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REVIEW: "How We Became Posthuman", N. Katherine Hayles

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  • Rob, grandpa of Ryan, Trevor, Devon & Ha
    BKHWBCPH.RVW 20020605 How We Became Posthuman , N. Katherine Hayles, 1999, 0-226-32145-2, U$49.00 %A N. Katherine Hayles %C Chicago, IL 60637 %D
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 5, 2002
      BKHWBCPH.RVW 20020605

      "How We Became Posthuman", N. Katherine Hayles, 1999, 0-226-32145-2,
      %A N. Katherine Hayles
      %C Chicago, IL 60637
      %D 1999
      %G 0-226-32145-2
      %I University of Chicago Press
      %O U$49.00 marketing@...
      %P 350 p.
      %T "How We Became Posthuman"

      It is ironic that literature has a prominent place in the subtitle
      (Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics) and the
      material in this book. The writing is dense and sometimes almost
      unreadable. Unlike many books with such a writing style, this does
      not indicate a lack of ideas: rather the reverse. A number of
      concepts tend to be implied by the wording, although few are actually

      Chapter one, while it does not provide us with a solid definition of
      posthuman, does present a number of characteristics of the term.
      Information is vital (while the material is immaterial), conciousness
      is irrelevant, the body (any body) is a replaceable prosthesis, and
      the human and computer are interchangeable. Interestingly, the text
      dances around, but never actually examines, the classic "soul
      good/body bad" dualism. The assertion is made, in chapter two, that
      literature is informed and molded by the form of the writing, but
      supporting arguments are unclear. The Macy cybernetics conferences
      are reviewed in chapter three, which also outlines intriguing material
      on the technically unwarranted prominence of neural nets in artificial
      intelligence research. Hidden in the analysis of Weiner's work and
      thought, in chapter four, is the striking notion that he saw all
      information as analogous (and therefore suspect) while accepting and
      using the rather imprecise analogies from thermodynamics and entropy.
      Chapter five seems to look at speech or text as a kind of prosthesis:
      a "false limb" of communication. The idea of life as "organization"
      is examined in chapter six. From my background in the field of virus
      research, this idea is problematic: how specific do we get in
      differentiating types of life? Generally speaking, researchers say
      that one virus is distinct from another if there is a difference of
      one bit. So much fiction is involved with all the discussions, that a
      chapter, seven, on the work of science fiction writer Philip K. Dick
      is unsurprising. Chapter eight proposes that "embodied" knowledge is
      somehow unique and affected by its embodiment since it is hard to
      describe. Again, what do we do about the field of psycholinguistics,
      since kinesthetic knowledge has no words? Chapter nine talks about
      artificial life. Four novels are analyzed, in chapter ten, on the
      basis of a semiotic square flawed by having orthogonal axes. Finally,
      there is a conclusion without conclusions in chapter eleven.

      While some interesting ideas are presented in the book, it is
      extraordinarily demanding of the reader. The glacial pace and
      requirement for intense concentration seem less arbitrary and
      calculated than in other, similar, works, but still appear to be aimed
      at some "in group" rather than the general public. A bit of effort in
      terms of readability and an attempt to make the work more accessible
      to non-specialists would increase the value substantially.

      copyright Robert M. Slade, 2002 BKHWBCPH.RVW 20020605

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      rslade@... rslade@... slade@... p1@...
      No matter how bad things get you got to go on living, even if it
      kills you. - Sholom Aleichem
      http://victoria.tc.ca/techrev or http://sun.soci.niu.edu/~rslade
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