Posts Tagged ‘ reality ’

Hayles and the Erasure of Embodiment

In the prologue to How We Became Posthuman, Hayles proposes two different definitions of intelligence: 1) “a property of the formal manipulation of symbols”, and 2) “enaction in the human lifeworld”, that is “embodied reality”.  The first, ‘disembodied’ version of intelligence, she suggests, occurs in Turing’s imitation game as described in “Computer Machinery and Intelligence”, identifying that seminal paper as the historical moment in which intelligence—and information—is separated from the body.  Historically, Turing’s paper is positioned at the forefront of the first wave of cybernetics, which inspired Claude Shannon’s theory of communication and the notion of information as something that can be codified and transmitted from and through one body to another, as “an entity distinct from” the physical media that carried it.  Based on her argument one would infer that, before Turing, intelligence and information were embodied.  Only definition #2 applied pre-Turing.  However, Humanism and Modernism as we’ve seen them discussed both contributed to the definition of information and intelligence—at least in the way both concepts help define us as ‘human’ and ‘modern’—as separate from material reality, predating Turing’s imitation game.

I would propose that this disembodiment takes place with Burkhardt’s historiography of the Renaissance (Davies, 16-17) and the creation of “the myth of essential and universal Man” (24):

Above all, Burkhardt’s Renaissance was the epoch of the individual.  …the concept, the central one in his understanding of the period, denotes not just those heroice or demonic uomini universali, the gifted brutal Sforzas, Borgias and Medicis who haunt the popular histories of the period, but the development of a universal capacity to think of yourself, in a fundamental way, as a free and unique being: not as Florentine or Marseillais or a sailor or a Roman Catholic or somebody’s daughter or grandson, important though all those affiliations might be, but as a free-standing, self-determining person with an identity and a name that is not simply a marker of family or ‘occupation’, but is ‘proper’… (16-17)

I’m also sure that each one of us could think of at least one other example in the history of Humanism or Modernism (or elsewhen/where) that could account for the disembodiment of intelligence/information.

Hayles even contradicts her own construction in chapter 1 by acknowledging that the “erasure of embodiment” is common to both Humanism and Posthumanism, that the humanist ideal presupposes that you possess your body but are more than just the sum of your parts (4).  Whatever part of you that makes you “you”, that is, an individual, lies beyond the material realm; and you share this ephemeral quality—let’s call it ‘identity’, or ‘self’—with all other humans.

Here’s a thought: the capacity for identity implies ‘intelligence’, in the way Hayles uses it (which I’d suggest is subtly yet distinctly different than the way Turing uses it).  For Hayles, does the reverse also follow?  That is, does intelligence imply ‘identity’?

Does the probability that the “erasure of embodiment” is not localized in the historical moment of the birth of cybernetics (but possibly in the historical construction of humanism and modernism!) invalidate her premise that intelligence should be embodied?  Is Hayles’ desire to re-insert intelligence and information in the body justified, or are Moravec’s mind children not only plausible but represent the natural (if I can use such a word) evolution of the human into the posthuman?  Another way of phrasing this question would be to ask: do you agree with Kurzweil, the transhumanists* and the notion of the Singularity, or not?  If yes, how does this change how Hayles defines the posthuman?

*as an aside, we’ve talked a lot about antihumanism, humanism, posthumanism (not to mention (premoderns, moderns, postmoderns, nonmoderns and cyborgs)… but we really haven’t said a lot about transhumanism.  What’s the deal with that, Harvey?

Affordances and the Reality of Perception

HuCo 500 – Weekly questions

An affordance, it is said, points two ways, to the environment and to the observer.  …It says only that the information to specify the utilities of the environment is accompanied by information to specify the observer himself, his body, legs, hands, and mouth.  This is wholly inconsistent with dualism of any form…  The awareness of the world and of one’s complementary relations to the world are not separable.(Gibson, 141)

Maybe I am misunderstanding Gibson’s point, but the claim that the theory of affordances dispels the notion of dualism of any kind seems to be quite a leap, making assumptions about what reality and perception are.  How do you separate subjective sense-making (i.e. perception of one’s environment/reality) from objective fact (what Gibson calls “invariants”)?  It is certainly true that the affordances of an object as evaluated by a biped, for instance, will be different than those evaluated by a quadruped, and that either evaluation says something about the evaluator (i.e. that they are a two-legged or a four-legged).  That doesn’t mean that the act of evaluating—the interpretive or perceptive act—is not subject to the context and experience of the ego.  Gibson makes allowances for “misinformation” and “misperception” (142); I’m not sure how he can reconcile this allowance with his claim that there can be no mind-body/abstract-concrete/mental-physical dualism.    

Is there still such a large gap in the affordances of paper compared to computers, as Gaver describes (115-117)?  Do computers today offer all the same affordances of paper?  Is there anything that paper affords that computers/cell phones/electronic devices today do not?

Readings:

Gaver, William W. “Situating Action II: Affordances for Interaction: The Social Is Material for Design.” Ecological Psychology 8(2), 1996. 111-129

Gibson, J.J. “The Theory of Affordances.” The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1986.

“Born Digital” Experiences: Identity crisis waiting to happen?

HuCo 500 – Weekly questions

Questions:

Note: Rather than two separate questions, this week I’ve come up with a series of related questions addressing a single idea inspired by one of the readings. These questions take the form of a short, personal response.

As our lives and experiences become more digital, the records of our experiences become less tangible. (Viegas et al, 2004)

Is this statement true? It seems to me when considering the digital/analog dichotomy, the ‘record of our experiences’ has in fact become more explicit with the advent of the Internet. Social media applications such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter allow us to track our lives in the most minute detail; blogging, microblogging, “lifestreams”, these all provide ways for us to record and trace our experiences over time. Social networks (Facebook, MySpace) allow us to track the relationships that we maintain and the patterns that they represent in our lives. If anything, the ‘record of our experiences’ has become more tangible, not less. The question is rather how accurate a representation of our experiences is the record? Our digital record naturally biases our “born digital” experiences (to borrow a term from last week’s readings); the Internet is a space in which we spend a significant portion of our lives and where we have experiences (rather than simply being a medium with which to record them). For example, the relationships we make within a massively multiplayer online game (MMO) may be more heavily recorded online than relationships we have in our “analog” lives. Does that make them more or less real? More or less important?

The argument presented by Viegas et al. suggests that there are digital experiences that are obscured from the record; but how is this different than “analog” experiences (i.e. the experiences that occur outside the digital space)? There are many things that we do that do not require, demand, or deserve to be recorded. I can’t remember, for instance, what I had for breakfast three weeks ago last Monday. In this sense, the record has not become more or less tangible; it is, perhaps, less relevant. Perhaps the problem is how we make sense of the massive amount of information we create in the digital space. We need to translate the digital record of our experiences into something we can interpret more easily– into something “analog”. Visualization is one of the tools that allow us to do this. In essence, visualization is translation of digital media.

Viegas et al. indicate that we attach personal meaning to objects, that these objects are tied to our senses of self and reality, of what is and who we are. The fact that they are examining email as one such object indicates that these objects can just as easily be virtual as physical. As our lives become more digital, so will the objects we imbue with meaning. What will this mean for us and how we construct our realities?

Readings:

Viegas, Fernanda, danah boyd, David H. Nguyen, Jeffrey Potter, and Judith Donath (2004). Digital Artifacts for Remembering and Storytelling: PostHistory and SocialNetworkFragments. Proceedings of the 37th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences.

Arya, Agustin (2003). The Hidden Side of Visualization. Techné: Research in Philosophy and Technology. Winter 2003.

Visualizing Cultural Analytics

HuCo 500 – Weekly questions

 

How would you begin to establish a taxonomy, as Manovich suggests (“Cultural Analytics for Beginners”), for the different types of digital content for analysing culture?  Is this enough?

 

Manovich claims that we have to turn “culture” into “data” (this is, based on these readings, the basis of ‘Cultural Analytics’).  He goes on to define “culture” as “beliefs, ideologies, fashions, and other non-physical properties.” (“Visualizing Temporal Patterns in Visual Media”)  What sort of data can one derive from such artefacts?  More importantly, how does one make sense of the data?  What is meaningful?

 

Readings:

Manovich, Lev. “Cultural Analytics for Beginners.” 2009.

Manovich, Lev and Jeremy Douglass. “Visualizing Temporal Patterns in Visual Media.” 2009.

‘New York’ Talks Twitter

Biz Stone and Evan WilliamsThis article in New York Magazine is worth a read, whether you’re a Twitter devotee, or a microblogging cynic (as a former member of the latter and a current member of the former, I can say it presents a pretty balanced picture of what Twitter is all about.) Thanks to mastermaq for tweeting it.

New York | How Tweet It Is

… From Twitter’s initial public debut as the best way to find the parties at South by Southwest in 2007, we’ve gone from hackers taking over Barack Obama’s and Britney Spears’s feeds to Republican operatives spending their post-election-malaise retreat bragging about who had more followers, to the Mumbai attacks, when users trapped in the Oberoi Hotel were transmitting messages that chronicled the ongoing madness. Twitter executives are proud of the Mumbai aftermath; Forbes called it “Twitter’s moment,” and Stone’s face lights up when it’s mentioned. “Twitter is not about the triumph of technology,” Stone says. “It’s about the triumph of the human spirit.”

I posted about Twitterers taking advantage of Twitter to communicate during the T.O. blackout a couple weeks ago. It’s a minor example compared to Mumbai, or the most recent unrest in Gaza (which has also developed a vast community of Twitterers). But for something less than two years old, and such a basic premise as fostering a culture of sharing in bite-sized bits that fit in a single text message, it’s surprising the kind of impact it has had so far, and continues to have. There’s a lot of people who study these forms of social media that look at Twitter and see something that should have been obvious– to the point of being mundane– revealed to be the next big evolution in how to interpret and disseminate information.

The reporter, Will Leitch, goes on to talk about how a Twitterer named Krums was the first to witness the crash of US Airways Fligh 1549 as it happened, and how Twitter became ground-zero for that particularly news item even as the New York Times and other news agencies scrambled to cover the story. Krums got a shot of the plane crash and his first thought was to share it on Twitter. And interestingly enough, as Leitch later discovers, Twitter didn’t even notice a spike in traffic.

“That’s only for huge shared experiences, like the inauguration, or Mumbai.” Twitter had unleashed something … and its executives were completely unaware, as its system worked on its own, without them.

Robot Visions – Someday

I have a new favorite robot story. Read it yesterday morning on the bus ride home. It’s called “Someday”, and can be found in Asimov’s collection Robot Visions. “Someday” is an incisive, almost frighteningly prophetic account of a future in which we as a species are on the path to becoming wholly dependent on machines, and are happily ignorant to the consequences.

[warning: you may want to read the story before continuing, lest I ruin it for you.]

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Literary Computing

Last spring I took a course called “Literary Computing”. I remember my first class, which was actually the second class for the course as I’d been away for the first several days of term. Dr. Mo, the instructor, launched immediately into the question that would pervade our research for the rest of our semester: what is literary computing?

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