Jean-Marc Gulliet Webfolio Mind Body Media Writing Workshop I Prof. Julia Keefer Summer 2001
Table of Contents
The Golem, the Monster, and the Clone
Popular imagination has always loved fantasy. For millennia, dreams and mysteries were brought to life by drawing on religious and magical traditions. Then, science gradually took the place of God in literature, creating the new literary genre of science fiction. By now, science is perceived as so powerful that its power is not questioned any longer but only its ethics in modern novels. Mary Shelley�s Frankenstein is a work that illuminates this era of transition between two worlds of thinking that occurs during the nineteenth century: the use of science in place of magic in the popular mind.
In western societies, the idea of bestowing life on an inanimate object seems to have always been present in the popular imagination. Since the description in the Bible of how Adam was created by God, Judeo-Christian occultists and magicians have never stopped trying to use the power of the heavens to animate the inert. The most famous of these attempts must be the golem. The creation of Jewish folklore is supposed to be an effigy that has been brought to life according to a specific ritual, unlocking the power of the Talmud using the esoteric tradition of the Kabbala. The golem is usually portrayed as an anthropomorphic creature made of clay, which is an obedient servant. Until the nineteenth century, the possibility of bestowing life on an inert thing depended on the presence of God. Anyone who tried to animate the clay had to request that God grant him that power. This is God, not scientific knowledge or human will, who grants the privilege to give life and the power to do so to a mere mortal.
Before the 1800�s, literary creations reflect that point by using only magical devices as a means to create mystery and fantasy. Published in 1831, Mary Shelley�s Frankenstein opened a new literary style that we recognize nowadays as science fiction. It is the first time, indeed, that it is suggested to the public that scientific knowledge and discoveries can lead to substitute man in the place of God during the process of creating life from scratch. In Shelley�s novel, Victor Frankenstein studied occultism by reading the works of Agrippa, Paracels, and others (20-21). Then, as a college student, he studied all the natural sciences. "If you wish to become a man of science," says his teacher of chemistry, "and not merely a petty experimentalist, I should advise you to apply to every branch of natural philosophy, including mathematics" (29). Having mastered all the aspects of natural sciences, he would start to conduct his own experiments to decipher the secret of life. Eventually, he would succeed in his room, used as a laboratory (35). This is a breakthrough for the popular imagination: science is now perceived as a replacement of magical thought in the mind of the public. Indeed, science would be used as a literary device to create fantasy and dream.
Mary Shelley started a new genre of literature, which was situated at the beginning of almost two centuries of reflection about the power and the duties of scientists. This era culminated at the end of the twentieth century, when the clone replaced the monster. Not only was the clone described in science-fiction novels but also debated in public and political debates. Therefore, science fiction has changed, and does not question the creation a chimera but questions and explores social changes and ethical aspects of the modern version of the Mary Shelley�s monster.
"Agrippa." Britannica.com. Encyclopaedia Britannica. 23 May 2001. <http://www.britannica.com/eb/article?eu=4138&hook=265862#265862.hook>
"Golem." Britannica.com. Encyclopaedia Britannica. 23 May 2001. <http://www.britannica.com/eb/article?eu=38034&hook=175396#175396.hook>
"Kabbala." Britannica.com. Encyclopaedia Britannica. 23 May 2001. <http://www.britannica.com/eb/article?eu=45279&tocid=0>
Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. 1831, 3rd ed. Ed. Stanley Applebaum and Candice Ward. New York: Dover Publication, 1994.
Go to top...
Big Fish and the Fallacy of Composition
"Hi, Big Fish! How are you doing?" I said when I entered the cozy pub where my bionic extension and I usually met after a long day.
"I�m good," he said with a warm smile. "How was your class with Doctor Keefer? You look� puzzled!"
"Not bad," I replied, "but having read her lecture �MidSemester Lecture: Home Sweet Home,� I am not at all sure that I agree with."
"Yea, you�" said Big Fish with a glimpse of teasing in his eyes, "Do you mean that every single point she wrote is wrong?"
"Not at all," I said. "Stop kidding! The matter is serious and I am sure that you will be able to shred some light on this difficult subject."
"Okay. Let�s talk seriously my friend," he replied with a grave and not so serious face. "What is the major point that struck you in this reading?"
I said: "Well, there is a paragraph about logical fallacies and medical experimentation. First, I do not think that I have understood what exactly is a logical fallacy. Second, for having studied applied mathematics and statistics, I don�t see the relationship she makes between logical fallacy and the conclusion drawn from medical experiments about Viagra."
"Okay. Let me see the lecture if you have it with you," he said.
I gave him a copy of Keefer�s "MidSemester Lecture: Home Sweet Home."
Having read it in seconds � ultra-super-fast reading is one of the many advantages that Big Fish holds as a bionic extension � he sipped some beer, a sign of intensive rumination.
Finally, he said, "I see where your problem is. First things first, we are going to examine what fallacy of composition is about. Roger A. Arnold defines fallacy of composition as �the erroneous view that what is good or true for the individual is necessarily good or true for the group.� For example, let us say that you are at the movie theater. The room is crowded and you can see only half of the screen because of the tall and large football players sitting just in front of you. So, you decide to stand up and now on you can see entirely the screen" (17).
"Cool!" I thought while I was smiling at the mental picture of the scene I had portrayed in my mind.
"Now, think about that," he said. "Do you believe that your solution is worth to be done by many people in the theater? I mean by that what would happen if every body stood up in the room?"
"I guess" I started to reply, "that� Okay! I have the point: if every body stands up, the situation would be the same as when every body sat. In both case, I would not see the screen. Therefore, in a specific context, what is good for one is not necessarily good for many. Put another way, we cannot generalize from one specific situation."
"You�re damn right!" he said, "I am proud of you. Now, let us examine the second point that is obscure for you, that is the relationship between fallacy of composition and medical experimentation. Actually, I think that your confusion come from the fact that Doctor Keefer hasn�t made a clear distinction between who is who and who does what�"
"I beg your pardon," I interrupted.
"I mean by that," he went on, "that in a huge company such as Pfizer you must distinguish the researcher from the marketing guys. I mean, who do you think that will be more incline to make, or to use, an overgeneralization, that is a fallacy of composition?"
"Let me see� I would like to say the Marketing guys," I replied with the largest smile I could do while I was sipping my beer.
"You�ve got it!" he said. "The aims of these peoples are different: finding for the ones and selling for the others, even though, if sometimes the border between the two groups disappears and researchers try to boost their career or to make money. Nevertheless, experiments must be conducted according to a strict set of standards and procedures if one want to publish one�s conclusions" (Myers, 18-45).
I said, "Okay! Now, I understand why some scientific associations, such as the American Psychological Association, publish standards. For example, I did a research paper for an introductory class in psychology and, of course, I had to follow the APA style. My paper was subdivided in several sections such as literature review, method, results, and discussion. With all these information and distinctions, someone else can reproduce my experiment to assess if my finding is acceptable or not."
"Exactly," said Big Fish. "Moreover, the background and operational conditions allow scientific magazines to proceeded to a peer review before publication. That is some other scientists specialized in the same field will examine the report and deem if it is, let�s say, serious or not, whatever the conclusion is."
"Well," I said, "now everything is clear. Believe me, I know what I am talking about."
"Wow! I think you must read Keefer�s lecture �Traditional versus Cyber-Argumentation.� It would help you," he replied with a large smile before we left the pub, heading home for a good night of sleep.
Arnold, Roger A. Economics. 4th ed. Cincinnati, OH: South-Western Coll., 1998.
Brace, Nicola, Richard Kemp, and Rosemary Snelgar. SPSS for Psychologists a Guide to Data Analysis Using SPSS for Windows (Versions 8, 9, and 10). Mahwah, NJ: L. Erlbaum Associates, 2000.
Keefer, Julia. "MidSemester Lecture: Home Sweet Home." 30 May 2001 <https://pages.nyu.edu/keefer/com/lecture1.html>
---. "Traditional versus Cyber-Argumentation." 31 May 2001 <https://pages.nyu.edu/keefer/brain/argue.html>
Myers, David G. Psychology. 6th ed. New York: Worth, 2001.
Newport, Frank, Lydia Saad, and David Moore. "How Polls are Conducted." Where America Stands. Wiley, 1997. Gallup Organization. 30 May 2001 <http://www.gallup.com/poll/faq/faq000101.asp>
Go to top...
Big Fish Questions Kurzweil
"Hi!" I said, entering the hyper-high-tech post-modernist cyber-library, where Big Fish devotes a lot of time researching the secret of human stupidity. I am still convinced that Heaven is more accessible; however, Big Fish is a big guy, a big stubborn guy, thus he continues his original plan.
"Hi!" He replied. "Good to see you again. Guess what?"
Before I got any opportunity to answer, he added, "I just finished reading The Age of Spiritual Machines, and I have to admit that human beings often surprise me."
"Hum� Why?" I finally asked, digging deeply in my memory trying desperately to find any clue about this book. Perhaps an assigned reading for the Writing Workshop One class. Maybe. I wasn�t sure.
"The book, the book," he replied in such a manner that one could have thought he was talking about the Bible!
"So, if I understand correctly, you have been enlightened by this reading," I asked, finally remembering the author�s name, Ray Kurzweil, a guy who surely deserved the rank of cyber-pope of the cyber-culture for his cyber-forecast about the virtual. In my opinion, if weather forecasts were as accurate as Kurzweil�s predictions, we couldn�t even known the weather of yesterday� But this is just my humble non-objective opinion.
"Yea! To some extent, I can reply positively," he said. "But it might not be what you are thinking. Indeed, I have applied Dr. Keefer�s close textual analysis, and I have found numerous odd reasonings. Actually, it is not the strange way of thinking that disturbs me so much, but rather the astonishing incapacity of the author to imagine a culture, or at least the possibility of a different culture, that is not based on human self-interest."
"What do you mean?" I asked. "Do you claim that man is selfish?"
"Exactly, my friend, exactly!" he replied with a large warm smile. "For example, just read the table of contents: it is full of words such as �clearly,� �obviously.� The author proves nothing; he just states his opinion as a logical reasoning. And if you read the corresponding chapters, you will not get more support for the author�s opinion."
"I see," I said.
He went on, "For example, on page ix, Kurzweil envisions that in 2029 machines will have a computational capacity one thousand times superior to human brain. Nevertheless, their main preoccupation is to know if they are human or not. Could you really imagine that a silicon form of life one thousand times more intelligent than its biological creator would really want to bother itself trying to determine whether it is human or not?"
"You�re right. That sounds strange," I said. "Moreover, I remember that Kurzweil implicitly defines and, consequently, reduces intelligence as equivalent to computational power. Therefore, it is easier for him to continue his forecast with the improvement of technology."
"Worse," said Big Fish, "Kurzweil dissociates human evolution from the technological one, without ever explaining how and why he can do that. In fact, he makes another convenient assumption by stating that humankind has been able to evolve independently of technological improvement. The French researcher Andr� Leroi-Gourhan argues in Gesture and Speech that brain development and technology development are linked and evolved simultaneously."
"You are right," I said, "but it is late and we have to go."
After this long discussion, Big Fish and I felt the urge to indulge ourselves with a couple of beers at the Irish House, a new and exciting place for us, where living poetry mingled with delicate food. �Let�s see!�
Leroi-Gourhan, Andr�. Gesture and Speech. Trans. Anna Bostock Berger. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 1993.
Kurzweil, Ray. The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence. 1999. New York: Penguin, 2000.
Keefer, Julia. "MidSemester Lecture: Home Sweet Home." 14 June 2001 <https://pages.nyu.edu/keefer/com/lecture1.html>
Go to top...
A.I. Artificial Intelligence: A Movie Review
Steven Spielberg�s A.I. Artificial Intelligence may be one of the most impressive sci-fi movies ever produced. First, thanks to Stanley Kubrick, it has a scope that stretches far beyond the traditional shortsighted sci-fi movies. Spielberg�s A.I., like Kubrick�s 2001: A Space Odyssey, encompasses a broader philosophical dimension beginning with humankind as its focal point of reflection. However, the two movies diverge on where they are looking for to get an answer to their not so different questions. 2001 was a tale built around the quest of happiness looking outward, toward the heavens, and eventually implying that happiness can be reached by the fusion of man with God. On the contrary, A.I. looks inward, within the deepest part of the human soul by the mean of a loving-without-restriction machine, David, artificial intelligence which/who will never grow up and can only love unconditionally. Spielberg illustrates that happiness may equal love, but true love, total love, can be very difficult to bear. Ironically, at the end of the movie, after humankind has succeeded to decimate itself, David has no other mean to fell a true reciprocal love from his mother than to recreate his mother, the perfect mother for one day, who will be able to bestow her heart on David, without interference from other people or from her own feelings.
2001: A Space Odyssey. Dir. Stanley Kubrick. Perf. Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, and William Sylvester. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1968.
A.I. Artificial Intelligence. Dir. Steven Spielberg. Perf. Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law, Frances O�Connor (II), and Sam Robards. Warner Bross, 2001.
Bradston, Gill, and Roy Stafford. The Media Student�s Book. 2nd ed. London: Routledge, 1999.
Gibson, William. Neuromancer. New York: Ace Books, 1984.
Go to top...
The Biological, the Cultural, and the Unavoidable*
"It is easier, and ultimately better, to go along with the crowd than to separate." I considered this statement for a while, pondering the weight that each word has by itself and relatively to the others. Meanwhile, my mind was like a metronome, going from one side of the argument to the other, oscillating from full agreement to complete disagreement. I was incapable of taking a stand. Eventually, having read repeatedly the assertion, enlightenment took the place of confusion. Believing in free will and its power, I disagree, perhaps not with the statement itself, but definitely with its assumption. I cannot accept that everyone, exercising his free will and his common sense, can choose to follow masses, even if it is an error. Usually, one can find at least one exception to any rule, but in this case, the main rule being to follow, finding just a few examples of anti-conformism did not help or comfort me. Thinking about how life is given, and how, as human beings, we are taught acceptable behaviors in society, I revised my definition of anti-conformism. I finally conclude that even if one wants to be different from the masses, one cannot avoid conforming to other conventions. Anti-conformism, by definition, cannot be something other than another manifestation of conformity.
On page 283, Erich Fromm's essay "The Need to Conform" mentions that an infant has the urge to be close to his or her mother. Numerous studies in developmental psychology have shown the importance of a successful early bonding between the infant and his or her caregiver. Not only is this true for human beings but also for all the other mammals. To find exceptions to this rule, one must look at other species. For example, a starfish produces thousands of eggs released in water before maturity; then, without additional care, the immature fish must finish developing by themselves. These examples illustrate the importance of the genetic heritage that influence the way human and animal behaves in regards to their offspring. The relationship between the newborns and their mothers vary greatly according to their species' genes. Mammals have only few offspring and the gestation takes a relatively long time. On the other hand, fish have a lot of offspring, and the gestation is fast. An evolutionary psychologist, thus, would explain behavior differences as different strategies to secure species' survival. For mammals, especially for humans, what we call love is a means that Nature has devised to be sure that parents will take care of their offspring, maximizing, by this way, their chances to reach sexual maturity. A radically different strategy has been chosen for species such as fish. For them, Nature has emphasized numerousness. Consequently, we are genetically programmed to take care of our babies. Conversely, infants are genetically programmed to look for closeness with their parents. One can agree or disagree with the explanation of love from the evolutionary point of view. Nevertheless, in the realm of genetics, Nature decides how we have to behave; Nature establishes the rules of conformity.
Another aspect of conformity usually discussed is its cultural part. Throughout centuries, man has developed his own set of rules about how to behave socially. These systems are part of human culture and diverge according to each civilization. They tend to channel biological behaviors into acceptable social behaviors. However, given a specific situation, what constitutes the right behavior within one social group is not necessarily the right behavior within another society. For example, the expectation and the way to have a date are different in America from those in Italy. Another example of social conformity, pointed out by Erich Fromm, is the need to be politically correct. One's behaviors, thoughts, opinions -- to name a few -- must not be rejected by one's peers. To feel comfortable with the others, one has to conform and to follow what is considered politically correct. For example, if one belongs to a political party, one will digress from the strict line of thinking only to those extreme positions that are accepted by one's peers. Critics about new policies, as well as jokes about political leaders, are well self-regulated by the global consensus of what constitutes an acceptable "deviant" behavior. In the realm of culture, dissidence might be just a synonym of conformity.
If on the one hand, humankind is slave of its genetic heritage, and, on the other hand, it aspires only to follow traditions, how can we define anti-conformism? Anti-conformism might be the latest expression of an individual's free will against the compelling urge of conformity from nurture and culture. Anti-conformism expresses individual choices, individual decisions. Furthermore, for an individual, anti-conformism might be the latest territory of freedom; a blessed land where one can be oneself in its uniqueness. In opposition to collective decisions, taken consciously or unconsciously according to a common framework of thinking, an anti-conformist pretends that he or she is different from the mass because he or she is free to opt for different positions. What characterizes these positions is originality and genuineness. Contrary to the supposed prefabricated opinions of the masses, which dispense people of the burden of thinking; anti-conformist thoughts are a realm of authenticity and innovation. Anti-conformists pretend to see what the others do not see, to understand what the others do not understand. This is anti-conformity, which might be only illusion.
Given how we have
defined what anti-conformism is -- an expression of the individual against the
masses -- we can see that being anti-conformist means necessarily belonging
to a minority. In other words, if a majority of people agrees on something,
therefore, this common belief shared by a larger group becomes culturally conforming.
Anti-conformity belongs necessarily to minorities. However, so far we have considered
the terms majority and minority in their absolute significance. We have now
to consider the relativity of these concepts. What one can define as minority
is dependent of what serves as reference to define the larger group. For example,
the dominant religion in France is Catholicism. In this context, Protestantism
is anti-conformist. However, Catholicism and Protestantism, seeing from a Middle-East
perspective, are the same thing: Christianity, which does not conform to Islam.
Finally, the ultimate question that is present in my mind is the following one: "Can we escape conformity?" I do not mean if we can escape the need of conformity; but rather if being anti-conformist, whatever that means in a given society, at a given time, is not to be conformist in a different context. Therefore, we could be anti-conformist in regards of what we are opposed to; but consequently, very conformist in our new position. Even the utmost anti-conformist cannot avoid conformity.
* Originally, I
wrote this essay during a previous course, Intensive Writing Spring 2001
Go to top...
Copyright � 2001 Jean-Marc Gulliet. All rights reserved.