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 Hayles, N. Katherine. How We Became Posthuman

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PostSubject: Hayles, N. Katherine. How We Became Posthuman   Mon 30 May 2011, 2:53 pm

Hayles, N. Katherine. How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1999)

http://www.amazon.com/How-Became-Posthuman-Cybernetics-Informatics/dp/0226321460/



In this age of DNA computers and artificial intelligence, information is becoming disembodied even as the "bodies" that once carried it vanish into virtuality. While some marvel at these changes, envisioning consciousness downloaded into a computer or humans "beamed" Star Trek-style, others view them with horror, seeing monsters brooding in the machines. In How We Became Posthuman, N. Katherine Hayles separates hype from fact, investigating the fate of embodiment in an information age.



Hayles relates three interwoven stories: how information lost its body, that is, how it came to be conceptualized as an entity separate from the material forms that carry it; the cultural and technological construction of the cyborg; and the dismantling of the liberal humanist "subject" in cybernetic discourse, along with the emergence of the "posthuman."



Ranging widely across the history of technology, cultural studies, and literary criticism, Hayles shows what had to be erased, forgotten, and elided to conceive of information as a disembodied entity. Thus she moves from the post-World War II Macy Conferences on cybernetics to the 1952 novel Limbo by cybernetics aficionado Bernard Wolfe; from the concept of self-making to Philip K. Dick's literary explorations of hallucination and reality; and from artificial life to postmodern novels exploring the implications of seeing humans as cybernetic systems.



Although becoming posthuman can be nightmarish, Hayles shows how it can also be liberating. From the birth of cybernetics to artificial life, How We Became Posthuman provides an indispensable account of how we arrived in our virtual age, and of where we might go from here



Popular passages

Page 101 - As entropy increases, the universe, and all closed systems in the universe, tend naturally to deteriorate and lose their distinctiveness, to move from the least to the most probable state, from a state of organization and differentiation in which distinctions and forms exist, to a state of chaos and sameness.?

Appears in 55 books from 1900-2006

Page 36 - But they have this mark of their own that at each of them stands a figure with a pair of eyes, or at least with a field-glass, which forms, again and again, for observation, a unique instrument, insuring to the person making use of it an impression distinct from every other.?

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Page 103 - Our tissues change as we live: the food we eat and the air we breathe become flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone, and the momentary elements of our flesh and bone pass out of our body every day with our excreta. We are but whirlpools in a river of ever-flowing water. We are not stuff that abides, but patterns that perpetuate themselves.?

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Page 2 - Its possessive quality is found in its conception of the individual as essentially the proprietor of his own person or capacities, owing nothing to society for them. The individual was seen neither as a moral whole, nor as part of a larger social whole, but as an owner of himself.?

Appears in 133 books from 1837-2008

Page 269 - Be not afeard ; the isle is full of noises, Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.?

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Page 35 - A graphic representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding.?

Appears in 221 books from 1837-2008

Page 231 - Artificial Life is the study of man-made systems that exhibit behaviors characteristic of natural living systems. It complements the traditional biological sciences concerned with the analysis of living organisms by attempting to synthesize life like behaviors within computers and other artificial media.?

Appears in 32 books from 1978-2006

Page 36 - The house of fiction has in short not one window, but a million — a number of possible windows not to be reckoned, rather ; every one of which has been pierced, or is still pierceable, in its vast front, by the need of the individual vision and by the pressure of the individual will.?

Appears in 118 books from 1903-2007

Page 104 - I have spoken of machines, but not only of machines having brains of brass and thews of iron. When human atoms are knit into an organization in which they are used, not in their full right as responsible human beings, but as cogs and levers and rods, it matters little that their raw material is flesh and blood. What is used as an element in a machine, is an element in the machine.

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PostSubject: Re: Hayles, N. Katherine. How We Became Posthuman   Mon 30 May 2011, 2:53 pm

Issue Seven: Religion Online & Techno-Spiritualism

http://www.cybersociology.com/files/7_review_howposthuman.html



Book Review by nat muller <Nathalie.Muller@skynet.be>



N. Katherine Hayles. How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. Chicago: Chicago UP, 1999.

In her new book How We Became Posthuman N. Katherine Hayles (http://www.english.ucla.edu/HAYLES) addresses the question of how information lost its body. The incentive for the book was Hayles being shocked into awareness after reading Hans Moravec's book Mind Children, wherein he envisions the possibility of downloading human consciousness into a computer. Such a scenario regards human consciousness as informational patterns, which can be materialised and dematerialised at any chosen location. Whether this materialisation takes places in an organic body or a silicon body is of no consequence. The locus of human subjectivity thus becomes the disembodied mind, again re-enacting that same old Cartesian split our culture just cannot seem to rid itself of.



Hayles is worried about prevailing scientific and cultural discourses which render the body as excess "meat", and view consciousness as entirely separated from the body. She is eager to bring the body back into the picture in order to demonstrate that there is an interactive dynamic between seemingly disembodied information, and the material substrates which carry and convey them. In her book she sets out to examine how information came to be treated as a disembodied entity. This leads her to research the history of cybernetics through scientific and literary texts: moving from historical accounts about the legendary Macy Conferences on cybernetics (1945-1960) to the SF-novels of Philip K. Dick, William Gibson, and Neal Stephenson, to Rodney Brooks' artificial life experiments. Hayles weaves a dense narrative wherein scientific and cultural discourses interlace.



Through a process of seriation (a term taken from archaeological anthropology wherein the developments of artefacts are traced through replication and innovation). Hayles wants to entangle abstract form and material particularity in her text, so that the reader will find it increasingly difficult to maintain the perception that matter and information are separate (23). However, such literary strategies do not always contribute to the strength and the lucidity of her argument. This is perhaps due to the fact that Hayles has taken her archaeological trope a bit too literally, and has excavated several essays she had written in 1990 (Chapter 4) and 1993 (Chapter 2, Chapter Cool and turned them into chapters. The replication part of the seriation strategy works well here, but I am not too sure whether there is too much innovation involved here. Though the scientific chapters and literary chapters are incorporated in the same "body" of the book, there is still a clear division between them. Structurally they do not really make up part of the same system, since the literary texts still seem somehow subordinate to the scientific ones. Their function is to illustrate, rather than instantiate. The chapter sequence re-enacts this logic: scientific chapters are followed by literary ones and not the other way round.



Nevertheless, this doesn't diminish Hayles' fascinating account of how science and culture have privileged the abstract as the Real, and have downplayed materiality. She identifies 3 major chronological stages, where she respectively addresses 3 central questions: how did information lose its body, how did the cyborg become an icon, and how did we become Posthuman. The first stage covers the period from 1945 to 1960 (Macy conferences on Cybernetics). This is the foundational era of cybernetics where people such as Norbert Wiener, Claude Shannon, John von Neumann and Gregory Bateson play a starring role. Our current state of virtuality is a product of historical factors and decisions, which started out at the first Macy conferences. Wiener and Shannon theorised information as something devoid of meaning. This had to effect that information was decontextualised (read disembodied). Not everyone agreed with this point of view. Donald MacKay for example, wanted to get meaning back into information. However, this meant that context (read embodiment) should be taken into account, and that information should be treated as something specific and situated. Situatedness means that universalisation and quantification become near to impossible. Scientists didn't like to walk the murky paths of the specific…no wonder Wiener and Shannon's voice prevailed.



Hayles calls the second stage (1960-1980) one of reflexivity. Whereas in the first wave of cybernetics humans and machines were perceived as analogous, and embodiment was discarded, the second wave emphasised the latter. Reseachers such as Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela re-introduced the notion of the observer, as constructing an abstract notion of information in order to make sense of the world. Thus here information does become specific to what the observer makes out of it. For example, Maturana states that systems always behave as they should, for they operate in accord with their structure at the very moment. For example, if my car doesn't start in the morning, I (the observer) experience this as an error because my car doesn't behave according to a certain pattern of expectation. But actually my car is behaving in accord with its structure at that very moment. It is the observer who perceives this structure as broken or malfunctioning. Here the novels of Philip K. Dick are used to exemplify the role of the observer in the construction of reality. In contradistinction to Maturana and Varela, who utilised the domain of the observer to recuperate everyday notions of cause and effect and even establish a sense of reality; Dick uses it to estrange every consensus on reality.



The last stage where we find ourselves in now, is that of virtuality. Hayles rightly critiques the contemporary belief that the body is primarily a discursive and linguistic construction. She blames post-modern theory for concentrating on discourse rather than on embodiment, and thus highlights once again how seriation functions. This is to say, post-modern theory replicates once again the Cartesian mind/body split, wherein philosophy cannot conceptualise itself as having a body. She draws an interesting distinction between "body" and "embodiment", the former being an abstract idealised form, a discursive universal construct. Embodiment, on the other hand, is always contextual, enmeshed with the specifics of place, time, etc. Experiences of embodiment are always imbricated within a culture, it never coincides fully with the abstract pure ide a of the body. No wonder then that theorists writing on corpo/reality choose to avoid (again!!) the messy specificity of embodiment, and prefer to write (like Foucault) on the universality of the body. The third wave is typified by the different developments in the field of artificial life. As Hayles points out, some researchers choose to concentrate on screen simulations (like Thomas S. Ray's Tierra program), and thus on disembodiment. While others, like Rodney Brooks (mobots) emphasise the importance of physicality and environmental interaction.



What becomes clear at the end of Hayles' narrative is that the future of human subjectivity need not necessarily be contained in a silicon vessel as Moravec predicts, but that other alternatives are available as well. I fully support Hayles' project to promote the contention that human beings are first and foremost embodied, and that embodiment - and the actions deriving thereof - are located and specific. However, the aspiration of distancing oneself from "disembodied" universalising discourses proves difficult. Perhaps seriation isn't the most effective strategy, since an archaeological trope reeks always more of the replication of things past than innovation.

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PostSubject: Re: Hayles, N. Katherine. How We Became Posthuman   Tue 07 Jun 2011, 2:06 pm


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PostSubject: Re: Hayles, N. Katherine. How We Became Posthuman   Wed 08 Jun 2011, 2:34 pm

Watched this ^^---she seems amazingly (disturbingly) rational. Her maniacal obsession with the beauty of machines is indeed *welll hidden* in this video... Strange, methinks.

She does NOT discuss transhumanism at all (unless I somehow missed it). Perhaps she's decided it's best to keep her true ideas under wraps, for now.
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PostSubject: Re: Hayles, N. Katherine. How We Became Posthuman   Wed 15 Jun 2011, 1:15 am

The psychopathy in academia is amazingly frightening.

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