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University of Chicago Press
How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics / Edition 74

How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics / Edition 74

by N. Katherine Hayles, Katherine Hayles
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In this age of DNA computers and artificial intelligence, information is becoming disembodied even as the "bodies" that once carried it vanish into virtuality. While some marvel at these changes, envisioning consciousness downloaded into a computer or humans "beamed" Star Trek-style, others view them with horror, seeing monsters brooding in the machines. In How We Became Posthuman, N. Katherine Hayles separates hype from fact, investigating the fate of embodiment in an information age.

Hayles relates three interwoven stories: how information lost its body, that is, how it came to be conceptualized as an entity separate from the material forms that carry it; the cultural and technological construction of the cyborg; and the dismantling of the liberal humanist "subject" in cybernetic discourse, along with the emergence of the "posthuman."

Ranging widely across the history of technology, cultural studies, and literary criticism, Hayles shows what had to be erased, forgotten, and elided to conceive of information as a disembodied entity. Thus she moves from the post-World War II Macy Conferences on cybernetics to the 1952 novel Limbo by cybernetics aficionado Bernard Wolfe; from the concept of self-making to Philip K. Dick's literary explorations of hallucination and reality; and from artificial life to postmodern novels exploring the implications of seeing humans as cybernetic systems.

Although becoming posthuman can be nightmarish, Hayles shows how it can also be liberating. From the birth of cybernetics to artificial life, How We Became Posthuman provides an indispensable account of how we arrived in our virtual age, and of where we might go from here.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780226321462
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 02/15/1999
Edition description: 1
Pages: 364
Sales rank: 664,762
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

N. Katherine Hayles is a postmodern literary critic and the James B. Duke Professor of Literature at Duke University.

Table of Contents

1. Toward Embodied Virtuality
2. Virtual Bodies and Flickering Signifiers
3. Contesting for the Body of Information: The Macy Conferences on Cybernetics
4. Liberal Subjectivity Imperiled: Norbert Wiener and Cybernetic Anxiety
5. From Hyphen to Splice: Cybernetics Syntax in Limbo
6. The Second Wave of Cybernetics: From Reflexivity to Self-Organization
7. Turning Reality Inside Out and Right Side Out: Boundary Work in the Mid-Sixties Novels of Philip K. Dick
8. The Materiality of Informatics
9. Narratives of Artificial Life
10. The Semiotics of Virtuality: Mapping the Posthuman
11. Conclusion: What Does It Mean to Be Posthuman?

What People are Saying About This

Gregory Benford

An incisive meditation on a major, often misunderstood aspect of the avant-garde in science fiction; the machine/human interface in all its unsettling, technicolor glories...I recommend it highly.
— (Gregory Benford, author of Timescape

Donna J. Haraway

Hayles shows us 'how information lost its body' in order that we might better know how to keep disembodiment from being written once again into dominant concepts of subjectivity. How We Became Posthuman is a powerful prophylactic against our most likely alien abduction scenario—to be raptured out of the bodies that matter in the lust for information.

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How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
veevoxvoom on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
N Katherine Hayles is one of the most prominent scholars of cybernetics and the cultural theory of cyborgism. Her thesis in this book is that although in our modern age, there is an increasing move in cybernetics to regarding information and human subjectivity as bodiless, in fact, to be posthuman means to be embodied, only in a different way. Hayles discusses her theory while covering the history of the three waves of the cybernetics as well as using literary examples (she has degrees in both chemistry and English).I read this book in order to supplement an essay I was writing on William Gibson's Neuromancer. But although I read How We Became Posthuman for school and not for fun, I enjoyed it. Hayles raises a lot of interesting ideas about the relation between human and machine, and while I'm not sure I agree with all of them, her opinions are intelligent nonetheless. I particularly enjoyed the foray into literature and science-fiction. But I have to add that this is a highly academic book. I couldn't imagine a casual reader picking it up and enjoying it.
zacchia on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"How we became posthuman" interprets the concepts and definitions of posthuman amist the evolution of technologies and their correlation to literature and society .Spanning a period between the 40th and the 90th the author traces a path among the different visions and works that scientists and science fictions writers had about humans and human-like machines that technologist were building or hoping to build. She also explore the desire of scientist to build human like machine and at the same time the fear of having machines that will take over the humans.The book is very hard to read. It is written in the style that a literary critic would use, as the author is. Not a book that popularize science, but a book beefed up with critical literary comparisons among different works, plays of words, sentences built to have double meaning, and constructions that tend more to art form and complacency than to clear exposition.The author identifies three different main periods or concepts:1- Homeostatsis or feedback loop, where system are defined by their workings that tend to an equilibrium with their inside and the environment.2-Reflexivity, autopoiesis, where the main issue is if the observer is outside the system to study or is part of the system.3-Virtuality, Emergent behavior, Artificial life, where the system is composed of many parts and the system overall behaviour is the result of the complex interrelation of the parts, of their emergent properties/behavior.Main themes of the book are embodiment, in particular information embodiment, the border of the human body, and the concept of the liberal humanist. These themes are explored in the three different periods, and the contrasting views scientistists had of them even inside the same period.How information lost its body and when is peraphs the main discussed theme. Her thesis is that the information must be embodied.Across all book she describes at lenght the different positions, criticing them, but only in the last couple of pages she presents her solution to the problem: distributed cognition. She just write it there without any introduction or critic, simply as the solution to most of the problems she presented in the book.