Paper Proposal

Talking Back: Sophisticated Cognition—A Human/Werewolf Investigation

In a scholarly article, “Becoming More (than) Human,” published in 2007, Dr. Myra Seaman suggests that in a posthumanist world, the traditional human subject is an endangered species. Throughout her article Seaman emphasizes that the posthuman is not an entirely new species but rather a version of homo sapiens that is more human. Oftentimes posthumanism is understood as a more modern concern, however Seaman’s essay is unique in that it cites cases in medieval literature where there exists a kind of posthuman. These medieval posthumans seem to come in the form of hybrids or shape-shifters and almost always incorporate some version of an animal—especially the wolf. For poshumanists like Seaman (see also Bynum and Essed), certain human hybrid species, such as the werewolf, are fascinating not only because of their bizarre nature, but because in being an animal hybrid they possess heightened sensory perception capabilities. It is this kind of advanced technology that allows us to approach medieval hybrid characters with a posthuman perspective.

I agree with nearly all of Seaman’s discussion on understanding medieval posthumans, however I think that parts of her argument that address “experiences of the body—perceived through sensation and processed through emotion” and human/wolf hybrids (or werewolves) “[submitting] to the rational and sensitive ‘person’ directing [their] movements and gestures” could be updated with the incorporation of scholarly work on cognitive biology, sensory perception (in humans and animals), reports on sensory deprivation (primarily in humans), and further exploration of the significance of intermediary beings.

Ultimately, the goal of my paper is not to dispute Seaman’s argument, but instead provide supplemental research that adds to, as well as updates her findings. Additionally, I would like to encourage readers to think more broadly about cognition and encourage the possibility that forms of “human” cognition that we are most familiar with might not be limited to humans; animals could potentially have just as sophisticated cognitive abilities (see Vollmer). If so, it could be argued that cognition and consciousness is not what makes humans human. Perhaps the term “human” itself should either be broadened or become irrelevant altogether.

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