week 11 summary

I have to confess that I just this moment realised that we’re meant to continue our tumblogs through weeks 11 and 12. As we Americans say, d’oh.

But I’ll soldier on with a few things I was thinking about in week 11, although displayed post-humously…

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The Big Bang Theory, a show that I am compelled to watch by virtue of being married to a physicist, does virtual presence. Coincidentally enough, Sheldon chooses this manner of being present in the hopes that he will keep his body alive until his consciousness can be transferred into a computer and can thus be immortal. Of course the virtual presence is foiled in the end by virtue of Sheldon wanting Steve Wosniak to sign his vintage Apple. What struck me about this was that the attitude the other characters had (and thus the audience were expected to have?) was a long-suffering incredulity about Sheldon’s self-centredness and unquestioning belief in technology. It wasn’t anti-modernism (‘look what kind of trouble tech has gotten him into now!’) or anti-humanism (‘look at his vain attempt to beat death’), but rather a neutral view of tech and perhaps a reaction to humanism–at least centred around one person…Edwards’ subject?

An extreme example of the person becoming a machine is the cyberman, something else I’m required by holy matrimony to know all about. In recent years, these have been given a bit of a twist: in one of the revival episodes (10th doctor, series 2, 2006 if you’re a serious anorak), a regular character is turned into a cyberman, but remembers her life as a human. She sees it in a completely dispassionate way and can’t understand why the humans are so distraught. Is this opaquely suggesting the impossibility of Sheldon’s dream of moving an intact consciousness into a machine, devoid of physical presence not to mention bodily chemistry? Or is it just the emotion inhibitor? (And why is there an emotion inhibitor? Because if there wasn’t, the brain would be so appalled at what had happened to its…person…that it would die.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, separation of body and mind is seen as simply an inconvenience (this scene and Rimmer’s permanent hologramatic state):

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Or an technicality to be exploited:

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In both of these extremes, however, we find another dichotomy–not just body versus mind, but body versus [robot casing, hologram, killing machine]…or, translated into the debate that seems to really be going on, body versus [Facebook identity, avatar, discussion board moderator, wikipedia contributor...or equally: university alumni profile, letter to the editor, report on the main exports of Uruguay...] It’s not just a case of whether the mind (or personality, consciousness, identity, etc.) can be separated from the body, but what it [the mind/etc.] is if that separation occurs. Lister’s mind is saved onto a highly improbably disc and dropped into a cup of tea–is the disc Lister? Is the war machine Nixon?

Jumping ahead in the future a bit–this approaches my assignment topic at a bit of a tangent, in particular my investigation into fan fiction. In this situation, we have the mind of the original author; the original text; a character (if we can assume that the character is ‘greater than’ the text…which, it seems to me, is the premise that fan fiction is based on, although I won’t draw any conclusions yet…); the mind of the ff author; the text that the ff author writes; the reception of that text by others with intricate knowledge of the first three. Are they all separate entities, or do they all work to create a transtemporal posthuman…?

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Hugo

What strikes me about both this automaton and the ‘Turk’ is that the point of them is that they’re not human, and yet they’re made in human likeness and to do uniquely human things. Is this a cul-de-sac of humanism?

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Horrible Histories – Napoleon Bonaparte vs The Mechanical Turk

A silly but pithy clip about the Mechanical Turk–more extensively explained here: A Point of View: Chess and 18th Century artificial intelligence. On the one hand, it was the non-humanness of the ‘Turk’ that made it internationally famous…but this would have been down to the ingenuity of the creator (if it had been real) and its chess-playing skills were in fact down to a series of bendy masters (its cyborg mates?). In a kind of way, though, the Turk was also a post-human: an amalgam of the creator, the machine, the chess master inside, the chess board and pieces, the rules of the game, and the expectations/perceptions/suspensions of disbelief of the Turk’s opponents and audience. Without one of these, it wouldn’t have existed as…itself!

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Bicentennial Man on Yeah its that bad

Another example of the ‘robot deserves to be treated as a human’ motif. Which I suppose is the other side of the coin from ‘They’re Made of Meat’ (if the humans had got a chance, then surely they would argue that ‘humans deserve to be treated like robots…or whatever those guys were’).

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Small Wonder

Like a Gumdrop of the 1950s (dropped into the 1980s), Vicki is one of the many digital beings that we’re encouraged to accept as equally deserving of human rights and affection as her biological acquaintances.

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