Technology is encroaching on nature. While the technical manipulation of life is as ancient as the practice of domestication and breeding, new technologies such as cell cultures, organ transplants, reproductive medicine and computer simulation of biological processes now call into question our traditional and common sense distinctions between nature and technology. Manufacturing “life” is the invisible third between the modern distinction of nature and technology. However, what biologists regard as life is neither identical with natural entities nor with technical artifacts. Rather, biologically constructed entities are something in-between: biofacts.

On the contrary, in the practice of the life world, in our everyday experiences, we seem to be sure of what nature is and is not. Aristotle said that whatever grows is natural and hence life is identified with nature. By contrast, whatever is moved externally does not grow, but is considered technç. This contrast corresponds to our common sense intuitions: trees, children and hair grow, whereas machines and automatons do not. But does this distinction still hold today in light of recent advances in biological and medical technologies? For instance: Is a tissue grown in tissue culture still “natural”, or, reversely, is it overall technical? What about transgenic plants? How can the public still find traces of the manufacturing of life - when living objects are designed behind the walls of laboratories and afterwards released into the public sphere where they seem to be as familiar as “old friends”?

Here, epistemological and anthropological questions intermingle. Experimental and medical science can stimulate biological growth so that only the abstract starting point of genesis remains as “nature.” Whatever grows can equally well be understood as artificial, depending on the feature taken as characteristic of growth: genesis, proliferation, reproduction, morphogenesis or individual development inclusive of death. Hence depending on one’s operative concept of growth, life can be understood in technical terms, for instance, as a designed body or brain.

The term biofact, a neologism comprised of “bios” and “artifact,” refers to a being that is both natural and artificial, brought into existence by purposive human action. While conventional ways of describing the artificial element in nature sharply distinguish between the two, the term biofact can account for the influence of technology on previously existing natural forms of growth, and allows for reflection on the existing borders between nature and technology. Conventional descriptions originate in different disciplinary and everyday contexts: bastard, genetically manipulated organisms (GMOs), chimera, clone, replicate, cyborg etc. But this complicates their employment as technical terms in a scientific context. By contrast, “biofact” is a neutral term that can encompass a wide spectrum of trans-species living objects and includes technical modeling such as imitation, automation, simulation and fusion. Phenomenologically, biofacts are living beings since they grow, but their growth and development are no longer self-determined. The degree to which the autonomy of growth can be modified, limited and even threatened is a matter of debate both in science and society, and, last but not least, in the arts.


zurück zu DeutschHomeE-Mailvor zu Italiano