The Cyborg: More Humanist than Human

Painting by Fred Freedman, LIFE 11 July 1960.

Over at Cyberneticzoo, Reuben Hoggett has posted some great images and articles about the cyborg as it was conceived in the early 1960s by Manfred Clynes and Nathan Kline. The above image appeared in LIFE magazine, in a write-up about the Clynes and Kline’s cyborg. A hilarious send-up of the cyborg, pictured below, appeared a few years later in Popular Science.

Popular Science, Oct. 1963.
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Joey, the “Mechanical Animal” Boy

“I laid myself as an egg, hatched myself, and gave birth to me.”

The hen electric, pregnant with the electric fetus. (The Empty Fortress 323)
I just finished reading the mammoth chapter on Joey in Bruno Bettelheim’s The Empty Fortress: Infantile Autism and the Birth of the Self as part of my research for my paper presentation at SLSA 2012. It is a greatly expanded account of the case study Bettelheim presented as a Scientific American article almost a decade earlier in 1959, and offers much more detail about Joey’s treatment at the Orthogenic School as well as the psychic “rebirth” that marks the beginning of his journey out of his delusion.

The tale of Joey initially interested me because of his elaborate fantasy, according to which he believed himself a machine requiring elaborate apparatuses to remain alive.  The Scientific American article concentrates on Joey’s machine world, Bettelheim going so far as to suggest that this extraordinary case study “has a general relevance to the understanding of emotion in a machine age” (“Joey” 117).  It is this dimension of the story that establishes the broad topic of my SLSA paper, where I will primarily explore connections between children and machines.  But Joey’s story, as recounted in The Empty Fortress, closes the “cybernetic triangle” of animals, humans, and machines, with numerous references to nonhuman animals and a crucial role played by hens. Continue reading

Anthropomorphism 3: Weaver of Morphisms

The expression ‘anthropomorphic’ considerably underestimates our humanity. We should be talking about morphism. Morphism is the place where technomorphisms, zoomorphisms, phusimorphisms, ideomorphisms, theomorphisms, sociomorphisms, psychomorphisms, all come together. Their alliances and their exchanges, taken together, are what define the anthropos. A weaver of morphisms—isn’t that enough of a definition?

Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern, trans. Catherine Porter (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993), 137.

Anthropomorphism 2: Narcissus Narcosis

It is not those who yield to the appeal of anthropomorphism who reproduce the sad story of Narcissus but, rather, those who believe in its very existence. Those who see anthropomorphism about them in the discourses of science and culture, whether they would eliminate it or extol its utility, believe, at heart, in a distinct and recognizable human form. Both parties see animals transformed, recast with human features. . . . Those who believe in the possibility of this species narcissism fail to appreciate that what they see is of their own making, and they practice, thereby, a true form of narcissism. Like Narcissus, they fail to realize that they themselves are captivated by their own image, while remaining ignorant of the very thing on which they have set eyes. If we suspend this assumption, this implicit and uncritical prior belief in uniquely human capabilities, then the very notion of anthropomorphism fails to make sense. . . . [T]he very belief in anthropomorphism betrays a lack of foresight of self-reflection on the part of those so thoroughly wedded to the idea that they are, before all else, human.

Tom Tyler, Ciferae: A Bestiary in Five Fingers (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012), 63.

Anthropomorphism 1: Anthropology

Anthropology is that interpretation of humanity which already knows, fundamentally, who man is and can, therefore, never ask who he might be. For with this question it would have to confess itself shaken and overcome.

Martin Heidegger, “The Age of the World Picture,” in Off the Beaten Track, ed. and trans. Julian Young and Kenneth Haynes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 84.

Guinness World | Ideabird

Rebloggd from Ideabird 6/11/12

600 years from now, there is still Guinness, and there is still a Guinness Book of Records. They are the de facto guardians of the boundaries of humanity, defining what still is and isn’t human. An examiner travels to a distant, rural planet to meet a candidate for tallest human. These spider-like creatures walk on spindly stretched fingers and toes, and use their tentacular tongues as their main means of manipulation. The examiner is sceptical, but a romance with a young woman of the planet makes him re-examine his ideas of what it means to be human.

I love the idea that the Guinness Book of World Records polices the boundaries of the human. I wonder if there was some sort of ideological war between them and Ripley’s?

Catch more birds over at TheIdeaBird

Children: The Ancient Dream of Artificial Life

Why are humans so obsessed with recreating themselves? . . . Children have always been excluded from the customary standards of human behavior, if you define humans as beings who possess a conventional identity and act out of free will. Then what are children who endure in the chaos preceding maturity? They differ profoundly from ‘humans,’ but they obviously have human form. The dolls that little girls mother are not surrogates for real babies. Little girls aren’t so much imitating child rearing as they are experiencing something deeply akin to child rearing. . . . Raising children is the simplest way to achieve the ancient dream of artificial life. At least, that’s my hypothesis.

Forensic Analyst Haraway
Mamoru Oshii, Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, Production I.G., 2004.