October 25: Nascence

After our class discussion on Galatea 2.2, I was excited to pursue an examination of human and machine (AI) minds in that book.  Since for my first paper I had analysed the differences in the ways human and animal minds were represented in Bishop and Whitman, I wanted to continue my study on the other side of the human-nonhuman spectrum. As we talked about, Galatea 2.2 offers representations of human minds, both abled and disabled, and machine mind.  My first inclination was to compare and contrast how machine minds simulate or imitate human minds, and whether they are a viable model of or metaphor for human minds that are “super-abled” or perhaps “hyperabled.”  If this were the case, then they would form a third level of human mind (i.e., disabled, abled, hyper-abled) as well as standing as a sort of experimental group in comparison to the control that is the human mind more generally.

I wanted also to explore the relationship between embodiment and mind—that is, how are minds modulated by existence within a body, or in the case of AIs, by disembodiment?  A fundamental aspect of mental function is perception, which in humans goes hand in hand with the senses.  However, since machines do not have senses per se, their methods of perception are different, which necessarily changes the nature of their “mind.”  This brings in another type of disability: physical.  Thus, can machine minds, in being disembodied, mimic human minds of physically disabled humans who have no use of their bodies?

The third aspect that drew my attention when discussing Galatea 2.2 was the importance of language to cognitive process.  Powers explores the relationship between language and embodiment, and how understanding of language shapes the way minds function.  Helen, in being disembodied, has no true understanding of certain phrases or idioms.  She struggles with metaphors. She can understand them as a collection of words, but not in so far as they tie to their myriad allusions and referents. How does this make her mind different from a human mind?  What are the implications of this?

November 15: Bourgeon

After we discussed Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, I realized what had been missing from my initial human-nonhuman spectrum that I would examine: human-machine hybrid.  DADES? offers this in the form of the Androids.  It also offers further examples of mentally disabled humans for examination.

DADES? puts forth the idea of mental capability and disability as a function of evolution, as evidenced by J.R.’s reflection, “Maybe when you deteriorate back down the ladder of evolution as I have, when you sink into the tomb world slough of being a special—well, best to abandon that line of inquiry.”  J.R. seems to posit that mental disability can be equated with devolution.  Thus, mental ability, and trending toward mental hyper-ability, is evolution.  However, it is notable that machine AIs like Helen, and hybrid AIs like the androids have skipped evolution altogether. Evolution also seems to be something inherently linked to embodiment: when you devolve, the mind may “deteriorate” but you are left with body, as in protohumans, or if you trace evolution back even further, animals (see e.g., the “reptile brain” which existed in animals before the neocortex, and with it executive control, working memory, cognitive reasoning, etc., developed).  Perhaps it is that when you evolve far enough, as humans become human-machine or are “uploaded” and become just machine, you are left just with mind.  What might be lost in the mind by that abandonment of body?  What might be gained?

The final question about human and machine minds that occurs to me with regard to DADES? is that of empathy.  Empathy, too, in countless psychological and cognitive science literature is body modulated.  (Briefly, one mechanism by which empathy occurs is the firing of mirror neurons in the central nervous system when an individual sees another individual perform an action or make an expression that he recognizes.  Empathy increases in conjunction with perceived similarity of the observed individual to the observer.  Empathy, of course, is modulated by experience.) It is interesting that the Turing-type test that the androids are required to take measures, in a sense, their capacity for empathy.  And Dick explores the idea of empathy profoundly throughout the book.  However in Galatea 2.2, the Turing-type test that Helen must take is not concerned with empathy at all, but with literature—with language.  I wonder if this is because the androids are embodied (albeit, not organic bodies) while Helen is completely disembodied—as if Powers (both the narrator and the character) does not bother with empathy in Helen because he knows it cannot be achieved by a disembodied entity.  And is this even true?  Is empathy impossible for a disembodied entity?  For Powers’ s colleague’s mentally disabled son, the relationship between body mind and empathy seems to be there: decreased capability of mind—> emphasized ability of body —> greater capacity for empathy.  Some of the andies appear to empathize.  And Helen?  For the most part we would not call her empathetic, but at the end of the novel, her response to the Tempest prompt certainly tends toward emotion if not full on empathy.  Can we even establish a stable relationship between empathy and embodiment?  How might we go about doing so?

Also, this isn’t really pertinent to my paper, but something I just found interesting: both protagonists in DADES? and Galatea 2.2. are named Rick.  Rick in Galatea 2.2 is obviously a diegetic avatar of Rick the author.  And the name Rick is also reminiscent of Dick, which is another often used sobriquet for Richard. Hmmm…

November 21: Outline

I. Introduction

  1. Human, Machine, and Hybrid as minds possessing different levels of embodiment
  2. But also, across the human – nonhuman spectrum, different levels of mind, such that you end up with a four directional plane (human – machine on the x-axis, disability – capability on the y-axis) on which all these entities can be plotted
  3. Lenses
    1. Cognitive process, modulated by embodiment
      1. Language as manifestation/evidence of cognitive process, is our way to look at cognitive process
    2. Embodiment as modulating self concept and personhood
      1. Importance of gender
      2. implications
    3. Mental capability vs. disability across the human-nonhuman spectrum
      1. Function of time on micro (lifespan) and macro (evolution) scale
  4. Examples in the literature
    1. Galatea 2.2
      1. Gives example of pure human (mentally capable, mentally disabled), pure machine
    2. DADES
      1. Gives examples of pure human (mentally capable, mentally disabled), machine hybrid

II. Language as manifestation of mind process

  1. Language as inherently linked to embodiment leads to difficulties in understanding of disembodied entities
    1. Senses
    2. How much of language is “embodied metaphor”
  2. Language as attached to or detached from meaning
    1. Rick says that Helen can repeat things back without knowing what they mean, which resembles
    2. Lentz’s disabled wife remembers phrases but the semantic link is gone
    3. Language attached to meaning as relation to the world, the window between the internal and the external, adaptive
    4. Language “empty” as
  3. “nouns and processes”
    1. Lentz’s daughter who “always wanted process”
      1. Body is a perquisite for process
    2. Helen who is a noun without body and thus forbidden from process has been “dropped down half way”

III. Self-concept as dependent on embodiment:

  1. Use of body in formation of personhood
  2. Gender
    1. name—which brings us back to language
      1. the name Helen is an inherent reference with millennia worth of meaning behind it, which Helen cannot understand

IV. Mental capability and disability

  1. The four quadrant plane model
    1. Quadrant I: machine, capable
      1. Helen in G2.2
    2. Quadrant II: human, capable
      1. Rick in G2.2
      2. Rick in DADES
      3. Lentz
      4. The student against whom Helen’s Turing test is measured
    3. Quadrant III: human, disabled
      1. Lentz’s wife
      2. the colleague’s son
      3. JR in DADES
    4. Quadrat IV: machine, disabled
      1. Helen after she turns off, using the other definition of disable (i.e., to switch off an electronic device)
    5. Y-axis above origin: hybrid, capable
      1. the androids
    6. Y-axis below origin: hybrid, disabled
      1. faulty androids
  2. Mental capability/disability as an issue of evolution
    1. In DADES, mental disability is constructed as “a deterioration back down the ladder of evolution,” a backwards movement through time on a macro scale. In the same way Hayles identifies the echoes of Lear in Powers’s assertion about the importance of context to semantic significance (readiness is context…and context was all), echoes of Hamlet can be heard in this assertion of backward movement: “For yourself, sir, / shall grow old as I am, if like a crab you could go / backward” (2.2.198-200). However, Hamlet’s words suggest here that “going backward” is not deterioration, but rather an (unachievable) solution to mental unrest: a return to innocence, or perhaps ignorance—oblivion, which is an analgesic; mind numbing
  3. Empathy as a function of mental capability/disability
    1. More mentally capable people are less empathetic? While mentally disabled people are more empathetic?
    2. Also modulated by embodiment

V. Implications

  1. De-hierarchizing perceptions of human and nonhuman existence

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