Situated Emotions

Kelly Maudslien

Although Rudy Rucker wants to say that the spirit is ultimately more important than the flesh, that the software overrides the hardware (hence the title of the first book in the trilogy, Software), he doesn't quite succeed in persuading me.

As far as empathetic connections, Rucker thinks that the spirit or the soul is the only thing that matters. When Sta-Hi has sex with Misty, he cannot get rid of the unsettling feeling that she is only wires and machine parts. Her physical reality makes him think that she has no true spiritual presence and so he is unable to connect with her:

The sex was nice, but confusing. The whole situation kept going di-polar on Sta-Hi. One instant Misty would seem like a lovely warm girl who'd survived a terrible injury, like a lost puppy to be stroked, a lonely woman to be husbanded. But then he'd start thinking of the wires behind her eyes, and he'd be screwing a machine, an inanimate object, a public toilet. Just like with any other woman for him, really. (Software, p. 66)
Rucker thinks that being matter-bound precludes the possibility of true emotional connections. Cobb muses to himself, "And there were his strange new flashes of empathy to explain. Was it that, having switched bodies once, he was no longer so matter-bound as before...?" (Software, p. 127) It is as if Rucker thinks that simulated cybersex is the purest form of interaction. However, I used the verb "matter" in the first sentence of this paragraph to illustrate how the statement was inherently untrue; non-matter cannot be the only thing that matters. To claim absolute objectivity when it comes to empathy and emotion is to negate the definition of emotion. Cobb tries to claim this objectivity when he says, " 'I've been getting this feeling that the mind really is independent of your body. Even without your body, your mind could still exist as a sort of mathematical possibility. And telepathy is only...' " (Software, p. 127) One can finish this sentence as, "telepathy is only the objective discovery of another person's mathematical formulae." But where does Cobb think this "feeling" is coming from? The hardware, the body, always situates knowledge and plays an important role in these seemingly objective "feelings". Hardware, not only the "mathematical possibilities" of our spirits, is essential in the creation of meaning. This is not to say that meaning or interpersonal connections are solely mediated by our bodies. However, it is important to recognize that our telepathic links or knowledge of other people are strongly affected by the positioning of our bodies. As Donna Haraway says,
...we do need an earth-wide network of connections, including the ability partially to translate knowledges among very different -- and power-differentiated -- communities. We need the power of modern critical theories of how meanings and bodies get made, not in order to deny meaning and bodies, but in order to live in meanings and bodies that have a chance for the future. (Simians, Cyborgs, and Women, p. 187)
That is, we miss an important part of the picture when we think that links can be forged without considering the fact that bodies, subjective selves, and constructed meanings, will interfere with pure "telepathic" communication between kindred spirits. This interference does not have to be negative as long as we understand the inevitable importance of hardware.

I think that Rucker unintentionally hits on this importance here and there. When discussing artificial intelligence, a simulation of Cobb says, " 'We cannot build an intelligent robot... but we can cause one to evolve.' " (Software, p. 78) Rucker's own experience with writing AI programs tells him that humans cannot simply give hardware form to the mathematical possibility of intelligence. Rather, the hardware itself gives rise to self-mutating, self-selecting software. Moreover, the reason why human brains need to be dissected rather than just taped is because we are more mechanical and chemical than simply electrical. Cobb thinks that "the idea of 'self' is, after all, just another idea, a symbol in the software." (Software, p. 143) If this is true, however, why does Cobb immediately go on to think, "And, as much as ever, Cobb wanted his self to continue to exist as hardware." This longing is not coincidental. 'Self' is not so much symbol as it is simulation; it depends upon its medium to exist. There is more to us than voltage potentials; we consist of chemicals and tissue that may not be entirely rational.

[To other discussions of Rudy Rucker's - Ware trilogy (Software, Wetware, and Freeware) by members of English 111, Cyberspace and Critical Theory, Spring 1998.]

Rucker's -Ware Trilogy Course Website Cyborg