When talking about what defines ‘posthuman’, Hayles discusses our inability to clearly identify a solitary identity within a person; rather we are each made up of a full cast of contributing voices that are orchestrated to produce our sense of self. Turkle addresses this particular concept in far greater detail in Life on the Screen, but the basic ideas are present here in Hayles’ writing, as well.

“New models of subjectivity emerging from such fields as cognitive science and artificial life imply that even a biologically unaltered Homo sapiens counts as posthuman. The defining characteristics involve the construction of subjectivity, not the presence of nonbiological components.” (4)

She argues that, since we are necessarily interconnected components functioning more or less in harmony, we aren’t just human any longer; we cannot be considered a single functional unit. Instead, we are a conglomeration of parallel processes vying for attention. Viewing human consciousness this way, there’s very little space between us and the machines.

“Only when conflicts occur between agents does an adjudicating program kick in to resolve the problem. In this model, consciousness emerges as an epiphenomenon whose role it is to tell a coherent story about what is happening, even though this story may have little to do with what is happening processurally.” (157)

What I find truly fascinating about this is mixing this idea of a “coherent story” with others from earlier in the text. If humans and self-monitoring machines adjust their own functioning through reflexive feedback, and if that feedback consists primarily as noise, then it would be the noteworthy dissonance that grabs attention and creates reaction. Ambient sounds in the room, a constant source of random inputs, becomes noticed when it is abnormal. Similarly, the internal reflexive feedback we get is largely considered ‘noise’ until something passes the threshold and gets noticed and processed.

Does this mean, then, that if there was no spike in the noise, there would be no consciousness? To me, that suggests humans are conscious because we have senses: a premise I’m not particularly comfortable accepting. However, the instinct to return to homeostasis could play a role here. Perhaps human consciousness comes from our continual efforts to reach homeostasis in defiance of continuous dissonant reflexive feedback.

Just as she discusses human consciousness in terms of machine processing, Hayles also discusses textuality as though it were a consciousness, as well. The assertion that man and machine are too interdependent as to be separated these days almost seems old. However, Hayles compares the man/machine pairing to a text/reader pairing that I see as revealing. This text/reader pairing arises from a basic omission of the writer from consideration: “The computer molds the human even as the human builds the computer. When narrative functionalities change, a new kind of reader is produced by the text” (47).

I appreciate the idea that the texts we read have an impact on us and our thinking, and, therefore, how we view and interact with our surroundings, but I think the metaphor gets carried a bit too far, into unrestrained anthropomorphizing. A text acts

“…as if [it] remembers the moment when it was nothing but electronic polarities on a disk. At moments of crisis, the repressed memory erupts onto the textual surface in the form of an acute fear that randomness will so interpenetrate its patterns that story will be lost and the textual corpus will be reduced to a body of meaningless data.” (43)

In short, da poor widdle text is afwaid of being wost.

But then again, if we struggle to determine where are consciousness comes from, are we that far from being lost ourselves? Perhaps it is all just noise.

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