My Journal



How We Became Posthuman 1 – Definition and Subjectivity – Hayles

Hayles, N. K. (1999). How we became posthuman: Virtual bodies in cybernetics, literature, and informatics: University Of Chicago Press.

Katherine Hayles puts forth this text on post humanism, which essentially discusses how information lost its body, that is, it is inspired by Hans Moravec’s prediction that one could in the future download an entire human conscious into a computer where it could exist and operate. Hayles breaks down “What is the posthuman?” into four defining factors (pgs 2-3). The posthuman view:

  • Privileges informational pattern over material instantiation, so that embodiment in a biological substrate is seen as an accident of history rather than an inevitability of life.
  • Considers consciousness as an epiphenomenona, as an evolutionary upstart trying to claim that it is the whole show when in actuality it is only a minor sideshow.
  • Thinks of the body as the original prosthesis we all learn to manipulate, so that extending or replacing the body with other prostheses becomes a continuation of a process that began before we were born.
  • Configures human being so that it can be seamlessly articulated with intelligent machines. In the posthuman, there are no essential differences or absolute demarcations between bodily existence and computer simulation, cybernetic mechanism and biological organism, robot teleology and human goals.

That information exists within us is the effect of a chance of history and not an inevitability and that our awareness of such information and of ourselves is but one element of our existence (the first two characteristics) is valid and forms sort of a foundation for posthumanism. The fourth point, that we can seamlessly merge with computers and machines without meaningful demarcation addresses more the topic of cybernetics, a topic that supports much of this text. It is the third noted characteristic, however, that likely has the most meaning for my research. If the body is considered the original prosthesis and any extensions of or replacements to the body are mere continuations of that process, then based on McLuhan’s (and other’s) view, all our communication technologies fall into this category and add to our posthumanism, extending our evolution.

That the collection of human information and thought could exist just as easily within a computer as within a biological being launches the discussion of subjectivity that underlies much of this book. “The defining characteristics [of being post-human] involve the construction of subjectivity, not the presence of non-biological components” (4). It is not the addition of some prosthesis or the ability to use technologies (extensions of our selves) that make us posthuman, it is the ability to be subjective in the view of the self. In other words, while a prosthetic might be a direct extension of an individual, so too is the use of any technology. And to be an individual is not just to be aware of and in control of one’s self, more specifically, it is to be free of the wills of others and freedom is a function of possession (the individual is in charge of his or her own self).

I propose that in using the OVC, participants have a particular individualistic, subjective sense of self-awareness that may not exist in the FtF setting. When engaged in a personal FtF conversation, that is, one conducted with one or a small number of individuals, responses are generally reactionary and not particularly pre-meditated. In the FtF classroom setting, students are likely to ponder questions and responses a bit more before speaking, since unless “called on,” and pressured to respond immediately, the fact that an instructor is usually leading a discussion and multiple other people may comment provides students with more time to be introspective, consider self-doubts and confidences, and form questions and comments. In the setting of the OVC, the user has an inordinate amount of time to subjectively consider the self, the setting, and the content of a response.

    • Quick link on posthumanism – PhD.umpingGround
      Jun 22, 2010 at 7:35 AM /

      […] Time, some useful summary and thoughts on Hayles and posthumanism. June 22, 2010 – 9:35 am | By Chris | Posted in uncategorized | Tagged links, posthuman | […]