Monday, September 15, 2008

can experiences be programmed?

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.

4 comments:

Matt Carrick said...

My first recommendation to you is to make sure that you proofread your post before you submit it. You point out what may or may not be a type-o by Lyotard, but you yourself have several throughout your post.

Secondly, be careful to keep in mind the end goal of the programme in question. The conflict that Lyotard points out is not the limitation of the medium. The conflict is the fact that programming is a medium. You correctly point out that "Programs are used to simulate real or imagined concepts". But in trying to program AI, the programmer is not trying to program a concept, but rather the ability to experience a concept. A medium creates a representation of an event, but consciousness experiences the event firsthand. Therefore by virtue of being a medium, a programme cannot also be a consciousness.

Also keep in mind that for this post the primary objective was to explain what Lyotard was trying to say in the difficult passage. The secondary objective was to explain how and why the passage was difficult.

Mathew said...

This paper definitely fulfills the requirements of the prompt. That being said, I think the last paragraph was dead on in interpreting the meaning of the essay. Firstly, just like we discussed in class, it states that the difficulty of the passage is part of the message the piece tries to convey and second that interpreting and understanding the difficulty of the passage is something a computer would be incapable of doing. Because of this, I will disagree with Matt Carrick and say that the difficulty is part of what Lyotard was trying to say, making it more of analysis rather than criticism of Lyotard.

Maybe the paper could do some rephrasing in the section about re-reading the essay multiple times because I know I didn’t read it 30 times and I think it could come across as sounding too much like a complaint. Like what Dr. Johns mentioned in class, about saying that this essay was difficult because Lytoard is a jerk. Also, one thing that this paper lacks is an explicit statement of the thesis.

This paper could have been more in depth, for instance using analogies from another scientific area, but I think that the specific passage that was chosen limits that. I’m not criticizing the choice of this statement or the analysis of it, but a more technical statement would have provided more opportunity for discussion.

testanick said...

Final Paper:
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, quite 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 programmers have when they create their art is similar to how both a painter and a writing [sic] 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 be the event or idea that a human observer would originally have. Programs are second-hand knowledge, while experience is first-hand. Lyotard is also 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. The product that one ultimately achieves is not the experience, but however, only a second-hand interpretation of the experience and therefore can never be a substitute for human consciousness.
I think the reason this passage is so difficult to grasp the first few 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 which we remember best. Another reason for the essays difficulty may have been to illustrate the ability of human thought and reason. He was showing that a human being could work around such phrases and obtain much more knowledge and meaning than an “if, then, else” statement would have. Humans are unique in their ability to think, comprehend, and think both arbitrarily and abstractly. Lyotard was making a point by making his essay so confusing… he was using it to show the reader first-hand how his own cognitive faculties could out-think binary intelligence. A second-hand representation of any idea is never a good substitute for the real thing.

Adam Johns said...

Like Mathew, I found your conclusion to be rather clever. Like Matt, I found your explanation of Lyotard to be somewhat problematic.

Here's a key issue for me. You claim several times that Lyotard's sentence structure, punctuation, etc. is confusing, and that the difficulty lies there. Strangely, though, you don't try to make that point. You don't break the sentence apart into several, for instance, to show that it is causing unnecessary difficulties - you aren't demonstrating what needs to be demonstrated. You never even consider the possibility that there is deliberate meaning in the punctuation - that he wants you to pause and stumble where you pause and stumble for some kind of reason. Maybe this isn't the case, but you should consider the possibility, at least.

Somewhat similarly, you make quite a few claims about what the passage means, without always bothering to back them up. Most tellingly, you never say anything - as far as I can tell - about what the phrase "defy the programme" even means. Put simply - despite picking a great passage and having some relevant things to say about it, you never really zoom in on *exactly* what Lyotard is saying and *how* - more attention on the text itself was desirable here.

Your focus on the idea of program as representation is interesting - but I'm not sure (and this may go to Matt's point) about why you think that program=represenation.