What is Cyborg Anthropology?

A cyborg (shorthand for “cybernetic organism”) is a symbiotic fusion of human and machine.

Humans have always developed technologies to help them survive and thrive, but in recent decades the rapid escalation and intensification of the human-technology interface have exceeded anything heretofore known. From satellite communications to genetic engineering, high technologies have penetrated and permeated the human and natural realms.

Indeed, so profoundly are humans altering their biological and physical landscapes that some have openly suggested that the proper object of anthropological study should be cyborgs rather than humans, for, as Donna Haraway says, we are all cyborgs now” (The Cyborg Handbook, by Cris Hables Grey).

Definition, from Powerset, a Wikipedia compendium, on Biogenetic Structuralism.

A cyborg, short for “cybernetic organism,” is a being that is part cybernetic machine and part organism, a term coined by two NASA scientists, Manfred Clynes and Nathan Kline (1960, reprinted in Gray 1995).
These men suggested some of the advantages for space exploration of altering the human body with machines.

The group’s analysis of the cyborg is grounded in the findings of modern neuroscience. The perspective is grounded upon the presumption that human consciousness and culture are functions of the human nervous system. In other words, consciousness is as much the function of the brain as digestion is the function of the stomach and grasping the function of the hand.

Their reasoning and research led ultimately to a four stage account of the evolution of the cyborg — a natural, but special case of the evolution of technology as a whole. The group hypothesizes that the emergence of the cyborg is following these stages:

  • Stage I: Replacement or augmentation of the human skeleton. Examples: wooden leg, hook for lost hand, armor, false teeth, etc. This has been going on for centuries.
  • Stage II: Replacement or augmentation of muscle. Examples: mechanical hand for lost hand, other prosthetic devices, mechanical heart valve, replacement of lens in eye, etc. Began to emerge in the mid-20th century.
  • Stage III: Replacement or augmentation of parts of the peripheral nervous system, autonomic nervous system and the neuroendocrine system. Examples: bionic arms and legs, pacemakers, automatic biochemical pumps, etc. Emerging in the later 20th century.
  • Stage IV: Replacement or augmentation of parts of the central nervous system. Examples: video “eyes” for blind, Air Force cyborg fighter plane control, etc. Rudimentary steps in the later 20th century.
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