PHUN 2019: CYBERNETICS AND ITS LEGACIES
Post-Human Network Symposium
Cybernetics and its Legacies
February 14-16, 2019
Tower Center B, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona
In Der Spiegel’s famous interview with Martin Heidegger, he proclaimed that cybernetics is the new philosophy. Many decades later, Heidegger's pronouncement appears prescient. Our age is one of ubiquitous digital technology, media, and algorithm—one in which social relations are rendered as networks, intelligence and cognition are conceived in terms of information processing, and humanity is believed to be replicable as programmable 'artificially intelligent' machinery. While this new age precipitates utopian declarations of connectivity and democratization, there has also been continuous disquiet as to the social and political effects of the cybernetic orientation toward control.
Cybernetics, however, is not a unitary field. Its concepts, orientations and logics are not exclusive to automation and “intelligent” automata, but surface in other domains, including but not limited to biology, psychology, and linguistics. Thus, cybernetics has a complex legacy spanning a range of disciplines as well as different geographical regions. How do we evaluate the legacy of cybernetics? In what domains do we find cybernetic logics being applied or contested?
Cybernetic questions are also political questions. Originally denoting control of technical systems, the application of cybernetic principles specifically to social theory implies that networks and information are politicized as means of social control—ways to stabilize and steer society. Contemporary deployments of these logics of control are found in behavioral science and strategic design, to name a few. This disquiet, already professed in the later writings of cybernetic forefather Norbert Wiener, appears more recently in relation to notions such as Michel Foucault's biopower, Gilles Deleuze's societies of control, and N. Katherine Hayles' antihuman posthumanism.
How do we respond to the present ‘posthuman’ condition of cybernetic thought and system-building? Fearing the dystopian potential of a machinic future, Hayles calls on the next generation of scholars, activists, and artists to “contest for what the posthuman means.” Some have answered this call by offering alternative visions of the posthuman that value both human and non-human futurity. Others embrace control society’s cybernetic tendencies so as to germinate the accelerated decay of late capitalism. Is cybernetic control of humanity being achieved? Are machines, networks, and information necessarily enemies in fights for just, equitable, and sustainable futures? Can we envision or enact new intelligences, new networks, or new (post)humanities?
Garrett Laroy Johnson (Arizona State University)
Jonathan Bratt (Arizona State University)
Mark LaRubio (Arizona State University)
Angela Sakrison (Arizona State University)
Zachary Thomas (Arizona State University)
Niklas Wild-Damiris is a theoretical physicist turned economic theorist. He lived in Silicon Valley for over 25 years working as consulting research scientist to well known think tanks there: Xerox PARC, Apple ATG, IBM Almaden Research Center. He participated in a few start-ups no longer extant: “Pliant”, “Capitalizing Communities” and “Quantum-ly”. He was for a while in the periphery of the group whose members later be came known as the “Paypal Mafia”. He also was a visiting scholar and occasional lecturer at Stanford University for many years. Recently, he left the Bay Area to return to the East Coast where he went to school, and can be closer to Europe where there is growing interest in his work re-envisioning monetary and financialized economies with the help of insights from quantum field theory.
Sha Xin Wei is professor and director of the School of Arts, Media + Engineering (AME) at Arizona State University. He directs the Synthesis Center for responsive environments and improvisation with colleagues in AME and affiliate research centers. From 2005-2013, Sha was the Canada Research chair in media arts and sciences, and associate professor of fine arts at Concordia University in Montréal, Canada. From 2001 to 2013, he directed the Topological Media Lab (TML), an atelier-laboratory for the study of gesture and materiality from computational and phenomenological perspectives. He established the TML at Georgia Institute of Technology in 2001, and moved the lab to Montréal in 2005 with the support of the Canada Fund for Innovation and the CRC. More...
Thierry Bardini is an agronomist (ENSA Montpellier, 1986) and sociologist (Ph.D. Paris X Nanterre, 1991) and is professor and chair of the Department of Communication at the University of Montréal, where he has been teaching since 1993. From 1990 to 1993, he was a visiting scholar and adjunct professor at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California, under the supervision of Everett M. Rogers. His research interests concern the contemporary cyberculture, from the production and uses of information and communication technologies to molecular biology, or, in other words, everything that concerns the fictions of science and the science fictions of code. He is the author of Bootstrapping: Douglas Engelbart, Coevolution and the Genesis of Personal Computing (Stanford University Press, 2000), Junkware (University of Minnesota Press, 2011), and Journey to the End of the Species (in collaboration with Dominique Lestel, Éditions Dis Voir, Paris, 2011). He now works on various projects on DIY biology and bioarts.
Phillip Thurtle is professor in History and Director of the Comparative History of Ideas Program at the University of Washington. He received his PhD in history and the philosophy of science from Stanford University. He is the author of Biology in the Grid: Graphic Design and the Envisioning of Life (University of Minnesota Press, 2018), The Emergence of Genetic Rationality: Space, Time, and Information in American Biology 1870-1920 (University of Washington Press, 2008), the co-author with Robert Mitchell (English, Duke University) and Helen Burgess (English, University of Maryland) of the interactive DVD-ROM BioFutures: Owning Information an Body Parts (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008), and the co-editor with Robert Mitchell of the volumes Data Made Flesh: Embodying Information (Routledge, 2003) and Semiotic Flesh: Information and the Human Body (University of Washington Press, 2002). His research focuses on the affective-phenomenological domains of media, the role of information processing technologies in biomedical research, and theories of novelty in the life sciences. His most recent work is on the cellular spaces of transformation in evolutionary and developmental biology research and the cultural spaces of transmutation in popular culture and the arts. More...
Stacey Moran Nocek is a director of the Center for Philosophical Technologies and faculty in the School of Arts, Media + Engineering and the Department of English. Stacey works at the intersections of feminist theory and technoscience, design research, and critical pedagogy. Her scholarship views gender politics as not simply being about men and women, but focuses precisely on how to understand agency, body, rationality, and the boundaries between theory/practice and thinking/making. Stacey worked in the fashion industry for twenty years, and enlists this expertise to engage new forms of speculative and critical design research. Her current research investigates how methods in the physical sciences provide a new foothold for thinking about the materiality of knowledge production in feminine writing practices.
Adam Nocek is a director of the Center for Philosophical Technologies and Assistant Professor in the philosophy of technology and science and technology studies in the School of Arts, Media + Engineering at Arizona State University. Nocek has published numerous essays on architecture and design, artificial life, process philosophy (especially Whitehead and Deleuze), and biotechnology. He is the co-editor of the collection, The Lure of Whitehead (Minnesota 2014), and a special issue of the journal Inflexions titled, “Animating Biophilosophy” (2014). He is currently working on two manuscripts: the first is titled, Animating Capital: Molecules, Labor, and the Cultural Production of Science (Minnesota); and the second is titled, Politics by Design: The Imagination Economy and Design Futures.
Sarah Choukah is a doctoral candidate at the Université de Montréal’s department of communication. She is interested in the convergence of technology and biology, new biotechnologies and emergent biomedia (amateur synthetic biology, hobbyist genetic engineering, Do-It-Yourself biohacking). Her doctoral dissertation methodology draws upon the work of Gilbert Simondon on communication, cybernetics, individuation and modes of existence. She complemented her theoretical framework by drawing from pragmatics, STS, media theories, and philosophies of modes and modality in ontology, rhetoric and logic. Her current research addresses contemporary issues of inter-species communication, non-human and post-human aesthetics and rhetorics.
Nat Mengist is a proud union worker at the University of Washington, part-time outreach coordinator for the Comparative History of Ideas Department (CHID), and part-time research study coordinator for an NSF grant-funded project called Learning in Places. His intellectual project engages historiographic, epistemological, critical, and ecological thinking to envision rhizomatic relationalities across domains of living and learning. Nat wrote an extended undergraduate thesis exploring interdisciplinary understandings of alchemy with Phillip Thurtle in 2015. He then leveraged a master’s in education policy to facilitate racial equity work in the Seattle environmental nonprofit scene.
Michael Beach is a Ph.D. student in Human Centered Design & Engineering in the College of Engineering at the University of Washington. He works as a research assistant in the Computer Supported Collaboration Lab with PI Dr. Charlotte P. Lee. His interests include social emergence, nascence in collaboration, and the intersectionality of methodologies of research, design, and practice that span in modalities and temporalities such as: participatory design, value sensitive design, speculative design, from design sprints to slow ethnography. His primary research is focused on the following projects: (1) Model of Coordinated Action (MoCA): a theoretical framework that describes collaboration; (2) Sociotechnical Design: co-designing a research infrastructure with ocean science researchers for the study of marine ecosystems.
Muindi Fanuel Muindi is an obscure poet, schizoid polymath, and weyward philosopher living and working in Seattle, Washington, USA. He is the author of Whither, Otherwise, a collection of essays and poetry, and he keeps a blog at solutionsforpostmodernliving.com.
Josh Grant-Young is a PhD student at the University of Guelph. Josh studies philosophy of the environment, philosophy of science and the public communication of science (both on an institutional level and in popular culture). His thesis, “Curating Speculative Futures” looks to retool and reimagine museums, aquariums and science centres as spaces of critical environmental debate and experimentation, building speculative exhibits to contemplate creative and affirmative human and nonhuman futures in the Anthropocene.
Desiree Foerster is a PhD Student, Institute for Arts and Media, Philosophy Dep, Potsdam, Germany. My research revolves around the study of embodied aesthetics. My interest lies the exploration of aesthetic milieus that incorporate additional sensory modalities, such as thermoception, interoception, chemoception into the current aesthetic framework. Taking on the perspective of process philosophy and media-aesthetics, I investigate the role that pre-reflective experiences play in situating the human subject apart from a conscious reference to the world. My PhD thesis asks questions such as: in how far can an aesthetic framework inspired by new pragmatism, process philosophy, and biological concepts such as metabolism provide new understandings to the emergence of subjectivity? From January 2019 on I’m a Visiting Scholar at the Department for Cinema and Media Studies, University of Chicago. Before, I graduated an MA in Media Studies at the University of Düsseldorf and a BA in Philosophy/Literature at the Ruhr University Bochum. I typically present my work at conferences such as the Annual Meeting of the Social Studies of Science (4S), where I published in '12, '15 and '17. I have lectured workshops on Foucault's “heteropia” at the Utopia School in Copenhagen '15 and in Athens '16. Also, I participated in the New Materialism Training School at Tate Modern ('16). I was awarded the Emergent Scholar Award of the New Directions in the Humanities Research Network. Also, I worked as a program assistant for the Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW in Berlin) and as a curator at the intersection of art and theory in the independent art scene Berlin.
Jonathan Bratt is a PhD candidate in Geography at Arizona State University. He is interested in urban livability and the aesthetics of everyday public life. He is currently completing a dissertation titled “Making Heat and Noise: Aesthetic Sociality and Urban Public Life in Tianjin, China” under the supervision of Kevin McHugh. He completed an M.A. in East Asian Studies at Indiana University and conducts much of his research in Chinese. At ASU he is a co-director of the Post-Human Network and a student affiliate of the Center for Philosophical Technologies and the Synthesis Center. He has published articles in Tourist Studies and Literary Geographies and a co-authored chapter in Handbook of Cities and the Environment.
Garrett Laroy Johnson draws on his practical and theoretical experiences in music as a PhD student in Media Arts and Sciences at Arizona State University, where he pursues interests including posthumanism and mind, ensemble entrainment and coordination, and interactive installation and dance performance. In 2015, he completed his MA in Musicology at Arizona State University, where he wrote a masters thesis investigating the role of the body in David Rosenboom's exploratory use of electroencephalography in musical performance.
Angela Sakrison is a Cultural Geography PhD student at Arizona State University, studying the cultural effects of climate change -- how the experience of destruction and decay reshapes community and culture, beyond the geophysical, and beyond the human. They received an MA in Environmental Studies from the University of Pennsylvania, and are working on a dissertation about philosophical and methodological encounters with changing environments. Their research is informed by the process philosophies of Whitehead, Bergson, and Deleuze, as well as post-phenomenology, and contributes to emerging work on the embodied experience of climate change.
The PHuN Symposium is generously supported by the following sponsors:
ASU Center for Philosophical TechnologiesThe Center for Philosophical Technologies (CPT) brings together philosophers, designers, artists, scientists and critical and creative practitioners to interrogate the relation between philosophical inquiry and technological development in the 21st century. The CPT aims to foster an environment where philosophical thought is not outpaced by the rapid speeds of technological development, but is instead integral to the re-imagining of technological mediation on a planet that may be uninhabitable in the near future. To meet such a demand, the CPT thinks about technologies broadly, from advancements in AI, biotechnology, and planetary infrastructure design to technologies for storytelling, ecological communication, and community building, in order to envision technical practices that are critically engaged, ecologically embedded, and speculatively framed. The CPT is a global hub for creative and critical inquiry that supports research through project design and development, publications, faculty and graduate funding, student mentorship, and global education design.
ASU Graduate and Professional Student AssociationThe Graduate and Professional Student Association (GPSA) is the Graduate Student Government for all ASU Graduate Students. In fact, all graduate and professional students at ASU are already a part of GPSA. We offer various support programs to graduate students including travel grants, research grants, and professional development programming. Additionally, we have a variety of awards recognizing graduate student mentorship, research, teaching, and advocacy. Finally, we advocate for graduate student concerns on the local, state, and federal levels.
ASU Department of EnglishOne of the largest English departments nationally, the Department of English at Arizona State University believes its mission befits its scale: to explore global expressions of the English language in all media. Its aim is to prepare citizens who can think, read, and write critically and communicate effectively in their academic, personal, professional, and public lives. With an internationally renowned faculty instructing an array of both online and campus-based courses, the department offers degree programs in creative writing, English education, film and media studies, linguistics and applied linguistics, literature, and writing, rhetorics and literacies. The Department of English takes as its research and teaching purview not just historically positioned work, whether linguistic or textual, but includes all forms of expression, in analog or emerging technologies.
ASU School for the Future of Innovation and SocietyThe School for the Future of Innovation in Society (SFIS) is a transdisciplinary unit at the vanguard of ASU’s commitment to linking innovation to public value. We are pursuing a vision of responsible innovation that anticipates challenges and opportunities, integrates diverse knowledge and perspectives, and engages broad audiences. By examining the ways we translate imagination into innovation — and how we blend technical and social concerns along the way — we learn to build a future for everyone.
ASU School of International Letters and CultureThe School of International Letters & Cultures (SILC) is the primary location for education and research on international languages and cultures at ASU. SILC is home to dedicated language professionals in over twenty languages and can boast of numerous internationally known scholars of literature, film, cultural and intellectual history, and linguistics. The School features a wide range of degree programs on the undergraduate and graduate levels and helps students become internationally aware and globally informed citizens of today’s complex world.
ASU School of Geographical Sciences and Urban PlanningArizona State University’s School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning advances geospatial knowledge for a complex world, emphasizing education, research and applied solutions to urban and environmental problems. The School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning lives at the intersection of geography and urban planning, where this transdisciplinary approach makes students versatile candidates for the job market and poised to make incredible research discoveries. Our faculty, researchers and students are working to generate unique knowledge that is helping society face a growing number of complex issues, including climate policy, water resource management, disaster relief, housing and community development, the transition to renewable energy, and sustainable growth.
ASU Institute for Humanities ResearchThe Institute for Humanities Research supports scholarship exploring human thought, expression and experience, and addressing many of the central challenges facing all of us. ASU humanities scholars of culture, language, literature, the arts, film, media, history, philosophy and religion work within their disciplines and in collaboration with scientists, social scientists, artists and others to advance research that makes a difference in the world.
ASU Synthesis CenterComputer-driven media now circulate and activate images, sound and objects at densities greater than human limits of comprehension. We face the limits of effectively managing the technologies that activate our everyday world. Our challenge is how to build and inhabit environments that leverage the power of emerging technologies for shelter, sociality and play. We pursue our mission by developing new practices for imagining and creating worlds that do not burden but enliven experience. We design technologies and techniques for animating environments that are richer but not more complicated, by asking how can we create worlds that we would want to live in?
The Post-Human Network (PHuN or "Fun") is a collective of students and faculty based at Arizona State University. We engage with streams of ‘post-humanist’ thought and practice and seek to move beyond anthropocentrism in the academy and in society. Participants come from a number of disciplines across campus, including Arts Media and Engineering, Geography, and Literature. We aim to facilitate opportunities for collaborative study, creation, and experimentation. Our individual and collective production spans a variety of registers including, but not limited to, art, media, technoscience, urbanism, and design. Our work is influenced by areas of post-humanist thought such as vitalism, enactivism, process, new materialism, post-phenomenology, and systems theory.
The Post-Human Network meeting series has been supported by the ASU School of Arts Media and Engineering, the Lab for Critical Technics, the Synthesis Center, the ASU Department of English, the ASU School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, the Center for Science and the Imagination, and ASU Institute for Research in the Humanities.