I pick up the phone and go Execute

27 12 2012

Are we always already cyborgs?

Sorry for the Heideggerianism, but it’s tough to talk about ontology and technology without bringing in the Nazi Gasbag, specifically, his Question Concerning Technology and, for that matter, Letter on Humanism.

What’s set off this spasm of speculation? A bit in Crooked Timber on a piece by Noah Smith about cyborg techs. Chris Bertram was snarking on economists in his bit, but the, um, question concerning (cyber) technology is taken up with some vigor in the comments.

One question, of course, is the one ol’ Marty throws at us: what is it to be a cyber-human? Can one even be a cyber-human? He, the master of despair, would say No:

In truth. . . precisely nowhere does many today any longer encounter himself, i.e., his essence. Man stands so decisively in attendance on the challenging forth of enframing that he does not grasp the enframing as a a claim, that he fails to see himself as the one spoken to, and hence also fails in every way to hear in what respect he ek-sists, from out of his essence, in the realm of an exhortation or address, that he can never encounter only himself.

As I paraphrased this elsewhere (okay, my dissertation), “There can be no peaceful coexistence between technology and humans because the ways of technology, in the course of enframing humans, prevent them from being fully human.”

This drives Heidegger over the edge: “We have only purely technological conditions left. It is no longer an earth on which human beings live today.”

To which I responded, more or less, Bosh.

Heidegger’s concept of enframing helps us to see how caught up we are already in a techno-scientific world, that we are not separate from the technologies we create and use, and, as such, are shaped by the techs themselves. But as acute as Heidegger was in diagnosing technoscience, his prognostic skills for humans were warped by his own, ah, idiosyncratic understanding of history, and rather complete misunderstanding of actual humans.

And even the acuity of his diagnosis is marred by its partiality, that is, that he treats technological practices as somehow more forbidding and final than every other social practice that ever existed before.  In other words, he gets the transformational powers of technology, but in assigning the power to the techs rather than to the nexus of social practices which produce them (although he does go forward from the techs to the practices they produce) he misses the continuing human presence in the tech practices themselves.

This line of thinking leads rather easily to Foucault and his much-quoted bit—“My point is not that everything is bad, but that everything is dangerous, which is not exactly the same as bad. If everything is dangerous, then we already have something to do”—as well as to Donna Haraway’s admonition that “We cannot pretend we live on some other planet where the cyborg was never spat out of the womb-brain of its war-besotted parents. . . . Unlike the hopes of Frankenstein’s monster, the cyborg does not expect its father to save it through a restoration of the garden.”

In other words, this is how we are, and how we are today is as human as we want to be.

Two further points: One (and this was going to be the main point of this point until I sidetracked myself, and hm, maybe I really should make that a separate post), the real excitement about cyber-techs is about the dream of control—and it is the dream, not the tech, that is the worry.

A précis for that separate post:  A computer, its parts and software can all be patented and their use, to some extent, controlled, but what we think when we’re away from the computers remains with us, is beyond the control of any owners or managers. I don’t know if implants would make us more productive, but they would certainly make us more manageable.*

The concern, I’d argue, lies more with the management than the implant.

*Note: This is not necessarily an argument against all implants, and the speculative future post will dig around the nuances of cyber-techs and practices, but, y’know: précis.

Two, it’s not at all clear that we much care how human we are or could be.

Heidegger bemoaned the concealing power of techs—to do is not to think—but it’s doubtful than many people in the history of people have ever spent much time pondering being. Maybe cyber-techs will hide us irrevocably from ourselves, but it’s also just possible that in thinking about how we incorporate these techs into ourselves, we’ll wonder not just about the techs, but about us.

I doubt it, but what the hell: one can always hack the hack.

Advertisements

Actions

Information

2 responses

28 12 2012
dmfant

31 12 2012
dmfant

maybe you could teach @:
http://thebrooklyninstitute.com/

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s




%d bloggers like this: