Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Cup of Death/Zork…Interactive?

First off, I think it is important to look at the root of the word interactivity. First, the word interact comes to mind which by definition simply means to act upon one another. Next we should look at the definition of interactive which means to be mutually or reciprocally active or in reference to two-way electronic communication systems such as a telephone or a computer it involves a user’s orders or responses. Interactivity simply refers to the extent to which something is in fact interactive.

When it comes to narratives and games such as Zork and Cup of Death one may have a bit of trouble determining weather these things should be considered interactive. On one hand it may seem as though it is impossible for a game or a narrative to be interactive at all. Being that in a game such as Zork, there are only a limited amount of moves that can be made one my feel that is not truly interactive because you really don’t have much control, you just have different options to get to the next step. You can’t really do what you want. In a narrative such as Cup of Death, one may feel it’s not truly interactive because the story is written already and again you just have different options to get to the outcome. You really have no control over what happens.

I think that both Zork and Cup of Death both are in fact interactive. According to the definition I have for something being interactive both Zork and Cup of death fit. I believe Cup of Death is interactive because although the outcome is predetermined, I still have to interact with the story in order to get to the outcome. The fact that at the bottom of the page it gives me a choice as to what I want to do next forces me to interact with the book. As for Zork, The same principal is applied. If I don’t have an input the game will not respond because it requires me to interact with it and it will interact with me.

I think the main issue here is not weather the novel or game is interactive because I think by definition its clear that they are, but the level of interactivity is what needs to be in question. Some things are more interactive then others which is why it may be difficult to determine if certain things are interactive at all. I believe if you have to act to get a reaction then that is what makes something interactive weather it be a game, novel, computer program or whatever. The level of interactivity simply changes from subject to subject.

You put the 'active' in 'interactive'.

The first day of class we defined narrative as “the representation of an event or a series of events”. While helpful as a starting point, this definition is in no way definite. It still leaves several questions open. Among others: Does the representation need an ‘author’ to put it together? Do the events have to be in a certain order? And more specific to our purposes here, can a narrative truly be interactive with the audience? To start out simply: yes, yes, and sometimes.

The author of a narrative is simply whoever brings it into being. It can be a literal author, or it can be a person holding a video camera, or someone telling what happened to them earlier that day, but there is always someone. This is because a narrative is a representation of an event or series of events and not the event itself. Therefore someone must be there to mediate between the event and its representation. If there is no author, there is no narrative, just the original event or, in the case of fiction, nothing at all.

As for the order of the events being represented, they do have to come in a certain order. With the presence of an author comes intentionality. When an author creates a narrative, he or she gives it shape by the way he or she represents the event or events. Now that is not to say that there is only one set way to represent any given event, but in creating the narrative, the author chooses to put one event before another. If the story is retold in the reverse order, then that is simply a new narrative representing the same series of events.

Now ‘interaction’ is another tricky term to throw around. Breaking down the word, we have ‘inter-‘ and ‘-action’. The latter is fairly plain, but ‘inter-‘ deserves some elaborating. Meaning ‘between or among’, it implies that there must be at least two parties involved. In this case there are the narrative and the audience. So an interaction, by definition, requires action on the part of both parties. According to this then, traditional narratives like novels or films don’t count because the audience is passive rather than active. The audience simply receives the narrative rather than actively exerting any force on it.

But what about something like Zork or a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ book? Are these interactive types of narratives? I would argue that the narrative of CYOA books, while more primitive technologically, are actually interactive whereas ironically enough the narratives of Zork and other interactive fiction games are not actually interactive. The CYOA books are interactive narratives because they fit the criteria of both narrative and interaction. They are clearly narratives because they represent a series of events, they each have an author, and the events take place in a certain order. Now, this last point may be a bit questionable. Yes the reader gets to make choices as to the direction of the plot, but at each juncture there are only a few options to choose from, and these choices were specifically chosen by the author and reflect the author’s intentionality in creating the structure of the narrative. If instead of picking one of the provided choices the reader just turned to a random page, the structure of the narrative would break down and it would create a new narrative in place of the one intended by the author. It would also probably make far less sense than the author’s original narrative. But these choices given to the reader by the author do allow for interactivity with the narrative. By picking one of the provided choices, the reader exerts an active force on the narrative. Then the narrative exerts a force back in the form of the next page or two of story that leads to the next choice. This then creates an interaction between the narrative and the audience. Each is actively exerting a force on the other.

On the other hand, interactive fiction games like Zork do not allow interaction with the narrative. They do allow interaction with the game, but here the game and the narrative must be distinguished from one another. Each of these games has a plot, a narrative, that once you have finished the game, should a friend ask you what happened you would recount to them. “Well the Princess got captured by a dragon and I had to collect the three holy weapons so that I could fight the dragon and rescue the Princess.” This is the narrative of the game, and no matter how long you spend playing the game, in order to finish you have to play through this narrative. If you were to explain to your friend that you traveled north into the forest and then traveled west to a grove and there you tried to climb a tree, but the game said that none of the branches were low enough to grab a hold of, then you would be describing your interaction with the game, not with the narrative. Your ability or inability to climb the tree doesn’t change the fact that you have to collect the three holy weapons so that you can fight the dragon and rescue the Princess. The game and your interaction with it is just a puzzle that, solved correctly, allows you to systematically progress through the narrative in a certain order. But since neither the order nor the outcome of the narrative is mutable, it is not interactive.

Now each form has its merits. The interactive nature of the Choose Your Own Adventure books allows for repeated readings that can each result in unique endings, at least as many as are written. The interactive fiction games, on the other hand, provide a greater challenge to the player. This challenge would be diminished if the narrative were actually interactive. The point of the game is to figure out the one and only way to progress through the narrative and save the Princess. The more options you have, the less difficult it becomes. The less difficult it is, the less point there is to playing and the less is your sense of triumph when you finally save the Princess after hours and hours of game play and literally hundreds of untimely deaths.

(Note: I am not actually playing Zork. I am playing another game called Firebird so the plot I describe with the dragon and the Princess is merely for demonstrative purposes. I just picked something generic so it would be easy to follow.)

Interactivity and the Lack of Reality in Zork

Interactivity, to me, is the ability to have an action and re-action from two or more things that cause a series of events. Now, just writing these blogs and all the responses is a way of interactivity between us, as classmates and with our teacher. Other various ways of interacting include sports, music, the internet, classes, and the list can go on and on. Now, interacting between two or more people is one thing, but interacting with a computer is another.

While playing Zork, I tried a variety of commands and the game would only let me do certain things. When I would try something new, I was told it was "not known," or "can't go that way." The game took away what I feel is a little bit necessary and that is a screen. When playing a game on X-Box 360 or PlayStation 3 we can interact easier because we can physically see what we are doing and where we are going. We can see our mistakes, and decide how to correct them much easier. Playing this game made it seem like reading a book except the book talked back and would yell at you if you did not do the right thing.

And what is the right thing really? Trying to find the right command for some things was like finding a needle in a hay stack. But at other times it was very simple. I do believe that this game has all the ability of being completely interactive but it's not the same as interacting with people. The program has a set of desired commands and predetermined responses. In reality, no one has a set response or desired command. We are not robots. We do not run on batteries. We do not have micro processing chips in our heads with all the information stored on them. We never know what will happen from day to day. That's what makes real interactions between multiple people so much more intriguing.

We never know what to expect from one another. That's the element of surprise. We live our lives in a world that requires interactivity or nothing would ever get done. Try to imagine a world where no one talks to another human being, just interaction with computers. Imagine a world of people that just played Zork all day and all night. We would be zombies and we would lack life experiences that would be beneficial to our survival. Playing Zork can't give us that but other activities can. That's really all we need in life is interactivity with other people. And it doesn't matter how we do it, the fact that we interact with people is our way of life. And if it wasn't for other people, who would we talk to?

Interactivity's Role in Narratives

According to Webster’s Dictionary, the definition of Interactivity is the extent to which a computer program and human being may have a dialog. That seems very general and boring to me. Interactivity and its role in narratives definitely deserves are more detailed analysis.

First we must consider what the definition of narrative is. I feel that this word can be seen several different ways, depending on whoever is trying to define it. After a long time of trying to decide what narrative meant to me, I came to a very ironic conclusion. A narrative is whatever the author wants to make it. A depiction of true or fictitious events, it doesn’t matter, it is completely determined by what the author portrays and what the audience receives it as. This takes us right back to Lyotard and his argument against binary thinking. We as humans can not look at things in such simple terms; rather we look at things and let our minds stray from any set of predefined standards. This niche of the term narrative is important in understanding what interactivity means and how it functions in a narrative.

Back to what interactivity actually means brings us to a crossroad. To me, interactivity can be looked at from several angles. Is it a feature of the medium? In other words, is interactivity based on the “paths” given to us and the way we choose them? Maybe. That seems like a pretty easy and simple way to look at the meaning of the word, especially using the example of the Cup of Death. There are so many different paths leading to different outcomes. Some would agree that this definitely fits the profile of being considered interactivity. While a number of people are content to consider interactivity to be so simple, there are many others who would disagree. Maybe interactivity is just the users’ perception of cognitive interaction with interactivity serving as the artifact to make people perceive certain things about a specific subject. A current example of this would be the 2008 presidential campaigns and their websites. With all the ways to interact on a website, do people actually feel interactive, or just perceive that they are being interactive through the websites. Barbara Warnick, a professor here at Pitt composed a long essay on this subject. (If there is more interest on this subject, I can get access to the essay for everyone).

Both of these views on interactivity make sense to me. Yet, I’m not totally convinced that these views fit what this assignment is trying to touch upon. For me, interactivity is more based upon complete and total individual determination. I know that almost totally contradicts the dictionary definition of the word, but I guess I just have a weird mindset. I think it’s possible to have an interactive narrative, but with a catch. I don’t think it’s possible to have an interactive narrative meant for other people to read. One can make their own interactivity in their own narrative. While reading a book such as Cup of Death, you can not obtain true interactivity. All the paths are predetermined for the reader. To obtain true interactivity, one must determine and embark on his or hers own fabricated paths and ideas.

My strong opinion towards self interactivity applies on to its roles in narratives. I think interactivity on a broader scale, say on the internet or a public discussion, needs to on a person to person basis. With the definition of narrative being impossible to give a solid definition, I think it’s important for interactivity in narratives to be something that the individual decides for themselves, just like how they decide what narrative means to them.

To wrap things up in much simpler terms, I feel that books such as Cup of Death are a very weak attempt at Interactive Narratives. Predetermined paths and endings completely defeat the purpose of being interactive within the narrative. As mentioned before, I do believe that interactive narratives can exist, but only on the individual basis. It’s imperative to understand the difference between interactivitys definitions within narratives, and also it’s meaning outside of narratives.

The Positive Feedback Loop

Welcome to the year 2012. It is a bit different then what you would think. Thousands of species have gone extinct. Buildings are destroyed and the ones that are livable are not inhabited - besides maybe a room or two. So, what the heck happened here on our beloved planet earth? Well, there was a war, a nuclear war. World War Termination to be exact. It left the world in ruin. Instead of forecasting rain or snow, the few survivors forecast the radioactive dust. Now, I haven’t gone into to many details, but from the picture I have set you can see that earth is a pretty ugly place.

You may think that the earth as described in Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, as a wretched place to live on, but at least there is an earth to live on. In Lyotard’s essay, Can Thought Go On Without a Body, Lyotard describes what life or even thought would be like after our sun novas. When our sun is in its dying stages it will become so large that the sun will turn into a red giant and expand past the earth’s orbit. It will fry mars and when it novas, the explosion will destroy the entire solar system and have horrific effects for light years. There will be no such thing as human beings let alone remnants of human thought.

However ugly earth is after WWT, there are still humans walking the surface, we still have human thought. These humans are the survivors from WWT but they aren’t the special ones-the ones that got shipped to Mars. The governments of the world shipped the special people, those with the highest IQs, to Mars to further on the species and keep thought alive. The governments also allowed private companies such as the Rosen Association to develop androids. Their latest model of androids, Nexus-6, are so well advanced that it is impossible to distinguish them from actual humans with the naked eye. You would need a special device called the Voigt-Kampff scale to administer a test with. The scale would measure a person’s or android’s reactions to certain questions by observing minute details of the face. The only thing the Nexus-6 cannot do is react with empathy.

Since the end of humans and human thought is on its way, Lyotard says we need to stop asking ourselves the answerless questions and focus on ways in which we can ensure human thought continues once the end of the solar system arrives. He states,
“…theoretically the solution is very simple: manufacture hardware capable of ‘nurturing’ software at least as complex (or replex) as the present day human brain, but in non terrestrial conditions. (Lyotard 14) “ The androids in Dick’s narrative are almost there. They have the brain capacity of a human. Take for example when Rachel Rosen tricked Rick Deckard at the Rosen Association or when Kadalyi-Polokov almost killed Deckard on the roof when he was pretending to be a Russian police officer sent to help Deckard with retiring the androids.

The software to survive the nova is available in Dick’s narrative. I just think there needs to be some development in hardware. When Deckard shot Polokov in the head, the android went nuts. It was twitching and sparking everywhere, and that’s just after coming in contact with a measly bullet. To survive the nova, the humans need to create a hardware system that will survive the most powerful explosion and forces of energy anything will ever experience (next to a super giant explosion and being ripped apart by the gravitational differences entering a black hole). Or, humankind will have to create a ship that will travel fast enough to escape the wretched explosion or be outside the area that will be effected by the explosion before the explosion gets there. They would have to do this because “Thought without a body is the prerequisite for thinking of the death of all bodies, solar or terrestrial, and of the death of thoughts that are inseparable from those bodies (14).” So basically, if the hardware for the software gets destroyed then the software will be gone because there would be nothing to run the software. Take for example your present day (2008, not 2021) laptop that you are reading this blog on. The hardware would consist of your motherboard, the computer chips, the circuitry and the screen amongst other things, while the software is the Microsoft Office 2008 I am typing on right now, the Mozilla Firefox you are using to read this essay, and the itunes you are using to listen to your music as you read this essay. Think about this. Without the hardware, the software wouldn’t exist. They would be ideas in your head-figments of your imagination. So if the nova destroyed all of the hardware that was capable of continuing human thought, human thought would be like the software without the computer.

I have always been one of those people that looked up at the sky and wondered. I wondered what it would be like up there, living amongst the stars. That was when I was a young buck. Now, with three plus years of higher education under my belt, focusing primarily in the natural sciences, I often wonder and think a lot more. I look up at the stars and understand the processes that make us what we are today. I understand the fusion of the stars, the gravity, the light and how everything interacts. But this is all free spirit thinking-not programmed. I don’t think the human race can create software or hardware that comes close to that of a human brain, no matter what Bill Joy says in his article Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us. But then again, I think of what Lyotard said of humans, “You know – technology wasn’t invented by us humans. Rather the other way around (12).” It is this statement that gives me all the confidence in the world of the human race. Since we are technology and we are creating technology, who is to say that we cannot recreate human beings from scratch? The evolution of technology could be as simple as a positive feedback loop.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Painting Joy's Picture

To a large degree, the cautions expressed by Bill Joy in Why the future doesn't need us and the less than subtle undertones of Philip Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep mirror one another. Joy presents the idea that humans cannot simply run with science, taking development as far as it will go without pausing to consider the possible consequences. Subsequently, Dick demonstrates what the future may become should Joy's words go unheeded. Thus, both writers emphasize the importance of maintaining responsibility and careful consideration of one's actions within the scientific community. To quote Joy:

"We can't simply do our science and not worry about these ethical issues." (8)

One must surely note the fact that one of Joy's examples of science out of control was the development of the atomic bomb. Following on the exact same note, in Dick's vision of humanity in the year 2021 the majority of the human race is leaving Earth behind since the very planet itself has been devastated by nuclear war. Even with this vast similarity, Dick is not content to let readers consider the possibility that events outside of the scientific community led to humanity's rape of its home world. Rather, he focuses on the responsibility, or lack thereof, that the greatest scientific minds of the world are willing to take for the results of their work. When confronted with the fact that their androids are fleeing their subservient role, taking on wills of their own, and posing a threat to humans, the members of the Rosen family are anything but willing to take responsibility for what they have done. Rachael Rosen instead tries to push the blame upon the police in a statement made all the more ironic by the fact that she herself is later revealed to be an android.

"... we'll have to withdraw all Nexus-6 types from the market. Because you police departments can't do an adequate job in the simple matter of detecting the minuscule number of Nexus-6s who balk-" (42)

Eldon Rosen takes a very similar path to dodging responsibility for what his family and their company have done. Rather than laying the blame upon the police, though, he puts the fault on the colonists leaving Earth.

"We produced what the colonists wanted. We followed the time-honored principle underlying every commercial venture. If our firm hadn't made these progressively more human types, other firms in the field would have." (52)

Eldon essentially leaves the matter up to fate, saying that it was destined to happen regardless, so he may as well be the one to profit from it, ethical issues be damned. Clearly, this exemplifies the warnings of Joy against simply moving through one's work without stopping to consider what falls into the realm of the potential results. The Rosen's worked to create increasingly more human androids. The result is that it is just shy of impossible to tell the androids apart from real humans. When these androids overcome their directives and acquire a will of their own, no one takes responsibility. Rather, policemen and bounty hunters are left to clean up the mess. In this manner, a cycle is formed because, since no one takes responsibility, no one has the power necessary to change what is happening. Had the caution Joy venerably preaches about been put into practice, some system of checks and balances could have possibly been implemented to put a stop to renegade androids.

For anyone doubting the very possibility of Joy's fears becoming reality, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep paints just such a picture. If caution is thrown to the wind in regard to scientific development, the idea that science could take precedence over the wellbeing of flesh and blood individuals may very well become a reality. In fact, when keeping Dick's work in mind, one of the closing remarks of Joy's essay takes on an almost chilling meaning. In Dick's work, Joy's words ring true in their utmost literal sense.

"The experiences of the atomic scientists clearly show the need to take personal responsibility, the danger that things will move too fast, and the way in which a process can take on a life of its own. (15) Italics added for emphasis.

Cup of Death... and Interactivity

First things first. Why the Hell was this book called the Cup of Death? I could've sworn the book I read was about some tea bowl. Anyway, interactivity to me, is the effect on a user's actions on the outcomes of an event. However, the honest fact is, that in this book, my actions really do not effect the outcomes at all. They are already written down, and even though I may be able to choose different page numbers, I do not feel like I am really interacting with the book. Besides, if I happen to choose the cab ride that gets hit by a car, I can just flip back and pick the other option. Overall... pointless.

Interactivity should be more in depth then picking pre-determined ways to die, or ways to catch a thief. My actions should create its own set of unique outcomes, and not just a different combination of the same ones that everybody else can choose as well. I do understand that these books are intended for a much younger audience, and that being able to pick what the character can do may make reading more enjoyable. Kids like hands on activities and the choose your own adventure series makes reading a little more hands on.

True interactivity may be impossible to create in any book or video game. It can't be possible to create infinite possibilities in a book, and in the case of Zork and similar video games this is true as well. Although Zork and other games can program many more possible combinations that a user can go through. I believe that technology is getting close, especially with games like the Sims, where basically you can create a second life for yourself, to creating an interactive environment, but I can't give the nod to The Cup of Death to be considered interactive.

A Writer's Take On Narrative. (Option #1)

Narrative is something that I deal with on a daily basis, and I don’t just mean in writing it, but in practically living it. Here, I’ll explain first by not defining interactivity yet, but focusing on narrative itself. You see, narrative is basically the telling of an event, or series of events, so you have to figure that even as you live…a tale is being told. In your case, it’s probably from the first-person perspective. In my case, you’re in the third-person. Congratulations, you’re one of my many dubious tales. But getting back to interactivity, I find that there’s a problem in using it here. You see, interactivity deals in being able to interact with a computer program…but it does not specify whether that can involve narrative per se, or books at all. This allows it to refer to Zork, under the clause of “Special Circumstances” but can you see it attached to Cup of Death?

You see the problem here. The term “Interactive Narrative” hasn’t fully-sifted into the official mainstream bin inasmuch as it should be. We can accept that interactive narrative can pertain to a kind of story that you mess around with, but the terminology has failed to go along with it. So, are the people responsible for it just lazy or are we all misquoting what merely sounds right? (There’s a story in there somewhere, about the laziness of the industry, but that’s a narrative for another time.) Truth be told, I can’t actually see too much wrong with the idea of interactive narrative. It seems fairly straightforward, given my first sentence. You interact with the world – the real and actual breathing world – every moment of your life. This, in turn, is a tale about you. Even if you don’t think of it that way, somebody else does, and there’s about six billion of us to take up that position regardless of how you feel on the matter.

But then…this isn’t about the tale of us and the world. This is about us and playing Zork, or reading Choose Your Own Adventure books. Actually…no, that’s not true. Introducing…fictional worlds that exist because someone said so. Tales and narratives were made up originally to tell things that have happened, or might’ve happened, or even NEVER happened…but sound interesting. So, cue in now the real interactive fiction, the book that lets you decide how things will turn out, for better or for worse. Cup of Death is one such work, acting as sort of its own evidence. You can’t deny it after you make it exist, just as you can’t deny that Zork is a computer-based fiction that allows you to do (within reason) anything in order to get by. Granted, you have to do things a certain way in order to proceed in the game, but so what? It’s still being interacted with. The fact that you DO have to make things happen sort of presses the point of the matter, that it HAS TO be an interactive narrative because you have to THINK to make it go. And not every time will your action turn out the same. The game is varied like that, making it more versatile than the book, just like how characters you develop in a story might act differently than you intended because they tell you (in your head) that that’s not in their nature and they don’t want to be forced that way all the time. And that…is when you really get into the interaction.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

...On the interactivity of Rocks

Interactivity: the extent to which something is interactive; the extent to which a computer program and human being may have a dialog.
Interactive: Acting or capable of acting on each other.
Interactivity, to me at least, is more than the generic “American Heritage Dictionary” definition given above. To be interactive, a thing must change, and respond based on your input and/or actions. It must have a response to your action on it, otherwise you could say that a rock is interactive. I can act on a rock and it can act on me, but that doesn't make it interactive, and if it does, it is only interactive in the sense that we can do each other harm. You can't choose options and have it respond. That's where interactivity comes in. Depending on the definition you use, you may be able to interact with a rock, but there is no interactivity. If you use the right command (the only kind a rock responds to... hit it with something harder than itself), you can get the rock to break for you, but that is really the only command to which your rock will respond. The interactivity of the rock, however, is severely limited, as it has only one “response” to pretty much just one “command” (It responds to my hitting it with a hammer the same way it responds to me hitting it with another rock)... it just breaks. To be truly interactive, you need more than this. To make our trusty rock more interactive, we would need to imbue it with the ability to react to many commands and produce a unique response for each one. A rock is not the best model for interactivity after all even if we can act on it and it can act on us. A much better model for this is the game Zork. Zork formulates responses based on my input and does much more than just break. I can say “kill troll with elvish sword” and sure enough, troll is dead. If I used that command on a rock, or even our other example of interactive fiction, “The Cup of Death,” it would not be able to respond. In order to have interactivity, one must also establish a way to interact with the object or system. “The cup of death” doesn't really respond to your input, but rather, your changing the pages based on its suggestions shapes the outcome of the story. Based on your desires and “input,” the story can change, but only to a limited degree (you can only chose a predetermined outcome built into the system). Even our game Zork can only respond based on a a very complicated series of predetermined “if, then, else” statements. What then, does it mean to be interactive? Neither Zork, nor the book can actually “interact” because you ultimately control how you read the story line. Some would say that that is interactivity, but choosing an alternate ending (that is located somewhere not directly after the last line you read) does not necessarily make something “interactive.” Any story can be interactive. The only difference is that the author didn't intend for it to be. I could read only every other paragraph or skip a few pages here and there (just like the cup of death had us doing) and the story would be vastly altered. That is me inputing my choice and the book is responding to that. It is predetermined and we both (sort of) impact each other, just like in the dictionary definition. The only difference is that this particular book wasn't meant to be read that way... but it's still interactive and its interactivity is decreased only because we may not get as desirable an outcome as we would with a book that was meant to be “interactive.” Zork is really no different in this regard. All the outcomes are there in the coding and our responses are equivalent to us turning the pages of this “interactive narrative.” Zork is slightly more interactive, however, because I can make (almost) infinitely more decisions that end with coherent results (responses). That is only possible, however, due to the difference in the amount of information available in the system. We are still choosing how the story reads, but the whole story is still in there and it is up to us as the reader to determine our own way to finish it... instead of just going on to the next line, we can go to a completely different one and still get a coherent story.
On the other hand, we also have to be able to respond based on its input. It says “turn to page __ if you want to call the cops or turn to page __ if you think you can handle it yourself,” so we respond to the book by choosing one of its suggested outcomes. In this sense, it is more interactive that a common book because I respond to it. Zork is pretty much the same, except it can give error messages (For instance, I type "do jumping jacks," it says "what is 'jumping,'" or I say "take platinum bar," it says "bar bar ..."), instead of a real command so I need to not only respond, but fix my previous response so that it can give me more text (to which I will continue to respond), making it even more interactive in a way. A rock or a normal book will not ask for a response on my part so that rules both out as "interactive." Zork and "The Cup of Death" can make me respond to them, but I can't make it respond to me, so it is not technically interactive... no matter how many times it suggests I should “turn to page __.”

Definitions taken from Dictionary.com and American Heritage Dictionary, respectively.

Saturday, September 27, 2008


what website is everyone using for zork? i am using http://www.xs4all.nl/~pot/infocom/zork1.html
but it says i cant save my game here . . . any help would be appreciated
sam luffy

Assignment for Tuesday

Option #1) Define both "interactivity"; a dictionary definition is fine, as is a more eccentric or personal definition. Use that definition to explore Cup of Death and/or Zork. Are they "interactive narratives" by your definition? Is an interactive narrative even possible, or is it a contradiction in terms? What, if anything, does interactivity add to a narrative? In other words, you are making and defending a claim about the value or significance of interactivity, through one chosen text.

Option #2) Focusing on specific passages, use either Joy or Lyotard to respond to or analyze Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. This, too, should be in the form of an essay - that is, it should have an argument which you defend.

It's dark. You'll probably be eaten by a Grue.


Probably the most popular line in Zork. This is one possible appearance for the creature, as expressed in a certain movie... You can be killed by a Grue in any darkness, regardless of location, if you don't have any light. Just keeping you warned of that.

Now uhhh...I'm fairly-proficient in troll-killing. Anyone up on the art of thief-assassination?

Friday, September 26, 2008

General comment on blog posts

I touched on this in class, but thought I'd better repeat myself.

Most of your blog posts this week had an interesting personal story to tell, but most (not all) of them related on vaguely to Taylor - be sure that you show an accurate, thoughtful understanding of scientific management in your revisions.

Thursday, September 25, 2008


This game is really annoying. I can't figure out how to get anywhere besides the dam, and when I get there I am just going around the same rooms over and over, and the only treasure I found in the last hour and a half was the egg, and that's only because I was shown where it is.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Zork lies

Going with the Zork info, it lies. It tells me that there's a canyon i can climb down then I say climb down canyon and it tells me it doesn't recognize the word canyon


This just in, ass and the f word work too.

Zork likes manners

If you type the word shit, and possibly some other words, Zork gets upset. I just thought you guys would like a heads up so you don't upset the game.

Scientific Management at Regal Cinemas

In his book “The Principles of Scientific Management” Frederick Winslow Taylor lays out his method of scientific management to increase efficiency in the workplace, which in turn was supposed to increase the happiness of everyone. Throughout his essay Taylor shows many examples where he implements scientific management which in turn increased the amount of work the “oxes” were able to do. One of the main passages in Taylor’s essay pertaining to my life, found on pages 15-16, outlines his plan to cut out the long used “rule of thumb” method:

First. They develop a science for each element of a man’s work, which replaces the old rule-of-thumb method. Second. They scientifically select and train, teach, and develop the workman, whereas in the past he chose his own work and trained himself as best as he could. Third. They heartily cooperate with the men so as to insure all of the work being done in accordance with the principles of the science which has been developed. Fourth. There is an almost equal division of the work and the responsibility between the management and the workmen. The management takes over all work for which they are better fitted than the workmen, while in the past almost all of the work and the greater part of the responsibility were thrown upon the men.

Over the years I have held a variety of odd jobs. Scientific management pertained to each of these jobs, particularly my job at Regal Cinemas. Throughout the year that I worked there, I worked under two managers. The first was very relaxed, and let the employees do whatever they wanted. When new recruits would come on their first few days the responsibility of teaching them fell on to the shoulders of the more experienced, low level employees. As expected there was a lot of “soldering” going on between these employees who were expected to teach the new recruits. So, this soldiering continued to get passed down, therefore hurting the efficiency of the company. Also, there were many rule-of-thumb methods integrated into the average workday, whether it was the amount of salt/butter put on the popcorn or how early/late to start closing down.

Later in my career at Regal Cinemas I was graced with a new, harsher manager. He had worked his way up from a Staff Lead, which is one step above the regular employee, up to General Manager at another theater. Because of this, he was aware with all of the soldiering that went on between the employees while they worked. He made many changes while I was there that would greatly increase how everyone worked, therefore increasing efficiency as a whole. He gave the responsibility of teaching new employees to actual managers instead of employees, which symbolizes the fourth sub-division laid out by Taylor. He also broke down all of the rule-of-thumb methods, such as the salt, and gave us exact amounts to use and when the prime time to restock would be. One of the most admirable things that he did, in my opinion, was that he took part in everything that went on during the day from helping with trash to counting out multiple registers.

For not really knowing what scientific management was, it actually has played a big part in my life. Scientific management greatly improved the efficiency of my workplace while I worked for Regal, therefore helping the company make larger profits then they were previously. This, according to Taylor should have made everyone happier, but that is a completely different subject in this case.

unknown partner

I'm a little unsure as to whose post I should be responding to. In the blog entry where partners were assigned for last weeks assignment, "Matt" was supposed to comment on mine. So my paper was commented on by two different Matt's and I don't know which is the correct Matt on whose paper I should comment. Any suggestions?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Scientific Management as it Applies to ME

While reading “The Principles of Scientific Management,” several of the passages immediately reminded me of situations that I have been a part of. These passages deal mainly with the contrasts between the old forms of management and the new form of management with greater responsibilities for the managers. Two such situations are a great deal like the two different management styles discussed by Taylor. These experiences take place in the same location and revolve around accomplishing the same task, much like the experiments.

These experiences are both took place in the Henry Heymann Theatre on an electrics hang day for one of the Pitt Rep productions. At this point, I was one of the workers under the old form of management. I say this because the workers were organized into “gangs” with each gang having a leader more knowledgeable about the process. But before we could start the actual work, the gangs had to take the time to organize all the required material; something that could have been done ahead of time to make the process flow smoothly. Once the materials were organized and the less knowledgeable works familiarized with the new techniques, the work that we were there to accomplish could be started.

Just like under the old form of management, the gangs were given general instructions and mostly left alone. When we needed information on what to hang next and where to hang it, we would have to ask the management. You can imagine how confusing this could become when there are four or five gangs each asking one person for the next set of instructions. With no clear direction and each gang moving around the floor haphazardly, this only served to slow down the process of the hang to a fraction of the speed it could be done at.

In the Pitt Rep system, the hang takes place over two days and includes not just hanging the instruments, but also running the cable to power them. In the first instance, the hang took the entirety of the first day, while cabling took the entire second day. Again, this process was hampered by a disorganized management. Instead of management deciding where everything was to be powered from, it fell to the workers to keep track of the information. With no organization from management, the cabling soon turned into a confusing tangle that was near impossible to troubleshoot.

The next experience occurred about eight months later. For this hang, I was on the management side. This experience much more closely follows the principles of scientific management. First, all the materials had been thoroughly organized beforehand and were laid out to be easily accessible to the workers. Second, instead of the workers going to management for information on where every single instrument was to be hung, packets containing detailed information on four to seven instruments were prepared. Third, instead of the gangs moving randomly across the floor, the packets of information were handed out in an order so that the gangs never got in each others way. Fourth, although the workers were not necessarily as skilled as the gangs eight month previous, the task was accomplished in roughly half the time. I think this last point makes the second experience much closer to the scientific management Taylor describes.

Due to the organization of the second instance, almost all of the work, including running the cables, was completed on the first day. Instead of the workers keeping track of the information like before, management had everything planned out ahead of time. Once again, packets of information were prepared to be distributed to the workers. This time, the second day consisted of a much smaller group finishing up several small tasks and troubleshooting any problems that were encountered. Overall, it was a much more organized and smoothly run event than the previous one.

From Taylor’s descriptions and my own experiences, it is easy to see how much anyone and everyone can benefit from scientific management. Hopefully in the future I will have an increasing need to apply these practices in making things like electrics hangs go easier and move more smoothly.

"Work while you work" and "Play while you play"

After the fourth time I opened the book in less than an hour, a few words from the page seemed to jump out at me.

“It is a matter of ordinary common sense to plan working hours so that the workers can really “work while they work” and “play while they play,” and not mix the two. (p44)”

Have I really been so crazy as to mix work and play? Did I forget what I had just read the day before? Should I be on Facebook and have iTunes open while I am writing this paper? Whenever I think about it, I have always been taught to focus on what you were doing and to perform at the best of your ability. Since my dad was a practicing engineer, the ideas of efficiency, focus, and labor productivity were preached from a very young age. I just didn’t always listen.

As a young kid, my brothers would take me down our street to meet up with our neighbors for our weekly hockey game. Being the youngest of five children, I was always biting my three older brother’s heels to let me go with them wherever they went. One thing that was very hard for me to grasp, while playing sports with my three older brothers, was their ability to turn on and off their aggression and attitudes. What I did not understand is that they were focused on winning, achieving a goal. I was simply out there to have fun and learn from these educated men. Often times, I would fall down and scrape my knee. As tears rolled down my face, there were my once opponents and enemies now acting as my older brothers to help me.

This same fundamental on/off switch is carried over in all the sports I play. With soccer, before the game I try to calm my body and mind. I think about everything except soccer. But once the whistle blows to begin the game; all my focus, all my determination, and all my energy is put into a team goal to win the game. For me, work is a game. While I am playing that game, there is nothing that can distract me from accomplishing my goal. When the final whistle blows, there are no grudges held. The opposing players that I fouled and yelled at are the ones I am shaking hands with and sharing a laugh.

One way in which this quote is directly applied to my life is through my brother. Much like what Taylor talks about in the book, bricklayers are on a very tight schedule. There were many studies put together showing that more bricks were laid in 7 ½ hours than in 8 hours. The masons are given two 15 minute coffee breaks during their 8 hour shift so they can rest their fatigued hands. The employer will now be laying more brick per day, have a better work environment (workers receive two breaks), and will be overall more efficient.

My dad always tells me that I remind him of him. Although I may not always see what he saw, the same type of problems he faced are very similar to the ones I face now. He would always tell me how to do things better and remind me to “Focus on what you are doing”. There comes a time when one is to work and one is to play. The fine line that separates the two is often straddled unknowingly. To be successful, you must be able to control your focus. But in order to control your focus, you must first be focused.

Sam Luffy

Monday, September 22, 2008

Scientific Management: Eckerd vs. Rite Aid

In Principles of Scientific Management, Taylor tells us four things that we need to do to establish scientific management. He argues that first you need to develop a science for each element of a man’s work. Second, you train, teach, and develop the workman. Thirdly, you need cooperation with the men. Lastly, equality between the management and the workmen need to change (36). These all made me think about my working at Rite Aid. To be exact, it was first an Eckerd and now it is a Rite Aid. The transition made me think that they were moving from the original management to the scientific management. Eckerd was a old company with old computers and old ways of managing. With the new Rite Aid, however, I could tell that corporate was really trying to make it more scientific. With the four principles of Taylor’s argument, Eckerd turned into Rite Aid – original turned into scientific.

The training for Eckerd was pretty basic. You had to “read a manual” and then just kind learn how to do it by watching other people and asking questions -- unlike how Taylor wanted it. He wants it to be perfect training and perfection of how to do every little detail. When I trained, it was so basic. I was so nervous for my first day that my heart was beating fast. Rite Aid, on the other hand, had these training programs called “CBT’s”. I am actually not sure what it stands for anymore but they were these programs on the computer. They were interactive and you had to them for hours. I am talking 20+ hours of telling a computer what section you find lip gloss or milk. Then at the end of every one you had to pass with a C or better to pass and then write down your score. This was much more scientific management to me. You had to pick at every detail to make it perfect. The pharmacists and pharmacy technicians had to go outside of there job and take a eight hour class on the new systems. Unlike the Eckerd way, Rite Aid was definitely more scientifically.

For Eckerd cooperation was not a big deal. You kind of did your own thing and then sometimes the managers would talk to you about something not pertaining to work. When we switched to Rite Aid, we had to have a meeting every week and go over exactly what we needed to do to make our store better. We had little cards they gave out every week telling us how to make our store better. When a customer had a void or a return at Eckerd we could automatically do it ourselves. Now, the manager had to come back and put there secret numbers in. We needed full on cooperation all the time with the managers to make our new store work. Also, Eckerd never gave us any special deals or anything when we did a good job. Rite Aid, however, gave me a raise and for some random week gave us a thirty percent discount on the whole store. I think that giving us these bonuses is a incentive to work, just like Scientific Management tells us. If for instance I get a raise I would work harder for another one. For Eckerd we never got anything like that at all. They used scientific management to get us to do our job more efficiently.

Having equal division of all the work is a hard thing to do, especially in a drug store. At Eckerd, it was not really too equal. We had our responsibilities but it was not too many. The managers did paper work, counted drawers, talked on the phone. One thing that was different is now we had to count our own drawers at the end of the night. I have never had to do this before. I feel like this is more liability towards the manager because if we under or over we have to verify we agree. Corporate definitely made us more responsible for our decisions. This made the work equal with each of us having liability for our own decisions.

All in all, Taylor had many good points in his paper. These all helped Rite Aid become a better company. The four different aspects can be applied to the conversion into Rite Aid and essentially fixed a lot of things to make them good for the sake of the company. I think that Taylor’s rules apply and work in my work place.

Task Management

I haven’t had any direct interaction with the specific scientific management described in this book but I have had interaction with it on a more informal scale. The statement that I feel applies to my experience with scientific management is:

“Scientific management requires an investigation of each of the many modifications of the same implement, developed under rule of thumb, and second after a time study has been made of the speed attainable with each of these implements, that the good points of several of them should be united in a single standard implement, which would enable them to work faster and with greater ease than before” (62).

Instead of modifying the tool used to perform a task I will just explore different methods to accomplish a task using the same machine.

I work at a bowling alley that has old pinsetting machines, some were made in the late 1940s. They tend to occasionally clear someone’s pins that remain after they have already thrown their first ball, in other words not giving them the opportunity to pick up their spare. Because of this, the employees have to go set them back up so they have the chance to pick up their spare. (This more so occurs in bowling leagues because certain ones have regulations governing if a pin falls “legally.” Sometimes pins break and fall over which is another example of an illegal falling pin.)

There are several ways to accomplish the task of setting back up someone’s pins, some simpler but more difficult in terms of physical labor, while another can be done while pretty much sitting down. The first and probably the most simple way to do it is just to crawl under the machine, turn it off, set up the ones they ask for and turn it back on. This method has several disadvantages the first being that people claim that it’s distracting while they are trying to bowl and it’s the most labor intensive way involving one to crawl under the machine and brush all the unwanted pins away and place the requested ones on the little dots where there suppose to go.

The second way, without getting too technical, is to go around the back of the machine crawl up on top, shut the machine off at a particular time, crawl over to the front, drop the pins in the proper chute and turn it back on. This way is easier than the first but it is more time consuming because you have to wait for the right time to shut it off. I should also say that I figured out how to do it myself.

The third and final way to do it eliminates two steps from the second way because someone took the time to show me a more efficient way to do it. All the third way involves is crawling up, sitting down, “stopping” the machine, putting the desired pins in and “restarting” it.

The third way is definitely the easiest, fastest, and most efficient way to do it. I had someone who knew more about the machines than I did show it to me because he had been working on them for much longer than me. These machines are very complicated, for instance “restarting” the machine involves me pushing a trip lever that serves a different purpose than what I use it for.

Without being shown, I would have had no idea of the method he showed me because it uses things on the machine that weren’t intended to be used that way; therefore they are not obvious to be used in the manner that he showed me.

If anyone is interested in what the back of a pinsetter looks like here’s what I think is a cool video of it on youtube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4fd5schChJY


Frederick Winslow Taylor, author of “The Principles of Scientific Management,” plainly lays out the guidelines for scientific management and provides more than enough examples of how it is used, and he feels strongly that it can improve any workplace. The process is summarized in his groupings:

First. They develop a science for each element of a man’s work, which replaces the old rule-of-thumb method.
Second. They scientifically select and then train, teach, and develop the workman, whereas in the past he chose his own work and trained himself as best he could.
Third. They heartily cooperate with the men so as to insure all of the work being done in accordance with the principles of the science which has been developed.
Fourth. There is an almost equal division of the work and the responsibility between the management and the workmen. The management take over all work for which they are better fitted than the workmen, while in the past almost all of the work and the greater part of the responsibility were thrown upon the men. (Taylor 15-16)

Scientific management is more than just Taylor’s theory. It applies to my own job experience. For the past two and a half years I have worked at Dairy Queen making ice cream cones, cheeseburgers, interacting with customers, etc. After reading Taylor’s book I realize that scientific management is much more efficient at my job than the “initiative and incentive” management (14).

The First group dictates the need for developing certain ways to do things. For example, at Dairy Queen, using the cash registers and drive-thru headsets, cooking burgers, and making ice cream cones are all to be done in a specific way. If they are not done properly, customers will not be satisfied, and equipment could possibly be damaged. The upper-management, such as shift managers and the store owner, control these regulations in order to create a positive dining experience for our customers.

Next, the Second group explains that management selects workers who are qualified to do the job. At Dairy Queen prospective employees fill out job applications so that the management knows before hiring anybody what their skills are. Then they choose who they think would be best and interview them to further weed out incompetent workers. Newly hired workers are initially in a “training” period for about two to three months where everything they need to know is demonstrated, and during which time they practice making products with the help of an experienced worker or a shift manager.

As the Third group states, the managers cooperate with the workers to insure that everything is being done the way they had intended, which is exactly what happens at Dairy Queen. On every shift, there is some type of management alongside the workers, supervising efficiency and accuracy, and offering encouragement to those who are less adept.

Lastly, the Fourth group of scientific management, in which the management and workers share responsibility appropriately and the management takes on the tasks that the workers are unable to do, applies to the way Dairy Queen is run. Although management is paid more money, they do the same job as the workers. They make blizzards and burgers and interact with customers, just as the other workers do, but they also take inventory for the store and do reports, which basically confirm that the registers have the correct amount of money in them, because they are more fit to do so.

Scientific management is definitely a solid foundation for a successful workplace, as demonstrated by the Dairy Queen example and the examples in Taylor’s books, and can improve anything that uses a different system.

Scientific management in my life

Although a new idea to me, it is very clear that scientific management contributes to a large part of my life. Fredrick Winslow Taylor discusses this idea in his book The Principles of Scientific Management. He exemplifies the theories behind it and how it works through various positive examples of its use in the workplace. Taylor showcases the main principle behind scientific management in the four main duties of management (15-16):

First. They develop a science for each element of a man's work, which replaces the old rule-of-thumb method.

Second. They scientifically select and then train, teach, and develop the workman, whereas in the past he chose his own work and trained himself as best he could.

Third. They heartily cooperate with the men so as to insure all of the work being done in accordance with the principles of the science which has been developed.

There is an almost equal division of the work and the responsibility between the management and the workmen. The management take over all work for which they are better fitted than the workmen, while in the past almost all of the work and the greater part of the responsibility were thrown upon the men.

As a Biological Sciences major one of my class requirements is to take Chemistry for two semesters. It’s evident that scientific management has played a key role in setting up and teaching the course. You can see through the four duties how this type of management has played a role.

The first of the four duties involves how the material is to be taught. The head honcho is the American Chemical Society who clearly states what information is needed to be learned by students. They are like the owner and boss of a company who determines what work needs to be done. They also create a standardized test that is given to all chemistry students at the end of the two semesters. This is their way of making sure that all students have learned the appropriate amount of material that they see fit. The next person below the ACS is the professor. It is there job to determine how they are going to teach the material so the students can learn the material and pass the ACS exam. There are many different ways of teaching material that the professors could possibly use. There are advantages and disadvantages to each so it is there job to determine which method is best. This would be the “develop a science for each element of a man's work” part of the first duty. Setting guidelines for material that needs to be learned is a crucial part of scientific management.

Although not as clear the second duty of selecting students is also shown in University chemistry. There is no test that weeds out the students who are better apt to learning chemistry, but the students who do take it tend to be better at sciences. It’s unusual for someone to take Chemistry unless their major requires it and if you’re going to be a Biology or Chemistry major to begin with you would need to take lots of science classes. This in itself makes the majority of the class people who prosper at sciences. Teachers also tend to make the first test or quiz difficult enough that those who fail or do badly drop the course. In the end you generally end up with the students who will do best in the course.

The rest of the second, third and fourth duties are shown together rather harmoniously in the chemistry classes. The cooperation between the teacher and students is constant as the professors teach the material as best as they can to the students while the students attempt to learn this material. There is time for questions so any misunderstandings are taken care of. There are also available recitations and office hours for students to have one-on-one time with the teachers. Students must work outside of class by reading and studying the material present while professors also have to do work outside of the classroom by preparing their lectures and grading assignments and tests. With this amount of work there tends to be an equal distribution between the professor who acts as the manager and the student who acts as the workman.

As a student with no job the majority of my time is taken up by classes and studying for those classes. There is clear scientific management that goes into the development and teaching in those classes to ensure the maximum learning potential of each student. Chemistry classes are a prime example, but these ideas go into my other classes as well. Scientific management thus plays a huge role in my everyday life.

Viewing Technological Change (Option 2)

Both Rebecca Harding Davis and Frederick Winslow Taylor make poignant arguments about the impact of technological change on human societies and psychologies. In Life in the Iron Mills, Davis critiques technology and the social changes it creates primarily from a Marxist perspective. Her emphasis on class reveals an underlying assumption that Davis makes: that technology is inherently harmful to the working classes. In fact, Davis suggests that technology is almost always the enemy of the working class based on her vivid, horrific descriptions of industrial laborers. Taylor, on the other hand, presents technology from a utilitarian point of view. Technological change, according to Taylor, can evoke enormous opportunities for prosperity across all rungs of the class ladder. Thus, Taylor offers a rich counter-argument to Davis in his book The Principles of Scientific Management. Insufficient checks on corporate enterprise, unequal wealth distribution, and basic human greed are the root causes of income disparity, not technology. Therefore, Taylor’s argument more accurately reflects the impact technological change has on human society.
Davis and Taylor would both agree that technology and technological change can bring about prosperity. In Life in the Iron Mills Mitchell laughs and exclaims, “Money has spoken!" Here, Davis emphasizes the role that technology plays in generating wealth. However, the author stresses the fact that technology has for the most part generated wealth for the upper classes and for the owners of the means of production. Davis’ assumption, however grim and alarmist, is absolutely true. Any cursory glance at the ways Third World countries currently undergo their economic development proves that a budding middle and upper class necessitates a mass of underpaid workers who fuel economic progress.
In The Principles of Scientific Management, Taylor claims, “Maximum prosperity can exist only as the result of maximum productivity” and therefore echoes the story told in Life in the Iron Mills (p. 12). However, Taylor puts a positive spin on technological advancement and the prosperity it creates. Instead of claiming that income disparity is the direct by-product of technology, Taylor lauds technology for enabling greater freedom and opportunity for all human beings. On page 18 of The Principles of Scientific Management, Taylor criticizes the economic model that creates a class of underpaid workers while at the same time denouncing the waves of white collar workers who are overpaid and under-worked. Technology has the capacity to make people lazy, suggests Taylor. In that sense, Taylor also reflects what Davis points out as the soullessness of modern industrial society.
Where Davis and Taylor disagree is on the role of technology and technological change. Davis posits technology as the culprit for the downfall of civilization and for the death of the human spirit. Her dystopic vision is understandable and reasonable given the still widespread problem of poverty and inequality worldwide and even within the wealthiest nations in the world. However, Davis places an unreasonable amount of blame on the impersonal forces of technological change. Technology is not the problem, as Taylor points out. Technology can in fact be the solution to class conflict for several reasons. For one, technology increases access to information. With greater access to information, citizens can learn the ugly truths about why corporations prosper at the expense of underpaid, disenfranchised, and disillusioned workers. Moreover, technology opens opportunities for entrepreneurial ventures. In liberal democracies based on free and open markets, technology can help people prosper so long as social institutions such as schools, health care, and banking is kept under tight regulation by citizens concerned about making the world a better place.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Assignment for next Week (group #2)

Option #1) Using at least one passage from "The Principles of Scientific Management" in detail, offer a detailed discussion of the role of scientific management in your own life.

Option #2)
"Life in the Iron Mills" offers what we might call a dystopian understanding of technological change -- life threatens to become a nightmare for most people. "The Principles of Scientific Management," on the other hand, despite its businesslike manner, shows considerable dedication to a utopian understanding of technological change. Using at least one brief passage from each text and your own experience, present an argument about which way of viewing technological change you think is more accurate.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Reflexively and the Field of Thought (Option 1)

"This picture inevitably recalls the description Kant gave of a thought process he called reflective judgment: a mode of thought not guided by rules for determining data, but showing itself as a possibility capable of developing such rules afterwards on the basis of results obtained reflexively."

This is a very interesting and complex statement discussed in Lyotard's essay. Earlier in the essay, Lyotard discusses theories introduced by such people as Russell, Whitehead, and McCulloch. The theories suggested human thought was based on binary decision making. In simpler terms, this means a mind based on only two spectrums. It's not necessarily important to know what the two spectrums are, rather to know that it can only think in two ways. Whether it be yes and no, or up and down, it really isn't important in the terms of Lyotard's essay and what we are trying to accomplish in studying it. In the essay, Lyotard argues that the mind absolutely does not work this way, instead, it develops it's own rules in making decisions and judgments based its surroundings.

In order to understand this argument about non-binary thinking, we must first understand the essay on a broader scale. This essay reveals and discusses that Lyotard refers to as the "inhuman". But what does such a term mean? A lot of people might suggest that it means dehumanizing in ways such as war or some other type of disaster. Lyotard suggests just the opposite. Implying that telling the story of dead humans, and the events surrounding it still suggests humanity, rather than "inhuman". I still find it very confusing as to what exactly Lyotard means by "inhuman" but it is safe to say it is definitely not the orthodox type of thinking that most people would resort to.

This unconventional thinking presents thought in comparison with a field of vision or hearing. Its perceptual experience is what makes it so unique. It allows the mind to think illogically, free from constraints and “rules”. Is this always easy to accomplish? Of course not, and Lyotard states this as clear of day to us later in the essay when he states, “Thinking and suffering overlap.” This sentence is probably the most simple and easy to understand throughout the entire essay. He wants to let us know, as straightforward as he can be, that this thought process and thinking will not come without some sort of suffering.

In making people think in such ways, Lyotard is accomplishing the goals of his arguments against binary thinking. When one thinks about something such as war or a disaster, the mind takes it upon itself to make its own set of rules to think about it. One must bend their mind away from the "yes and no" attitude to understand that Lyotard's theory of "inhuman" strays away from the normal thought process. I believe that this is why this passage is so hard to understand in its context. We must use our reflexive thought process to even begin to understand what Lyotard is trying to say.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Illogical Thought

Option #1

“It describes a thought that proceeds analogically and only analogically – not logically. A thought in which therefore procedures of this type – ‘just as … so likewise…’ or ‘as if…then’ or again ‘as p is to q, so r is to s’ are privileged compared to digital procedures of the type ‘if … then …’ and ‘p is not non-p.’”

It’s interesting to pose that ordinary thoughts can be illogical. At first glance it was surprising to see how simple phrases like ‘just as’ or ‘likewise’ are used so often and yet they always relate to or lead back to experiences in the past. Initially this passage felt difficult to understand because his argument didn’t make sense to me. I understood the logic but it was difficult to apply it to human thought. In order to try to understand this better, I used a quote to see the application of this logic.

"Some have little power to do good, and have likewise little strength to resist evil" (Samuel Johnson).

Even after reading this, I still had trouble applying it until I broke it down to how I would explain this for a robot to understand. Eventually I realized it would have to become conditional understanding. By conditional I mean, as used in the quote, it’s stated that little power leads to little strength. However, it’s the opinion of the reader to decide if he or she accepts this or not.

At this point, it felt like an epiphany because it introduced the idea of free will. We don’t program our computers to function with free will. For example, if we clicked Start on our computers, we wouldn’t want it to randomly open a random folder, only the Start menu.

However, human thought doesn’t seem to have such restrictions to logic. Anyone can think any thought. Our thoughts are bound by no logic rules.

I can only speculate that he explained how some thought cannot be understood by logic in such a way to demonstrate how a reader can begin to interpret this and see logic being used to describe something so integral as human thought to show how it is illogical. It also demonstrates the inability to program freewill.

The Realm of Thought. (Option #1)

Since the primary topic of Lyotard’s essay concerns the idea of thought going on without a body, I decided to work more directly with that in my chosen passage. It speaks thusly…

“Thought borrows a horizon and orientation, the limitless limit and the end without end it assumes, from the corporeal, sensory, emotional, and cognitive experience of a quite sophisticated but definitely earthly existence – to which it’s indebted as well.”

On the surface, this may seem to be a straightforward phrase, if a bit wordy, but it is often times in any philosophy that the simplest line may account for so much more. You can’t just say, for instance, that it is an analogy for the state of the human mind versus the world it interacts with, even if that is an acceptable statement. You’re just scratching the surface, though. Take thought itself, for example. Just on its own, what is thought? “Well, it’s the act of thinking, isn’t it?” Yes and no, actually. Thought implies thinking only because it is what precipitates from thought. Thinking is the act of reasoning and the solving of problems in a manner which can either be labeled as a form of adaptation or sign of higher evolution, depending upon who you listen to. Thought is about as different from thinking as the mind is from the brain or physical body. In this case, Lyotard would extend it as a something that exists outside of the corporeal realm, dipping its astral fingers into the world through the body to take from it what it will. We’re talking about an entity here, which in terms of Descartes would be coined as a ‘thinking thing’ that exists because it has the power to reason that its thoughts are not mere illusion.

As you can probably guess, I’ve had some philosophy background. More to the point, I’m currently taking Metaphysics, which is good because Lyotard certainly uses that way of looking into things. But returning to the point, he states that thought borrows from its corporeal surroundings – that it seems to have no real limitation in of itself – but then makes the claim that because it is connected to a body, it may perish once the body is finished. One cannot deny that thought gains from viewing the world as it is to shape itself into the thinking thing that it is. The question is whether or not it is completely subservient to that body, that load of organic mishmash which is entirely limited. We – as humans – take the world for granted, and how we perceive it. That which we see, touch, taste, hear, smell, and sense (through more subtle and instinctual ways) are interpreted by a fundamental bias. It is not enough to look at the chair you’re sitting in and say, “That’s a chair.”, because that’s not the whole truth of it, but merely the view of the facts as plain as the nose on your face. Sorry… “Nose”? “Face”? What are these things but labels made for the convenience of everyday life? This is the logic of only the corporeal world, not the extended mind. The chair you’re sitting in (if you are sitting) is a material object that we have decided to call 'chair'. Everything we perceive is defined because we humans invented words to speak those definitions, but the mind – pure contemplative thoughts – rejects this status quo because they are limited phrases, unenduring as the planet explodes and we all die.

Because thoughts – your mind – may exist beyond merely the act of labeling things according to what is perceived (having a ‘life’ of its own, you could say), it occurs to me that thought may go on without the body because the body is merely an avenue by which it travels along. It’s not to say there aren’t detours and alternate routes it can have. It’s just that the path of least resistance is always the first one taken, despite the fact that traffic and road construction may hang up the pursuit of knowledge for a while. Now, in accordance with Lyotard, I have to agree that there is a certain debt to the corporeal that the mind may owe a sum, so to speak, but it’s only to the fact that true thought and cogitation towards brilliance may be inspired by even the plainest of things. And if the concept of thought is an abstract, limitless thing, then the amount it owes to this plot of organic meat is negligible. The body and the world it interacts with is a benchmark for reasoning. It forms an opinion, gives a subject of contemplation, and it utterly capable of being balked at, should there be a failing in the logic somewhere. But the reason I believe that this is merely a convenience as opposed to a necessary thing is because thought will exist no matter how gouged or ruined the senses are. Find me a blind man who is also deaf and dumb, and he is still capable of thought. Descartes’ own contemplations on the sum of his existence are irrefutable at least in some aspects. You think, therefore you are. I am thought, therefore I have an existence which goes far beyond the limits of body. It will continue to BE thought regardless of what happens to the corporeal ‘me’. You simply won’t know because you may not be able to use those senses of yours to find my thought.

Assigned Partners

I'm using screen names here. . .

Charity will comment on Matt.
Max will comment on Hoss.
Philip will comment on CBT6.
Sam will comment on Kevin.
Mathew will comment on Testanick.
Karag will comment on Jake (Jake the Snake is the screen name, I think) once he has successfully posted his piece.
Dino will comments on whoever he feels like (other than on John, who already has a 10/10, as everyone knows).

This covers everyone who has posted either this week or last week. IMPORTANT: anyone in group #2 not on this list will, like Dino, pick one person to comment on other than John. If you have any questions or comments about this, post them as comments to this thread.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Option #1 : Response is to Prompt as Answer is to....

Towards the end of the first half (HE) of Lyotard’s essay, he outlines the fundamental difference between the way a computer processes input and the way the human mind processes input. A computer is, at its most basic level, a binary processor. The human mind is not. We can function on data that is neither a one nor a zero. For example, if a friend tells you that he saw an animal that was similar to a horse except shorter and stockier, you could figure out that he saw a donkey. To a computer, however, it either was a horse or it was not. The computer could not handle the ‘similar to’ concept. It is this distinction between the functioning of a computer processor and that of a human consciousness that marks one of Lyotard’s major points opposing the possibility of thought’s existence outside of the body.

The human mind’s ability to recognize similarity between distinct objects or ideas and create associations opens up an infinite expanse through which one’s consciousness may traverse. One association leads to another, leads to another, and so forth ad infinitum. Lyotard invokes an analogy to the field of vision. From any given viewpoint, there is a limit to how far one can see, and that limit is the horizon. Say there is a tree at the horizon. You can reach the tree by progressing forward, but you have not reached the horizon because it has progressed as you did. The same principle applies to the field of thought. By making one association or analogy, you may be able to see how you could get to another a few steps down the line. But the vast landscape of cognitive thought is still obscured to you, and the only way to unveil it is to progress forward, pushing your horizon of thought ahead of you. In this way, Lyotard explains that human cognition not only consists of an infinite landscape of corresponding analogies but also is structured as one overarching analogy to the field of vision. “A field of thought exists in the same way that there’s a field of vision (or hearing): the mind orients itself in it just as the eye does in the field of the visible. […] [T]his analogy isn’t extrinsic, but intrinsic.” (4-5)

This being the case, a computer cannot possibly reproduce human thought. If it is unable to generate analogies, a computer cannot construct the infinite landscape of associations that makes up the field of human thought. Indeed, it cannot even conceive of the frame of reference that the human mind uses to orient itself within the landscape of its own processes.

This passage is difficult because in trying to explain the mind’s dependence on analogy, Lyotard himself invokes several analogies. This is both inevitable and (I’m sure) intentional on Lyotard’s part. It is inevitable because of precisely what Lyotard is explaining. The human mind depends on its own ability to make cognitive leaps. It is nearly impossible to describe anything relying entirely on binary statements and without invoking some sort of analogy. Saying that a horse is not a car is only slightly more useful than saying that a horse is a horse when you don’t have any idea what a horse is to begin with. Therefore, Lyotard’s use of analogies to explain our dependence on analogies is not only inevitable but also pedagogical. In explaining our dependence on analogical thinking he is simultaneously demonstrating it. This in turn reinforces the explanation.

Lyotard concludes that the very manner in which our thought processes progress is analogous to the way our bodies progress through physical time and space. Therefore to dissociate the consciousness from the body would be to dissociate the thought process from its own landscape.

The Posthuman Era and Hawthorne's Insight

When thinking of the word "human," the first idea that comes to mind is us. We are human. Human is basically defined as a mammal. We are mammals. We are warm blooded, meat eating, mammals. We are the way of life on Earth. But this term "posthuman" just doesn't sit well with me. To me, this means that we, humans, no longer exist and there is some new life or being on Earth. But maybe I'm taking it to a much literal sense of the term. But what could there be after humankind? Technology is the answer! The only problem with that is that we are creating the technology. So to recap, we are slowly wiping ourselves out of existence. But is that really true or does "posthuman" mean something else?

I think maybe there is room for it to be interpreted as a lifestyle that will make us sit by the wayside and become an even lazier being. We could create such advanced technology that we can have whatever we want in a matter of seconds. But this is all theory, so none of this is true. This is not happening, at least not to my knowledge. But someday it could very well happen. We may or may not be here but someone in our family will be here to experience it. It can either help us as a civilization or potentially destroy us.

Now Lyotard has caused a hiccup in some people's logic and outlook on life. These people have come to think that "the idea that our current technological endeavors will lead to a sentient existence, which, while continuous with ours, can no longer properly be called "human."." This is what they call "the Posthuman." And they may be right or they could be fools making outrageous comments on something they really read into.

Now what does Hawthorne have to with any of this you might ask? Well allow me to answer that question now. If you look at Chapter 17 of Hawthorne, when Clifford is on the train and conversing with the older gentleman, he goes off on a tangent about the future.
He says that the “admirable invention of the railroad” will “do away with those stale ideas of home and fireside, and substitute something better.” The old man disagrees, and Clifford begins to rant and rave. He then talks about his belief that mankind moves in an “ascending spiral,” where previous ideas are revived and reformed. In this case, the arrival of the railroad will allow mankind to return to the nomadic culture of its primitive era, and will prevent people from becoming “prisoner[s] for life in brick, and stone, and old worm-eaten timber.”

But Clifford doesn't stop there. He goes on to talk about the telegraph as well. He thinks that the unifying nature of the telegraph, which he believes will serve to make the world smaller by allowing lovers to talk over long distances. He deplores, however, the ability of the telegraph to aid in hunting down criminals, because it prevents them from being able to escape their crimes and start over, robs them of their rights, and deprives them of a “city of refuge.” and yet look how far the telegraph has brought us. We now have phones that are portable and can do multiple tasks such as text messaging, internet access, listening to music, etc. And is it weakening us or does it make us stronger? Clifford believes that technology will help us, and that it will weaken us.

Hawthorne has not chosen a side for this matter. He is "playing the field" or "leaning on the fence" waiting for something to happen that will sway him. Or maybe he just is not sure what side is on. Maybe he does not want to chose. But he must chose because that's what it is to be human. Our lives depend on the choices we make. Not all of them necessarily work out in the end though.