How We Became Posthuman : Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature and Informatics, Paperback

How We Became Posthuman : Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature and Informatics Paperback

3.5 out of 5 (2 ratings)


Separating hype from fact, this text investigates the fate of embodiment in the information age.

It relates three interwoven stories: how information lost its body, that is, how it came to be conceptualized as an entity separate from the material forms that carry it; the cultural and technological constuction of the cyborg; and the dismantling of the humanist "subject" in cybernetic discourse, along with the emergence of the "posthuman".

Ranging across the history of technology, cultural studies and literary criticism, the text shows what had erased, forgotten, and elided to conceive of information as a disembodied entity.

The author moves from the post-World War II Macy Conferences on cybernetics to the 1952 novel "Limbo" by Bernard Wolfe; from the concept of self-making to Philip K.

Dick's literary explorations of hallucination and reality; and from artificial life to postmodern novels exploring the implications of seeing humans as cybernetic systems.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 360 pages, 5 line drawings
  • Publisher: The University of Chicago Press
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Science: general issues
  • ISBN: 9780226321462



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Review by

"How we became posthuman" interprets the concepts and definitions of posthuman amist the evolution of technologies and their correlation to literature and society .Spanning a period between the 40th and the 90th the author traces a path among the different visions and works that scientists and science fictions writers had about humans and human-like machines that technologist were building or hoping to build. She also explore the desire of scientist to build human like machine and at the same time the fear of having machines that will take over the humans.The book is very hard to read. It is written in the style that a literary critic would use, as the author is. Not a book that popularize science, but a book beefed up with critical literary comparisons among different works, plays of words, sentences built to have double meaning, and constructions that tend more to art form and complacency than to clear exposition.The author identifies three different main periods or concepts:1- Homeostatsis or feedback loop, where system are defined by their workings that tend to an equilibrium with their inside and the environment.2-Reflexivity, autopoiesis, where the main issue is if the observer is outside the system to study or is part of the system.3-Virtuality, Emergent behavior, Artificial life, where the system is composed of many parts and the system overall behaviour is the result of the complex interrelation of the parts, of their emergent properties/behavior.Main themes of the book are embodiment, in particular information embodiment, the border of the human body, and the concept of the liberal humanist. These themes are explored in the three different periods, and the contrasting views scientistists had of them even inside the same period.How information lost its body and when is peraphs the main discussed theme. Her thesis is that the information must be embodied.Across all book she describes at lenght the different positions, criticing them, but only in the last couple of pages she presents her solution to the problem: distributed cognition. She just write it there without any introduction or critic, simply as the solution to most of the problems she presented in the book.

Review by

N Katherine Hayles is one of the most prominent scholars of cybernetics and the cultural theory of cyborgism. Her thesis in this book is that although in our modern age, there is an increasing move in cybernetics to regarding information and human subjectivity as bodiless, in fact, to be posthuman means to be embodied, only in a different way. Hayles discusses her theory while covering the history of the three waves of the cybernetics as well as using literary examples (she has degrees in both chemistry and English).I read this book in order to supplement an essay I was writing on William Gibson's Neuromancer. But although I read How We Became Posthuman for school and not for fun, I enjoyed it. Hayles raises a lot of interesting ideas about the relation between human and machine, and while I'm not sure I agree with all of them, her opinions are intelligent nonetheless. I particularly enjoyed the foray into literature and science-fiction. But I have to add that this is a highly academic book. I couldn't imagine a casual reader picking it up and enjoying it.

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