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The Evolution of Cyborg Consciousness

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Abstract

Inspired by Donna Haraway's essay, "A Manifesto for Cyborgs," numerous "cyborg" studies in anthropology, sociology, history and literary criticism have looked at the relationship between humans and technology. A problem with many of these studies is that they use the term "cyborg" metaphorically and fuzzily without an appreciation of the history of cybernetics. This paper will critique both the profound insights and non-trivial distortions engendered by the cyborg polemic. A neuroanthropological model of human technics is presented that allows a scientifically useful discrimination to be made between cyborg and non-cyborg (i.e., robot, android, AI, etc.) technologies. Technology is seen as a nonlinear, bidirectional process of penetration in which the body is physically extended outward into the world and the world is physically interjected inward into the body. Four stages of the evolution of the cyborg are defined. Grounded extrapolations are made about the future development of cyborg consciousness and its implications for culture and extraterrestrial anthropology.
The Evolution of Cyborg Consciousness
Charles D. Laughlin
International Consciousness Research Laboratories
and Carleton University
Department of Sociology and Anthropology
Ottawa K15 5B6 Canada
claughli@ccs.carleton.ca
Space travel
challenges
mankind
not only
technologically
but
also
spiritually,
in that it invites
man to take an active part in
his
own
biological
evolution.
Manfred E. Clynes and Nathan S. Kline (1960)
In an
era filled
with wondrous and frightening things,
the
age
of
space
for example, and the impending take-over
by the computer and other machines, another development
is taking
place
with
little
or no notice by the
average
person,
unless he or
she happens
to be one of
the
new developments. In our
midst,
and
growing steadily
in numbers, is the latest evolutionary
step in man, sometimes
called
by the odd name of
"cyborg."
D.S. Halacy(1965)
Abstract
Inspired by Donna Haraway's essay, "A Manifesto for Cyborgs," numerous
"cyborg" studies in anthropology, sociology, history and literary criticism have
looked at the relationship between humans and technology. A problem with many
of these studies
is
that they
use
the term
"cyborg"
metaphorically and fuzzily without
an appreciation of the history of cybernetics. This paper will critique both the
profound insights and non-trivial distortions engendered by the cyborg
polemic.
A
neuroanthropological model of human technics is presented that allows a scientifically
useful discrimination to be made between cyborg and non-cyborg (i.e., robot,
android, AI, etc.) technologies. Technology is seen as a nonlinear, bidirectional
process of penetration in which the body is physically extended outward into the
world and the world
is
physically interjected inward into the
body.
Four
stages
of the
evolution of the cyborg are defined. Grounded extrapolations are made about the
future development of cyborg consciousness and its implications for culture and
extraterrestrial anthropology.
Introduction
Over a decade ago, Do ina Haraway published a qerminal paper entitled "A
Manifesto for Cyborgs" in the
Socialist
Review (H.iraway 1985; reproduced in
Haraway 1991). Hers
was a
social feminist essay that used the concept of the cyborg
(short for "cybernetic organism," or integration of living organism with machine) in
a metaphorical way which
was
theoretically insightful and which inspired
a
number
Anthropology
of Consciousness
8(4):144-159. Gipyright © 1997 American Anthropological Association
144
December 1997 H5
of critical writings that have become known collectively as "cyborg anthropology."
Whereas the Haraway piece is brilliant and thoughtful, many of the papers
written subsequently are undisciplined and distorted applications of the cyborg
concept in the interests of so-called postmodern criticism. For instance, in an essay
presented by Gary Downey, Joseph Dumit and Sarah Williams at the 1992 meetings
of the American Anthropological Association, cyborg anthropology is linked to
cultural studies, eco-feminism and postmodernism, all of which are essentially anti-
empirical and anti-structuralist polemics, and are driven by various political ideologies
and social concerns (Downey, Dumit and Williams 1995). As a consequence, and
unlike the work of Haraway
herself,
many of these authors use these various political
agendas as an excuse for not "doing their homework" in terms of the logical
development of cyborg theory and any accurate reflection of the history of ideas from
which the notion of the cyborg originally gained its descriptive and explanatory
power (see Alaimo 1994, Mason 1995, Pickering 1995, Schroeder 1994).
The present paper is intended as a corrective to this overly metaphorical use of
the notion of cyborg. The paper will present a model of the nature of the cyborg
process from a biogenetic structural point of view which will allow us better to
understand future developments in the ongoing evolution of cyborg consciousness.
Cyborg
as
Metaphor
The current cyborg fad in anthropology and related disciplines
was
foreshadowed
by Haraway when she combined the concept of cyborg with cultural criticism in
order to produce an amalgamation of metaphor and analysis in the service of
a
better
understanding of life in technocratic society. For example, she sees the cyborg
as
"a
kind of disassembled and reassembled, postmodern collective and personal self in
which we are all implicated (Haraway 1985). The cyborg is our nature, as well as
being the origin and sustenance of our politics (ibid:66). Haraway's cyborg thus
stands for the entire course of human technics throughout the ages, and implies its
possibilities for the future. And
I
believe that from
a
certain point of
view,
she
is
right.
Genus
Homo
has been relying upon at least partially technical patterns of adaptation
for at least the last
3-plus
million years, so it really is no news that it is indeed our
nature to be technological.
But in applying the cyborg concept in this
way,
Haraway alienated the concept
from its more precise logical, contextual and theoretical moorings, and cast it adrift
into the sea of contemporary ethnological rhetoric in which the logic of explanation
is weak at best, and in which the thirst for exciting and controversial fads is
apparently unquenchable. The cyborg
is
rapidly coming to represent virtually every
techno-cultural phenomenon no matter how distant from the original meaning of
the concept: e.g., people on Prozac are
cyborgs,
people wearing eyeglasses are cyborgs,
people viewing other people on television destroying buildings with smart bombs are
cyborgs. The term is now being used to characterize modern reproductive technologies
(by extension, perhaps men practicing safe-sex become condom cyborgs), the
sociopolitical implications of the Internet, the entire course of techno-economic
development since the Second World War, and so on.
Please do not misunderstand
me.
Metaphors are inherent in human experience,
and fundamental to all systems of knowledge. And it is true that metaphors are
146 Anthropology of Consciousness
(8(4)]
indispensable in the unfolding of scientific understanding. When
we
speak of society
having a "structure," we are borrowing a concept derived from physiology and
applying it by analogy to patterns we perceive in social organization. Or when we
speak of "black holes," we are projecting a visual phenomenon onto a theoretical
entity that we could not possibly see with our naked eyes.
But by its very nature, metaphorical thinking depends upon fuzzifying the
meaning of concepts and images so that associations may flow "laterally" among
patterns of similarity, and bring together in our thought previously unrelated
phenomena. This is the up-side of the use of metaphors, for without the fuzziness of
metaphor, poetical comprehension would be incapable of encoding and
communicating our deepest intuitive insights.
The down-side of metaphorical thinking is there is a concomitant loss of
explanatory power. The process of explaining requires logical focus and precision of
identification, and cannot work in a field of fuzzy conceptual boundaries. For
example, as Bargatzky (1984) has amply demonstrated, the anthropological use of
the concept of "adaptation" is usually weak when used as explanation because it is
used outside the appropriate context of explicit biological theory, and because the
meanings associated with the term are frequently implicit, imprecise and fuzzy.
And so it is with the concept of cyborg as it is generally used by the "cyborg
anthropology" cohort (e.g., see Gray's 1993 confounding of the terms automaton,
robot, android, waldo and the like with cyborg). The notion has been uncritically
lifted from its original theoretical frame and applied as a symbol for certain aspects
of culture. Of course there
is
nothing new in the
use
of machine metaphors for human
nature, or of human metaphors applied to machines, come to that. The
anthropomorphizing of machines has been with us for centuries (Rollin 1979,
Warrick 1980:113), while the man-as-machine association has been with us at least
since the dawn of the industrial revolution (see e.g., Halacy 1965:57-59). In fact the
tendency to apply the most cybernetically complex system of the day as a metaphor
for the human brain and consciousness seems all but irresistible. When the clock was
the most complex information processing system available, the human brain was
thought "to work something like a clock." With the development of the telephone,
the brain
was
seen
as
working more or less like a switchboard. And when computers
came along—well,
we are all
familiar with contemporary computer-related metaphors
for the brain and its functions. It therefore comes as no surprise to find machine
metaphors used in fiction to represent either Utopian (Commander Data with his
"positronic" brain in the TV series Star
Trek:
The Next
Generation)
or dystopian
("Terminator") visions of the jinn of technology.
Mind you, such metaphors can be very revealing, especially when they are
uncritically applied. They can expose unconscious operations in the minds and
cultures of the writers. For instance, most of the people writing about cyborg matters
today are products of Euroamerican culture which is imbued with a tenacious mind-
body dualism. There are things physical and other things mental, and the relations
between the two categories of things are problematic. Our sciences reflect this
ontological and epistemological distinction as they are split into the physical (or
"hard") sciences and the life
("soft,"
social and behavioral) sciences. As
we
all know,
even anthropology is divided into physical anthropology and sociocultural
December
1997
The Evolution of Cyborg Consciousness
147
anthropology.
The cyborg polemic
reflects this cultural
distinction
as
well.
We find the naive
notion
that the mind (or
consciousness)
can somehow be removed from the body
while
leaving the mind intact. For example, we find people suggesting in all
seriousness
that human
consciousness
may
eventually
be
"downloaded"
(as
if it were
software)
into a
computer.1
During most of the history
of cyborg
imagery in science
fiction,
the
brain-nvmetal-body motif
predominates,
as though the
nervous system
were
limited to the brain, and the brain is distinct from the body, when in fact the
nervous
system permeates our entire body.2
The History of the Cyborg Concept
The concept of the cyborg was derived from the field of cybernetics. Cybernetics,
a field of research and theory first defined by Norbert Wiener in 1948 (1962:11-12
[1948]),
is
the study of the control and regulatory properties of complex
systems
(see
also Rose 1969,1974). Wiener was clear from the beginning that cybernetics applied
equally to both machines and living beings. Although he did address the social
implications of cybernetics in his early work (Wiener 1950), he did not
discuss
the
actual physical merger of machines and organisms. It took another decade before
two
NASA scientists, Manfred Clynes and Nathan Kline (1960, reprinted in Gray
1995),
to coin the term "cyborg," and to suggest some of the advantages for space
exploration of altering the human body with machines.
For the exogenously extended organizational complex functioning as an
integrated homeostatic system unconsciously,
we
propose the term "cyborg."
The cyborg deliberately incorporates exogenous components extending the
self-regulatory control function of the organism in order to adapt it to new
environments. (Clynes and Kline 1960:27)
Clynes and Kline's major emphasis
was
upon the automatic, self-regulatory
and
unconscious activity of the mechanical components integrated as life support
systems
with the living organism. Clynes (1977) later extended their thinking
to
the
alteration and control of emotions during long space flights.
Cyborg in Fiction
The
use
of the cyborg concept
is
very recent in anthropology,
so we do
not have
any clear benchmarks in our own literature from which to appreciate the extent to
which cyborg anthropology has distorted the notion from its original formulation.
The use of the cyborg in fiction, however, can provide us some indication at any
particular time in history of the extent to which people generally have understood
the implications of the organism-machine merger (see Porush 1985:2-3 on
"cybernauts" and "soft machines;" see also Zebrowski and Warrick 1978, and the
essays by
Andrew Gordon, Anne Hudson Jones and Gary
K.
Wolfe in Dun
and
Erlich
1982).
Therefore
a
brief history of the notion in fiction may
be
of some
use
for those
anthropologists not versed in science fiction in orienting themselves to the
development of the idea.
Although the term cyborg had
yet
to be coined, in his
1923
novel,
TheClockwork
Man,
E.
V.
Odle depicted
a
person with
a
mechanical device in
his
head that allowed
him to flip into alternate
realities.
However, most treatments of the cyborg
idea
have
H8
Anthropology
of
Consciousness
(8(4)]
followed the brain-in-metal-body motif
(e.g.,
L. A. Eshbach's "The Time Conqueror"
in 1932, Curt Siodmak's
Donovan's Brain
in 1943 and Damon Knight's horrifying
short story "Masks" in 1968). A more developed theme began to emerge when
Cordwainer Smith wrote about cyborgs designed for space travel in "Scanners Live
in Vain" in 1950. Frederik Pohl's Man Plus in 1976 and Barrington J. Bayley's The
Garments
ofCaean in 1976 continue this theme, as does Anne McCaffrey's The
Ship
Who
Sang
from 1961 in which a human brain is incorporated in the structure of a
space ship.
Martin Caiden's novel Cyborg, published in 1972, led to the popular "Six
Million Dollar Man" TV series which brought the cyborg, or "bionic man" concept
to the awareness of the general public. The novel and series followed
a
more modern
trend in cyborgian thinking, that being the awareness that parts of the human body
can be replaced and even augmented by machines. William Gibson's 1980s
cyberpunk novels (Neuromancer,
Burning
Chrome,
etc.) paint a near future era in
which people have microchips implanted in their brains and can access the World
Wide Web by an act of will.1
Cyborg in Comic Books
The cyborg motif has received a lot of play in comic book art ever since the first
cyborg villain named Metallo appeared in issue 252 of Action Comics in 1959.
Perhaps the best developed cyborg character is Cliff Steele, A.K.A. the Robotman,
of the Doom Patrol (first appearing in My
Greatest
Adventure comics, issue 80 in
1963),
who
was
saved from almost certain death in
a
racing car accident by The Chief
who surgically removed his central nervous system from his damaged body and placed
it in a metal "robotic" body.
Deathlok (first appearing in Astonishing Tales, issue 25 in 1974) is a more
advanced cyborg who unwillingly gave up his organic body to inhabit a machine
body, and spends much of his time trying to locate where the bad guys hid his real
body. His machine body includes an onboard computer with which (with whom?)
he carries on a continuous dialogue. The 1990s have seen the publication of even
more
complex
cyborgs,
including Valiant Comics' Bloodshot and Rai who are human
beings whose natural blood has been replaced by the "Blood of Heros" which
contains nanites instead of haemoglobin. The nanites are microscopic computers
that instantly repair tissue damage and allow the heros to communicate with and
control machines.4
Cyborg in the Cinema
Movies have done their fair part in depicting the cyborg
as
well (Rushing 1995).
The Frankenstein movies presented certain cyborg features, complete with bolts
sticking out of the creature's neck a feature not included by Mary Shelley in her
classic novel. Perhaps the most famous cinema cyborg to date is Darth Vader, the
archetypal villain of the Star
Wars
series. But the most interesting cyborg character
to me is Alex Murphy, the police officer who is shot Jown in the line of duty and
wakes up to find himself installed in
a
high-tech robot body and known as Robocop.s
The point to emphasize in these fictional developments of the cyborg is that at
first the notion was simply one of replacing of the organic body with a mechanical
body which somehow magically supports and allows interaction with a living,
December
1997 The
Evolution
of
Cyborg Consciousness
151
ourselves as "alloplastic" (Douglas 1978:116)—that we change our environment to
suit ourselves. But actually, to the extent that we develop cybernetic technologies
to control the world (e.g., computer systems to control power plants, life support
systems to fly us to the moon, or to explore the bottom of the oceans, etc.), we also
produce technologies to control our physical and mental beings (e.g., electronic
sensors, pacemakers, prostheses, etc.). Whereas it is easy for us to see that the
industrial revolution replaced human labor with technologies (i.e., muscle and bone
replaced by machines) and the cybernetic revolution replaced human controllers
with technologies (i.e., brains replaced by computers; e.g., a "smart house" replaces
a traditional "housekeeper"), it is not so easy for us to see that the same processes
reciprocally penetrate into the body and consciousness (servomotors, biochemical
taps,
artificial limbs, voice boxes and virtual senses, and, in the near future,
microchips in the brain)—that indeed the cyborg is an inevitable consequence of
human technics.
Activity and Experience in "Nonlinear Context
The
concept
of
the cyborg
was to allow man to
optimize
his
internal regulation
to suit the environment he may
seek.
Manfred Clynes (1970)
The law of bidirectional penetration
is
so pivotal to my argument that
I
want to
spend time fleshing it out. The law implies the nonlinear role of behavior in
producing experience (also see Powers 1973). We act—that is, we move our bodies
with intention, but often unconsciously—in order to produce, maintain or modify
our experience. If
we
desire the experience we are having, then we act to continue
that experience. If we desire another experience than the one we are having, we act
to transform our experience to the one desired. These may be simple acts, as when
I close my eyes to shut out something I do not want to see, or turn my head to see
something I want to
see.
These are non-technical, behavioral acts of consciousness.
Our acts become technical when the process of producing the desired experience
requires an intermediary and enduring transformation of the material
world.
If
I
want
to see an episode of The
X-Files,
I
have to turn on the
TV,
and that
is a
simple technical
act. The point being that I cannot have The X-Files experience without the
intervention of a technical phase in my activity. Technics opens up new experiences,
and broadens my range of experiences by essentially replicating first skeletal, then
muscular, and finally neural processes in the world. This replication changes the
world which in turn impresses itself upon our senses in the form of experiences. This
understanding of the nonlinear relations among consciousness, activity and external
world is fundamental to the phenomenology of technology. As Ihde put it:
The essence of technology allows us to see, to order, to relate to the world in
a particular
way.
Nature becomes
[a]
standing-reserve, a source of energy for
human
use,
and this mode of relating to the world becomes, in
a
technological
era, the dominant and primary way in which we understand [the] world.
(Ihde 1983:33)
But a biogenetic structural account of the cyborg carries this view much further.
152 Anthropology of Consciousness
[8(4)1
I
suggest that the cyborg process results in a transformation of the human body
itself,
and hence the internal organization of the
body's
consciousness.
Eventually, in order
for me to have access to a broader range of experiences than the limits provided by
my natural body, I may have to technically alter my nervous system. In a sense, the
endogenous systems come to replicate the exogenous, technologically altered
patterns in the world.
We continue to be aware of the body-machine distinction because we still
interact with machines by way of our limbs and our
senses.
Yet the phenomenology
of tool-use shows us that the better the tool, the more we lose track of the tool as we
focus on the task at hand (Martin Heidegger noted that technology tends to
"withdraw" from our awareness when it works well; see Ihde 1990:33).
Meanwhile, the law of bidirectional penetration
is
inexorably leading humanity
to the development of a direct brain-machine interface technology that will both
eliminate the necessity of behavior-sensory interaction with machines in many
cases, and dissolve the phenomenological distinction between body and machine
even more than normal "withdrawal" experienced with machines today.1* The
machine will be experienced as part of
me,
just as my arm is now part of
me.
People
are aware these days of the human chess master vs. chess software competitions
(indeed, the "Deep Blue" software has just recently beaten Kasparov), and that
computer software will one day soon routinely best the brightest chess masters. But
few of us
are
aware of the inevitable development of the cyborg chess master—human
and machine directly interfaced to produce
a
being capable of beating any pre-cyborg
chess master. The cyborg process may mean that eventually if
I
wish to be the best
possible chess player,
I
must technically transform my own internal neural processes
in order to optimize certain computational abilities.
The Evolution of the Cyborg
I
have suggested that the evolution of exogenous technics reciprocally penetrates
the
body,
and eventually will penetrate the very organization of consciousness. This
process of technical penetration is inseparable from the development of the cyborg,
and involves the replacement, augmentation and integration of parts of the human
body with machines. And this process has obvious evolutionary significance (see
e.g., Clarke 1973, and Haas and Voigt 1977), and may be schematized in a model of
four stages, as follows:9
Stage
I: Replacement or augmentation of the human skeleton. Examples:
wooden leg, hook for lost hand, armor, false teeth, etc.
Stage
11:
Replacement or augmentation of
muscle.
Examples: mechanical
hand for lost hand, other prosthetic devices, mechanical heart valve,
replacement of lens in eye, etc.
Stage III: Replacement or augmentation of parts of the peripheral nervous
system, autonomic nervous system and the neun (endocrine
system.
Examples:
bionic arms and legs, pacemakers, automatic biochemical pumps, etc.
Stage
IV Replacement or augmentation of parts of the central nervous system.
Examples: video "eyes" for blind, Air Force cyborg fighter plane control.
December
1997
The Evolution
of
Cyborg Consciousness
153
Of course, this model is an over-simplification of the unfolding of the cyborg
process, but it has the advantage of letting us see the progressive complexity
involved. Stage I cyborg is equivalent to the external extension of the hands with
a hammer, knife or other primitive tool. It essentially replaces or augments the
skeletal physiology of the limbs (see Halacy 1965:63-71). Thus the wooden leg and
hook as prosthetic devices represent the more primitive innovations leading to the
process of cyborg transformation. Portions of the nervous system have been
eliminated with the loss of the amputated appendage.
Stage II cyborg sees the technical replacement or augmentation of both skeletal
and muscle systems in the body. This stage
is
equivalent to the external replacement
of muscles with engines. The hand is replaced with a movable machine, perhaps
manipulated by servomechanisms that are triggered by movements of particular
muscle groups. The diseased heart valve
is
replaced by a mechanical
valve.
The lens
of the eye is replaced by a synthetic lens, and so on. Such mechanisms depend upon
intact neuro-muscular systems for their control.
At Stage III cyborg, technical penetration reaches the nervous system and
replaces or augments neural structures in the peripheral, autonomic or endocrine
systems involved in the regulation of internal states. This stage is equivalent to
simple regulatory systems in the external world, such as the thermostat controlling
the temperature of a heater. Clynes and Kline addressed their original cyborg paper
to problems in space exploration that might be solved by Stage III cyborg measures.
The "bionic" arms and legs of the Six Million Dollar Man are fictional examples of
Stage III developments, as is the more realistic contemporary heart pacemaker.
Finally, Stage IV cyborg produces the replacement or augmentation of structures
in the central nervous system. This stage is equivalent to the supplementation or
replacement of human brain power with computers in industry. This stage may
involve modification of structures mediating the cognitive aspects of emotion
(Clynes' "sentics" ideas are cyborgian at this level; see Clynes 1977), as well as
imagination, intuition, perception, rational thought, intentionality, language, etc.
—all of which require higher cortical processing. Examples of developments at this
stage are technologies such as the miniature video camera "eyes" wired to an
electrode array implanted in the visual cortex of certain blind people. And rumor
has it that the United States Air Force underwrites research on technologies that
would allow direct brain to aircraft interfacing for fighter pilots. Heavily funded
scientists at Tokyo University have recently fitted microprocessors to the nervous
systems of cockroaches using electrodes, and are able to control the roaches' behavior
via computer link (Anonymous 1997). Also, over 17 years of research generated at
the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research Laboratories (PEAR Labs) have
shown a low but consistent telekinetic effect of conscious intention on the behavior
of random event generating machines (Jahn and Dunne 1987). This research
suggests that there may exist levels of very subtle energy interactions between
conscious brain activity and machines, that may in the future be technologically
amplified to have greater effects in brain-machine interfacing.
The point to emphasize in all of this is that the emergence of the cyborg is a
process of progressive technological penetration into the body, eventually replacing
or augmenting the structures that mediate the various physical and mental attributes
Anthropology
of
Consciousness
[8(4)]
that we normally consider natural to human beings, including emotion, natural
sensory modes, properties of imagination and rational thought, the organization of
intentional acts, etc. Clearly then, progressive penetration into the cortex of the
brain will inevitably result in the technical alteration of human consciousness.
Discussion
If the reader has followed my line of reasoning so far, then there are a number
of implications and applications of this model for cyborg evolution.
Recognition
of
Cyborg Possibilities
It is interesting that it has taken many years for the picture of the cyborg to
become articulated to the extent that it
has
been
to
date.
Cyborg possibilities began
with, and for years
was
limited
to,
the brain-in-metal-body
motif.
The idea that the
body could be functionally augmented for new purposes emerged only gradually in
the post-World War
II
era in scientific theory and
in
science fiction. Likewise, it has
taken a long time for cyborg-related medical attitudes ("we can fix it with this
widget") to evolve into
a
perfectibility attitude
("we
can
make
it
even better with this
widget"). And the impact of
Clynes
and Kline's original thinking in transforming
these possibilities cannot
be
over-emphasized. At the very least they planted
a
seed
that has yet to reach its fruition.
Cyborg
Consciousness
and the
"Quru
Program"
If one accepts the tenets of biogenetic structuralism in regard to the nature and
evolution of the cyborg, one is forced to acknowledge the likelihood of certain
consequent developments. For one thing, when cyborg technologies eventually
result in the internal reorganization of the central nervous
system,
this will necessarily
produce a reorganization of human consciousness. Of course, cyborg developments
at every stage affect consciousness to some extent. If my leg should be replaced by
a prosthesis, it will change my experience of my body and its activities. But
developments at cyborg Stages III and IV do so by direct alteration of neural
structures and may eventually so radically change human mental processes that we
will be forced to recognize new species of life and consciousness; i.e., cyborg
consciousness.
For another thing, the complexity of neurocognitive processing will likely be
augmented. In a Piagetian sense, the complexity of each individual's cognitive
processing
is
limited by the extent of that individual's neurobiological development
(see Piaget 1977, 1980). Obviously, cyborg augmentation may well increase the
limits of maximal complexity of cognition of which the amalgamated brain-machine
system may be capable. This complexity may increase the number of parallel
processes integrated within any intentional act (see McClelland and Rumelhart
1986) and may result in an increase in the information being processed. Enhanced
complexity
may
well
be
beyond what even the most developed natural human brain
is now capable.
In any case, the organization of the self-concept or
"ego"
of the cyborg may be
substantially different than the natural human's self-concept. Indeed, the Stage IV
cyborg may be routinely capable of the kind of ego-transcendence that seems to be
characteristic only of
those
with the most advanced consciousness today (Laughlin
December
1997 The
Evolution
of
Cyborg Consciousness
155
and Richardson 1986).10 Moreover, the merger of brain and machine opens the
possibility of what may be called a "guru program," a software that brings the
neurobiological portions of the cyborg system to optimal cognitive development
through a series of alternating experiences and interpretive exercises.
Cyborgs and Culture
Few people have thought through the cultural implications of the cyborg (but
see Gray
1993
for
a
refreshing exception).
Yet
the development of cyborg consciousness
has important implications for our understanding of the nature and evolution of
culture. In the first place, and I think in keeping with Donna Haraway's position, I
do not wish to leave the impression that I am advocating either a Utopian (Six
Million Dollar Man as culture hero) or a dystopian (William Gibson's cyberpunk
vision) cyborg scenario. We must be clear on this issue, for, as Leo Marx has shown
in his seminal work, The Machine in the Garden (1990), there exists an inherent
tension between humans and their machines. In fact, cyborg characters in science
fiction usually have been objects of fear (e.g., the Borg in Star
Trek:
The Next
Generation, or Damon Knight's Jim in "Masks"), and are often the bad guys in the tale
(Gordon 1982). This tension continues to be revealed in much of the current cyborg
anthropology (as well as cyborg history, cyborg sociology, cyborg gender studies,
cyborg literary criticism, etc.) polemic, for, unlike Haraway, some of these folk
use
the
cyborg to represent all that
is
wrong,
evil and inhumane about modern technological
development.
As I have taken some pains to argue, whatever the quality of the outcome, the
development of the cyborg is as inevitable as our other technologies have been; the
cyborg is lawfully entailed in our technical natures. And the cyborg is just as
"multistable" in its value
as
any other technologicaldevelopment
(see
Ihde 1990:144-
151).
All technologies are ambiguous with respect to cultural value. Just as a
Palaeolithic handax could be used either to feed the family or clobber an obnoxious
relative, the value of the cyborg will depend upon the intentions and perceptions of
the culture in which it emerges.
For another thing, it is typical of our Euroamerican culture that most of the
attention paid to cyborgs has to do with military applications (see e.g., Levidow and
Robins 1989). But the cultural implications are far greater than the production of
cyborg soldiers, sailors, airmen and astronauts. Culture is a word we use to label the
system of meaning, communication and habitual activity shared by members of a
society. Now, we have already seen that the range and complexity of meaning for
Stage IV cyborgs may transcend that of which humans are now capable. Moreover,
communication may well render traditional language obsolete because cyborgs will
certainly be capable of direct data links via cyberspace with other cyborgs, independent
of natural language or physical proximity. Imagine if you will that by a mere act of
will, a cyborg's brain may become linked through telemetry with an Internet-like
cyberspace in which his thoughts, imaginations, intuitions, wishes, etc., can be
electronically shared with other cyborgs.
Cyborgs in Space
It
is
fitting to return to the context in which the notion of cyborg originally arose
in the thinking of Manfred Clynes and Nathan Kline—that being life in space. As
156 Anthropology of Consciousness [8(4)]
commonplace
as
it
may
seem,
we
must stress the fact that the human
body,
and many
of its neurological structures, are the products of millions of
years
of evolution in
adaptation to the forces of gravity on this planet. Migration into space radically
changes the environmental forces that people will face. As everybody knows,
spacefarers already experience serious health problems due to the zero-g environment.
So far, research has been directed at the more gross physical problems encountered
by astronauts (e.g., space sickness and skeletal decalcification). But as Clynes and
Kline note, there are mental health
issues as
well that must eventually
be
addressed.
I would suggest that at least some of the psychological and sociocultural
adaptational problems that permanent spacefarers will face may be due to inherent
brain structures" that have evolved in adaptation to planetary survival. These
structures emerge during early pre- and perinatal neurogenesis and are the "seeds"
upon which later neuropsychological development are patterned (see Laughlin
1991).
Some of these nascent structures determine the universal properties of
human consciousness,
a
consciousness that
is
primarily oriented toward Earth bound
intentional activities.
Both genetic engineering and future cyborg technologies
may well be
utilized to
replace, alter or augment these inherent neural structures in favor of new structures
that may prove to be more adaptive to the spacefaring life. Which approach
whether it be genetic engineering or cyborg technics—will contribute most to the
solution of these adaptational problems
is
still uncertain. My hunch is that cyborg
technologies will
develop
before
those
of genetic engineering, but this
is
an empirical
question that only time can
answer.
In any event, these technologies will certainly
alter human consciousness at its most fundamental, structural level, presumably in
directions leading to a kind of consciousness more auspicious for a spacefaring
species.
Conclusion
In conclusion, I have argued that the fuzzy, metaphorical application of the
cyborg concept
by some
contemporary anthropologists has obscured the explanatory
power of the concept, as well as the very real implications of the cyborg process for
an evolutionary account of human consciousness.
I
have tightened the concept so
that
a
biogenetic structural model may be constructed that allows us to focus on an
essential
process
of human technics leading eventually to
cyborg
consciousness.
The
cyborg
is
inevitable
as a
consequence of the
law
of bidirectional penetration; that is,
the lawful interpenetrating of world and being. Insofar as we alter the world
technologically, we will also alter our being. Cyborg consciousness will lawfully
emerge, possibly (as envisioned by Clynes and Kline) in the context of the
exploration and colonization of interplanetary
space.
Considering the inevitability
and cultural multistability of the cyborg, it would behoove anthropologists to think
deeply about such a vital process that is evolving in our very midst as we speak.
Notes
1 lam reminded of the wonderful CanadianTV
series,
"Max
Headroom,"
in
which the consciousness
of an investigative reporter finds itself existing in cyberspace and which communicates with normal
people through their television sets.
December
1997 The
Evolution of Cyborg Consciousness
157
2 If all of the tissues in your body were to suddenly disappear, except for the nervous system, for a
brief instant before you collapsed into a mess on the floor (no skeleton you see?), the entire form of your
body, except your nails, hair and tooth enamel, would remain visible, so pervasive are the nerves in your
body.' Thomas N. Scortia and George Zebrowski edited an anthology of science fiction cyborg stories
entitled Human Machines (1975).
4 Another true cyborg in the comic book arena is Wolverine whose skeleton has been replaced by
the fictional substance adamantine, the hardest metal in the world, and whocan extend adamantine claws
out of the backs of his hands at will. Other cyborgs are the X-Men's Cable, and the New Teen Titans'
Cyborg. Characters mentioned as cyborgs due to the fuzzy understanding of the concept in the literature
include the first Iron Man (really an android), Captain America (who was changed from a 90 pound
weakling into
a
superhero by way of an injection of "super-soldier
serum"
that changed his DNA), Doctor
Doom (who is really ugly and wears a metal suit and mask), and Valiant's X-O Man of War (who enjoys
a symbiotic relationship with an alien, sentient set of body armor).
s Other film and TV cyborgs include Edward
Scissorhands
(the title says it all!), Terminator (who is
really a robot consciousness inside organic skin), Lawnmower Man (which explores the issue of virtual
reality technology quite well), the famous Borg episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation (in which
Captain Picard is inducted into the ranks of the Borg), and Johnny Mnemonic (adapted from William
Gibson's cyberpunk universe). The remarkable movie
Blade
Runner, frequently mentioned in reference
to cyborgs, really involves androids.
6 Biogenetic structuralism isabody of theory pertaining to the relations between brain.consciousness,
culture and cosmos. Perhaps the best description of biogenetic structuralism may be found in Laughlin,
McManus and d'Aquili 1990.
7 See Laughlin, McManus and d'Aquili 1990:36, 196 on the biogenetic structural concept of
"penetration."
" The term "withdrawal" refers to the tendency for people to lose awareness of tools and machines
to the extent that these work efficiently. The carpenter tends to lose awareness of the hammer during the
task of hammering.
g My stages have nothing to do with Clynes' (1995) typology.
10 This is a fundamental error in William Gibson's fictional cyberpunk vision in that he has his
cyborg characters manifesting very human egos. Indeed, his characters manifest few of the more advanced
possibilities that a Stage IV cyborg must eventually manifest.
11 In biogenetic structuralism, inherent brain structures are called "neurognosis," or "neurognostic
structures;" see Laughlin, McManus and d'Aquili 1990: Chapter 2.
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