Saturday, February 15, 2014

Revision 1: Dennis Madden

Dennis Madden

The Humanity of the Creature

                   When Victor Frankenstein’s biologically engineered masterpiece rises from the operating table and assumes direct control of it’s own cognition, its humanity comes into question. While humanity can be defined biologically, religiously, ethically, and philosophically, none of these are mutually exclusive. Thus humanity as an umbrella term is not useful for this analysis. Biology, while potent for scientific consideration, is of little significance when presented with non homo-sapiens intelligent life. Peter Singer instead suggests: “If we are considering whether it is wrong to destroy something, surely we must look at its actual characteristics, not just the species to which it belongs” (Singer, 86).  It is of more utility to establish the Creature’s humanity as a function of personhood; which “may be understood to be synonymous with ‘‘identity’’, that is the behavioral representation of one’s temperament (brain/biology) and experience/perception (reason)” (Shah, 96). While brain as a function of biology is one possible platform for personhood, it is not the ONLY platform: this is an important designation! Personhood is behavioral self-awareness represented through means of a platform, regardless of if that platform is a brain, a computer chip, or other type of sentient processing agent. It is in this way that citing biology as a ground for the Creature’s humanity is a moot point.
                   Indeed, regardless of the presence of biology, “an organism [entity] possess humanity [in the sense of person] and a serious right to life only if it possesses the concept of a self as a continuing subject of experiences and other mental states, and believes that it is itself such a continuing entity” (Tooley, 206). The Creature’s continuing awareness of itself is exemplified by the statement: “Life, although it may only be an accumulation of anguish, is dear to me, and I will defend it” (Shelly, 107).  Much as “we [humans] exist as biological organisms endowed with a series of neurological functions which collectively produces self-awareness” (Shah, 98), the Creature exists as a created entity with a platform capable of sustaining this same type of continuing awareness. Wintermute also possesses this same type of awareness through means of a mainframe computer. As you can see, continual self-awareness can exist on multiple platforms.
                   In order to provide criteria to distinguish continuing self-awareness from the natural biological and phenomenological perception possessed by all behaving subjects, further analysis is necessary. All sensory beings can perceive the world: “When we [the perceiving entities] perceive a physical object we have a perceptual experience caused by that object. It is common to hold that such experiences have two aspects: a sensuous, sensory aspect and an intentional aspect. The experience is intentional in the sense that it carries intentional content: it represents (things in the world) as being a certain way. A perceptual experience is typically an experience that represents a cup before me, a tree through the window, a police siren heard in the distance, the burning toast in the kitchen and so on. It is commonly held that besides having intentional content, the perceptual experiences have a sensuous, sensory aspect: there is something to the taste of a Shiraz wine, the smell of burning onions, the look of a Perth blue sky, that is not captured in the intentional content” (Maund, 149). Thus, an amoeba can be ‘chemically aware’ of food particles nearby and a dog can be ‘sensually aware’ of the scent of its owner: these perceptions are resultant of the entity forming a representation of its environment. The Creature too remembers it’s initial sensory percepts: “A strange multiplicity of sensations seized me, and I saw, felt, heard, and smelt, at the same time; and it was indeed a long time before I learned to distinguish between the operations of my various senses”(Shelly 110). However, perception itself does not imply personhood: it is the distinction between an environmentally aware entity and a SELF-aware entity that defines the difference between a person and a non-person. Animals, amoeba, and the newly birthed Creature alike are all sensually aware of their environment, but they are unaware that they themselves are distinct from their environment. Their existence is unified with all things, and there is no separation between self and surroundings. In this way, an entity can be aware of its environment without perceiving the environment as an entity separate from itself.  An entity that is self-aware is different in that it is able to distinguish itself from the environment: it is separate, and it is alone. To a self-aware entity, there are two things: I, and the rest of the world. The Creature, after some fleeting interactions with humans, soon realizes that it is an entity separate from its environment: “And what was I? Of my creation and creator I was absolutely ignorant….When I looked around, I saw and heard of none like me”(Shelly 132).
                   Once the Creature became self aware, it achieved conditional ‘personhood’. The question remains: what is it about self-awareness that begets personhood? Working with the Noble Truths of Buddhism (a central doctrine in Buddhism which details the nature of humanity and ways to ameliorate the human condition), we can construct a bridge between self-awareness and personhood. Self-awareness brings with it the desire to experience perceptive stimuli that provide pleasant feelings, including the craving to have future existence, or conversely, the craving ‘not to have existence’ (Keown, 46-51).  Because these desires are conditional on an entity’s ability to distinguish itself from its environment, only self-aware entities can experience them. The lack of fulfillment of these desires leads to the First Noble Truth of dukkha, suffering: “which covers a wide range of experience from the intense anguish of emotional pain, through to the subtlest sense of world weariness. All forms of dukkha share a sense of unsatisfactoriness, of incompleteness (Chaskalson, Teasdale, 90)”. This is suffering as a function of desire, known as the ‘Human Condition’, and lies at the very core of personhood: "To be Human is to suffer"(Buddha). The converse is also true: to suffer is to be Human (in this case, human in person). When the Creature expresses its unfettering desire for a female to Frankenstein, it clearly demonstrates that its suffering is a result of unfilled desire “This passion [to love a female] is detrimental to me… now I indulge in dreams of bliss that can not be realized…Oh! My creator, make me happy; let me feel gratitude towards you for one benefit! (Shelly 164)”. Because the Creature’s suffering is not a direct result of a physical stimulus but instead comes from an unrealized desire, we can conclude by the law of dukkha that the Creature is experiencing the human condition necessary for personhood.
                   The strongest element of the Creature’s suffering was its loneliness; a loneliness that it so believed was singularly experienced, unique to itself and no other being. This loneliness fulfills the final aspect of the human condition: ignorance to dukkha, or the failure to perceive it as a universal phenomenon. “Surnedho’s wording of the First Truth ‘there is dukkha’ reminds us that all human beings share this experience. We can often feel that we, alone of all beings, have been unable to get our lives sorted and discover the secret of lasting happiness, whereas everyone else has got this worked out. We can then see this as our own private failure or problem. And that identification, of course, just makes the sense of unsatisfactoriness worse” (Chaskalson & Teasdale, 91). Thus it is not only the suffering that ails us, but the failure to realize that the suffering is both existant through desire and universal. The creature certainly solidifies both its suffering and its ignorance to the universality of such when it expresses: “No guilt, no mischief, no malignity, no misery, can be found comparable from mine… But it is even so; the fallen angel becomes a malignant devil. Yet even that enemy of God and man had friends and associates in his desolation; I am alone (Shelly 256)”. This characteristic ignorance supports the Creature’s posession of personhood through human condition.
                   Personhood, now, can be modified to this: “An entity posess personhood if it possess a platform capable of expressing behavioral awareness of itself as a continually existant object of perceptual phenomena, which both behaves by the law of desire and experiences suffering resultant of the ignorance to such" (Dennis). By this hybrid definition, I conclude that the creature did possess personhood. In fact, it is the human condition of the Creature that led to its corruption and persecution. “I am malicious because I am miserable” (Shelly 163). Were the Creature left on its own as an unaware entity in harmony with nature, perhaps humanity would not have sunk in to wreak its havoc.

The Trial” by the band Pink Floyd says it wonderfully “The prisoner who now stands before you, was caught red handed showing feelings. Showing feelings of an almost human nature. This will not do.”

Works Cited

Chaskalson, M., & Teasdale, J. (2011). How does mindfulness transform suffering? I: and the nature and origins of Dukkha. Contemporary Buddhism , 89-102.

Maund, B. (2003). Perception. Durham, Great Britain: Acumen.

Shah, B. D. (2012). The Determination of Personhood. Journal of Medicine and The Person , 95-98.

 Keown, D. (1996). Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press.

Pence, G. E. (1997). Classical Works in Medical Ethics (Essays Singer and Tooley). McGraw Hill.

Shelly, M. (2009). Frankenstein: Lynd Ward Illustrated Edition. Dover Publications.

Pink Floyd, "The Trial" 

1 comment:

Adam said...

Its vs. it's in the very first sentence! Other than that, I like your approach in the 1st paragraph, but you could have been a little more clear about what you're actually doing: you are arguing that humanity is not a useful category, and should be replaced with platform-neutral personhood. You just could have been a little more direct, is all.

"As you can see, continual self-awareness can exist on multiple platforms."

I'd correct this: we can imagine personhood existing on multiple platforms, but we haven't actually seen it yet except in flesh-and-blood people (or maybe supernatural entities, depending on your point of view).

Your long paragraph about awareness vs. self-awareness, and how we see both in the Monster, is generally quite good, but it's not clear where you're going with it. Are we simply pointing out that the Monster is a person, or do you want to *do* something with his personhood, making it into the foundation for a bigger argument?

Your move into Buddhism is both compelling and underdeveloped. Understanding the monster through Buddhism (as you present it) seems productive: he is distinguished by his ambivalent desire either to enter into another mode of being, or to not be at all. So I strongly endorse this paragraph, and yet wanted you to work a lot harder to connect your ideas together, or to stick to one idea. If this is an essay about a Buddhist concept of personhood applied to frankenstein, good! But make it into that consistently (incidentally, that essay could be fundamentally an argument for Buddhism as much as an argument for a particular reading of Frankenstein). Your own definition of Personhood is excellent and provocative - but it demands some rethinking/restructuring of the rest of the essay in accordance with it.

"This characteristic ignorance supports the Creature’s possession of personhood through human condition." -- this material is fantastic. As predicted, this is almost becoming more of an argument for Buddhism than *about* Frankenstein, although it is both.

The ending, in which awareness in Frankenstein is presented as a *problem*, is a great short bridge between the novel and Buddhism.

Overall: This essay developed into something really distinctive and interesting, with a compelling reading of the novel through a very distinctive lens. Two problems stand out to me.

1. How could you rewrite the first few paragraphs in a way that prepares us well for your actual argument? In other words, there was room for another round of revision within this revision.
2. You have shown us that a more or less Buddhist concept of personhood is extremely applicable to frankenstein. But what is your purpose? To get us to read Frankenstein through kind of spiritual lens? To advocate for that spiritual lens? Or to understand Shelley as being perhaps under the influence of Eastern thought (not necessary an absurd idea - that's why I bring it up).

Another revision, ideally, would address both of these issues, beginning the essay much more clearly and doing better at articulating the *value* of this viewpoint.