How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics
N. Katherine Hayles
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
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.
contacted by an extraterrestrial intelligence he called the Vast Active Living Intelligent System, or VALIS, the subject of a final trilogy of novels that are among the best of his fiction. On November 17, 1980, he had another visionary experience, in which he believed God contacted him directly. For Dick, the contact solved the problem of infinite regress that inevitably haunts reflexive constructions. Wherever a regress appeared, the voice claimed that Dick had encountered the infinite,
a deep level. In this view, humans are programs that run on the cosmic computer. When humans build intelligent computers to run AL programs, they replicate in another medium the same processes that brought themselves into being. An important reason why such connections can be made so easily between one level and another is that in the computational universe, everything is reducible, at some level, to information. Yet among proponents of the computational universe, not everyone favors
disembodiment, just as they did not in the Macy Conferences when the idea of information was being formulated. Consider, for example, the different approaches taken by Edward Fredkin and the new field of evolutionary psychology. When Fredkin asserts that we can never know the nature of the cosmic computer on which we run as programs, he puts the ultimate material embodiment out of our reach. All we, as human beings, will ever see are the informational forms of pure binary code that he calls
Ulam, Vergil’s mother, the twins seem to have wandered down a blind alley of the plot, because their story goes nowhere. Their function, I suspect, is to introduce the notion that some humans already experience a version of multiplied identity. “Hell, you are me, brother,” one says to the other. “Minor differences” (BM, p. 149). The theme returns when Suzy, looking into a mirror, sees the image step out and take her hand so that she won’t be alone during her change. The image, no mere apparition,
schizoid android, in Dick automata cellular Terminal Games and tessellation theory autonomous agents. See agents autopoiesis autopoietic machines and causality and circularity of conservation of definition of and distinction DNA downplayed in ethics of feedback loops in information and interactions, domain of liberal humanism and organization, defined in social systems and solipsism mitigated in structural coupling in