Unfinished Work: From Cyborg to Cognisphere
The cyborg that Donna Haraway appropriated in ‘Manifesto for Cyborgs’ as a metaphor for political action and theoretical inquiry has ceased to have the potency it did 20 years ago. While Haraway has turned from a central focus on technoculture to companion species, much important cultural work remains to be done, especially in networked and programmable media. Problems with the cyborg as a metaphor include the implication that the liberal humanist subject, however problematized by its hybridization with cybernetic mechanism, continues as a singular entity operating with localized agency. In a word, the cyborg is not networked enough to encompass the emergent possibilities associated with the Internet and the world-wide web and other phenomena of the contemporary digital era. Instead I propose the idea of the cognisphere. As operational concept and suggestive metaphor, the cognisphere recognizes that networked and programmable media are not only more pervasive than ever before in human history but also more cognitively powerful. It is closely associated with what many researchers regard as a major insight: the idea that the physical world is fundamentally computational. While these scientists regard computation as a physical process, the cultural critic is apt to see it as an over-determined metaphor. The binary choice between seeing the computational universe as a literal description of the physical world and reading it as an over-determined metaphor misses a crucial aspect of contemporary cultural dynamics: the interaction between means and metaphor, technology and cultural presupposition. Taking this dynamic into account leads to a more complete understanding summed up in the aphorism, ‘What we make and what (we think) we are co-evolve together’. © 2006, Sage Publications. All rights reserved.
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