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What are you?

A cyborg may be broadly considered as being made up of part organic and part mechanical components. A favourite concept of science fiction, the cyborg challenges the nature of life and reflects our futile struggle with the limits of mortality and the frailty of humanity. Indeed the extensions and enhancements offered by cyborgism are perhaps only of interest because of human being's frustration and disappointment with themselves.

Cyborgs based on humans feature characteristics that either improve our performance (e.g. faster movement, greater strength) or add completely new capabilities (e.g. ability to see things in different parts of the electromagnetic spectrum). Image by Chiaralily

Cyborg systems are typically very efficient, with automation and self-diagnosis common characteristics. This is appealing for its reliability (it just happens) and its speed (it just happens immediately, when needed).

Of course even the most traditional, fleshy humans owe their vitality to systems that operate in exactly this way, and long before mobile phones, pacemakers, contact lenses and Google glass moved us in a cyborgistic direction.

Your heart beats, your lungs swell and ebb, your eyes blink, all without conscious instruction. We sense the environment around us and respond automatically. We shiver, our pupils dilate, goose bumps appear. Inside us a delicate hormonal ballet is constantly underway as testosterone, oxytocin, adrenalin and their siblings signal our organs to act. In the brain, serotonin, dopamine et al moderate our internal communication.

Completely outside our awareness a ruthless bureaucracy of leucocytes monitor extra-corporal arrivals and dispose of any deemed to be deleterious.

Sweat, digest, sneeze, tire, gasp.

Our systems have sub-systems, processes and in-built maintenance processes to minimize the risk of failure, and it is almost always when these systems are compromised, fail to operate properly, or are damaged that we become ill. The automated nature of us can sometimes lead to surprising or unpleasant phenomena. A rapid drop in ambient temperature can quickly give rise to a sensation of all over cold. Even seeing someone else who looks cold can make us share the sensation. When there is disagreement between what your eyes see and what your inner ear’s vestibular system senses, you will suffer motion sickness travel sickness. If your immune system over-reacts to a substance, you experience an allergic reaction.

The vast bulk of our entity is an inextricably intertwined, autonomous system of sensation and adjustment.

Perhaps as thinkers we are arrogant enough assume that if we haven’t consciously thought of something then it won’t or can’t happen, as if our thoughts give life to activity. We seem to have something of an in-build creator complex. We forget that our thoughts are only a small component of a much greater existence, developed over millions of years of trial, error and contextual selection. Our attempts to mimic the automated, self-monitoring of biological systems in robotic or even electronic systems are comparatively limited and clumsy, but then we haven’t had as long to perfect them.

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