Samantha Bittman

January 30, 2003

How We Became Post-Human

Chapter 1 discussion




The Turing Test- argued that machines can think.  Claude Shannon and Norbert Weiner defined information as “an entity distinct from the substrates carrying it.”

Hans Moravec developed the Moravec Test “designed to show that machines can become a repository of human consciousness”

“You are the cyborg, the cyborg is you.”


Chapter 1


“It will soon be possible to download human consciousness into a computer” (1)

“Information can circulate unchanged among different material substrates” (1)

Halyes breaks her book into three separate stories

  1. How information lost its body
  2. How the cyborg was created as a technological artifact and cultural icon
  3. The human is giving way to a different construction called post-human

“Central to the construction of the cyborg are informational pathways connecting the organic pathways to its prosthetic extensions.  This presumes a conception of information that can flow between carbon based organic components and silicon based components to make protein and silicon one single operating system” (2)

What is post-human?

  1. Informational pattern over material instantiation
  2. Considers consciousness as an epiphenomenon
  3. The body as the original prosthesis we all learn to operate
  4. Configures human being so that it can be seamlessly articulated with intelligent machines.

“Even biologically unaltered homo sapiens counts as post human” (4)

“People become post-human because they think they are post-human” (6)

Three waves of development

  1. 1945-1960, Homeostasis
  2. 1960-1980, Reflexivity
  3. 1980-present, Virtuality

“The point was less to demonstrate that man was a machine than to demonstrate that machine could function like a man” (7)

Homeostasis (first wave) “understood as the ability of living organisms to maintain steady states when they are buffeted by fickle environments” (8)

“Machines can maintain homeostasis by using feedback loops” (8)

The feedback loop quickly leaned toward the idea of reflexivity.

Reflexivity- “is the movement where by that which has been used to generate a system is made, through a changed perspective, to become part of the system it generates.” (8)

Ex. MC Ecsher’s two hands drawing each other

“It confuses and entangles the boundaries we impose on the world in order to make sense of the world.” (8-9)

Reflexivity can include the observer of the machine when the feedback loop flows from the machine to the observer. 

Second Wave

“The observer of systems can himself be constituted as a system to be observed” (10), Von Foerster

These models were called “second-order” cybernetics.

However, autopoiesis says that systems are informationally closed.

Third Wave

“Computer programs are designed to allow “creatures” to evolve spontaneously.  The intent is to evolve the capacity to evolve.” (11)

Platonic backhand and forehand each move in opposite directions.

“The backhand goes from noisy multiplicity to reductive simplicity where as the forehand swings from simplicity to multiplicity”

“If we become the information we have constructed, we can achieve effective immortality” (13)

Seriation, Skeuomorphs, and Conceptual Constellation

“All material objects are interpenetrated by flows of information and DNA code.” (14)

“Information is information, not matter or energy.” (14)

seriation- three waves of conceptual changes shown in chart  on  p.16.  The graph shows the waves in relation to each other over time, and how they grow and die out.

Skeuomorph- an example of this is the fake stitching on a vinyl dashboard.

Homeostastis functioned as a skeuomorph in the second wave.

“The central event of the 20th century is the overthrow of matter.” (18)

Information Theory and Everyday Life

Claude Shannon defined a mathematical quantity he called information.  From this he was able to develop theories.

We experience information that undergoes material transformation daily when using ATMs and the internet. 

Virtual technologies-

Virtuality and Contemporary Literature

Hayles will be talking about literature of the time of changes in relation to the changes.

“The scientific texts often reveal, as scientific work cannot, the foundational assumptions that gave theoretical scope and artifactual efficacy to a particular approach.  The literary texts often reveal, as scientific cannot, the complex cultural, social, and representational issues tied up with conceptual shifts and technological innovations.” (24)


Do you think that it will ever be possible to change the medium of your information?  If so, do you think that the government would allow it?  Do you think that this is something many people would want to participate in?  Would you want to do this?  What is the point of changing mediums?  If you could exist forever would you?

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