11 Jun 2009

Everybody has No Body, Hayles, How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics

by Corry Shores
[Search Blog Here. Index-tags are found on the bottom of the left column.]

[Central Entry Directory]
[Posthumanism, Entry Directory]

Everybody has No Body

N. Katherine Hayles

How We Became Posthuman:

Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics

Hayles was horrified when she read Moravec’s description of mind transfer. A robot makes us a robot too by slowly replacing our neurons with computer parts. The new computer hardware produces the same patterns of neural signal-communication as when we had a brain. (Hayles 1)

Moravec believes that our minds can be transferred this way, because he does not adopt what he calls the body-identity position, which holds that the human individual can only be preserved if the continuity of its ‘body stuff’ is maintained. He proposes instead what he terms the pattern-identity theory, which defines the essence of personhood as “the pattern and the process going on in my head and body, not the machinery supporting that process. If the process is preserved, I am preserved. The rest is mere jelly.” (Moravec 117)

Hayles wondered how anyone could think that the mind may exist separate from the body. But it seems this has been a prevalent notion among some cyberneticists over the last sixty or so years. (Hayles 1)

Somehow, information lost its body. Many regard information as separate from the material forms embodying it. This is part of the post-humanist viewpoint.

The belief that we may construct human cyborgs:

presumes a conception of information as a (disembodied) entity that can flow between carbon-based organic components and silicon-based electronic components to make protein and silicon operate as a single system. When information loses its body, equating humans and computers is especially easy, for the materiality in which the thinking mind is instantiated appears incidental to its essential nature. Moreover, the idea of the feedback loop implies that the boundaries of the autonomous subject are up for grabs, since feedback loops can flow not only within the subject but also between the subject and the environment. (2c, emphasis mine)

The posthuman view privileges information pattern over material instantiation, so that embodiment in a biological substrate is seen as an accident of history rather than an inevitability of life. (2d) 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 machines. In the posthuman, there are no essential differences or absolute demarcations between bodily existence and computer simulation, cybernetic mechanism and biological organism, robot teleology and human goals. (3a, emphasis mine)

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

ISBN 0226321460, 9780226321462

More information and limited preview available at:


Hans Moravec, Mind Children: The Future of Robot and Human Intelligence, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1988), p.117.

No comments:

Post a Comment