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Re: <eyebeam><blast> Human=Computer

Ben Williams wrote:

>Personally, I'm very mistrustful of these equations between human and
>computer. There are obviously connections, but they are a lot more
>complicated (and a lot more interesting) than simply saying one equals
>the other. Without wanting to get into a Foucault debate, I think the
>reference to Foucault's idea of language as a paradigm for the human
>condition as justification for the computer-human equation reveals the
>limitations of structuralism in general: its tendency to ignore >material
>difference in favor of abstract similarity. I'm also not sure that
>Foucault's idea of "discourse" is quite as simple as the more common

I think the essence of Foucault's argument was to avoid the paradoxes
implicit in an essentialist view of the human. He sought to establish
the human not as a thing in itself, but as a field of relations; of
actions and reactions. Central to this he deduced the importance of
language, as a primary expression of these relations and as the medium
through which they came into being.

As such, Foucault did not argue that language is a paradigm for the
human, but that it is the means and expression of the human. When
extending Foucaults arguments to cover the issue of computing, and in
particular the human factors involved in computing (as I did in an
earlier post), what is being established is not a mapping between
computer and human, but rather a dynamic of relations. My argument was
that the computer, as a language machine, is first and foremost an
extension of the technology of writing. That it is in fact a form of
writing, and thus a linguistically determined artifact, operating within
a linguistic field, which in turn alters (or at least interacts with)
the textuality of things.

Following Foucaults arguments from there, we can then see that the
computer does have an important role in terms of the definition of the
human, if we are to accept Foucaults argument regarding the human as a
linguistically determined thing. If the computer is part of language,
then it must, per se, be part of the human, and thus speak of the human.
However, this in no way implies a mapping.

>sense conception of an everyday language that we speak. My opinion is
>that computers are a form of intelligence, one that has been abstracted
>from certain very particular aspects of human intelligence, but which >is
>also quite different from the human sensibility considered as a whole.

This is a very touchy subject. How do you define intelligence? How do
you define conciousness? I for one would never struggle to define a
thing like conciousness. I even wonder if such a thing exists. I would
assume, from his writings, that Foucault would never have addressed this
issue either, as he would have seen it as an undefinable. I do not want
to get into a major ontological argument here, but I would agree with
Foucault that the individual, as a linguistic instance (which is another
way of saying; as a nexus in a set of complex relations), cannot be
addressed by way of such an absolutest concept as 'conciousness'.

Like a human, the computer can also exist at a nexus of complex
relations...and in this sense Foucault's work does not help us at all in
differentiating between the machine and the human. Other discourses have
to be developed to deal with that. For myself though, whilst I see
strong relations between computers and people (especially in terms of
their mutual relations to the linguistic field), I am certain that the
two are very different things, of entirely different natures. For me the
discussion of the human/machine relation is only interesting in so far
as it tells us of the human. The machine, in itself, is not interesting.

>computer=human=nature=capitalist economy, and we're all supposed to sit
>back and watch the convergence. That's historical (and envrionmental)
>ignorance; go back to the nineteenth century, you'll find that the
>favored model for consciousness was that of the mechanical robot. The
>bottom line is that we use our technologies to conceptualize our
>consciousness; given that technologies are always changing, the idea
>that there will ever be some kind of one-to-one fit is troublesome.

You are right to point out this manner in which people have always
looked to the current technological paradigm to explain the human (and
the universe in general). The application of clockwork technology to the
human/universe is a particularly good example here....with Galileo or Da
Vinci heavily influenced by such ideas. Again, what is interesting here
is not the relative veracity of these ideas as such, but what they tell
us of ourselves, and the limitations of our ability to think without
recourse to the (naturally) limited palette of available metaphors that
we have.

It allows one to develop a position that takes into account the
limitations of that position, which is good for keeping oneself to more
or less modest objectives when proclaiming the next 'great truth'. For
me Foucault does just this, and the (self-realised) modest scope of his
arguments allow him to deal with things effectively, without
complicating them with other factors. As Foucault always said, he was
neither a philosopher nor a social critic. He was, in his own eyes,
'simply' an Historian.

Simon Biggs
London GB

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