Monday, February 11, 2013

Meat, metal and meaning

This entry looks at the week 3 videos from EDCMOOC, E-learning and digital cultures MOOC and more on what it means to be humans in an ever more virtual world.

The Toyota ad looks at a virtual world and being a virtual player in it. Everything is fake (think The Matrix, brain in a vat or demon argument from Descartes. The world is dystopic in that everything is artificial and any experience otherwise is forbidden. Enter the raw power, speed and control of a car (itself technology but without what they call gimmicks) and a violent escape, smashing out of the confines of what is deemed acceptable into the real world of real experience.



Considering what has been covered so far, Lowell Monke shows how abstract and sterile technologically related learning can be, not permitting the making of real connections and the formation of wisdom, truth, character, etc. He suggests that technology does not come value neutral but that it will always amplify and amputate, and not provide the full balance of ideas, explanations and reasons for why things happen (for example a game simulation of the American Frontier - itself a very problematic term in a post-colonial world - ends up missing out on the character, courage, etc of the pioneers in favour of strategy, rational decision making, etc).

It also makes me think of the Corning ad, where a trip to visit a redwood forest is technologically mediated. The recreation of the dinosaurs is interesting and exciting, but misses things like the actual forest, the connection the dinosaurs have and how that connection was reconstructed.

We live in a real, embodied world as real, embodied people. Unless one is obsessed with the singularity, a secular eschatology or heaven (see Margaret Werthheim’s book on the subject, The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace), then we need to learn how to live in that real world. When technology mediates that to such a degree as to retard that learning - in the holisitc sense of knowledge, wisdom and character - then it needs to be quietly set aside. This is all the most important for young children.

The BT add picks up on similar ideas. The land-line does not have texting abilities and so the contact is voice to voice. This has a richer ability to communicate meaning, emotion, etc and is used as a vehicle to promote actual face to face contact. Even an ad promoting telephones doesn’t suggest that voice only is the end of the story - especially given the very physical nature of the issue illustrated at the end of the ad. Kolowich’s The Human Element speaks of the illusion of non-mediation, where seeing an instructor’s face promotes trust. Some aspects of that are present in this ad in that audio communication is able to communicate emotion better than texting and therefore there is a greater connection, but it is still mediated by a phone line when real presence is needed.


World builder is a somewhat enigmatic piece that looks at the role of simulation and virtual reality. it is not entirely clear in the end whether or not the main character’s wife (ok I’m making that assumption) actually enters into the simulation or if it was entirely for his benefit? The lack of interaction between the two makes it unclear. Does he create this world for someone in a coma, or to see an illusion of his wife alive and well? The interactivity of the interface used to create this virtual world is almost besides the point (although it is quite breathtaking). The fact that one section not properly filled in makes the whole thing unstable points to the vaguely dystopic nature of such technology, or perhaps simply to the fact that a simulation is simply that - and ephemeral. No computer simulation, no matter how realistic, is a replacement for real people, real life, even if the emotions invoked are real enough. In this movie it only serves to heighten the tension and tragedy.


They’re made out of meat seems to me to be the Descartian problem of reductionism without the dualistic solution. We are made out of meat. Weinberg’s nothing but. Meat thinks, speaks, communicates, eats other meat and reproduces (the kissing couple outside) - but it is just meat. I’m not sure what the aliens are made of that enables them to be so repelled by this vision. In a quirky sense, this movie goes to the heart of the question of what it means to be human, how we have (in some people’s minds at least) been deconstructed biologically to just meat. From a purely secular point of view, Stuart Kauffman’s Reinventing the Sacred tries to rescue us from being more than meat. This issue of what constitutes being human ties in with ideas of cybernetics, transhumanism and the singularity as meat and metal merge.

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