Cluster 11 The potential of the cognisphere

by kajsakorner


I consider that Haraway’s cyborg, in “A Manifesto for the Cyborg” from 1985, works as an effective metaphor to challenge the idea of technology separated from nature. Hayles (2006) discusses if Haraway’s (1991) cyborg has become redundant as a metaphor for analyzing the tight relationship between human and technology. Haraway stated in “A Manifesto for the Cyborg” that “the smallest unit of analysis is the relation.”, but this is not enough according to Hayles (2006:160). Instead we should ask “What relations should be foregrounded?” (Hayles, 2006:160). She argues for a post-human approach considering agency as “relational and distributed”, and

“cognition as embodied throughout human flesh and extended into the social and technological environment.” (Hayles, 2006:161).

Hayles (2006:165) refers to the term cognisphere[1] which she suggests “takes up where the cyborg left off.”. The term cognisphere is described as a global phenomenon and captures “the dynamic and interactive nature” of the exchange of data or data flow, mostly, between machines e.g. computers (Hayles, 2006). And, it is

“not only including the Internet but also networked and programmable systems that feed into it,… the cognisphere gives a name and shape to the globally interconnected cognitive systems in which humans are increasingly embedded.”(Hayles, 2006:161).

The cognisphere rejects a binary thinking between means and metaphors (Hayles, 2006), where the machine or technology is either considered as a tool (mean) or an analogy (metaphor) of how e.g. the world or human mind works. Hayles (2006:163) says “that means and metaphor are dynamically interacting with each other.” This kind of thinking challenges the idea of the separation of body and mind, nature and technology, mean and metaphor. Hayles (2006:163) means that

“One of the important insights that has emerged in science studies in the last 20 years is the realization that scientific models are underdetermined with respect to empirical evidence (or, to put it another way, that multiple models may be consistent with prevailing knowledge).”

I understand this as Hayles means that there exist several different scientific models, which might be suitable for turning empirical evidence into comprehensible knowledge. Hayles (2006) argues for that the reason why one quantifiable model of information theory[2] has manage to prevail over other more suitable theories is that it went well with the dominating “disembodied views of information”. Further on, this reasoning

“fitted well with existing preconceptions about a separation between a material body and an immaterial essence, which of course was a subtext for a disembodied view of information in the first place.” (Hayles, 2006:164).

I understand it as Hayles wants to apply the concept of cognisphere in order to focus on certain relations between human and technology instead of just relations, which she thinks is what Haraway’s cyborg captures. Hayles (2006) refers to Haraway’s ‘situated knowledge’, and her own work  “The Regime of Computation”, which she means both show that the objectivity of the world can only be understood through our own subjectivity. I do not see how the cognisphere concept on its own is able to differentiate what relations should be foregrounded. I therefore, interpret Hayles as coupling the cognisphere with the idea of cognition being embodied, and that will make it possible to focus on relations from a specific perspective. Certain relations will then be “foregrounded”, instead of just relations in general.


HARAWAY, D. J. 1991. Simians, cyborgs, and women : the reinvention of nature, New York, Routledge.

HAYLES, N. K. 2006. Unfinished Work: From Cyborg to Cognisphere. Theory, Culture & Society, 23, 159-166.


[1] A term coined by Thomas Whalen (2000) ‘Data Navigation, Architectures of Knowledge’, paper presented at the Banff Summit on Living Architectures: Designing for Immersion and Interaction, Banff New Media Institute, 23 Sept.

[2] “In How We Became Posthuman (1999) I demonstrated this dynamic at work through my analysis of information-theoretic models. The Shannon–Weaver version of information theory triumphed over Donald MacKay’s conceptually richer embodied version for practical reasons (largely because it could be reliably quantified). However, the Shannon–Weaver model then rapidly traveled to other fields where quantification was impossible (such as semiotics and communication theory) because of its ‘scientific’ cachet, whereas MacKay’s model would have been more appropriate.” (Hayles, 2006:163).