Dick / Garreau / Lanier Term Paper

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Dick / Garreau / Lanier / EEG REVISED

Both Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? And Joel Garreau's Radical Evolution explore the questions of what it would mean for technology to create a "post-human" being, to use the term Garreau borrows from Francis Fukuyama (236). Yet the creation of the post-human being would do little to settle the matter of what created the human being, an issue traditionally handled by conceptions of religion and of God. I propose -- through an examination of Dick and Garreau, with additional reference to Jaron Lanier and to the neurological science of electroencephalography -- to approach Dick's and Garreau's vision of post-humanity through the central issue of religion, and more particularly empathy. I hope to demonstrate that the technological redefinition of the "human" limned by both Dick and Garreau ultimately comes down to a religious question, but one that it is possible neuroscience may ultimately have an answer to.Get full Download Microsoft Word File access
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Term Paper on Dick / Garreau / Lanier Assignment

In examining both Dick and Garreau, it is worth noting that their visions of technology -- separated by a gap of almost 40 years -- do not have a substantial overlap. The technological future of Do Androids Dream, conceived by Dick in the 1960s, features such standard sci-fi tropes as the "vidphone" (31), the "laser tube" (89), the interplanetary "ship from Mars" (120), "artificial" owls and other animals (58), the "mood organ" (1), the "empathy box" (20), and of course the "Nexus-6 brain unit" which makes androids (or "andys") near-indistinguishable from human beings (27). Most of these are outside the purview of Garreau's study, which concentrates on technologies summed up by the acronym "GRIN…genetic, robotic, information, and nano processes" (Garreau 4). Dick's universe more or less excludes the genetic and the nano technologies of Garreau's study. Although genetic engineering might seem the more obvious method for the replacement of the extinct fauna in Dick's post-nuclear America, Dick chooses to imagine replacement solely through robotic means. And nanotech seems scarcely to have occurred to Dick, who is largely extending the reach of technologies (mostly in computing and information) that were extant at the time of his writing in the 1960s. But it is worth noting that, in Garreau's survey of existing early-21st century technologies, only the "vidphone" really exists as fully as Dick imagined it, with 2013 technology like the iPhone's FaceTime or a web service like Skype. And even this was in rapid development at the time of Garreau's own survey: he notes that "as recently as 2002…makers of films..signaled that you were supposed to understand their characters as rich, powerful, worldly and sophisticated because they were peering into their tiny cell phones" (Garreau 169). In less than a decade after Garreau's publication, peering at the tiny cell phones can already stand in for Dick's vision of a vidphone. But it is worth noting that existing technology still falls far short of what Dick imagined possible. Impressive though the Curiosity Mars Rover may be, it can hardly compare to Dick's vision of a colonized Mars with working factories to produce an android workforce. Lasers may have revolutionized certain forms of surgery, but their weaponization for individuals like Rick Deckard has not transpired. And the central cluster of technologies that Dick imagined -- those which mimic brains (the artificial animals of the title and the Nexus-6 Andys of the central plot) and those that affect human brains (the "mood organ" and the "empathy box") -- may form the most intriguing area of technological research and endeavor, but are hardly a fait accompli.

It is this last cluster of technologies that is most central to Dick's novel, and requires our closest attention. It could be argued that Dick's imagination of these technologies is most pivotally influenced by the development of EEG technology in the 30 years before his composition of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? The demonstration that the brain essentially functions by means of electrical phenomena is central to the novel's conception of the android as a kind of "electric" animal, as well as the novel's conception of fundamentally electronic means of attaining different brain states in both the "mood organ" and the "empathy box." Clearly the mapping of the brain's electrical processes in the 1940s and 1950s by EEG (first developed in the late 1930s) -- which occurred alongside the rapid development of computing technology in the same decades, by Alan Turing, Eckert and Mauchly, and others -- must have pointed to the notion that a computer which performed the functions of a human brain was ultimately possible. (Indeed Alan Turing remains famous in the world of "Artificial Intelligence" for his proposal of a "Turing Test" that can distinguish machine intelligence from a human being -- this is a concept that has undeniable influence on both Dick and Garreau.) Dick uses an electrical wiring paradigm to describe how the "Nexus-6 brain unit" in the novel works: "capable of selecting within a field of two trillion constituents, or ten million separate neural pathways" (Dick 26). Even if the idea of a plausibly human-seeming android was as far off when Dick was writing the book as it is now, Dick's biographer Laurence Sutin notes that Dick's conception of androids was greatly influenced by a visit to Disneyland in 1960, with its "simulacrum" of Abraham Lincoln (not really a robot but an "animatronic" statue), several years before the writing of the novel (Sutin 108). It is extremely important, however, to observe how the "mood organ" and the "empathy box" bear a curious relationship to the novel's idea of robotics. These two imaginary technologies are the closest to Joel Garreau's central subject in Radical Evolution, because they are the closest to a technological enhancement or alteration of existing human powers. Dick's androids are almost perfect as a replacement for humans, but only the "mood organ" and the "empathy box" come close to Garreau's vision of what "post-human" evolution would entail.

Intriguingly, parallels to both of these imagined technologies existed in Dick's day and continue to exist in our own, but the means whereby they operate is not electronic or cybernetic -- it is biochemical. Psychoactive drugs and pharmaceuticals played the role of the "mood organ" in Philip K. Dick's own life -- Sutin's biography is dispiritingly full of accounts of Dick's abuse of psychiatric medication, and he quotes Dick's own third-person author's biography written around the same time as Androids where it is noted that Philip K. Dick "will steal your pills" (Sutin 145). The way that Rick Deckard's wife Iran uses the "mood organ" in the novel is no different from the way a housewife in the Valley of the Dolls 1960s -- or indeed Philip K. Dick himself -- would abuse amphetamines and tranquillizers. Indeed Iran in the novel finds a way to abuse the mood-organ itself by scheduling "a six-hour self-accusatory depression," which Deckard notes "defeat[s] the whole purpose of the mood organ" (2-3). In some sense, all Dick is really asking us to imagine of the "mood organ" is a direct neuroelectric means of attaining the same mood alteration that was biochemically attainable in the 1960s (and remains so today) through psychoactive pharmaceuticals. The domestic disagreements between Deckard and his wife about the "mood organ," though, give us a sense of the concept of what is "normal" being profoundly unsettled. Deckard thinks Iran uses it too much, or uses it incorrectly, while Iran thinks she is not overusing it and Deckard should start using it more. But the sense of electronic alteration of the human brain comes back later in the novel, when the androids cause Deckard to think more specifically about what it means to be human. "Most androids I've known have more vitality and desire to live than my wife," is what Deckard concludes, "she has nothing to give me" (92). From Deckard's standpoint, the mood organ ironically erodes, rather than enhances, the humanity of his own wife.

Meanwhile the "empathy box" -- that other household device in the world of the novel which engages the human brain -- actually proves to be the most crucial factor in the novel's plot, and it fundamentally represents, as noted earlier, Dick's way of imagining religion. The centrality of empathy to Garreau's as well as Dick's conception of what defines the human cannot be overstated. In Garreau, the central fact may be obscured because he is so concerned with possible post-human futures that he does not place an obvious emphasis on empathy in the structuring of Radical Evolution, but he is nonetheless prepared to acknowledge it. What is most intriguing about Garreau's conception of empathy comes in a seemingly throwaway remark made in the course of his account of Fukuyama. Garreau, in challenging Fukuyama's pessimism, asks the philosopher

Isn't part of human nature now man-made? Doesn't the rise of rigorous logic and increased empathy count? If so, then one might say we have evolved over the past 10,000 years. Therefore, we might continue to do so. (Garreau 236).

This moment in Garreau's… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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