Reviewer biography

Current Reviews

Review Articles

Book Reviews Archive

Cyberculture, Cyborgs and Science Fiction: Consciousness and the Posthuman

by William S. Haney II
Rodopi, Amsterdam, 2006
192 pp. Paper, $40
ISBN: 90-420-1948-4.

Reviewed by Rob Harle (Australia)


I think many readers will find this book extremely irritating and at times offensive, as I did. It has the tone of being preached to by a born-again evangelist from a soapbox on a Sunday afternoon. I had hoped after reading the synopsis on the back cover that this book would provide a balanced and long overdue serious, scholarly critique of the push towards the bionic, Cyborgian supplantation of human beings. It does no such thing.

Quoting from the back cover: "Presented here for the first time, the essential argument of this book is more than a warning: it gives a direction: far better to practice patience and develop pure consciousness and evolve into a higher human being than to fall prey to the Faustian temptations of biotechnological power". There are so many unfounded assumptions and poorly analysed notions concerning just what biotechnological augmentation will do to existing human beings that I barely know where to start. Human Nature! Pure Consciousness! Hyperarousal! Haney uses these terms as though they are well understood and universally accepted facts?

Regarding the nature of human consciousness––Daniel Dennett, Antonio Damasio, Robert Pepperell, John Searle, Andy Clark and Donna Haraway are all in error, and William Haney is correct. Really? Marijuana smokers, email users, mobile phone texters, and psychotropic drug users better be careful unless they will all suffer the same fate as bionic implantees, a kind of biotechnological madness (p. 21).

Cyberculture, Cyborgs and Science Fiction has 10 chapters with a good Bibliography and Index. The first two chapters, Consciousness and the Posthuman and The Latent Powers of Consciousness vs. Bionic Humans, discuss Haney’s thesis specifically. The following seven chapters, which are well researched and interesting, discuss the posthuman and consciousness in various works of literature such as––Gibson’s Neuromancer and Shelley’s Frankenstein. The final chapter––Conclusion: The Survival of Human Nature argues that while there may be some minor benefits of bionic implants and posthuman augmentation, we should avoid this path as it will destroy our "innate ability to reach pure consciousness as a means to realise our ultimate vision".

Herein lies the first and most serious problem with Haney’s thesis. It is by no means an accepted fact that "pure consciousness" is anything but a myth, this condition is the goal of such Eastern belief systems as Advaita Vedanta certain schools of Buddhism and Yoga. It is imperative to understand that these belief systems are just that––no different to the beliefs of Christians, Flat Earthers, hard-core scientific Materialists and so on. There is in fact, a very solid, scholarly argument against the possibility of the existence of pure consciousness. Steven Katz’s work is both prolific and seminal in this regard––Haney dismisses this idea in one sentence (p. 11). Haney’s bias is blatant and becomes obvious the further one gets into the book. It would have perhaps served his cause better to state at the outset that he was writing an apologetics for Advaita Vedanta.

The second serious flaw in Haney’s argument is the suggestion that all bionic implants will cause our natural biological bodies to become hyperaroused and, as such, will prevent us from reaching spiritual states of pure consciousness. This is simply pure nonsense. Firstly, there is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that implants cause this state because there is a dearth of such implants at this stage, and, secondly, the small number of cases reported seem to suggest the opposite. Two personal anecdotal accounts are worth mentioning. I have a close friend who has an implanted Pacemaker, and she is an ardent devotee of an Indian spiritual group. Her bionic implant allows her to remain non-anxious and calm most of the time, especially when she engages in deep spiritual meditation. Personal correspondence with Professor Kevin Warwick of Reading University indicates that his brain accepted, within a few months, the bi-directional micro-controller he had surgically implanted. Note well, this is a bi-directional interface with his brain; it seems his emotions, intellectual functions, and personality did not become hyperaroused whatsoever! One thing that Haney seems to not consider is that even if pure consciousness exists and is achievable, there is nothing to indicate that a fully augmented bionic posthuman would be incapable of realising this state. We may even be surprised to find that bionic entities are able to merge with Brahmanic oneness (should such a state exist) more easily than we can!

Suggesting, as Haney does, that we should all evolve naturally because our human nature is "the effortless capacity for transcending the mind’s conceptual content" is to ignore the Eastern wisdom that whilst it considers it every human’s birthright to achieve these states, very few actually do. That is, only a very small number of lifetime devotees claim to have achieved enlightenment. To suggest that it is the "natural tendency of the mind to move towards pure conscious" has no basis in historical fact. To suggest it is "effortless" is quite bizarre. All spiritual systems from Zen to Tantra emphasize the incredible, single-minded effort required and length of time in decades to achieve even deep meditation states, let alone pure consciousness.

Even if you believe in the possibility of pure consciousness, this book will not convince you that bionic augmentation will prevent you achieving this, nor will it convince you that such augmentation will be a destroyer of human nature.




Updated 1st May 2006

Contact LDR: ldr@leonardo.org

Contact Leonardo: isast@leonardo.info

copyright © 2006 ISAST