Posthumanism, Cyborgs + Interconnected Bodies

Post-humanism, Cyborgs + Interconnected Bodies
A505 Interconnected + Technologically Enhanced Seminar

The post-human by definition is a “speculative being that represents or seeks to enact a re-writing of what is generally conceived of as human, where human nature becomes a universal state from which the human being emerges; human nature is autonomous, rational, capable of free will, and unified in itself as the apex of existence. The post-human, for critical theorists of the subject, has an emergent ontology rather than a stable one; in other words, the post-human is not a singular, defined individual, but rather who can “become” or embody different identities and understand the world from multiple, heterogeneous perspectives.” (Nichols)

Transhumanism looks at Posthumanism through a slightly more technological discourse, where technologies are seen to evolve along with the human and cannot be separated from our evolution as they have become a part of defining being human; often associated with cyborgs, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as creature of fiction.” (Haraway) According to transhumanist theologians, a Posthuman is a hypothetical future being “whose basic capacities so radically exceed those of present humans as to be no longer unambiguously human by our current standards.” (Dougal) This definition, however, becomes less clear as the bar for what is considered “human” is constantly shifting and we may never therefore feel other than ourselves being human, but this does fulfill the claim to some posthumanist theorists that we are in fact already in a state of posthumanity where our current state is different from previous generations of human ancestors.

In describing the Posthuman habitat we must first look at what it means to be Posthuman and the coevolution of humans with technology. I’m sure that most people when I say Posthuman, or cyborg, thinks of Arnold Schwarzenegger as Terminator—or perhaps Robin Williams as Bicentennial Man. But what about someone using a cell phone? Or a person writing on paper with a pencil? Or checking the time? Some psychologists, anthropologists, and other Posthuman theorists would claim that by these examples we are in fact already cyborgs and have been since our biological neural processes began to be offloaded onto non-biological props and aids, what Andy Clark [a psychologist from Washington University] calls scaffolds (Andy Clark). “Scaffolding may include assistance with planning, organizing, doing and/or reflecting on the specific task. Such assistance is best made available in a timely manner matched to the learning needs and interests of the learner.” (Clark)

As seen with these technologies, however, they need not be skin-deep, for what is special about the human brain is its “ability to enter into deep and complex relationships with non-biological constructs, props, and aids” (Clark). This ability does not depend on physical wire-and-implant-mergers; such mergers may be consummated without the intrusion of silicon and wire into flesh and blood. What matters is not the physical merger between flesh and machine (our traditional image of the cyborg), but the ubiquitous and invisible connection between mental processes which are offloaded onto non-biological scaffolds. Tools and technologies become extensions of our brains through ubiquitous feedback between the two. For example, the wristwatch; you may often be asked if you know the time, to which the typical response is “yes”, however, you probably do not actually know the time, but rather you look at a technological gadget which tells you the time—yet you still claim that you in fact know the time. Thus, the wristwatch becomes a scaffolding system where information is retained on a peripheral device accessible by ubiquitous mental awareness. Similar is the act of writing using pen and paper which reveals another instance where our brain is offloading mental tasks through pen and paper which could not otherwise be solves without assistance. For most of us, to solve complex mathematical equations, or even long division, we write down the steps to store and formulate the answer—an answer which could probably not have been found otherwise without the use of the scaffolding systems to accompany the mental processes occurring. The brain is not necessarily good at performing these sorts of tasks, but our computational tools are, so it uses these non-biological scaffolds to break down and offload the tasks which we are not so good at. “It is expert at recognizing patterns, at perception, and at controlling physical actions, but it is not so well designed for complex planning and long, intricate, derivations of consequences” (Clark) In other words we may only be as capable at some activities as our ability to offload these mental tasks to periphery devices, thus showing that we have a greater connection to our technologies than previously imagined. Tools which become ubiquitous, where processes can fluidly exchange from scaffold to neural processes are those which we see fully taking over human culture; watches, cell phones, writing, etc.; where this interconnectedness between technology and mental processes are spreading out into every day objects and environments.

So with our understanding of the cyborg moving away from bodily appendages of industrial technologies to a new perception of what a cyborg is, one that sees technologies evolution with humanity, where the way we interact with technologies isn’t only through their depth within the body, but rather the ubiquitous connections between tools and neural functions, where offloading processes onto these non-biological props becomes essential to our being human. This concept of cyborg sees us not as separate entities, man or machine, but rather the interconnectedness between these entities—the relationship between systems becomes important. Posthumanity becomes interconnected, as brain and body begin to be viewed as an interconnected system (conversely to humanism which sees our body as a shell for the mind; i.e. two separate systems, polarities of mind and body); an assemblage of multiple parts. The human is no longer a unique being (a totality), but rather part of the interconnected network of living species and of the geological cycle of matter (an assemblage theory).

So why is this important for architecture? Like our image of the body moving away from the body as a shell for the mind and into an interconnected relationship, our architecture is becoming less viewed as a shell which encapsulates a body toward one that is part of a system interconnected with the body and ecology.

The topics which are currently being discussed within architecture today and in this class on responsive systems, interactive technologies, smart materials, augmented atmospheres, artificial environments and embedded technologies become part of the Posthuman context—where these environments become part of the interconnected relationship created between the human, ecology and the habitat [architecture]—the architecture becomes a scaffolding system of organization, planning, and reflecting on specific tasks. In Posthuman context; biology, ecologies, and atmospheres come into play as they become another interconnected system which can be connected to the human body and subsequent habitat. Architecture becomes a translator of information, a user interface, where mental and physiological processes become interconnected with the environment.

Currently our architecture, like our vision of the cyborg, is seen as a separate entity from our bodies—it is the machine, we are the separated body. Similar dualities such as these separations and polarities filter through our culture toward our spatial definitions and relationships within our habitat. Within a Posthuman context dualities such are these are not seen, and architecture, technology and ecologies become an extension of the mind and body. Responsive feedback systems, artificial environments, and augmented atmospheres begins to represent the level of interconnected systems surrounding Posthuman theory, and may prelude to a time when architecture is seen as a scaffolding system, where like the MIT Media house the architecture becomes the computer and is able to process and relay information in multiple. These environments may interact with the human through neural physiological connections which mentally link humans to their habitat. New waves of user-sensitive technologies will bring this age-old process of user-tools to a climax when our mind and identities become ever more deeply enmeshed in a non-biological matrix of machines, tools, props, codes, and semi-intelligent daily objects.

Already we see technologies which are becoming more ubiquitously connected to our mental processes where cell phones contain hundreds or thousands of scaffolding systems for our brains to offload and perform complex tasks. Technologies and relationships such as these will continue to evolve and exert influence over the future of our habitat. These technologies are becoming more biological as we peer ever deeper at scales of matter, manipulating these systems at the nano and atomic scales. This influence of biology into technology further shows the human evolving toward a more interconnected relationship with technology, where now technology and biology are becoming interwoven—the beginnings to a time when neither may be able to be separated. In a Posthuman existence this is not a mimicking of biological form or even systems, but rather a recreation of the biological systems—an augmentation of the biological nature towards our own visions and functions; a fourth nature. It is believed the Posthuman will seek continual improvement, improving upon natures “mindless” design, where individuals seek morphological freedom in shaping fundamentally better futures. This goes for the body as well as the subsequent habitat.

Our relationship to technology becomes critical in understanding our future habitat and our place within it. With architecture being clearly defined by our technology, as it evolves and changes so too will its influence over our ideologies and habitat. As our technology advances it allows us to see biological systems which remained unbeknownst to us, and as a consequence has began to seep into both our cultural society and technologies—which will further propel our discoveries in biological systems. As our culture becomes more interconnected to both biological systems and non-biological tools, so too will the human habitat as well as the culture surrounding it.

In the Posthuman era, the human habitat becomes both a physical and mental integration between that which is biological and that which is technological. Architecture becomes not a creation of a utopia or dystopia, but of perpetual “progress”-an extropia-a never ending movement toward the ever-distant goal of extropia. Architecture becomes an extension of human cognition as our mental processes are offloaded onto semi-intelligent non-biological props toward the manipulation of the environment around us-a physical interface through which we view and interact with our ecology. These technological progressions carry significant consequences for the creation of space and matter, as objects become semi-intelligent and we are able to interact with materials and objects through mental and physiological feedback loops.

1. Bailey, Jon. Biophilia + Technophilia: Project Manual. Digital Mania Thesis Seminar. 2010.

2. Clark, Andy. Natural-Born Cyborgs. 2001

3. Haraway, Donna. A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century. 1976

4. Wolfe, Cary. What is Posthumanism? Lost The Building. 2010.

5. Kelly, Kevin. Out of Control.

6. Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. 2010

7. Nichols, Steve. The Posthuman Manifesto. 1988.

8. Dixon, Dougal. Man After Man: An Anthropology of the Future. 1990.

9. AD, Neoplasmatic. 2009

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Categories: Academia, Theory

Author:jonbailey

studying: architecture design

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