Sunday, June 24, 2012

The shape of thoughts

After I wrote Posthuman Suffering, I wasn't exactly sure where to go from there.  Since the core material of the book was my dissertation, and my dissertation took years (and years and years) to write, My ideas were already evolving from my key argument that technology is more of an ontology than an epistemology.  What I hadn't realized at the time was that my own idea of "ontological" was heavily influenced by an existential perspective.  The world "out there" was always already filtered though the consciousness.  So, as I'm so fond of saying in my philosophy classes, "the world is out there in our consciousness."

But after I gained some distance from the book, and after teaching several classes and having a lot of very good class discussions with the students in those classes, I began to feel that this "primacy of consciousness" often presented a conceptual brick wall of sorts, especially when it came to otherness.  In Heidegger's The Question Concerning Technology, instrumental technology (that is to say, technological artifacts themselves -- aka, "stuff") and technology-as-concept are very quickly separated.  As I've said in my book, Heidegger implies that "the technological" is itself an epistemology.  It is a way that humans "know" the world.  At the time, I fully supported this opinion, but even then knew there was a bit more to it.  But thinking about technology at the time of his writing, I doubted that Heidegger could come to any other conclusion.  The ubiquitousness of virtual, "always on" technology (I'll get into that in another post) was not yet visible to him.  Yet, taking into account the ideas of Donna Haraway in A Manifesto for Cyborgs and N. Katherine Hayles great How We Became Posthuman, I started orbiting around the idea that how we "are" -- our "Be-ing" -- is itself shaped by the technological.

What I couldn't see then was that I was still putting consciousness first.  How we express the self is dictated by our technological systems -- but in a more traditionally existential way.  I had located that expression of self in terms of mindedness, and not something greater.  Like many existentialists, I gave myself a pass by always inserting some disclaimer about the physicality of the "wetware of the brain" (Hayles' excellent phrase).  No matter how many times I said it, though, there was always something gnawing at me.  Materialism became that pea under the mattress.  Simply cordoning off a more materialist perspective into the biological body was not enough.  There was just too much stuff.  And that stuff had more than an affective pull on us.

I was able to keep all of that at bay for quite a while, actually.  I had a Philosophy program to help develop, maintain, and grow; classes to teach; and tenure to worry about.  But then, around the time that my wife and I bought our first house, I could no longer ignore that gnawing feeling.  We had been living in the same rental for six years before we moved into our new place.  It was the move into the new space -- a dramatically different space than our old rental -- which affected not only my thinking, but the way in which that thinking unfolded.

That's when I started thinking about the shape of thoughts.