Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Cyborg Conciousness

I read this "The Cyborg Mother" from the 'Radical Philosophy' website this morning with some interest. I agree with its overall point that the increasing prevalence of technology in the most intimate and signifigant times in our lives is something worth thinking about. But I must confess, the author lost me at: "Ultimately, the breached boundary of the human body is a diasporic phenomenon". Is it really that bad? Rather than driving the human condition into a realm of "mutually incomprehensible languages", could not the opposite be true, producing at best a unity and at worst a homogenisation of the human condition and experience?
Or is this all just a lot of fuss over nothing?


MH said...

I am not sure if the line between human and cyborg is actually located where the author places it ... perhaps it is not as clearly defined as we would like to think ... perhaps our embrace of mobile technology is one of the first steps in much the same way as our embrace of medical technology ...

Anonymous said...

The author sounds like an upset mother. A mother who is taking out her frustration at technology that is saving her child’s life. Instead of being able to continue the intimate bond of giving life to her child her body decided it wasn’t feasible to continue for one reason or another. The mind is angry at the body for its survival mechanisms and technology for denying this woman of the essence of womanhood- nurturing children.

Samuel Douglas said...

Both very good calls there I think. I think that by her boundary the line between human and cyborg was breached long ago.
I certainly agree with 'anonymous' that the author does seem like she has some issues surrounding this. As to whether or not these invalidate her somewhat obscure position is another matter.
Overall the main problem I had with the article was the thinly vaeiled implication that technology, in and of itself, alienates us from ourselves and eachother. This alienation may well be taking place, but I would argue that it is as dependant on other factors and power relations as it is on the place of technology in our lives.

MH said...

From a Marxist perspective, it probably fairly easy to make the claim that it is the development of technology that is alienating individuals from each other, since the greater the technological intervention the greater the artification of the individual. From a Foucualdian perspective, to claim that the alienation is driven solely by technology would be biased and narrow-minded. The Foucualdian approach is probably sounder in this situation …

One problem that I would like to extract from your post is the comment regarding increased homogeny as a result of ‘cybridization’ (to coin a term …). Making the supposition that the embrace of cyborg technology is going to be driven by market forces (like the embrace of all new technologies), it is not clear that the resultant society is going to be more uniform than it is presently, at least not for some significant period of time. This is a point that emerges again and again in discussions of the possible eugenic results of genetic engineering. One problem that seems to emerge from any possible ‘homogenous humanity’ is that the homogeneity would actually be more alienating than unifying; could there be anything more likely to make an individual feel like the Other than confrontation with a score of similar individuals. This ‘normalising discourse’ is probably going to see excessive differentiation in other areas (isn’t this why schools become filled with extreme [stereotypical] personalities, because the enforced conformity leads to exaggeration in the small spheres of freedom?) …

Bill Pascoe said...

I must say I had similar thoughts when my first daughter was born. My wife was all hooked up with wires sensors tubes, things in her spin, wrist and so on. My daughter came out pristine (though they were sensing her heart beat the whole way) but as soon as she was there, she was hooked into the monitors, measured, and so on. Luckily she wasn't dieing and didn't need the respirators etc.
It is hard not to get the impression that our making of life, since so many would die without this technological intervention, is not dependant on it to a great extent.
One of the way Cliff Hooker describes life as a set of holistic processes - meaning there is a mutual relationship between processes where if one fails, the other does too. Now the tech would not be there without us, and more and more we would not be here without the tech.
It was hard not to feel as if this child birth was not part of a much larger system, which although we could survive 'in the wild' we are becoming more and more symbiotic with. This interconnection of the tubes passing fluids in and out, electrical sensors providing input to some other person who makes decisions that can start that heart again if it stops. And just the hospital building - how all these people had dug up rocks and put them all together, the plumbing carrying liquid across the city, the electricity across the wires, running the sensor of my daughter's heart.
Hard not to feel like an ant in a hive. Hard not to feel like we are part of some more advanced, 'higher' order of life, our cells have coagulated into specialised organs of a greater system, and we are now coagulating into an even greater organism.
Those sorts of observations are a bit trite, and a bit sci-fi. So lets return to the 'diaspora' and cyborgs.
A diaspora is a dispersal. I don't think that is the right word. Our bodies aren't being dispersed around the place. It's not as if we are swapping limbs, or that our consciousness follows those dispersed body parts. It's that we our bodies and their abilities are extended and enhanced (see further with telescopes, walk better with hip inplants, get well better with medicine, survive better with ...) and that we become more and more inter-dependant with technology and with others through technology. That seems less like diaspora than aggregation. (and you could see how that would diminish a sense of individual freedom).
In some cases our body parts are replaced by machinery, or artifacts. Again that is not a dispersal, that is a replacement - I become part machine. That's where things get blurriest - where machines respond to the will, perhaps to the nervous system as if they were our bodies. The point of all machines is to respond to our will in this way, it's just that we are managing to make them closer and closer to us.
Cyborgs, as the integration of human flesh and machine, is nothing new. Think of a machine as anything with moving parts that we have made, or maybe not even with moving parts. A shoe has moving parts - it enhances our ability to walk. We've had shoes for a long time. A pen and paper is a cybernetic extension of my memory, or ability to communicate. We have long been integrating ourselves with machines, and cybernetically extending our capacities. There is nothing in principle shocking about cyborgs, it's just that we find these extensions and integrations are occuring at an alarming rate at present.
Now as for artifacts - what defines our being humans more than 'artifacts'. Consider how we, as humans, construct the world around us. There is nothing of which we are aware that is not an artifact. The very idea of 'individual' is an artifact.
(Maybe what Marx was getting at was that it is unethical to treat someone as an artifact. It is ethical to treat them as someone who makes artifacts. I don't know, I haven't read Marx.)