How we became posthuman – notes

Katherine Hayles

How We Became Posthuman

Argues that mind cannot be separated from body. Against cybernetics.

Argues that posthumanism and lots of other “new” theories of subjectivity in fact reinforce and transcribe traditional liberal humanistic values. E.g. universalism, rational mind, progress, individualism.

Argues that it is important to understand the history of how information became theoretically untethered from the material. If we do this we can critique and resist seeing immaterial info mindset as inevitable result of technological development. (p20). We’ll get to restate virtuality so that it acknowdges the importance of the body.

Argues that sci fi lit can explore the implications of sci theory in a way that sci theory cannot. Influences the cultural narrative of cultural engagement with theory and technology and is thus worthy of serious study.

Key Question: Can information circulate unchanged thru diff substrates?


Identifies 3 narratives in cybernetics, cognitive, science, biomedicine, etc.


1.)    Information without bodies:

Intelligence is the formal manipulation of symbols. Computers can do this as well as humans.

Wiener Cybernetics – info is an entity distinct from the substrates carrying it.

< think Fang’s information structure


Thus having a body isn’t essential to being human. You can take the brain and put it in a robot.

This kind of abstraction is appealing as it means info is free to travel without considering time and space. Immortality.

Privileges digital information over context bound analogue info.

2.)    Cyborg and cultural artefact and icon:

Post WW2


3.)    How we became posthuman (although I think the author means transhuman):

Human and intelligent machine union. There’s no essential differences and they can join together.

Prefers info patterns over material instances. Biology is incidental. Emphasises human cogn over emobodi.

Consciousness is not the only source of humanity.

You learn to manipulate the body after birth. Why not continue to manipulate the body with prosthetics?

Recognize there is no self-directed free will on its own. We are products of society and tech and our relations to the world.

We don’t have to be cyborgs to be posthuman. Key difference is the construction of subjectivity (exisit in mind, not “real” world). Not robo add ons.



3 ages of cybernetics:

1945 – 60 – homeostasis – Aimed to make a theory of communication and control that could be applied to man, animal and machine. Makes humans essentially the same as intelligent machines.

Still based on humanism. Intelligent machines with rational self directed autonomy.

Homeostasis emphasised so that philosophical implications did not threaten current social order. (p7 – how does this work? Need to ask)

1960 – 1980 – reflexivity – What creates a system becomes part of the system, from another perspective. What was thought to come from the conditions in fact MAKES the conditions.

Think about marshall amps, designed for early rockers. Becomes incorporated and essential to the sound of rock.

Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean everyone isn’t out to get you. Reflexivity?

In homeo period cyberneticians saw the observer as not part of the system. This changed in this era.

19880 onwards – Autopoesis – organisms reactions to environment are decided by their self-organisation. They exist to replicate this self-organisation.

Implies diff from feedback loop. Info doesn’t come from outside environment. The system is closed. The only info we get is what our self-organisation allows us to see.

Implies info flows no longer key. What matters is matches between the self organisation of two different organisms. A bit like constructivism in IR? Nations perception of each other models behaviour?


Plato forhand – World is complex, make a simple model, treat the multiplicity of the world as imperfect versions of your perfect model.

Plato Backhand – world is complex, build a simple and gradually make it more various until it reflects the complexity of the world.


Virtuality – the belief that objects are penetrated by information patterns. They riddled. They are laced.

The internet of things needed this conception in order to be built. The belief that all objects harboured information we just need the microprocessors to read them.

#Those engaged with virtuality tend to be key actors. Thus material penetrated by info becomes dominant cultural belief.