CS009: Computers and Human Values
Department of Computer Science, Brown University
Notes, October 11th -- Roger B. Blumberg

From The Modern Age to Posthumanism

"What embodiment secures is not the distinction between male and female or between humans who think and machines which cannot. Rather, embodiment makes clear that thought is a much broader cognitive function depending for its specificities on the embodied form enacting it. This realization, with all its exfoliating implications, is so broad in its effects and so deep in its consequences that it is transforming the liberal subject, regarded as the model of the human since the Enlightenment, into the posthuman." N. Katherine Hayles, How We Became Posthuman (1999) [xiv]

"Fundamentalism is a modern phenomenon. It is a reaction to the process of enlightenment, to the destruction/deconstruction of traditional social arrangements, to the idea of progress, to belief in rationalism, to the loss of natural communities, identities, security, and certainty -- a reaction to contingency and to the burdens of an abstract freedom the individual can use for better or worse." Agnes Heller, "911, or Modernity and Terror", in Constellations: An International Journal of Critical & Democratic Theory, Mar2002, Vol. 9 Issue 1 [53]

Introduction 1: Comments about Paper Writing

Your topics for the first paper are due by Friday, the 14th, but you are encouraged to post these as soon as you've decided on a topic. For anyone radically unsure about what constitutes a topic, I've opened the folder of topics from the first paper from the 2004 version of CS9. I was hesitant to do this, because I don't think last year's group either exhausted the range of possible topics or presented topics I thought exemplary. But they are examples, if you would like to see examples.

The first paper is due by Friday, October 21st, and you are more than welcome to complete it earlier. If you want me to read a draft of the paper, I am happy to do so but you must let me have it by Wednesday at noon. Please note that The Writing Center, in the Rockefeller Library, is another place you can have someone read your draft(s), and CS9 students' experiences with The Writing Center have been terrific. For more information about The Writing Center, including the phone number you need to call for an appointment, see http://www.brown.edu/Student_Services/Writing_Center/

Finally, reflecting on the essays from the last few years, I offer the following comments/suggestions/pleas:

Introduction 2: Reactions to Michael Chorost and Rebuilt

We'll process Thursday's class a bit, and discuss some aspects of Rebuilt that we didn't/couldn't talk about then. One goal of today's class is to evaluate how Michael's text draws on elements of contemporary life we consider modern, post-modern, and post-human.

Introduction 3: Reactions to the Modern Age

Before returning to Hayles' characterization of the "posthuman" and an attempt to unpack the meaning of her remarks (above and in the excerpt I've assigned), we should see her work in the context of various reactions to the Humanism characteristic of "Modernity" or "The Modern Age". In the next unit of the Seminar we'll discuss social systems in some detail, especially social values like freedom and meaningful work, but here I want to limit the discussion to the ways that different reactions to Humanism affect our sense of ourselves. One way to do this is to ask how humanism, scientism, postmodernism and fundamentalism (for example) influence the way we answer Kant's famous "Three Questions": 1) What can I know?; 2) What should I do?; and 3) For what may I hope?

Lyotard's Post-Modern Condition

We'll begin with a juxtaposition of Lyotard's discussion of knowledge, and specifically scientific knowledge, with that associated with the Modern Age. From there we'll try to understand his characterisation of a "post-modern" condition and why it's linked to the coming of a computer/information age.

Hayles' Posthumanism Next, we'll consider the four characteristics that Hayles claims are distinctive of posthumanism, and brainstorm examples that seem to confirm (or question) these trends:

  1. privileging informational pattern over materiality in the identification of subjects, objects and activities
  2. thinking of consciousness as an epi-phenomenon
  3. thinking of the body as merely our original prosthesis
  4. thinking of humans and machines as seamlessly integratable.

For Next Time: Begin Negroponte's Being Digital and we'll talk about whether we need to reschedule Thursday's class. Whatever our decision, topics for the first paper should be posted to WebCT by Friday, October 14th. The papers will be due by the 21st. Please feel free to come see me anytime to talk about the topics, the papers, or both.

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