21 Jul

Pattern vs. Presence

In N. Katherine Hayles book How We Became Posthuman, she suggests that one of the cultural struggles emerging in the post-human discourse is the shift between two structuring binaries: presence / absence and pattern / randomness.  She argues that the floating signifier theorized by Lacan, one based on the anxiety-ridden divide between presence and absence is being overshadowed by what she calls a flickering signifier.  The flickering signifier is characterized by the pattern / randomness binary.  In other words, linguistic meaning is comprised primarily through the formation of patterns (information on networks, code, the apperance of intelligence in machines).  These things are not necessarily present, but they form patterns to suggest presence. 

Before going any further, I should describe what she means by post-human:
– the privileging of information patterns over material instantiation;
– the notion that consciousness is the primary factor in determing human life;
– understanding the body as prosthesis;
– the conflation of human being and intelligent machine (ala cybernetics).

So, patterns of information determines human life.  At least, Hayles argues, this has become a primary narrative in science and culture over the last half century.  Informatics has supplanted metaphysics as the method of deciphering life.

She argues by the end of chapter two that these trends are irreversible.  She remains optimistic, however, by suggesting that narrative is always malleable.  Technology will follow the market, but the desires of the market can be altered through narrative.  Even if that doesn’t work, the contextualizing of technology happens through narrative.  She hopes to see pattern and presence become complimentary as opposed to oppositional. 

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