After Class Writing: N. Katherine Hayles’ “Toward Embodied Virtuality”

Before our next class, post a comment to this blog entry of at least 250 words summarizing your reading and the lecture on N. Katherine Hayles’ “Toward Embodied Virtuality.”

13 thoughts on “After Class Writing: N. Katherine Hayles’ “Toward Embodied Virtuality””

  1. N. Katherine Hayles is a professor emerita at UCLA and still teaches at Duke University in the Literature Department for Graduate Studies. Her background is an interesting one, having obtained a Master’s in Chemistry and then switching over to English, obtaining a PhD in English Literature. Like many other authors we have studied, she is an interdisciplinary thinker and researcher, and focuses on the relationships between humans and computers/digital technology. She studies the posthuman, wherein human consciousness may be transplanted into a machine, doing away with the biological body. She also studies language and technology and how they work to influence one another. She felt that her background in the sciences informed her views on the humanities and vice versa; she realized that they had many similarities, or convergences, and these convergences gave her strategies to contemplate human subjectivity.

    Subjectivity is a philosophical concept of self wherein your identity and your conscious sense of self are informed by your lived social relations, class, ethnicity, culture, experiences, etc. You are your own subjectivity. To that end, Dr. Hayles studied enlightenment, or liberal humanist subjectivity. This means that the mind and the consciousness are fully formed at birth, continuous with themselves throughout a person’s life. The mind doesn’t need “materiality”, or a corporeal body of matter to accompany it. We talked about Descartes, another interdisciplinary philosopher, who also subscribed to enlightenment: he felt that the pineal gland, a singular organ, connected the mind and body to the soul in heaven, emphasizing the mind/body duality.

    Cybernetics aligns with the notion of liberal humanist subjectivity: cybernetics is the posthuman concept that the cyborg, a human augmented with technology, embodies the division of mind and body. Cybernetics holds that the mind does not require embodiment. It states that consciousness is an epiphenomenon wherein the body is merely a prosthesis of the mind, and there is no difference between a body composed of flesh and bone, and a computer composed of silicon and circuit boards.

    The topics of subjectivity and cybernetics are what concern Dr. Hayles. She does not agree that information is more important than materiality. She works to put the “flesh” back into the topics of subjectivity and cybernetics: she feels we still need our bodies even after subjectivity. She feels that materiality is necessary for our subjectivity to exist. She supports her claim by describing the condition of virtuality: the idea that material objects are interpenetrated by information patterns and that materiality is the required medium to contain these patterns. When the pattern of information is predominant in one’s mindset over material presence, this is the condition of virtuality.

    She also discusses the idea of throwbacks, or skeuomorphs. We tend to be drawn to familiar objects like skeuomorphs because they contain a trace of technological predecessors and we’re more apt to use something with which we feel familiar. Dr. Hayles feels we still need a medium, a material body, through which information is to be processed. She cites Thomas Gibson, who noted, “The future is already here; it’s just unevenly distributed.” He believed that we are all indulging in a consensual hallucination such as what technology provides us daily; we’re so immersed in the ubiquity of technology that we aren’t even conscious of it anymore. He says that when the mind is drawn into this virtual reality, it leaves the body behind; the struggle is whether or not we can truly leave the corporeal body behind while in this perpetual virtuality. Ultimately, Gibson and Hayles hold that the mind and the body should be unified and that the disembodied experience that enlightenment and cybernetics espouse is something of which we need to be wary.

  2. TO: Professor Dr. Jason Ellis
    FROM: Ronald C. Hinds
    DATE: March 12, 2018
    SUBJECT: How we became Post Human; Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics

    Our evolutionary history has informed who we are as humans. Intelligent machines do not share this history but humans can enter into mutually beneficial relationships with the machines. In some cases intelligent machines can displace humans; for example robots can perform tasks on the assembly lines in plants in the manufacture of automobiles. Of course there is a limit to how seamlessly humans can be segmented with intelligent machines. Hans Moravec, Futurist, and adjunct faculty member at the Robotics Institute of Carnegie Mellon University, designed a test to show that machines can become the “repository of human consciousness” and that machines can for all practical purposes, become human beings.

    Post humanism is defined by Oxford dictionaries as “the idea that humanity can be transformed, transcended, or eliminated either by technological advances or the evolutionary process (or) artistic, scientific, or philosophical practice which reflects this belief.” Donna Haraway’s mythical cyborg will be a part of this post human environment. We are all cyborgs according to Haraway- no more “X” and no more “Y” but only “Z” chromosomes.

    What fundamentally distinguishes a living, breathing being from non-living matter was a question which dogged René Descartes, the personage who helped launch the Enlightenment. He argued that the existence of anything that one infers can be fundamentally doubted; one can always question the certainty of everything. This is no untruth as “discovered” by Jijingi when he questioned the reliability of an oral story told by a wise man of Tiv. Sabe, the Elder, in Ted Chiang’s story, “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling,” provided an answer to Jijingi with which the latter had a hard time coping. The oral tradition replaced the literate tradition, yet by no means does this seemingly more reliable idiom confer any guarantee of the accuracy or even authenticity of the information it conveys. Even its more recent descendant, the digital tradition, is as much subject to this paradox as any other medium heretofore. Descartes’ “Cogito ergo sum”, “I think therefore, I am,” came to be closely associated with Descartes’ philosophical outlook. I posit that Descartes’ influence never ends and questions raised by Thomas Nagel in “What is it Like to be a Bat?” and by N. Katherine Hayles, professor of English at the University of California, Los Angeles, in “Embodied Virtuality: Or How to Put Bodies Back into the Picture” hearken back fundamentally to doubts and questions with which we still have to reckon. Hayles holds degrees in both chemistry and English.

    Regarding the synthesis of materiality and information in virtuality, Jessica Santone notes in an annotation which is documented in Theories of Media, winter 2003, that Hayles does not clarify the nature of the “body” that exists virtually; virtuality being as claimed by Hayles as the intersection of materiality and information. Yet we spend more time with our tablets, cell phones and laptops than we spend interacting with our fellow human beings. We have adopted online personas that interact with other online personas in a virtual world through Facebook and other social applications. It has become so routinely ubiquitous in our daily lives probably because, as the Canadian-American speculative fiction writer and essayist widely credited with pioneering the science fiction subgenre known as cyberpunk, William Gibson, said succinctly in “Rocket Radio” published in 1989, “the street finds its own uses for things.”


    Hayles, N. K. (1999). Toward embodied virtuality. In How we became posthuman: virtual bodies in cybernetics, literature, and informatics (pp. ). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. Retrieved on 8 March 2018. Downloaded on 8 March 2018

    Hayles, N. K. (1996). “Embodied Virtuality: Or How to Put Bodies Back into the Picture.” In Immersed in Technology: Art and Virtual Environments. Ed. M. A. Moser and D. MacLeod.Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996, 1-28.
    annotation by Jessica Santone (Theories of Media, Winter 2003) Downloaded on 8 March 2018

    Walter, D. (2014) Whatever happened to cyberpunk?
    https:?? Downloaded on 8 March 2018

    Nagel, T. (1974). What is it like to be a bat? The Philosophical Review LXXXIII. Downloaded on 8 March 2018

    Gibson, W. (1982). “Burning Chrome.”
    Who Coined The Term “Cyberspace”? – How-To Geek Downloaded on 11 March 2018

    Keywords; Cogito ergo sum, cyborg, embodied reality, Post Human

  3. N. Katherine Hayles was born in 1943 and is a professor of Literature at Duke University. She is an author of numerous books and essays, but none so prevalent than her book “How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature and Informatics”. In this book, Hayles discusses posthumanism and so it becomes important to define what it is. A posthuman is a human who uses cybernetics and genetic manipulation to increase their vitality, physical and cognitive capabilities. In doing so, a posthuman lives longer, is far more intellectually inclined than the ordinary human and physically superior. Reaching this point of posthumanism was not something that happened within the last several decades, though. It was a ongoing evolution of, not only ourselves, but of the technologies we’ve created that have lead us to this point. What hasn’t changed, though, is our sense of self. My favorite line is “the posthuman evokes the exhilarating prospect of getting out of some of the old boxes and opening up new ways of thinking about what being human means” (p 285). To this day I still tussle with the idea of what it is to be human? We all have desires and needs that we seek to make possible or acquire. Yet the randomness of the world and our sense of self that’s allowed humans to progress to this point in time is what’s made humans humans. Subjectivity is what forms our very beliefs: how we act, what we say, what we do. To fully integrate with machines I think we’d have to abandon that sense of self. Hayles’s claim that the days of the humans are numbered is indeed something that’ll come to pass, but only after we let go of that sense of self.

  4. N. Katherine Hayles’ “Toward Embodied Virtuality” is about her views on the post human, mind-body duality, cyberneticist erasing the body, and putting the body back into the discussion of cyberspace. The post human is a human after being introduced to technology. We are all post humans and the existence of post humans is the reason that Hayles doesn’t want to remove the body from the discussion of cyberspace.
    For Hayles the body is important because of the mind-body duality. She stated that body is a prospect to the mind. She also states that the soul is not separate from the body. That is because of the old thought that the pineal gland is where the soul or the mind is located due to the pineal gland having no pair while every other part of the brain does. Also due to her believing that the mind and the body are not separated it would have to exist in the talk of cyberspace. This is due to cyberspace being defined as the place we go in our mind while online.
    So when cyberneticist erase the body she has a problem with that’s because she believes the body can exist in cyberspace. Hayles states “Virtuality is the cultural perception that material objects are interpenetrated by information patterns. The definition plays off the duality at the heart of the condition of virtuality-materiality on the one hand, information on the other” (Hayles, 1999, pgs 13-14). To me this quote means that we are already in cyberspace because our mind is always being compared to that of a computer. Also because of Donna Haraway who believes that we are already cyborgs due to our information networks.

  5. N. Katherine Hayles was born in 1942 and first majored in Chemistry and received her bachelor’s degree from the Rochester Institute of Technology in 1966. She then received her master’s degree from the California Institute of Technology in 1969. She later changed her career and received her master’s degree in English literature from Michigan State University and her Ph. D in English literature from the University of Rochester. In her book, “How We Became Posthuman,” she discusses what a posthuman is and the relationship between humans and computers. She starts off her book by discussing how she was reading a book by Hans Moravec called “Mind Children: The Future of Robot and Human Intelligence,” where in his book there is a robot who is performing surgery on a man’s brain and is transferring information from the man onto a computer. After the surgery finishes, the man wakes up to his new “body” and sees that his consciousness is still the same. His consciousness was loaded onto a computer. Hayles was shocked and asked herself how this is possible? And even if it was, why would we think that we can simply separate the mind from the body. She did some research on the history of cybernetics that took six years and interviewed scientists from different fields. From her research she saw that there were three stories taking shape and being connected to one another. The first one is how information lost its body. The second one is how the cyborg was created as a technological artifact and cultural icon, and the third one is how the human is giving way to a different construction called the posthuman. She states that a cyborg is someone who is half machine and half human and that they are connected as one. From the beginning of her book, it has reminded me of the 1987 movie “Robocop,” where a man was turned into a cyborg. She later says that the human body is the original prosthesis and learn how use and manipulate the body, like someone learning how to use a prosthetic leg. There are no boundaries between human and technology.

  6. N. Katherine Hayles is a writer in the field of science & American literature and a professor at Duke University. Her central concepts involve “Human and post-human” & “Embodiment and materiality.” One of Hayles’s article “How do we became post-human,” discusses Mind-body duality, cyberneticists erase of the body. It puts the body back into the discussion of cyberspace. Hayles was born in 1942; she tends to explore between human and machines. She earned her bachelor degree, and she made her master degree at cal-tech. Subjectivity is one of the terms Hayles mentioned in the article. It’s a philosophical concept; it forms the identity which your subjectivity informs with different of aspects. The post-human & subjectivity is the division of our mind with our body. The brain doesn’t require embodiment. Skeuomorphs makes technology more comforting. For instance, the Apple iBook application makes the background more realistic. Hayles demonstrated how does our mind process cybernetically. Similar to Katherine Hayles, William Gibson also has the correlated terminologies. Such as cyberpunk and cyberspace. Cyberpunk rakes science friction with refinements and cyberspace means the mind connects with the computer and leave the body behind. N. Katherine Hayles argues that unlike the idea and discontinuity, materiality is necessary for information and subjectivity. Hayles conveys the message that post-human dominates by the human. Human is the only species which is going to control the entire environment. Overall, the entire Hayles’s article tells how human transforms to post-human, and we should accept the fact that what we became.

  7. Postmodern Literary Critic N. Katherine Hayes watches out for various subjects including how individuals have arrived at posthumanism and what results from our musings hold of our reality in her composed “How We Became Posthuman”. She does such by differentiating automated thinking and human thought illustrations and lead. Hayles first depicts two remarkable tests that tell how well a man can perceive the qualification between a machine and a man. Laid out by Turing, the fundamental test showed that in case one can’t separate between whether he speaks with a machine or individually, by the machines can reason and duplicate a man. Sketched out by Moravec, the second test demonstrated that machines can rehash human insight. Hayles uses these tests to portray information as specific from the substrate that passes on it. A fundamental point Hayles makes in her book, information must exist in a kind of medium. At the end of the day, for information to exist, some individual or something must know it or it must exist in some place. As demonstrated by this dispute, information does not exist, remains unfound, or stays unlearned if nothing knows it or contains it. This conclusion prompts Hayles says that the most profound sense of being of information parallels people saying they don’t have much else to them than illuminating cases. A world where people get an absolute post-human see point and view their bodies as an unnecessary thing scares Hayles. Hayles would support a world where people grasp a post-humanist find in which the worldview information as on a very basic level embodied in the substrate that passes on it and that people use this intend to develop new advancement that can upgrade others’ lives. She assumes that human life is arranged in the versatile nature of the material world. This idea clashes essentially with all things considered recognized social points of view on mechanical autonomy and cyborgs.

  8. Katherine Hayles is a distinguished author and professor in the 21st century. She earned emerita status at UCLA and she teaches at Duke University in the Literature department. She merged S.T.E.M and literature into her works and studied the relationship between technology and humans. We analyzed one of most controversial pieces “Toward Embodied Virtuality.”; In this essay she refers to three terms, subjectivity, cybernetics, and the post human world. These three concepts are essential to the essay and how it relates to the world today. Subjectivity is a philosophical concept of self that refers to how we see our identity in our conscience; the philosopher, Descartes, believed that the pineal gland, a singular organ, connected the mind and body to the soul in heaven, he thinks the human spirit communicates with the brain through the pineal gland The second term is cybernetics, this is the way we control the information we obtain and communicate it with others. In her view the mind and body are separated and the mind do not need the body for it to be able to function, which takes me to our third term, the post human concept. A post human is created through genetic engineering, this is done by a human’s mind being merged with technologies and they operate with each other simultaneously. This is the very thing that Hayles is against. This process that has been repeated on a lower scale with the technology we use every day and our human mind being behind the invention that starts to retain our qualities at a faster rate than we lose them. She argues that materiality and human subjectivity is needed because together they foster our abilities to do anything consciously. She claims that although a lot of people who create new technologies implements skeuomorphs ( throwbacks) that make us comfortable with the idea of virtual reality because we recognize something nostalgic about it that relates to us. She refers to William Gibson argument “The future is here. It’s just not widely distributed yet” this quote is about cyberspace and virtual reality dividing the mind and body are trying to be the new medium that is trying to record information life humans do, but all that technology is doing is recording to irrelevance. Hayles urges us to put the “flesh” back into subjectivity and cybernetics because we have the consciousness medium on our side, subjectivity, that helps us retain:experiences, expectations, cultural understanding, truth, and reality.

  9. Jessica L. Roman
    ENG 1710

    N. Katherine Hayles is a professor of Literature at Duke University in the Literature Department for Graduate Studies. Her interest include Digital Humanities; Electronic Literature; Literature, Science, and Technology; Science Fiction; Critical Theory. Hayles, like the majority of authors we have read so far, has a highly interdisciplinary approach to her work. Quite impressively, she began her studies in the hard sciences earning her B.S and M.S in Chemistry and then made the switch and earned her M.A and Ph.D. in Literature. Hayles uses her interdisciplinary focus to study the relationships between humans and digital technology as well as language and technology.

    Hayles’, “Toward Embodies Virtually” discusses the post human and relies heavily on the subjective experience. The post human is the idea that the human brain and its cognitive abilities could exists without our biological bodies. She holds that our body and mind have a duality that informs our experience and our subjectively is what makes us who we are. In our discussion of subjectivity Thomas Nagel’s “What is to be a Bat” was referenced. Nagel explains in this work that subjective character is what it is to be a particular organism. No matter how we change ourselves and endeavor to behave as another organism, it cannot provide an authentic experience.

    Throughout she is making the case to have the flesh of the human body inserted back into the discourse of the cyberneticist. Cybernetics hold the position of liberal humanist subjectivity in its idea that mind and consciousness do not require an embodiment. This is Hayles biggest concern, as she believes information should not take precedent over materiality. Without our embodiment, our subjectivity could not exist as it does. One way she describe this is through virtuality, which she presents as the connection of materiality and information.

    Hayles also presents us with skeumprphs, which make technology more accessible and comfortable. It usually does that through a representation of some past technology that puts us at ease because we know it. A couple of in class examples we went over were the book shelf appearance in the Apple iBook’s and one of my favorites, the floppy disc as the save icon.

  10. Born in 1943, N. Katherine Hayles has contributed to literature in science, technology, and American influence. She has been noted in recognizing the relationship between humans and digital technology. With a masters in chemistry, Hayles has also studied in humanities. Hayles mentions cybernetic which was defined as “the science of communications and automatic control systems in both machines and living things” (Oxford Dictionaries). This idea was introduced after World War II with the idea that the body replicated in technology.
    Hayles work “Toward Embodied Virtuality,” was interesting. With knowledge of the human body, Hayles wanted to reiterate the idea the human body was the original processes. She uses a correlation of theory in literacy and scientific study to change one’s thinking. Her main focus remained on human subjective and technology innovation. Hayles focused on unraveling how knowledge is understood.
    The first subjectivity was defined as the enlightenment subjectivity. This was discussed as a liberal human subject. This concept states that self is a person’s identity. This is one’s self-conscious and reasoning. Humans, in general, are equal in potential. This theory includes ideas of the brain’s anatomy. The pineal gland is the only part of the brain in which there is only one. This aspect regulates sleep as well as hormones. Descartes ideas that the mind cannot exist without its physical aspects were also included in this first subjectivity. This is why it is important to acknowledge that the body is an intense circuit process. The second subjectivity expressed the post-human alongside Descartes’ theory of the mind and body. This perception believed the mind does not require embodiment. Therefore, it is an informational palette. This idea describes that all information can be broken down. The human consciousness consequently is a secondary effect.
    I enjoyed Hayles ideas on page 17. Skeuomorph is an essential design element that has no function. The idea in itself instead refers back to a feature that was used in the past. One example Professor Ellis talked about was the use of wooden shelves to display ebook titles in Apple’s iBooks feature. This idea was to give a feel of physical books in a digital world. This idea brings nostalgia alongside an experience that has slowly dwindled. This shows how much technology has been alternated over time while still trying to make users feel a level of comfort. I found this reading complicated at times dude to Hayles interdisciplinary thought process.

    Cybernetics | Definition of cybernetics in English by Oxford Dictionaries. (n.d.). Retrieved March 13, 2018, from

  11. N. Katherine Hayles is a professor emeritus of UCLA and a professor of literature at Duke University. She obtained her bachelor’s degree in chemistry, her master’s in science and then switched from STEM to humanities for her PhD. Through her interdisciplinary studies, she studied the relationship between human and technology and how the technologies affect use of language. Hayles had two views about human subjectivity, in general she believed that your subjectivity is informed by your gender, culture, and language. It’s how you feel, what you imagine, subjectivity is what you are. Hayles was also concerned about embodiment and materiality, how human existence depends on our bodies. For example, imagine virtual reality but without your body, since experience with virtuality is supported by experiences with past technology. During our discussion in class, we also learned about the term skeuomorphs, which makes the use of technology virtuality more comfortable to the users with the trace of things from the past that are familiar to us. Like how Apple designed their notepad icon with the yellow notepad, or how the save key icon represents a floppy disc would all be examples of skeuomorphic icons. Hayles also mentions how we should pay more close attention to cyberpunk, or thinking about different ways of the present and future. I agree with this because as the present slowly makes its way towards the future there will be consistent changes both good and bad in technology. We have to be aware of the changes around us because it would obviously affect our everyday lives.

  12. N Katherine Hayles talks about the shows us her views on the post human in her writing “Toward Embodied Virtually”. She talks about how cybernetics erase the body and how human existence depends on our body, without our body there is no soul. Hayles says our experience with technology is supported by our experiences with pervious technology (if you like the iPhone 4 then you’ll love the iPhone). Then she goes on about Skeuomorphs, she said, “skeuomorphs acted as threshold devices, smoothing the transition between one conceptual constellation and another”. She means that technology is made to be more easier to handle because of past features that were present in the past. Hayles brings up subjectivity and how we see the world, then liberal human subject, the conception that we have a unified individual inner core that emerged at birth. If we go on to this post human cyborg we may lose what makes us truly human. Also, we are so accustomed to this virtuality because of the internet and the access to mass amounts of information it has given us. The internet has conditioned us so much to the point where we’d be almost lost without it. In the in class discussion we heard a quote form William Gibson “The future is already here it’s just unevenly distributed” this quote goes well with this article because we have all this new technology that some parts of the world have and we have become so reliant on this new technology that we have lost a part of our selves. However if you look at other parts of the world that don’t have such new technology they live perfectly fine

  13. N. Katherine Hayles’ “Toward Embodied Virtuality”
    Hayles stressed the point of mind, and body duality in “Toward Embodied Virtuality” to claim that cyberspace is practically a disembodied medium. She finds the problem immediately and claimed that subjectivity, which is defined as a philosophical the quality being based on or influenced by personal feelings tastes or opinions–links subjects in two different places–to the mind and body. Another point she makes is cyberneticist erase the body: to put the body back into discussions of cyberspace. She explained relationships between human and computers. The relationship is significant because it affects the way we use language.
    A “posthuman” is an interesting topic that Katherine Hayles brought up in this text. It is defined as informational patterns privileged over material instantiation so that biological embodiment is seen as an accident of history rather than an inevitability of life; consciousness is not seen as a central phenomenon. Meaning the body is seen as a prosthesis which can be extended or replaced; the body is like a prosthesis to the mind since there are no boundaries between bodily existence and computer simulation
    In the text, Katherine Hayles was basically concerned with the concept of embodiment. The author was arguing that disembodiment wasn’t completely a result of being a “posthuman.” Hayles claimed that disembodiment was not a new claim and was described in humanism when the perception was stressed as opposed to the embodiment.
    Ultimately, Hayles would like to recover “a sense of the virtual that fully recognizes the importance of the embodied processes constituting the lifeworld of human beings.” Hayles desired to see disembodiment as just one narrative amongst others. She used literature to depict “embodied” theories. Literature itself showed that we used embodiment which was information that was not depicted as patterns but was embedded detail in a story.

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