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A History of Cyborgs

Last tended Nov 24, 2020

The idea of the Cyborg was born in 1960 in the thick of the US-Soviet Space Race, to two NASA consultants trying to solve the problem of keeping humans alive in the hostile conditions of outer space.

Nathan Kline and Manfred Clynes published a paper called 'Cyborgs and Space' where they proposed that rather than trying to construct earth-like environments for humans to live in, we should try altering the humans themselves.

They imagined a Cybernetic Organism, or Cyborg, that came with a built-in, self-regulating system that would take care of the bothersome issues of breathing, metabolism, sleep, circulation, and any other biological necessities, "leaving man free to explore, to create, to think, and to feel."

Creations often stray from their origins though.

The idea of the Cyborg has largely become a villainous character in science-fiction – used to explore the danger and discomfort we feel around our tools and systems. Let's just call this 'The Terminator Effect.'

Yet the idea has more philosophical promise and potential in it than Hollywood knows what to do with.

Anthropologist Donna Haraway is a pioneer of using the term Cyborg as an imaginative toy in her 1991 essay The Cyborg Manifesto. In Haraway’s writing, the Cyborg becomes a way to explore our cultural assumptions around the dividing lines between "nature" and "culture".

It offers us a chance to question the strict categories and historical boundaries Western Cosmology I use the term Western Cosmology as a slightly tounge-in-cheek way of referencing the "Western" belief system.
Although we should acknowledge "Western" isn't really a thing, but can be interpreted as some generic mashup of WERID, Euro-American, Judeo-Christian cultural ideals.
Language is flawed. I apologise for the sweeping generalisation.
constructs for us. The firm divisions between humans / machines, natural / artificial, male / female, mind / body, fiction / reality, primitive / civilised, and science / society we are told most definitely exist. Despite the fact they are not in the least bit culturally universal.

Haraway’s insight is not only well ahead of her time, but also remarkably accurate as society now struggles to deal with technological relationships that contradict and question those historical divisions. They are all inherently tied to the issue of understanding where the line between organism and machine gets drawn. Or more accurately, the issue of there being a line at all.

Cognitive philosopher Andy Clark picked up on the idea of the Cyborg in his 2006 book Natural-Born Cyborgs.

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Maggie Appleton © 2021