This is a very interesting text. First it gives a good definition of what “posthuman” is:

- informational pattern is privileged over material instantiation, so that biological embodiment is seen as an accident of history rather than an inevitability of life;

- consciousness is not seen as a central phenomenon, but as a minor sideshow;

- body is seen as a prosthesis which can be extended or replaced;

- there are no boundaries between bodily existence and computer simulation

The text is basically concerned with the concept of embodiment. The author is arguing that disembodiment is not necessarily a consequence of the posthuman. In fact her “dream is a version of the posthuman that embraces the possibilities of information technologies without being seduced by fantasies of unlimited power and disembodied immortality, that recognizes and celebrates finitude as a condition of human being, and that understands human life is embedded in a material world of great complexity, one on which we depend for our continued survival”. (p.5)

She argues that the concept of disembodiment is not a new one and was described in humanism as well when cognition was emphasized rather than embodiment.

She sees herself as a posthuman collectivity, a “we” of autonomous agents operating together to make a self.

Virtuality is defined as “the cultural perception that material objects are interpenetrated by information patterns”

In 1948 Shannon defined information “as a probablility function with no dimensions, no materialility, and no necessary connection with meaning. It is a pattern not a prescence” (p. 18). This leads to theories of disembodiment. However, the author explains that there have always been critics of this view and that this was a theory driven by the atmosphere of the time. The author would like to recover ” a sense of the virtual that fully recognizes the importance of the embodied processes constituting the lifeworld of human beings”. The book she is introducing describes various narratives through an interplay of science and literature. She would like to see disembodiment as just one narrative amongst others. She uses literature to illustrate “embodied” theories. Literature itself shows that we use embodiment (information is not portrayed as patterns but is embedded in a story).

What do I think of this text?

I’m really pleased that Hayles is arguing for an embodied version of the posthuman. I have never liked the concept of disembodiment. I also agree that the existence of virtuality and virtual worlds is not an argument for disembodiment of information. Virtual worlds are games where you use your imagination and the imagination will always be part of you.

What I don’t quite understand is how she is reacting to the definition of “posthuman” she gives in the beginning. She undermines part of the definition in the text by emphasizing the importance of embodiment. To her the splitting up of the persona seems to be more important as a definition. However, she doesn’t really outline her own definition of what “posthuman” is.

Hayles, N.K. (1999). Toward embodied virtuality, chapter 1 of How we became posthuman: virtual bodies in cybernetics, literature and informatics. Chicago, University of Chicago Press. pp1-25

1 comment

  1. Derick Jones May 19th, 2010 10:33 am Reply

    I have bookmarked this. I will go through the pdf for sure. Want to learn more about this.”Virtual worlds are games where you use your imagination and the imagination will always be part of you.”- Now that really got me thinking. How very true. Thanks.

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