Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 15, No. 461.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
 From: Charles Ess <email@example.com> (103)
Subject: Re: 15.446 bandwidth? mind/body?
 From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Francois Lachance) (62)
Date: Mon, 21 Jan 2002 06:25:07 +0000
From: Charles Ess <email@example.com>
Subject: Re: 15.446 bandwidth? mind/body?
Dear Willard et al.
At the risk of self-promotion, let me offer a modest response to your
comments about the importance of discussing the mind-body issue vis-a-vis
As I point out in a forthcoming article (Cultures in Collision:
Philosophical Lessons from Computer-Mediated Communication, _Metaphilosophy_
There is a burgeoning literature on embodiment (especially based in
phenomenology and hermeneutics - perhaps most significantly, Merleau-Ponty)
vis-a-vis the largely Cartesian mind/body dualism underlying much of the
1980s and 1990s postmodern enthusiasm for various forms of liberation in
cyberspace - ranging from Donna Haraway's famous Cyborg Manifesto to John
Perry Barlow's 1996 Declaration - and found, more originally, in Gibson's
_Neuromancer_'s interesting contempt for "meatspace."
I'm working on a more complete bibilography, but I can happily mention here:
...a specifically philosophical discussion of the nature of the self as
illuminated by interaction with computers is at work in the earliest stages
of Artificial Intelligence, and the debates, for example, between more
Cartesian views that emphasize the radical split between body and
reason/mind as the intelligence to be replicated by the computer, and
nondualistic views represented in the pioneering work of Douglas Engelbart
(see Bardini, 2000) and Winograd and Flores (1987).
Bardini, T. (2000). Bootstrapping: Douglas Engelbart, Coevolution, and the
Origins of Personal Computing. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Winograd, T. & Flores, F. (1987). Understanding Computers and Cognition: a
New Foundation for Design. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
[contra] the "ectopian" hopes of Hans Moravec (1988) [i.e., of downloading
consciousness as a purely disembodied Cartesian mind into a computer] ...
is increasingly supplanted by epistemologies and senses of self marked by
the inextricable connection between body and mind. So, for example,
Katherine Hayles characterizes the "post-human" in terms of a specific
epistemological agenda: "reflexive epistemology replaces
objectivismembodiment replaces a body seen as a support system for the
mind; and a dynamic partnership between humans and intelligent machines
replaces the liberal humanist subjects manifest destiny to dominate and
control nature" (Hayles, 1999, 288). Hayles thus shifts from an objectivist
epistemology (resting on a dualistic separation between subject-object, and
thus between subjective vs. objective modes of knowledge, coupled with the
insistence that only "objective" modes of knowledge are of value), to an
epistemology which (echoing Kant) stresses the inextricable interaction
between subject and object in shaping our knowledge of the world. In the
same way, Hayles further focuses precisely on the meanings of embodiment in
what many now see as a post-Cartesian understanding of mind-and-body in
Hayles, K. (1999). How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics,
Literature, and Informatics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Along these directions I would also recommend:
Hillis (1999) critiques Virtual Reality as resting on postmodern/Cartesian
dualisms, one resulting precisely in the sort of schizophrenia that
Kaltenborn discusses (see especially Hillis, ch. 6, "Identity, Embodiment,
and Place VR as Postmodern Technology).
Hillis, Ken. (1999). Digital Sensations: Space, Identity and Embodiment in
Virtual Reality. Minneapolis, London: University of Minnesota Press.
Kaltenborn, Olaf. (2001). Der groe Karneval: Im Cyberspace ist das ganze
Jahr Fasching [The Great Carnival: the Whole Year is Mardi Gras in
Cyberspace]. Journal Phnomenologie 15:
Alison Adam has written on embodiment vs. the mind/body split as embedded in
technology, including an essay online:
I'm especially fond of:
Becker, Barbara. (2000). Cyborg, Agents and Transhumanists. Leonardo 33,
______. (2001). Sinn und Sinnlichkeit: Anmerkungen zur Eigendynamik und
Fremdheit des eigenen Leibes [Sense and Sensibility: Remarks on the
Distinctive Dynamics and Strangeness of Ones Own Body]. In Mentalitt und
Medialitt , edited by L. Jger. Munich: Fink Verlag.
Bolter, Jay David. (2001). Identity. In Unspun, edited by T. Swiss, pp.
17-29. New York: New York University Press. Available online:
Brown, J.S. & P. Duguid. (2000). The Social Life of Information. Stanford:
Stanford University Press.
Dertouzos, M. (2001). The unfinished revolution: Human-centered computers
and what they can do for us. New York: HarperCollins.
Finally, the work of philosophers of technology Don Ihde - most especially,
so far as I can tell second-hand, his _Bodies in Technology_ - and Hubert
Dreyfus, _On the Internet_ - include attention to embodiment as ways of
grounding their critiques of some of the more extravagant claims made for
electronic culture in the 1990s.
I hope this is useful. In turn, I would ask HUMANISTS who may have some
bibliographic suggestions to share to send them my way, if they also care to
So, dear Willard: feel like you just invented a field?
Director, Interdisciplinary Studies Center
900 N. Benton Ave. Voice: 417-873-7230
Springfield, MO 65802 USA FAX: 417-873-7435
Home page: http://www.drury.edu/ess/ess.html
Co-chair, CATaC 2002: http://www.it.murdoch.edu.au/~sudweeks/catac02/
"...to be non-violent, we must not wish for anything on this earth which the
meanest and lowest of human beings cannot have." -- Gandhi
Date: Mon, 21 Jan 2002 06:26:13 +0000
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Francois Lachance)
I have been fond of pointing to Judith Schlanger's call in _Invention
intellectuelle_ to the recognize the importance and productive nature of
the activity of popularization. It is that discursive retransmission
through various combinations and permutations of concepts, ideas and
expressions that eventually sets the ground for the incremental emergence
It was with great pleasure that I read recently an article that both
popularized information theory and gave some excellent examples of the
kind of combinatory art that the massification of bits implies.
Jean-Claude Chirollet in "Art et theorie de l'information dans l'oeuvre
d'Abraham MOLES (1920-1992)" published in the Octover 2001 issue of
_Archee_ gives a wonderful synposis of the literary machine that is
Raymond Queneau's _Cent Mille Milliards de Poemes_ . Taking up a 1962
manifesto by Moles, Chirollet suggests that, in a mannerist turn, art has
now become intrigued by the nature of possibility and that criticism
should follow suit. The aesthetic object is a field of permanent
permutations. The ludic is privileged.
Information theory as presented by Chriollet appears to have been centred
on messages and has assumed stable receivers. Entropy affects messages:
"tout message, y compre le message artistique, possede une tendence
naturelle a evoluer, par usure et degradation de l'information qu'il
enferme, ver la banalite d'un bruit informe." Since I had chosen to print
out this text, and suspecting that Chirollet's example of Queneau assumed
a reader that had already mastered the machine's instructions (i.e. one
that did not need to learn how to produce the subsitutions or even the
natural language of the text), I quickly turned over the page and sketched
out a quadrant with the vertical axis representing the reciever and the
horizontal, the aesthetic object, and applied the devolution towards
entropy to both:
- - - +
+ - + +
(-, -) both receiver and object are stable (entropy poor)
(-, +) the object degrades and the receiver stays stable
(+, -) the receiver's organization falters or is not yet mature
(-, -) maximum information for both object and receiver
I then wondered if a general systems approach where the user is considered
as part of the machine could not produce a quadrant where aesthetic
response could be modelled in a program/data relation.
What resulted was a typology for the various ways one can interact with a
computing machine or rather how one could describe how a user shifts from
one type of interaction to another:
(-,-) neither program nor data change
(-, +) same program, different data
(+, -) change program, same data
(+, +) change program, change data
Authoring in multimedia, where one does change programs and data often,
would be an example of a situation of potentially great fluidity in the
consciousness of the reciever and in the shape of the aesthetic object.
Text encoding of a corpus could fall under the head of "same program,
different data". "Same data, different program" could be exemplified by
comparative stylistics. Interactions where neither the program nor the
data change are games.
There are different ways to map such a typology to the activities of
computing humanists. This particular mapping raises a question where the
concerns of Tito Orlandi and Andrew Mctavish might intersect: games as a
route to formalism?
The URL to Archee is
-- Francois Lachance, Scholar-at-large http://www.chass.utoronto.ca/~lachance/teams.htm the networks teem with teams
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