Hayles’ How We Became Posthuman

N. Katherine Hayles
How We Became Posthuman
Area: Digital Media

•    Turing Test: designed to show that machines can perform thinking
•    Moravec Test: designed to show machines can become the repository of human consciousness => can become human beings
•    The Turing Test “proves” that the overlay between enacted and represented bodies is a contingent production, mediated by a technology
Chapter 1: Toward Embodied Virtuality
•    Three interrelated stories
o    How information lost its body
o    How the cyborg was created as a technological artifact and cultural icon
o    How the human is giving way to a different construction called the Posthuman
•    Informational pathways connect the organic body to its prosthetic extensions
•    Posthuman privileges informational patterns over material instantiation
•    With the Posthuman, there are no differences between bodily existence and computer simulation
•    The liberal body possessed a body, but wasn’t usually identified as being a body
•    Beginning to envision ourselves as posthuman collectivities
•    The intent is to evolve the capacity to evolve
•    Skeuomorph: a design feature that’s no longer functional, but refers back to a feature that was of an earlier time
•    Information is a pattern, not a presence => Shannon
•    3: “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.”
•    4: “If ‘human essence is freedom form the wills of others,’ the posthuman is ‘post’ not because it is necessarily unfree by because there is no a priori way to identify a self-will that can be clearly distinguished from an other-will.”
•    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.”
•    13: “Marvin Minsky precisely expressed this dream when, in a recent lecture, he suggested it will soon be possible to extract human memories from the brain and import them, intact and unchanged, to computer disks.”
Chapter 8: The Materiality of Informatics
•    It’s not that the body has disappeared, but a certain kind of subjectivity has emerged
•    Relative to the body, embodiment is other and elsewhere
•    The body : embodiment :: inscription : incorporation
•    The body produces culture at the same time culture produces the body
•    Bordieu: habitus: the durably installed generative principle of regulated improvisations
•    Four characterizations of knowledge gained through incorporating practices
o    Incorporating knowledge retains improvisational elements: contextual, rather than abstract
o    Deeply sedimented into the body and highly resistant to change
o    Incorporating knowledge is screened from conscious view because it’s habitual
o    Power to define boundaries within which conscious thought takes place
•    The feedback loop between technological innovations and discursive practices is a crucial link
•    Johnson: how the body writes discourse
•    Burroughs: The word as the body’s other half
•    194: “It is not coincidental that the Panopticon abstracts power out of the bodies of disciplinarians into a universal, disembodied gaze.  On the contrary, it is precisely this move that gives the Panopticon its force, for when the bodies of the disciplinarians seem to disappear into the technology, the limitations of corporeality are hidden.”
•    199: “Embodiment cannot exist without a material structure that always deviates in some measure form 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.”
•    200: “Habit is a knowledge and a remembering in the hands and in the body; and in the cultivation of habit it is our body which ‘understands.’”
•    200: “Incorporating practices perform the bodily content; inscribing practices correct and modulate the performance.”
•    204-5: Connerton: “Every group will entrust to bodily automatisms the values and categories which they are most anxious to conserve.  They will know how well the past can be kept in mind by a habitual memory sedimented in the body.”
Chapter 9: Narratives of Artificial Life
•    This chapter is full of info on the genealogy of AL—check back
•    Moravec: Privileges consciousness as the determination of human
•    Brooks: Ability to move around and interact robustly with environment
•    In the computational universe, everything is reducible, at some level, to information
•    Human mind without human body is not human mind
•    225: “Conventionally, Artificial Life is divided into three research fronts.  Wetware is the attempt to create artificial biological life through such techniques as building components of unicellular organisms in test tubes.  Hardware is the construction of robots and other embodied life-forms.  Software is the creation of computer programs instantiating emergent or evolutionary processes.”
•    232: “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.  By extending the empirical foundation upon which biology is based beyond the carbon-chain life that has evolved on Earth, Artificial Life can contribute to theoretical biology by locating life-as-we-know-it with in the larger picture of life-as-it-could-be.”
•    235: “By positioning AL as a second instance of life, researchers affect the definition of biological life as well, for now it is the juxtaposition that determines what counts as fundamental, not carbon-based forms by themselves.”
Conclusion: What Does it Mean to be Posthuman?
•    Just as the posthuman need not be antihuman, it also need not be apocalyptic
•    286: “When the self is envisioned as grounded in presence, identified with originary guarantees and teleological trajectories, associated with solid foundations and logical coherence, the posthuman is likely to be seen as antihuman because it envisions the conscious mind as a small subsystem running its program of self-construction and self-assurance while remaining ignorant of the actual dynamics of complex systems.”
•    290: “No longer is human will seen as the source form 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.”


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August 2008
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