Sample Essay

What Is a Cyborg?

A cyborg is part human and part machine.

At first sight, a cyborg would seem to be a simulacra of a human being in Baudrillard's first phase of the image—that which is “the reflection of a basic reality.” Cyborgs generally look very much like normal humans, but they are not. But what is a cyborg? Further scrutiny reveals them to in fact be in the third phase—that which “masks the absence of a basic reality.” For I myself am a cyborg, even though I have no mechanical implants of any kind. My senses are enhanced by devices that are on my person at all times. I am never out of earshot of my cell phone, and it is never off. I wear clothes to help maintain homeostasis, augmenting my biological capacity to do so. If I can be a cyborg and have no mechanical parts at all, the idea of a so-called pure human breaks down. The cyborg of popular science fiction—Molly with metal claws built into her fingers, Bateau with cybernetic eyes, and the countless others—creates the illusion of a boundary between cyborg and human.

The boundary between humans and cyborgs grows thin and insubstantial, becomes ill-defined. As Haraway argues in A Cyborg Manifesto , “It is not clear who makes and who is made in the relation between human and machine” (Haraway, 177). We create our cell phones, or perhaps we create other machines that create them. But my cell phone also helps create the person that I am in the same way that my eyes help create who I am. Without either I feel disconnected, disoriented, incomplete. Part of me is missing. “Our sense of connection to our tools is heightened” (Haraway, 178). But the sense of connection is what matters. Just as cyborgs are simulacra of humans, we ourselves simulate so-called true cyborgs. By feeling connected to our tools we are connected to them.

Those who would argue that the simulated cyborg (the cyborg/human that has no mechanical parts permanently physically connected to it) is not a cyborg at all would attempt to make a distinction where there is none. In the words of Baudrillard, “It is always is always a false problem to want to restore the truth beneath the simulacrum.” Imagine a person who has nanorobotic components integrated into their body, enhancing the oxygen-carrying capacity of their bloodstream. These machines could be added or removed in much the same way that blood cells can be. Yet these mechanical components are not permanently physically connected to the body, just as an IUD or any number of drugs administered via implanted capsules are not permanently connected. Furthermore, other such nanorobotic components could be added to enhance other functions of the body. At this point the distinction between simulated cyborgs and so-called true cyborgs can be seen for what it is: entirely imaginary.

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