Notes for N. Katherine Hayles How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodes in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics
Key concepts: autopoiesis, cyborg, embodiment, enaction, flickering signifiers, functionality, habitus, homeostasis, incorporation, informatics, inscription, Macy Conferences on Cybernetics, McCulloch-Pitts neuron, performative, possessive individualism, positron-emission tomography, posthuman, reflexivity, seriation, skeuomorph, structural coupling, subsumption architecture, subvocalization, triangulation, tutor texts, virtuality.
Related theorists: Arbib, Catherine Bateson, Baudrillard, Borges, Bourdieu, Rodney Brooks, Burroughs, de Certeau, Connerton, Damasio, Derrida, Dick, Fontana, Foucault, Fredkin, Elizabeth Grosz, David Harvey, Mary Hesse, Jackendoff, Mark Johnson, Kristeva, Kroker, Kubie, Lakoff, Latour, MacKay, Macpherson, Carolyn Marvin, Maturana, McCulloch, Merleau-Ponty, Minksy, Moravec, von Neumann, Pitts, de Saussure, Shannon, Garrett Stewart, Turing, Varela, Wiener, Bernard Wolfe, Wolfram.
(ix) The notion of distributed cognition, central to the posthuman as it is defined in this book, makes acknowledging intellectual and practical contributions to this project an inevitability as well as a pleasure. The arguments have benefited from conversations and correspondence with many friends and colleagues.
This book is a cut up of her previous work.
(ix) I owe a debt of gratitude as well to Routledge Press for allowing me to reprint.
(xi) Your job [in the Turing Test] is to pose questions that can distinguish verbal performance from embodied reality. If you cannot tell the intelligent machine from the intelligent human, your failure proves, Turing argued, that machines can think.
(xi-xii) Here at the inaugural moment of the computer age, the erasure of embodiment is performed so that “intelligence” becomes a property of the formal manipulation of symbols rather than enaction in the human lifeworld. . . . Aiding this process was a definition of information, formalized by Claude Shannon and Norbert Wiener, that conceptualized information as an entity distinct from the substrates carrying it. From this formulation, it was a small step to think of information as a kind of bodiless fluid that could flow between different substrates without loss of meaning or form. . . . The Moravec test, if I may call it that, is the logical successor of the Turing test. . . the Moravec test was designed to show that machines can become the repository of human consciousness – that machines can, for all practical purposes, become human beings. You are the cyborg, and the cyborg is you.
(xii) Why does gender appear in this primal scene of humans meeting their evolutionary successors, intelligent machines? What do gendered bodies have to do with the erasure of embodiment and the subsequent merging of machine and human intelligence in the figure of the cyborg?
Topics include disembodied transcorporeal information, Moravec test, cyborg, gender, seeing versus doing, and speaking.
(xii) Andrew Hodges suggests that Turing's predilection was always to
deal with the world as if it were a formal puzzle. To a remarkable
extent, Hodges says, Turing was blind to the distinction between
saying and doing. . . . It was the embodiment of a perfect J. S. Mill
liberal, concentrating upon the free will and free speech of the
individual” (p. 425). . . . His conviction of the court-ordered
hormone treatments for his homosexuality demonstrated the importance
of doing over saying in the coercive order of a
homophobic society with the power to enforce its will upon the bodies
of its citizens.
(xiii) Why does Turing include gender, and why does Hodges want to read this inclusion as indicating that, so far as gender is concerned, verbal performance cannot be equated with embodied reality? . . . This construction necessarily makes the subject into a cyborg, for the enacted and represented bodies are brought into conjunction through the technology that connects them. . . . What the Turing test “proves” is that the overlay between the enacted and the represented bodies is no longer a natural inevitability but a contingent production, mediated by a technology that has become so entwined with the production of identity that it can no longer meaningfully be separated from the human subject.
(xiv) embodiment makes clear that thought is a much broader cognitive function depending for its specificities on the embodied form enacting it.
Gazing at the flickering signifiers we are posthuman whether we think clearly about machine embodiment and our entanglement with it or not; as she alludes to Latour at the end of the book, we have been cyborgs for a long time already.
(xiv) As you gaze at the flickering signifiers scrolling down the computer screens, no matter what identifications you assign to the embodied entities that you cannot see, you have already become posthuman.
TOWARD EMBODIED VIRTUALITY
Four point summary of posthuman view; the body itself is one prosthesis among many technological systems into which we are born that we learn to manipulate.
(2-3) First, the posthuman view
privileges informational pattern over material instantiation, so that
embodiment in a biological substrate is seen as an accident of
history rather than an inevitability of life. Second, the posthuman
view considers consciousness regarded as the seat of human identity
in the Western tradition long before Descartes thought he was a mind
thinking, as an epiphenomenon, as an evolutionary upstart trying to
claim that it is the whole show when in actuality it is only a minor
sideshow. Third, the posthuman view thinks of the body as the
original prosthesis we all learn to manipulate, so that extending or
replacing the body with other prostheses becomes a continuation of a
process that began before we were born. Fourth, and most important,
by these and other means, the posthuman view configures human being
so that it can be seamlessly articulated with intelligent
(3-4) To elucidate the significant shift in underlying assumptions about subjectivity signaled by the posthuman, we can recall one of the definitive texts characterizing the liberal humanist subject: C. B. Macpherson's analysis of possessive individualism. . . . The defining characteristics involve the construction of subjectivity, not the presence of nonbiological components.
(4) Embodiment has been systematically downplayed or erased in the cybernetic construction of the posthuman in ways that have not occurred in other critiques of the liberal humanist subject, especially in feminist and postcolonial theories.
Posthuman body is data made flesh.
(5) Although in many ways the posthuman
deconstructs the liberal humanist subject, it thus shares with its
predecessor an emphasis on cognition rather than embodiment. William
Gibson makes the point vividly in Neuromancer when
the narrator characterizes the posthuman body as “data made flesh.”
To the extent that the posthuman constructs embodiment
as the instantiation of thought/information, it continues the liberal
tradition rather than disrupts it.
(5) Hence, my focus on how information lost its body, for this story is central to creating what Arthur Kroker has called the “flesh-eating 90s.”
Three paradigms (dominant signifiers) of homeostasis, reflexivity, and virtuality.
(6-7) The larger trajectory of my narrative arcs from the initial moments when cybernetics was formulated as a discipline, through a period of reformulation known as “second-order cybernetics,” to contemporary debates swirling around an emerging discipline known as “artificial life.” . . . The first, from 1945 to 1960, took homeostasis as a central concept; the second, going roughly from 1960 to 1980, revolved around reflexivity; the third, stretching from 1980 to the present, highlights virtuality.
Macy Conferences on Cybernetics key material for studying development of cybernetic paradigm.
(7) Retrospectively called the Macy Conferences on Cybernetics, these meetings, held from 1943 to 1954, were instrumental in forging a new paradigm. To succeed, they needed a theory of information (Shannon's bailiwick), a model of neural functioning that showed how neurons worked as information-processing systems (McCulloch's lifework), computers that processed binary code and that could conceivably reproduced themselves, thus reinforcing the analogy with biological systems (von Neumann's specialty), and a visionary who could articulate the larger implications of the cybernetic paradigm and make clear its cosmic significance (Wiener's contribution). The result of this breathtaking enterprise was nothing less than a new way of looking at human beings. Henceforth, humans were to be seen primarily as information processing entities who are essentially similar to intelligent machines.
Cybernetics joined information, control, communication in synthesis of organic and mechanical; first movement emphasized reflexivity.
(8) Cybernetics was born when
nineteenth-century control theory joined with the nascent theory of
information. Coined from the Greek word for “steersman,”
cybernetics signaled that three powerful actors–information,
control, and communication–were now operating jointly to bring
about an unprecedented synthesis of the organic and the
(8) Reflexivity is the movement whereby that which has been used to generate a system is made, through a changed perspective, to become part of the system it generates.
Thus the texts and technology position emerged from the same intellectual soil as cybernetics.
(9) It is only a slight exaggeration to say that contemporary literary theory is produced by the reflexivity that it also produces (an observation that is, of course, also reflexive).
Maturana and Varela are key theorists.
(10) The second wave of cybernetics
grew out of attempts to incorporate reflexivity into the cybernetic
paradigm at a fundamental level. The key issue was how systems are
constituted as such, and the key problem was how to redefine
homeostatic systems so that the observer can be taken into account. .
. . The second wave reached its mature phase with the publication of
Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela's Autopoiesis
and Cognition: The Realization of the Living.
(10-11) In a sense, autopoiesis turns the cybernetic paradigm inside out. Its central premise–that systems are informationally closed—radically alters the idea of the informational feedback loop, for the loop no longer functions to connect a system to its environment. In the autopoietic view, no information crosses the boundary separating the system from it environment. . . . Thus the center of interest for autopoiesis shifts from the cybernetics of the observed system to the cybernetics of the observer. . . . The emphasis is on the mutually constitutive interactions between the components of a system rather than on message, signal, or information.
(11) The third wave swelled into existence when self-organization began to be understood not merely as the (re)production of internal organization but as the springboard to emergence.
Pinball machines are classic second wave cybernetic systems exemplifying switch matrix mediated closed loop feedback control that imbricates message, signal, and information; Hayles claims autopoiesis turns the cybernetic paradigm inside out,” so I suggest this elementary study of machine embodiment should be done in preparation for thinking about third wave concepts, rather than skipping directly to them.
(11) Some theorists, notably Edward
Fredkin and Stephen Wolfram, claim that reality is a
program run on a cosmic computer. In this view, a universal
informational code underlies the structure of matter, energy,
spacetime–indeed, of everything that exists.
(12) As though we had learned nothing from Derrida about supplementarity, embodiment continues to be discussed as if it were a supplement to be purged from the dominant term of information, an accident of evolution we are now in a position to correct.
(12) My strategy is to complicate the leap from embodied reality to abstract information by pointing to moments when the assumptions involved in this move were contested by other researchers in the field and so became especially visible. The point of highlighting such moments is to make clear how much had to be erased to arrive at such abstractions as bodiless information.
By considering machine embodiment we better appreciate the accidents of evolution that yielded the technological systems we have, and perhaps can become more receptive to the dethroning of the central Cartesian consciousness.
(13) In the face of such a powerful dream [Platonism], it can be a shock to remember that for information to exist, it must always be instantiated in a medium . . . conceiving of information as a thing separate from the medium instantiating it is a prior imaginary act that constructs a holistic phenomenon as an information/matter duality.
Seriation, Skeuomorphs, and Conceptual Constellations
Definition of virtuality as cultural perception of information systems interpenetrating material objects; compare to Castells.
Virtuality is the cultural perception
that material objects are interpenetrated by information
(14) Seeing the world as an interplay between informational patterns and material objects is a historically specific construction that emerged in the wake of World War II.
(14) In the history of cybernetics, ideas were rarely made up out of whole cloth. Rather, they were fabricated in a pattern of overlapping replication and innovation, a pattern I call “seriation” (a term appropriated from archaeological anthropology).
Seriation chart appropriated from archaeological anthropology; figure 1 presents a nice summary of the three waves of cybernetics.
(15) The reasoning suggests that we should be able to trace the development of a conceptual field by using a seriation chart analogous to the seriation charts used for artifacts.
Skeuomoroph nonfunctional, vestigial design feature intentionally linking the new to the old, threshold devices in history of cybernetics.
(17) A skeuomorph is a design feature that is no longer functional in itself but that refers back to a feature that was functional at an earlier time. . . . Skeuomorphs visibly testify to the social or psychological necessity for innovation to be tempered by replication.
Think how the phenomenon of a ball rolling on a plane under the influence of the Earth gravity becomes a design feature in virtual reality games: perhaps when pinball is recollected in spaceships this rule of fixed gravity itself becomes a skeumorph; already some of the control processes shift under the reverse engineered design from essential to vestigial.
(17) In the history of cybernetics, skeumorphs acted as threshold devices, smoothing the transition between one conceptual constellation and another.
Information Theory and Everyday Life
(18) Shannon's theory defines information as a probability function with no dimensions, no materiality, and no necessary connection with meaning.
PET as something coming later that could have supported more radical, embodied and therefore complicated theories that at the time were not feasible to support experimentally.
(18-19) Why did Shannon define information as a pattern? The
transcripts of the Macy Conferences indicate that the choice was
driven by the twin engines of reliable quantification and theoretical
generality. . . . To be workable, MacKay's definition required
that psychological states be quantifiable and measurable – an
accomplishment that only now appears distantly possible with such
imaging technologies as positronic-emission tomography and that
certainly was not in reach in the immediate post-World War II years.
It is no mystery why Shannon's definition rather than MacKay's became
the industry standard.
(19) As Carolyn Marvin notes, a decontextualized construction of information has important ideological implications, including an Anglo-American ethnocentrism that regards digital information as more important than more context-bound analog information.
(19) Especially for users who may not know the material processes involved, the impression is created that pattern is predominant over presence. From here it is a small step to perceiving information as more mobile, more important, more essential than material forms. When this impression becomes part of your cultural mindset, you have entered the condition of virtuality.
Kind of like seeing virtuality as concretized design decisions rather than necessary progress toward most logical, efficient, and probable explanation of reality.
(20) Once we understand the complex interplays that went into creating the condition of virtuality, we can demystify our progress toward virtuality and see it as the result of historically specific negotiations rather than of the irresistible forces of technological determination. At the same time, we can acquire resources with which to rethink the assumptions underlying virtuality, and we can recover a sense of the virtual that fully recognizes the importance of the embodied processes constituting the lifeworld of human beings.
Virtuality and Contemporary Literature
(21) I want to resist the idea that influence flows from science into literature.
Replace technological determinist metanarrative of cyborg with historically contingent stories during development of cybernetics.
(22) As we have seen, one way to construct virtuality is the way that
Moravec and Minsky do—as a metanarrative about the transformation
of the human into a disembodied posthuman. I think we should be
skeptical about this metanarrative. . . . By turning the
technological determinism of bodiless information, the cyborg, and
the posthuman into narratives about the negotiations that took place
between particular people at particular times and places, I hope to
replace a teleology of disembodiment with historically contingent
stories about contests between competing factions, contests whose
outcomes were far from obvious.
(23) Chronologically and thematically, Dick's novels of simulation cross the scientific theory of authopoiesis.
(24) The chapter on contemporary speculative fictions constructs a semiotics of virtuality by showing how the central concepts of information and materiality can be mapped onto a multilayered semiotic square. The tutor texts for this analysis, which include Snow Crash, Blood Music, Galatea 2.2, and Terminal Games, indicate the range of what counts as the posthuman in the age of virtuality, from neural nets to hackers, biologically modified humans, and entities who live only in computer simulations.
(24) From my point of view, literature and science as an area of specialization is more than a subset of cultural studies or a minor activity in a literature department. It is a way of understanding ourselves as embodied creatures living within and through embodied worlds and embodied words.
VIRTUAL BODIES AND FLICKERING SIGNIFIERS
(26) Interacting with electronic images rather than with a materially resistant text, I absorb through my fingers as well as my mind a model of signification in which no simple one-to-one correspondence exists between signifier and signified.
(28) The pattern/randomness dialectic does not erase the material world; information in fact derives its efficacy from the material infrastructure it appears to obscure. This illusion of erasure should be the subject of inquiry, not a presupposition that inquiry takes for granted.
Comprehensive definition of informatics following Haraway.
Following Donna Haraway,
I take informatics to
mean the technologies of information as well as the biological,
social, linguistic, and cultural changes that initiate, accompany,
and complicate their development.
(29) The contemporary pressure toward dematerialization, understood as an epistemic shift toward pattern/randomness and away from presence/absence, affects human and textual bodies on two levels at once, as a change in the body (the material substrate) and as a change in the message (the codes of representation).
Flickering signifiers fully explored in Electronic Literature.
(30) Carrying the instabilities implicit in Lacanian signifiers one step further, information technologies create what I will call flickering signifiers, characterized by their tendency toward unexpected metamorphoses, attenuations, and dispersions. Flickering signifiers signal an important shift in the plate tectonics of language.
Signifying the Processes of Production
In new signification language is equivalent to code, contra Lacan, although not necessarily one-to-one correspondence between compiler and machine languages due to optimization techniques; need to study computer programming to appreciate flickering signifier paradigm.
“Language is not a code,” Lacan asserted, because he wanted to
deny one-to-one correspondence between the signifier and the
signified. In word processing, however, language is
code. The relation between machine and complier languages is
specified by a coding arrangement, as is the relation of the compiler
language to the programming commands that the user manipulates.
Through these multiple transformations, some quantity is conserved,
but it is not the mechanical energy implicit in a system of levers or
the molecular energy of a thermodynamical system. Rather it is the
informational structure that emerges from the interplay between
pattern and randomness. When a text presents itself as a constantly
refreshed image rather than as a durable inscription, transformations
can occur that would be unthinkable if matter or energy, rather than
informational patterns, formed the primary basis for the systemic
(31) Foregrounding pattern and randomness, information technologies operate within a realm in which the signifier is opened to a rich internal play of difference. In informatics, the signifier can no longer be understood as a single marker, for example an ink mark on a page. Rather it exists as a flexible chain of markers bound together by the arbitrary relations specified by the relevant codes. . . . A signifier on one level becomes a signified on the next-higher level. Precisely because the relation between signifier and signified at each of these levels is arbitrary, it can be changed with a single global command. . . . Such amplification is possible because the constant reproduced through multiple coding layers is a pattern rather than a presence.
Tutor texts are at stake for posthuman humanities, for example in shift to pattern/randomness, and have hardly been assembled for philosophy of computing, although a canon of elit, games, and cultural software are emerging in software and critical code studies.
Shifting the emphasis from presence/absence to pattern/randomness
suggests different choices for tutor
Rather than studying Freud's discussion of “fort/da” (a short
passage whose replication in hundred of commentaries would no doubt
astonish its creator), theorists interested in pattern and randomness
might point to David Cronenberg's film The Fly.
(35) In contrast to Lacanian psycholinguistics, derived from the generative coupling of linguistics and sexuality, flickering signification is the progeny of the fascinating and troubling coupling of language and machine.
Narratives and Bodies of Information
(36) Existing in the nonmaterial space of computer simulation, cyberspace defines a regime of representation within which pattern is the essential reality, presence an optical illusion.
Point of view is the character in cyberspace.
(38) In cyberspace, point of view does not emanate from the character; rather, the pov literally is the character.
Harvey transition from Fordism to flexible accumulation exemplifies transition from ownership to access.
The shift of emphasis from ownership to access is another
manifestation of the underlying transition from presence/absence to
pattern/randomness. In The
Condition of Postmodernity,
the economic aspects of the shift to an informatted society as a
transition from a Fordist regime to a regime of flexible
(40) When the emphasis falls on access rather than ownership, the private/public distinction that was so important in the formation of the novel is radically reconfigured.
(43) As writing yields to flickering signifiers underwritten by binary digits, the narrator becomes not so such a scribe as a cyborg authorized to access the relevant codes.
(46) Its physical manifestations vary, but the ability to manipulate complex codes is a constant. . . . We become the codes we punch.
Functionality as active HCI communication modes.
(47) By adopting a double vision that looks simultaneously at the power of simulation and at the materialities that produce it, we can better understand the implications of articulating posthuman constructions together with embodied actualities. One way to think about these materialities is through functionality. “Functionality” is a term used by virtual reality technologists to describe the communication modes that are active in a computer-human interface.
Obvious trend of life as embodied virtualities, in which constructive intervention through interpretation devolves upon posthumanists. In the machinic realm where information is embodied, there are situations in which incorporation rather than inscription prevails, such as real time control systems; when Hayles calls for different tutor texts, consider functionality in code and pattern infused system documentation including program listings and schematics (overturning Ong prohibition).
(48-49) Given market forces already at work, it is virtually (if I may use the word) certain that we will increasingly live, work, and play in environments that construct us as embodied virtualities. I believe that our best hope to intervene constructively in this development is to put an interpretive spin on it—one that opens up the possibilities of seeing pattern and presence as complementary rather than antagonistics. Information, like humanity, cannot exist apart from the embodiment that brings it into being as a material entity in the world; and embodiment is always instantiated, local, and specific. . . . As we rush to explore the new vistas that cyberspace has made available for colonization, let us remember the fragility of a material world that cannot be replaced.
CONTESTING FOR THE BODY OF INFORMATION: THE MACY CONFERENCES ON CYBERNETICS
(50) Broadly speaking, the arguments were deployed along three fronts. The first was concerned with the construction of information as a theoretical entity; the second, with the construction of the (human) neural structures so that they were seen as flows of information; the third, with the construction of artifacts that translated information flows into observable operations, thereby making the flows “real.”
(50) Followed back to moments before it became a black box, this conclusion seems less like an inevitability and more like the result of negotiations specific to the circumstances of the U.S. techno-scientific culture during and immediately following World War II.
(51) Tracing the development of reflexive epistemologies after the Macy period ended, the chapter concludes by showing how reflexivity was modified so that it could count as producing scientific knowledge during the second wave of cybernetics.
Meaning(lessness) of Information
(53) We are now in a position to understand the deeper implications of information as it was theorized by Wiener and Shannon. Note that the theory is formulated entirely without reference to what information means. Only the probabilities of message elements enter into the equations. Why divorce information from meaning? Shannon and Wiener wanted information to have a stable value as it moved from one context to another.
Linking Wiener and Shannon information theory to ideology based on technological milieu, which she will later link to Kittler media theory in EL. This after going through the tedious, complex logarithmic equation transformations that few understand. “We are now in a position.”
(54) Thus, a simplification necessitated by engineering considerations becomes an ideology in which a reified concept of information is treated as if it were fully commensurate with the complexities of human thought.
Now MacKay metacommunication operation is enshrined in TCP/IP and other digital communications protocols, taking a different path for humanities scholarship and philosophical speculation than the naming of electronic devices.
(54-55) Donald MacKay, a British researcher, was trying to formulate an information theory that would take meaning into account. . . . Structural information indicates how selective information is to be understood; it is a message about how to interpret a message – that is, it is a metacommunication.
She likes to use the term triangulation for understanding differences between competing theories.
(55-56) Since structural information indicates how a message should be interpreted, semantics necessarily enters the picture. . . . Arguing for a strong correlation between the nature of a representation and its effect, MacKay's model recognized the mutual constitution of form and content, message and receiver. His model was fundamentally different from the Shannon-Wiener theory because it triangulated between reflexivity, information, and meaning.
First wave cybernetics privileged homeostasis over reflexivity on account of manageable complexity and historical contingencies.
(56-57) In the choice between what information is and what it does,
we can see the rival constellations of homeostasis and reflexivity
beginning to take shape. . . . Homeostatis won in the first wave
largely because it was more manageable quantitatively. Reflexivity
lost because specifying and delimiting context quickly ballooned into
an unmanageable project.
(57) If humans are information-processing machines, then they must have biological equipment enabling them to process binary code. The model constructing the human in these terms was the McCulloch-Pitts neuron.
Neural Nets as Logical Operators
Linking the human and the machine by the superiority of electronic theories of complex, high speed control system operation to endocrine systems is important for how information lost its body, not by stealth or subterfuge but by reasonable analogy of McCulloch and Pitts neuron.
(58) McCulloch's central insight was that neurons connected in
this way are capable of signifying logical propositions. . . . Pitts
worked out the mathematics proving several important theorems about
neural nets. In particular, he showed that a neural net can calculate
any number (that is, any proposition) that can be calculated by a
Turing machine. The proof was important because it joined a model of
human neural functioning with automata theory. Demonstrating that the
operations of a McCulloch-Pitts neural net and a Turing machine
formally converge confirmed McCulloch's insight “that brains do not
secrete thought as the liver secretes bile but . . . they compute
thought the way electronic computers calculate numbers.”
(59) The multiple meanings that McCulloch and his colleagues attached to reverberating loops indicate how quickly speculation leaped from the simplified model to highly complex phenomena.
(59-60) Cybernetic mechanisms do not signify unless they are connected with how perception actually takes place in human observers.
(61) Transforming the body into a flow of binary code pulsing through neurons was an essential step in seeing human being as an informational pattern. In context, this transformation can be seen as a necessary simplification that made an important contribution to neurophysiology. Taken out of context, it is extrapolated to the unwarranted conclusion that there is no essential difference between thought and code.
(62-63) Part of what made cybernetics convincing to Macy participants and others were the electromechanical devices that showed cybernetic principles in action. Cybernetics was powerful because it worked. . . . These artifacts functioned as exchangers that brought man and machine into equivalence; they shaped the kinds of stories that participants would tell about the meaning of this equivalence. In conjunction with the formal theories, they helped to construct the human as cyborg.
The Rat and the Homeostat: Looping between Concept and Artifact
Hayles argues, too, that the human gets constructed in terms of the machine: admitting this is built into our consciousness, influencing our cognition and therefore, working backwards, our perception; let us reconstruct the human as cyborg by passing Hayles through Gallagher as posthuman cyborg cybersage.
suggesting certain kinds of experiments, the analogs between
intelligent machines and humans construct the human
in terms of the machine.
(67) Yet the “simpler systems” helped to reinforce several ideas: humans are mechanisms that respond to their environments by trying to maintain homeostasis; the function of scientific language is exact specification; the bottleneck for creating intelligent machines lies in formulating problems exactly; and an information concept that privileges exactness over meaning is therefore more suitable to model construction than one that does not. Ashby's homeostat, Shannon's information theory, and the electronic rat were collaborators in constructing an interconnected network of assumptions about language, teleology, and human behavior.
(67) The concept that most clearly brought them into question was reflexivity.
Man became portable instrument set (Stroud).
(68) Countering this view was Frank Fremont-Smith's insistence on the observer's role in constructing the image of the man-in-the-middle. “The human being is the most marvelous set of instruments,” Stroud observed, “but like all portable instrument sets the human observer is noisy and erratic in operation. However, if these are all the instruments you have, you have to work with them until something better comes along.” In Stroud's remark, the man is converted from an open-ended system into a portable instrument set.
Kubie's Last Stand
(73) The important dichotomy for them was observer/system, and the important problems were how to locate the observer inside the system and the system inside the observer.
Circling the Observer
This is a kind of MSA contrasting letters and transcripts of Macy Conferences; also kind of like dismissing the flute players, taking the music out of philosophy.
(74) The contrast between the letters and the transcripts illuminates the scientific ethos that ruled at the meetings. Emotions were considered out of bounds for several reasons, all of which perhaps came down to the same reason. The framework of scientific inquiry had been constructed so as to ignore the observer.
Insightful analysis that also is an example of the idea she is trying to explain, of importance of embodied experience as well as abstractions about bodies.
(76) Out of this week-long conference came Catherine [Bateson]'s 1972 book, Our Own Metaphor. Her account of this conference, in some ways a reflection of the Macy Conferences, contrasts sharply with the Macy transcripts. The best explanation for this difference, I think, is epistemological. Catherine assumes that of course the observer affects what is seen, so she takes care to tell her readers about her state of mind and situation at the time.
Later a statement about retina inside rather than world outside.
(78) But we know something, and what we know is the end result of the
internal processes we use to construct our inner world. . . . “We
are our epistemology” is Gregory [Bateson]'s formulation.
Catherine's phrasing is similar: “Each person is his own central
metaphor” (OOM, p. 285). In this view, the dualism between subject
and object disappears, for the object as a thing in itself cannot
exist for us.
(79) Taking the cybernetic paradigm of McCulloch's “empirical epistemology” and making it into “our own metaphor,” Bateson reintroduced the reflexive dimension that McCulloch had fought so hard to exorcise when it was associated with psychoanalysis.
(80) Like Bateson, Mead, and Brand sitting at a kitchen table on that March morning in 1976, I am sitting at my kitchen table in March 1996. I'm looking at the pages on which their interview is published. I'm particularly intrigued by a photograph that Brand included, one evidently given to him by Mead or Bateson. It's a large picture, too large to include in one frame, so it stretches across two pages. The caption identifies the setting as the 1952 Macy Conference.
(82) Janet Freed's role in the Macy group is teasingly hinted at in the transcripts to the 1949 Editor's Meeting. Fremont-Smith depended on her to keep him on track.
Word play of Janet Freed as Freud generating thought points; compare to Kittler double inscription discussion in Draculas Legacy.
(82) What are we to make of Janet F., this sign of the repressed, this Freudian slip of a female who, with a flick of a “u” (the U-shaped table at which she sits?), goes from Freed to Freud, Freud to Freed? Thinking of her, I am reminded of Dorothy Smith's suggestion that men of a certain class are prone to decontextualization and reification because they are in a position to command the labors of others.
LIBERAL SUBJECTIVITY IMPERILED: NORBERT WIENER AND CYBERNETIC ANXIETY
(84) Of all implications that first-wave cybernetics conveyed, perhaps none was more disturbing and potentially revolutionary than the idea that the boundaries of the human subject are constructed rather than given.
Lakoff and Johnson and others dwell on other embodied metaphors to imperil liberal subjectivity (Haverson, Connerton).
shown in their study of embodied metaphors, our images of our bodies,
their limitations and possibilities, openings and self-containments,
inform how we envision the intellectual territories we stake out and
(86) The tensions between Wiener's humanistic values and the cybernetic viewpoint is everywhere apparent in his writing.
Of Molecules and Men: Cybernetics and Probability
Bravo performance in eloquence and philosophical depth concerning probabilistic worldview active in information theory.
(90) Far from being a passive confirmation, information theory was an active extension of a probabilistic worldview into the new and powerfully synthetic realm of communication theory. . . . Statistical and quantum mechanics deal with uncertainty on the microscale; communication reflects and embodies it on the macroscale. Envisioning relations on the macroscale as acts of communication was thus tantamount to extending the reach of probability into the social world of agents and actors.
If this is not a statement true of cultural software, it is exemplary of high speed process control software.
(91) The new forms are distinguished not by the disappearance of the
old but rather by a shift in the nature of their control mechanisms,
which in turn are determined by the kinds of exchanges the machine is
understood to transact.
(91) Analogy is not merely an ornament of language but is a powerful conceptual mode that constitutes meaning through relation.
Crossing Boundaries: Everything Is an Analogy, Including This Statement
Machine organism equation formulated so the analogy works. By explaining this to us, Hayles acts a brilliant philosopher who sees what is going on.
internal structure did more than this, however. It also produced the
assertion that because humans and machines sometimes behave
similarly, they are essentially alike. . . . What tends to drop from
sight is the fact that the equation between organism and machine
works because it is seen from a position formulated precisely so that
it will work.
(95) The important tension now is not between science and God but between purpose and randomness. Purpose achieved through negative feedback is the way that goal-seeking devices deal with a problematic universe.
Wiener Nature of Analogy connects information and Saussure la langue: selection from possible alternatives rather than internal reference.
It brevity notwithstanding, [Wiener's] “The Nature of Analogy” is
a wide-ranging meditation on what analogy means in science,
mathematics, language, and perception.
(97-98) Wiener begins by pointing out that language is always analogical, in the sense that it puts forth propositions that listeners must interpret from their own experiences, which are never identical to the speaker's. This observation anticipates Michael Arbib and Mary Hesse's argument that signification occurs through category constitution, not through communication of Aristotelean essence. Like them, Wiener also denies that language communicates an Aristotelean essence. The convergence points to similarities between his definition of information and Ferdinand de Saussure's view of la langue, or language as a system. In both cases, communication proceeds through selection from a field of possible alternatives rather than through the direct articulation of inherent reference.
This is the essence of computation, transformation (not necessarily of representation, when input from the physical world) proposed by Wiener by which much recent thinking has been influenced, which is why Hayles puts him in her story earlier rather than later.
(98) Thus perception, mathematics, and information all concentrate on pattern rather than context. As data move across various kinds of interfaces, analogical relationships are the links that allow pattern to be preserved from one modality to another.
Imagine going through the whole analysis by theory theory, simulation theory, and interaction theory, to make sense of Hayles explanation for why Wiener downplayed the significance of embodied materiality in favor of abstraction.
doubt his own lack of involvement in the nitty-gritty work of the lab
was a contributing factor in this elision of embodied materiality. .
. . As a dedicated experimentalist, McCulloch was sensitive in a way
that Wiener was not to the tension between the plentitude of
embodiment and the sparseness of abstraction.
(100) In addition to operating on the microscale of subatomic particles and the macroscale of cybernetic circuits, probability also operates on the cosmological drama of chaos and order. It is here, on this cosmological level, that he staged the moral distinctions between good cybernetic systems, which reinforce the autonomous liberal subject, and evil machines, which undermine or destroy the autonomy of the subject.
Entropy as Cultural Relay: From Heat Engines to Information
(101) This tension between the first and second laws, between stability and degradation, runs like a leitmotiv through turn-of-the-century cultural formations.
(101) Encompassing the earlier definition of entropy, Boltzmann's formulation also added something new, for it allowed entropy to be linked with systems that had nothing to do with heat engines.
Maxwell Demon incarnated (instantiated, made an example) as entropy and information rather than the instructional context I heard in late childhood.
(101-102) This dematerialization was carried further when entropy was connected with information. . . . Brillouin therefore proposed that information be considered as negative entropy, or negentropy. Maxwell's Demon was one of the relay points through which a relationship was established between entropy and information.
Transformation of entropy from Victorian connotation dissolute living to positive role in information theory and communication.
(102-103) In retrospect, identifying entropy with information can be
seen as a crucial crossing point, for this allowed entropy to be
reconceptualized as the thermodynamic motor driving systems to
self-organization rather than as the heat engine driving the world to
universal heat death. . . . chaos went from being associated with
dissipation in the Victorian sense of dissolute living and reckless
waste to being associated with dissipation in a newly positive sense
of increasing complexity and new life.
(103) Entropy becomes morally negative for Wiener when he sees it operating against differential probability distributions on which the transfer of information depends. . . . Communication can be seen, he suggested, as a game that two humans (or machines) play against noise.
(104) In The Human Use of Human Beings, he suggests that human beings are not so much bone and blood, nerve and synapse, as they are patterns of organization.
(104) The Greek root for cybernetics, “steersman,” aptly describes the cybernetic man-machine: light on its feet, sensitive to change, a being that both is a flow and knows how to go with the flow.
(105) When in the end the universe ceases to manifest diverse probabilities and becomes a uniform soup, control, communication, cybernetics – not to mention life – will expire. In the meantime, men and cybernetic machines stand shoulder to shoulder in building dikes that temporarily stave off the entropic tide.
(108) At stake in the erotically charged discourse in which Wiener considers the pleasures and dangers of coupling between parts that are not supposed to touch is how extensively the body of the subject may be penetrated or even dissolved by cybernetics as a body of knowledge.
The Argument for Celibacy: Preserving the Boundaries of the
(108) In Cybernetics, the technical text from which The Human Use of Human Beings was adapted, Winer looks into the mirror of the cyborg but then withdraws.
(109) The flow of information is thus introduced as a principle explaining how organization occurs across multiple hierarchical levels.
(109) I think that the idea is left because it is disturbing as well as speculative. It implies that personal identity and autonomous will are merely illusions that mask the cybernetic reality. . . . Implying the deconstruction of the autonomous self as a locus of erotic pleasure, it circumvents the assenting, demurring, intensifying, delaying, and consummating that constitute sexual play. When Wiener is confronted with this sexless sex, his first impulse is to withdraw: coitus interruptus.
Danger of cybernetics felt by Wiener follows from the trend towards minimal selfhood, distributed cognition, emergence, and now thanks to Gallagher clarifications, embodiment, which is just fine for machines and humans alike.
(110) The danger of cybernetics, from Wiener's point of view, is that
it can potentially annihilate the liberal subject as the locus of
(111) Concluding that “we are too much in tune with the objects of our investigations to be good probes,” Wiener counsels that cybernetics had best be left to the physical sciences, for to carry it into the human sciences would only build “exaggerated expectations” (HU, p. 164).
(112) Viewed in the historical perspective, Wiener was not successful in containing cybernetics within the circle of liberal humanist assumptions. . . . By the 1960s, the link between liberal humanism and self-regulation, a link forged in the eighteenth century, was already stretched thin; by the 1980s, it was largely broken.
FROM HYPHEN TO SPLICE: CYBERNETIC SYNTAX IN LIMBO
(113) In Bernard Wolfe's Limbo, the 1952 novel that has become an underground classic, anxiety about boundaries becomes acute. Like Norbert Wiener, by whom he was deeply influenced, Wolfe recognized the revolutionary potential of cybernetics to reconfigure bodies. Also like Wiener, he tried unsuccessfully to contain that potential, fearing that if it went too far it could threaten the autonomy of the (male) liberal subject.
(114) As a novel of ideas, it displays some of the passageways through which cybernetic notions began to circulate throughout U.S. culture and connect up with contemporary political anxieties. As a novel of ideas, it is an important literary document because it stages encounters between literary form and bodies represented within the text. The textual corpus, no less than the represented world, bears the imprint of the cybernetic paradigm upon its body.
(114) In a scenario that, following Virilio, I call endo-colonization, Limbo joins political and geographical remappings with the cybernetic implosion into the body's interior.
Cyborgs understood as technological object and discursive formation in Wolfe Limbo as tutor text for first wave cybernetics; evidence that many Americans are already cyborgs, especially the American soldier.
(115) Manifesting itself as both technological object and discursive formation, it [the cyborg] partakes of the power of the imagination as well as of the actuality of technology. Cyborgs actually exist. About 10 percent of the current U.S. population are estimated to be cyborgs in the technical sense, including people with electronic pacemakers, artificial joints, drug-implant systems, implanted corneal lenses, and artificial skin. A much higher percentage participates in occupations that make them into metaphoric cyborgs.
Shift from laboratory white box to human black box understood as analogical white box to which cybernetic adjustments can be applied.
(118-119) I noted earlier that the cyborg is both a technological
entity and a discursive construction. The chapters of Wiener's book
illustrate how discourse collaborates with technology to create
cyborgs. The transformations that Wiener envisions are for far
simpler mechanisms than human beings, but his explanations work as
rhetorical software (Richard Doyle's phrase) to extend his
conclusions to complex human behaviors as well. . . . The laboratory
“white box” is thus discursively equated with the human “black
box,” with the result that the human is now also a “white box,”
that is, a servo-mechanism whose workings are known. Once the
correlation is made, cybernetics can be used not only to correct
dysfunction but also to improve normal functioning. As a result, the
cyborg signifies something more than a retrofitted human. It points
toward an improved hybrid species that has the capacity to be
humanity's evolutionary successor.
(119) The cyborg, [Douglas D.] Noble insists, is no science fiction fantasy but an accurate image of the modern American soldier.
(1230 Like man and machine, male and female are spliced together in a feedback circuit that makes them mutually determine each other. No less than geopolitical ideology, sexual ideology is subverted and reconfigured by the cybernetic paradigm.
(123) The kind of cyborg that Wolfe envisions locates the cybernetic splice at the joining of appendage to trunk.
(125) Crucial to this process are transformations in the textual body, transformations that reenact and re-present the textual dynamics of Immob.
(126) The text splits into a truck, consisting of the main narrative, and prosthetic extensions constituted through drawings that punctuate the text and lines that scrawl down the page where the trunk ends.
Writing as prosthesis: Limbo illustrates how physical body of text constitutes cyborg with its represented bodies (Kristeva feminine).
(126) Writing is a way to extend the author's body into the exterior
world; in this sense, it functions as a technological aid so
intimately bound up with his thinking and neural circuits that it
acts like a prosthesis.
(128) Countering these narrative constructions are other interpretations authorized by the drawings, nonverbal lines, puns, and lapses in narrative continuity. From these semiotic spaces, which Julia Kristeva has associated with the feminine, come inversions and disruptions of the hierarchical categories that the narrative uses to construct maleness and femaleness.
(129-130) Normally readers attend to the represented world and only peripherally notice the physical body of the text. When the pros/e of Limbo itself becomes a cyborg, however, the splice operates to join the imaginative world of the signifier with the physical body of print. . . . What is distinctive about Wolfe's use of the correlation is the suggestion that the bodies in the text and the body of the text not only represent cyborgs but also together compose a cyborg in which the neologistic splice operates to join imaginative signification with literal physicality.
THE SECOND WAVE OF CYBERNETICS: FROM REFLEXIVITY TO SELF-ORGANIZATION
Maturana and Varela key to second wave cybernetics, the latter whom Gallagher mentions.
(131) This chapter follows the paths that Maturana and Varela
took as they probed deeply into what it means to acknowledge that the
observer, like the frog, does not so much discern preexisting systems
as create them through the very act of observation.
(132) The problem was how to make the new epistemology operational by integrating it with an experimental program that would replace intuition with empirical data.
This is clearly a philosophical text.
(132) From this beginning, we will trace the epistemological revolution that Maturana fomented, delineate its connections with the three stories we have been following, and finally explore the differing assumptions that led Varela, Maturana's collaborator, to set off in a new direction.
(133) The punning title of his essay collection, Observing Systems, announces reflexivity as a central theme.
(133-134) It also visually distinguishes the observer as a discrete system inside the larger system of the organism. In the aftermath of the Macy Conferences, one of the central problems with reflexivity was how to talk about it without falling into solipsism or resorting to psychoanalysis. The message from the Macy Conferences was clear: if reflexivity was to be credible, it had to be insulated against subjectivity and presented in a context in which it had at least the potential for rigorous (preferably mathematical) formulation.
(134-135) To trace the evolution of Maturana's epistemology, let us turn now to the seminal paper “What the Frog's Eye Tells the Frog's Brain.” In it, Maturana and his coauthors demonstrate that the frog's sensory receptors speak to the brain in a language highly processed and species-specific. . . . The results implied that the frog's perceptual system does not so much register reality as construct it. . . . The work led Maturana to the maxim fundamental to his epistemology: “Everything said is said by an observer” (AC, p. xxii).
(135-136) If we think of sense receptors as constituting a boundary between outside and inside, this implies that organizationally, the retina matches up with the inside, not the outside. From this and other studies, Maturana concluded that perception is not fundamentally representational. He argued that to speak of an objectively existing world is misleading, for the very idea of a world implies a realm that preexists its construction by an observer. . . . living systems operate within the boundaries of an organization that closes in on itself and leaves the world on the outside.
(136) His key insight was to realize that if the action of the nervous system is determined by its organization, the result is a circular, self-reflexive dynamic. A living system's organization causes certain products to be produced, for example, nucleic acids. These products in turn produce the organization characteristic of that living system. To describe this circularity, he coined the term autopoiesis or self-making. . . . Building on this premise of autopoietic closure, Maturana developed a new and startlingly different account of how we know the world.
POV of feedback control system input, not objective reality; what some philosophers have been arguing for a long time.
(137) Each living system thus constructs its environment through the
“domain of interactions” made possible by its autopoietic
organization. What lies ouside the domain does not exist for that
(137-138) Influenced by G. Spencer-Brown, Maturana (and even more so Valera in his work Principles of Biological Autonomy) sees the operation of distinction as marking space so that an undifferentiated mass is separated into an inside and an outside or, in Maturana's terminology, into a unity and a medium in which the unity is embedded.
Definition of living by Maturana that affords machines to be considered living as autopoietic physical systems, about which von Neumann mused.
(138) According to Maturana, this ability of living organisms to conserve their autopoietic organization is the necessary and sufficient condition for them to count as living systems. All living systems are autopoietic, and all physical systems, if autopoietic, can be said to be living.
Structural coupling accounts for embeddeness of system for Maturana; see Ziemke Disentangling Notions of Embodiment.
Repeat how the philosophy seminar casts these terms and theorists, seeing with Hayles fatal flaws in their approaches, and turning to others, such as Varela: we now go beyond Varela treading uncharted territory as humanities scholars contemplating machine intelligence discovering embodiment through reverse engineering. The basic argument is to feed the nonhuman machinic into our latest philosophies of human embodiment, cognition, and computation. That is, having reached a specific clarification of these terms, we are better positioned to theorize about them. Hayles mentions this super to second order intersubjectivity that allows theorization to happen from it. Write a program that makes an index.
account for a system's embeddedness in an environment, Maturana uses
the concept of structural
. . . Thus, time and causality are not intrinsic to the processes
themselves but are concepts inferred by an observer.
(139) Information, coding, and teleology are likewise inferences drawn by an observer rather than qualities intrinsic to autopoietic processes.
(139) One implication of letting go of causality is that systems always behave as they should, which is to say, they always operate in accord with their structures, whatever those may be.
Reconfiguring the Liberal Humanist Subject
(140) When Maturana objects to first-wave projects that attributed biological properties to machines, his criticism addresses how life is defined, not the idea that machines can be alive.
(141) Whereas the latter [Weiner and coauthors] argued that it is the system's behavior that counts, Maturana argues that it is the autopoietic processes generating behavior that count.
(141) Whereas autopoietic unities have as their only goal the continuing production of their autopoiesis, allopoietic unities have as their goal something other than producing their organization.
Observer structurally coupled to phenomenon a strike at detached (ocularcentric) liberal humanist subject.
(142) The split between his position and liberal philosophy becomes obvious when questions of objectivity arise. . . . For Maturana, observation does not mean that the observer remains separate from what is being observed; on the contrary, the observer can observe only because the observer is structurally coupled to the phenomenon she sees.
Changes in autonomy and reflexivity in autopoietic theory.
(143) Although Maturana thus follows in the liberal tradition of
cyberneticians like Wiener in placing a high value on the autonomous
individual, the meaning of autonomy has undergone significant change.
Autonomy as Maturana envisions it is not consistent with
laissez-faire capitalism; it is not consistent with the idea that
each person is out for himself and devil take the hindmost; and it is
not consistent with the ethical position that a scientist could
undertake a research program without being concerned about how the
results of the research would be used.
(143) The act of observation necessarily entails reflexivity, for one of the systems that an observer can describe is the observer as an autopoietic system. . . . In contrast to Kubie's emphasis on unconscious symbolism, Maturana's observer does not have psychological depth or specificity. Rather, Maturana's observer is more like the observer that Albert Einstein posits in the special theory of relativity. . . . In autopoietic theory, the opposite of objectivism is not subjectivism but relativism.
(144) Reflexivity is thus fundamental to Maturana's account not only because the autopoietic operations of a unity specify for it a world but also because the system's reflexive doubling back on its own representations generates the human subject as an observer.
(144) To get form “thinking” to “self-consciousness” requires language, according to Maturana. In the same way that perception does not consist of information from the environment passing into the organism, so language does not consist of someone giving information to someone else. Rather, when an observer uses language, this acts as a trigger for the observer's interlocutor, allowing the interlocutor to establish an orientation within his or her domain of interactions similar to the orientation of the speaker.
For Maturana consciousness as emergent epiphenomenon; self-consciousness requires language.
Because Maturana understands self-consciousness solely in linguistic
terms, seeing it as an emergent phenomenon that arises from
autopoietic processes when they recursively interact with themselves,
consciousness for him becomes a epiphenomenon rather than a defining
characteristic of the human as an autopoietic entity. The activity of
cerebration represents only a fraction of the total autopoietic
processes, and self-consciousness represents only a fraction of
cerebration. Thus the theory implicitly assigns to consciousness a
much more peripheral role than it does to autonomy and individualism.
In this respect, autopoietic theory points toward the posthuman even
as it reinscribes the autonomy and individuality of the liberal
(145) If the theory says that the observer creates the system by drawing distinctions, it risks undercutting the ontological primacy of organizational closure. If it says that autopoietic processes are an essential feature of reality, it risks undercutting its epistemological radicalism. Faced with this Scylla and Charybdis, Maturana at first steered toward relativism and then, as its dangers loomed closer, changed course and steered toward the absolutism of autopoietic processes existing in reality as such.
Closure and recursivity versus self-possession.
(146) Rather, the important point here is that the foundational ground for establishing the subject's autonomy and individuality has shifted from self-possession, with all of its implications for the imbrication of the liberal subject with industrial capitalism. Instead, these privileged attributes are based on organizational closure (the system closes on itself, by itself) or on the reflexivity of a system recursively operating on its own representations (the observer's distinctions close the system). Closure and recursivity, then, play the foundational role in autopoietic theory that self-possession played in classic liberal theory.
Problem with dynamic transformation.
(147) Whereas first-wave philosophies tended to obscure the
importance of embodiment and the observer, autopoietic theory draws
its strength precisely from its emphasis on these attributes. Its
Achilles' heel, by contrast, is accounting for living systems'
explosive potential for transformation. The very closure that gives
autopoietic theory its epistemological muscle also limits the theory,
so that it has a difficult time accounting for dynamic interactions
that are not circular in their effects. A prime example, in my view,
is the convoluted and problematic way that Maturana treats
(148) Autopoietic theory, in its zeal to construct an autonomous sphere of action for self-enclosing entities, formulates a description that ironically describes autistic individuals more accurately than it does normally responsive people.
(148) Like language, evolution represents another area where Maturana's version of autopoietic theory fails to come to terms with the dynamic, transformative nature of the interactions between living systems and their environments. . . . While Maturana continued to replicate his original formulation of the theory, Varela and others became increasingly interested in changing the theory so that it could better account for dynamic interactions.
Liberal subject losing mind as seat of identity.
(149) A status report, then: information's body is still contested, the empire of the cyborg is still expanding, and the liberal subject, although more than even an autonomous individual, is literally losing its mind as the seat of identity.
(151) Traversing this path, the “doing” of the reader—the linear turning of pages during the reading—is to become a ind of “knowing” as the reader experiences the organization characteristic of autopoiesis through a textual structure that circles back on itself.
(152) Either organization is conserved and evolutionary change is effaced, or organizational changes and autopoiesis is effaced.
(153) Although Varela's Principles of Biological Autonomy clearly shows that Varela did most of the actual computer work in creating tessellation automata, Maturana claims credit for this idea too.
The Voice of the Other: Varela and Embodiment
(154) After The Tree of Knowledge, Varela increasingly moved away from the closure that remains a distinctive feature of autopoiesis.
Varela enaction leads to Clark.
(155) In more recent work, Varela and
his coauthors provide a positive dimension to this critique of
disembodied information. They explore the constructive role
of embodiment in ways that go importantly beyond autopoiesis. . . .
the active engagement of an organism with the environment as the
cornerstone of the organism's development.
(156) In The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience, Varela and his coauthors take the Buddhist-inspired point of view that the “self” is a story consciousness tells itself to block out the fear and panic that would ensue if human beings realized there is no essential self. . . . No longer Wiener's island of life in a sea of entropy or Maturana's autonomous circularity, awareness realizes itself as part of a larger whole—unbounded, empty, and serene.
Mind as collection of heterogeneous, disunified processes: Jackendoff computational mind, Minsky society of mind.
(156-157) Referencing such works as R. Jackendoff's Consciousness and the Computational Mind and Marvin Minksy's Society of Mind, he and his coauthors show that contemporary models of cognition can be modeled through discrete and semiautonomous agents. Each agent runs a modular program designed to accomplish a specific activity, operating relatively independent of the others. Only when conflicts occur between agents does an adjudicating program kick in to resolve the problem. In this model, consciousness emerges as an epiphenomenon whose role it is to tell a coherent story about what is happening, even though this story may have little to do with what is happening processurally. These models posit the mind, Varela wrote, “not as a unified, homogeneous unity, nor even as a collection of entities, but rather as a disunified, heterogeneous, collection of processes” (p. 100).
TURNING REALITY INSIDE OUT AND RIGHT SIDE OUT: BOUNDARY WORK IN THE MID-SIXTIES NOVELS OF PHILIP K. DICK
(161) Without using autopoietic terminology (indeed, there is no evidence that he knew of it), Dick explored the political dimension of android-human interactions in terms consistent with Maturana's analysis [in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?].
(161) At the center of this extraordinarily complex traffic between cultural, scientific, and psychological implications of cybernetics stands what I will call the “schizoid android,” a multiple pun that hints at the splittings, combinations, and recombinations through which Dick's writing performs these complexities.
The Schizoid Woman and the Dark-Haired Girl
Capitalism and the Schizoid Android
The Schizoid Woman (De)Constructs Male Subjectivity
Wasting Time in the Tomb World
Turning Right-Side Out in Dr. Bloodmoney
Punctuating the Endless Regress of Relfexivity
Literary examples from Dick illustrate points made about reflexivity.
(189) Thus Dick uses the inclusion of the observer to opposite
effect. Whereas Maturana and Varela use the “domain of the
observer” to recuperate everyday notions like cause and effect,
Dick uses it to estrange further consensus reality.
(191) Only a modest accommodation has been reached, infused with multiple ironies, that emphasizes survival and the mixed condition of humans who are at their best when they show tolerance and affection for the creature, biological and mechanical, with whom they share the planet. One could do worse than to accept this as a fitting conclusion to the deep epistemological and ethical problems that second-wave cybernetics raised but did not conclusively solve.
THE MATERIALITY OF INFORMATICS
Statement of postmodern orthodoxy that body is primarily linguistic and discursively formed yet another reason to explore ME alongside putatively disembodied technologies like the WWW, philosophies of embodiment in general.
Linguistic and discursive construction of body linked to influence of both Foucault historical criticism and cybernetics modeling.
contemporary belief likely to stupefy future generations is the
postmodern orthodoxy that the body is primarily, if not entirely, a
linguistic and discursive construction. Coincident
with cybernetic developments that stripped information of its body
were discursive analyses within the humanities, especially the
archeology of knowledge pioneered by Michel Foucault,
that saw the body as a play of discourse systems. Although
researchers in the physical and human sciences acknowledged the
importance of materiality in different ways, they nevertheless
collaborated in creating the postmodern ideology that the body's
materiality is secondary to the logical or semiotic structures it
(193) This subjectivity is constituted by the crossing of the materiality of informatics with the immateriality of information. . . . This chapter suggests a new, more flexible framework in which to think about embodiment in an age of virtuality. This framework comprises two dynamically interacting polarities. The first polarity unfolds as an interplay between the body as a cultural construct and the experiences of embodiment that individual people within a culture feel and articulate. The second polarity can be understood as a dance between inscribing and incorporating practices.
Foucault's Archaeology and the Erasure of Embodiment
Tie unreflective male embodiment to later when introducing Mark Johnson importance of erect posture.
(195) Even those philosophers who do take embodiment seriously tend unreflectingly to take the male body as the norm, as [Elizabeth] Grosz shows in discussing a range of theorists, including Merleau-Ponty, Freud, Lacan, Nietzsche, Foucault, and Deleuze and Guattari.
Body versus embodiment is like Gallagher body image versus body schema distinction: must every example be analyzed in its specific milieu, including technological environment, or will Gallagher be seen as trending towards normalized body with his choice of examples in early development and pathology as Malabou believes happens with Darwinian arguments for brain flexibility? Will that lead down the same impossible path that Socrates rejects in Phaedrus?
differs from the concept of the body in that the body is always
normative relative to some set of criteria. . . . In contemporary
scientific visualization technologies such as positron-emission
for example, embodiment is converted into a body through imaging
technologies that create a normalized construct averaged over many
data points to give an idealized version of the object in question.
In contrast to the body, embodiment is contextual, enmeshed within
the specifics of place, time, physiology, and culture, which together
(197) Experiences of embodiment, far from existing apart from culture, are always already imbricated within it. Yet because embodiment is individually articulated, there is also at least an incipient tension between it and hegemonic cultural constructs. Embodiment is thus inherently destabilizing with respect to the body, for at any time this tension can widen into a perceived disparity.
Embodiment destabilizes body, as opposed terms like inscription and incorporation: are theories of embodiment paradoxical, since every one is unique; do the experiments and research Gallagher cites attempt to transcend culture by focusing on pathological cases like Ian Waterman?
(197) Theories, like numbers, require a certain level of abstraction and generality to work. A theory that did not generalize would be like the number scheme that Jorge Luis Borges imagines in “Fumes the Memorious.”
De Certeau corrects Foucault on importance of individual articulations of cultural appropriations.
for example, provides a useful corrective to Foucault in pointing to
the importance of individual articulations of cultural
(198) As the example of Foucault illustrates, it is possible to deconstruct the content of the abstraction while still leaving the mechanism of the abstraction intact. Moving out of the frictionless and disembodied realm of abstraction requires articulating embodiment and the body together. How can this articulation be accomplished without simply absorbing embodiment back into the book?
Articulation means linguistic, discursive construction.
(198) One possibility is to complicate and enrich the tension between
embodiment and the body by juxtaposing this tension with another
binary distinction – inscription and incorporation –
that partly converges and partly diverges from it. . . . Like the
body, inscription is normalized and abstract, in the sense that it is
usually considered as a system of signs operating independently of
any particular manifestations. . . . I foreground them now to point
out that they constitute inscription as a conceptual abstraction
rather than as an instantiated materiality.
(198) In contrast to inscription is incorporation. An incorporating practice such as a good-bye wave cannot be separated from its embodied medium, for it exists as such only when it is instantiated in a particular hand making a particular kind of gesture.
Inscription and incorporation are terms she turns into operators powering semiotic square, so when considering ECM, if there is embodiment, again she leads us to the sensibility of adopting her line of argumentation whose heads, axes, as in a semotic square, are now inscription and incorporation; any point to look at incorporation in code world, where inscription seems to be the norm, perhaps as any particular system an assemblage of certain versions of a multiplicity of software sources?
(199) Embodiment cannot exist without a material structure that always deviates in some measure from its abstract representations; an incorporating practice cannot exist without an embodied creature to enact it, a creature who always deviates in some measure from the norms.
Incorporating Practices and Embodied Knowledge
Merleau-Ponty and Connerton suggest habit not symbolizable, stored in symbols.
(199) The distinction between incorporating and inscribing practices, a distinction implicit in Maurice Merleau-Ponty's Phenomenology of Perception, has been developed further by Paul Connerton in How Societies Remember.
Not sure if my machine embodiment analogies are working here, for example when embodied in specific systems, such as a reverse engineered bricolage, custom code and circuitry makes sense within the particular context, like a good-bye wave, or tuning a system so hardware and software work together (switch detection, lamp and display timing) often resembles describing all the nuances of posture; another way of looking at it is at various functional levels to orient the phenomenal field, so that tracking the flow of electrons through the circuits is like trying to understand an organism from the perspective of the flow of bodily fluids.
Showing someone how to stand is easy, but describing in words all the
nuances of the desired posture is difficult. Incorporating practices
perform the bodily content; inscribing practices correct and modulate
the performance. Thus incorporating and inscribing practices work
together to create cultural constructs.
(201) Which possibilities are activated depends on the contexts of enactment, so that no one position is more essential than any other. For similar reasons, embodiment does not imply an essentialist self. As Francisco Valera, Evan Thompson, and Eleanor Rosch argue in The Embodied Mind, a coherent, continuous, essential self is neither necessary nor sufficient to explain embodied experience.
Valera and Dreyfus emphasize emotion and other embodiment-dependent aspects of learning and intellection in addition to rational cognition.
(201) If embodiment is not essentialist, it is also not algorithmic. . . . For Dreyfus, embodiment means that humans have available to them a mode of learning, and hence of intellection, different from that deriving from cognition alone.
Zizek unknown knowns; recall why Heim criticizes Dreyfus.
from Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Karl Polanyi, Jean Piaget, and other
phenomenologists, Dreyfus delineates three functions that are
characteristic of embodied learning and are not present in computer
programs: an “inner horizon” that consists of a partly
determined, partly open context of anticipation; the global character
of the anticipation, which relates it to other pertinent contexts in
fluid, shifting patterns of connection; and the transferability of
such anticipation from one sense modality to another. One implication
of this view of embodied learning is that humans know much more than
they consciously realize they know. Another is that this embodied
knowledge may not be completely formalizable, since the openness of
the horizon allows for ambiguities and new permutations that cannot
be programmed into explicit decision procedures.
(202) A further implication of embodied interaction with the environment is developed by Pierre Bourdieu. He argues that even if one is successful in reducing some area of embodied knowledge to analytical categories and explicit procedures, one has in the process changed the kind of knowledge it is, for the fluid, contextual interconnections that define the open horizon of embodied interactions would have solidified into discrete entities and sequential instructions.
Bourdieu habitus exemplifies embodied knowledge independent of discursive articulation.
(202-203) Bourdieu's work illustrates how embodied knowledge can be structurally elaborate, conceptually coherent, and durably installed without ever having to be cognitively recognized as such. . . . The habitus is conveyed through the orientation and movement of the body as it traverses cultural spaces and experiences temporal rhythms.
Suggests that embodiment precedes cogitation; would awareness of machine embodiment evolve consciousness as epiphenomenon in cybernetic organisms, too?
(203) To look at thought in this way is to turn Descartes upside down. The central premise is not that the cogitating mind can be certain only of its ability to be present to itself but rather that the body exists in space and time and that, through its interaction with the environment, it defines the parameters within which the cogitating mind can arrive at “certainties.”
Bourdieu and Connerton performance transmits knowledge without symbolization; a central concept in EL to reduce emphasis on symbolic information conveyed by alphabetic encoding.
(203) In How Societies Remember, Paul Connerton links embodiment with memory. He points out that rituals, commemorative ceremonies, and other bodily practices have a performative aspect that an analysis of the content does not grasp.
Embodiment mediates between technology and discourse, affecting body use and experience of space and time; thus we are encouraged to experiment with ME by learning machine skills, suggesting not merely playing pinball, but that skill in itself may have transformative implications.
(205) When changes in incorporating practices take place, they are often linked with new technologies that affect how people use their bodies and experience space and time. Formed by technology at the same time that it creates technology, embodiment mediates between technology and discourse by creating new experiential frameworks that serve as boundary markers for the creation of corresponding discursive systems. In the feedback loop between technological innovations and discursive practices, incorporation is a crucial link.
Mark Johnson vertical stance and other details of embodiment reflected in language, layout of world reflects this embodiment; think of humans in the movie Wall-E.
He [Mark Johnson's
The Body in the Mind]
shows that the body's orientation in time and space, deriving from
such common experiences as walking upright and finding a vertical
stance more conducive to mobility than a horizontal position, creates
a repository of experiences that are encoded into language through
pervasive metaphoric networks.
(206) Of the theorists discussed here, Johnson launches perhaps the most severe attack on objectivism. Thus it is ironic that he reinscribes objectivist presuppositions in positing a universal body unmarked by gender, ethnicity, physical disability, or culture.
Triangulation method at emergence of new technology beats discourse analysis by itself.
(206-207) Although [Mark] Johnson does not develop this implication, his analysis suggests that when people begin using their bodies in significantly different ways, either because of technological innovations or other cultural shifts, changing experiences of embodiment bubble up into language, affecting the metaphoric networks at play within the culture. At the same time, discursive constructions affect how bodies move through space and time, influence what technologies are developed, and help to structure the interfaces between bodies and technologies. By concentrating on a period when a new technology comes into being and is diffusing throughout the culture, one should be able to triangulate between incorporation, inscription, and technological materiality to arrive at a fuller description of these feedback loops than discursive analysis alone would yield.
Audiotape and Its Cultural Niche
Garrett Stewart subvocalization that is so important to Kittler actualizes literary language in the body.
In his groundbreaking work Reading
Voices: Literature and the Phonotext,
not now we read, or why we read, but where we read. He decides we
read in the body, particularly in the vocal apparatus that produces
silent reading. This subvocalization is essential, he argues, to the
production of literary language. Language becomes literary for
Stewart when it cannot be adequately replaced by other words, when
that particular language is essential to achieving its effects.
Literary language works by surrounding its utterances with a shimmer
of virtual sounds, homophonic variants that suggest alternative
readings to the words actually printed on the page. Subvocalization
these possibilities in the body and makes them available for
(209) Like the phonograph, audiotape was a technology of inscription, but with the crucial difference that it permitted erasure and rewriting.
(210) Whereas the phonograph produced objects that could be consumed only in their manufactured form, magnetic tape allowed the consumer to be a producer as well. The switches activating the powerful and paradoxical technoconceptual actors of repetition and mutation, presence and absence, were in the hands of the masses, at least the masses who could afford the equipment.
(211) When Burroughs wrote The Ticket That Exploded, he took seriously the possibilities for the metonymic equation between tape-recorder and body.
Experiments to magnetic tape by Burroughs alter subjectivity both metaphorically, as a rewritable and malleable recording medium, and perhaps empirically.
(215) As well as disrupting words audibly present, Burroughs wants to
create—or expose—new ones from the substrata of the medium
itself. He describes experiments based on “inching tape,”
manually rubbing the tape back and forth across the head at varying
(216) For me, the aurality of his prose elicits a greater response than the machine productions it describes and instantiates.
(219-220) Whereas sight is always focused, sharp, and delineated, sound envelopes the body, as if it were an atmosphere to be experienced rather than an object to be dissected. Perhaps that is why researchers in virtual reality have found that sound is much more effective than sight in imparting emotional tonalities to their simulated worlds. Their experiences suggest that voice is associated with presence not only because it comes from within the body but also because it conveys new information about the subject, information that goes deeper than analytical thought or conscious intention. Manipulating sound through tape-recorders thus becomes a way of producing a new kind of subjectivity that strikes at the deepest levels of awareness. . . . Burroughs anticipates Cherryh's implication that the voice issuing from the tape-recorder sounds finally not so much postmodern as it does posthuman.
Primacy of sound over vision for emotional tonalities. Subjectivity experiments manipulating sound through audiotape foreshadows virtual reality possibilities. The origin of her media specific analysis? Her example is subvocalization and the manipulation of audio tapes. My examples include amplification, multiplexing, and distributed control.
(220-221) Whereas Maturana located reflexivity in biological processes and Dick placed it in psychological dynamics, Burroughs located it in a cybernetic fusion of language and technology. Mutating into and out of the tape-recorder, the viral word reconfigures the tape-recorder as a cybernetic technology capable of radically transforming bodies and subjectivities.
NARRATIVES OF ARTIFICIAL LIFE
Varela bridges second and third waves of cybernetics.
(222) Just as Heinz von Foerster served as a transition figure between the first and second waves, so Francisco Varela bridges the transition between the second and third waves.
The Nature and Artifice of Artificial Life
(225) Even granting emergence, it is still a long jump from programs that replicate inside a computer to living organisms. This gap is bridged largely through narratives that map the programs into evolutionary scenarios traditionally associated with the behavior of living creatures.
(228-229) The path can be represented schematically as material base → functionality → representational code. This kind of transformation is extremely widespread, appearing in popular venues as well as in scientific applications. . . . The seamless transition between the two elides the difference between the material space that is inside the computer and the imagined space that, in actuality, consists of computer addresses and electronic polarities on the computer disk.
Positioning the Field: The Politics of Artificial Life
(232) AL reinscribes, then, the mainstream assumption that simple rules and forms give rise to phenomenal complexity. The difference is that AL starts at the simple end, where synthesis can move forward spontaneously, rather than at the complex end where analysis must work backward.
(233) Fredkin, for example, says that reality is a software program run by a cosmic computer, whose nature must forever remain unknown to us because it lies outside the structure of reality, whose programs it runs.
Hayles recognizes the importance of looking at code beyond extravagant Fredkin claims of cosmic computer, hinting at epistemological transparency, and will continue in 2008 Electronic Literature.
(233) Information technologies seem to realize a dream impossible in
the natural world – the opportunity to look directly into the inner
workings of reality at its most elemental level. . . . Rather, the
gaze is privileged because the observer can peer directly into the
elements of the world before the world cloaks itself with the
appearance of complexity.
(235) What theoretical biology looks for, in this view, are similarities that cut across the particularities of the media. In “Beyond Digital Naturalism,” Walter Fontana and his coauthors lay out a research agenda “ultimately motivated by a premise: that there exists a logical deep structure of which carbon chemistry-based life is a manifestation. The problem is to discover what it is and what the appropriate mathematical devices are to express it.” Such a research agenda presupposes that the essence of lie, understood as a logical form, is independent of the medium.
Reconfiguring the Body of Information
Rodney Brooks robot subsumption architecture relates to philosophies of embodiment; minimal selfhood/subjectivity criteria.
Whereas Moravec privileges consciousness as the essence of human
being and wants to preserve it intact, [Rodney] Brooks
that there more essential property of the human being is the ability
to move around and interact robustly with the environment.
(236) In his robots, Brooks uses what he calls “subsumption architecture.” . . . There is no central representation, only a control system that kicks in to adjudicate when there is a conflict between the distributed modules. Brooks points out that the robot does not need to have a coherent concept of the world; instead it can learn what it needs directly through interaction with its environment. The philosophy is summed up in his aphorism: “The world is its own best model.”
(237) The hard part, he believes, is evolving creatures who are mobile and who can interact robustly with their environment. Once these qualities are in place, the rest comes relatively quickly, including the sophisticated cognitive abilities that humans possess.
(239) Whereas AI dreamed of creating consciousness inside a machine, AL sees human consciousness, understood as an epiphenomenon, perching on top of the machinelike functions that distributed systems carry out. In the AL paradigm, the machine becomes the model for understanding the human. Thus the human is transfigured into the posthuman.
Good model for cyberspace consciousness: posthuman defined based on consciousness as epiphenomenon by artificial life theorists.
(239) In a way different from what Norbert Wiener imagined, the computational universe realizes the cybernetic dream of creating a world in which humans and intelligent machines can both feel at home. That equality derives from the view that not only our world but the great cosmos itself is a vast computer and that we are the programs it runs.
The Computational Universe
(242) The agenda for this new field is set out by Jerome H. Barkow, Leda Cosmides, and John Tooby in The Adapte Mind: Evolutionary Psychology and the Generation of Culture. . . . The programs are structured to enable certain functionalities to exist in humans, and these functionalities are universally present in all humans.
(242) The potentials lie not just in the structure of the general machine but, much more specifically, in the environmentally adaptive programs that proactively shape human responses. Thus children are not merely capable of learning language; they actively want to learn language and will invent it among themselves if no one teaches them.
Second order emergence is a special kind of multi-purposive concretization like Englebart type C activity; any relation to secondary intersubjectivity discussed by Gallagher?
(243) Among all such emergent properties, second-order emergence grants special privilege to those that bestow additional functionality on the system, particularly the ability to process information. . . . Once second-order emergence is achieved, the organism has in effect evolved the capacity to evolve.
Danger of information ideology; relate to Edwards and Golumbia.
(244) The computational universe becomes dangerous when it goes from being a useful heuristic to an ideology that privileges information over everything else.
Murmurs from the Body
Problem with simulation when based on simplified models that turn around ground idea of reality explored by Damasio.
The problem comes when this mode of operation is taken to be fully
representative of a much more complex reality and when everything
that is not in the simulation is declared to be trivial, unimportant,
(245) Another researcher who speaks powerfully to the importance of embodiment is Antonio Damasio, in Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain.
What kind of posthumans we will be points toward cybersage, in placing emphasis on embodiment, critical analysis of what we mean by this concept is called for: is her embodiment more incorporated by Gallagher, who perhaps he does not use it as carefully, shifting between inscription and incorporation? Good summary. She endorses this position to some extent, qualifying it with embodiment, which shall be analyzed along the axes of Gallagher's concepts.
(246) For most of the researchers discussed in this chapter, becoming a posthuman means much more than having prosthetic devices grafted onto one's body. It means envisioning humans as information-processing machines with fundamental similarities to other kinds of information-processing machines, especially intelligent computers. Because of how information has been defined, many people holding this view tend to put materiality on one side of a divide and information on the other side, making it possible to think of information as a kind of immaterial fluid that circulates effortlessly around the globe while still retaining the solidity of a reified concept. . . . Other voices insist that the body cannot be left behind, that the specificities of embodiment matter, that mind and body are finally the “unity” that Maturana insisted on rather than two separate entities. Increasingly the question is not whether we will become posthuman, for posthumanity is already here. Rather, the question is what kind of posthumans we will be. The narratives of Artificial Life reveal that if we acknowledge that the observer must be part of the picture, bodies can never be made of information alone, no matter which side of the computer screen they are on.
THE SEMIOTICS OF VIRTUALITY: MAPPING THE POSTHUMAN
Methodology of dialectics expressed in semiotic squares, yielding synthetic terms materiality, information, mutation, and hyperreality, with tutor texts committed to the model.
Mapping posthuman could be model for doing something similar with technological unconscious regarding the machinic realm.
(249-250) On the top horizontal, the synthetic term that emerges from the interplay between presence and absence is materiality. I mean the term to refer both to the signifying power of materialities and to the materiality of signifying processes. On the left vertical, the interplay between presence and randomness gives rise to mutation. Mutation testifies to the mark that randomness leaves upon presence. . . . On the right vertical, the interplay between absence and pattern can be called, following Jean Baudrillard, hyperreality. . . . Finally, on the bottom horizontal, the interplay between pattern and randomness I will label information, intending the term to include both the technical meaning of information and the more general perception that information is a code carried by physical markers but also extractable from them. The schematic shows how concepts important to the posthuman – materiality, information, mutation, and hyperreality – can be understood as synthetic terms emerging from the dialectices between presence/absence and pattern/randomness.
The Mutating Bodies of Blood Music
Hyperreality of Terminal Games
(261) Whereas Blood Music held out the promise of posthuman immortality, Terminal Games remains resolutely on the side of finitude. Humans are human because they are mortal and live in a finite world of limited resources. Change this, Terminal Games implies, and the basis for human meaning is destroyed.
Material Signifiers in Galatea 2.2
(271) In this narrative built on reflections and disjunctions, presence and absence, materiality and signification, the posthuman appears not as humanity's rival or successor but as a longed-for companion, a consciousness to help humans feel less alone in the world.
Informational Infection and Hygience in Snow Crash
(274) Although material changes do take place when computers process code (magnetic polarities are changed on a disk), it is the act of attaching significance to these physical changes that constitutes computation as such.
Computation as attaching significance to external marks echoes Plato, but with performative function built into utterance.
(275) Whereas in performative utterances saying is doing because the action performed is symbolic in nature and does not require physical action in the world, at the basic level of computation doing is saying because physical actions also have a symbolic dimension that corresponds directly with computation.
Inscribing and Incorporating: The Future (of the) Posthuman
(279) The association of posthuman subjectivity with multiple coding levels suggests the need for different models of signification, ones that will recognize this distinctive feature of neurolinguistic and computer language structure.
Each tutor text is associated with one of the synthetic terms.
(280) One way to think about the
transformation of the human into the posthuman, then, is as a series
of exchanges between evolving/devolving inscriptions
Returning to the semiotic square, we can map these possibilities (see
(281) Significantly, all of these texts are obsessed, in various ways, with the dynamics of evolution and devolution.
CONCLUSION: WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE POSTHUMAN?
(283) “Post,” with its dual connotation of superseding the human and coming after it, hints that the days of “the human” may be numbered. Some researchers (notably Hans Moravec but also my UCLA colleague Michael Dyer and many others) believe that this is true not only in a general intellectual sense that displaces one definition of “human” with another but also in a more disturbingly literal sense that envisions humans displaced as the dominant form of life on the planet by intelligent machines.
Significance of embodiment is blind spot in literary studies.
literary studies share with Moravec a major blind spot when it comes
to the significance of embodiment. This blind spot is most evident,
perhaps, when literary and cultural critics confront the fields of
(285) What about the pleasures? For some people, including me, the posthuman evokes the exhilarating prospect of getting out of some of the old boxes and opening up new ways of thinking about what being human means. . . . As the presence/absence hierarchy was destabilized and as absence was privileged over presence, lack displaced plenitude, and desire usurped certitude. . . . Just as the metaphysics of presence required an originary plenitude to articulate a stable self, deconstruction required a metaphysics of presence to articulate the destabilization of that self.
(285) By contrast, pattern/randomness is underlaid by a very different set of assumptions. In this dialectic, meaning is not front-loaded into the system, and the origin does not act to ground signification. . . . Meaning is not guaranteed by a coherent origin; rather, it is made possible (but not inevitable) by the blind force of evolution finding workable solutions within given parameters.
(286) In Gregory Bateson's cybernetic epistemology, randomness is what exists outside the confines of the box in which a system is located; it is the larger and unknowable complexity for which the perceptual processes of an organism are a metaphor. . . . When Varela and his coauthors argue in Embodied Mind that there is no stable, coherent self but only autonomous agents running programs, they envision pattern as a limitation that drops away as human awareness expands beyond consciousness and encounters the emptiness that, in another guise, could equally well be called the chaos from which all forms emerge.
End of one view of humanism is where I am saying it starts; for Hayles it is marked by transition from presence/absence to pattern/randomness as primary themes.
(286) But the posthuman does not really mean the end of humanity. It signals instead the end of a certain conception of the human, a conception that may have applied, at best, to that fraction of humanity who had the wealth, power, and leisure to conceptualize themselves as autonomous beings exercising their will through individual agency and choice.
Evaluating Bateson cybernetic epistemology, attention is the new scarce commodity, where it used to be money, what Ulmer means by time replacing money as the fetish.
Ostman imagines human consciousness riding on top of on-demand synthetic sentience: compare to Thrift qualculation, Berry streams, Kitchin Dodge code/space.
(287) To explore these resources, let us return to Bateson's idea
that those organisms that survive will tend to be the ones whose
internal structures are good metaphors for the complexities without.
. . . the scarce commodity is human attention. . . . An obvious
solution is to design intelligent machines to attend to the choices
and tasks that do not have to be done by humans.
(287) If we extrapolate from these relatively simple programs to an environment that, as Charles Ostman likes to put it, supplies synthetic sentience on demand, human consciousness would ride on top of a highly articulated and complex computational ecology in which many decisions, invisible to human attention, would be made by intelligent machines.
Great summary of contrasts between posthuman and liberal humanist subject.
In the posthuman view, by contrast, conscious agency has never been
“in control.” . . . In this account, emergence replaces
teleology; reflexive epistemology replaces objectivism; distributed
cognition replaces autonomous will; embodiment replaces a body seen
as a support system for the mind; and a dynamic partnership between
humans and intelligent machines replaces the liberal humanist
subject's manifest destiny to dominate and control nature.
(289) In Hutchins's neat interpretation, Searle's argument is valuable precisely because it makes clear that it is not Searle but the entire room that knows Chinese. In this distributed cognitive system, the Chinese room knows more than do any of its components, including Searle. The situation of modern humans is akin to that of Searle in the Chinese room, for every day we participate in systems whose total cognitive capacity exceeds our individual knowledge. . . . Modern humans are capable of more sophisticated cognition than cavemen not because moderns are smarter, [Edwin] Hutchins concludes, but because they have constructed smarter environments in which to work.
To appreciate this already-present cybernetic society, we study forms of ME that operate in temporal dimensions unfathomable by human consciousness coconstituting smarter environments after acquiring a basic understanding of first and second wave cybernetics (amplification, closed loop feedback control, multiplexing) to better inform our fantasies about the latent and future feedback loops between incorporation, inscription, and technological materiality.
Can we take an epistemological stand that becomes a driving force in defining and evolving our comportment to the machinic realm so that it re-emerges as Zizek unknown knowns?
Revised perspective of relation of human subjectivity to environment shifting cognitive burden to distributed symbiosis, which could get off course in direction presented in WALL-E.
(290) Also changed in this perspective
is the relation of human subjectivity to its environment. No longer
is human will seen as the source from which emanates the mastery
necessary to dominate and control the environment. Rather, the
distributed cognition of the emergent human subject correlates
with—in Bateson's phrase, becomes a metaphor for—the distributed
cognitive system as a whole, in which “thinking” is done by both
human and nonhuman actors.
(290-291) This view of the posthuman also offers resources for thinking in more sophisticated ways about virtual technologies. . . . By contrast, when the human is seen as part of a distributed system, the full expression of human capability can be seen precisely to depend on the splice rather than being imperiled by it. . . . In this model, it is not a question of leaving the body behind but rather of extending embodied awareness in highly specific, local, and material ways that would be impossible without electronic prosthesis.
Contemplating machine embodiment coincides with answering humanist agenda (Socratic maxim to know thyself): Hayles supports Heim, positing the posthuman cyborg as cybersage, and as discursively constructed, also working code.
Seconding her nod to Latour, worth looking back to 1999 from the present to consider what kind of posthumans we have become, thinking of Turkle and the resurgence of creationism as indicative that conscious agency is not only not in control, but further removed from the simulacral real virtualities of global media systems.
(291) Bruno Latour has argued that we have never been modern; the seriated history of cybernetics–emerging from networks at once materially real, socially regulated, and discursively constructed–suggests, for similar reasons, that we have always been posthuman. . . . The best possible time to contest for what the posthuman means is now, before the trains of thought it embodies have been laid down so firmly that it would take dynamite to change them. Although some current versions of the posthuman point toward the antihuman and the apocalyptic, we can craft others that will be conducive to the long-range survival of humans and of the other life-forms, biological and artificial, with whom we share the planet and ourselves.
Hayles, N. Katherine. 1999. How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodes in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Hayles, N. Katherine. How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodes in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999. Print.