The Negated Cyborg

While emptiness’ object of negation is inherent existence, the mere idea of it does little to move one along the Buddhist path.  Traditionally, the process to develop one’s experiential understanding starts with distinguishing two kinds of objects: the self and phenomena.  Of course the self is a phenomenon, but it is one that we are likely to be especially attached to.

Most people experience the phenomenon of the self as inherently existing more vividly than any other.  Even the most ardent deconstructionist or social constructionist, when push comes to shove is likely to exhibit behavior indicating she experiences his self as inherently existing.

Indeed, mapping one’s responses to different negative and positive situations would provide a kind of geography of the self imputed as truly and inherently existent.  The Fifth Dalai Lama wrote an account of this that I find especially compelling.

A tight, firm mind thinking “I” exists in our mental continuums on all occasions of sleep and waking.  However, like a mirror and an image of your face,… when you encounter conditions of happiness and suffering, the mind [misconceiving “I”] manifests very strongly, but on occasions when such conditions are not encountered it is a little unclear…

Therefore, you need a clear notion of pleasure or pain that someone else actually caused you.  If not [occurring now], you should recall a former occurrence of such to the point where it appears clearly to you mind.  For example, if someone [falsely] accused of being a theif…you could have strong hated for this person….At that time, this “I” which is the object of the accusation of theft and which is held tightly and firmly in the center of the heart, seems even as if it can be seen with the eye and grasped with the hand.

Similarly, if another person caused you to achieve a desired aim and you reflect that such and such help was rendered, the “I” that is the object helped appears vibrantly from the center of the heart.  In reliance on you cultivating either of these two modes, the manifest mind thinking “I” causes other coarse thoughts to become dormant.  You should allow the consciousness innately conceiving “I” to increase in strength, then analyze the way the mind conceives the “I”.  – Fifth Dalai Lama [1]

For the cyborg, this meditation could be expanded to include the artifacts of technology that she has aggregated into his experience of self.  For instance, many people might experience the theft or malicious destruction of their cell phone as an assault.  Some may relate to the field of information their communication technology produces as a part of their inherently existing self.  So the cyborg may experience data mining and the Boundless Informant program as a personal assault as well.

Indeed this negated inherently existing cyborg is one of the best proofs of the existence of the contingent, functional cyborg.

[1] Fifth Dalai Lama, Sacred Word of Manjushri. Tanslated by Jeffrey Hopkins, Practice of Emptiness. quoted from Jeffrey Hopkins Tantra Techniques

Related post: Negating Emptiness

Digitism Part 3 (Composition: Analog and Digital)

Mapping an object with precision, requires eventually, an infinite modeling of the object that is indistinguishable from the basis of designation “object” or an abstraction traveling at the speed of light stopping time. The Borges short story, (although it represents itself as non-fiction) On Exactitude in Science, seems to me the analog pole of this.  I have written before.about Haraway’s phrase “copies without originals” which points to the digital pole.

So why distinguish the analog from the digital?  They both are composed of energy and matter. They can both be thought of as encoding and decoding information.  In a Borgesian universe, anything possible digitally is possible in analog form.

While any one digital thing, and even several, or many digital things are possible in analog form, the digital world we have today is not.  More precisely, and as Haraway points out, it is micro-electronics that make the digital world possible.  Compared to the analog, the micro-electronics/digital enables orders of magnitude more information malleable.

Focus on personal digital communication devices as a mark of the digital is common, but these devices and their functons are only the most visible pixel of the digitized world.  What this focus represents though is an aggregation of de-analogized information into an individual’s experience of interiority.  But this aggregation creates for many an experience of discomfort, of the uncanny.

I think this is why many experience digitized experience as less real than analog experience.  “Less real” is an attempt at naming the feeling of uncanniness the digital can evoke.

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.

All Pervasive Queerness

The Cyborg Queers the Human body.  By locating so much information, so much experience and knowledge outside the body, the boundaries between Human and Machine, Human and Animal, Male and Female, Inner and Outer become permeable, then fluctuating and then break down.

The continual flow of new data continuously reconfigures the categories of a Cyborg’s identity.

These mutating categories fly into Hertzian space in all directions at the speed of light, infinitely.

Humans try to incorporate the idea of continuity into that of identity – a collection of all the moments of awareness that arise from any particular moment of awareness.  But Cyborg identity, riding through space defined by the electro-magnetic, stops time. The Cyborg is everywhere and nowhere.

Humans experience the Queerness of Queerness, the blurring of boundaries and categories.  Cyborgs experience All Pervasive Queerness, the indeterminateness of information itself.  This is the second mark of Cyborg existence.

Sky Burial

For about a month in the spring and fall, large numbers of turkey vultures migrate through this area.   They are the biggest bird one is likely to see around here. Adult wingspans vary between 5 and 6 feet.

While they are here, I frequently see groups of 20 – 25 circling, trying to catch an updraft, sometimes barely above the treetops, sometimes swooping within a few feet of our second story bedroom  window.  This morning a group of about 15 were perched near the tops our neighbor’s Norway Spruces, about 100 feet up, sunning their wings in the classic vulture pose.

In Tibet, the traditional funerary method is sky burial.  Preparation of the body can vary from none to elaborate.  In any case, at some point, it is left for the animals, mainly vultures to eat.

To be done properly, a sky burial requires an information and social infrastructure that just doesn’t exist here.  But for a month or so every six months the vultures are here, ready, just in case.

Not Knowing

The first mark of Cyborg existence is Not Knowing. The merging of animal and machine makes the cyborg possible, but it is information that defines it.  Not Knowing covers a spectrum from unsatisfying to painful to hellish torment. There is the Not Knowing of Not Knowing.  Where are my keys?  Will the MRI show a brain tumor?  Might someone Unfriend me today? There is the Not Knowing resulting from change.  The Cyborg knows so much, so many archives, a vast cloud of Information.  But out of datedness, new knowledge, shifting paradigms, corrupted files, call it all into question. Whatever the Cyborg knows, she knows there’s more information, that it’s not enough.  This pervasive Not Knowing is like the hum of a laptop’s fan.  He thinks it can’t function without it, knowing that new information will prove her wrong.