Monday, May 7, 2007

Now the upside of technology

I had plenty of time to think this weekend, on my way back and forth to southern Missouri for a friends wedding. In the twenty-two hour round trip drive I though about the amazing things that we now have thanks to technology. Just being able to make that trip down and back in a three day span was in thinkable before that advent of the car and the interstate highway system. A friend that I rode with left his wife and little girl who wasn't feeling well at home and he was able to check in with them any where we were, amazingly we never lost cell signal the whole trip. And third I thought about the tornado that wiped out the Kansas town, with out the new early warning radars and forecasting systems many more lives would have been lost. I have to admit as much as I fight technology, preferring the sound of an LP to an mp3, even I have to admit that technological benefits outweigh the disadvantages, at least for the time being.

Technology invading our life

We have talked a lot about how our lives have been taken over by technology. I was thinking over the weekend about the new prevalence of webcams. For decades now we have been able to watch images of people and things on TV, but these have always been studio manipulated in some way. Now we have the popularity of the webcam, we still see the images but there is no longer any manipulation. I have a friend who lives on Lake Butte des Mortis and he has a camera that looks out over his deck and lake, and with this you can see day or night what is going over his portion of the lake. I don't know how I feel about this, it is nice that his family back home in Canada can see what is going on in his world, but what happened to calling and talking and telling the story of what is happening. I fear that we are turning into a world of voyeurs and losing our storytellers. Garrison Keillor where are you when the world needs a story.

Friday, May 4, 2007

“Come to the wired as soon as you can…”

Considering my ambivalence towards humanity, especially the primitive human body still bound by countless needs (sleep and nourishment) and urges (sex and violence) I am really intrigued by the idea of disembodiment or an a corporeal entity. The concept holds some interesting connotations in relation to the problem of travel across infinite space. Regardless of how fast a space vessel could move journeys to other star systems would still require several decades at least and most likely a few generations. Quite an inefficient means of moving from point A to point B, but if the human psyche could be translated into a set of data and transmitted as a wave to their destination; we are no longer bound by the body (space) or time. As a result, within Schild’s Ladder those who choose to travel embodied are typically the target of humor, since it would be akin to someone walking from Boston to San Francisco even though they are more than capable of buying an airline ticket.

Convenience within travel aside there are two sides to consider in relation to embodiment. In one sense it would be wonderful to no longer be bound by the restraints of humanity and have the power to create any image conceivable of oneself. This to me would allow perfect expression of individualism for one could choose their gender and small physical traits; however, such a scenario would possibly allow some of the dangers seen in Snow Crash brought forth into reality, namely some of the ridiculous avatars in the metaverse or an infinite amount of Clints and Brandys. Furthermore, the question of post humanity exists, in such a scenario are humans even human anymore or is it that humanity has transcended to “post humanity”? I have no attachment to my humanity and would be willing to see a giant tomato conversing with a talking reproductive organ in the street if it meant I could live as an a corporeal and choosing to become embodied allowed for the freedom of choice. Yet the connotations of change are still justifiability frightening for some.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Just some thoughts on the idea of transmitting oneself.

Assume for a second that it is really possible to transmit a person to another planet (person being defined as a qusp here). Is it therefore possible to either disrupt the transmission, or even intercept/kidnap that person? If the transmission is disrupted, does the person lose parts of their memory? Could the person conceivably die? And what about the potential of kidnapping a transmission? Not that there would be much value in doing so, as these transmissions take many (hundreds) of years to reach their destinations, but it is conceivable that someone could attempt to build their own slave force of captured people. I've been watching Street Fighter II V lately, and the antagonist group Shadaloo (pron. Shadow-law) implants chips into unwilling people's foreheads to assume complete control over them. Could that be done to captured people? Is it possible to make a qusp that allows someone to control the mind of the person occupying it?

Given the context of the story, these situations are unlikely to occur. There has been no major war for a long time. Life is generally peaceful. But these are things that would need to be considered should something like the qusp come into being. Also, what would being transmitted feel like? I don't think I could stand being in a complete null for hundreds of years. I think LIVING 100 years is long enough; this would probably drive me insane, because I couldn't do anything. If it was like being in a comatose state, then I would probably have no issue with it, as I would just wake up 500 or however many years later. If I had to retain consciousness for that entire trip...that would drive anyone insane.

Brave New World

For the analytical paper I chose to do Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. I know many of you have probably read this book before, but I would like to share a part of my paper that refelcts what it means to be human according to Huxley's novel.

First, to explain the book a bit, the "State" has decided to exert power over reproduction by engineering millions of human embryos via test tubes, etc. The Centre they are created in also conditions them as they grow upwith such means that are similar to continous brain-washing. Tarter Esch (one of my sources) puts it that these humans are "mangled from conception onwards...they've been pressed, shaped, molded, cut, bottled, and packaged at every state of their development (more like manufacure)." Even as adults they are being manipulated by the state, but at this point, their existence has already been determined for them both physically and almost mentally. Ultimately, the novel shows that these humans are created and controlled by the state, and are not even given a chance to live their own lives. (Their is A LOT more to it, but you'll just have to read to find out:)

My point in all this is...what is imporant to discuss when analyzing dehumanization, especially when considering this phenomenon of a cyborg culture, is what it means to be human. Tarter Esch believes "the notion of freedom is central to the notion of what it means to be human" and "if to be human is to be a free, independent, individual, rational and autonomous and creative being, then the humans of the Brave New World are clearly under attack, nearly defeated." Tarter Esch holds a strong point in relation to Huxley's novel because there are instances that discuss freedom and the human being. For example, one of the characters Bernard Marx wonders what it would be like "if I were free-not enslaved by my conditioning" (Huxley 91).

And it's not only the conditioning that takes away these created human beings' freedom,' it's the technologically manufactured products, such as soma, that puts civilization in unthinking and uncaring states. In perspective, John, the only character in the novel that the reader sees as "naturally" birthed and completely against this form of society, tries to dispose of the drug and "free" the people who are slaves to it. However, the world Huxley has presented is, as another of my sources James Schellenberg describes, a society with "a state of mind...that puts happiness into a materialistic paradigm, and them uses it as a method of control, justifed as what people want." John in the novel opposes this notion and thinks as human, it is wrong to get "rid of everything unpleasant instead of learning to put up with it" and that everyone has "the right to be happy" (Huxley 238-240).

These are just some of the ideas from my paper that discuss how this particular author sort of represents his idea on what it means to be human. (Like I said before, there's a lot more to it!) Freedom, moreover, was an aspect Professor Ganyard said many of our papers brought up on the issue of what it means to be human, and my paper was one of them so here I presented a bit more on that idea.


So I finished Snow Crash a while ago but I am a bit confused on what was up with Raven, especially at end. In chapter 20 we find out that the Enforcer, and everyone else who knows about him, is trying to protect Raven. Apparently, he's "packing a torpedo warhead that he boosted from an old Soviet nuke sub...a nuclear torpedo." Squeaky goes on to tell the clueless Hiro that "the trigger's hooked up to EEG trodes embeded in [Raven's] skull. If Raven dies, the bomb goes off."

I thought this was an interesting little twist to the story, and I pondered how they were going to defeat the dangerous and destructive murderer...because you know this is a bool were the good guys prevail at the end. However, I noted the part where Hiro defeated him in the Metaverse and killed Raven there, saving all the hackers (another great part in the novel). But, in chapter 70, Raven in the real world is having a battle with good old Uncle Enzo. seems Enzo defeats Raven with the skateboard's "RadiKS Narrow Cone Tuned Shock Wave Projector" and Raven is standing "stunned, empty-handed, a thousand tiny splinters of broken glass raining down out of his jacket." I'm just curious as to what's going on here...did Raven just get "stunned," or did the glass shards injure him, ir did Enzo actually kill him. As I look over it again it would make sense he is just stunned, but what happens if and when he does die in relation to the bomb that's connected to his life? This was just something I found myself wondering about, especially the events at the end of the book involving Raven (and how about his little ordeal with Y.T.?...what the heck was that?)!

Snow Crash

I actually enjoyed this novel, mostly because Neal Stephenson presented such vivid characters with actual depth. The reader is able to figure out the characters for the most part without being told. You can see their development and growth as characters. I love it when authors do this, but I have found a trend that many science-fiction authors focus more on what is happening in the world because of technology, rather than the characters. As a result, the characters are one dimensional, at best, perhaps two dimensional. Stephenson however gives his characters so much time in the novel that they are able to become three dimensional.
I found Stephenson outlook on the future very bleak, especially the "Sacrifice Zone". It is sad when the world because so caught up in money that parks, even national ones (or state was it?), are not worth the price of fixing up or restoring to their previous condition. However, considering that the U.S. at this time has become city-states controlled by corporations and criminals, it is realistic to assume this would happen.
The metaverse in this novel seems to be like the matrix universe in that film. Although I have never seen Matrix, I know that it is a movie about a virtual reality world controlled by robots. Here, the difference seems to be that people know about the virtual world and can control it themselves to a certain extent. Overall, I found the humor sprinkled through out this novel to come at a time when things were at its worst, indicating that the author may have been worried about the future, but was also hopeful about it as well.

Mumbo Jumbo

I definitely have to stick with Josh on this one...I really didn't get the book (Schild's Ladder), and didn't enjoy it enough to put the effort into digging deeper into it. There really seemed to be no real story or plot line, or maybe there was, but Egan used so much scientific jargon that it was buried in a mess of robotic sounding mumbo-jumbo. In most of the other selections in class, the authors made it possible for a layman, like me, to skip over some of the more scientific terms and still have a feel for what was happening; Egan did not.

Also, the other books in this class, in one way or another, have all drawn out some kind of emotional response, or made me feel sympathy or compassion for the characters. In attempting to fathom how the themes depicted in the books might play out in our world today, I began to actually get quite involved in some of them. Being someone that really deliberately tries to stay away from science fiction, this was really saying a lot for me. I did not have any sense of this after reading Schild's Ladder, however, and it was kind of a let down to finish the class with a sour taste in my mouth. The characters seemed cold, disconnected, even emotionless at times. While I realize that this is a science fiction novel about future computer technologies and quantum physics, etc, etc, I was still hoping for some sense that these charaters had some humanity buried in them. That must have been lost under the heaping pile of mumbo-jumbo as well.

In conclusion, I wish the "Mimosa Station" had referred to some sort sort of Sci-Fi bar or club, because that's what I really needed when I finished this book...a drink!

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

The human computer

Ok, we all know how I feel about being able to extend life. Other than the fact that it would be completely boring to live that long...well, that's the only real drawback I guess.

The idea of this qusp seems like they turned the human (such as it is in the book) body into something of a computer, akin more to an Apple 2e than what we use now. My understanding is that these bodies can not function without a qusp, and the "user" can determine what kind of body he/she/it wants, much as a computer shopper can determine what kind of hardware is necessary to serve his or her purposes.

Ghost in the Shell anyone?

Bodies seem to be nothing more than computers that can run a program that acts as an intelligent being. Take the qusp out (or transmit yourself) and the body ceases functioning. Done with that planet? Recycle the body so another can be made. Nothing more than a useless box.

Here's a better question, and I may have missed it in the reading; What if the qusp was destroyed while it was occupied. What happens to that person? Sure, a local death may cause the loss of a few hours of "life", but what happens when the main essence of the person is destroyed? Could viruses affect it? What about EMP (assuming there is a way to create such a thing)? I would be more concerned about these things than living forever.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Emotionless Lectures

This is probably one of the rare posts that will not deal with the theological issues I presented in my previous posts (most notably, those in response to our novels), so this should provide an alternative for those of you who are tired of my oppositional "religious" (actually, Christian) views. Consider this the original post about "Schild's Ladder, the scientific perspective." (In other words, the "preaching-free" version)

Throughout the book, I noticed similarities between this book and Dick's Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? True, the plots are no where near similar, but there are several themes that are similar. The most notable one is the use of memory as a form of identity (both seem to share this view, as others have mentioned), but I found another similarity that does not relate to the themes (specifically). I couldn't help but be reminded of the empathy box--that machine in Androids that can alter emotions--in scenes where the characters would ask there mediators to control their emotions. Both stories seem to have a machine to adjust the emotions of the characters, which actually does open it up to this theme of empathy that was present in Dick's novel. It is true that the book never comments on the question of humanity, but did losing their body, and losing the emotions that coincide with the flesh, did they lose a part of themselves? Did they lose a portion of their identity? It is a question I will pose but will not answer. Besides, I promised I would stay away from theology in this post.

On a separate note, I was frustrated by how much of this book seemed like scientific lectures! I always found it annoying in Michael Crichton's books when he would digress into random, and sometimes forced, insertion of scientific information, but this book makes Crichton seem like a actual story, rather than a long research paper! There were so many lectures included in Egan's writings, and a lot of it was difficult to understand. I didn't really know, or care, what was going on in this story!

So, you can derive from this that the unusual number of posts on my part has nothing to do with an actual enjoyment of the book. It is not hard to figure out the real reason why . . .

Me, Myself and I

Who am I? Who are you? What makes us the individuals that we claim to be? Who and/or what is it that perdures through time that gives us this continuity we call "the self"?

A big part, if not the exclusive part, in Schild's Ladder of who we are is that of memories. There are the constant references to the loss of some short-term memories experienced when local death occurs to the individual and they have not backed up their recent experiences, some times just a couple of hours sometimes close to a day or so. But I think that memories may be given to much emphasis in this quest for identity.

It seems to me that there must be a "something else" that which the memories accrue to, that which maintains them, and that which perdures throughout. If who we are or who we become is the sum of our memories then every moment I am a different person. While it may be the case that I am a changing person for at each moment I gain a new experience and thus a new memory and perhaps forget some trivial memory, I do change. But there is an "I" that remains constant an "I" that binds together past, present and future. this "I" is not only and necessarily memories. It seems it must be something more.

Take the case of amnesia, permanent or other wise, I still am though I have lost all memories. Perhaps I no longer remember that I am was a welder, but I am. Perhaps I no longer remember that I used to be able to play chess but I am. Memories are perhaps a important part of how we define our self in a functional way, but I argue that they are not sufficient for defining who we are in an essential way. Before I learned to weld I was, before I learned to play chess I was and after I forget how to weld or play chess I will still be.

Perhaps the I that perdures is some ineffable thing, perhaps it is the ultimate subject that can never become object to itself. But what ever else it may be its essential nature is not tied to memories.

In Schild's Ladder Mr. Egan either ignores this or does not wish to deal with it, or perhaps also he is a pure materialist so who we are is nothing but the brain. But then that too would not make us our memories it would make us our brain whatever its state is.

Simply put I argue that we are more than the sum or lack of our memories. Memories add to us and there loss perhaps dimishes us but memories neither create nor destroy who we are, that "I" remains and is the constant to which memories come and go.