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Posthuman Allegory

The Tin Woodsman, the Cowardly Lion, and the Scarecrow could well serve as cautionary figures in a posthuman allegory. Elaborating on Baum, we might imagine the Tin Woodsman as a bionic conversion—a man who has been modified into a robot through transhumanist technology. (Perhaps some homeless brain was informationally transferred into a mechanical body.) In the Oz story, he seeks to recover a “heart”—that is, a relationship to other beings based on biological kinship and the emotions deriving originally from embodiment. His mind was downloaded but not his heart, nor presumably his sex, which were somehow lost in translation.

The Cowardly Lion has been genetically engineered, but something is missing in him too: courage. He is designed to be physically superior, but it is the moral loftiness associated with the real effort required to overcome one’s limitations from within that is lost. He lacks conviction and self-confidence because he knows his body is an artifact, a mere tool of someone else’s purpose. Since he did not self-create, nor evolve naturally, he lacks his own intentionality, purpose, and reason for being.

The Scarecrow is made of generic stuffing, the abstract universal material that is the ultimate engineering dream and the ideal of nanotechnology. He could represent the quest to rearrange matter according to whim, and to create life and intelligence from scratch. He is made to look like a man, but the resemblance is superficial; he doesn’t even fool real crows. This symbolizes the folly of the top-down approach, and the fallacy of simulation. What the Scarecrow lacks is a brain: a real, fleshly one, indefinitely complex, which can only evolve from the bottom up. The Scarecrow was created to simulate a human being, to provide the illusion of reality. But, as with Pinocchio, it is authenticity itself that is lacking.

RELATED TAGS: [wizard of oz, Frank Baum, transhumanist technology, bionic conversion/man, autopoiesis, original/derived intentionality, programmable matter, nanotechnology, top-down AI/artificial intelligence, fallacy of simulation, Pinocchio]

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