The Nomadic Cyborg

I have conceptualized here the cyborg in Haraway-ian fashion, as hybrid of the human and the cybernetic, the machinic, the algorithmic.  I have suggested that these partners to the human have a kind of agency that left unexamined is likely to lead to humans misunderstanding their relationship with the machinic. I have let Prof Haraway speak for herself in cautioning against “the solace of human exceptionalism”.

Somehow this seems still a half measure.  Somehow the human almost always seems the senior partner in the hybridization.  The cell phone, the internet of coffee makers, cars, consumer artifacts of every description, the vast extractive enterprises leveling mountains for a few tons of gold, rare earth metals, copper, the semi-autonomous war machines, manufacturing complexes seem somehow, even with a rampant speculative turn here, augmentation.  That is augmentation to the vivid subjet-ivity of human consciousness which experiences each iteration of the machinc as individual, driving nothing from their networked existence, existing only as cell phone, coffee makers, extraction and manufacturing.

After all, these machines are of human creation, purposing.  Without humans they would, after varying lengths of time, just stop and become insensible ruins.  Many would cease functioning minutes, hours, days after an end to humans.  While some would continue for  years, this would be without human consciousness.  No ghosts would haunt these machines.

Some say humans have always been cyborgs, have always used tools, machines, information.  If so then these augmentations complete the human.  They are not augmentations at all.  Without machines then, humans would just as surely just stop as well, conceptually and functionally both, becoming  insensible biosphere-ic mass and energy.

The challenge perhaps is to think of the human and machinic as each necessary but each not sufficient to the existence and functioning of the cyborg.  The constant change and flux in the technological, in its individual components, in its variability of specific components, in its evolution, not on human time scale, but the machinic time scale of Moore’s law makes the machinic seem  Other to self reflective consciousness. At the same time the machinic’s integration with human giveness makes it seem integral to the vivid nowness of consciousness.

Rosi Braidotti has theorized something like this.  Her “nomadic thought” refers to the “symbiotic inter-dependence” with the appearance of a subject with its environment.

Conceptually, nomadic thought stresses the idea of embodiment and the embodied and  embedded material structure of what we commonly call thinking.  It is a materialism of the flesh that unifies mind and body in a new approach that blurs all boundaries. The embodiment of the mind and the embrainment of the body (Marks 1998) are a more apt formulation for nomadic thought than Cartesian or other forms of dualism.  Nomadic thought builds on the insights of psychoanalysis by stressing the dynamic and self organizing structure of thought processes. The space of nomadic thinking is framed by perceptions concepts and imaginings that cannot be reduced to rational human consciousness. In a vitalist materialistic way, nomadic thought invests all that lives, even inorganic matter, with the power of consciousness in the sense of self affectation.  Not only does consciousness not coincide with mere rationality, but it is not even the prerogative of humans.  This emphasis on affect and extended consciousness, however is not the same as Freudian unconsciousness.

Nomadic Theory: The Portable Rosi Braidotti

 

While I might quarrel with the usefulness of a vitalist, everything is alive, approach, I find the embodiment/embrainment merging quite useful.  Pointing out that consciousness is embodied has helped to undercut the mind/body dualism that plays out in all sort of idealizations.  Yet the directionality of this can suggest that consciousness still exists in some idealized form waiting to express itself in the body.  The embrainment of technology extends past the body to create an agency distinguishable from human agency in the machinic.

Embodiment suggests then a consciousness/agency network of limited scope. The human brain finds it expression, discharges its agency through the human body.  Embrainment suggests perhaps a larger scope, human agency extending to the inorganic components of the cyborg, in all their alien-ness followed by a counter movement of inorganic agency expressed through the human machine.

Consciousness then becomes an activity, not a state –  the activity of  embodied/embrained awareness through a cyborgscape without boundaries between the human and the machine.

Note: Just before finishing this post, Karen and I watched the third episode of the current season of House of Cards  which features Pussy Riot.  Then, this video of Don’t Cry Genocide plays during the final credits.  As it happens, Pussy Riot includes Rosi Braidotti as one of their important influences.  So while not directly relevant here, it seems fitting to feature the video, perhaps as an illustration of what the nomadic cyberscape looks and sounds like.

Cyborgs in Space

The Haraway-ian cyborg, the blending, overlapping, the hybridization of the human and the machine-ic, specifically the information, cybernetic, algorithmic machines that are not extensions of human capabilities but partners/competitors of the human, companion species like the wolf/dog our best friends and worst mythic nightmares, that cyborg, as a matter of course, creates not only the architecture/space of the snail’s shell, the open fire warmed architecture of the cave, the intentionalized architecture/space of the hut, tent, cabin, cathedral, and split level suburban house, that cyborg also creates the Code Space of data based architecture-alized information interacting with the cascading contextualization/de-contextualizations, the cascading structure/ruin makings, of cascading algorithms that create in turn, companion, non-Euclidean spaces of curved surfaces and intersecting parallel lines enabling the fractal formation of discontinuous voids and firewalls that simultaneously house and expose the cyborg.

Exploring a corner of this space, Levi Bryant posits an Absolute Architecture

We approach architecture functionally when we think it in terms of the uses to which it is to be put (dwelling, labor, educating, worship, etc).  We approach architecture operationally when we explore it as a pure experimentation with the void, detached from considerations of function. Machine-Oriented Architecture: Experiments in Absolute Architecture

The Code Space of the Cyborg is the hybridization of the de-functionalized void with function built into structures with database/algorithm processes.  In a previous post I began an exploration of these ideas.

The de-purposing of such spaces depends, as everything depends, on a/the defining point of view.  A completely de-purposed spaceistheonly completely ruined space.

Time and space do not easily cohabit.  The

 

mere passage of un-updated time opens discoherent voids between mediated space and the occupant.                    Is it loss or

inability, amnesia or aphasia, ghost or monster                       ?

observations on “post #74″

I look forward to Prof Bryant’s continued exploration of Absolute Architecture and seeing if/how it relates to my exploration of digital ruins.

The Geopoetic Cyborg

Taken as an invitation to geopoetry, the effort to rename the current geological epoch from Holocene to Anthopocene is also an invitation to speculate, to  forgo in Donna Haraway’s phrase, “the solace in human exceptionalism”.  In the space opened by such a turn, perhaps a glimmer of something else can form, perhaps as she suggests, an ethical reworlding.

 

When the geologist Harry Hess first published his theory of plate techonics in 1962, he called his article ,History of Ocean Basins,  “an essay in geopoetry” to promote something similar.  The theory then was revolutionary but the data did not yet exist to prove it. Here, an appeal to the poetic paid off.

 Andrew C.Revikin, writing in the NY Times, discusses the recent progress in the effort to officially replace the name of the current geologic epoch. While the International Commission of Stratigraphy moves at an appropriately geologic pace, its Anthropocene Working Group has concluded that not only is the renaming appropriate, they have identified when it began – July 16, 1945.

Trinity_Test_Fireball_16ms[1]

Trinity Test July 16, 1945 16ms after detonation

The proposal… is that the beginning of the Anthropocene could be considered to be drawn at the moment of detonation of the world’s first nuclear test: on July 16th 1945. The beginning of the nuclear age, it marks the historic turning point when humans first accessed an enormous new energy source – and is also a time level that can be effectively tracked within geological strata, using a variety of geological clues.

The intersection of the Nuclear Age and the Anthropocene is bound up with another technological development – the computer.

Undoubtedly without WWII and the Cold War inventive humans would have developed both nuclear weapons and the computer without a common purpose.  Their actual paths of creation however, intersect and intertwine.

The atomic bomb, the fission bomb, requires certainly a high degree of precision to design and fabricate.  The mathematics needed for the project however, did not require computers.

The hydrogen bomb, the fusion bomb, is a different matter.  President Truman’s decision to order a crash course to develop the H-bomb was in effect a crash course to develop the computer. The sheer volume of calculations needed to design it simply were beyond human scale.  This is the subject of Turing’s Cathedral by George Dyson

Donna Haraway found this common heritage important in the development of her conception of the cyborg.

The cyborg is a condensed image of both imagination and material reality, the two joined centres structuring any possibility of historical transformation….

The cyborg incarnation is outside salvation history….

In a sense, the cyborg has no origin story in the Western sense — a ‘final’ irony since the cyborg is also the awful apocalyptic telos of the ‘West’s’ escalating dominations of abstract individuation, an ultimate self untied at last from all dependency, a man in space….

The main trouble with cyborgs, of course, is that they are the illegitimate offspring of militarism and patriarchal capitalism…

Donna Haraway A Cyborg Manifesto

This Haraway-ian sense of “cyborg” is what I refer to here at Atomic Geography, rather than the literal sense of sci-fi and bio-hackers.  Not only do cell phones and self surveillance devices make us cyborgs, the resulting information driven environment, the dependence on massive extractive and fabrication industries do as well.  The way in which we produce our food, clothing and shelter all make us cyborgs.

I have argued here that “Anthropocene” is inadequate as a description of this state of affairs, that it does not capture the symbiosis of human and machine represented by the cyborg.  Instead I have used “Cyborgocene” to cover much of the same ground, but perhaps with a stronger geopoetic flourish.

Still, the continued progress of “Anthropocene” as an official designation is in itself is a significant development.  Not only does it claim that humans are largely responsible for the climate change currently underway, but that human activity is the defining feature of the earth’s surface.