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Medieval Cyborgs
July 26, 2010 10:22 PM   Subscribe

Our cyborg past: Medieval artificial memory as mindware upgrade. [Via]
posted by homunculus (28 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
Ye olde flash drive?

Relevant and timely AskMe.

I'd like input on this from MetaFilter's lurking Heideggerians. :)
posted by edguardo at 10:32 PM on July 26, 2010


Looks like something out of Techgnosis (in fact, IIRC, he explicitly discusses the "ars memoria" as a sort of technique of memory -- i'll have to check this link out :))

But I think I read recently, too, that this idea that technology as an adjunct to human mind has been around as long as Socrates who complained about writing leading to a weakening of human memory. Combine that with our modern Hypertext which tends to lead to a more ADD and a weakening of attention span, and what we find is something like Terence McKenna proposed: The exteriorization of the human soul.
"Evolutionary biologists consider humans to be an unevolving species. Some time in the last fifty thousand years, with the invention of culture, the biological evolution of humans ceased and evolution became an epigenetic, cultural phenomenon. Tools, languages, and philosophies began to evolve, but the human somatotype remained the same. Hence, physically, we are very much like people of a long time ago. But technology is the real skin of our species. Humanity, correctly seen in the context of the last five hundred years, is an extruder of technological material. We take in matter that has a low degree of organization; we put it through mental filters, and we extrude jewelry, gospels, space shuttles. This is what we do. We are like coral animals embedded in a technological reef of extruded psychic objects. All our tool making implies our belief in an ultimate tool. That tool is the flying saucer, or the soul, exteriorized in three-dimensional space. The body can become an internalized holographic object embedded in a solid-state, hyperdimensional matrix that is eternal, so that we each wander through a true Elysium."
posted by symbioid at 10:57 PM on July 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


LOL! I didn't even see the askme! :)
posted by symbioid at 10:58 PM on July 26, 2010


In a culture in which increasingly the arts are being asked to demonstrate their social, cultural and economic ‘impact,’... Whom will we address? Who will read us? How will we make the John Brockmans of this world, the skeptical scientists, pay attention?

Perhaps with ostentatious terms like "mindware" and "medieval cyborgs".

I do like the word "mnemotechnics", though.

Possibly apparatus-as-mindware-related: the suitability of human hands for making tools may have conveyed evolutionary advantages and may have interacted with the development of mental abilities.
posted by XMLicious at 11:06 PM on July 26, 2010


EXTENDED PHENOTYPE
IZ
EXTENDED.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 11:24 PM on July 26, 2010


I've referred to my iPhone as my exocortex before, & not entirely as a joke - visiting areas without decent bandwidth left me annoyed, feeling bereft & like I was concussed or just abruptly stupid.
posted by Pronoiac at 11:56 PM on July 26, 2010


Having read & enjoyed a couple of books each by Andy Clark & Mary Carruthers, it probably wouldn't have occurred to me to try and yoke their trains of thought into a common harness, although, thinking about it, I suppose it's not that much of a stretch. Then again, I'm not immediately convinced by Ms Evans' paper: it seems like an attempt to weave a scant few speculative threads into a cloth.
posted by misteraitch at 12:13 AM on July 27, 2010


But it's all semantics, right? A chimpanzee with a stick is a ape-stick hybrid "cyborg."

I think its fascinating that this concept is being breached and discussed, but if it should lead anywhere, it can only take us into metaphysical realms that have already been thoroughly explored through spiritual metaphor about universal oneness. The idea of cyborg has always been one that requires strict definition while our scientific understanding has only served to blur the lines and weaken our definitions.
posted by iamck at 1:05 AM on July 27, 2010


The Middle Ages inherited from antiquity a strong bias against technology.

Speaking as someone who is going to spend much of his summer vacation dressed in linen gym shorts and t-shirt as if he is in town for the plowman's convention, and, with luck, rebuilding his reciprocating lathe, I kind of have to laugh at this.

If the middle ages had a bias against technology, then we have a bias against technology. Don't believe me? Think about the general estimate of the intellectual ability of the average auto mechanic? Ask how long (in minutes) it has been since you've heart the term "cyber stalker"? How often is someone who spends some extra time crafting a way to do something that doesn't involve a lot of back strain told, "That's the lazy man's way out?"
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 4:14 AM on July 27, 2010


The Middles Ages didn't have a bias against technology, they had an ignorance OF technology. Unlike "antiquity" which performed many engineering feats unrivaled until the modern age (and some never rivaled).

ignorance of technology + belief that life is a temporary waystation before an "eternal reward" (and therefore a low value on human dignity and living conditions) = slavery
posted by DU at 4:43 AM on July 27, 2010


Oh and slavery is self-perpetuating. If you don't have technology, you need slaves. If you have slaves, you don't invent technology.
posted by DU at 4:43 AM on July 27, 2010


DU, that's ridiculous. The serfdom of the middle ages arose straight out of the agricultural slavery of Roman antiquity. The slavery of Greek and Roman antiquity didn't have anything to do with belief in an "eternal reward", since it existed before Christianity. (The afterlife was either non-existent or a minor part of Greco-Roman pagan religion.)
posted by TheophileEscargot at 4:53 AM on July 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


Wait, wait...

...I've got it...

...MNEMOPUNK.

There we are!
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:09 AM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


First of all, my claim was one way only:

ignorance of technology + belief in afterlife => slavery
slavery !=> ignorance of technology + belief in afterlife

Second of all, it may be possible to argue that a reduced definition of humanity could play a role in antiquity's slavery. Just as now we are ever-expanding who has some rights (all humans and many animals, such as chimps and dogs), back in the day it was extremely progressive to consider "all land-owning Roman men" or whatever to have rights. If you didn't meet those criteria, it was OK for you to be a slave.

However, I will grant that this kind of thinking could also explain medieval slavery. It wasn't until the Renaissance that we started expanding wide enough to possibly include them.
posted by DU at 5:16 AM on July 27, 2010


That doesn't make any sense either. Consider sugar and cotton plantations: they were made possible because of large-scale monocultural modern agriculture, and the mechanical technology to refine sugar and weave cotton in industrial quantities.

It was knowledge of technology, not ignorance of technology, that led to that system of slave agriculture.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 5:40 AM on July 27, 2010


If it were knowledge of large-scale monoculture agriculture were enough to produce slaves, we'd have them today on all farms.

Instead, we only have them on only those farms that lack technology to automate things like harvesting. Migrant labor harvest things like berries, that need to be picked carefully and handled gently while machines can harvest corn which is easy to set in rows, pretty hardy in terms of rough treatment and separable from the chaff.

It's the *lack* of technology that makes slaves necessary.
posted by DU at 5:49 AM on July 27, 2010


If that were true, slavery would only have been abolished after automatic harvesting became practical. But sugar was still harvested by hand when slavery was abolished in the British Empire. Cotton was still harvested by hand when slavery was abolished in the US.

Science is your religion, but the evidence is against your tenets of belief...
posted by TheophileEscargot at 6:02 AM on July 27, 2010


I would think that the overriding motivation for slavery, above all of these other concerns, is more generally that slaves have substantial economic value. Human trafficking for prostitution, for example, would occur regardless of the technology level of a society. I would also think that in an area like agriculture increased automation or other labor-saving technology would actually increase the value of a slave since an individual worker can produce more. Think of sweat shops for manufacturing. Opposition to slavery seems to me more of a cultural thing than something that would have any correlation to sophistication of technology.
posted by XMLicious at 6:10 AM on July 27, 2010


But sugar was still harvested by hand when slavery was abolished in the British Empire. Cotton was still harvested by hand when slavery was abolished in the US.

Either I'm not understanding your point or you aren't understanding mine. One of us needs to set this up as a syllogism, because I'm getting strong non sequitor vibes.
posted by DU at 6:11 AM on July 27, 2010


Human trafficking for prostitution, for example, would occur regardless of the technology level of a society.

What about a level that had Real Dolls physically indistinguishable from humans? The human prostitution market would be much reduced. But not, I'm sure you'll hasten to add, eliminated--some will still want Real Humans. But that's precisely something the technology can't provide, i.e. it proves my point.
posted by DU at 6:12 AM on July 27, 2010


Stepping away from the juncture of technology, the division of labor and inequality, I'd like to note that all of this reminds me of the "Memory Palace" technique, aka "The Method of Loci." [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Method_of_loci -- sorry, format tools missing on iPad.] Also, the wikipedia article on mnemotechnics in general: [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Art_of_memory ]. The links for each article are useful.

I was kind of surprised that the Memory Palace didn't get a mention in TFA, which was a good read.
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:14 AM on July 27, 2010


I don't know about that DU. What if the real doll that was indistinguishable from a human cost ten million dollars to construct? In a society that doesn't have any moral objections to slavery technology only becomes a substitute if it happens to be cheaper. As long as slaves can be leveraged to make money they'll be used.

Take meat packing plants, for a contemporary agriculture example. They're quite sophisticated with tons of automation but you still have cases all over the world where hundreds of people die in a fire in a meat packing plant because the doors were chained shut. Sure they get paid a pittance of a wage with housing and food deducted but if they can't physically leave their work and their employer provides worker housing, et cetera, I'm not convinced it's so different from a Roman citizen with a sometimes-shackled house slave who's allowed to sleep in the closet. I've read of cases where a manager at one of these places beats an employee just like a master would beat a slave.
posted by XMLicious at 6:27 AM on July 27, 2010


But sugar was still harvested by hand when slavery was abolished in the British Empire. Cotton was still harvested by hand when slavery was abolished in the US.

Either I'm not understanding your point or you aren't understanding mine. One of us needs to set this up as a syllogism, because I'm getting strong non sequitor vibes.


You're trying to prove that ignorance of technology and belief in an afterlife are factors that lead to slavery.

I've pointed out that real world evidence does not support this.

So you've moved into a purely hypothetical examples using made-up technology ("Real Dolls physically indistinguishable from humans") instead, which of course I cannot disprove.

I could make up my own equivalent of course. Suppose, that like in the original idea for The Matrix, it becomes possible to use people's brains as computational devices: people could be enslaved in order to use them that way. But it would be a bit desperate to try to make up sci-fi technologies to try to prove a point about real technology, wouldn't it?
posted by TheophileEscargot at 6:50 AM on July 27, 2010


I could make up my own equivalent of course. Suppose, that like in the original idea for The Matrix, it becomes possible to use people's brains as computational devices: people could be enslaved in order to use them that way. But it would be a bit desperate to try to make up sci-fi technologies to try to prove a point about real technology, wouldn't it?

I think in The Matrix the humans were serving as metabolic power units, more than data processors (although all of that got murky later in the series.)

Using brains as computational devices isn't a new idea--the original use of the word "calculator" referred to people -- mostly women -- at rows of desks crunching numbers. More recently we have things like Amazon's Mechanical Turk, which make human brains usable via a Web API (in a sense.)
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:00 AM on July 27, 2010


Yep, in the actual movie humans were just providing electrical power. But in the original idea they were providing computational power.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 7:05 AM on July 27, 2010


Well shit - that makes more sense than the "biopower" bullshit - it never made sense to me, but if you're tapping brains to calculate or something... I dunno.
posted by symbioid at 8:41 AM on July 27, 2010


Evolutionary biologists consider humans to be an unevolving species.

NO THEY DO NOT
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:10 AM on July 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


Evolutionary biologists consider humans to be an unevolving species.

For a population not to evolve, seven conditions must be met:

1. mutation is not occurring
2. natural selection is not occurring
3. the population is infinitely large
4. all members of the population breed
5. all mating is totally random
6. everyone produces the same number of offspring
7. there is no migration in or out of the population

This is not true of any human population.

I realize that McKenna's quote is secondary to the subject matter of this post, but I prefer to kick misinformation in the face as I come across it.
posted by edguardo at 11:57 AM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


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