Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Assignment #3 Option #1

Overall this passage wasn’t as hard to understand as I was prepared for. It was difficult for me to wrap my mind around,but I think I still am getting the ideas at hand. There was a section which I had trouble relating to the rest of the passage and I still don’t fully understand how it fits into the scheme of things. Here’s the section:

The unthought hurts because we’re comfortable in what’s already thought. And thinking, which is accepting this discomfort, is also, to put it bluntly, an attempt to have done with it. That’s the hope sustaining all writing (painting, etc.): that at the end, things will be better. As there is no end, this hope is illusory. So: the unthought would have to make your machines uncomfortable, the uninscribed that remains to be inscribed would have to make their memory suffer. Do you see what I mean? Otherwise why would they ever start thinking? We need machines that suffer from the burden of their memory. (page 20 bottom of first paragraph)

First I will explain what it means in itself. Lyotard is describing the “unthought” literally meaning not thought. But what he is really getting at is what is not thought of in the human mind, or that which cannot be perceived in the human mind. This confusion or unknowing sense creates discomfort within our thoughts. He then explains that we attempt to put this out of our minds to make us feel more comfortable about it. We then try to put some kind of reason or thought process surrounding it. This gives us a sense (he calls it hope) that we have accomplished something or that we have “learned” it. He then talks about works of art giving an abstract sort of meaning to an unexplained thought (unthought). The hope in this art work is that someone will feel or think of what the creator felt at its creation and hopefully feel better from this enlightenment. But of course this is unobtainable no matter how close our perception comes it will never be exactly the same as the creator. Then he is talking about machines not having this complex thought process about “unthought” within them and that they would feel the same discomfort that we may feel from not knowing something or having a misunderstanding. This discomfort is what he implies drives our thoughts to begin with. That we wrap our heads around our memories to try to relate it to other experiences and that this is how we may deal with unthought or the discomfort surrounding it.

To bring this into the context of the rest of the paper is where it becomes difficult for me. The rest of the paper is dealing with the actual thought processes in which man can compute and record certain feelings or data. Lyotard also explains how we perceive the world from all angles and even predict certain aspects of it. We also can deal with the discontinuities of life, and put reasoning behind this, such as when we see objects repeatedly but they are never exactly the same, yet we still can recognize them fully. This seems to be someday obtainable by machines, even a distant sense of feelings and the ability of recognition. But this concept described in this paragraph is becoming an “unthought” for me. I cannot conceive that suffering is what brings us to think and that suffering is necessary to call thought…thought. If a machine is someday created that is smarter or thinks faster than us, I do not think the process of thought would be tarnished by not having the emotion of suffering. If you think about it a machine can learn whatever is brought before it or is taught to it, in a future machine perhaps even imagined before being learned. This process is the same in humans we can in fact learn things, but more amazing the way in which we can invent and imagine other things. A machine could be capable of this without suffering, perhaps it may be too smart to suffer? I am a bit of a science nerd myself and the idea of a computer which doesn’t compute with a binary code is being created as we speak with great successes. The idea that a machine would have to suffer or have unthought to indeed have thought does not fit with my understanding and does not seem to fit with the rest of this paper. The passage itself is not hard for me to comprehend but the way it fits with the rest of the text does. Did anyone else have trouble with this?

Lyotard, Jean-Francois. “Can Thought Go on without a Body?”

1 comment:

Adam Johns said...

You're grappling with a genuinely difficult text, and your initial explanation of that text certainly has merit. I might disagree with details of your reading, but on the other hand I'm hardly confident that I have a pure, final understanding of Lyotard myself.

To me the interesting point is when you acknowledge that the idea of a suffering machine remains "unthought" for you. Your choice to engage with Lyotard's language, rather than just calling him wrong, is interesting.

From that point on, though, you lose your engagement with Lyotard. Rather than asking _why_ he thinks it's so necessary for thought (our own, not just mechanical thought) to be driven by suffering, you just assert that it doesn't have to be.

Let me toss out one idea: for Lyotard, the question of motive if critical. Why do we learn? Because we suffer. Why, then, should a machine learn at all, if it doesn't experience the pain of memory? I'm not saying that he's right, but you are, despite considerable engagement at the beginning, dodging him at the end.