Part: 2 The Subject. From Human to Posthuman.
In second half on nineteen century the concept of a cyborg and posthuman theory emerged. Although the "Cyborg" differs in its articulations, a common theme is the union of the human with the intelligent machine. The term Cyborg was first introduced in 1960 by Manfred Clynes and Nathan Kline in their article named “Cyborg and space.” Their article was devoted to space travel and was suggesting that altering man’s bodily functions to meet the requirements of extraterrestrial environments would be more logical than providing an earthly environment for him in space. The article was suggesting a creation of artifact-organism systems which would extend man’s unconscious, self-regulatory controls. Their argument to support the creation of the cyborg was that if astronaut in space, in addition to flying his vehicle, must continuously be checking on things and making adjustments merely in order to keep himself alive, he becomes a slave to the machine. Interestingly enough Manfred Clyne’s and Nathan Kline’s proposal of “liberation” from the machine meant becoming a half machine. The colonization of the outer space reverts to the inside the technological colonization of our body.
In her article “Cyborg Manifesto” Donna Haraway predicts that by the late twentieth century we all will become theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism. She supports her view by reflecting on the state of medicine and military at the time. According to Haraway modern medicine is full of cyborgs: couplings between organism and machine, each conceived as coded devices, in an intimacy that was not generated even in the history of sexuality. Indeed with the advances in neuroscience and cognitive science artificial prosthesis are able to compete with natural body parts and life support systems can be found in any hospital worldwide. Those machines come into direct contact with human body and alter or extend specific processes within it.
While Haraway’s work made an important shift away from the solidity of essentialist identities towards a fluid and engaged cyborg, the framing of her discussion under socialist-feminist terms places rigid boundaries upon cyborg consciousness. This enforces the conception of a cyborg only as a resistant political “Other” rather than as “Other” in itself. It was not until Katherine Hayles’s book “How we Became Posthuman” that the model of a cyborg subject was analyzed as a mode of consciousness independent from any existing socio-political structure. Her model of Cyborg consciousness is built on four core characteristic. First, the cyborg viewpoint privileges informational pattern over material or formal instantiation. Information is perceived as a bodiless fluid that could flow between different substrates without loss of meaning. All material objects are interpenetrated by flows of information, from DNA code to the global reach of the World Wide Web. Second, the post human view considers consciousness as an epiphenomenon a secondary symptom alongside the main process. Third, the cyborg thinks of a body as an original prosthesis that we all learn to manipulate therefore the replacement of the original body parts with prosthesis is considered to be continuation of the process that began when we were born. Fourth, the post human view configures human being so that it can be seamlessly articulated with intelligent machines to an extent that there is no difference between bodily existence and computer simulation. The post human subject was defined as a collection of heterogeneous components, a material-informational entity whose boundaries undergo continuous construction and reconstruction.
Although Haraway’s definition of a cyborg foregrounds the cybernetic aspect of the post human, Katherine Hayles’s showed that the construction of the post human does not require the subject to be a literal cyborg. Biologically unaltered Homo sapiens can also be understood as post human. The defining characteristics involve the construction of subjectivity, not the presence of non-biological components. The similar correlation can be seen in digital paradigm. The history of the digital can be traced back long before the first computer was turned on, before Turing, Von Neumann and Wiener wrote the conceptual papers that defined the fields of computational thinking and cybernetics, before Babbage and Lovelace designed and programmed the difference and analytical engines, before Wells or Verne speculated on bizarre future societies run by technology, before Boole or Leibniz established the mathematical logic for binary code, and before Al Khwarizmi established the basis for abstraction in algebra and algorithms, back towards the Antikythera mechanism of Ancient Greece and Egyptian hieroglyphic representations of binary numbers. Indeed, the seeds of the digital have been a long time gestating, and only now is their fruit emerging as a genuinely cyborg consciousness. The development of Cyborg culture was waiting for the technology through which its ontology could be mediated.
Today the evidence that we already live in the cybernetic reality can be found nearly in every field. Money is increasingly experienced as informational patterns stored in computer banks rather than as the presence of cash. The introduction of the bitcoin, first decentralized digital currency, carries a potential to revolutionize global economy. Surrogacy and in vitro fertilization court cases offer examples of informational genetic patterns competing with physical presence for the right to determine the “legitimate" parent. Automated factories are controlled by programs that constitute the physical realities of work assignments and production schedules as flows of information through the system. Criminals are tied to crime scenes through DNA patterns rather than through eyewitness accounts verifying their presence. We are able to exchange thoughts with the people across the globe in a fraction of a second via devices that are gradually becoming wearable. Sexual/social relationships are pursued through the virtual spaces of computer networks rather than through meetings at which the participants are physically present.
The cyborg is not a sci-fi fantasy that will exist in a distant future but rather something we are experiencing already today. The rapidly increasing prevalence of computers and the ubiquity of accessible touch-screen devices spawns a generation raised into digital consciousness alongside physical modes of thinking, which means that already today we are rising a cyborg generation, therefore a reconsideration of cybernetics in terms of consciousness is necessary in the fulfilment of the shift from human to cyborg.
Interesting parallels can be drawn between Haylese’s model of a cyborg and the current state of computer simulations namely in the form of immersion into virtual reality. Normally virtuality is associated with computer simulations that put the body into a feedback loop with a computer-generated image. For example, in virtual reality user wears a stereovision helmet and a body glove with sensors at joint positions. The user's movements are reproduced by a simulacrum, called an avatar, on the computer screen. When the user turns his or her head, the computer display changes in a corresponding fashion. At the same time, audio phones create a three-dimensional sound field. Kinesthetic sensations, such as G-Ioads for flight simulators, can be supplied through more extensive and elaborate body coverings. The result is a multisensory interaction that creates the illusion that the user is inside the virtual reality. In this case the simulation takes place partly in “real” life and partly in virtual reality. The importance of virtual reality in this discourse is crucial since VR technologies make visually immediate the perception that a world of information exists parallel to the "real" world.
The most advanced forms of a cyborg today can be found in Multi-User Dimension games (MUD) where the player falls perfectly into the realms of subjectivity defined by Hayles. First all MUD games are realized in digital dimension meaning that everything in the game consists of information pattern. Information flows between various devices that might be located anywhere the world. Second consciousness is by no means the central theme of the MUD game. There is always the main theme of the game that presumes conscious subjects. Additionally the MUD game worlds are filled with non-playable unconscious characters which are the part of the environment. Third the immersion into these virtual worlds is realized through virtual reality devices that are being attached to the player in physical world as prosthesis supporting full body immersion. Fourth this prosthesis maintain seamless fuse of player’s body with intelligent machines and digital environment. Questions about presence and absence in physical world do not yield much leverage in this situation. The player both is and is not present, just as the avatar both is and is not inside the screen. Players regularly immersed in virtual reality MUDs become an entities whose conciseness is roaming between physical and digital worlds to an extent where it is no longer definite to which reality the consciousness belongs to.
Sherry Turkle, in her fascinating work on people who spend serious time in MUDs, convincingly shows that virtual technologies, in a riptide of reverse influence, affect how real life is seen. "Reality is not my best window," one of her respondents remarks. When a man who, in his “real” life social contacts, is quiet and shy, adopts an angry, aggressive persona in virtual reality, one can say that he expresses the repressed side of himself, a publicly non-acknowledged aspect of his “true personality.” If a “phantom pain” is a pain of the amputated phantom limb than the “phantom pleasure” can be understood as the joy experienced in cyberspace from manipulating limb/psyche you never had. In Virtual reality user can follow the escapist logic and simply act out his real life difficulties in virtual reality, or he can use virtual reality to become aware of the inconsistency and multiplicity of his subjective identifications, and work them through. This shows that both the person present in physical world and the avatar generated in digital world are a different parts of the same subject and therefore both are equally real. In cases like this we are dealing with the loss of the surface which separates inside from outside and liberates consciousness as information entity. This is the state of a true cyborg.
Manfred E. Clynes, Nathan S. Kline, "Cyborgs and Space", Astronautics, September, 1960, 26.
Slavoj Žižek,The Plague of Fantasies, (London; Verso, 1997), 134.