What is post-humanism and why does it matter?

@natesavery: here’s a placeholder for developing the post-humanism talk we discussed organizing as a spin-off from our last Spheres reading group call.

I had suggested hosting this talk on 5/30, but that was earlier in the week when we spoke, so let me know if you think that gives enough time for interested participants to prepare.

One thing I think we need is a succinct way of framing the discussion, plus some materials people can read as a way of familiarizing themselves with the ideas under consideration.

I guess we should also make clear that expertise in the subject matter is not required, and this will be more of a collegial, collaborative type inquiry than an academically rigorous “panel discussion.” But participants should still get familiar with some basic concepts, right?

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Donna Haraway and Cary Wolfe are leading theorists. Currently I’m reading Post humanism by Pramod Naylor, which is a brisk overview. I’m open to that discussion but also find Aurobindo has a compelling vision of a future humanity. The late Terrence McKenna is another great resource and he has tons of talks on YouTube. Matrix, Sense 8 are popular views of alternate humanities being developed.


A few starting points:

  1. Posthuman - Wikipedia and Posthumanism - Wikipedia are not bad for a short minimal overview, and offer some preliminary explanations of posthuman vs. transhuman.
  2. Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto is a fun read that I recommend to anyone, and a great way to make an initial encounter with some of the concerns of the posthuman.
  3. NK Hayles “How We Became Posthuman” is a well-known book that I also recommend. I found a PDF with an excerpt (incl. the first and last chapter of the book in entirety) that I can share, along with a book review (also PDF) of Hayles’ book, which is a good way to get a summary of the main arguments. [by the way, is sharing PDFs something we can do on the forum, without hosting them to the outside world?]
  4. I also want to suggest something by Bruno Latour, namely one of the two articles (I also have PDFs of these), either “From Realpolitik to Dingpolitik, or How to Make Things Public” or the more-relevant-now-than-ever “Why Has Critique Run Out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern”. Both of these articles take posthumanist understandings as a jumping off point to engage with contemporary social/political concerns, and may be helpful to keep us from getting too bogged down in the theoretical swamps.

Hope this is useful. I’m happy to share the PDFs here for the reading group, however it may be preferable to just link to existing locations on the web where they can be found. I’ll hold off for now, but am glad to link those up to this or another post introducing the topic and/or ‘framing the discussion’.

My general suggestion in terms of framing would be to suggest that the discussion is, as you put it Marco, “more of a collegial, collaborative type inquiry than an academically rigorous ‘panel discussion.’” And to frame that the only ‘required reading’ is something very simple, e.g. the Wikipedia links or something similarly short, but that we pinpoint a few other readings that are suggested (I propose #2, 3, 4 above) and invite further suggestions from anyone who plans to attend the discussion (asking people to share links, or PDFs, etc.).

My sense is that the general frame of ‘what is posthumanism, why does it matter’ is good, supplemented perhaps by ‘how is posthumanism different from transhumanism’. And to maybe back up a step, to recognize that the whole domain is concerned with interrogating what is ‘after’ or ‘beyond’ (post) the (traditional humanist human-centered way of thinking and talking about) human subject(ivity).


Thanks for the pointers, @natesavery. They’re always helpful.

But, given the fact that I’m an old man with limited time at my disposal (no, I’m not terminally ill, I just have a lot on my plate even though I’m retired), what can I read in preparation for our discussion that will reveal the essence – that if-you-ever-needed-to-know-anything-this-is-it text – that I can not only read, but perhaps absorb, before our get-together. Stated differently: which of those texts will enable me to see where the rubber meets the road (as post-humanism sees rubber and roads)?

Which of those suggestions that you made is THE text that I must read in order to be able to meaningfully (and not just curmudgeonly) participate in our upcoming discussion?

This might be a bit lengthy for the purposes of ‘just’ introducing the topic, but I think definitively, the answer to your question is to read the Prologue and Chapter One of NK Hayles’ book, which can be found here: Martin Irvine, Georgetown University

This is the best academic, philosophically-substantive introduction to the conceptual field of posthumanism that I’m aware of (and have access to).


I’m a big fan of Hayles…Here’s a good short talk.


I just have one piece to add to the non-required reading/listening/watching list.

From one of my favorite podcasts, Entitled Opinions—Robert Harrison talking w/ Ewa Domanska on Post-Humanism:

I might also revisit Heidegger’s “Letter on Humanism,” if I can find my copy of his Basic Writings.

So are we on for the 5/30? Does that give everyone enough time for preparation?

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Prepared or unprepared, what time on 5/30?

How about 12 noon MDT (DENVER) / 2 pm EST (NY) / 8 pm CET (BERLIN)?

If that works for everyone else, then it certainly works for me.

Here is the meta-idea I’m playing with here as far as “format” goes:


In short, a fixed time every week for all sorts of discussions, but pretty open, fluid, and improvisational within that time. Specific discussions can be more open or closed, private or public. People can come and go, or spin off in other directions and set up their own meetings, ETC.

But the Tuesday window is what I personally can do and commit to at this time. Since it’s a 3-hour window (starting at 11 MDT), I see this particular post-humanism talk occupying the second and into the third hours (let’s say, 1.5 hours?) of the full time I’ll be “on air.” (Though we don’t have to be “on air,” unless we are inspired to be, har har. I will leave that up to the collective du.)

I will add this to the calendar once we get confirmation on the time.

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Hi all interested parties,

I’m looking forward to this conversation next Tuesday, I think it will be really interesting and enjoyable. I’ve spoken with @madrush about a few logistical dimensions, and am following up here to share my reasoning for requesting that we do not record this session, and also ask for feedback from any/everybody that is planning to attend on that question.

My reasoning for preferring a non-recorded session is that I consider this conversation to be just that–a conversation. Not a panel, not an expert-led presentation, but just an informal discussion, with no true leader and no specific agenda or definite outcomes. To me, recording something like this puts additional performative pressure (and pressure to prepare) on the participants, which I do not think is beneficial in this context. Not recording it, in my opinion, enables us to feel comfortable talking about the topic with fewer constraints and less self-censorship, and more generally creates a more invitational, ‘lower-stakes’ sort of space for discussion that I believe should be a facet of the Cosmos experience in general.

In my estimation, the value of inviting the openness, enabling vulnerability, and keeping it ‘low-stakes’ outweigh any value that comes from creating a recording of the event. I am sensitive to the argument for recording so that participants who cannot attend are able to view the discussion later, however here again my sense is that the conversation is just a conversation, not a true reading group, more akin to a loose Meetup group than an academic panel (I would imagine most participants in a Meetup discussion group without a presenter would feel that a recording was not ‘normal’ in that context, whereas I imagine it would be seen as more normal for academic panel attendees and certainly presenters). If there is a sustained interest in this topic beyond the one-off conversation next Tuesday, I suggest that we can keep this IC thread active, and hold future conversations, as well as revisit the possibility of recording them.

These are just my thoughts on the issue, I want to be transparent about where I’m coming from, but I also would like to know what others think. If you find the value of recording to outweigh the value of not recording, please share your thoughts. I’ve spoken with Marco and, while he seems to lean more into the ‘record it’ camp, he has agreed that we will not record this session, unless we hear a distinct preference from others to record it.

In any case, I think it will be a great discussion and am looking forward to digging into it!


Thanks, Nate, for expressing your concerns and I honor your request to not record however I must be honest and voice my concern. My gut response is I feel we are in real danger of becoming another club house. Let me tell you a story.

Back in 1980 my friend Laszlo, was sick with a new disease that was attacking a lot of gay men and no one had a name for. They called it GRID. When I visited him at one of the best hospitals in Manhattan, the staff left his food, on a tray, on the floor, in front of the door. No one wanted to enter the room and I was told I had to enter only if I wore a mask and gloves.

When I entered the room, I took the mask and gloves off, and held his hand. He told me to find a nice Jewish boy and settle down. A few months later, after his death I had a long talk with his father, who had survived a concentration camp, and had escaped the Soviet invasion of Hungary, with Laszlo as a toddler, on a bicycle. It was his father who called and told me his son had died.

I had many a sleepless night. I had to do something. And I did. I started to organize. I started self help support groups, I started to raise money, I marched and demonstrated and petitioned and held people in my arms and rejected don’t ask, don’t tell, I stood up and fought for our dignity. The I had become a We…

Shortly after Laszlo’s death , and with many more friends hospitalized, I recall a vigil march with the young movie star, Susan Sarandon. We marched down to City Hall and the cameras were there to record her speech. She trembled as she turned to me and handed me her candle and said," I hate this. I don’t know what to say." She stood up there alone on the stage before City Hall and talked about her grief for a friend who had died of this disease that they were now calling AIDS.

I appreciate the need for a safe container and this is a lot of what I believe the Bubbles reading is about. I am a student of discourse events and it is very important to my research project that I have an archive so that I can study at a meta-level what is potentially happening here. I am less interested in conversations and much more interested in a rehearsal for a performance. I believe we need to start thinking like performers. Scholar-activists. We have a great RADICALLY UTOPIAN tradition Emersonian tradition to support us.

We could perhaps have a set up before the recording of the event and have a sense of where we want to go.

What do I want for myself?
What do I want for the group?

I have tons of experience moderating groups and getting quickly to what is actionable. My fear is that we are going to become another chat fest. I want to start to find an action plan.

Maybe a meeting before the meeting to voice concerns and get objections out on the table? Then we could assist each other, knowing what kind of support each of us needs.

I would much prefer to read my books and not bother with any of this. I have done enough heavy lifting and I’m tired. But if we are going to do something different from the endless chat fests we need to start doing that. A movement without momentum never happens. We need to start creating an audience.

May the Seredipidity Sisters be with us!


Let me add a third, perhaps slightly curmudgeonly, point-of-view.

Personally, I don’t care whether the conversation is recorded or not. I don’t say anything privately that I wouldn’t say publicly and vice-versa.

On the other hand, I do believe that I very well understand @natesavery’s concerns, and @johnnydavis54’s as well. Nevertheless, I believe the subject-matter itself – post-humanism – though widely talked about in certain circles, is of such a fundamental nature that at least one exploratory session (i.e., unrecorded) might not be a total waste of time. There are ur-questions that are raised by the position that I think need be clarified that make a pragmatic application of the conversation somewhat premature.

I understood this session to be a Grundsatzdiskussion, a discussion of fundamental underlying assumptions, presuppositions and principles of “post-humanism”, and while these may clear to those in the know, they are not (confirmed) clear in my own mind (I think I’ve got them, but I’d like confirmation), so that once everyone involved is satisfied that they then know what is actually being talked about can decide, in a further step, if or what they may want to do with it. As such, I see the talk as anything but a chat room, but my experience has shown, and Johnny has made clear, that danger is ever-present, and I wouldn’t want that either.


Thank you Ed for your sober tone. You are a partricach I can trust even when you get curmudgeonly. I tend to be a hot headed rebel, for I was raised in the Deep South and had to endure great depths of mendacity, and I still have nightmares about waking up in the Deep South and trying to get back to New York.

Last night, I had a very pleasant dream, a gathering of highly qualified and competent people were working on communication theory. There was a black board with diagrams and charts, instructors and observer- participants and live recordings of real time language users in action. It felt great. We were locating patterns and meta patterns between the members of the group and other groups at different levels of complexity.

Post humanism, like all post-isms, is a consortium of theories and some attempts at finding applications. They are some very smart academics with radical critiques held in academic settings usually. They are very anti-capitalist, anti-enlightenment and have a strong sense of connection with animal rights, marginalized peoples, deep ecology. Some of them are scholar-activists. Their ethics challenges the autonomy of the human species from the rest of nature. I speak very broadly about a mix of views. And I’m no expert. No one is an expert. It is a marginalized, controversial, mostly underground movement. Mine is not an academic interest, I am however identified with a liberationist tendency as I believe many are on this forum.

Nate brought up the Post-human at the last Bubbles meet up, as an antidote to our predominantly Humanist orientation. It was his idea to develop this topic further which I encouraged as did Marco. Whatever this spin off will become will no doubt be organized by those who are interested in showing up. That I’m curious about patterns and meta-patterns in a group dynamic is I believe what I can add to the mix as well as my deep appreciation for the vast project that Post Humanists seem to want to address. It will I fear take more than a village to make any of this happen.

Whether or not we are on camera is not trivial. It is an attitude, a political attitude, about what is private, what is public, who is in, who is out, , and there are in any group hidden agendas, and that is not a problem. Making agendas transparent is not easy as many people are unaware that they have one- and that becomes a big problem.

Having been a member of a despised and persecuted minority I am hyper sensitive to these dynamics and therefore I wish to announce that I’m easily triggered by what happens in the in between, the affective, the interface between implicate and explicate. Having a recording is a very useful tool for figuring out what people say and what people do and how events and discourses develop events. Recordings can be invaluable as a tool for researching groups, my most passionate interest. I model shared realities.

Nate is clearly ahead of the curve here and I’m open to keeping this first gathering secret or for members only or whatever but I strongly voice my objection.


Thank you, Johnny, for the kind words, valuable insights, and seeming infinite patience with a grumpy old man.

Since we’re laying our cards on the table, let me let you know where I’m coming from.

I don’t really know how to describe myself. The closest I can come is Radical Human.

Radical is both commonly known senses of the word: root and more-than-mere-revolutionary.

Human in the only sense I know: human … a thinking, feeling; that is, cognitive-affective; self-reflexive, continually self-aware, conscious self; a being who is different from all other sentient creatures, but who is soundly and firmly embedded in nature (regardless of how reckless we deal with it). And since I’ve hinted at it so often in so many of my posts in various contexts recently, I see humans as consisting of a spirit and — yes, I’ll dare speak the unutterable these days — a soul, all of which combine and constitute and entity who, by virtue of their differentness carries the burden of a corresponding responsibility commensurate with that awareness and that constitution; that is, a being of a singular nature.

What is more, I do not believe that we are an accident of nature or evolution or arbitrary chemical processes that were set in motion by the Big Bang, rather, I am of the conviction that we are the result of a process set in motion many aeons ago, that was in essence meaningful. As a result, meaning is a central tenet to which I firmly hold. There is meaning in life, in the cosmos as a whole and we are intimately bound up in that meaning. The current stage of that stage of the process is what we find running around the planet today to the tune of 6+ billion, for better, but all the more often, for worse.

Though written from a political and social perspective, the title of Dwight Macdonald’s 1952 essay sums it up most concisely: The Root is Man. Humans are the measure of all things because they are the only entity in the universe that can measure. Every ability brings responsibility with it, and we are certainly not living up to ours. Macdonald turned his back on every doctrine that treats humans as objects, whether implicitly or explicitly. I couldn’t agree with him more, and extend that sentiment to include any theory or worldview or way of thinking that reifies “the human”. That’s also part of the radicality of my own position. That’s what makes my hackles go up.

What the Enlightenment or the Humanists or the whoever have done with that “human”, doesn’t matter all that much to me. It was whatever theories somebody had at the time that were used or misused or abused to do whatever some individuals thought was whatever. I don’t really care. But what I do know and what I’m left with is a lack of words and concepts and notions to describe where it is that I’m coming from for no matter which ones I use, there is some theorist somewhere who can get in my face and make it clear to me that I haven’t got it yet, even if no one has been able to tell me just what it is I’ve missed. That’s why I’m so often lost in all these discussions and all these references to all these theories, because I just don’t see how they are really helping me find answers to questions that I know my grandsons are going to be asking me.

I think I truly understand your objections: they make sense to me. But where I stand in relation to all of this and all of that is the problem that I’m having right now (even if I’m pretty used to not fitting in) but I’m fully aware that it’s a personal one, which makes me all the more thankful for your patience.


@johnnydavis54 and @achronon, thanks for your thoughtful responses. I attempted to write my thoughts in response to this, but I once again find myself simply overwhelmed with the labor-intensive nature, for me, of responding in a text forum with the appropriate level of thoughtful detail, to the various matters of concern that you each bring up. I will simply mark here my inability to do so, and my hope that we can discuss the issues raised in this thread directly on Tuesday (whether we do so on, or off, the record).

Johnny, your perspective on the political significance of the recording act is one that I recognize clearly as having merit, and combining this with the utilitarian value that a recording has for your research project, this feels to me like reason enough to record the session, and I will have no further objections to doing so. However, I do want to clearly mark that I interpret the political significance of the recording act differently, which stems partly from what I believe to be some different assumptions about ‘what we are doing here’ (in the discussion Tuesday, in this thread, in Cosmos…). As I mentioned above, I attempted to put my various responses into relatively coherent form here, but am finding the process to be very difficult, so I apologize that I am unable or unwilling to further the discussion in the forum here. Instead, I hope we can set aside some time on Tuesday to discuss the significance and desirability and appropriateness of recording, perhaps before/after the topical discussion itself. And I am fine with all of it being recorded. :slight_smile:


Thanks Nate for bringing up this important topic and giving me a chance to reflect on my own complex response. I realize that I don’t feel the need to protect my privacy ( if we had there would never have been a gay movement) I do want to protect my solitude.

At my time in life and perhaps in yours gossip and idle chat is not interesting. I am spread too thin on FB and that is why I have started to boycott FB. I’m exhausted by the huge waste of social talent.

This forum, thanks to Marco and friends, has been a healthy alternative and I am devoted to keeping my/our intentions clear and try to stay on track and when we get off track to know that we can get back on track. In our aschyncronous communications there is a tendency to slip into post modern drift and so I believe we have to develop our social skills in a way that protects what needs to be protected from interference and intrusion bullying and badly timed criticisms that tend to re-inforce the status qou. To get clear about one’s own intentions or the intentions of a group is far from easy and I feel we can all do a much better job of directing our attention to our patterns and our meta-patterns.Hence the need to enhance our meta-skills.

So that is what I want to have happen in this meet up. I want to develop my meta-skills and I want this for the group as well. This is a value that is intensely, passionately felt and so I am well aware that I can have my blind spots where I miss something crucial. I also value serenity, the pleasure of learning something about myself or the group that I hadn’t planned on learning. Serenity and a sense of play.

So I want to create the conditions for that possibility and I ask permission of the group on Post-Humanism if I might do a brief demonstration of the methodology that I’m developing. It will be a structured interview. Each person will be asked a few simple questions about their experience in groups. If there are three or four of us this should take no more than fifteen minutes. I would like to have this recorded and we can archive it. I would like it to ultimately be in the public domain as I have other groups I am in contact with who share research. I hope out of these efforts a transformative qualitative research project can emerge. Since I’m not working in an academic setting this kind of research must be slightly unconventional.

After that presentation/demonstration I am perfectly okay with turning off the recording and having any kind of conversation we want to have around the topic of Post- Humanism. I’m especially interested in what has attracted you, Nate, to this field of study and really want to support you in your best efforts. We do need to protect one another from unwanted intrusions and I share your sense of overwhelm. Any questions or objections are appreciated.

Blessing on our adventure and I hope this is useful to you and to us!


“That’s why I’m so often lost in all these discussions and all these references to all these theories, because I just don’t see how they are really helping me find answers to questions that I know my grandsons are going to be asking me.”

It is my conviction, Ed, that theories without a practice aren’t worth much. That is I realize just another theory. I have observed that the system can only do what the system knows how to do. The system can only learn about itself. Any efforts from outside the system to change the system is doomed.

So I have one foot in and one foot out and I shake it all about. I do the hokey pokie ( a traditional participation dance) and I turn myself around- that’s what it’s all about!


Whether or not that’s a losing hand remains to be seen, doesn’t it? :smile:

Found it! (from Listening to the Left Hand, essay by Frank Herbert, 1973):

Technological playthings distort and amplify our performances to the point where we may believe we are discovering futures that we invent in the present. This may be the most elemental reality we have ever encountered, but the distortions born of mating our unexamined desires to our technology have tangled future and present almost inextricably. Future/past/present–, they remain so interwoven deep in the species’ psyche that our day-to-day activities are often concealed from us… The thrust of my argument is that we are not raising our awareness to the level demanded by the times, we are not making the connections between poisons and processes – to the despair of our species.

If we define futurism as exploration beyond accepted limits, then the nature of limiting systems becomes our first object of exploration. That nature lies within ourselves. Some who say they are talking about “a future” are only talking about their own limits. The dominant pattern in current planning betrays a system of thinking that does not want to abandon old assumptions and that keeps seeking a surprise-free future. But if we lock down the future in the present, we deny that such a future has become the present-- and the present has always been inadequate for the future.

My explanation of this pattern goes partly – where we commonly believe meaning is found – in printed words (such as these), in the noise of a speaker, in the reader’s or listener’s awareness, or in some imaginary thought-land between these. We tend to forget that we human animals evolved in an ecosystem that has demanded constant improvisation from us. In all our systems and processes, including the human brain, our consciousness, and our thinking patterns. The virtuosity of our customary speaking tends to conceal from us how this behavior is dominated by improvisation. This non-awareness carries over into that “talking” with our universe by which we shape it and are shaped by it.

It dismays some people to think that we are in some kind of jam session with our universe and that our survival demands an ever-increasing virtuosity, an ever-improving mastery of our instruments. Whatever we may retain of logic and reason, however, points in that direction. It indicates that creation of human societies probably should become more of an art form than a plaything of science.