Where’s the wiring?

“Think of me like this: my hardware is in Iran, my software is in New York with a Spanish upgrade’. That’s how a US-Iranian consultant from Madrid I was working with this week liked to describe herself. She also liked to use the word ‘wired’ a lot in relation to the way the human mind works.

Hardware, software, wiring, these are metaphors we have come to take for granted in the post-industrial West. The cultural code of a society living in the shadow of its constantly evolving and constantly innovating technology – mechanical, digital, computational.

We used to say that the world was made in the image of mankind – for a while, it used to be made in the image of God, but that too was made in the image of mankind claiming to decode and decipher (pun intended) the mind and word of God. We used to think anthropomorphically about the world and everything in it. The man was the measure of all things, the only perspective available to us. Then we flipped it.

As the scientific framework came to dominate our culture, we gave up on anthropomorphism, the idea that the human person, body and mind are at the centre of creation and knowledge, and began to decentre our perspective. Or at least it seemed like that’s what we were doing. In fact, we replaced one version of what it is to know and to be human with another version of the same anthropology and epistemology. As we discovered the power of objectivity, the view from nowhere, the disinterested eye of the observer gazing from outside the room, the language changed, the claims were reformulated and the problems reframed. Since the Renaissance, a different model has risen to the level of trying to explain our place in the world and the world around us. That is the computational model. It is what allowed the scientific revolution, all the breakthroughs in science and technology and the digital turn of the 20th century. It’s why we’re no longer saying we’re ’embodied’, but ‘wired’. Not knowledge, but data points. Why our minds are seen as computers, software, code, and the body the mere vehicle, the hardware keeping the lights on and the circuitry firing.

This may be called cybermorphism. Talking about and seeing things cybermorphically. It has little or nothing to do with maths and science, but it has everything to do with language. The public domain is dropping the drama of human contingency and collecting the data of computed necessity. We’re all caught up in it, hardware and software. But at the end of the day, isn’t it just another kind of reductionism?

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