The Sensate Intelligence:

The teleology of humanity’s successive bio-technological revolutions

By Tanya Kan




Ned (to Ray): You’re missing something. Biological is what we are. I think most people would agree that being biological is the quintessential attribute of being human… and I plan to keep it that way.[1]

Single Whip Singularitarian, artwork by James Post

How can it be proven that future technological revolutions in genetics, nanotechnology and robotics can benefit the social totality and realize humankind’s teleology? Ray Kurzweil contends that future technology shall inevitably prevail against even slow institutional change to extend the evolution of human intelligence beyond their biological capacity. Although there is no disputing that the augmentation of human intelligence is a worthwhile purpose, Kurzweil presupposes that technology will be able to innovate at a steady exponential rate because of the economic imperative of the capitalist system.[2] I contend that Kurzweil’s privileging of the modern rational subject as the self-referential position that subsumes natural orientations have caused two problematic inclinations: First, that he has neglected to describe intelligence as informed by the intercommunication of bodily senses and rational thought, and secondly, his reliance on the unproven value of the capitalist system. My overarching political argument is that a phenomenological approach to technical devices would enable more progressive and humanistic technology to flourish in differentiated cultures with more ease because of its consideration for the ambiguity of human subjectivities and positions.

One of the unique attributes of a human being is his mimetic faculty[3] that influences his peers and his surroundings to a higher degree of consciousness than any other species. This supposes that he is also a “porous being” in Heidegger’s terms, where his perception is the moment of decision that differentiates and mentally designates the ambiguous sensate inhabitants of his surroundings.[4] Similarly, the output from informational technologies stimulates his rational capacity and simultaneously “the material layers of the human being: his nerves, his senses, his entire physiological substance”.[5] Our reactions to the products of new media, travel, medicine, military, and so on cannot be understood as based on technical knowledge, but also as a carnal response at the point of perception. What I am referring to is what Shaviro calls “the primordial forms of raw sensation: affect, excitation, stimulation, and repression, pleasure and pain, shock and habit.”[6] It is a kinetic relationship between the subjective intelligence that comprises of the reciprocal interaction of rational thought and sensate reflexes and takes in the tactility of the world outside of the body.[7] That Kurzweil neglects this aspect of intelligence would weaken his value-based justifications that his technological vision truly augments the collective human potential.

Indeed, there is no other blueprint for augmenting human intelligence than on researching into the continuum of our own species, and it would be a fundamental error in scientific practice to see the mind as disconnected from the body. However, this is exactly the historical basis by which we understand the place of the technical within the human society. Peter Woelert contends that, since the work of Descartes, the modern technical dominant is characterized by a gap “between a disembodied, rational subject on the one hand and a rationalized, objective material world on the other”.[8] As nature becomes mechanistically rationalized, human body follows suit because it is derived from natural causes.[9] The modern technical subject thus has ascended all previous notions of natural orientation and becoming, and it has become self-referential and an end in itself.[10] The exponentially increasing vitalization of technologies since World War II has assimilated the conceptual position of both nature and the subject into its Symbolic auto-functions.[11] In other words, the bodily subject is no longer thought of as free from technology and able to reflect itself autonomously. Woelert implies that modernity has been a consistent cultural dominant that has deprecated the evolution of the subject, even so far as to say that technology has totalized the capacity for man to know himself as only through the production of his technical apparatuses.[12] Under such formulations, there is nothing ‘post-’ humanity about Kurzweil’s political project, because it is part of a trajectory of technical rationalization that repudiates the function of nature and subject, and humanity the subject is foreshortened of its depth.

According to Marcuse, technology is always a historical-social project of specific coded values, and that its apparent neutrality is ideological.[13] Technology is not something that enables a direct perception of the world, but that it re-conceptualizes how we see the world.[14] Vivian Sobchack sees that expressive technologies are also historically constituted in altering previous forms of temporal and spatial consciousness and the bodily sense of subjective existentialism.[15] With technology of the everyday manifesting an “objective” Symbolic familiarity into the body, technology compels a loss of its own history.[16] Pushing for the attraction of the new,[17] the old is denied of its immediate precursor to the current. In other words, the multiple technical transformations of the body privilege certain perceptual dispositions while concealing other possibilities.[18]

There is without a doubt a sense of excitement and play involved with current technologies,[19] and the spectacular with the prospect of the promises of future technologies. The implications of having carnal interest with the dominant disembodied technical rationality is that a subject is simultaneously invested in both being “inside” the body and “outside” mapped onto the object of tactile desire. As such, “there remains no basis for preserving the mutual exclusivity of the categories subject and object, inner and outer, I and world.”[20] Thus in the labour of the body, there is an ambiguity and inconclusiveness to the routine authorship[21] that the capitalist system is predicated on. The senses and each part of the body autonomously have its own memories that are pre-reflective, perceived from a non-authored, uncategorized world, as it engages with work that is artistic, philosophical, and scientific.

Kurzweil claims that the free market functions as an equivalent to natural evolutionary competition,[22] but this statement only reveals his mechanistic bias that overtakes the orientation of nature as I have stated above. It is not a claim that is true by necessity. Moreover, it is problematic to see economic emancipation as the fundamental basis for social freedom[23] that is the unarticulated basis for the worldwide dissemination of such technologies. Race and gender theory has shown that social oppression can only be alleviated by equality rather than economic emancipation.[24] This is a project better taken up by phenomenological considerations that influence the technical because of the natural equality between humans on the basis of their senses and their intelligence unconditioned by social opportunity.[25] The sensorium is necessarily acculturated and situated in history[26] to enable sites of difference, a prerequisite for alternative narratives for the cultural being. Furthermore, Kurzweil’s concept of transcendence[27] is problematic because it does not offer an alternative to calculative thinking, nor does it offer the space for resistance, such as with the pre-reflective cultivation of practices that are not produced under the dominant mode of efficiency.[28] Correspondingly, Kurzweil misunderstands the function of art, which generates dialogue through affective means, rather than necessarily demanding a rational response.[29] Altogether, Kurzweil has reduced human teleology to its objective rationalism, scraping the means of play and curiosity and the imperfection of metaphoric language that is wholly engaged with the sensate body.

I have maintained in the interest of the human sensorium in the consideration of prospective bio-revolutionary technologies because of its teleological interests to the human subject. As such, threats to sensate experiences should be factored in as part of the fine-grained relinquishment of potentially dangerous innovations.  I have also contended the age-old expression that “money can’t buy everything” by privileging the complexity of the sensate body. This is because the capitalist mode of reproduction together with technical rationalism has on the whole forsaken critical exploration for marginal and “inefficient” sensate narratives. Our capacity to have meaningful experiences is not divorced from our carnal accesses through technical perception, where we “proprioceptively feel our weight, dimension, gravity and movement in the world.”[30] As technology is an ethically and politically coded phenomenon, there are many possibilities to its realization for the value of mankind that have yet to be fully determined.[31]


Cited Sources


Barry, James Jr. “The Technical Body: Incorporating Technology and Flesh.” Philosophy Today 35.4 (1991 Winter): 390-401.

Belu, Dana S. “Thinking Technology, Thinking Nature.” Inquiry 48.6 (Dec 2005): 572-591.

Kurzweil, Ray. The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology. New York: Penguin Books, 2005.

Sobchack, Vivian. Carnal Thoughts: Embodiment and Moving Image Culture. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004.

Woelert, Peter. ““Man” and His Technological Doubles.” Philosophy Today 52.2 (Summer 2008): 157-164.





[1] Kurzweil 226.

[2] Kurzweil 94.

[3] Sobchack 55.

[4] Barry 390.

[5] Kracauer, as qtd. in Sobchack 55.

[6] Shaviro, as qtd. in Sobchack 59.

[7] Merleau-Ponty’s elaboration on the intercommunication of the senses, in Sobchack 71.

[8] Woelert 157.

[9] Woelert 158.

[10] Woelert 158.

[11] Woelert 159.

[12] Woelert 160.

[13] Belu 579.

[14] Barry 394, on an interpretation of Merleau-Ponty’s and Heidegger’s physis and techne. 374: “modern technology, in its essence a historical decision, is the decision concerning modern perception, because it is the determination of the “how” of our perception and the “what” of appearance of it.”

[15] Sobchack 136.

[16] Barry 396.

[17] In the sense of Tom Gunning’s notion of attractions, understood in this sense for consumer culture.

[18] Barry 398 on Merleau-Ponty.

[19] Kurzweil 341.

[20] Iris Marion Young, as qtd. in Sobchack 66.

[21] Barry 398 on Merleau-Ponty.

[22] Kurzweil 94.

[23] Belu 583.

[24] Belu 583.

[25] I am evoking the state of nature as understood through Hobbesian terms, where each man is equal in their bodily dispositions (includes the brain) that they each have the equal opportunity to each other’s mortality.

[26] Sobchack, 63 and 139.

[27] Kurzweil 387-389.

[28] Belu 583-585.

[29] Belu 585.

[30] Sobchack 60.

[31] Belu 574.

[5-page essay, University of Toronto B.A. Hon, political science department]

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Stigma: Pitch-length plot;
A young military cadet who wakes up from a medical treatment,
to find that he has inherited more powers than he reckoned,
to take down the invaders with powers that appear to be
as alien as it is drawn from the nature of the Earth.
He is given the task to eliminate the oppressors with all of
Earth’s natural inheritance in the form of bacterial evolution.
But what kind of politics did this kind of power emerge from?


I’ve had this dream before. And each time that it repeats, it feels all the more disjointed and uneasy. For all its familiarity, each iteration makes me scrutinize the sequence for any changes, and run irrational circles in my head on what it means.

I find myself in a forest, frosted over with ice and snow. Everywhere that the eye can see, there are evergreens, crowding together like nervous guards, so that their needled branches fasten upon each other in a sudden crisp wind. The chill doesn’t bother me. My breath puffs out in a cloud, its shapes more reminiscent of jagged leaves than balls of cotton. For some reason, I am sharply amused by this activity.

An almost human-like murmur followed by a bark sounded at my heel. Two she-wolves, of proud, silver shoulders, greet me amicably. They stride about as to demand my attention. I suddenly feel chilled, then warmed, as though my senses have just woken into a different climate than the one that I have expected. My skin prickled as though with an extra layer of winter pelt.

The lighter-coloured of the two wolves raised her paw as though to strike me severely. The entirety of the she-wolf’s muscular arm swiftly metamorphosed into a crimson, gelatin mass of tubular veins as her spurs touched the crook of my arm. The coils of blood pulsated merrily in the brisk air. It seems to me as if it is working out its own patterns. And as the she-wolf tilted her head, it was as if she was humming a melody an accompaniment to the rhythm of those breathing, cellular bodies. So focused was I on the lupine beast that I only just noticed the raised bumps of my own circulatory maze in response to the visceral display.

But it was more than just a display, for a wet, pleasurable slice rioted through my veins. My own set of blood ribbons rose out and immersed themselves with the wolf’s, abject and magnificent. Immeasurable seconds brought the feeling of extra life transfusing into me, cycling and sniffing with its sidelong presence. I feel a giddy rush that made me throw my head back and see bright, coral-red networks behind closed eyelids. When my nose twitched, I am met with the scents of a feast of living things. Throughout these proceedings, the other wolf companion was sitting on her haunches, watching keenly. A momentary lolling of the tongue indicated her anticipation for the same biochemical unity.

As the blood ribbons halted in their coursing, the lighter wolf gave a wuft of breath. She has become more dimunitive, as like a newly sheered sheep. Her expression is one of sleepy satisfaction. Deep within her settlement, she will now and then flash a human-like eye within her irises. Both wolves rearrange themselves about me, folding their legs and bundled close against me. A bastion against the brisk winter and enduring solitude.

When I next awoke, I was still in the dream-world of the forest. I knew right away that there is supposed to be a third wolf, an old sire, who has not arrived. His missing presence is hangs like an omen. The two she-wolves paced wretched marks into the snow with trembling agitation. The darker-coloured wolf paused on a low hill, momentarily rendered into a gray silhouette. She looked back at me. I didn’t know what she was thinking beyond the glaze of worry. Then the world shifted.

The earth concentrated, held its breath, and FLEXED. Those trees with their roots exposed suddenly developed a metallic gleam to their undersides. The chirping of insects and small scavengers abruptly silenced, then wound up again in a synthetic, scratchy parody. The repetitious loop made the wolves flatten their ears to their skull. Gobs of spit leaked past their incisors. Where there were once peepholes and knobs in old trees, hosting a home for bees, robins, or rodents, these hideaways have been infested with gears, leaking batteries, switchboards. In a tree split along its length by lightning, wires and coiling junk froth forth. This garbage twitched in the dirt like centipedes. The ground moved as though on the back of some frustrated golem, of which myself and the other noble creatures are but fleas. Steam rose uninhibited from century-old trees. Rather than the sound of yawning foliage, mechanical rust shrieked when one of these sentinels felled.

My dear companions suddenly seem very far away. I was left looking at their backs and low, cautious tails as they ran. I chased after them, heart at my throat, with fearful anticipation making wintry distance seem all the more unapproachable.