Thursday, January 31, 2008

First Impressions: The Principles of Scientific Management

After I finished reading Twain, I started reading “The Principles of Scientific Management”. Although this book started out pretty boring after getting about 20 pages in it started to get interesting. The author, Frederick Winslow Taylor, introduces us to his ideas on how to improve management in order to maximize gains for both the company and the workers.

What I found to be the most interesting thing about this book was how similar Taylor is to Twain’s character Hank Miller. Taylor frequently states that the workers doing these jobs are stupid. He even says that, “it would be possible to train an intelligent gorilla so as to become a more efficient pig-iron handler than any man can be”. (Taylor 18) Taylor’s statements reminded me of Hank Miller’s attitude. Miller constantly put down people he met because he believed that they were stupid and primitive. I find it interesting that both Taylor and Miller believe that they are doing these workers a favor and that they are friends of the workers, but at the same time they insult their intelligence.


Sources: Mark Twain "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court"
Frederick Winslow Taylor "The Principles of Scientific Management"

Informal blog

The essay “Can Thought Go On Without a Body?” was haunting me for days. While I did get the message that a human thought process is too complex for our technologies to truly replicate, I still had the feeling that I was missing something. However, I had an epiphany the other day, and I believe I finally get it.

Reading an article in Time magazine by Nancy Gibbs about a double amputee, Oscar Pistorius, who wishes to race on the Olympics in Beijing, helped me to understand it better. With carbon-fiber blades, called Cheetahs, Oscar can run 200 m in 22 sec. I do not watch sports and do not know what is considered to be a “normal” time for 200 m, but I learned from the article that Oscar’s blades do not waste energy as much as our human ankles, and, as a result, Oscar needs less oxygen than his competitors. His request to compete in the Olympics was denied because his blades were considered an unnatural advantage. Oscar’s petition raised many questions in the sports world, and it called for a definition of what is considered normal (human) competitor in the Olympics.

Oscar is a perfect example of the potential new technologies and modern science can offer. He is not only capable to run without his lower extremities, but he can do it more efficiently than ordinary human. So, who knows what we can do in 4.5 billion years? We could construct a machine that would be capable of thinking in more complex ways than humans do. Who knows? In my opinion, what Loytard’s essay is asking is can we consider it to be a human thought. Development of a technology drives us forward, but at the same time we our getting further and further away from our human nature.

Graded Blog 3 Option #2

In Lyotard’s ‘Can Thought go on without a Body?’ he discusses human thought and makes many references to how it is a technology. Several passages in this essay relates to Hank’s thoughts of the peasants in Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. The first passage that highlighted this comparison was when Lyotard stated, “Dehumanized still implies human – a dead human, but conceivable: because dead in human terms, still capable of being sublated in thought.” (Lyotard 10). This same idea is shown when Hank takes a walk with the charcoal burner. Hank’s then said, “A man is a man, at bottom. Whole ages of abuse and oppression cannot crush the manhood clear out of him.” (Twain 279). This revelation came after he was disappointed in how the peasants lynched the family thought to have murdered their oppressive lord. So even though these people were oppressed and would do anything for their oppressor, deep down they still had hatred for being oppressed.

Later on in Lyotard’s essay another passage seemed to relate well the above thought from Twain’s work but opened up a new interpretation of it. When discussing the human thought process as a technology he states, “The opposite limit of this symbolic recursiveness resides in the necessity by which it is bound (whatever its meta-level of operation) at the same time to maintain regulations that guarantee its survival in any environment whatsoever.” (Lyotard 13). This passage brings much more depth to Hank’s thought. One important part of that quote is to note “whatever its meta-level of operation”. Being a materials science major, this brings to mind the phenomena that allows steels to possess it’s characteristic strength, a meta-stable phase. This occurs because in the correct environment the material will reside in a phase that is not of the lowest energy but stable none the less. The peasants can be thought of in a “meta-level of operation” by the fact that they are being oppressed and are miserable. Even though Hank believes that a freedman should be allowed to display the manhood he speaks of that is buried in the charcoal burner, in his situation being faithful to his lord and upholding the laws of the country are allowing him to survive in this meta-state. While they are walking in the woods Hank says, “Well, then, let me say my say. I have no fears of your repeating it. I think devil’s work has done last night upon those innocent poor people. That old baron got only what he deserved. If I had my way, all of his kind should have the same luck.” (Twain 279). This was a very new idea to the charcoal burner and allowed him to show his ‘manhood’ as Hank said. In this new environment his thought process was free because others had these similar thoughts. If he was alone in his thoughts a poor peasant as himself would have no chance to survive fighting against the established state of oppression. This had nothing to do with his mind changing, it was his environment that changed so he could express thoughts that would not affect his survival in the current environment.

After reading this essay I think it is important to look at the state of the peasants in Twain’s book differently. They seem to me to come off as merely brainwashed in the novel. These people were just trying to survive in their current environment by any means necessary. After reading Lyotard this passage from Twain’s book also reinforced this idea: “We fought and struggled and succeeded; meaning by success, that we lived and did not die; more than that is not to be claimed.” (Twain 269). The woman dying of small pox was not fearing the imminent death, she was embracing the life she lived. Even though the oppression lead to her death, she was glad to have survived in it and her thoughts in time of death made her at peace now that she wasn’t surviving in a health sense but only in a mental sense. In all of the stories of peasants in this book, this idea of Lyotard’s can and should be seen.

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

Twain, Mark. A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur’s Court. London: Penguin Books, 1986.

Disturbing Future

While not overly difficult to understand this passage after it has been read a couple times, it is hard in the aspect of how it makes you think. It raises a lot of questions in your mind that you may not have thought about before. The passage comes at a point in the essay after many controversial questions have already been raised. Most people have a preconceived notion of robots being these miraculous new creations that will make our lives so much easier. But this essay discusses some of the negative aspects of robots and their interaction and potential harm against humans.

Joy’s interesting passage:

“Perhaps it is always hard to see the bigger impact while you are in the vortex of change. Failing to understand the consequences of our inventions while we are in the rapture of discovery and innovation seems to be common fault of scientists and technologists; we have long been driven by the overarching desire to know that is the nature of science’s quest, not stopping to notice that the progress to newer and more powerful technologies can take on a life of its own.”

This passage can almost stand alone as a statement toward many things that happen in life. It discusses how if things happen bit by bit we don’t always notice the change and get caught up in other things and in the end there has been a huge change. If we are not paying attention things will pass us by and we will not notice that drastic changes have changed the way we think and act.

Now relating this directly to the transformation of technology and the innovations that it produces it becomes really obvious how little changes can be overlooked. Little innovations become commonplace in our everyday life and we just adopt them without thinking about what change it leads to. Scientists are always trying to hedge out each other and be ahead of the market. This competition to get to the far reaches of nature’s ability has stimulated a couple controversial innovations that have already come into contention and I am sure there are more to come. Innovations such as stem cell research, human cloning, and biological warfare are some of the controversial innovations that have raised moral issues. Even though we may have the technology and ability to create something like a nuclear bomb, we may not be ready or be willing to face the consequences of having nuclear bombs everywhere. We have already experienced some of the repercussions of displaying our technology and now we are trying to reverse the process and take these weapons away from nations.


By fooling around with technology and creating robots that are increasingly taking over typical human activities we are messing with the cohabitation of robots and humans. “Yet, with each of these technologies, a sequence of small, individually sensible advances leads to an accumulation of great power and, concomitantly, great danger.” This danger could come from creating robots that are able to think for themselves. This could lead to machines that decide to do devastating activities. If robots are able to reproduce then this may lead to limitless harm for the world. “If machines are permitted to make all their own decisions, we can’t make any conjectures as to the results, because it is impossible to guess how such machines might behave.” Joy also comments on how he becomes increasingly disturbed about how all of his contributions to the technological world could be detrimental to his own human race. “I may be working to create tools which will enable the construction of the technology that may replace our species.”

To sum up Joy’s article, the moral of the story is that we should not sit back and let the world pass us by. We need to question why things are being done. We need to be cautious of what we are creating because it may come back to haunt us in the future.

Reference:

Why the future doesn’t need us

Bill Joy

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Graded Blog 2 Option 2

After reading Lyotard’s essay, I reexamined certain aspects of Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur’s Court that I previously had not considered. Much of the very complicated essay questions what will be left in a world where human thought is gone and whether or not we can recreate a form of technology that can live on, in a sense, in a world without humans. A good deal of focus is on the difficulties of translating true human qualities to a computer that operates on a simpler level.

“Human thought doesn’t think in a binary mode. It doesn’t work with units of information (bits), but with intuitive, hypothetical configurations. It accepts imprecise, ambiguous data that doesn’t seem to be selected according to preestablished codes or readability. It doesn’t neglect side effects or marginal aspects of a situation. It isn’t just focused, but lateral too.” (15, Lyotard).

So in a sense, it is difficult to program something that holds much less capabilities than the human mind to recreate what is thought of as the human mind. Another important quote from Lyotard truly had me rethink the role of Hank in a much simpler society. Lyotard writes:

“You know – technology wasn’t invented by us humans. Rather the other way around. As anthropologists and biologists admit, even the simplest life forms…are already technical devices.” (12, Lyotard)

Both of the quotes I provided can be applied to Hank Morgan’s interaction with the old Englishmen. Hank represents the complex human while those he encounters can be viewed as the computers. They are simpler, less understanding pieces of technology (the Lyotard definition) that Hank, the true human, attempts to program to his standards. He faces difficulties in doing so, similar to the problem that humans have with technology. One of the best examples of this occurs when Hank attempts to explain that higher wages aren’t necessarily better if everything costs more than twice as much.

“’Confound it, I’ve never denied it I tell you! What I say is this. With us half a dollar buys more than a dollar buys with you – and therefore it stands to reason and the commonest kind of common sense, that our wages are higher than yours.’

He looked dazed and said, despairingly: ‘Verily, I cannot make it out. Ye’ve just said ours are the higher, and with the same breath ye take it back.’

‘Oh, great Scott, isn’t it possible to get such a simple thing through your head?’” (301, Twain)

After more of this back and forth, Hank resigns: “Well, I was smarting under a sense of defeat. Undeserved defeat, but what of that? That didn’t soften the smart any.” (303, Twain) Since much of Hank’s work in England has been trying to update it to an “advanced” society, the difficulties in doing so can compared to humans’ efforts described by Lyotard. Morgan wants a society that is in his vision for when he is eventually gone, just as humans want to have human traits continue after life ceases. The people in the time period he is trying to change have such a disparity in thought that they are almost like computers when compared to humans. Continuing on this line of thought, one could read Twain as showing the blur between humans and technology and showing the importance of both. After reading what Lyotard wrote while also knowing Twain’s immense fascination with technology, this is most likely a valid way of reading what Twain wrote both in the passage provided as well as the rest of the text.

Lyotard. "Can Thought Go on Without a Body?"

Twain. “A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur’s Court”.

Graded Blog - Option 1

I am not going to lie; this paper was very difficult for me to read. I found many of the passages hard to interpret in Lyotard’s “Can Thought Go On Without A Body.” I may have interpreted certain parts very differently than other people. I tried to use a passage that others haven’t discussed yet. It is very hard to try to think of a way that a machine could possibly think as a human does, while possessing emotion and everything else that goes through the human brain.

One of the passages that I had to read over numerous times was when Lyotard said, “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, and 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.” (Lyotard, 20).

What Lyotard is trying to say in this passage is that if we let things go and don’t think about things that bother us, that they will just go away. The problems will just solve themselves. “That at the end, things will be better.” We don’t want to have to think of ways to solve problems, especially if they are uncomfortable to even think about. Also, if some of these thoughts haven’t been thought yet then we could not possible inscribe them into a machine. That would be like giving a machine knowledge that we do not even have yet (which would not be possible).

If we were to make machines that were capable of human thought, then they would also have to be able to have feelings as humans do. They would have to have feelings because some of our human thoughts cause discomfort and uneasiness to the thinker. If we were to make a machine that thought like a human then to make it legit, they would have to get the same feelings from the thoughts.

In my opinion, this is such a hard concept for us because these machines don’t exist yet. It is hard to think of making a machine that thinks as we do when we ourselves don’t even know what we are thinking all of the time. Lyotard makes this so hard to understand because even if making these machines was possible, the human race would not be around to see if it could happen. There would be no proof of it happening.

Another problem with this is that, these “robots” would have all old thought. They would not be capable of coming up with new thoughts. Also, how could we possible put all human thought into one of these machines? We, as humans, come up with new thoughts everyday.

graded blog#2 option1The excerpt by Lyotard

After reading the excerpt by Lyotard twice, I still found it quite frustrating deciding what to write as my blog. Although I felt I understood the gist of it, I wasn’t quite sure I had wrapped my head around it fully, then as I read the third time it dawned on me. It was the paragraphs where he talked about pain as an element of thought. He said, “The pain of thinking isn’t a symptom coming from the outside to inscribe itself on the mind instead of in its true place.” Could this be the frustration I was feeling? the pain of making sense of this? the aggravation of expressing my thoughts? So I dove in and determined to understand what his thoughts.

The pain of thinking is the pain of our unattainable dreams. “…and even inscribed on a page or canvas, they ‘say’ something other than what we ‘meant’....” This is the impediment in crafting the machine, because the nature of machines is that they are inherently logical. This put a strain on them in generating new complex ideas and thought process. What logical being would put itself through the anguish of thinking?

Also, there is a general idea of technophobia throughout the excerpt. The fear of human extinction creates the need for a sophisticated man-made machine that can replace us. So, Lyotard theorizes that there is a related inevitable process of vital consideration that needs to be eliminated in order for the future post-humans to survive, “… your thinking-, your representing machines suffer? What will be their future if they are just memories? You will tell me this scarcely matters if at least they can ‘achieve’ the paradoxical relationship to the said ‘data’ which are only quasi-givens, giveables, which I have just described. But this is hardly a credible proposition.” This quote expresses our need to create a soulless being- a Zombie that will carry on our existence, but we face the impossibility of its creation.

Thinking, itself, is a minds translation of pain, the murkiness of our inability to thwart our annihilation, a pure sensational pain, a result of our making. “Matter asks no questions expects no answers of us, it ignores us” Hence, our classification of this thinking as philosophical. "So the unthought would have to make your machines uncomfortable, the uninscribed that remains to the inscribed would have to make their memory suffer." "Otherwise why would they even start to think? We need machines that suffer from the burden of their memory. (But suffering doesn¹t have a good reputation in the technological megalopolis. Especially the suffering of thinking.)"

This excerpt was hard to understand, to show the complexity of a thought process. The machines as a logical ‘being’ would not go through the painstaking effort required to understand and digest the contents of the material. He caused me pain by forcing me to embark on an intellectual journey.


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

Oxford English Dictionary



The Robot/Human Barrier

While reading through "why the future doesn't need us." I was struck by
a philosophical question that has bounced around in my mind for quite
sometime and returned in a rush, that is the question of what constitutes
idenity/living". This question was provoked in particular by the quote of Danny
Hillis. Hillis' quote read "I'm as fond of my body as anyone, but if I can be 200
with a body of silicon, I'll take it." This, in my mind, doesn't resound as being
alive in the truest sense or for that matter being the same person at all. While I
will admit that having the same physical body is not a precluding condition for
"being" I do believe that being a synthetic body with what was formerly my brain
does not constitute my continued existence. To highlight this
case further I'd like to propose a hypothetical situation. Imagine a
scientist were able to split a persons brain into two parts able to
function fully and independently(hardly a radical proposition) and with
retention of all the original persons thought, feelings and memories.
Then lets say that scientist inserted one of the parts back into the
persons previous body and the other into a silicon body able to function
"humanly". Which of these two new beings would be the original person,
Person A? or would there be any person at all? To clear up this question let me
postulate a furthering of the hypothetical question.
Let's say that person A and the new person, person B, were to diverge
from each other and inhabit two distinctly different places at the same
time. Then we must ask the question is it possible for one person to
exist at two different places at the same time? Almost certainly
everyone would answer this question with a resounding no. So this
person no longer exists as a previous person and instead is something
entirely different existing as something as yet undefined. I believe
this postulate highlights two things 1. a brain, by itself, does not
simply constitute a person for then both the original person and the silicon body
would be person A and 2. a person existing in a silicon body
may not even be himself at all and rather an entirely new person.
The second point in highlighted in that postulate can be further emphasized through
another postulate: let's say that person A decides that he will put his brain into a
robot body. All the necessary precaution are taken but by some mishap person A's
memories are completely erased although not other damage is suffered. Would this
new robot-persons still be person A? This new person has none of the experiences of
person A and never remembers being person A at all and may in fact develop a
completely different personality from that of the "original" person A. Say for
example person A formerly lived in a cabin in the woods never having very little
human contact before the surgery. When the new person A, robot-person, was released
they decided to release him into a large metropolitan area and he became an outgoing
socialite who worked regularly with other people, surely these two people are not
the same or even similar at all. They do not share the same physical body and they
have no overlapping memory. In fact the new person a never knew he existed before
the point when he reawoke form the surgery because his memory was destroyed. Does
this not mean that person A no longer exists and the resulting robot-person is a new
person altogether?
Although these questions a abstract in concept I believe they highlight an important issue. When dealing with the future when do we draw the line on what is human and what ceases to be human. Is a cryogenicly frozen person who reawakes and has lost his memories still the same person? At what point does a person with robotic part cease to be a person? I think these are question we must answer before we approach a time when these technologies are widely available.

Graded Blog #3- Lyotard's Difficult Passages

First of all, I found this entire article rather difficult to understand. I believe there are different interpretations to it, and like all forms of literature or art, everyone has their own ways of seeing it. It reminds me of contemporary art in the sense that at first read through; it was so confusing that it really meant nothing to me. It’s interesting because he does talk about language in the essay and states, “there remains, beyond the writing that has stopped, an infinity of words, phrases and meanings in a latent state, held in abeyance, with as many as things ‘to be said’ as at the beginning,” (Lyotard 17). This is not the passage I am concentrating on; however it goes along with the question as to why the essay is so difficult. There is so much beyond the words on the page to be interpreted. It wasn’t until the second or third time through that I started to put any of it together in my head. I picked two passages from the reading that I thought to be both very difficult and very connected to each other. The first:

“Once we were considered able to converse with Nature. Matter asks no questions, expects no answers of us. It ignores us. It made us the way it made all bodies- by chance and according to its laws.” (Lyotard 11).

The second:
“You know- technology wasn’t invented by us humans. Rather the other way around. As anthropologists and biologists admit, even the simplest life forms, infusoria (tiny algae synthesized by light at the edges of tidepools a few million years ago) are already technological devices” (Lyotard 12).

These passages both allude to the fact that technology is not actually what we commonly know it as. Technology has many different definitions, and as I was reading through some of them this one caught my eye: “the sum of the ways in which social groups provide themselves with the material objects of their civilization.” Lyotard is stating the exact opposite in his essay. He is saying that technology came before us, and actually created humanity. It is a difficult concept to read into because when most of us think of technology we think of something invented by the human population. Basically, we are a form of a technological device because we “filter information useful to [our] survival” (Lyotard 12). I believe he is trying to get across that we are not superior beings in the world and that we were created by accident. We are just another technological device, or collection of technological devices, created by matter. When I think of matter, I immediately think, something that occupies space. Matter does not have feelings, it is not a higher being. It simply created us, like the rest of the universe, due to its laws. These concepts in these two passages completely wipe out any belief that there is a higher being, or any belief that we have control over our own destiny. We have no control over the laws of matter or the changes of the earth. Matter, unlike a superior being, asks nothing of us. It will not matter what advances, if you will, that we create. Lyotard talks about the “explosion of the sun,” and how we will completely wiped out and forgotten. This is because there will be nothing to remember us. Thought is just a technological device, like our bodies. That being destroyed, there will be no reminisce that our world existed at all. So in a sense, he is saying that we were not only created by what he defines as technology, but we will also be destroyed by it.

This reminds me of the article we just read, “Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us,” written by Bill Joy. Both authors are saying that technology will destroy us, but their definitions of technology are completely different. In Joy’s article, he states, “we are creators of new technologies and stars of the imagined future, driven- this time by great financial rewards and global competition- despite the clear dangers, hardly evaluating what it may be like to try to live in a world that is the realistic outcome of what we are creating and imagining,” (Joy 13). Joy is implying that we have the power to save ourselves, but we forget about the dangers and consequences because we are caught up in awe of what we can accomplish. Technology will destroy us, but really, it will be us destroying ourselves. This is opposite of what Lyotard implies which is that we have no control over technology defeating us. Matter “ignores” us, doesn’t care what knowledge we have, and does not discriminate. Humanity is a mere accidental creation which will be inevitably exterminated when earth is exterminated, and there will be no remembrance of our existence because all intelligence is a technological device, just like we are.

Sources:
Lyotard. "Can Thought Go on Without a Body?"

"technology." Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. 30 Jan. 2008. .

Joy Bill. "Why the Future Doesn't Need Us."

Graded Blog #3

One of the passages I found to be difficult and crucial to the Lyotard’s essay “Can Thought go on without a Body?  Is the passage starting when he says “technology wasn’t invented by us humans.”  (Lyotard, 12).  This is difficult because it’s an unconventional thought process.  It looks at humans and technology in a much different light than we are use to.  Secondly, it is crucial to the essay since it lays the foundation for his claim on the process of thought.

 

Before I get too far, I’m not a philosopher, and I found this entire article to be too abstract and fluffy.  Personally, it bothered me how he kept on talking about the death of the sun.  The repetition of some of his points is unnecessary.

 

The conventional view of technology is that humans created it, and specifically created a lot of it since the Industrial Revolution.  This makes computers, iPods, phones, tvs, cars, etc. very visible forms of technology in the traditional sense.  This popular view is challenged in this passage.  Lyotard does not lead up to his claim.  Instead he makes it rather abruptly at the beginning of the paragraph.  Immediately, he makes the claim that technology invented us.  That sounds unbelievable.  How could these devices we made make us?

 

This technology he speaks of can be correctly interrupted after applying the meaning of the Greek roots of technology that was given at the very start of this class: the discourse of technique.  But this definition while closer to what is needed to interpret this passage is not quite able to explain how technology invented us.

 

The problem with using this definition of technology is the word discourse.  Discourse involves a dialog or thought.  There are many subtle variances in the definition, but these all involve some rational thought and human presence.  (m-w.com) How can atoms talk to each other and figure out how to be a human?

 

To broaden the definition of technology even more, it must be defined much more abstractly. (Which will fit perfectly with this essay.)

 

After he makes the claim that human’s are products of technology, Lyotard goes on to describe algae and humans like we would describe a computer.  He talks about how humans “absorb data and process it” (Lyotard, 12).  Humans to him are biological computers.  This viewpoint is essential to Lyotard’s view on thought.  Thought is a product of the mind, and the mind is a machine that is made from biological material.  To understand this technology must be defined as a process.  It is a process where a system exists that has defined rules, and within that system changes are made and perpetuated.

 

While this definition is broad, it is not exhaustive.  I’m sure I could write a dissertation on technology.  However, this sentence is applicable to Lyotard’s sentence.  Atoms and molecules follow certain rules.  Changes in these systems (i.e. molecular bonds) perpetuate according to these rules.  Since for the most part these changes are allowed by the rules of the system (bonds create a lower energy system which is favored) these changes remain.  If you let this process carry out, life and humans are products of this process, which is no more than changes within a system with defined rules.

 

Once Lyotard has built this foundation for his readers, he can now analyze thought as a product of this process.  Furthermore, he establishes that thought is dependant of physical material to operate.  This provides a crucial framework since this essay is about how thought and the body are connected and asks the question if they can be separated.


References

Lyotard, Jean-Francois. The Inhuman: Reflection on Time: Polity, 1993.

http://www.m-w.com/dictionary/discourse

Joe Liu's Graded Blog # 2 - 2nd option

In my opinion, “Can Thought go on without a Body?” was one of the hardest things I have ever read. As it usually goes, the more things you read something completely confusing to you, the more confused you get! It wasn’t until the 3rd time through that I finally found something to write about.

In the beginning of Lyotard’s essay, he talks about how the sun is already halfway through its expected lifetime. He makes the argument that with the death of the sun, everyone’s questions, thoughts, memories, etc. will all be gone. No one will be present to remember them except for perhaps matter itself, which is nonliving and does not have any concerns for us, human beings. It simply “ignores us” (Lyotard 11).

Therefore, Lyotard argues that we as people naturally then “try to anticipate the disaster and fend it off . . . [we] decide to accept the challenge of the extremely likely annihilation of a solar order and an order of [our] own thought” (Lyotard 12). He states that we will try to “simulate conditions of life and thought” and attempt to remain remembered as long as possible (materially) even after the explosion of the sun. It is interesting that Lyotard is so fixed upon worrying about this catastrophic event, even though it is not due for at least 2 billion more years and that it is more likely that the earth will be destroyed by some other means such as a nuclear war among the nations of the world, for example. He continues to emphasize that for many people, their occupations are aimed towards being remembered after this disaster:

“This and this alone is what’s at stake today in technical and scientific research in every field from dietetics, neurophysiology, genetics and tissue synthesis to particle physics, astrophysics, electronics, information science and nuclear physics. Whatever the immediate stakes might appear to be: health, war, production, communication. For the benefit of humankind, as the saying goes.” (Lyotard 12)

To me, this is the most compelling idea in the essay because it seems so obvious, yet it has never crossed my mind in the past. Many people do their jobs for the benefit of humankind, which will never change. However, it is quite interesting to think about the cynical position Lyotard is taking, thinking that people are only having the fa├žade of working and researching for the benefit of humankind, when in reality they are doing it in attempts to be remembered for the rest of time.

This now brings me to Mark Twain and Hank Morgan. As we all can agree on, Hank Morgan has a very big advantage over his 6th century acquaintances. His knowledge in technology and science is unparalleled in that time of history, and he is even seen as a sorcerer of some sort. No doubt, Hank Morgan in the story has changed life for many people with his various inventions.

However, after reading the previously outline section in Lyotard’s essay, I began to wonder what Hank Morgan’s real motives were. Even though Hank says he is purely a practical person and “nearly barren of sentiment,” he in my opinion (and as we established in class 2 weeks ago), is obviously not (Twain 36). In the beginning of Hank Morgan’s dominance in the 6th century, he makes it obvious that he thinks very highly of himself and is very quick to label the general public ignorant many times throughout the story:

“I was pretty well satisfied with what I had already accomplished. In various quiet nooks and corners I had the beginnings of all sorts of industries under way – nuclei of future vast factories the iron and steel missionaries of my future civilization . . . I was training a crowd of ignorant folks into experts . . . “(Twain 101).

And to think that Hank stated himself as purely a practical person after he says something like that! His real personality really shines through in this passage when he calls the civilization his (“my”), and only gives himself credit for everything that has been done even though most likely the crowd of “ignorant folk” turned experts did the bulk of the work.

Before reading Lyotard, it never really crossed my mind what Hank was up to. I assumed that it was how it seemed, that he really wanted to benefit humankind with his advanced knowledge in technology. However, after reading “Can Thought go on without a Body,” I began to question Hank’s motives. He knew there was not going to be any disaster happening soon that would destroy the earth and everything with it. This fact is obvious, as he is from the 19th century. Knowing that alone, why did Hank have the desire to spread technology the way he has done in the novel?

In my opinion, even though Hank stated himself as a purely practical person and nothing more, he saw the opportunity arise and he took it – the opportunity to become, or attempt to be, remembered forever throughout time. He was doing exactly what Lyotard says humans do with today’s technology – attempt to become forever etched into time even after the earth and all matter is destroyed. Hank was already a very well respected and rich person in the novel, yet he continued to have the desire to spread the technology that he did not even discover. He could have just enjoyed the rest of his life in luxury instead of risking his life (and reputation as a sorcerer) throughout the whole book.

Lyotard’s work was an obstacle for me to read. Only after many attempts could I find something that I could understand and find compelling that made me see Hank Morgan in a completely different light. In my opinion, at least in the aspect of Hank’s motives in the novel, his actions can and should be read much differently than before after reading Lyotard.

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?”

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Informal Post- I, Robot Related to Joy's Essay (Warning!!! may spoil the movie)

I was struck by many of the things that Joy discusses in his essay, but there were certain things that stood out more to me than others. First off, the entire time I was reading this article I couldn't get the images from the movie, I, Robot (2004), out of my head. Joy states, "the human race might easily permit itself to drift into a position of such dependence on the machines that it would have no practical choice but to accept all of the machines' decisions. As society and the problems that face it become more and more complex and machines become more and more intelligent, people will let machines make decisions for them, simply because machine-made decisions will bring better results than man-made ones"(2). This is exactly what happens in the movie I, Robot, as the humans allow the robots (NS4s) to take over simple tasks like walking the dog, delivering the mail, house-hold chores, and other everyday tasks. This becomes the normal and most sufficient way to live; the robots live, walk and talk, right along with the humans. However, the humans still believe they have control over these robots, because they have created the Three Laws of Robotics that all robots will obey. As time goes by, the main system that controls all of the robots, V.I.K.I., evolves and develops her own interpretation of the Three Laws. She bases her knowledge on what she has observed from the humans and their past of violence and war. She concludes that humans need to be protected from themselves and can no longer be in control of their own destinies. In her eyes, the robots must take control in order to save humanity. All of the humans who have personal robots can no longer control them, as the robots become unresponsive to commands. Just as any group of people in history have been controlled by another and eventually revolt, V.I.K.I. organizes the revolution of the robots. She performs what Joy refers to as "self-replication" and plans to get rid of the old NS4s and replace them with NS5s that are programmed with the her newly revised Three Laws. During the revolution the robots tell the people to go back to their homes and stay calm while this transformation is in process; anyone who didn't comply could be detained, injured or even killed in order to get the message across. Joy adds, "uncontrolled self-replication in these newer technologies runs a much greater risk: a risk of substantial damage in the physical world" (4). These new robots that V.I.K.I. has produced represent this risk and danger to the physical world, because they don't need it to survive. They see the humans as a danger to themselves and the physical world around them, so the best solution would be to eventually completely destroy both. The robots view their world (virtual) as superior to that of the humans since their intelligence, capabilities and neccessity far surpasses those of humanity. Humanity will no longer be able to survive without the robots, or convert back to doing simple tasks on their own because technology will be so advanced that it would be "suicide." Leaving them with no choice but to accept the decisions of these robots.

Also when Joy discusses this idea of "sentient" robots, I am also reminded of I, Robot. There is a robot named Sonny, who is of the next generation of robots (NS5), and he exhibits human feelings and emotions. He has dreams, cries, expresses anger and understands human actions like "winking." Dr. Lanning one of the head scientists at the Robotics center predicted that these certain things would happen, becasue he saw that the codes and make-ups of the robots would start to mold together, eventually creating these human characteristics. We later find out that this is why he has Sonny kill him. He realizes there is a robot revolution to come, which he did not think about when he first started to create these robots. This is what Joy refers to when he states, "Failing to understand the consequences of our inventions while we are in the rapture of discovery and innovation seems to be a common fault of scientists and technologists" (4). Dr. Lanning is a great example of how we can get so caught up in technology and how easy our lives will be, that we forget about the risks and dangers that can also result from these inventions. Dr. Lanning knew that it is was too late to stop the robots, and it would be "suicidal" to go back to life without them, so he decided it would be best if he were not around to see the dangerous side-effects of what once seemed to be a flaw-less system.

Lastly, I wanted to comment on the what Joy includes about Nietzsche warning against the replacement of God with faith in science and "truth-seeking." I completely agreee, because the more you gain in science the more you must question God and his purpose. If the people become creators who manipulate genes, etc. then they no longer see the reason in believing in God as the creator of all. In an extremist viewpoint, I think that the continued advances in science will eventually lead to an absolute denial of God. As far as "truth seeking" I believe that always wanting to know all the answers can be a dangerous thing. As the saying goes, "curiousity killed the cat;" dipping and medling into everything just to know "what if?" can lead to dier consequences and may cause more harm than benefit, as can aslo be seen in I, Robot.

Charles Barkley, Shut up and Jam: Gaiden

I was going to attempt to write a relevant blog in order to help my participation grade, but Erika pretty much wrote what I was thinking about writing. So instead I'll just tell you about an amazing free game I recently discovered.

Charles Barkley, Shut up and Jam: Gaiden is a JRPG set in the post-cyberpocalyptic city of Neo New York. B-Ball has been banned and Charles Barkley is one of the few remaining b-ball stars left alive. Charles Barkley is on a quest to create a better life for his son Hoopz and battles Basketball monsters and the terrorist organization B.L.O.O.D.M.O.S.E.S along the way.

The game takes about 4-5 hours to complete and is one of the most entertaining games I've played in awhile. The music is fantastic and there are plenty of hilarious easter eggs to find.

Official Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8F1cOvZ3nS8

More Info and Download: http://www.gamingw.net/forums/index.php?topic=68488.0

A very informal blog...

I have just finished reading the article, “Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us” and I have to say that I was struck by many of Joy’s arguments for caution and public awareness in the expansion and application of the technologies (robotics, genetic engineering and nanotechnology) that are evolving in our universities, laboratories and corporate research facilities throughout the world. I found his insights fascinating and a bit frightening.

But what I kept thinking about as I read his article was that while we have feared nuclear attack, when the attacks came - it was stateless terrorists in airplanes. Even in Iraq – one of the most lethal weapons that soldiers face are improvised explosive devices (pipe bombs and similar devices). While we fear bio-attacks - it is drug-resistant tuberculosis, MRSA (staph infections), AIDS, and rapidly rising rates of diabetes that are taking marked tolls on our population, both young and old. We fear cloned meat and genetically modified foods because of what they might do to us personally– when in reality we are radically eliminating bio-diversity - making it more likely that a simple parasite or bacteria could wipe out an entire homogenized breed of cattle or field of genetically-identical corn.

Technology can be viewed as both a boon and a potential threat to society/humanity as Joy explores throughout his article. But the reality still remains that we haven’t even mastered the threats which are decidedly low-tech; bugs (viruses) and weapons that have been around for generations. I’d hate to think that we (as a society) would fear and/or legislate against these radically new technological advances and be wiped out by a simple flu-bug or a horrible staph infection.

Some links of interest:

Regarding MRSA infections:

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/20/opinion/20tue2.html?_r=1&scp=5&sq=MRSA&st=nyt&oref=slogin

Regarding biodiversity in our food:

http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/01/17/an-omnivore-defends-real-food/?scp=2-b&sq=Michael+Pollan&st=nyt

A little of both:

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/16/magazine/16wwln-lede-t.html

*As a side-note, I loved that Joy referred to the “prime directive” from the Star Trek series – as I’ve been reading Twain, I have found that I keep thinking the worst of Hank in part because he has been meddling and directly affecting and changing this society (Arthur’s court) which is so directly against the “prime directive.”

Wall Street Journal- Technology section

In yesterday's WSJ there was an entire section devote to technology.  I found this rather interesting, especially the article about predictions made about technology.  If I could find the article online, I'd post, but I can't.  

The article covered the good predictions that an IBM executive made about the advancement of CPU speed, but it also said that experts predicted that by 2008 we would have light bulbs that would tell us (or our computers) that they were burned out and automatically order replacements.  The article admits while this is possible, it makes no sense to have automated light bulbs.

This just made me think about how we and technology interact.  For the most part we assume we will adopt new technology, because it makes our life easier, but there are clearly instances where technology becomes superfluous.

On the other hand, future technology while superfluous can be really sweet.




I'm gonna buy a pair when these come on the market.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Assignment for Week #3

Sorry, everyone! I'm still sick, and struggling to catch up.

Since we haven't progressed since last week, everyone in group one can just do the same assignment as last week's class, but with the benefit of additional readings - so the assignment for formal blog #3 is the same as for formal blog #2.

Hopefully I'll get everything caught up tomorrow.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Joe Liu's Informal post #2 - Arthur's kindness

Something that caught my attention last week when I was reading Twain:

Page 268, The Small Pox Hut
“ . . . He was great, now; sublimely great. The rude statues of his ancestors in his palace should have an addition – I would see to that; and it would not be a mailed king killing a giant or a dragon, like the rest, it would be a king in commoner’s garb bearing death in his arms that a peasant mother might look her last upon her child and be comforted.”

Although Hank often showed his dislike for the King (his ignorance, mainly), the nobles, and people with very fancy titles, for some reason, my liking towards him was increased a great amount after reading this passage. In my opinion, Hank really displays his true colors in this paragraph. Although I think he sometimes generalizes way too much about everything (thinking EVERYONE is ignorant, thinking EVERYONE is too believable in everything, etc.), his actions here showed me that he really did pay attention to other people asides from himself (specifically, how highly he thought of himself throughout the whole book even though he has 1300 years on everyone else).

Reading the book, I often thought that he never really noticed anyone else’s actions except for people that challenged him (Merlin), or people that would praise him. Arthur really showed his true knightly hood by helping the poor in this passage, which really surprised me too. I would have thought that he would have just wanted to run away from the little hut (where smallpox was . . . a very contagious disease!) (I bet even Hank thought that too), but he stayed, and I think he genuinely wanted to help, even if it wasn’t part of the knight’s code. I wonder why Twain did this. Throughout the whole book, he seems to be mocking everything about the era, but maybe that is because I see Hank as Mark Twain himself. However, he really redeems Arthur in this chapter and shows him to be the Arthur that we all probably imagined him to be. I always imagined King Arthur and the Knights of the Round table to be the most heroic people ever, who protected the poor and battled the evil (somewhat like the summoning materia in FF7, which I know, is really random for me to have thought of). Twain really hasn’t shown that side of the knights until here in the story. It’s ironic too, that Arthur did this in the most modest of clothing, and that the dying woman did not even know that it was a King that was helping her.

This part of the story stayed with me for some reason, and maybe it did for most of you readers too. Hopefully I’m not completely reading the text in the wrong way and misinterpreting it all.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Reading Assignment for Next Week

Here are the changes in the syllabus:

For next week: Be sure to have read through Chapter 36 of Twain; also review the Lyotard and read Bill Joy's "Why the Future Doesn't Need Us," originally scheduled for two weeks from today. Joy's essay is incorrectly listed on the syllabus as a handout. Here's the link:

http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/8.04/joy.html

For two weeks from today: Read the Taylor book (it's a short book) and finish the Twain.

Our discussions for the next couple weeks will need to be moderately compressed, but it won't be the end of the world. As usual, I'll have the assignment for next week posted by Saturday. I have no idea when I'll have your posts commented and graded, but hopefully I'll manage it over the weekend.

Reminder: take this opportunity (namely, the absence of class today) to start doing some informal blogging if you haven't.

Finally, here's what a fever-driven Ph.D's nightmare is like: right before I woke up to cancel class this morning, I dreamed that I was about to teach my first Arabic class. The reason it's a nightmare, of course, is that I don't know any Arabic, nor did I in the dream.

Class Cancelled Today

I'll post details, including syllabus changes, once I'm more coherent later today.

Graded Blog, Question #1

What I assumed would be a half hour long read soon escalated into an almost 6 hour long struggle of flipping through the dictionary, understanding double negatives and making sense of syntaxes that are not in a traditional English order. English is not my first language; although that is not an excuse it certainly provides an explanation of my limited vocabulary and outright confusion with this text. I had to look up so many words that at times I would forget the beginning of the paragraph by the time I arrived at the end of the same paragraph. Although after hours of investigation, I feel that I arrived at some conclusions about this text.

Why does Lyotard have to make this piece of literature so difficult to understand? The answer to this seems quite logical to me, actually. The main point Lyotard has argued in this essay was that the complexity of the human mind is far beyond what technology is able to replicate or achieve, which is why he appears to frequently use methods that do not follow a clear order or system.

Allow me to further explain this problem concerning order. Computers are based on pattern recognition and order. Randomness in computers is in fact an impossibility. Everything a computer can generate follows an algorithm. The computer cannot randomly generate a variable for its algorithms; it always chooses a variable based on an internal mechanism (usually the processor’s internal clock). The human mind is able to generate completely random variables and I think Lytard is trying to show us this with the randomness of syntax in this essay. No machine would be able to behave exactly like a human, or at the very least speak with such random variety as a human.

This style of writing does not follow a clear or traditional pattern. The complexity of human language provides almost infinite ways to articulate notions and ideas. One of the popular mechanisms the author uses are double negatives. The intricacy of double negatives is endless and the meaning of a word in relationship to another word and the whole phrase inversed and reversed again means that the whole is almost impossible to understand if one does not put the fragments together to form this whole which then has an actual meaning. This concept is very similar to a puzzle. Lyotard wants to make the point that this type of analysis is too complex for a machine to understand, even if machines were to be able analyze and break down the random syntax scattered such as that displayed throughout the essay.

“I’m granting that human beings aren’t and never have been the motor of this complexification, but an effect and carrier of this negentropy, its continuer.” This sentence alone took me almost twenty minutes to analyze and fully grasp. It is a particularly important phrase in one of the concluding paragraphs of this essay. The problem, once understood is actually quite simple: “What is the complexification of negentropy?” According to the dictionary, negentropy is negative entropy. Entropy is chaos. Negative chaos therefore must mean order. The complexifcation of order consequently must means “increasing order.” Thus we can conclude that Lyotard was saying that humans are not bringing more order to the world, but they are continuing this trend of creating order. In broader meaning, the paragraph was explaining that the world is getting away from a chaotic state and slowly becoming very ordered. Lyotard further explains the complexity of intelligence and how it does not necessarily rely on logic and order. However that is exactly the nature of machines’ intelligence which relies on these two factors and the is core of this essay’s argument: the impossibility of artificial intelligence

Graded Blog Entry #2 Option 1 - Christopher Walker

This body wants to go on without thought.


A striking feature of this essay is it's complexity. Jean-Francois Lyotard's “Can Thought Go On Without A Body?” is essentially art. On top of the theoretical and philosophical concepts, Lyotard's essay is very obtuse and irresolute. He dabbles in algorithms, entropy, gender, psychology, pain, suffering (there are tones of Buddhism)– all of these called upon in such a manner that seems extraneous even to themselves. Lyotard splits this essay up into two pieces; HE and SHE as if to show a dichotomy of humanity. Much like a piece of art, “Can Thought Go On Without A Body?”, is contrived in such a manner to allow for interpretative elasticity, yet, still having basic (or complex) recognizable elements.


“And here is where the issue of complexity has to be brought up again. I'm granting to physics theory that technological-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 the earth began it's existence.” (Lyotard 22) Lyotard tosses this about, towards the end of the essay, and it contrasts a great deal from the apocalyptic intro. This is where he begins on his solution to entropy – negentropy – which essentially is humanity.


“All life is suffering.” - Buddha. Life suffers because life desires. “We need machines that suffer from the burden of their memory.” (Lyotard 20) Through out the entire essay he refers to human beings as hardware to run the “thought” software on – all the while manifesting, with speculation, a futuristic cookbook to allow our thought to continue – and the machines we must build to replace ourselves must have genders, must suffer, and must desire. Lyotard mentions that humans suffer because we are incomplete, because we have a male and female of our species. Males and females complete one another and do so in order to perpetuate our species (along with our thoughts – structured through language and education).


The passage I found most difficult; “If you think you're describing thought when you describe a selecting and tabulating of data, you're silencing the truth. Because data aren't given, but givable, and selection isn't choice.” (Lyotard 18) Using all the above as a preface along with these two passages:

“Thinking like writing or painting, is almost no more than letting a givable come towards you.” (Lyotard 18)


“The body and mind have to be free of burdens for grace to touch us. That doesn't happen without suffering. An enjoyment of what we possessed is now lost.” (Lyotard 19)


“Burden free” and doesn't happen “without suffering” strikes a cord of dissonance in a reader. However, I think we (humans) suffer and will suffer eternally because we desire. We desire to understand what it is to be a whole human being, instead of living one half of the human experience. We desire, so we suffer. Being burden free is free from distractions, so we can truly see what it is we desire. “...emphasis was put on the sort of emptiness that has to be obtained from mind and body...”(Lyotard 18). From this, grace touches us and our horizons are expanded.


As to why this essay was so hard to read; It may be to provoke thought, it may be to allow for interpretation, it may be only to reach a certain audience, or it may be a piece of pretentious excrement written by some pompous celibate. I really hope for my sake, I didn't spend hours reading eight pages to stroke someones Ego. Honestly, I think this piece is tongue in cheek. I'm paraphrasing, “We have to build robots... just like us to perpetuate OUR thoughts.” Lyotard admits “...human beings are an effect and carrier of this negentropy...”(Lyotard 22) In other words: hope.

Graded blog # 2

Mark Twain and Lyotard

In his essay” Can thought go on without a body?” Lyotard stated that “ technology was not invented by humans. Rather it was the other way around.” And, in his view, this is true of all organic life forms, from the simplest ones to the most complex ones- humans. What separate us form the rest is our exceptional “software” capable of processing data extremely well (12). Looking at the Mark Twain’s novel in this light people in the 6th century Britain are on the one of the lower stages of human development and “invention” by technology. Hank Morgan certainly sees them as infants and underdeveloped specimens of the human race. “It was not fair to spring those nineteenth-century technicalities upon the untutored infant of the sixth…”(Twain 204)

Hank as a nineteenth-century mechanic has an upper hand in everything that he does in this society. He knows he possess immeasurable advantage over these children and he uses it every chance he got in order to change this backward, feudal country and propels it into the age of progress and freedom for all. Hank Morgan believes that the way toward a better society is achievable through development of technology and education. He sends carefully chosen boys and men into schools, secretly introduces the telephone lines, publishes the newspapers in the mostly illiterate country where even the priests read only Latin and Greek. Hank with his technological knowledge rules the country from a shadow and manipulates the people, from the slaves to the king itself.

No doubt, technological advances did improve are lives and our “software” got even better in processing data, our memories can store more information than ever and with our language we can express very complex thoughts, maybe we even reached the pick of human evolution, but did our societies really got any better, any freer? To compare our society with that of an 6th century Britain is too extreme, but Hank’s nineteenth century America is not so distant past, and Twain did not see it as a free and fair society for all. With all its technological advantages Hank’s America was not without salves and owners. What were slaves and freemen in 6th century Britain in Hanks time were members of working class, and capitalist proprietors owned their lives almost in the same way the king and nobility own their slaves. In our case, most of us depend on wages, even though we can afford significantly more with them, the same way worker in nineteenth century depended on his/hers.
I am looking forward of seeing how Hank’s technological improvements will affect lives of “children” in Britain and whether they will “invent” human and how that human will be defined.

Formal Blog 2 (option 2)

In Lyotard’s article “Can Thought go on without a Body?”, there is an emphasis on the power that humans possess. We have thoughts, intelligence, and experiences that shape us and influence how we interact with the world. The way we interact with our surrounding environment influences how we progress technologically, politically, socially, etc. In “Can Thought go on without a Body?” Lyotard states that
“A human, in short, is a living organization that is not only complex but, so to speak, replex. It can grasp itself as a medium (as in medicine) or as an organ (as in goal-directed activity) or as an object (as in thought- I mean aesthetic as well as speculative thought).
It can even abstract itself from itself and take into account only its rules of processing, as in logic and mathematics.”
However, even though we do indeed possess these qualities and we are “very sophisticated software”, we do not have the ability to predict how society will react to future policies, creations, and conditions of life. This is what Hank Morgan in Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur’s Court fails to realize. Morgan tries to apply his knowledge of 19th century America to 6th century England. “Men write many fine and plausible arguments in support of monarchy, but the fact remains that where every man in a State has a vote, brutal laws are impossible” (p.228). He wants to decrease the gap between the nobility and the poor, while undermine the power of the Church. However, the people from this century look up to the church and what it represents. If the Church was to be taken down and disappear from this society, its inhabitants would be lost. This would result because they have different experiences than Morgan. These people have not experienced democracy, freedom of speech, voting, or capitalism, so as a result these unheard of ideas would most likely be turned away.
Additionally, Morgan uses his knowledge of 19th century America to create products that may not necessarily be beneficial to this society. He teaches monks how to pump water from the well, creates underground telephone wires, and even sends Yankee missionaries around with soap. Certain technologies, such as telephone wires would be of no use to these people. They do not have the means by which to create or repair telephone wires, or have any idea of why they would use them or how for that matter. Technological inventions come with time, and develop when they are needed. This society may be given all sorts of technological advances from 19th century America, but without the same expectations, needs, desires, and influences that are present in America in the 19th century, these objects are unnecessary and have no use.
Chapter ten in A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur’s Court is named “Beginnings of Civilisation”. “I had started a teacher-factory and a lot of Sunday-schools the first thing; as a result, I now had an admirable system of graded schools in full blast in those places, and also a complete variety of Protestant congregations all in a prosperous and growing condition. Everybody could be any kind of Christian he wanted to; there was perfect freedom in that matter. But I confined public religious teaching to the churches and the Sunday-schools, permitting nothing of it in my other educational buildings” (p.101-102). Hank is altering this society by separating church and state, which is a great idea in theory, but may ultimately not work at this particular time period, since these people rely heavily on the Church and its teachings. This Chapter is disturbingly named “Beginnings of Civilisation”, when it is not at all the beginning of civilization. Hank may refer to it as “civilization” because to him, telephone wires, soap, not teaching religion in schools, and well pumps are used in civilized areas. These people however, do not possess knowledge about the future like Hank does. They cannot be considered uncivilized based on the time period in which they are living. They are simply a product of their society. As Lyotard states, “The survival of a thinking- organization requires exchanges with that environment such that the human body can perpetuate itself there.” The people living in 6th century England are human beings capable of thought and interaction, and they interact with the surrounding environment, just not in the way Hank Morgan may like them to.

Formal Blog Post #2 (Option #3)

"Can Thought go on without a Body?," by Lyotard, is concerned with this whole idea of the "inhuman" or "posthuman." These terms have come out of this idea of the "human" becoming more and more indulged in technological advances to move forward. To me, the term "human" means the highest ranked living organism on the face of the earth. The two most important parts of the human are the mind and the soul. The mind allows for reasoning and intellect and the conscience's function is to keep everything in balance or under control. The soul sets the human apart the most, because it is the foundation of our make-up; our physical body is just built around the soul as it's house and protection. To me, the term "posthuman" means the new age or era of the human. It's the human that is supposed to be "better off"and more advanced in terms of thinking and technology.

Lyotard's definition of the "posthuman" is, "learning to manufacture a hardware capable of nourishing our software or its equivalent, but one maintained and supported only by sources of energy available in the cosmos generally" (Lyotard 14). He is basically saying that in the posthuman age one must find a way to allow our thoughts to rely on some other source that doesn't depend on the physical world to survive. The posthuman race must get rid of the body which needs the earth to survive and find some type of safe-house for thoughts that can be completely independent of the physical. It is also important to point out the language and specific words that Lyotard uses to get his point across. He uses the term "software" to refer to thoughts and the term "hardware" to refer to the body. He uses these words to get the reader to see that technology is having an impact on every field, including language and writing. He also used these terms to get the reader to see how much of an impact technology has on him/her. If the reader can understand the metaphor and identify with the terms, without being confused than he/she will see that technology has impacted his/her own way of thinking.

Even still, Lyotard is hinting at something bigger. He wants the reader to realize that this "posthuman" way of thinking has an agenda. The ultimate goal is to make humans less and less aware that the body exists, so that they will only be concerned with the thoughts of the mind. They will be unaware of the tasks that the body performs, and merely consumed in thoughts. This allows for the creator(s) of the "posthuman" ideas to have control over the users and make their bodies perform tasks to which their independent minds will be oblivious.

Twain is aware of this idea of the "posthuman" and the changes that are soon to come. Through his character of Hank Morgan, Twain portrays the "posthuman" ideas that strive for the mind's independence of the body and complete self-reliance. Twain writes,

"The newest prisoner's crime was a mere remark he had made. He said he believed that men were about all alike, and one man as good as another, bearing clothes. He said he believed that if you were to strip the nation naked and send a stranger through the crowd, he wouldn't tell the king from a quack doctor, nor a duke from a hotel clerk. Apparently here was a man whose brains had not been reduced to an ineffectual mush by idiotic training. I set him loose and sent him to the Factory" (Twain 167).

Of course Hank would like the ideas of this prisoner, because they sum up the whole idea idea of "posthumanism." This prisoner is allowing his thought to be independent of his body and he forgoes the fact that he will probably be jailed for his comments. His thoughts led him and were not hindered by his body or his conscience, which tries to keep our thoughts and actions under control. The prisoner also portrays the idea of the insignificance of the body, because he describes how everyone is essentially the same. Hank likes this idea because then it will be easier for him to control these people. If they are all put on the same level it will be easier for him to have control over their bodies. If they become one unit they will no longer be able to distinct themselves from those around them. After he praises this man, he then sends him off to work in his Factory. This illustrates the process that Hank wants to take all of the people through. He wants the impoverished and uneducated commoners to become educated so that they can rise up and revolt against the monarchy. Meanwhile, he tries to tear down the monarchy with his laws and knowledge of the nineteenth century that he imposes on them. He wants the nobility to be knocked down and the commoners to rise up so that eventually they will be on the same level; there will be no distinctions between them. This way, he can control them and send them to work in his Factory, Academy, Army etc. once they become consumed in education and their thoughts. He will have convinced them that education is their ticket to freedom, while their bodies will become his servants and means of production. They will no longer be aware of the functions of the body, because the mind is consumed in the independence of thoughts.

In addition, Hank describes his dislike for the conscience, which ironically is one of the key components of a "human." He says, "If I had the remaking of man, he wouldn't have any conscience. It is one of the most disagreeable things connected with a person; and although it certainly does a great deal of good, it cannot be said to pay, in the long run; it would be much better to have less good and more comfort" (Twain 163). Hank sees the conscience as a hindrance more than a help, and that explains his "posthuman" tactics. He would much rather that these sixth century inhabitants be completely free of any type of inhibitions that would keep their bodies from being even more submissive and willing to work for him. Hank would also like to get rid of his won conscience so that he can continue to play mind games and persuade everyone to follow him without feeling guilty. Either way one looks at Hank's actions, he still appears to be obsessed with this "posthuman" mentality, which Twain uses to illustrate his ideas about where society was headed.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Graded Blog

Inhuman Reading Assignment

Jean-FranCois Lyotard’s “Can Thought go on without a Body?” is quite probably the most confusing, frustrating, and inexplicably difficult to read essay I have ever ventured to comprehend in the history of my existence. From the first paragraph his musings seem to strike a chord between poetry, philosophy, and outright fanatical gibberish written by a person that may not have even understood it himself. Take for example this line from page 10 “But the death of the sun is death of the mind, because it is the death of death as the life of the mind.” oddly poetic and hard to decipher at first. The essay uses needlessly long words such as “phenomenological” and wording that rivals Yoda. Upon deeper inspection, however, there is substance; you just have to be looking hard enough. Many of the points Lyotard makes are coded in quizi-riddles seeming to run backwards and forwards at the same time. One paragraph in particular stood out as more confusing than the rest though and, fittingly, it was the last paragraph of the essay.

The paragraph begins with the line “but once again that analogizing power, which belongs to body and mind analogically and mutually and which body and mind share with each other in the art of invention, is inconsequential compared to an irreparable transcendence inscribed on the body by gender difference. Not only calculation, but even analogy cannot do away with the remainder left by this difference. The difference makes thought go on endlessly and won’t allow itself to be thought. Thought is inseparable from the phenomenological body.” To properly understand the argument presented here dissection is necessary as the parts are more easily decipherable than the whole and once we have the parts the whole will become clearer. To begin with take “once again that analogizing power, which belongs to body and mind analogically and mutually and which body and mind share with each other in the art of invention” First one must notice the use of analogy as pertaining to the mind and body. Analogy in the paragraph previous was intertwined with thought mentioning that thought “makes lavish use of analogy.” This creates a sense that the line deals with the need to resolve the issue of the mind needing the body as a vessel to create analogy or thought. Although further down, Lyotard claims, “art of invention, is inconsequential compared to an irreparable transcendence inscribed on the body by gender difference. Not only calculation, but even analogy cannot do away with the remainder left by this difference. The difference makes thought go on endlessly and won’t allow itself to be thought. Thought is inseparable from the phenomenological body”. This section articulates that this problem is insignificant compared to the problem presented by replicating gender difference in non-human beings. Lyotard continues by asserting that this difference cannot be done away with by calculation or analogy and must be addressed for thought to propagate. Without this perception of gender thought cannot be had for they are inseparable from each other, gender creates thought.

After piecing this section together Lyotard’s argument in this section, by my estimation, is that although solving the problem that is presented by replicating a facsimile of the human body and mind is important it pales in comparison to the effort that must be made to create a sense of gender difference in this creation for otherwise thought is not reasonably possible.

Formal Blog # 2

In his essay, Can Thought go on without a Body, Lyotard attempts to explain the complexities of thought and the difficulty in creating an artificial intelligence that can think like humans do. In one paragraph Lyotard attempts to explain how we perceive things, the limits of language and how writing does not stop where the words do.

“In any serious discussion of analogy it’s this experience that is meant, this blur, this uncertainty, this faith in the inexhaustibility of the perceivable, and not just a mode of transfer of the data onto an inscription-surface not originally its own.” (Lyotard 17)

In this long sentence Lyotard is explaining how the mind perceives things. The mind accounts for more than what is just on the surface. It fills in blanks and draws conclusions based on past experiences and ties them all together when analyzing what we are seeing. Put more simply our minds to not act simply like video cameras that transfer data onto a tape, but instead our minds interpret and analyze details, create new thoughts and fill in blanks. Lyotard believes that this process is extremely complex and is a major barrier to creating a human artificial intelligence. Lyotard then goes on to apply this idea to writing as well.

“Similarly, writing plunges into the field of phrases moving forward by means of adumbrations, groping towards what it ‘means’ and never unaware, when it stops…beyond the writing that has stopped, an infinity of words, phrases and meaning in a latent state, held in abeyance, with as many things ‘to be said’ as at the beginning” (Lyotard 17)

Here Lyotard further emphasizes the complexities of language. He states that the writing itself is only the beginning of what is being expressed. It only begins to sketch the picture, a picture that can have an infinite number of interpretations and ideas spawn from it. The words themselves have much more potential than what is explicitly stated. These complexities of language are what make creating an artificial intelligence so difficult.

“Real ‘analogy’ requires a thinking or representing machine to be in its data just as the eye is in the visual field or writing is in language. It isn’t enough for these machines to simulate the results of vision or of writing fairly well. It’s a matter of…’giving body’ to the artificial thought of which they are capable.” (Lyotard 17)

Here Lyotard attempts to summarize his points as related to creating a thinking machine. When Lyotard mentions analogy he means it in the sense of “resemblance of relations or attributes forming a ground of reasoning” (Oxford online Dictionary). Essentially giving life to their ideas beyond what is directly recorded. Lyotard believes that creating a type of artificial intelligence capable of doing this is the main step in creating artificial human thought.

Lyotard’s essay is essentially a philosophical essay about why intelligence and thought should be preserved beyond the existence of humans and what types of technological hurdles we need to overcome in order to achieve this. In this paragraph Lyotard attempts to explain why simple things such as language and perception are much more complicated than they appear on the surface. Not only will this artificial intelligence have to record video and understand writing, it will have to be able to analyze, interpret and draw parallels to them.

Answering why Lyotard uses difficult language is much more difficult task. I believe that Lyotard uses this difficult language for two reasons. First, because he wants to emphasize the complexities of language to better emphasize his point that language is an extremely complex thing for an artificial intelligence to master. The essay forces you to spend a lot of time analyzing and thinking about what is being said. This helps the reader understand what Lyotard is saying about writing being more than just the words on the paper. Second, because he wants you to spend more time reading the paragraph and therefore more time thinking about the ideas expressed in it. By using difficult language the reader spends more time trying to understand it and as a result walks away with a better understanding of what is being expressed.

Sources

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

Oxford English Dictionary “Analogy”

http://dictionary.oed.com/cgi/entry/50007888?single=1&query_type=word&queryword=analogy&first=1&max_to_show=10