In yet another scenario, noise is what has become natural to us each day as users of communication technologies. In the case of cellular phones, for example, one might reduce the noise in a system to nearly zero by design; however, there will always be a mathematical degree of uncertainty—what is parsed by the receiver is never exactly what was said. Noise is part of language itself and, as elaborated by Hayles throughout Posthuman, refers implicitly to the place where the information is encoded or written because such materials are vulnerable to degradation, damage, failure, and change over time. The transfer of information thus occurs in a theater where garbled messages, noise and misunderstandings form many of the connections. Sex, as one form of information transfer, ultimately corrupts the data.
In issues of sex and reproduction, “agency” is often connected to a specifically phallocentric idea of desire, but it can also include unquantifiable factors such as how political resistance, religious ideas, cultural morays, force, or coercion play out in human biological and social systems. From a feminist perspective on bioinformatics, genetic selection that occurs among individuals in the context of these factors may be generative “noise”—a kind of cultural mutation—that ultimately decides the path of evolution. Splicing, mutating, and altering genetic code implies making decisions. When debating futures in the new fields of biotechnologies, the need for coherent narratives and careful translations are critical, as is dialogue between artists, scientists and other cultural practitioners. The results of these conversations can be many and fruitful.
To give a personal example, the last time I spoke with Thomas Schneider to go over and, in some cases, correct the language and scientific concepts in this essay, our conversation inspired an idea for a new experiment in his lab.33 My immodest proposal here is for art and literature to maintain the health of culture through mutational practices. However, careful understanding of biotech’s principals is required if the alternatives are to be viable. Here I solicit your imaginations to consider how best to apply an invasive feminism to this end, one that permeates science with considerations of life’s many un-measurable factors. Carrie Paterson is an artist and writer based in Los Angeles. She has published art reviews, criticism and new media fiction and exhibits sculpture, installation, performance and text-based works.
- Schneider’s experiment would build data sets from live bacterial cultures by tracking changes in the evolution of a DNA binding site. Bacteria would be genetically engineered to have one less DNA binding site for a protein such as the protein L exA. When generations of those strains are exposed to DNA -damaging U V light, mutations would occur. In theory, bacteria strains that are able to re-evolve the LexA site would do better. Therefore, S chneider’s experiment could observe evolution at a microbiological level and statistically describe the rate of evolution under the positive influence of the “noise” of mutation. Phone conversation with the author, June 6, 2008.↵