Refiguring the Human
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Refiguring the Human

We are always already posthuman. The human is never separate and closed in on itself but is always implicated in open systems and structures that expose it to dimensions of alterity that disrupt stability and displace identity. Recent developments in media and networking technologies as well as bioinformatics disclose the inadequacies of taxonomic schemata that have long been used to define the human by distinguishing it from that which appears to be other.

  • Self/World

  • Human/Nonhuman

  • Organism/Machine

  • Culture/Nature

  • Information/Noise

  • Negentropy/Entropy

Far from exclusive opposites, these binaries are coemergent and codependent: each presupposes the other and neither can be itself apart from the other. When fully elaborated and deployed, structures of codependence [End Page 3] form complex adaptive networks in which the reciprocal relations issue in coevolutionary processes that perpetually figure, disfigure, and refigure every identity that seems to be secure (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. Codependence of nature, culture, society, and technology.
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Figure 1.

Codependence of nature, culture, society, and technology.

The interplay of nature, society, culture, and technology forms the shifty matrix within which reality as we know it is constituted.

All such relational webs have the following characteristics.

  1. 1. They are composed of many codependent parts connected in multiple and changing ways.

  2. 2. They display spontaneous self-organization, which occurs within parameters of constraint that leave space for the aleatory.

  3. 3. The structures resulting from spontaneous self-organization emerge from but are not necessarily reducible to the interactivity of the components in the system.

  4. 4. Self-organizing structures are open and, therefore, are able to adapt and coevolve with other structures.

  5. 5. As connectivity increases, networks become more complex and move toward a tipping where a discontinuous phase shift occurs. [End Page 4]

It is important to stress three important points in this context. First, the structure of these networks is fractal; that is to say, they display the same structure at every level of organization. Since networks are always networks composed of other networks, there is no underlying or overarching metanetwork. Second, networks are isomorphic across media. Natural, cultural, social, and technological networks have the same structure and operational logic. Third, and finally, networks are self-organizing—order emerges from within and is not imposed from without. Within the ever-changing web of relations, nothing is fixed or permanent. Patterns are transient, and survival depends on adaptivity to fitness landscapes that are themselves subject to coevolutionary pressures.

The currency of exchange in complex adaptive networks is information. In their 1949 groundbreaking book The Mathematical Theory of Information, Claude Shannon and Warren Weaver develop a notion of information that differs significantly from the common sense of the term. “The word information, in this theory,” Weaver explains, “must not be confused with its ordinary usage. In particular, information must not be confused with meaning.”1 Meaning arises at a different level of organization. Information, in the strict sense of the term, is inversely proportional to probability: the more probable, the less information; the less probable, the more information. Gregory Bateson offers a concise definition of information when he claims: “information is a difference that makes a difference.”2 The domain of information lies between too little and too much difference. On the one hand, information is a difference and, therefore, in the absence of difference there is no information. On the other hand, information is a difference that makes a difference. Not all differences make a difference because some differences are indifferent and hence inconsequential. Both too little and too much difference creates noise. Always articulated between a condition of undifferentiation and indifferent differentiation, information emerges along the two-sided edge of chaos. The articulation of difference brings about the emergence of pattern from noise. Information and noise are not merely opposites but coemerge and, therefore, are codependent: information is noise in formation. Noise, by contrast, interrupts or interferes with informative patterns. When understood in this way, information stabilizes noise and noise destabilizes information. This process of destabilization is not, however, merely negative, because it provides the occasion for the emergence of new informative patterns.

Insofar as complex adaptive networks are isomorphic across media, information processes are not limited...