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.

The Ghost in the Machine

The Ghost/Machine duality is the duality of Mind/Body.  It is part of a series of nesting/interlocking dualities such as Culture/Nature, Phenonomen/Noumenon, Normal/Disabled, Sacred/Profane, Inner/Outer, Object/Process, Rational/Irrational. Free Will/Determinism, Emergent/Embodied, Harmony/Catastrophe.  Following Haraway, it is worth noting that there are not any essential properties that unify the first elements together, or the second elements together.

How one codes these dualities is itself an attempt to impose the ground for all further categorizations.

These dualities represent an attempt to reconcile the problem of Whole and Parts.  How can things be Wholes and Parts at the same time?  Indeed, the surest route to undermining any philosophical project is to point out  the particular ways it does not resolve this issue.

The Ghost was never there, but the experience of awareness, so vivid, so raw, makes awareness seem like an out-of-body experience.  But this is a useful illusion at best, possibly just an epi-phenonomen of a certain stage of neural development.

This does not mean however, that the ghost in the machine is dead.  In the Cyborg we have another apparent duality Animal/Machine or Human/Machine.  We interact with Machines within the duality of Agent/Tool.  The machines are merely, in this line of thought, extensions of our own vivid agency.

But not only are we merged with machines in our daily lives, in our effects on the planet, we could just as well see ourselves as living within machine-ness, our actions, the reproductive organs of the machines, our logic, the (for now) operating systems, our ideologies, the software.

High-tech culture challenges these dualisms in intriguing ways. It is not clear who makes and who is made in the relation between human and machine. It is not clear what is mind and what body in machines that resolve into coding practices. In so far as we know ourselves in both formal discourse (for example, biology) and in daily practice (for example, the homework economy in the integrated circuit), we find ourselves to be cyborgs, hybrids, mosaics, chimeras. Biological organisms have become biotic systems, communications devices like others. There is no fundamental, ontological separation in our formal knowledge of machine and organism, of technical and organic.

The machine is not an it to be animated, worshipped, and dominated. The machine is us, our processes, an aspect of our embodiment. We can be responsible for machines; they do not dominate or threaten us. We are responsible for boundaries; we are they.  Donna Haraway – Cyborg Manifesto

It is time to recognize there are no boundaries between the human and the machine.  Ecology focussing on Humanity’s effect on the planet will ignore our merging with Machines, will be another act of domination.

At first, calling this time the Anthropocene, can almost give us an experience of the uncanny looking in the mirror.  But left alone, it too posits a Ghost in the Machine.  It is time to recognize this is the Cyborgocene, at least until that too becomes a source of comfort.


Cyborgs are always broken. This is a Cyborg’s third mark of existence.

All beings do not have an independently existing self.  All phenomena, living or not, exist because causes and conditions support their existence.  When these causes and conditions cease, the being or phenomena ceases as well.

A Cyborg’s non self is the same as any other being’s.  But the Cyborg experiences this as Brokenness.

The animal part of a Cyborg think it’s in control, that the machine parts are only tools, devices, information waiting for an upgrade that will fix the machines’ current limitations.  At the same time, the machine part wonders why the animal part never seems to get an upgrade, in fact, only seems to deteriorate.

Yet the parts experience phenomena only through their overlap, each experiencing itself as a whole and their other part as a temprorary collection.