Critical Inquiry Critical Inquiry

Watch: N. Katherine Hayles on Nonconscious Cognition and Material Processes

Since 2003, the Critical Inquiry Distinguished Visiting Professorship has been held by some of the world’s most renowned scholars. The CI Professor is in residence at the University of Chicago for an academic quarter, where he or she teaches a graduate seminar and offers two public lectures.
In the spring of 2015, we proudly welcomed N. Katherine Hayles, a professor of literature at Duke University. She is the author of ten books, including How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in CyberneticsLiterature and Informatics, and more recently, How We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary Technogenesis. Her essay "Traumas of Code" appeared in the Autumn 2006 issue of Critical Inquiry
Hayles delivered the following lecture—the first of two covering "Nonconscious Cognition and Material Processes"—on 8 May 2015. 

"This talk discusses the relation of nonconscious cognition to consciousness/unconscious, which I call the modes of awareness. It develops the idea of cognition in technical systems, particularly computational media, showing how principles of selection and specification of contexts lead to the creation of meaning out of information inflows/ingresses and outflows/egresses. It discusses the relation of agency within technical systems to human agency, arguing for a model of “punctuated agency” analogous to the “punctuated equilibrium” proposed by Stephen Jay Gould and others.  It proposes the idea of “evolutionary potential” as a way to talk about trajectories of technological developments, arguing that computational media have a greater evolutionary potential than any other technology ever invented by humans. Finally, it argues that technical cognitive systems are interpenetrating human complex systems so pervasively and ubiquitously as to change the nature of what it means to be human, and the challenges that this interpenetration poses particularly to the humanities."