the recursive loop of technological metaphors for subjectivity

One of my major irritants is technological metaphors for subjectivity, not least of all because I slip into invoking them myself when I use terms like ‘cognitive load’. The underlying idea that ‘the brain is like a computer’, as well as the complex network of associated metaphors leading from it, frustrates me because it seems so obviously to be a case of fetishising our own productions. We see ourselves in what we have made and seek to understand ourselves through the characteristics of our artefacts. But as this extract from The Innovators, by Walter Isaacson, Loc 1049 illustrates, our understanding of our subjectivity furnished metaphors for the architecture of the machines which we subsequently use to understand ourselves:

Atanasoff initially considered building an analog device; his love of slide rules led him to try to devise a supersize version using long strips of film. But he realized that the film would have to be hundreds of yards long in order to solve linear algebraic equations accurately enough to suit his needs. He also built a contraption that could shape a mound of paraffin so that it could calculate a partial differential equation. The limitations of these analog devices caused him to focus instead on creating a digital version. The first problem he tackled was how to store numbers in a machine. He used the term memory to describe this feature: “At the time, I had only a cursory knowledge of the work of Babbage and so did not know he called the same concept ‘store.’ . . . I like his word, and perhaps if I had known, I would have adopted it; I like ‘memory,’ too, with its analogy to the brain.” 30

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