Rambling thoughts about cyborgs and emotions

20.00, Wednesday 20 May 2020

Hey so here’s the paper Cyborgs and Space (1960) by Clynes and Kline in which the word cyborg was first introduced. It’s short. Here’s the first line:

Space travel challenges mankind not only technologically but also spiritually, in that it invites man to take an active part in his own biological evolution.

Our geological era, the Anthropocene, in which human activity is the dominant agent of change in our ecosystems, is pretty fraught. That line makes me wonder… what if we attempted to find the spiritual crisis in the climate crisis? In that there are questions about morality, the afterlife (well, in a way… what happens to others after we die), a reconceptualising of the Prime Mover, shame and guilt and all the rest; sin and punishment all suddenly up in the air, a new Great Flood. Any theologians, please get in touch…

Anyway, the paper is about adapting to new environments - such as space - and here’s the line where “cyborg” is introduced:

For the exogenously extended organizational complex functioning as an integrated homeostatic system unconsciously, we propose the term “Cyborg.” The Cyborg deliberately incorporates exogenous components extending the self-regulatory control function of the organism in order to adapt it to new environments.

Which - continuing the earlier thought - makes me realise that we are in a new environment now, a climate-changed, pandemic-swept one, and to adapt, we will become cyborgs - with our facemasks and our air conditioning, now as vital to our bodies as our hair and our sweat glands - and the new environment isn’t space, but is right here.

ANYWAY. Not my point.



I found that “Cyborgs and Space” paper strangely residing on a NY Times server. And it appears to be connected to this column, The Cyborg as Warp-Speed Evolution from 1997 by Ashley Dunn, which follows the evolution of the term, Clynes continued to develop the concept of the cyborg, coming up with a Cyborg II, III, IV and V.

Cyborg II involved the manipulation of human emotions through a series of mental exercises. III involved genetic alterations to enhance the human emotional range, while IV involved deeper genetic changes and V brought the separation of mind from body.

So then I found another column by Ashley Dunn called In a Cyborg World, Gender Boundaries Fall about Donna Harroway’s Cyborg Manifesto – and my point in this tangent WHICH IS ALREADY TOO LONG, SORRY is not about Harroway either, but this:

Here are Ashley Dunn’s other columns in the NY Times from 1997 and it is AMAZING.

Why don’t we have technology columns in national newspapers today that veer between finding a replacement for AOL, to the nature of liberty, to webcams, to cyborgs??

Who the hell is this Ashley Dunn and how do I subscribe to their newsletter 23 years after the fact?

So I was leafing through The Cyborg Handbook (1995, edited by Chris Hables Grey) which is a collection of essays etc, and there’s an interview with Clynes in there, and this caught my eye about emotions, and Clynes is talking about pleasure emotions here, which he says are multi-dimensional, humans having many many different types of satisfaction. The pleasure of feeling in love is not commensurate with that of a hot bath.

So he alights on reverence first: There is no reason in the world why cyborg can’t feel reverence as much as any other human.

But then he gets onto new emotions, and the interviewer asks:

I was struck that in several places your book talks about a new kind of laughter you sort of discovered.

(Clynes actually replies that you can’t invent new emotions without radical change in molecular biology.)

But it’s a galvanising sort of idea isn’t it.

Like, what’s the kind of laughter you get when you watch that amazing 25 minute Sudoku video (thank you Jason Kottke for sharing this), that vicarious, rapid cascade of aha! aha! aha!

And what’s the emotion that a machine learning function feels while it’s exploring the latent space of landscape paintings?

Thinking about an emotion which can maybe be generally defined as a tropism towards certain categories of results, a choice of search algorithm/reward function, a modifier on how learning is done from this experience, a heuristic learned from experience too, and a bias on resource allocation… I wonder whether we can identify clusters of these alternate strategies used by bacteria, viruses, and computer programs, and call these emotions?

And if we, as individual humans, were to make different choices on those axes because of exposure to more-than-human input, would those be new emotions too?

Whatever. Reading a book, made me think, posted it on my blog, didn’t edit. See you later.

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