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<eyebeam><blast> posthuman

Dear Jordan,

        I have just finished my book, "How We Became Posthuman," so that
is uppermost in my mind right now.

        The issues that the books raises center around three
interconnected stories.  The first is  how information lost its body,
that is, how it became refied as a technoscientific concept and
conceptualized as distinct from the physical markers that embody it.  In
my view, this reification of a disembodied concept of information has
led to such fantasies as Hans Moravec's suggestion that it will soon be
possible to download human consciousness into a computer.

        The second story centers on the cultural and technological
construction of the cyborg in American cybernetics from 1945 to the
present.  Here I see three waves or periods.  The first, going from
1945-1960, focused on the idea of homeostasis, the ability of systems to
maintain steady states despite upheavals in the environment.
Cybernetics in this guise was associated with a "return to normalcy"
after World War II, but also with the thought that American expertise
could be used to create machine-human amalgams that would be more
efficient war machines and information-processing systems than ever
before.  The second phase, from 1960-1985, focused on trying to
incorporate reflexivity into the system, that is, acknowledge that the
observer is part of the system he or she observes.  This led, among
other results, to the formation of a radical epistemology in the work of
Humberto Maturana.  The third wave, from 1985-present, focuses on
virtual technologies, including cyberspace and artificial life.  Here
the idea of emergence is foremost--the thought that complex systems,
when recursively structured, can spontaneously evolve in directions
their creators did not anticipate.

        The upshot of these two stories is registered in the third, the
transformation of the human to the posthuman.  Basically, I argue for
the importance of embodiment in re-thinking issues around cyberspace,
and for the posthuman as a distributed cognitive system, with human and
non-human components.  The posthuman is best understood, in my view, not
as an antihuman annihilation of human life as we know it, but rather as
the newest phase of a process that has been on-going for thousands of
years of cognitively enriched environments.  Edwin Hutchins points to
this process when he asks why modern humans are capable of more
sophisticated cognitiion than cavemen.  We can achieve this, he
suggests, not because we are smarter, but because we have built smarter
environments in which to function.  Seen in this way, the posthuman
offers us a way to think about human-machine interfaces in ways that are
life-enhancing rather than life-threatening.  It also offers
opportunities to get out of some old boxes, particularly the mind/body
split and to put embodiment back into the picture, again in ways that
are life-enriching rather than life-diminishing.

 I hope maybe this will do for starters!  I'm looking forward to our
Kate Hayles

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