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Richard Matthew Doyle

Richard Matthew Doyle

Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of English
Affiliate Faculty, Information Science and Technology
Digital Director, Zebrapedia.org (Zebrapedia.psu.edu)
(814) 883-9597
8 Burrowes Building
Mailroom: 430 Burrowes Building

Mailroom: 430 Burrowes Building

Richard Matthew Doyle

Summer 2022 Office Hours

Tuesdays 1-2:30 and by appointment. Zoom for the foreseeable.

Education

Ocean City High School, Ocean City, New Jersey 1978-1982
Georgetown University, BA, English, Philosophy, 1986
University of California, Berkeley, MA, Rhetoric, 1989
University of California, Berkeley, PhD, Rhetoric, 1993
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Post Doctoral Fellowship, STS, History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences

Professional Bio

By trade, habit and labor of love, i am a teacher and a writer keen to enable others to find truth and heal on their own. I have been formally "at it" since 1987, when I began teaching as a graduate student at UC Berkeley. I think I can say definitively that I was a hot mess, and that I had no idea what I was doing. That experience of "not knowing" was precious, and I have been cultivating it for 30 years through diverse and sundry offerings at UC Berkeley, Duquesne University, free online teaching, and Penn State. My moniker at PSU is Edwin Erle Sparks Professor in the College of Liberal Arts. It sounds bad ass. I have a very nice office at Penn State with a view of some beautiful trees. In the classroom I let go into truth and unusual things happen. Lovely, kind and very intelligent people continue to show up and grow, learn and transform, so I keep showing up, too. There have been courses on aliens, Philip K. Dick, nanotechnology, rebellion itself, ecstasy, Sanskrit rhetorical traditions, Burroughs, basic argumentation, The Non Dual Bible, and everything in between.

I have written a trilogy of books on the history of information biology. Here I am interested in looking carefully at how changes in the life sciences have altered human cultures and experiences. On Beyond Living tracked the feedback loops between how we model living systems in writing, speech, image and thought, and the effects of those models on the very concept of "life." I argued to the best of my ability in 1997 that these technologies are part of an evolutionary mutation in human culture wrought on the biotechnological scale - what it feels like to be alive - and the neurotechnological scale - how we think under the influence of technology. This "post-vital" vision - where technical and biological systems can no longer be meaningfully distinguished by participants - was perhaps prophetic of this pandemic where our very experience and consciousness is unmistakably altered by the continual spectre of testing and infection. It's hard to deny that Plotinus, the great philosopher, was correct: We are all unmistakably One in our collective vulnerability!

In Wetwares, i set out to deploy these concepts of the "postvital" to stalk, model and mock the effects of thinking of ourselves as informatic beings under the influence of DNA and other information technologies, such as Polymerase Chain Reaction, now used to test for Covid infections. I did field work in cryonics, artificial life, and the discourse of alien abduction, interviewing participants and building archives. I found in cryonics a perfect test case for what life feels like when we are configurations of information - hint: you always about to melt - and I fell in love with the remarkable creative cultures that cryonics hath wrought. I interviewed some of the pioneers and they were remarkable people. I started out a skeptic but was transformed as i opened myself to just how weird this evolutionary change was going to be. The last chapter of the book, of course, is a thought experiment in imagining not ourselves but aliens as informatic beings. Good fun can be had by all, but these are turbulent philosophical waters. As with On Beyond Living, the writing is indeed uncanny, points to esoteric mayhem, and can yield effects not intended by the author.

 

Darwin's Pharmacy rounded out this trilogy, and there have been others in its wake. Perhaps my personal favorite is The Genesis of Now, written out of the experience of teaching a course on the King James Bible to many years of Penn State students of diverse and sundry backgrounds, majors and perspectives. You wouldn't think it was possible to have such an experience - working directly with a much contested mystical text with 75 unique beings during a pandemic - but by practicing what I really did preach in The Genesis of N0w, it keeps happening in a deeper and more remarkable way. I remain convinced that out of the sheer suffering of the pandemic  - much of it unnecessary -  we really are learning to experience each other as unique instances of One biosphere. Hurry up please, it's time!