[ExI] Wrestling with Embodiment

Natasha Vita-More natasha at natasha.cc
Sat Jan 21 16:14:16 UTC 2012

-----Original Message-----
From: extropy-chat-bounces at lists.extropy.org
[mailto:extropy-chat-bounces at lists.extropy.org] On Behalf Of Anders Sandberg

On 20/01/2012 23:32, natasha at natasha.cc wrote:
> What the heck is Hayles (How We Became Posthuman) talking about when 
> she says that posthumans are disembodied?

"I can't say I find her understandable (she is nice in person, though). 
But it is safe to guess she doesn't mean embodiment in the usual 
physical sense, but more likely in the sense of phenomenology or even 
continental feminism - the body as a constraint/part of the lifeworld. 
Our cognition is embodied, and that means it is deeply dependent upon 
features of the physical body."

Yes, good point. Thus she takes an essentialist perspective, much like
Fukuyama, and asserts that our genes are us, even with their mutations that
attack the very source - the body (interesting irony). The Merleau-Ponty
perspective is one I tend to agree with though, but not through the Hayles'
lens. For example, I do find perception deep-rooted and the Gestalt theory
of visual experiments as representations to the body through the senses and
mental perceptions of the form/color/sound/etc field. That most of "us"
(transhumanist, let say) rely on cognition to at the Aristotelian center of
the body and the animal kingdom may have value in memory, reasoning and
other intellectual properties, but it is not the all and be all and the body
and the experiences of the body through the nervous system as a
communication system, in my view, ought be on par with cognition.  I think
this is especially important considering most of our AI/AGI/Uploading
advocates, are focused on computational powers and not on how the brain's
processes are informed by the body.  In my view this is our shortcoming and
a big mistake.  I could be wrong in how I am stating this, but I am clear in
my experiences and involvement in the posthuman subject for long enough to
see this as consequential.

I also think Suzanne K. Langer is onto something with her embodiment theory
of Symbolization and its relation to emotions, instincts, perceptions and as
they relate to the presentation of a symbol, not the occurrence of a
sign/symbol. Another area that she focuses on and that I think is relevant
is the human ability to project their personal bodily feelings - I suppose
you could say that this would be a mental construct of the physical
experience - onto physical objects (real or imagined). When you think of it,
this is a really strange psychological/material/perceptional orgy.

"This is a very 'in' view in parts of 
robotics too."

Yes, I see that and it confuses me because it's like one of those terms that
gets picked up by different fields and they each given their own spin on it.
I suppose I need to stay very focused on what "embodiment" is important to
my thesis and not get lost going down rabbit holes.

"So my stab at what she might mean is that our concept of the posthuman 
as we often describe it in our community tends to be very disembodied: 
we tend to assume the body is an irrelevant artifact that can be 
discarded and replaced with something better, keeping the essential part 
of ourselves. But she thinks this is a mistake - not that it might be 
impossible to do, but that regarding bodies as fashion accessories 
rather than the ground of being will mean we will be amputating 
important parts of our selves."

I agree that this is her interpretation and thank you for spelling it out in
one sentence. I think that she is mistaken by using a broad brush to paint
our thinking. For example, I do not think the body is irrelevant. It is how
I communicate with the world as a vehicle and as an ornament, a pleasure
chamber, and a constant reminder of all my
problems/mistakes/regrets/hope/fears/loves as evidenced through the very
scars that are visible, pains that I feel from disease or injuries, and the
wrinkles symbolizing years that I have lived, and the smiles of high points
in my life, the tears that run down my face at deep anguish and sadness, and
the giggle of life's marvelous and absurd humor. This is what I want to draw
from in designing future bodies for the posthuman. Now, when I say "bodies"
I do not mean stamps of the human form, I mean bodies as in envelopes that
encompass the codes - whether computation or chemical - that house
existence.  We have to be in something.  If it is an upload, then it is in
something - some envelope, encasement, structure, system.  That would be the
body.  So, we have to redefine "body" in order to explain to numbskulls the
transhumanist vision of the posthuman.  

The problem is the saying "pro life" if you say it, one thinks you are
anti-abortion.  But one could be for life in and of itself and have no
interest in the politics of abortion.

The posthuman, in my view, would require perceptual experiences and an array
of emotional input/output devices in relation to the environment/system in
which it exists. In this sense, the body (as a newly defined concept) is not
amputated and is a deeply integrated aspect of our selves.

What are your thoughts on this Anders? How would you redefine "body"? Do you
see my point or am I stating it in a way that lacks clarity?


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