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