March 31, 2005

Galatea 2.2, Part 2

This section of the novel dealt more with Richard's individual character than it did with the rapidly "learning" Implementations. Although in this short section Richard and Lentz expanded from Imp C to Imp G, the revelation that the most recent Imp can "dream" is not nearly as important as the unveiling of Richard's past with C. As we are shown more and more of C.'s mental instability, Richard and Lentz are learning more and more about their machine's learning processes. I can't help wondering if maybe Richard's unexplained desire to work on this project is brought about by his guilt from his relationship with C. Because he was unable to understand what she needed from him, he needs to understand what each Imp needs. That may also be why he felt such a connection to Imp A. That Implementation needed the most nurturing and coaxing, just as C. did. (yes, I know all the letters are confusing)

One character that I found very interesting was Diana. I had at first expected that she and Richard would begin a relationship and his memories of C. would parallel that - how wrong I was! While I think she's interested in Richard, he was immediately turned off by her really great children. I would love to have a son that liked to memorize facts from an almanac - think about how useful that could be! But no, Richard was intimidated by her children: "The mildest household drama, but it wiped me out. How could I survive the first real crisis?" Perhaps his attitude toward Diana and her children can also be related back to his disasterous relationship with C. Because he couldn't handle C's crises, he is now afraid to handle anyone else's. Just a thought.

I'm intrigued to see how this story wraps up - there are so many things that need to be addressed that it'll be interesting to see how Powers (the author) does it.

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March 30, 2005

Intellegent Machines

After reading the first 88 pages of Galatea 2.2 I became very intrigued. Although the technical jargon made it somewhat confusing, the overall concept kept me interested. In this beginning section of the novel, the protagonist Richard Powers (conveniently named after the author) is convinced by his colleagues at the Center to engage in a bet on whether or not Lentz can create a machine that can think as well as a human. Richard sides with Lentz and the two of them embark on their mission to create artificial intelligence. Their pairing is interesting because Lentz is the scientific brains while Richard offers the Literary and more "common" human consciousness.

The first machine they create, Implementation A, "was driving itself batty" by all of its retention. It was learning, but it was too "nostalgic" and couldn't function under the strain of all the knowledge it retained. Although Richard was very attached to this implementation, he and Lentz needed to give up on Imp A and begin with Imp B. This machine is much smarter than its predecessor was, but at this point in the novel not much is known about it.

At the very end of this section, the line "consciousness is deception" struck me. Instead of creating a machine that is intellegent, they are merely deceiving the judges of the bet to believe that the machine is intellegent. They do not plan on making this machine conscious - giving it senses or the ability to think - they are merely making an extremely powerful and acurate "apple-sorter." While this seems like a bit of a cop out to me, I suppose it may be impossible for us to create a machine that is truly intellegent. After all, we do not fully know how our mental capacities function - how could we hope to recreate something we have a hard time understanding? Lentz claims that all humans do is deceive others into believing that they understand, so as long as the machine can do the same it can be considered just as intellegent as humans. While some of me agrees with Lentz, I also believe that there is more to intellegence and consciousness than mere deception.

I also found the rough draft of Dr. Jerz's article "You Are Standing at the Beginning of a Road: Examining Will Crowther's 'Advent' (c 1975)" very interesting. Having played parts of Colossal Cave Adventure just last week, I was able to get much more out of this text than I would have otherwise. Personally, I found the historical information on Crowther the most interesting. Unlike most video games today, where the story takes place in a fictional environment that the writers would most likely never come close to experiencing, Colossal Cave Adventure was created from Crowther's personal caving experiences. The cave itself exists in reality, even if the items and adventures in it do not.

Because I am not used to playing video games, I was very unused to the technique needed to get through this game. I found myself getting frustrated when I could not find the right verbs or phrases, and when I was unsure of how to proceed. I felt slightly enlightened when I read Dr. Jerz's comment that: "the text subtly reinforces the exploratory premise of classic text adventures. Without clumsily announcing something like, 'The west exit looks so intriguing that you can hardly wait to explore it,' the text subtly discourages the player's premature exit. With frequent playing of this game, one would learn the textual clues given by the game and would be able to more easily navigate their way through the adventure. Like Implementaion B, the player learns through the game's reinforcements and proddings.

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March 22, 2005

Intelligent Artifice

Although I have never really been a fan of text-based adventure games, I found Collosal Cave Adventure pretty amusing - until I had to start playing on my own, without Dr. Jerz's hints and clues. I suddenly remembered the reason why I never jumped on the adventure game train: my brain just doesn't like to get frustrated.

I know that is a bit defeatist of me, but as far as I'm concerned, games are supposed to be fun. When I type the command "go in" I want to go inside the building, not be told that I have to use the synonym "enter" in order to "go in." I know I am picking at details, and that those subtle programming glitches should not affect the adventure aspect of the game, but they do for me. I get frustrated in a world where "enter" does not mean the same as "go in."

I also found Eliza pretty frustrating. The first chatterbox, Eliza is supposed to imitate a psychiatrist and help guide the typer through his/her problems. The main problem, however, is that Eliza does not actually comprehend what is being told to her. She is programmed to respond to very few cues, only occasionally responding correctly, and very often takes the typer on a very frustrating journey:

>> Hello.
How do you do. Please state your problem.
>> I am unhappy
I am sorry to hear that you are unhappy.
>> thank you
We were discussing you -- not me.
>> ok
I'm not sure I understand you fully.
>> I am unhappy
Do you think coming here will help you not to be unhappy ?
>> yes
You seem to be quite positive.
>> I suppose so
You say you suppose so ?
>> yes
You are sure.
>> yes
I see.
>> do you?
Oh, I ?
>> yes
I understand.
>> what do you understand?
Why do you ask ?
>> because I no longer understand

This brief exchange shows that Eliza is less of a mechanized psychiatrist and more of an automated Socratic respondent. Amanda mentions that recent chatterboxes have become so well programmed that the typer can be fooled into believing it is a real person. I found this reminiscent of Metropolis in that the workers all believed Robot-Maria to be the real thing. Can machines act as a substitute for human interaction and skill, or will they eventually dominate us as the robots in RUR succeeded in doing? Where is our relationship with technology headed, and can we form a symbiotic relationship with machines?

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March 20, 2005

Expressionism

From Wikipedia: "The opposite of impressionism, expressionism centers on the artists vision rather than on the viewers impression…with dark images, sharp contrasting figures, jagged geometry, and chiarscuro."

From Dennis Jerz’s article, “The Americanization of Expressionism: The Hairy Ape (1922) and The Adding Machine (1923)”: “As seen by Gassner, expressionism ‘could be a means towards an end, as when it was employed to underscore some plot situation or some character’s state of mind; or it could be an end in itself, as when the entire play and the production were intended to exhibit a chaotic or nihilistic view of reality.’”

These two brief definitions show how the films Metropolis and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, along with Capek’s play RUR and Antheil’s musical composition Ballet Mechanique reflect expressionism in their desire to express something new – the growing relationship between man and machine.

In Metropolis, there is a distinct separation between the upper, ruling class and the lower, working class. After being introduced to the working class and the exhausting demands forced upon them, the film shows us a garden above the city where “the sons of the owners play.” The contrast is stunning – both emotionally and visually. After seeing the depression of the working class city, the worry-free environment of the ruling class city seems frivolous and excessive. Whereas we felt pity for the workers, we are moved to feel contempt for the rulers. Visually, this is shown through the abrupt change in color – the rulers, especially our protagonist Freder, wear lighter, whiter, and less serviceable clothing. The scenery is also dramatically different. Because the garden is above the city, the oppressive factory atmosphere is unseen. There are fountains and flowers, signs of life that the workers must do without. However, the majority of the film takes place not in the garden, but in the dark, geometric confines of the subcity. These artistic ploys are not only mirrors for the dismal lives of the workers, but show how truly expressionist the film is.

The distinction between the classes becomes even more apparent when the owner Fredersen decides he would like to replace the idealistic Maria (who preaches that “there can be no understanding between the hands and the brain unless the heart acts as a mediator”) with his newly created robot. His aim is to incite the workers into rebellion so that he may kill them all and replace them with robots. His plan almost succeeds, but his own son and the real Maria manage to save the day.

I found Capek’s play RUR very similar to Metropolis in that each dealt with man’s decreasing usefulness in a society where robots are present. Whereas the workers in Metropolis won out in the end, it is the robots who eventually replace humanity in RUR. Like Federsen, Domain wants to replace human workers with robots because they are considerably less expensive to work with. What he fails to see, however, is that by creating a machine that can replace humans workers, he creates a machine that replaces human beings altogether.

Another similarity that I found interesting is that the pivotal characters in both RUR and Metropolis are very strong, idealistic females. Metropolis’s Maria fights on behalf of the working class, preaching peace and moderation between them and their rulers. Her robot self does just the opposite, inciting the workers against the rulers, ensuring their self-destruction. Dr. Jerz states that: “The woman’s name, Maria, invokes the Madonna (just as Helena of R.U.R invoked the classical feminine ideal).” Like Maria, Helena fought on behalf of the workers – in this case, the robots. She believed that robots had souls, and in her search for the soul, she inadvertently created the mother and father of Earth’s future robotic race. While both stories have different outcomes, they each strive to show how there needs be some moderation in our relationship with machines. While machines can enrich and simplify our lives, they also have the potential to take away our humanity and make us obsolete.

The message in Metropolis and RUR is also seen in the film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Dr. Jerz notes that the film “does not directly address technology or materialism, except that as a type of the ‘mad scientist,’ Caligari’s evil comes from his tampering in God’s domain.” Whereas the previous two productions dealt with the more mechanized robots, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari deals with a scientist who decides to manipulate a human to act as a robot. Although Cesare proves the existence of his soul by his refusal to murder Jane, his actions are so automated that they resemble both those of the robots and those of the working class in Metropolis.

Although unable to witness the visual effects of RUR, I found that the few stills provided of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari were artistically similar to Metropolis. The film seemed to reside in shadows, with the exception of the whiteness surrounding Jane. Both the circus where Dr. Caligari is first found and the asylum where he is last seen are filled with an eclectic mix of geometric shapes. I felt that these stills showed a contrast in the film that, paired with its thematic issues, creates a film that is uniquely expressionist.

Paul Lehrman’s essay on his experiences creating the first performance of Antheil’s original Ballet Mechanique was incredibly intriguing. The composition itself seems just extraordinary, and I would love to be able to experience its performance. The very nature of his composition – combining mechanical music with man-made music – is extremely similar to the three works I’ve already discussed. Antheil attempted in his composition to create a piece where human musicians were only marginally necessary. Knowing that his original composition could never be realized in his era, he created a version where the humans would have more control. However, “even without his 16 Pleyelas, Antheil’s machinery went out of control.” In the disastrous performance at Carnegie Hall Antheil managed to display the opposite of what he had aimed – that machinery is a poor substitute for humanity. Lehrman’s recent success is producing Antheil’s original composition shows, however, that increasing technology can, however, replace humanity.

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March 15, 2005

Brooklyn Bridge and WTC

All my life I have lived no more than 35 miles west of Manhattan. I can see the skyline from my roof, and have often spent time in the city visiting my sister or father. After reading Hart Crane's poem "To Brooklyn Bridge" and Dr. Jerz's weblog "World Trade Center: Literary and Cultural Reflections," I felt justified that someone else felt what I have always known - that New York City, with its buildings, bridges, and streets, is beautiful.

The Brooklyn Bridge is often considered one of the most beautiful bridges ever created. At its completion in 1883, it was the largest suspension bridge in the world. Its beauty has not been diminished nor dwarfed in the wake of skyscrapers, and it has continued to be one of the most well-known bridges of our time. The Brooklyn Bridge connects Brooklyn Heights to Downtown Manhattan, close to where another architectural beauty was erected.

I have often heard that when the World Trade Center was first erected, many people felt that it ruined the city's skyline and that is was not beautiful enough to stand with the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building. Since I had never known the city without the Twin Towers, I have always felt that they were beautiful. They added a sense of symmetry to the skyline, anchored by the height of the Empire State Building in Midtown. Because of 9/11 I now know what the city looks like without the WTC, and I cannot say that it is improved. Adam Weiss is quoted as saying that:

"Much of the discussion and news of the crash, quite justifiably, surrounds the tremendous tragedy and loss of human life that resulted. But in a group of architects we may also lament the loss of the building."

I suppose I have a little architect in me, because now when I drive up Route 3 and the skyline comes into view, my eyes are immediately drawn to the gaping hole downtown. I have seen the sketches for the WTC's rebuilding, and like the protestors of the original WTC, I do not find any of these plans beautiful. I do not see them fitting in with the aesthetic scheme of the city, and believe that their presence will only magnify the absence of the Twin Towers. I am sure, though, that future generations who grow up with the rebuilt WTC will find it just as beautiful as I found its predecessor.

Donald McNeill's essay "Skyscraper Geography" made me think of skyscrapers and skylines as more than just the aesthetic makeup of a city. He says that: "They also provide a poignant reminder of visibility in society, both of the powerful, who buy, sell, design, or promote the buildings, and of the hidden labourers who construct and maintain them" (46). This idea was prominantly portrayed in Metropolis, where the towering skyscrapers (at the time part of the Science Fiction) symbolized how the the classes were divided. The upper class, or the owners and thinkers, lived at the top of the cities - in the penthouses. The lower class, or the laborours, lived in the bottom of the city where they acted as the foundation of the upper class city. With their hands, the laborours built the skyscrapers in which the upper class did their thinking and ruling. The tall buildings displayed the power and dominance of the upper class, and that meaning was just as important as the buildings' technical uses.

As McNeill suggested, that symbolic value is not wasted on our skyscrapers of today. There is a reason Al Quaeda targeted the World Trade Center. The Twin Towers stood for our country's success and domination over the Middle East. By destroying that symbol, they attempted to prove to us that despite our public display of wealth and power, we could be brought down. Al Qaeda used the symbolic power of our skyscrapers in the same way the workers in Metropolis used their city. Their attempt to destroy it was not so that their children would be drowned, but so that the thinkers would finally realize that they couldn't be ignored any more.

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Revisiting Thoreau - A Great Figure

When I read Walden for the first time during my Junior year in high school, I hated it. I remember thinking after I was finished that I had never been so happy to finish a book in my life. Little did I know what awaited me in Media Aesthetics...

As I began to reread the chapters entitled "Sounds" and "Solitude" I hoped that I would enjoy these chapters more the second time around. No such luck. But I was able to look at them with a more educated and mature outlook and make some deductions that I was completely unwilling to make in high school.

In "Sounds," Thoreau tells us that we should not be content with merely reading about life and learning academically, but that we should make an effort to "see what is before you." In Walden Thoreau makes that effort by escaping society and living by the pond. He is able to listen to the sounds of nature and distant society and make assessments based upon his observations. I envy Thoreau's ability to escape into nature and wonder if I could be content simply listening.

In "Solitude," Thoreau has spent some more time by the pond and reflects upon his time alone and away from society. He notices that although he has no human company, he is never alone in nature. He even goes so far as to claim that:

"I was suddenly sensible of such sweet and beneficent society in Nature, in the very pattering of the drops, and in every sound and sight around my house, and infinite and unaccountable friendliness all at once like an atmosphere sustaining me, as made the fancied advantages of human neighborhood insignificant, and I have never thought of them since."

I wondered how his neighbors, who had just left him notes and gifts, felt about this attitude. I would be offended.

While reading this section, I began to think about all the times that I was alone and disconnected from any society save nature. I could not think of any. When I'm home I always have my sisters around, when I'm at school I have my roommates, and even when I'm alone in my room I like to have my TV on in the background. I do not like being isolated from society, and because of this I have rarely stopped to listen to the sounds around me. Would I find insight there? I may never know.


After I finished Thoreau, I read Williams' short poem "The Great Figure" and its accompanying commentaries. Since I was still thinking about the lack of solitude in my life, I perceived the number 5 to exist in complete solitude. The painting by Demuth showed this solitude well by making the number five stand out from the rest of the painting. Although "the figure" is surrounded by chaos and a bustling city, it is still distinct and separate, existing very solitarily. It made me again assess the amount of time I spend alone, and I decided that although I may be surrounded by others, I very often find inner solitude.

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March 03, 2005

Blog Portfolio I

Well here it is folks - my first blog portfolio of 2005. As I've blogged more, I have become much more comfortable with this format of writing, and believe these entries are significantly better than the ones I wrote for EL150 last spring. Well, enjoy!

1) In Pygmalian, I blogged about the differences between the 17th Century and the 20th Century translations of the Ancient Greek tale "Pygmalian." I began by giving my readers a brief summary of the plot, then went on to mention some key points that stuck out to me and brought up some similarities with one of my favorite childhood stories.

2) In Blogging 101, I reflected on my past blogging experiences and discussed how Amanda and Julie helped reaquaint me with the ins and outs of this academic experience.

3) After reading two of my favorite stories thus far, I blogged about the blindness issues brought up in "Mike May's Journal" and "The Cathedral." I equated Mike's loss with my experiences in getting glasses, and began to think about how beauty is portrayed to one who can't see.

4) Wow, Those Core Requirements Sure Come in Handy! After reading Plato's "The Allegory of the Cave" I was brought back to last semester's class with Dr. Atherton and was able to use that knowledge to help me understand this text in a different context.

5) After reading Plato's "Ion" and an an excerpt from "Phaedrus," I felt the need to blog about how many times people feel the need to speak about a certain subject, even if they have no prior knowledge about said subject. I also discussed the concepts of Truth and Reality found in these texts, and began the first of many debates regarding Plato's view on art and artists.

6) In Influence of Technology, I discussed certain issues in Churchill's article "What Socrates Said to Phaedrus: Reflections on Technology and Education." I discussed how I had never stopped to think about the sociological impact of technology, and was reminded of my mother by his discussion of people's reluctance to change.

7) Building upon my previous blog about Plato's view on art, I used the blog entry Imitation or Interpretation to discuss Book X of his Republic and Fajardo-Acosta's "Understanding Literature." Both of these texts examined the concept of "dolce et utile" or "sweet and beautiful" in reference to the usefulness of art.

8) In Plato vs. Aristotle - Who Would Win? I pitted Plato's views on art against those of Aristotle in his "Poetics." I discussed how both philosophers agreed that art was imitative, but Plato said it's imitation was worthless while Aristotle argued that its imitation of life should be valued.

9) After reading Eliot's article "Tradition and the Individual Talent," I was reminded of the class period we spent without a professor where we discussed Anne's Blog and Aristotle's view that all poetry is a form of imitation, since we cannot create anything without drawing on our history and prior knowledge. I also used this blog to discuss Pope's "Essay on Criticism." I discussed how I felt that Pope's article was too heavy on the critic-bashing, and that *gasp* rules are good.

10) In Useful and Useless - It's All the Same to Wilde, I discussed both the preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray and Wilde's essay "The Decay of Lying." I felt that Wilde contradicted himself in these two texts, for in the preface he stated that "All art is useless," but in "The Decay of Lying" he claimed that art has the most important use - to create beauty in life.

11) I spent two blogs discussing The Picture of Dorian Gray. In the first, I mentioned how I immediately knew why this text was on our curriculum because the emphasis placed on beauty was the driving force of the novel. I then went on to discuss the three main characters and their relationship with and/or theories on beauty. In the second blog, I threw around some ideas for my essay after having completed the book and discussed certain elements of the story such as the yellow book, the manifestation of Dorian's conscience, and the connection between beauty and goodness.

12) In Aesthetic Realism, I connected Waldrep's article to my blog entry where I discussed the contradictions I found in Wilde's work. I found Waldrep's view on Wilde's combined use of Realism and Aestheticism intriguing, and decided to touch on this aspect of his work in my paper.

Well, there you have it. Enjoy!

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March 01, 2005

Aesthetic Realism

I found the Waldrep article very intriguing - in it, Wa;drep claims that while Oscar Wilde renounced the use of realism in art in his essay "The Decay of Lying," he utilized realism as a means to connect Hellenism with his new style of art. I was glad to see someone more scholarly than myself call Wilde's inconsistencies to attention - I found that his "Decay of Lying" was in direct opposition to his preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray, and I examine in my paper Wilde's belief that art should hold no morals despite his attachment of a moral to The Picture of Dorian Gray. Waldrep says that: "Admittedly, Wilde's own work exhibits an ethical dimension, yet, as in much of his thinking, one finds a contradiction be4tween his desire to absolve artists of the responsibility to moralize and his own tendency to construct much of his prose fiction and poetry as moralizing parables."

Are these inconsistencies flaws of Wilde's, or is he making another statement that I am simply not understanding? Waldrep believes that his novel is combination of aestheticism, realism, and naturalism, which, when combined, create a very dense novel that goes beyond mere moralizing. I shall explore this in my paper....

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