Archive for posthuman subject

Your Mind is Now Undead!

Posted in Divine Science with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 19, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan
Teh ceiling cat is in ur machine, reading ur mind...

Teh ceiling cat is in ur machine, reading ur mind...

Less than a week ago researchers in Japan confirmed a way to extract images directly from brains. Yes, you read that correctly; in a nutshell: by hooking you up to this machine everyone can now see what you are thinking, because it will be shown in a monitor. I had this reply in my Twitter stream when I tweeted about it, and although I have not yet seen that movie it is nonetheless very easy to imagine this invention being taken right out of a science fiction gig. (Being the shameless otaku that I am, my personal memory that this news recalled is none other than Japan’s anime ambassador, Doraemon.)

I often have people asking me what I think of the newest mind-blowing inventions the world has to offer (which is one of the reasons why this blog was created). Perhaps surprisingly to some, I never throw out horrible paranoiac scenarios of nightmarish dystopias people commonly take as “critical” reviews of a certain technology. While I do acknowledge the potential new narratives of paranoia such technologies — and especially mind-reading technologies — will engender, I like to look at technology the way I look at bodies, Lacanian style — i.e., as the false representative, the lacking signifier of the subject.

Being able to record one’s thought into an image on the computer screen is one of the basic tenets of posthuman fluidity. After all, if video games can read your mind, why shouldn’t the computer be able to see your mind?

Here, however, I have a very basic question: will our mind, after being replicated into a computer screen, remain our mind? Will my mind not, rather, take the position of an “undead” mind, a mind that is both mine and not mine at the same time, giving me the uncanny experience akin to listening to a recording of my own voice, a voice both mine and not mine at the same time? In the domain of the voice, we have horror movies like The Exorcist, in which a ghostly intrusion is symbolized by the changing of the voice. Similarly, we also have scenarios like the Imperius Curse in Harry Potter, in which a Death Eater intrusion is symbolized by the changing of a victim’s mind.

What this implies, however, is a much more radical thesis: today, with neuroscience and other mind-reading technologies, the mind reveals its inherent split: my mind is not my mind. (Or, to put it in Hegelian tautology-as-contradiction: my mind is my mind.) It is no longer the age-old “Cartesian” split between the mind and the body — we are now forced to realize that even without the body, the mind is already inherently split from within. Yes, we can extract minds, read them, project them onto screens, record them and store them, build them from individual neurons, etc., but the fact remains that there is an irreducible kernel behind its presence, its irreducible (misrecognizing) reflexivity. After all is said and done, we still have a gaping void in the middle of the thinking mind, its “true” presence (compared to the “undead” simulation of the projections on the screen, which is not fully our mind, etc.), what Žižek calls “the unbearable lightness of being no one”.

It is here that we may come up with another definition of the posthuman subject: the posthuman subject is the subject whose mind is undead, a subject whose externalized mind as such loses its phenomenological vigor of living presence and turns into a zombie.

As an additional note, it is fun to imagine the birth of “mind art” in the future with this technology — far from needing any motoric skills, the artist would only utilize his sharp concentration to create stunning artworks. Like, you know, porn.

Now, replace the snowman with a nude chick.

The snowman is actually a nude chick.

Semen Cookbook and the Symptom of Political Correctness

Posted in Posthuman Perversion with tags , , , , on November 23, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

I guess I will continue this month to talk about the meaning of life qua posthuman, that spans already over several categories, posted here and here. What I am going to talk about this time may bring either a “WTF!?” laughter or a lost lunch, or perhaps an erection and appetite gain, depending on your taste. As for myself, I had a shock when I came across this news this afternoon:

Natural Harvest - A Collection of Semen-Based Recipes

If you ever feel like eating cum.

Yes, this picture is the front cover of a real cookbook, which you can buy here. Be sure to read the comments.

So, what are we to think of future food ingredients? Meat grown in labs on one hand and freshly ejaculated semen on the other? Of course, pardon the bad taste and a seriously disgusting joke for most of us. But I asked the question to point to a more serious question; the fact we should address is a much more fundamental one.

The activity of eating, of course, does not happen only at the biological level of need — it works as well on the Symbolic order; we only need to recall animal sacrifice rituals and eating taboos for proof. So, the main question we should ask would be: how is this event possible at all? What are our coordinates of the Symbolic today, in regards to our notion of the self and the meal, that enable this transformation? Of course, beside taste, there is all the defense that semen contains a lot of protein, etc. But the taboo, the disgust, of course, lie in the fact that semen is is a product of a human being. Is eating it not a form of cannibalism, then? Of course, I am here not talking about the sexual context since people do it all the time in sex. But the fact of someone making an entire cookbook out of it proves that semen-eating has taken on a totally different discourse.

How does this shift happen? I think it has a lot to do with our image of the human today. Are we not, practically, with all the information saturation in the media, becoming more and more a being of tolerance and multiplicity rather than a being of flesh? Is it so wrong to eat something we produce ourselves, when we do it already all the time in sex? Is there an objective negative answer to this in the coordinates of our expected ethical stance today? The radical transformation of the state of science and political correctness, our disintegrating coordinates of nature and culture, are all crystallized into a symptom of perversion: the semen cookbook.

There are a couple of curious things to take note of. First, in the book, the entire notion of semen is already radically desexualized, made into a positive fact rather than an embarrassing secret. The injunction behind this is the same as the one driving all the porn-positive and sex-positive arguments: the imperative to make more mainstream a previously deviant idea. The second is how, in the comments, people relate this phenomenon to the “crisis” and the “love for nature”. This book is all the politically correct ideas crystallized into one — what could be a better political correctness than letting a group of energy-saving, nature-loving, sex-positive minorities have their say in the wider world?

Thus, the cookbook is not simply a disgusting artifact, a deviance of culture, a perverted idea of a bunch of sick people. It is rather the opposite: the semen-based recipe cookbook is our politically correct, nature-confused culture at its most elementary.

NOTE: via Digg, the submitter says, “WHAT THE F**K!! THAT’S F**KING DISGUSTING!!” — I say, “Isn’t that what they said about anal sex several years back?”

The Cyborg’s Implosion of Visual Space

Posted in Divine Science with tags , , , , , , , , on November 20, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

Scleral Shell, Prosthesis designed by Dr. Danz. Photo by Jonathan James

Scleral Shell, Prosthesis designed by Dr. Danz. Photo by Jonathan James

Recently San Francisco-based artist Tanya Vlach made several headlines with her Call for Engineers to develop her a prosthetic eye that would be able to take still photos and video, use 3X optical zoom, be Bluetooth enabled and hold space for a 4GB SD card. Just below the blog title she quotes Donna Haraway’s definition of the cyborg. Shortly after the news my blogger/designer friend Atherton Bartelby told me of a similar artist, Rob Spence of Eyeborg (graphic images, NOT for the squeamish). One thing is clear: both are obviously aware of their being cyborgs.

What is our relationship to spatiality and the visuals today? Jean Baudrillard has introduced us to the postmodern implosion of the signifier and the signified, where our semiotic sphere loses its grounding and spins around in confusion. But, I think, with the birth of the cyborg — itself a being born out of implosion — as well as surveillance technologies and the evolution of HCI, things get a bit more complex. Here, we are witnessing not only the Baudrillardian simulacra that confuses the signifier with the Thing-in-itself, but also the implosion of the trompe-l’œil with the object. The field of vision itself is objectivized

(This, of course, can only happen qua a posthuman subject, a subject of modular organs: in the past few years, the seeing subject has changed from a subject with eyes to a subject with a nervous system and a camera. It is no longer the eye that sees; it is the brain.)

What does it mean, today, to see? There is nothing natural about sight — the vantage point, the subjective point-of-view is not merely this illusion that locates the existence of the subject, but also at the same time that which radically cuts the subject from within — my gaze is effectively not fully my own. Is this not the reason, the primeval trauma behind all those fantasies of an out-of-body experience? (We can recall here the same formula by Lacan of the voice, and its equivalent ghostly experience of being possessed by a voice.)

It is worth recalling Bourdieu’s famous claim — although ultimately the reference to any “natural” state is a false one — that perspective drawings are not the natural way to see things, but the educated painter’s way to do so. Today, what we take as “natural” comprise of the zoom, the image and video capturing capabilities, the memory in the eye, and so on (suffice it to recall how advertisements of HDTV always feature natural objects). But if the perspective drawing was a way to draw, what we are now effectively dealing with is a way to see — we are now not manipulating how we represent reality, but reality itself, insofar as what we take as reality is nothing but our perception of it (post-structuralism, quantum physics, autopoietic cognitive science, etc.).

And a second point: does not the elevation of the gaze into a cyborg’s render perfectly the notion that our gaze is never our own? Once that trauma is revoked, once the fantasy is realized qua networks and data transfers, it is easy to imagine the paranoia such technology will cause: what if the visions I am seeing is not the way things really are, but are in fact footages and animation transmitted from somewhere else? More ideals, more paranoia. Eyehacking, anyone?

Cat Bags and Cyborg Significant Others

Posted in Companion Species with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on November 14, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

The Cat Bag

What is life today? Obviously I am not talking about another kind of New Age mysticism here, but nonetheless I think this question is crucial if we are to fully grasp the notion of significant otherness in interspecies relations. If Haraway talked about cyborgs and companion species, today, with ambient intelligence and wearable computing on one hand and increasing atomization of society in the other, we are entering more and more into a realm of cyborg companion trans-species — the land of ambient life in the glorious age of “hybrid wearables”.

I was intrigued by these photos the “Cat Bag”, pictured above. What is so interesting is that how this bag will breathe, purr, light up its eyes, radiate warmth, and even beat its heart. If the OncoMouse, the first species with a trademark register, is the prime example of the convergence of biotechnology, scientific research, and capitalist production, what is the Cat Bag if not the example par excellence of the convergence between the romantic realm of significant otherness and the realm of stupid, elementary practical usage?

How is this possible? What do we see in the potentials of technology today? From Mediamatic‘s review of the Hybrid Wearables Workshop, we can read:

I do not need my laptop to be merged with my overcoat. I do not want to receive email on a tiny screen mounted on my eyeglasses. I do not have enough attention to distribute to real and virtual life at once. Nevertheless, applications like these are some of the first which come to mind when one mentions wearable computing.

Instead, what if your shirt would hug you every now at then? What if your bag would warn you about forgetting your keys? What if your socks explained how to give a fantastic foot massage?

If you are familiar at all with Lacanian psychoanalysis, one thing is clear: not only that technology is driven to be made as a means to gain the object little a from other human subjects, but technology itself is seen as possessing the object little a, as the treasure box (or hard disk?) in which the agalma is hidden  — a posthuman cultural construct at its most elementary.

Animal domestication was among one of the crucial steps in the development of modern man, in par with tool use itself. The relationship between the human and the nonhuman has continued, of course, to be a crucial relationship. And it is evolving with technology, as we can see. In psychoanalysis, already with Freud, we have theories of the totem, animal spirits, and so on. But what about the evolution of the discourse of species itself? Here, I think, the cyborg subject is not so well theorized.

Orgasms Without Organs

Posted in Posthuman Perversion with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on November 11, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan
Exiting the Orgasmatron from the 1973 movie Sleeper

Exiting the Orgasmatron (from Sleeper)

Today we are more and more familiar with the idea that someday we will have fully efficient and working orgasm pills and buttons. The common idea is that by knowing how long the pill’s effect would take to kick in, we can predict our actions before hand, make it synchronous with our activities, we will not have to fake it, etc. And of course there is the idea of the orgasmatron with which we can reach orgasm any time we want — by electronically stimulating parts of the lower spinal column, etc. — the idea being that we can easily get out from our daily boredom and use it in the office while nobody’s looking, and so on. Pleasure has never been entirely mechanized.

Is it just another mode of masturbation, simply another step after we have all those increasingly intelligent fucking machines and interactive teledildonics? There is a crucial difference we must not miss: in masturbation, fucking machines, and teledildonics, our focus is still very much the traditional notion of sex as the “carnal” pleasure. We need sensual touches. One may even say that the entire point of this kind of “roboeroticism” is not orgasm in itself, but the entire fantastic experience with all the thrills of fucking with machine others.

In the instant orgasm technologies, the perception is rather different. Sex is no longer taken as the carnal-sensual pleasure, but reduced to merely this “objective” electro-chemical neurophysiological process. Is it not the same drive that brought us the human genome project? The pervasive idea is that we can always map everything into informational patterns. Is not the fully mapped human genome of myself, one that successfully maps my every little trait, my “objective” Self without Body nor Organs? It is not the Freudian organs, for, strictly speaking, it is not our body but its data. And, obviously, it in itself lacks the Deleuzian Body, for those data in the computer are real, objective, self-contained. But objectively, it is nonetheless my self, in so far as I am conceived to be an informational biological data pattern for the android Other — the self as data-organs.

This (mis)conception of the self as fully integratable in the Symbolic with current posthuman technologies has given rise to a new discourse of sexuality — a fetishistic sexual kernel based on objective, exact scientific mappings and definitions of pleasure itself.

The Lacanian definition of sex is obviously its exact opposite — it is not a discursive construct (as Foucault would put it), but it is the domain where discursive constructs fail, and as such, gives rise to the metonymic chain of desire. Is data-organs a better discourse for sexuality? The posthuman construct of orgasm without organs, orgasm as a series of mappable electro-chemical informational patterns, orgasm in the domain of data-organs, may be merely a new fetishistic obsession of our posthuman sexuality. But with all its new mode of signification and experience, let us not underestimate its potentials to proliferate new desires of the cyborg subject.

And let us not forget its obscene unfortunate superegotistical consequences — it is now effortless, so there is no longer any reason for you not to enjoy it!

Welcome to a Posthuman Democracy!

Posted in Political Focus with tags , , , , , , , , on November 6, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

Obamas victory

Obama's victory

The start of this month has been a tense one. As the outcome of the 2008 US Election is finally announced, I am proud to say that I am happy for my American readers that they got a new, decent president in which they can all entrust their hopes. With all the tension relieved, The Posthuman Marxist will now resume its blogging with more critical articles for you to read! And what better way to celebrate the upcoming new administration than a critical analysis of what all this spectacular election had been?

What especially interests me in all this glorious spectacle of an election is how tech-savvy the Democrats had been in conducting their campaign. I have been following Mashable’s takes on this, which has been covering the issue from way back in February 2007, and here’s their quick recap. What we are having today in our politics, especially with Obama, is a head-on collision between the realm of high politics and direct online life. Needless to say, this is the first time such politics is conducted, and the interesting question would thus be: why has our politics evolved in such way?

This is obviously not such a hard question. Is it not only natural for politics to go towards the more popular, transparent, and democratic approach in its conduct? And does the internet not indeed provide such a platform? Furthermore, it is of course very much in line with the appeal of the Democrats to use media that are close to the hearts of the young generations, so all this has been natural. Then it is perhaps better to reformulate the question: why is technology seen as a more democratic means?

We have come a long way from our technophobic past. “Media brainwashing” is a phrase we no longer hear quite as often today as in the past. After all, we have Web 2.0, with all its connectedness and writeability. What is interesting, however, in this “digital democracy” (for lack of a better phrase), is how very much outsourced things are (obviously, Obama does not handle all those Web 2.0 profiles himself; and I very much doubt that it was he who personally clicked “follow” on my Twitter profile). It is not surprising, then, to hear all the buzz about wiki governance and Google transparency. Anderkoo has an excellent take on this matter, which is worth a serious read.

With Obama, the democratic decentralization of politics today, it seems, does not only involve the standard notions of giving power to the people. Already, we are seeing how the job is given to intelligent machines — albeit just in the form of computer codes that work on Web 2.0 platforms. This tech-savvy campaign is very well aware that the question today is not merely to decentralize power, but to decentralize cognition itself, i.e. to conduct better politics not only in terms of creating a more equal humanist society, but also in terms of creating a more intelligent posthumanist environment in which it will only be possible to conduct a better democracy.

Automated Web technology and machine intelligence is now a democratic means that we trust instead of a postmodern artifact of great anti-humanist suspicion, because, recalling the famous Haylesian argument, we have already become posthuman.

Regarding the development of our posthuman future, Obama, at least so far, is taking great steps. Will he continue this tech-savvy grassroots platform? We can only hope. And what will we make of this new conducts? Will it indeed bring better democracy? Will it bring about more trust in intelligent machines? What political subjects will our society turn out to be, when environment itself becomes politically aware in the near-future age of ambient intelligence?

Oversharing, or, the Anxiety of Inverted Fantasy

Posted in Postmodern 2.0 with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 5, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

There is a new phenomenon in today’s information society, the anxiety of which becomes pervasive when one realizes the dangers and fragility brought upon by the interconnected Web 2.0 sphere. This is the problem of online oversharing: the tension in finding the right balance of what parts of one’s subjective identity should be put online. This is an anxious search, because, at first, it is understandably hard to realize that the internet is a totally new space with its own novel dynamics; any attempt to categorize it as public or private sphere or any of the classical categories would fail just as miserably as any attempt to introduce old-market commodity dynamics to the remix culture of intellectual property. As such, adapting to the new big Other of the internet becomes even harder.

How much should our online avatar, our novel cyber-embodiment, resemble our stupid, abrupt, physical identity of existence? Of course, we have all the big postmodern theories about how everything is no more than a simulacra, how reality and fantasy becomes blurred, that we live in a state of hyperreality, etc. But I think this idea is a little too naive for today’s society — rather than the blurring of fantasy and reality, is it not more true that the condition of our second embodiment, one I dubbed the monitor phase, calls for an inversion of fantasy? What I mean is quite simple: as our lives are today more and more lived on the other side of the screen, is it not, then, only logical that when the simulation is more real than the reality itself, reality becomes more and more like our fantasies?

It is interesting to take note of the dynamics of anxiety in today’s society compared to the more traditional societies. Oversharing has always been about how one’s speech can uncomfortably alter the other’s coordinates of the Imaginary, much to the discomfort of one or both sides. In the traditional society, oversharing becomes only a problem of how adjusted one is to the big Other, whether one is an idiot, etc. In today’s society, oversharing becomes a pervasive danger, as though one can read another’s mind in a condition where everybody is everybody else’s Big Brother. This is what I call the inversion of fantasy: we have to now struggle harder and harder to create and maintain coherent online profiles that do not tell too much about the truth of our daily, physical being, as we have, as kids growing up, struggled to maintain a coherent social identity with our physical being that does not tell too much about our fantasies. Is not our real, naive, physical self the obscene unconscious of our electronic avatar?

The age of what I dubbed Postmodern 2.0 takes the fantasy-reality dynamics further and more complicated. It is not just blurred, but inverted qua monitor. Of course, this inversion is not a simple one but one that should be noted in a nonlinear function of interactivity (although I do not have the space to develop that here). Slavoj Žižek once noted that we need the excuse of fiction to stage our true identity [citation needed]. A proper move for me is to go one step further and take into account the interactivity of today’s online and digital fiction — Lev Manovich’s move from traditional cinema to digital and “soft” cinema — and question the psychoanalytic dynamics of such processes. Is not today’s anxieties of oversharing the ultimate proof that something radical is going on in the dynamics of our Imaginary order?