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 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.

More Copies Without Originals

Two posts I ran across reminded me of my Copies Without Originals post from last month.  While I mainly concerned myself with “social architecture” the terrific BLDBLOG found copies without originals emanating from the relationship between some of the oldest built architecture on earth and an epic exercise in digital reproduction.

On the 90th anniversary of the discovery of King Tut’s tomb, an “authorized facsimile of the burial chamber” has been created, complete “with sarcophagus, sarcophagus lid and the missing fragment from the south wall.”

The resulting duplicate, created with the help of high-res cameras and lasers, is “an exact facsimile of the burial chamber,” one that is now “being sent to Cairo by The Ministry of Tourism of Egypt.”

….As such, given enough time, a huge budget, and lots of interns, we could perhaps expect to see a series of these “exact” copies gradually diverge more and more—a detail here, a detail there—from the original reference space, a chain of inexact repetitions and flawed surrogates that eventually come to define their own architecture, with, we can imagine, no recognizable original in sight.

Back-Up Tut and Other Decoy Spatial Antiquities

Meanwhile, over at the consistently thought-provoking  Cyborgology, Tyger A.C. developed, in more detail, a theme similar to my own CWO.

The paleo machinic world is in its experimentation stage, probing it boundaries, surveying the landscape of the infoverse, mapping the hyperconnected situation, charting a trajectory for its own evolution, all this unconsciously.

We, the biological part of the machine, are providing the tools for its uplift, we embed cameras everywhere so it can see, we implant sensors all over the planet so it may feel, but above all we nudge and we push towards a greater connectivity, all this unaware.

Together we form a weird cohabitation of biomechanical, electro-organic, planetary OS that is changing its environment, no more human, not machinic, but a combined interactive intelligence, that journey on, oblivious to its past, blind to its future, irreverent to the moment of its conception, already lost to its parenthood agreement.

Becoming a Cyborg should be taken gently: Of Modern Bio-Paleo-Machines

Check out copies of both posts.  Regrettably, there are no originals.

Copies Without Originals


But these excursions into communications sciences and biology have been at a rarefied level; there is a mundane, largely economic reality to support my claim that these sciences and technologies indicate fundamental transformations in the structure of the world for us. Communications technologies depend on electronics. Modern states, multinational corporations, military power, welfare state apparatuses, satellite systems, political processes, fabrication of our imaginations, labour-control systems, medical constructions of our bodies, commercial pornography, the international division of labour, and religious evangelism depend intimately upon electronics. Micro-electronics is the technical basis of simulacra; that is, of copies without originals.

Donna Haraway “A Cyborg Manifesto

That phrase “copies without originals” has wound in and out of  my thoughts for months, counterpoint to an increasing awareness of “authenticity” as a pervasive anxiety of our culture,  digital culture, that is not just on-line, but the whole apparatus of constructed social architecture that now presents itself as given.

The digital is now part not only of human culture, transforming it into cyborg culture, but also a part of the ecology of the earth, just as the movement of air in wind, or water in currents is.  The movement of digital information is as well, transforming the earth’s ecology into a cyborg ecology, the earth era of the Cyborgocene.

So “copies without originals”, the digitized wind, the digitized ocean currents, the digitized geologic flow of rock, the digitized cyborg experience, the same as the undigitized, but not the same, because the cyborg’s measurement of the thatness of say a tree produces a simulacra of interiority residing not only in firing neurons, but also in microelectronics, the two together in an awareness, dependent on each other, but unaware of each, like the conscious and sub-conscious, except for those moments, surreal and uncanny, that leave us gasping for something we can label as reality.