- Hardcover: 240 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press (April 1, 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0195148665
- ISBN-13: 978-0195148664
- Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 0.9 x 6.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 13 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,326,792 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Natural-Born Cyborgs: Minds, Technologies, and the Future of Human Intelligence
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From Publishers Weekly
Cyborgs have long been a part of America's cinematic imagination (think Arnold Schwarzenegger's Terminator), but Clark says they're very much a reality. Not only that; pretty much everyone is a cyborg already, according to the author, who heads up Indiana University's cognitive science program. With our laptops, cell phones and PDAs, we're all wired to the hilt and becoming more so every day. As Clark points out, "the mind is just less and less in the head"; when we need information, we usually fire up our PC and access it elsewhere. Clark is at his best when he's writing for a wide audience, distilling arcane technological advances into their essential meaning. But sometimes his sheer enthusiasm for the subject takes over, and the book feels as if it's intended only for tech wonks who can appreciate the minutiae of various mind-machine experiments. Clark gives a passing nod to the negative consequences of an increasingly cyborg world-social alienation, information overload-but retains his essentially positive take on the "biotechnological merger" that is transforming so many people's lives.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Cognitive scientist Clark believes we are liberating our minds, thanks to our penchant for inventing tools that extend our abilities to think and communicate, starting with the basics of pen and paper and moving on to ever more sophisticated forms of computers. In this lively and provocative treatise, Clark declares that we are, in fact, "human-technology symbionts" or "natural-born cyborgs," always seeking ways to enhance our biological mental capacities through technology, an intriguing claim he supports with a brisk history of "biotechnology mergers," which currently range from pacemakers to the way a pilot of a commercial airplane is but one component in an elaborate "biotechnological problem-solving matrix." Cell phones, Clark explains, are "a prime, if entry-level cyborg technology," as are Internet search engines. As Clark clearly and cheerfully discusses cognitive processes, how we build "better worlds to think in," opaque versus transparent technologies, and the fluidity of our sense of self and adaptation to environmental changes, he offers hope that our brainy species can use its ever-evolving powers in beneficial ways. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Two hints, not from the book, from which the rest should be obvious: (1) an automobile rear-view mirror is metaphorically equivalent to "eyes in the back of the head"; (2) a word-processor is metaphorically equivalent to the "mental space" in which you determine what you want to say and how you want to say it, along with an augmentation of the "memory space" in which you keep track of your choices. [For a more accurate reading, replace second-person pronouns with the nominative or possessive of 'the brain'.]
The author moves from metaphorical equivalence to functional identity to a confused, unarticulated conceptual identity. His purpose is to persuade the reader that our use of technology is ever present (he claims language itself is a technology: see page 80) and so any future use of computer-based technology is only a difference of degree, not of kind. With the advent of language, we became, in effect, cyborgs. This is nonsense, of course, and is a conclusion that can only be reached by uncritical thinking.
Once upon a time it was admirable to make critical and intellectually valuable distinctions which to the unsophisticated mind appeared indistinguishable and were thus treated during uncritical thinking as equivalent or even identical. For some, it seems, that time has passed.
The moral naiveté of the author is stunning and is typical of that breed of technophile who can't wait to have their refrigerator check their milk supply and send off an order when it "determines" a need. The less physical effort the future might require, the more wonderful it seems to this type of thinking; and the more instantaneous the response to the demands of effortless personal desire, the better the life it will bring. "Faster and with less effort" is the mantra; and "oh what a wonderful world it will be" is the constant refrain. This gee-whiz technotopian thinking is unfounded. Although every tool, every technology is morally neutral, and it is the hands that employ it which make the moral difference, all of our history shows that humankind brings its moral imperfections into any future it makes.
After first introducing the book by playing off of our fear of the fictional cyborgs we all know from the movies ie Terminator, Eve 8, Cable - the book begins with a brief introduction of the author's background; Andy Clark claims that it was during his time directing a new interdisciplinary program in philosophy, neuroscience, and psychology that he first realized this concept of "cyborg" that he details in this book. From here he introduces the idea of humans being intrinsically technology dependent beings. He states that his goal in writing such a book is "to hijack that image (our preconceived notion of cyborg) and to reshape it, revealing it as a disguised vision of our own biological nature." What really impressed me about his style of argument and writing was his use of examples from research in many different fields to illustrate his point. Where many times we see arguments like his fall into ambiguity and opinion, his use of concrete examples helps paint the picture of the story he tells.
The book itself is very short, consisting of only 8 chapters, however every chapter has been thoroughly annotated so readers can dive deeper if they wish. For the sake of my synopsis I've divided the book into two halves.
The first chapter of the book is spent educating the reader on where the term cyborg originally came from putting it in the context of the first early technologies which "sought to incorporate exogenous components extending the self-regulating control function of the organism in order to adapt it to new environments" Here Clark cites early osmotic pumps, auditory prosthetics, and peripheral nerve interfaces. The focus of this chapter is to draw out what Clark calls "an ancient western prejudice" which creates the illusionary belief that the mind is distinctly different from the rest of natural order. Instead of viewing technology as something distinct from our human nature he argues that technology is integrated and always has been integrated with our nature placing us in our current condition at a transition point between first wave (pen,paper,diagram, and digital media) and second wave (personalized, online, dynamic biotechnological unions) technologies. The cell phone is the technology he uses as an example of this transition.
Moving from the concrete into more abstract realms Andy Clark then introduces the idea of transparent and opaque technologies before diving into his categorization of technologies, which he labels "ready-to-hand" and "present-at-hand." In categorizing the way people perceive and interact with technologies Clark attempts to bring some level of awareness to how we as lay people may simply generalize and interact with technologies and our environment taking what we have right in front of us for granted. The importance of understanding concepts such as these are again driven home using experimental example - in this case the ability of chimps who are trained to reason symbolically vs chimps who are not. Andy uses this example to make his point that only the chimps who were trained to reason symbolically were then able to understand higher order relationships - what he calls the relation between relations.
Once laying out this abstract scaffold for his argument Andy Clark gets into his answers to bigger questions: Where are we? and What are we?. Here he takes the reader through reported experiments and experiences, which alter human perception through illusions and the use of technology based telepresence to play with the idea of embodied consciousness. From here he explores the application and ethics of such technologies for the future of mankind. Andy Clark takes a look at how this knowledge is already currently being used through computational application dipping into the darker areas of misuse of such information/technology. He ends this section making the point that it is not technology itself that is evil; it's how the technology is used. In conclusion Andy Clark argues that it's not the preconceived invasive and material tools themselves that make us cyborgs rather it's the extended thinking systems that are created as a result of these tools that make us who we are.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and I especially liked the importance he gives to interdisciplinary perspectives. Through the experience of working on constructing an interdisciplinary research program at Georgia Tech under Dr. Steve Potter I came to notice and support many of the ideas presented here. What impressed me most about the book was the amazing job the author does in translating ideas to the reader through examples while at the same time demonstrating the concept in the structure of his writing. For example in introducing the idea of the symbolically reasoning chimps he is setting up the scaffold to introduce his concept of scaffolded thinking.
The biggest problem I can see readers having with this book is what can appear as Andy Clark's loose use of what he defines as a technology. Because he is speaking of technology in both a physical and metaphysical sense I can see many readers having a hard time accepting the case that he makes if they do not consider what he has to say carefully. If the reader does buy into Clark's definition, this book is an amazing source of perspective on how we as human beings have grown in an interlocked web of biology and technology. In my opinion what Andy Clark talks about in this book has incredible application in models of education and perspective regardless of opinion on the monistic, dualist, or pluralist nature of the world.