This cyborg isn’t really thinking – A Ramble: Man is machine

Man lives by destiny. And its destiny is to live with constructs of itself.

DNA. Three little letters that carry the weight of generations. It’s the carrier of the information, stored as a code by our nucleobasic friends, adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine. More than 99% of these bases are the same in all people. These bases determine the information available for building and maintaining an organism. Nature was unwise enough to give us that unique sense of ‘humanity’ and the power to ‘reason’ (in the loosest sense of the word, since I’m still not convinced most people have the power to do it adequately). So what are our constructs but bits of ourselves?

Most likely you’re sitting in a chair right now. Why don’t you stand up and take a look a look at it? Nothing wrong with it, I hope. No defects. No missing legs. Leather or cushioning is optional, of course, as are armrests and wheels. You ever wonder who designed the chair? And, no, I don’t mean the word ‘IKEA’ stamped to it somewhere. I mean, who originally designed the concept of the chair?

Sounds like a stupid question, doesn’t it? And in many ways it is. That chair just looks natural. It was built to sit on, nothing more, nothing less. That’s its function. And without you, it would have no function. When you sit in the chair, it becomes an extension of you. Similarly, when a paraplegic sits in a wheelchair, in a sense, it becomes a part of them.

So maybe the concept of the chair wasn’t ‘invented’. Maybe it was ‘discovered’. Maybe by some innate human sense, we somehow decided that this universal idea of the chair is something we all should sit our asses on. Because it just seemed natural.

The other day I rewatched Innocence (also known as Ghost in the Shell 2). I didn’t hate it as much this time around. In it, a rather, shall we say, ‘interesting’, conversation occurs. It’s not really a conversation, and more like a few jackass philosophy majors firing off quotes from their favorite thinkers, usually dead white guys. Remember, you can send a jackass out into the world, but it will never come back a horse… or a man.

Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (2004; Mamoru Oshii)

“If the essence of life is information carried in DNA, then society and civilization are just colossal memory systems, and a metropolis like this one, simply a sprawling external memory.” – Batou (Akio Ohtsuka), Innocence (2004; Mamoru Oshii)

The conversation in the movie involved the concept of DNA as basically a unit of information of life. Like the technology that permeates our lives today (or, more appropriately: technology that is our lives today), human beings are built on information. We’re carrying around stored memories, and every construct around us is built by that memory.

Since our genetic code is nothing but information, everything we build is technically built on that information, as well. Ergo, everything we create, design, and construct is, by logic, an extension of ourselves. The apartment building you live in was designed as innately as the toilet you took a dump in this morning. Our economies and governments were built to service us. God is at our mercy.

Why is your DVD round? Why not make it squared? Because nature dictates that it be round, not the human being who supposedly constructed it. You really think the people who ‘designed’ it really debated about what shape to make it in? Or do you think they instinctively gravitated towards one?

It just looks natural, doesn’t it? Why aren’t there more people arguing about the shape of DVDs? You’re right, maybe the argument is pointless and people have better things to debate about, like abortion, and whether or not to vote Democrat or Republican, and whether or not they want to lose their right or left testicle. Or maybe the argument is pointless because humans have universally and silently agreed upon it.

Also… because if it wasn’t round then it probably wouldn’t play, which is good news if you’re looking to watch the latest Hollywood blockbuster. It’s the circle. One of those shapes that rarely seems to occur perfectly in nature’s nature, but that which we adopted long ago, when as a species we first learned to walk. Anyone want to the take time and thank the wheel? Nobody invented the wheel. Nobody has claims to the circle (though, that might all depend on the type of circle it is… Pepsi, anyone?).

Or how about the actual film contained on the DVD? Now anybody who wants the feeling of immortality can just film themselves. Film is, perhaps, the ultimate expression of humanity’s connection with its technology. It’s one of the technologies we have at our disposal where it’s blatantly obvious how connected we are with it. Filmmakers try desperately to capture whatever it means to be human. Films tend to be very self-reflective. And when human beings end up on film, they literally become a part of it; the connection between man and machine. The only difference between a painter who captures the human spirit and a filmmaker who does the same is that one utilizes a more advanced medium of technology.

Human beings must learn to first use their own machine bodies. Learn to walk. Learn to run. Kick. Parts are designed to allow us leverage, pushing, pulling, running, walking. Generate momentum. Create torque. Twist and turn. Jump. We are primed bodies that must be taken care of, repaired when injured, and die when our battery lives run out. What we create help us to function. Constructs, societies, machines, tools, and tech are but a part of us as we are them.

Why is the pen you use to take notes in class the shape it’s in? And, no, I am not talking about the teeth marks at its unusable end. Because nature rules that any other shape would just be an inconvenience for us to use. I’m sure you’ve noticed by now (and if you’ve not, good luck with life and all that), but you have opposable thumbs. Unless you are, of course, a ‘ghost’ in a cybernetic ‘shell’.

Everything we build is an extension of both the human mind and the human body, extrapolated from nature, and exists to serve a purpose in accordance to its nature. So although you may think that the computer or laptop you’re using to read this ramble is as artificial, lifeless and unnatural as it gets, it’s actually just about as natural as you are, sitting in your chair right now. Is the computer not but an extension of you?

Rooftopping in Seoul (Jonas Ginter)

I’ve always been fascinated with architectural designs and cities. Cityscapes at night, with scrapers that reached the skies, fluorescence and neon lighting up the blackness have long held a bewitching spell on me. I could never understand why. But I realize it’s because human beings designed them. Cities, along with perhaps societies, economies, and histories, are probably humanity’s greatest triumph of collective memory. Towers that reach the skies, borders that expand greatly, and the people who populate them, metropolises are the most obvious and apparent extensions of species-bound memory. We are not a hive mind, but we often think as one. Cities can be grand, historical, and fleshed out, their artificial limbs extending outward and upward, just like the human mind and body. Cities are the construct of centuries of collective memory and history, passed down like the genetic code.

Above: Syd Mead concept art for Blade Runner (1982; Ridley Scott)
Like Syd Mead designing a fictionalized futuristic Los Angeles of 2019, so, too, do humans everyday dictate the design of real cities today for the future

Our genetic code is the culmination of generations of inheritances before us. We’re the latest to occupy a rented suit and carry on the information stored in our DNA, until we can (or, perhaps, must) pass it on… the propagation of the species and all that. Therefore, we hold in our bodies the collective memory of trillions who have lived and died before us. A bit daunting, at first glance. You ever wonder how human beings, with their self-conscious awareness and their insecurities, can ever summon the courage to live the knowledge of billions and even trillions?

Once upon a time, people used to pass it down through language, like they did their genetic code. Then someone invented the pen, which was mightier than the sword, and something to write on. Ever notice how after you’re done taking notes in class, you’ll take that bundle of papers and neatly pile them together? You write, and then you bundle. But the material you write on can’t be so big that you are uncomfortable carrying it, but not so small that it’s easily lost. Things taken for granted. Or things taken for natural. You don’t need to think because it’s instinctive. It’s natural. Reading from a book (so long as you know the language it is written in) is as natural as typing your next blog post (if you’re one of those people who posts at all).

So books became an ultimate log of humankind’s memory, its history. But then somebody decided that ‘computer memory’ was more powerful than the pen, which was a tool of ‘human memory’ that was more powerful than the sword, and we have computers now, with hard drives that get bigger every year, but not in physical space, of course. Following the progression of technology, it’s only natural that we discovered the megabyte and the gigabyte to store our fragments of information. Therefore, what is computer memory but an extension of human memory? Are they not the same thing? What do we store on computers but ourselves?

“On the most basic level, computers in my books are simply a metaphor for human memory: I’m interested in the hows and whys of memory, the ways it defines who and what we are, in how easily memory is subject to revision.” – William Gibson

Technology has exploded exponentially over the last century or so. What is the net, this thing called cyberspace linking humans together in this virtual world? It’s but another construct for our use and abuse. The web is but a reflection of human spirit and consumption. It’s amazing that what used to exist in our imaginations or in the realms of science fiction has or is quickly becoming reality. The posthuman era is on the verge. A cyborg seems human because it is. Neuroprosthetics. Nanotechnology. Genetic engineering. We only pursue these things because they are reflections of us. What we create become part of us. It is an impossibility to discern between what part is human by nature.

Ergo, the only natural progression now would be to completely fuse the man and the supposed machine together. There is no other logical step, except maybe death (and even the death of an entire species is not out of the question yet). Cybernetic implants. Neural implants. Nanotech. The physical occupation of cyberspace and virtual reality. Science fiction, especially cyberpunk, has long dealt with the notion of artificial intelligence, sentience in machines, and how it would affect humans. Maybe the cold, hard truth is that human beings are as artificial, constructed, but built as an extension of nature, as cyborgs, robots and androids are. We built them; therefore there is ourselves to be found in them. Human beings are machines. Machines are an extension of humans. We’re one in the same.

What makes RoboCop human? Is he? Is it the physical construct or the ‘ghost’ in the ‘shell’? Is it our memory that makes us who we are?

“DNA is nothing but a program designed to preserve itself. Life has become more complex in the overwhelming sea of information. And life, when organized as a species, relies upon its genes to be its memory system. So man is an individual only because of his intangible memory. Memory cannot be defined, but it defines mankind. The advent of computers and the subsequent accumulation of incalculable data has given rise to a new system of memory and thought parallel to your own.” – Project 2501 aka the Puppet Master (Tom Wyner, English dub), Ghost in the Shell (1995; Mamoru Oshii)

The Puppet Master in Ghost in the Shell (1995; Mamoru Oshii)
A sentient lifeform created in the ‘sea of information’, the Puppet Master might not be a new lifeform, but merely the extension of ‘incalculable’ amounts of human ‘data’

“Artifice is the result of a deliberate intent to make. Nature also ‘makes’ things, using a set of basic building blocks common throughout the universe. Exchanging infinite time for deliberate design, nature has ingeniously built plants, planets, galaxies and unimaginable constructs which seem to structure the universe itself. What we call ‘natural’ is simply the result of whatever set of rules nature has followed in fashioning our observable reality.” – Syd Mead

I embrace A.I. I embrace cybernetics. I embrace the posthuman, who is really nothing more than human, but attached to a constructed label. I’m ready to see the mistakes a sentient cyborg will make, the trials it must go through, its inevitable path towards its own destruction, its fated seal of approval, because I have already witnessed all these things in another sentient, artificial lifeform: the human being.

I wonder if it will be a pain to get past the so-called ethical issues. I wonder how many of us will be accused of playing God. The notion is absurd. God created everything, did he not? If we were created by God, especially in his image, we are but an extension of him. Anything we create is therefore an extension of his will. And what makes you think that God was not simply created by humans?

We don’t play God. We are God.

A Quick Postscript: I don’t know why I forgot to add this in… somewhere. If you look at the word technology broken down, a meaning for the root word techne (Greek) is art. It is often said that art is a reflection of the artist, in that case, would it be fair to say that technology is also a reflection of those who construct it?


4 responses to “This cyborg isn’t really thinking – A Ramble: Man is machine

  1. Hey! What happened to your latest blog post? I tried to read it but it only said it has vanished into thin air. I liked your thoughts about the circle. I think the circle is a very relaxed and natural shape to the eye and brain. Why aren’t all chairs round? Why isn’t it natural for everyone to have a round bed? We have round tables, but why not round doors? The hobbits got that one right. You got me thinking now of things shaped circular. I also love walking and admiring buildings. I love everything about how they are shaped and the time it took the artist to and builder to shape into something. I’m always looking up when I walk because I’ve always been intrigued by architecture.

    • I reposted it. 🙂
      I think the circle is very fascinating. It has both the qualities of shapeliness and shapelessness at the same time, and its uses seem to be very refined, whereas other shapes can be liberally used. And, in a way, it’s almost like it’s the most “manufactured” of all shapes, if that makes any sense. But its uses are, as I said, very refined.

      In keeping with the ideas of the essay, every shape is at our disposal to be used. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on your POV, certain shapes tend to lend themselves to certain uses. For instance, you’ll rarely see an apartment complex with round rooms. Because we’ve figured out, as a sort of mass collective subconscious, that squares and rectangles lend themselves better to that purpose. It’s must easier to divide a building into “squared” shapes, if you get what I mean. Then hallways, too, serve a purpose, as do elevators. And entire cities, the cores of which are based on a grid system of linear proportions. It’s something we decided on some sort of innate level, because it just seems natural and easy that way.

      That’s not to say that round rooms and round buildings don’t exist. They do. We’ve certainly built many of them. And that’s not to say that all buildings ought to be cubed or rectangular. No way. I was just making a very simplified example of the way everything is an extension of human beings. To an extent, we’re moving away from that mentality. Architects design buildings in a variety of ways, many of which are pleasing to the eye, some of them stand out, and others just seem out of place.

      Hope some of that made sense.

      • I will come back later today and read your recent blog. I have to head out and go to a staff meeting. (Snore). I could talk forever about architecture with you, but we have plenty of time later on. I just wanted to quickly respond to you. Squares to me are somewhat depressing and stark. I prefer the relaxed feel of the circular feel. Maybe it’s a brain preference. I’ve always liked apartments, houses and building that had unusual angles and proportions as it kept the eyes always on the go. Even now as I look to buy a home, there is this one place where the bedroom walls and even ceiling are at different angles, it’s pretty cool. I just guess I am thinking “out of the box”. Talk soon!

      • The circle DOES feel relaxed. Squares, rectangles, on the other hand, are very blunt and very artificial, even though both shapes lend themselves to artificiality. Probably because they have the four sides with the four corners, where as a circle just seems endless.

        Probably the simultaneous worst and best example is Brutalist architecture. Very cold, crude, nonrelaxed and, well, brutal. It can be artificial. But also very efficient. Sometimes it’s nice to look at. Sometimes it’s just a pain for your eyes.

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