REVIEW: "How We Became Posthuman", N. Katherine Hayles
- BKHWBCPH.RVW 20020605
"How We Became Posthuman", N. Katherine Hayles, 1999, 0-226-32145-2,
%A N. Katherine Hayles
%C Chicago, IL 60637
%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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