The colonies of the 21st century: sensations, emotions, and sensibilities

“Human Brain Evolution” by hawkexpress is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

In this post Professor Scribano explores the colonisation of human sensibilities by technological and biomedical processes.

The colonization process of the 21st century has its territory in bodies and its precious metal in sensibilities.  Today’s mines are about sensations and data about their formation.  Ships are digital, machines are cellular and nanoscale.  Armies have been replaced by CEOs, scientists, and gurus who work for large corporations.  The colonial battle is for emotions.

The new geoculture is constituted by the politics of sensibilities: implants in the eyes, dentures, skins; with chemical armor: perfumes, creams, deodorants, with bodies modified as inner planets… they are all occupations and invasions of the old/”new” territories. The colonial life is on bodies/emotions. The new geopolitics are elaborated concerning the geographies and the companies that reach its beaches, rivers and mountains: the central nervous system, the immune system, the nutritional states, each one with a global company specialized by economic sectors, the monopoly ports today are the common areas of the body/emotion.

It seems then, that 21st century capitalism has started another trip around the world. These are not now the journeys of Marco Polo, Colón, or Magellan – it is the entire edifice of science that is navigating an even more unknown world, one where much of the wealth of the future lies: our bodies/emotions. The journey is long, it has just begun, the surface is still unknown, and the ‘new silk’ is the human sensibilities.

Beyond the existing theoretical differences, the world of emotions is built with the social foundations of the body: we are what we eat, drink, breathe and in that sense, we are already colonized. Our bodies/senses/ emotions are being occupied by transgenic foods, carbon dioxide pollution, flavored waters and hundreds of products created and tested on a molecular and nano scale that impact in various ways on our central nervous system, on our endocrine system and the immune system.

Hundreds of ships sent by the ‘new navigators’ seek the gold of the new Indians, take up the new silk routes, traffic new flavors, textures, smells, colors and sounds; following Montesquieu’s advice, they elaborate the bases of a sweet trade between corporations and countries. The colonization of emotions, and colonized emotions, in the 21st century have at least three paths of entry and production:

1.-The search for the interpretation of the meaning of emotions with different strategies of identification, reading and their hermeneutics. The paths used range from surveys, through Artificial Intelligence, until reaching the application of sensors.

2.-The construction of devices, robots, and mechanism that reproduce and interpret sensations and cognitive-affective evaluations of emotions and sensibilities.

3.- The design, elaboration and implantation of interfaces, orthopedics, implants, nanorobots and the establishments of mechanisms, processes and substances that modify the structure perceptions/sensations/emotions/sensibilities.

As it is possible to see in these alternatives, a complex amalgam between Big Data, the Internet of Things (IoT) and Machine Learning is used and associated with the management of emotions. Each of these paths can be taken independently or as a process in stages that begins with knowing, continues with “imitating”, and ends with inhabiting. As scientific, technological and business endeavors these paths interact, nurture and converge. In this context, it is possible to identify three poles of the colonization of the Inner Planet that in different phases of progress are reaching the shores of the new world carried by the new ships:

The first pole is linked to production and distribution in industry, consumption and the enjoyment of endocrine disrupting chemicals (polymers) used in hundreds of products and processes. These substances are found in everything from children’s school supplies, through personal deodorants to the components of cell phones and computers. These substances have the ability to “imitate” hormones, making their introduction into the bodies at low doses impact everything from pregnancy to the life of the elderly. Its consequences are among others: the advancement of menarche in girls, decreased sperm fertility and neurological disorders. Post-pandemic science must denounce (as do the Spanish unions and the European Union among others) the use of endocrine disruptors as the silent pandemic paradigm.

The second pole is the design and genetic manipulation through the use of DNA that is easily identifiable today, encompassing both animal, plant and human genetic maps and management. The so-called transgenics are genetically modified organisms, that is, those in which the genome has an added or altered gene in their cells. The uses and scope of genetic engineering through which genes can be introduced from one species to another is a highly debated topic today in times of pandemic. The invasion of our bodies has as a link the modifications of the bodies of other species. Taste, texture, smell and appearance of food altered repeatedly for decades transform our senses.

The third pole is the use of nanotechnology as a tool for exploration, intervention and transformation of the body/emotions, constituting a new form of colonization and commercialization. An example is the use of nanoparticles as in the case of cerium oxide, which has extraordinary versatility and is specifically a rare earth nanomaterial used for biological  applications. There are two points I want to make here: versatility and origin. This component, but in reality all nanoparticles, is “usable” in many areas of life through “commercial applications” in varied spaces such as the development of new materials, the pharmaceutical industry, medicine and environmental technologies. The other side is that being a “rare earth” substance is part of the current cold war between the USA and China, the latter being the largest producer of these materials in the world.

From the three poles and diverse journeys, let us now stop at nanotechnology as an obvious path for the colonization of bodies/emotions, and whose consequences are yet to be explored. Just to offer two examples: one of the best known and most developed is the nanotube, and the other is the Internet of Nano Things (IoNT). Carbon nanotubes that are created and used by health sciences end up being a form of occupation and “management of senses”. An example is when carbon nanotubes as biosensors (especially non-biological nanosensors) are used as wireless antennas that act as sensors and send the data collected in the body to an external integrator module. As presented by SINlist(SIN – Substitute It Now), carbon nanotubes (CNTs) have been shown to be carcinogenic. They induce lung cancer by penetrating lung cells, causing inflammation. They are also persistent and there is evidence that they are toxic to human reproduction.

Another experience can be observed in which Dutta Pramanik and his colleagues have recently carried out a review of the uses of nanotechnologies, and among others they point out the properties of the IoNT (Internet of Nano Things). In the healthcare context, nano-things refer to the miniaturization of biosensors and medical implants at the nanoscale. Intelligent drug delivery and nanoscale surgeries are the flip side of sensation management.

The ships have arrived and have a gentler and more persuasive appearance than those of Columbus. Unlike 500 years ago, they do not bring “colored mirrors” but devices that produce sensibilities.

Professor Adrian Scribano coordinates the 26 Working Groups on Bodies and Emotions of the Latin American Association of Sociology (ALAS)  and acts as Vice-President of the Thematic Group 08 Society and Emotions of the International Sociological Association (ISA).