In his essay, “Can thought go on without a body,” Lyotard explores the possibilities of thoughts and consciousness without (certain) physical mediums, organic bodies in particular. His essay, while the ideas were very interesting, was presented in an unnecessarily complex and confusing fashion. For example, one of the passages which stuck out to me as needlessly difficult wasn’t necessarily difficult in the meaning, but more so in the wording and syntax of it:
“Is it even consistent to claim to be programming an experience that defies, if not programming, then at least the programme – as does the vision of the painter or writing?” (18)
It took me, for some reason, a while to ascertain the true meaning of this sentence. The more I re-read it, the more sub-clauses and phrases I could tear out to get at the meaning behind it. In its original context, I believe that the author is simply asking whether or not it is actually possible to create a program (an intelligence) that is first of all capable of human-like thought and secondly capable of existing without a ‘body.’ In this particular sentence, Lyotard is asking if the vision that have when they create their art is similar to
Both a painter and a writing (which looks like a type-o to me because one is a profession and the other is a finished product of an unrelated profession… I am still having trouble with this part, but I will assume he means ‘writer’) are trying to convey an experience that cannot accurately be described using their respective media (at least in the way human thought would). The programmer cannot program the experience because it defies (at least) the concept of a program. Programs are used to simulate real or imagined concepts, so how does one go about writing a program, which forms an artificial reconstruction of, a real event? It is not, in fact, the real thing and can never actually describe the event or idea that a human observer would originally have. Lyotard is arguing that, while humans can think in so many directions and ways at once, while keeping on the same thought, machines think only in binary code and deal almost exclusively with “if, then, else” statements. There is no emotion in a program, there is no breadth or depth to a program (beyond the mere coding used to solve the problem), and there is no way of ‘thinking’ other that “if this, then that, else that.” Human thought is unique and nothing can reproduce it. What he may ultimately be asking is perhaps, “Is writing a program to describe experiences similar to painting figures or writing pieces to represent experiences?” The gist of this experience can be obtained, but as far as ‘thought’ is concerned, you cannot reproduce the experience in its entirety, especially in mere programs and/or paintings/writings.
I think this passage is so difficult to grasp the first 30 times you read over it is mostly in its wording. The sentence seems to run on and you lose track of the initial question. There are too many places where the reader must pause (as one does at commas and hyphens) and these pauses can cause the reader to lose track of their initial thoughts (which is interesting, because it is these ‘thoughts’ that we so often lose in his writing that the author is attempting to describe). It is also difficult because by the time the sentence is over, it appears as more of a statement than the question it was intended to be. He starts with “Is it even consistent to claim,” which is fine, but he adds so many clarifications that it begins to take on sentence form and loses all semblance of its intended purpose.
I think that, in breaking down the passage, it needs to be complicated and difficult to get the point across. Lyotard said in one sentence what it took me almost a page to say and all he had to do was to sacrifice a little readability. Sure people may have to re-read it a few times, but it is those passages which we struggle to comprehend and ultimately give us epiphanies that we remember best. Who knows, maybe it was purposely confusing to illustrate the ability of human thought and reason. Maybe he was showing that a human being could work around such phrases and binary programs may not be equipped to reason with such language.