Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Essay 2 Group 1- Prompt 1

Human thought can not be recreated, or can it? Lyotard's essay is a very in depth, and philosophical piece about the process that actually makes up human thought, and if it is possible to recreate it in a nonbiological medium. It is a very interesting premise, however in my opinion Lyotard makes this piece overcomplicated with big words, overwhelming sentences, and irregular grammar patterns.

As stated before, Lyotard asks if it is possible to program human thought, or recreate the human mind in a machine. As I also said before, the whole paper is written in philosophical mumbo-jumbo makes the piece a struggle to understand. It is peppered with oxymorons such as "limitless limits" (9), fancy language, and is overall just a mess to try and read through, let alone understand. A section I had trouble dissecting went like this:

"It is thought itself resolving to be irresolute, deciding to be patient, wanting
not to want, wanting, precisely, not to produce a meaning in place of what
must be signified. This is a tip of the hat to a duty that hasn't yet been
named. Maybe that duty isn't a debt. Maybe it's just the mode
according to which what doesn't yet exist, a word, a phrase, a colour
will emerge. So that the suffering of thinking is a suffering of time, of
what happens" (19).

These five sentences almost made me go cross-eyed the first time I read them. I don't know if it was all the commas, or maybe it was the italicized words that I didn't understand the point of the italics, but I had trouble. I started by breaking this section down sentence by sentence, and by making the pauses that the commas signified. So I read the first sentence back more slowly. First I had to define irresolute (not sure how to act, indecisive). I then tried to translate the sentence into words I could comprehend easily and came up with, "Thought tries to be indecisive, it wants to be patient, and maybe it isn't necessarily a part of human nature to have to try and make sense of what we don't understand."

When I was satisfied that was the intended message of the first sentence, the second sentence came along and I struggled again to figure out what it meant. "This is the tip of the hat to a duty that hasn't yet been named." I tried to have the sentence agree with what I thought the first sentence was saying, and again I translated it into my own words: "Thought is an overwhelmingly complex subject, and nobody can truely answer why human thought is as complicated as it is." Lyotard then goes on to say, "Maybe that duty isn't a debt.", and what I thought he meant by this was that humans seem to put a lot of emphasis on trying to make sense of things we may not be meant to understand. This pressure almost seems like a debt in that we try harder and harder to answer every question, but maybe we shouldn't. Maybe thought was not intended to become what it has in modern times, with science and technology replacing many facets of human life.

"Maybe it's just a mode according to which what doesn't yet exist, a word, a phrase, a colour, will emerge." I still have trouble with this, because to me, this sentence doesn't seem like a complete thought. It almost seems like the sentence is missing a subject. I think it means that thought can't be described because there is nothing that exists to do so. Finally, the section ends in saying, "So that the suffering of thinking is a suffering of time, of what happens." I felt this last sentence summed up the point I said before. That thinking just leads to more questions, which need more answers. It becomes a never ending process that all human kind has fallen victim to. We suffer from the fact that we can't be happy without proof to answer the questions we have.

The entire piece was written in this fashion. I realize that I am not a scholar in philosophy so maybe it should've been a little harder for me to understand, but this was a little overkill in my opinion. Wouldn't a writer want a larger audience to be able to comprehend the message?

I guess because the premise of the paper was incredibly complex, Lyotard needs to sound intelligent to sound credible to the intended audience of philosophers and science geniuses. For me, I couldn't get much out of it and had no motivation to dissect every sentence as I did above.


Philip said...

While I can sympathize with and clearly see where you are coming from with your difficulties in understanding the passage you selected, I don’t think you took it far enough. Part of the assignment was to explain what you selected both by itself and in context to the rest of Lyotard’s essay. On occasion, you delved deeper into the meaning of the sentence (such as with the third sentence) but for most of the passage, you simply stated the sentence, your translation, and then moved on. As a reader, I want to know why this passage troubled you, beyond the wording.

Along with looking deeper at what the sentences mean, you also need to add more to tie your translations back to the section you chose and Lyotard’s essay as a whole.

Another thing that bothered me and made it harder to stay interested in your essay was the constant use of phrases such as “I thought,” “I don’t know,” “I think” (as in self-doubt), and “I guess.” These make you sound unsure of yourself; and even if you are, as a reader it makes it harder for me to take what you are saying seriously. If you’re not confident in what you’re saying, why should I take the time to read it? Removing or rewording these phrases to make what you’re saying sound more definite will rectify this.

I have to disagree with your reasoning behind why Lyotard made his essay so complex and hard to read. With a five minute online search, I found enough material to suggest that Lyotard was well enough established when he wrote the essay that he didn’t need to use complex language to sound credible (much like Joy and “Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us”). With what we talked about in class, we all have a better understanding Lyotard’s intent.

Moving on from content, something I don’t think your essay needs is the first two sentences in the second paragraph. As you point out yourself, they simple restate what you said in the previous paragraph. It disrupts the flow and feels like listening to a scratched CD that just skipped. Also, in your opening paragraph when you are describing Lyotard’s essay, you say he uses “big words.” This phrase seems out of place and almost childish given the subject of both essays. Another term that seems out of place is “overkill” in the seventh paragraph.

You have a good base to work on, you just need to explain your translations some more and tie them back to the section and the rest of the essay.

cbt6 said...

Recreation of human though; is it possible? Lyotard's essay is a complex discussion of what may lie ahead for mankind. The essay itself is very complicated to read. There are a few reasons why it was difficult to comprehend. Some issues were gramatical; his sentence structure is unlike anything I have read before. Also, Lyotard's wording can be difficult. He uses words that some of them I have never seen before, and in a few cases, he almost seemed to contradict himself in a single sentence. While all of these issues were problems for me, it became apparent that Lyotard had a very deliberate intent when writing the piece in such a unique, although very confusing, manner.

"I'm granting to physics theory that technilogical-scientific development is, on the surface of the earth, the present-day form of a process of negentropy or complexification that has been underway since earth began its existance. I'm granting that human beings aren't and never have been a motor of this complexification, but an effect and carrier of this negentropy, its continuer." (22).

When I finished reading these two sentences, it seemed to me that maybe I misread them. I reread the paragraph 2 or 3 more times, but I was still unsure.

What confused me the most was the fact that Lyotard says that technological development is "complexification" of the earth. However, he states that human beings are not the motor to technological development, just its continuer. To understand what he was getting at, I had to read a little more down the page.

"In granting all this, I concede that it isn't any human desire to know or transform reality that propels this techno-science, but a cosmic circumstance." (22).

What I took from this was that what Lyotard was trying to get at is technology was not something created by humans. It was discovered. As life evolved from a single cell, to humans, so did the need for these technological changes in order for our survival. It tied into the premise of creating a non-biological human life form because it is a fact that our biological home may not be suited for biological life in the future. So if humans are going to survive, it may have to be through technology.

As for the reason why Lyotard wrote in such a confusing manner, the answer might be quite simple. To understand this essay, it takes very in-depth thinking, problem solving, and contextual clues. He is proving how amazing the machine of human thought actually is. How could somebody program an equivalent to human thought? How can anyone truely describe it? The way in which this essay is written, is a point all in itself, and it is a point well taken. There is still a lot of time to figure this problem out, but for now it seems impossible to create human thought.

Adam Johns said...

Phil - great feedback.

Chris - the rewritten version has the virtues of clarity and focus. It also has a single key difficulty: you do relatively little beyond repeating what Lyotard has to say in a slightly different way, and repeating some context that we discussed in detail in class. There is absolutely nothing of substance here about analyzing the passage itself, explaining why it's difficult or how we can figure it out (I think Phil raised the same issue about the earlier version). Instead it's all about the context - a context that we mostly raised in class anyway.