldn't be merely the earth which would be thrown away by us. Men out of the earth, the source of all life, in which man relates to all other living organisms through life, can no longer be a whole organism. In this instance, to abandon our own organic bodies seems to be an inevitable requirement in oder to live under absolutely different man-made conditions.
However, even apart from these pessimistic and yet uncertain consequences, migrating to other planets will not solve any current problems on the earth. The current situation created by science and technology is environmental significance and needs indeed urgent confrontation. According to a report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the earth's total forest area continued to decrease at about 13 million hectares per year until 2005 and global deforestation continues at an alarming rate which is 7 million hectares per year. As a result of deforestation, only about 30% of earth's land surface is covered by forest, and approximately 9.6% of wilderness areas, on a worldwide basis, were lost between 1990 to 2015.13 If we look at the fact that less than 3% of ancient forest area remains in Europe, in comparison with about 35% of ancient forest area remaining in Latin America, it can appear as though the wealthier and easier life has become in a convenient and “smart” society, the further away from nature man becomes.
What concerns us in this situation is that the process of “earth alienation” has been accelerated by the exponential scientific and technological growth, and we, after all, have been distanced from our own selves by falling into the vortex of the radical development and man-made climate change. The question of survival from the whirl, not being absorbed and drawn in the great velocity, lies in the possibility to take courage and look upon the scene as a whole in such extremity, as the sailor, in Edgar Allen Poe's short story A Descent into the Maelstrom (1841), did. The core elements of the holistic perspective are indeed “wisdom” and “experience”, that are, in this article, more to do with deep awareness and an interaction between a living organism and its physical and social environment14; in the sense, an intercourse between human and the earth.
We now live in the digital age, in which information has become a very important commodity that is rapidly disseminated and shared worldwide especially through the use of computer technology including Internet, wireless network, cell phone, and personal computer as well as other mass media. Above all, easy access to diverse information through mobile devices connected to wireless network has changed the way we experience; indirect knowledge or virtual experience rises as a tendency to perceive and understand the world.
It is, therefore, necessary to have “wisdom eyes”15 that see this world and life as a whole in order to reconnect the relation between human and nature, in addition to recover human nature and the essence of nature that have been gradually dismissed by a predominant influence of science and technology. Yet, what we are confronted with is the probability of rising to new existential forms like a transhuman or a cyborg, and thus to think what constitute us as human beings; in other words, to reconsider “the human condition” is a priority.
In account of these considerations, what I propose in this project is to understand the way things are through Buddhist perspective which highlights on seeing things as they really are, rather than seeing them as they appear to be16, without prejudice and preconceived ideas. It indeed will help us to understand our own selves along with our relations to the world around us.
1. Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition (Chicago, London: The University of Chicago Press, 1958), P. 1.
3. Ibid., 177.
4. Ibid., 2.
5. Stephen Hawking, Radio Times, BBC Reith Lectures, 09 Feb 2016
6. Arendt,The Human Condition,9.
7. Ibid., 2.
8. Ibid., 10.
10. Stephen Hawking, Brief Answers to the Big Questions (London, John Murray, 2018), 191.
11. Boep Joeng, Letters from a Cabin, (Seoul,Ire Books, 2007), 40.
12. Ibid. 41.
13. James E.M. Watson,Danielle F. Shanahan,Moreno Di Marco,James Allan,William F. Laurance,Eric W. Sanderson,Brendan Mackey,and Oscar Venter, “Catastrophic Declines in Wilderness Areas Undermine Global Environment Targets”(Cell Press, 2016)
14. John Dewey, Experience and Nature, Open Court, Chicago, 1925
15. It is also known as Buddha Eyes; the Third Eye in Buddhism
16. Peter Della Santina, The Tree of Enlightenment, (Taiwan, Chico Dharma Study Foundation, 1997), 67.