[29 May] Dr Peter Woelert, ‘Why Technology is not an “Extension of the Body”‘

Deakin University seminar
Dr Peter Woelert (Melbourne) presents ‘Why Technology is not an “Extension of the Body”’
Tuesday 29 May from 3.30-5pm in C2.05 on Deakin University’s Burwood campus

The thesis that (human) technology constitutes an ‘extension of the human body’ and this body’s sensory and motor capacities has been surprisingly long-lived. First comprehensively developed by Ernst Kapp, almost every famous philosopher discussing technological phenomena has at some stage expressed views that align in one sense or another with the extension thesis. Arguably, the extension thesis also anticipates more recent ‘extended mind’ style arguments; at least those that are built upon notions of parity between internal (biological) and external cognitive resources. In this paper I take a scrutinizing look at the extension thesis and identify some of its major shortcomings. My critique of the extension thesis will be developed along two lines.

First, drawing mainly on the work of anthropologist Leroi-Gourhan, I show that the extension thesis is limiting when it comes to account for the peculiar dynamics characterizing the long-term development of human technological practice. This is mainly because the cultural evolution of human technology is generally characterized by the tendency of an increasing liberation of technology from the model of the human body, and along with it, by the increasing uncoupling of technological from bodily forms of activity. Second, building upon the work of Cassirer, I illustrate that the extension thesis also obscures a proper understanding of the symbolic dimensions and symbolic efficacy of technology. I will finish with some more general remarks concerning some of the opportunities and problems afforded by the historically changing relations between the human agent, its body, and human technologies.

Peter Woelert is a Research Fellow at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education at the University of Melbourne, with a background in sociology (MA, University of Frankfurt, Germany) and philosophy (PhD, University of New South Wales). His research primarily focuses on the embodied, cultural and technological dimensions of cognitive activity, usually combining perspectives from distributed cognition approaches and phenomenology. More recently, Peter has become increasingly interested in the behavioural effects and cognitive dimensions of formalizing modes of governance. Recent papers include “Idealization and external symbolic storage: The epistemic and technical dimensions of theoretic cognition” and “Human cognition, space, and the sedimentation of meaning” (both published in Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences).

The 2012 Deakin University seminar series is hosted by the Alfred Deakin Research Institute, the Centre for Citizenship and Globalisation and the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Deakin University.

This Deakin University seminar series is free to attend and open to all. Please direct any inquiries to Dr Sean Bowden at s.bowden@deakin.edu.au.

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