Friday, September 20, 2013

Brian Aldiss and DADES

Prompt 1 – Brian Aldiss and Science Fiction
            “Science fiction is the search for a definition of mankind and his status in the universe which will stand in our advanced but confused state of knowledge (science), and is characteristically cast in the Gothic or post-Gothic mode.” – Brian Aldiss
In DADES, mankind is still "alone" in the universe, in the sense of the word today, without the appearance of an intelligent alien race. Yet mankind has created its own impostor so close to the original that the two are nearly identical. Man has long pondered questions about how we would react to an encounter with an alien race, an encounter that would greatly shift our current understanding of our place in the universe. In DADES man is encountering another intelligent being, but of our own creation. And it’s worth noting that there are people who seem to be near to androids in terms of perception and characteristics (the chickenheads). Perhaps there is a cosmic irony, that people who wonder about how alien races would treat humans and vice versa, look beyond the people that suffer right before their eyes, answering the question while asking it.
People have also counted the ways that we are different from animals. We are more intelligent, more evolved, capable of empathy, so the distilled argument goes. But some have also argued that no animal ever fought a war, or committed murder. So for these convoluted reasons which hopefully will become clearer as I go to the text of DADES, I would agree with Brian Aldiss's defintion of Science Fiction, as I believe this book to be a work of Science Fiction, and this book certainly fits every bit of Aldiss's defintion in my eyes. It’s a bit of a circular argument, and maybe not the best way of approaching the prompt, but it’s the clearest way I can think of it right now. 
In DADES, the environment is full of radiation and devoid of all wild life. These details clearly agree with Ann Tracy’s definition of the Gothic Novel as a depiction of a fallen world with a heavy emphasis on setting (http://cai.ucdavis.edu/waters-sites/gothicnovel/155breport.html). The world is literally covered in nuclear fallout. In the midst of the desolation, Androids are banned and hunted and tested and terminated. But there are hints that the test might be flawed: “The Leningrad psychiatrists…think that a small class of human beings could not pass the Voigt-Kampff scale” (38). I’ll go to my limited psychology experience to say that before the events of World War Terminus, all humans had to do in telling their place in the world, relative to all other living things, was apply heuristics. Does it look like me, or close to it? Talk like me or someone I know? Look human? These questions can be up to the asker, as before androids everyone could have their own definition of what it means to be human. If check yes to all these then yes, it is a human. Heuristics are shortcuts which take us to conclusions faster, but they are more likely to be flawed.

But now, in DADES, after the introduction of Androids to human interactions, a specific algorithm has to be followed to detect a human from an android – the Voigt-Kampff test. The human place in the universe is much more defined, as there is now a counterpart. A human is not an android; an android is not a human. But again, these androids are in appearance exactly like a normal human. So the prior heuristics fail, and the algorithm has to be followed. What remains ironic about the Voigt-Kampff test is that it isn’t a flawless test, and instead, many humans would fail the test, and test positive as an android. So in the advanced state of knowledge, where there is a test to determine if a being is human or not, we are still hopelessly confused and unsure of what sets us apart from the other beings of the universe. 

2 comments:

Carl Santavicca said...

Good start in certain aspects; I like your argument and citation relating to how DADES is similar to the gothic novel; it could use a little more of an in depth argument to that point though. Over all it was a bit confusing to read and seemed a bit scattered in the points you were trying to make. I like your use of heuristics, if you decide to revise, it might be good to include that in some sort of introduction and elaborate a little more.

Adam said...

Your introduction is interesting, showing how DADES deals with not one but multiple kinds of aliens, all at home (I'd like to see some discussion of mercerism and/or the mood organ here, in a revision, since those are both profound alterations to "ordinary" human life/consciousness as well).

Your discussion of heuristics is fascinating. One way you could have pushed it a little farther (this could work in a revision) is to point out that in this very peculiar gothic world, denuded of inhuman life, nearly everything *looks* human, which really pushes those heuristics to their limit. This is very good material by itself, and your discussion of the gothic is a good (small-scale) application of research, but it's unclear how everything works together here.

I wonder if your closing discussion of the replacement of heuristics by algorithm could be applied more pervasively to the novel. For instance, can you apply this idea to the mood organ, the empathy box, etc? I think you might be able to, and that you have strong potential for an interesting reading of the whole novel here, but obviously the details aren't here yet.

Your answer to the prompt itself seems less than complete, and your use of the text is too light - but you go in such an interesting direction that you have obviously have interesting material for revision anyway, so long as you can apply the idea throughout the text.

Basically what's absent here, as Carl says, is elaboration - the broad outlines of an argument are implied, but the details are really absent.