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.
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.