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.
In 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.