Chapter

The International Handbook of Virtual Learning Environments

pp 1571-1592

Learning by Being: Thirty Years of Cyborg Existemology

  • Steve MannAffiliated withDepartment of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Toronto

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As a “cyborg” (Mann, 2001) in the sense of long-term adaptation to the modified body, one encounters a new kind of existential self-determination and mastery over one’s own environs (and to some degree, one’s own destiny). Presently, in addition to having the internet and massive databases and video at my beck and call most of the time, I am also connected to others. While I am grocery shopping, my wife—who may be at home or in her office-sees exactly what I see and helps me pick out vegetables. She can imprint images ontomy retina while she is seeing what I see. I call this collaborative mediated reality. I hope to add to the population of similarly equipped people; in the Fall of 1998, at the University of Toronto, I taught what I believe to be the world’s first existemology course.

Existemology pertains to not just body modification, through technology (“cyborg primitives”) but also to mind modification through long-term adaptation. In this sense, existemology also extends into what I call the “postcyborg” age, and thus also applies to the creation of a new state-of-mind that can persist after the technological prostheses are removed. In the sense that I found that this new state of mind could comprise an improvement, I thus encountered existemological therapy (i.e., improved condition even if the body modifications are removed or become damaged or inoperative).

The general ideas of existemology are themselves applicable to learning environments that have nothing to do with bodyborne computing. To some degree, beyond whether the technology is implanted, worn, carried, or nonexistent, what can be learned is an educational paradigm that embodies an epistemology of personal choice, and the metaphysics of personal freedom, growth, and development.