“Transcending the Human” Lecture

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Junior Professor of Philosophy at Leuphana University-Lueneburg and Professor of Aes­t­he­tics at Bau­haus Uni­ver­si­ty of Wei­mar Yvonne Foerster gave a lecture titled “Transcending the Human: Technology and the Liberal Arts” on May 7 in Olin 102.

Foerster’s lecture examined the impact that technology growth has on everyday life and how it changes the human condition. She argued that society has entered into a post-human condition due to the influence of technology. Additionally, Foerster believes that liberal arts is very important in deciding what to do with the growth of technology.

Luther and Grinnell College were the two stops on Foerster’s U.S. lecture series. Professor of Religion Gereon Kopf invited Foerster to lecture because he thought her topic was relevant to Luther’s rethinking of general education requirements. Upon hearing that Foerster was at Grinnell, Gereon Kopf  suggested that Luther should reach out to her and try to get her to come.

“[The]concept of liberal arts is really important, and what she did in her talk is rethink the concept of liberal arts,” Kopf said. “Originally the concept of liberal arts comes out of the ideal of the humanistic education it comes out of the renaissance of Europe that’s been five hundred years ago.”

Foerster got her start in the field of technology and post-humanism once she became involved in a project called “Metabody” with a colleague of hers. “Metabody” combined culture with science and technology.

Foerster said what she hopes will come from speaking at liberal arts colleges is that students would become more open-minded to other fields of study.

“Being at a liberal arts college, I think that it really gives [students] the opportunity to just take the chance to hear students while studying to try to understand more of what the other sciences are doing and therefore become more open-minded and critical,” Foerster said. “That would be my hope.”

Foerster argued for the need of transdisciplinary action in the fields of humanities and sciences. In response to this argument, Kopf said lectures like Foerster’s are important to have at Luther because they help students explore the kind of education they are receving.

“Our mission here at Luther College is not only to give you an excellent preparation for professional life, but we think of education as being holistic, so as I said the lecture addresses questions [that] those sponsoring departments address,” Kopf said. “It addresses questions of Paideia; it addresses questions of what liberal arts means since we are a liberal arts college.”

Attendee Nell Himlie (‘21) was intrigued by Foerster’s explanation of humans and technology

“Humans want to quantify life and, with technology, they have more of an ability to do so,” Himlie said. “From tracking calories to steps taken, the need to quantify life made me more aware of my own habits and ways I use technology.”

Kopf hopes the 15 students who attended the lecture learned about how human and technology interact.

“Think about how we conceive of ourselves as humans and selves [and] how [it] changes in our interactions with technology,” Kopf said. “Technology makes things easy for us, but, on the other hand, it limits our freedom of choice because . . .  if Alexa or Siri talk to me, they provide me with options,  and I’m already limited in what I choose from and so [then] students become more self-aware in their use of technology but also deep think of those big questions… ‘What is consciousness?’ and, ‘What does it mean to be human?’”

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