Cyborgs: Weise vs Haraway, Refereed by Underwood

Mr Underwood’s eagerness to demonstrate his correct thinking leads him into a discussion of cyborgs

Cyborgs are (currently) fictional. This is very clear from the word’s common usage. (That’s how words achieve their meanings.)  The term seems to have been coined by Manfred Clynes, in the 1960s to describe a hypothetical being who is partly artificial/ mechanical and partly biological. Dictionary definitions emphasise this fictionality. For example, the Macmillan dictionary defines a cyborg as “a creature in science fiction stories that is part human and part machine.” Collins defines it as “in science fiction, a cyborg is part human and part machine, or a machine that looks like a human being.” Cambridge: “in science fiction stories, a creature that is part human and part machine”; Oxford: “a fictional or hypothetical person whose physical abilities are extended beyond normal limitations by mechanical elements built into the body” or “a hybrid being: half human and half machine.”

It’s an interesting and very modern idea and has been used metaphorically, supported by its positioning in invented narrative, to explore issues of identity, authenticity, and alienation, of sentience and consciousness, of what it means to be human.

It is pleasing to consider the interface between the human and machine, using the idea of the cyborg as a tool. Any technology mankind becomes reliant on, especially if we can use it to delegate cognitive tasks, could be said to turn us into cyborgs. Paper and pens? They free up memory for other tasks and allow us to record parts of a complicated process while we address other parts. Are there elements of a cyborg existence in our reliance on our mobile phones?  What about our watches and clocks, which have fundamentally altered our thinking about time? Is a human in a wheelchair a cyborg? What about someone who merely uses crutches, or a walking stick? 

But it has been hijacked by those branches of academia whose titles always end in “…Studies” and whose faculty members, those tenure-chasing hucksters and shysters, those slíbhíns, combine pseudo-science with a poetic use of English. The practice allows them to adopt pre-existing words as fanciful metaphors. Once a word is isolated and alone, surrounded by new contexts, its definition can be forcibly changed to suit a new purpose, while still retaining its old emotional charge. This creates doubled, bridging terms that span two discourses and thus serve two purposes simultaneously.

(To be continued…)

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