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<eyebeam><blast> Posthuman teleology?
Thoughts on the posthuman and teleology
on 2/13/98, Robert Simon wrote,
"As one human who cringed for years when the word post-modern was hurled
in his direction, my eyeballs twisted 180 degrees in their sockets and I
felt as if legions of army ants were racing across my epidermis upon
hearing . . . posthuman. This sounded like geeky sci-fi enthusiasms, or
idle name-coining, instead of serious futurological rumination . . . [Is
it] an event in current discourse . . . [or] an event in nature . . .
this posthuman trajectory [is] teleolgoical, scientistic, and ultimately
(or primordially ) moralizing . . . "
Wow! Having one's eyeballs twist 180 degree sounds like a drastic way
to achieve in-sight. Certainly the idea of the "posthuman" has been
taken up by "geeky sci-fi" enthusiasts, including writers like Greg Bear
("Blood Music"), Neal Stephenson ("Snow Crash"), Richard Powers
("Galatea 2.2) and Cole Perriman ("Terminal Games"). But the main
characteristics of the posthuman have also been formulated by such
scientific theorists as Marvin Minsky, Hans Moravec, Rodney Brooks,
Norbert Wiener, Tooby and Cosmides, Francisco Varela, etc. Is it
"scientistic"? By this I assume you mean, do I think that because some
scientific researchers are arguing for a distributed cognition model as
the basis for human cognition, do I necessarily think they are correct?
I don't know if they are correct. I do know that they are influential,
increasingly so, and that the number of researchers in related fields
such as evolutionary psychology, neurophysiology, etc., are taking these
ideas very seriously.
Are such ideas teleological? I don't think so. In fact, one of the
founding documents of cybernetics, written by Norbert Wiener,
Rosenblueth, etc., was entitled "Behavior and Teleology." In that
founding article, Wiener and his co-authors explicitly re-defined
teleology as "behavior determined by multiple feedback loops," a
re-positioning of the term that wts traditional associations with
Christianity and made the future emergent, constantly changing as
patterns changed, rather than a trajectory to an end that had in some
way been fore-seen or pre-determined. There is a double irony, then, in
calling the idea of the posthuman "teleological," for it re-inscribes
(at least to my ear) the very idea of predeterminism that Wiener and
his associates wanted specifically to get away from.
As I see it, one of the major driving forces behind the "posthuman" (or
whatever nomenclature you want to use that will be easier on your
eyeballs) is the desire to conceptualize human being, and human
cognition, in terms that allow it to be seamlessly articulated with
intelligent machines. Very often, in practice, this means erasing the
importance of embodiment (as when Hans Moravec foresees human
consciousness being downloaded into a computer), because as soon as one
attends to embodiment, it becomes obvious that humans and computer are
built (and operate) very differently. Far from wanting to simply
reinscribe the posthuman as it is currently formulated, I want in some
very specific ways to contest for it as a term, to draw into question
certain assumptions now associated with it.
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