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How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics Paperback – Feb 15 1999

4.2 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 364 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; 1 edition (Feb. 15 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226321460
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226321462
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.5 x 22.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 621 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #94,648 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

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The title of this scholarly yet remarkably accessible slice of contemporary cultural history has a whiff of paradox about it: what can it mean, exactly, to say that we humans have become something other than human? The answer, Katherine Hayles explains, lies not in ourselves but in our tools. Ever since the invention of electronic computers five decades ago, these powerful new machines have inspired a shift in how we define ourselves both as individuals and as a species.

Hayles tracks this shift across the history of avant-garde computer theory, starting with Norbert Weiner and other early "cyberneticists," who were the first to systematically explore the similarities between living and computing systems. Hayles's study ends with artificial-life specialists, many of whom no longer even bother to distinguish between life forms and computers. Along the way she shows these thinkers struggling to reconcile their traditional, Western notions of human identity with the unsettling, cyborg directions in which their own work seems to be leading humanity.

This is more than just the story of a geek elite, however. Hayles looks at cybernetically inspired science fiction by the likes of Philip K. Dick, William Gibson, and Neal Stephenson to show how the larger culture grapples with the same issues that dog the technologists. She also draws lucidly on her own broad grasp of contemporary philosophy both to contextualize those issues and to contend with them herself. The result is a fascinating introduction--and a valuable addition--to one of the most important currents in recent intellectual history. --Julian Dibbell

About the Author

N. Katherine Hayles is a postmodern literary critic, most notable for her contribution to the fields of literature and science, electronic literature, and American literature. She is professor and Director of Graduate Studies in the Program in Literature at Duke University.


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Format: Paperback
In this book of panoramic scope Hayles considers no less than the fate of the human race. In a rich and detailed discussion ranging from the science fiction of Greg Bear and Philip K. Dick to the science of Norbert Wiener's cybernetics and Claude Shannon's information theory, Hayles traces the changing conception of human consciousness and claims that a great many of us are already posthuman. A posthuman is someone who has been reconstructed in some sense, either physically or mentally, such that he or she exceeds, or believes they can exceed, the boundaries of a human. About ten percent of Americans can be considered cyborgs in the technical sense by virtue of having some kind of artificial implant - these people would qualify as posthuman since they have compensated for some limitation of their bodies through technological augmentation. However, Hayles claims that to be posthuman no prosthesis is necessary, simply the way in which we think about ourselves as conscious agents needs to change. The advent of Shannon's information theory has led to the modern convention of treating information as if it were entirely non-physical. If this idea is applied to the information in our heads - that is, the collection of memories that make each of us unique - then we quickly arrive at the conclusion that our consciousness can be uploaded into a computer, decanted into a robot-body, or even backed-up onto computer disk, giving us eternal life.
This is the story of how information lost its body and it is an idea which is now well established in Western culture and technology. Yet, Hayles believes it to be misguided. Any informational pattern, be it pebbles on the beach or electrons whizzing across the internet, must have a physical embodiment to exist.
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Format: Paperback
Yes, this is 22nd Century thinking today. I was fortunate enough to meet the author at a LA FUTURISTS SOCIETY meeting where she was a guest speaker. She looks ordinary-- like a college professor-type, speaks clearly but her writing is the extraordinary talent. She combines humanism and science to see how virtual bodies and informatics are influencing how we live, work and love. One of those books that yearns for you to write in the margins and put your notes in the back. Pages and pages of notes on my copy. No one will share this copy, don't even ask!!!! Not an easy read but well worth the journey. I love to read books in hours or days but this one took weeks (in between other reading) and it was well worth every minute, hour, day spent. Perfect book for this summer when the MACHINES ARE TAKING OVER on our screens at movies and television. The crossover from cybernetics to literature is what is so fascinating. I can't begin to summarize all that I learned and all the questions that it brought up for me to seek out more info. Belongs on every science and literature teacher's shelf. One of the books they should require for every engineer and techie at the beginning of their careers. Make way for the future!!!!!
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Format: Paperback
This book is worth the effort. Or maybe all the effort you'll put into this triggers a cognitive dissonance reaction: I just spent 4 hours reading one chapter, so it must have been good. Right? Right?
This book is good, if only for her obvious reverence for the cyberpunk grandaddy PKD (Phil K Dick if you don't know already). Whether or not you accept her premise that we are already "posthuman" she considers her subject matter in a most interesting and relevent way, bringing in fiction that relates to the subject, as well as the history of computing and cybernetics (with some fun little anecdotes about the one and only Norbert Weiner). If you're a geek or into future-minded philosophy, pick this one up. She makes some convincing arguments, it just takes a good long while to decipher what those arguments actually are.
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Format: Kindle Edition
This is a compelling and thorough investigation of cybernetics and post-humanism as it pertains to humanistic inquiry. Essential reading for anyone interested in the future of subjectivity.
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Format: Paperback
This is probably one of the hardest books I have ever read--with no background in either philosophy or cybernetics, much of what Hayles discusses is just plain incomprehensible. I also found it difficult to accept the idea of humans already being "post-human." If you are interested in deep philosophical writings on technology and the human condition, with links to literature, read this. If you don't really care about the post-human, skip it.
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