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<eyebeam><blast> Posthuman Objections

Hi to everyone.  I apologize for my silence these last few days; various
duties intervened that kept me from the very interesting discussions
going on.  

On 2/11/98, Jordan Crandall wrote:
"In this period of the posthuman, where you figure the human as a
distributed cognitive system that includes human and nonhuman
components, what kinds of new languages can we posit for dealing with
our relationships with objects?  These are at the very core of our
thinking about art."

One of the approaches I've found helpful is that of Bruno Latour in "We
Have Never Been Modern."  Latour defines a concept he calls the
"quasi-object"--quasi because it has objectlike properties but also
cognitive properties that make it very different from our traditional
concept of an object. What Latour want to do by defining a
"quasi-object" is to break down traditional boundaries that put animate
objects in one category, inanimate in another.  Rather, he places both
into a single field of actors interacting with one another; in this
scheme, it is more or less incidental that some actors are human, some
are not. He is interested in constructing "networks" or "interfaces"
that connect the animate and others nonhuman.  

Your idea that "one key might be in the realm of the habitual, of
encoded/embodied routines," finds a strong resonance in Edwin Hutchins'
analysis of how distributed cognitive systems work.  He uses as an
example his performance when he opens a combination lock on a toolshed
he rarely uses.  He notices that in addition to going through the hand
motions necessary to open the lock, he also subvocalizes the numbers as
he twirls the dial.  Why, he asks, does he subvocalize as well as dial
the numbers?  He concludes that the hand motions and subvocalization
constitute a distributed system in which the different modalities
ofkinesthetic sense and aurality reinforce one another to create a
morerobust performance than either one alone would.

The "new language" here has less to do with spcialized vocabulary than
it does with a perspective that does not uniquely privilege human
consciousness as the site of cognition, but rather sees cognition as a
much more generalized phenomenon that is embedded in a variety of
modalities, locations, and objects, all working together to create
flexible yet robust performance.  Habitual motions thus become a way of
"thinking" or cognizing that happen more or less independently of
consciousness.  I had a vivid realization of this myself when I needed
to make a calling card call and had only a rotary dial phone to use.  I
then realized that I had forgotten the *numbers* of my calling card; all
I knew were the hand motions I use with a touch phone.  When the hand
motions could not be used (because I had to spin the dial rather than
touch numbers), I could not recall the numbers at all and was unable to
make the call.  So in a sense (or rather, in one sense) I "knew" the
number, but in another sense I didn't.  What these and similar
experiences suggest to me is that identity, like cognition, is also a
much more distributed phenomenon that Descartes postulated in "cogito
ergo sum," a tradition that in many ways is still very much with us.

Katherine Hayles
English Department 
UCLA LA 90095-1530

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