Galatea 2.2 .4


The grand finale of Galatea 2.2 has gummed up my works. Too much input. My neural net is still churning and I mean this in the most profound and complimentary way.

literatureIn the end, the joke is on everyone. The true bet between Lentz, Powers and the scientific team is never whether a machine can learn to think, but whether a human can make meaning where none exists. Powers, the Center?s token humanist, is taken for a ride in believing that Helen, his beloved neural net, is cognizant? or is he? Helen?s abilities surprise even Lentz, the largest skeptic of all. While the joke on Helen is that the human condition is vile, corrupt and undesirable, most interesting is the joke played on the reader, having believed the fallacy alongside Powers the entire time.

For?my?own ignorance,?I blame adulthood. Had I been a child, I would have seen the prank. Pardon my jest, repeating a philosophy conjured by Powers, but having finished his novel, I now understand. The innocence of childhood protects us from the?horrors of?humanity. Once innocence is lost, we shield ourselves from?the harsh?reality of our existence using fiction to process that which we cannot understand. We only hope to stumble upon answers. That hope?is our only redemption.

I find fascinating a work of fiction that moves beyond the scope of entertainment, using its own structure to examine its worth. It becomes particularly potent for this English Lit. major as I am forced to ask myself:

  • What value does the study of literature hold?
  • Is meaning inherent within a text or do we make meaning as we back-propagate new data through the filters of lived and learned experience?
  • Does the difference of inherent or made meaning ultimately matter as we struggle to understand the point of our existence?

Since called upon to decide, I say this. I believe that ideology makes meaning on a cultural level. Within that ideology, literature holds a great deal of power, particularly in its ability to persuade. From fables, myths and war propaganda to presidential elections and the civil rights and environmental?movement, people will always chose the side most representative of their individual reality. Without literature, we would never have the ability to share such complex ideas or decide what our personal reality requires to exist.

For these reasons, having a deep understanding of literature, both the ways in which it operates and its limitations, grants us the power to move toward the goals we deem fit. While this in no way ensures collective agreement, or the chance to single handedly change the world, we have, at the very least,?the power to organize?around a small seed of understanding and find companionship or, as Powers hopes, love in that one simple connection. To read, to be read, to exchange ideas and make meaning as it applies to the here and now of our existence? This is only the beginning of my thoughts on?what literature is to me.

And?with that ponderance I leave you, offering my sincere gratitude for taking the time to make meaning of what I?ve had to say.

This public service announcement has been brought to you by the makers of Viagra?and Geritol.

Which reminds me… This is one of those books, like Don Quixote, that should be read three times in life, somewhere around the ages of?22, 35, and 60. I find that my young classmates identify with A. at 22,?interpreting?Powers as rather lecherous. Still feeling 22 at heart, I (at 37) suffer from the same disbelief as Powers – that so many years have passed and so little has been learned. I only hope that, by my next reading, I will have staved off the bitterness suffered by Lentz, disheartened by literature and the world at large.


  1. Kim-

    I thought your bit on childhood was very interesting. It is true, that children never see the worst in humanity they are somehow immuned to it. Your comments made me think of all the children in the text. There are Diane’s two sons Peter and William. Peter has my favorite scene in the book when he expresses his frustration with having just finished first grade but realizes that now second grade awaits him, and countless years of schooling after that. It would seem that he is beginning to become disenfranchised with the world. Then there is Peter. Peter who, as a result of a developmental disorder, will never grow up and be aware of the horrors which humanity is capable of. We could also say that Helen is a child. She gets along fine with her steady diet of literature, but when Powers introduces humanity to her, it was too much too fast, and she was absolutely horrified at the image of what humanity really is.

  2. I loved your commentary on childhood and innocence. Once we lose our innocence?meaning we become aware of the horrors and tragedies in the world?we do spend much of our lives trying to pretend they don?t exist. We are all Helen in many ways?which may be why I sympathized with her. Also, your note on meaning created by culture makes perfect sense! It is McHale?s dominant idea. We bring to a text our own histories, so that we read a text a certain way. We ?contaminate? the text with our own meanings.

  3. Kimmy,

    Beautiful post, but you already knew that. I like the point that you made at the beginning of your post about the joke being on the reader. It sucks to be pulled down like that, even if you still want to believe in the meaning of literature in that particular way. I guess I did think that the machine would be capable of reproducing the graduate response. That wouldn?t have bothered me- I don?t understand why I should have been able to perceive the real prank. Anyway I am still pondering the wool being pulled over my eyes because I didn?t fall in love with Helen- I just thought she was programmed well. Is it that if I think that thinking can be mimicked- that takes away all the truth about thinking? I don?t know if that question is sort-able or not. Even if I know it?s thinking? I will have to talk to you on this one.

    You said ?using fiction to process what we can?t understand? – Powers using wires and nuts and bolts to process what he can?t or anyone for that matter can?t understand- thinking or cognition- is the joke. The fact that we do that is amazing. It is so absurd, but so taken for granted. We do it all the time and it?s such a common way to interpret such topics as love, death, existence that we don?t question it- until now ?pmod 377.

    I like the three questions you pose. The first one makes sense to me and I think I have a hold on it after leaving last class. I think that your second question kind of answers the first. I like it because it does draw a fine line for the purpose of literature. Who decides the inherent meaning within a text? The author, right? I don?t think that the answer to this inherent meaning making is as liberal as ?back propagation? meaning making. The third question is difficult to address because it seems as though every time we try to make meaning of existence something bad happens. Trying to uncover some truth makes me wonder ?why try so hard?? Or, is it that we are addicted to the curiosity of self identification?

    Maybe, as you say, we are here to exchange ideas. That is the function of literature; solely to be read. I like it. It?s a good idea. I wonder what Helen would have said if you could have asked her that one; the function of literature.

    Anyway, I am exhausted and have started to lose sense of what I was talking about. This may be obvious through my rambling. Great post. I hope some of my comments were coherent. See ya.

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