Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Raison d’être

The broad topic of GALATEA 2.2. is of course artificial intelligence and a consideration of humanity itself in the process. One must understand a concept before setting upon the task of recreating that essence. Therefore, if a human decides to play god and set out upon creating artificial intelligence, they may soon find that they hardly understand their own humanity and stand dumbfounded while attempting to duplicate it, quite the paradox I’m afraid.

However, even more interesting than the surface implications of artificial intelligence are the effects on the psyche itself, namely: raison d’être, a reason to live, a reason to die; this is the essence of GALATEA 2.2. Everything in existence requires some form of purpose or it falls from existence, simple as that. When machines break down and fail to carry out their original purpose of job A or task B they are typically destroyed. Even animals such as a race horse which has broken its leg will be shot and then given the new raison d’être of an adhesive. Humans of course are a bit different, due to ethics, humans are typically considered an ends in themselves rather than a means to an ends. Therefore, a human may loose their raison d’être and continue to live, however, that may only a shadow of life in reality. The type of people who work meaningless jobs, then go home to waste away in front of the television. They aren’t living, but rather simply waiting to die. They have lost their raison d’être and they are as good as dead to the world.

Rest assured, it isn’t as though finding purpose is exactly easy, this is the reality of adolescence, a midlife crisis and what have you, and even the search for raison d’être can in itself provide purpose and can be found in any facet of existence. Commonly people choose to create families, provide for them and live with ultimate satisfaction, others will live for the work they do which instills an equal degree of satisfaction. These are truly blessed existence, for to have purpose (essence) is to have a solid grasp on your existence.

In GALATEA 2.2 it’s rather apparent what I mean simply by considering the main characters: Lentz, Powers, and the series of implications. Frustrated by the very cynical nature of their search is how we meet Lentz and Powers, and the gaps are filled in especially with the chapters on Powers past.

In the liberal arts nothing is really tangible, not like the concrete facts and figures of the hard sciences and as a result Powers reconsiders the worth of his work in the grand scheme of existence and is ultimately dissatisfied with his novels and teaching. He has lost the raison d’être of creation and occupation and his new raison d’être becomes C. He now lives for the sake of another person, the sake of love, but ultimately looses that existence as well and everything dissolves into a vague memory without anything to ground himself in the real world, Powers begins to disappear from it in a way, this is what I mean by dying in a figurative sense yet still existing in a literal sense. This is also I believe the purpose of the literary choice of using abbreviated names for most things from that existence, they all became vague and not quite real you might say. At this point, Powers is simply wandering around, finishes his last novel in a daze of stale ideas and falls into Lentz’s lap.

Lentz, the engineer, lives for an entirely different reason, he is totally engrossed in his own work to the extent that he has constructed countless walls around himself to protect his ego and raison d’être. Since Lentz has poured everything into his work, it would be natural for him to fear failure and more so, criticism. Failure can be dealt with as a callus develops overtime and success almost becomes more surreal, but what becomes truly frightening is the scorn of others. It is far more painful to be told you WILL fail than the actual act of failing. Therefore in a world of more fragile mental constructs, what people often want is to be left alone in “private invulnerability” (powers 96), ironic considering humanity is more fragmented now, even though communication is as simplistic as it has ever been.

Lentz and Powers, both with a fragmented raison d’être seek to create their new purpose by becoming gods in a way, by creating their own version of humanity. Humanity version 2.2 (the .2 referring to the dual creator: Lentz and Powers), a human purified by releasing itself from the bonds of sensory input and connecting to existence directly. The problem of raison d’être still remains however: humans create machine, machine then becomes self aware and looses the need for its creator, and humans thus loose their raison d’être not only in being disowned by their creation, but becoming obsolete in addition. Moreover, where lies the purpose of these implications, do they have any easier a task of acquiring raison d’être? Or is it that humanity version 2 has somehow even transcended what everything in existence requires: a raison d’être?


Dani said...

The reason for living is soooooo very inportant for people. I've witnessed this my self primarly in many old people I have worked with. The ones that live for such a long time and many in realitivily good health is that they have a purpose. Whether it be getting tending to the farm, their lifes work(whatever that may be), explorign their creative outlets, etc., raison d'etre as it were, keeps them going. Once they stop, they tend to get sick or waste away. Even if they were sick to begin with, they still are better and live longer. say whenever that old person has to be forced to give up that farm, or has to retire, and move back in with the kids or in a home, they waste away.

Adam said...

What about one's awareness of raison d’être?

As human beings, we are aware of the fact that we must have a raison d’être to be whole, in a sense. Without it, we're exactly as you described: mere shells wasting away in front of our televisions and computers, waiting for our turn to die because we're to frightened to force it (aka suicide) or are simply too lazy and purposeless that we can't even consider that as a tangible opportunity. We know that we can search for raison d’être, create it, and let it fulfill that gap in our lives.

What about other things though? My example will be the one listed above: the television. We give it a raison d’être, using it for entertainment, profit, and so on and so forth. However, the TV itself isn't aware of what it's doing, since it would be silly that such a simple (or relatively simple) machine could be aware of raison d’être, much less its own existance. Does that mean it's up to us as human beings to assign raison d’être to things that cannot discern for themselves?

Taking this a step further, what right do we have to assign such a thing? Is it because we have become the dominant species on this planet that we have decided that we have the right to choose? Trees provide oxygen to all that breathes on the earth, yet we've given trees a different raison d’être. They have become our homes, our desks, our books, and our toilet paper. If the tree had a choice (there's a though...) do you think it would really want to be what we wipe ourselves with after we've "done our business?" My guess is probably not, but we've made that decision for it. We've done that for numerous beings and substances around this world, many times without a second thought as to the aftereffects. Due to our reassigning of raison d’être, do you think that we have upset the balance of this world?

Raison d’être. If you don't got it, we'll give it to you. Apparently so, anyway.