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HSD PhD student Michael Burnam-Fink is hard at work on the final stages of his dissertation. This work focuses on the debate surrounding notions of “transhumanism” – the idea that, in Burnam-Fink’s words, “we are becoming more than human thanks to our mastery of science and technology.” He argues that, while the moral and philosophical implications of such mastery give rise to complicated questions, they ignore the prosaic details of human enhancement. Putting the profligate use of nervous system stimulants like Ritalin on college campuses into historical and cultural contexts, Burnam-Fink insists that transhumanism is already here and that existing regulatory categories are too rigid to address the issues that will soon arise. New regulation is necessary to ensure that as we “step into our transhuman future day by day” we arrive at the future we want.
Burnam-Fink was a generation fellow with the Breakthrough Institute in 2011, joining ranks with SFIS faculty and CSPO director Dan Sarewitz, as well as fellow HSD student Eric Kennedy. Burnam-Fink has published in the academic journal Futures and written on America’s “Drone Wars” for the Cairo Review of Global Affairs. He also co-authored a chapter on super soldiers in Global Issues and Ethical Consideration in Human Enhancement Technologies. Burnam-Fink has received funding through the Alliance for Person-Centered Accessible Technologies (APAcT), part of NSF’s Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) program, along with fellow HSD candidates Shane Kula and Denise Baker.
Burnam-Fink acknowledges the benefits of working in SFIS’s unique and collaborative environment. “I’ve launched projects here that would have been impossible in a more traditional program,” he said. He is also effusive toward his peers: “The graduate cohort is incredible.” SFIS affiliate Ben Hurlbut stands out as someone who inspired Burnam-Fink “to get into the messy theoretical details about how we slice up reality.”
So much stimulation can be a double-edged sword, though. “Because of the diversity of the network and the great variety of activities and pursuits, it is easy to get distracted from your own projects,” he warns. To that end, he advises future HSD students to read Demystifying the Dissertation and to try to be finished with classes by the end of their second year, in order to have the time to focus in on writing and comps.
Michael-Burnam Fink expects to be finished with his dissertation in August or September of 2016. He has floated applications for post-doctoral positions, wishing to remain in academia.