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Re: <eyebeam><blast> posthuman?

4 messages, from Joshua LaBare, Duane Griffin, Simon Biggs, and Valery

Joshua LaBare <joshbear@acpub.duke.edu> writes: 

Kate, Stephen, Brian,

I've been following the general thread of the posthuman discussion and
I'd like to respond to what I've heard: I'll "localize" myself
afterwards, so you can skip that part if you'd like.

First a quote, on intelligence:

"Perhaps the lifespan of a species is inversely proportional to its
degree of intellectual development?  The probability that a species that
has evolved to be as intelligent and all-conquering as ours could
survive for long is remote indeed.  We may live in a silent universe for
a very good reason.  Paradoxically, evoltuion may have ensured that we
have one of the shortest survival times of any species, since it has
made us, effectively, our own executioner."
                Roger V. Short, from into to _The Differences between

The idea of progress that seemed implicit in Kate's message could be
understood in this slightly more pessimistic light, unfortunately. 
Indeed, Bruce Sterling -- and correct me if I'm wrong, but he seems to
have been, if not the originator, then at least the popularizer of the
term "posthuman", see _Schismatrix_ and _Holy Fire_ for starters -- has
already addressed this subject in a story, entitled "Swarm".  Swarm is a
creature that is, for the most part, without "intelligence": it,
however, develops intelligence when it needs it.

Allow me to quote from the story:

"'You are a young race and lay great stock by your own cleverness,'
Swarm said. 'As usual, you fail to see that intelligence is not a
survival trait... This urge to expand, to explore, to develop, is just
what will make you extinct.  You naively suppose that you can continue
to feed your curiosity indefinitely.  It is an old story, pursued by
countless races before you.  Within a thousand years -- perhaps a little
longer -- your species will vanish... Knowledge is power!  Do you
suppose that fragile little form of yours.. can _contain_ all that
power!  CErtainly not!  Already our race is flying to pieces under the
impact of your own expertise.  The original human form is becoming

And this is, precisely, posthumanism as Sterling would define it.  The
disembodiment you find politically dangerous, Kate, is perhaps even more
dangerous than we think... is this just one more clever way of killing
ourselves, out with a whimper and not with a bang?

I, like you, prefer to think of this "posthuman" trend in a more
positive light, but it certainly has its dangers.  Perhaps the so-called
death of art is one of them; _and_ the illusion that the net is a
deathless realm.  And the idea that the net can somehow breath new life
into art?


Localization: I'm young (however you define that), post-Duke, lurking on
the fringes here in Durham and siphoning off a little attention now and
then from former professors (like Fred Jameson).  On my better days I
write science fiction, on my bad days I read theory, haven't made either
pay off much so far.  My beautiful French wife teaches temporarily at
Duke and supports me in my free-wheeling lifestyle: we'll be installing
semi-permanently in Paris at the end of this coming summer; any ideas on
what I'm going to do there? (for money, I mean: I've already figured
lots of good ways to spend it).  And that's all, for now.


Stephen Linhart wrote:

>Perhaps we are not smarter than our ancestors and neither are our
>environments.  Certainly we are different, but in a historical,
>circumstantial, contextual way.  The technological explosion predisposes
>us to see ourselves as the pinnacle of some grand progression.  It's a
>pleasant idea.  But it's not right.  We are an historical circumstance.

Duane Griffin <dgriffin@nwu.edu> writes:

I'm not sure what it means to be an "historical circumstance," (or to
have a smarter environment) but we certainly occupy a privileged place,

Prior to the last few centuries, human populations were more or less
stable, even though birth rates were much, much higher than they are in
most of the world today. The math is simple: most people who were born
had to die before they reproduced. Think about the fact that, if it
weren't for the progression of increasingly sophisticated understanding
of and intervention in the natural world, 9/10 of all children born
would die before they reached reproductive age or that 9/10 of the
people participating in this discussion would not be alive. We would not
be able to invest any emotional energy in our children until we were
sure they would survive. We wouldn't have the luxury of time, and
certainly not the technological means, to have electronic discussions
about the death of art (questions, I should add, that were answered
convincingly by Yves Fissiault in 1966). 

I worked for several years in disaster relief and rural health
development. There's nothing enobling about living without antibiotics
or a constant and safe supply of food and water. I never got the sense
that a single one of the African villagers I worked among would hesitate
for a moment to trade places with me, nor did I ever entertain the
thought of relenquishing my privileged place in history and joining them
permenantly. I suspect the same would be true with our ancestors. This
differential results in a flow from "less desirable" to "more
desireable," from "worse" to "better." Doesn't this, indeed, represent
progress? Doesn't the refusal to admit this amount to self rightous

D. Griffin.


>On Feb. 9, Kate Hayles wrote:
>"The posthuman is best understood ... 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 cognition 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."

Simon Biggs <simon@babar.demon.co.uk> writes: 

All very interesting and clearly stated. However, questions as to the
relative intelligence quotients between cave-men and contemporary humans
are debatable. How do you define intelligence here? If it is meant as a
measure of the brains capacity to think and store, then I doubt there is
any significant difference between human capabilities now and those of
20,000 years ago. I would also argue that Australian Aborigines of only
200 years ago, prior to being exposed to the technologies we took for
granted at that time, were just as intelligent as those who invaded
their territories. When you start suggesting that cave-men were less
intelligent than we are then you start gettng into some very tricky
areas regarding contemporary cultural and racial difference.

If, on the other hand, you mean to imply the human capacity to analyse,
manipulate and encode their environment, then I would agree there is a
major difference in capability between prehistoric humans and ourselves
(I would not include Aboriginal cultures in this, as they had/have a
highly developed linguistic capability). To me, in this respect, it
seems the central technology is that of language. Language is the means
by how we communicate, but also (perhaps more importantly) it is the
means, in its very structures, of how we encode and store our culture,
our cultural capabilities and our individual capacities in relation to


The computer can be seen primarily as a language machine, in that what
makes it work is language (in the sense of a Turing Machine, an abstract
self-modifying symbolic system) and that which it operates upon (the
data) has been encoded in a linguistic form. As such, the computer is a
form of writing, and thus simply another instance of language.


I have problems with 'isms', and especially 'post-isms'. The idea of the
Post-Human I find a very strange (if popular) idea. Elemental to the
human condition is the role of language, in defining our capabilities
and what we are. The computer, and many other technologies we have
developed, are best seen as instances of this linguistic ontology.
Therefore, the computer does not represent a fundamental shift in our
elemental capabilities, the capabilities of language. As such, I do not
see anything sufficiently different or distinct in our contemporary
condition to suggest that we are somehow 'post' or beyond the human. It
seems to me that we are simply being, and getting, more of the same.

However, when we come to the question of our ability to manipulate
genes, and particularly our own genes, the argument becomes more
complex. If we do choose, ethically and legally, to take the route of
manipulating our genetic make-up then what does this imply? Will we
still be human? Just how much manipulation would be required before we
would have to conclude we are a different race of beings?

Whilst it can be argued that other technologies have shifted our nature
significantly, it must be admitted that technologies that actually allow
us to alter our genetic definition would seem to have a greater degree
of bearing on our status as a species.

Simon Biggs
London GB



Valery grancher <vgranger@imaginet.fr> writes: 


       I'm writing my contribution in french because my english is so

je suis extrememnt heureux de recevoir une allusion a Merleau Ponty. En
effet elle est tres pertinente dans le sens ou la phenomenolgie se
definit chez Merleau Ponty en relation avec notre perception:

        Notre vision, notre memoire et notre langage sont issus de
processus cognitifs perceptuels. La memoire se caracterise chez nous par
sa possibilite d'etre amnesique (Qu'en est il de la memoir informatique
?); notre vision se caracterise par le fait qu'elle n'est nullement
objective et qu'elle peut se faire hallucinogene.

        Pourquoi commencer par toutes ces comparaisons et ces
constations ?
        Tout simplement pour parler de la corporeite:
Le net nous donne le don d'ubiquite, de s'abstraire a une forme
: On a la possibilite de figer sur le reseau un instant 't' pendant 24 h
:il suffit qu'un topoļ se deplace via les reseaux autour de la planete
pendant 24 h. Ce topoļ peut etre tout simplement un relai entre
differents servers ou individus...
        Tout cela laisserait supposer qu'il s'agisse d'une dimension
angelique, de la faculte de pouvoir soustraire a son propre corps:
Quelle erreur, c'est tout simplement un paradoxe. Car en s'eprenant pour
toutes ces dimensions angeliques, on a jamais ete aussi fixe en un
un lieu, un topos (notre chaise). Notre regard n'aura jamais ete
focalise pendant une aussi longue periode sur un point (l'ecran), notre
corporeite n'aura jamais ete aussi forte.
        Comme quoi le prix a payer pour la contraction d'un espace et la
dilatation d'un present est l'immobilisme ...
        La tendance "new age" de la culture techno s'explique aisement,
on voit alors revenir au grand galop tous les archaismes des religions
(mysticisme collectif, divination, mystification etc...)

        Les reseaux sont un fabuleux contexte pour un artiste :
Tous ces paradoxes, toutes ces antagonismes sont une occasion revee.
Nous sommes dans un espace purement conceptuel nous emancipant du "In
situ" et du "In Visu".
enfin la possibilite d'etre quelquepart (somewhere), partout
et nullepart (nowhere) .

Un artiste

Valery grancher
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