[ExI] Posthumanism vs. Transhumanism

natasha at natasha.cc natasha at natasha.cc
Wed Jun 17 19:45:43 UTC 2009

It would be an excellent contribution to an anthology of "Critical  

Quoting Damien Broderick <thespike at satx.rr.com>:

> A little more on anti-essentialism and its problems. This chunk from my
> book comes after a longer discussion of sociologist of knowledge Barry
> Barnes (1983):
>           Knowledge in Context
> Barnes proceeds to several implications: *delocalisation* (to know a
> goose, it also helps to know a swan); hence, there are no free-floating
> `atomic' concepts (p. 29); the application of a term is a judgment, as
> we have noted, since `the tension of a term represents a conventional
> relationship of sameness between the instances within it', and this can
> always be revised (pp. 30 1); proper usage is *agreed usage*, so that a
> creature might be at one time deemed a moth, at another a butterfly:
> `Cases such as these are sometimes thought to result from an inadequate
> knowledge of the "real meanings" of terms themselves; and occasionally
> the achievement of consensus in these cases is conceived as a
> "discovery" of the "real meaning". But such consensus merely marks the
> successful negotiation of an extension of usage'; and *equivalence*,
> which is to say that `different Hesse nets are always equivalent' (p.
> 33), since `"Reality" does not mind how we cluster it; "reality" is
> simply the massively complex array of unverbalized information which we
> cluster. This suggests that different nets stand equivalently in
> relation to "reality" or to the physical environment', and also `as far
> as the possibility of "rational justification" is concerned'(p. 33, his
> emphasis). In short, `alternative classifications are *conventions*
> between which neither "reality" nor "pure reason" can discriminate.
> Accepted systems of classification are *institutions* which are
> socially sustained. (p. 33, his emphasis)'
>           In my own view, this strong relativist position is surely
> inconsistent with an implacable universe warranting ostension. [That
> is, you can point to something as you name it.] Barnes offers in
> support of his case the instance of Karam animal taxonomy, which places
> cassowaries (a kind of flightless bird) in the special taxon kobtiy,
> outside that of flying beasts like other birds and bats (pp 34 37), and
> compares that categorisation with the zoological taxonomy used in an
> advanced industrial Hesse net:
>           "How can the pattern of either net distort reality? Rather,
> reality provides the information incorporated in both nets; it has no
> preference for the one or the other." (p. 35)
> However bracing this might be as a corrective to imperialistic
> anthropology, it is nonsense if taken literally. DNA sequences, for
> example, are not `randomly' or `purely culturally' associated with the
> genomes of each taxa, but contain clear natural-historical markers
> endorsing the phylogenetic claims of one over the other--that is, the
> history of their natural selection. (These deep links might be of no
> interest or use to humans, of course, and for most of history they have
> been altogether inaccessible, but they remain coded as the DNA `text'
> or `recipe': an almost indelible inscription).
>           Animals and plants, whose phenotypes are the expression of
> the interaction between environment and coded genotype, are the
> `naturally-chunked' perceptual fields, or `natural kinds', which humans
> are prone to tag with lexemes (whatever further totemic or commercial
> significance they may be given). This perspective--that human language,
> prior to the legitimate claims of cultural relativity, is founded in
> its capacity for adaptation to an indefinitely complex interacting
> universe--gives the lie to Barnes's easy assertion: `"Reality" does not
> mind how we cluster it.' Reality might not mind, but finding the
> correct clustering certainly matters.
>           The relativist view has been canvassed by John Dean, who
> found within our own botanical science two rival taxonomies for the
> plant Gilia inconspicua, and noted that both `are built upon
> perceptible, systematizable, stable distinctions between individual
> plants. In this sense the natural order sustains both taxonomies;
> neither can be said to be erroneous' (Dean, 1979, p. 226; see
> especially his taxonomic discussion, pp. 211-28). This view does not
> convince me that `reality does not mind how we classify it'; it simply
> reminds us that the reality we notate on our low-dimensional grids is
> multidimensional. Reality is not, however, utterly or even very
> indeterminate: it would be very strange to classify Gilia inconspicua
> as a variety of possum or igneous rock, or to attempt to breed it in
> the wild with an elephant. True, one might throw it in with anything
> imaginable for, say, totemic purposes, but that is a different point
> entirely. Ironically, the arch-conventionalist Pierre Duhem looked to
> the emergence of naturally-chunked classification: `The more a theory
> is perfected, the more we apprehend that the logical order in which it
> arranges experimental laws is the reflection of an ontological order'
> (cited Lakatos, 1978, p. 21).
>           Taken together, these converging models from artificial
> intelligence research and the sociology of scientific knowledge offer a
> useful springboard to the further examination of semiosis: the ways in
> which humans recognise, construct and manipulate logics and contexts in
> the service of signification.
> [etc etc. Maybe I should put this whole damned book up on the web, even
> if it is somewhat out of date now...]
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