The following short story, written by the famous science fiction author Isaac Asimov, is a gripping tale of Man and Machine’s evolution of consciousness, and their place in the infinite yet impermanent universe. The story was first published in the November 1956 issue of Science Fiction Quarterly, and is to this day considered by many to be his best work. The author himself even thought so, and in 1973 he said of it:
“Why is it my favorite? For one thing I got the idea all at once and didn’t have to fiddle with it; and I wrote it in white-heat and scarcely had to change a word. This sort of thing endears any story to any writer. Then, too, it has had the strangest effect on my readers…”
The short story is split into seven story arcs, with the first one beginning in 2061, and each one after progressing further and further into the future. Despite the changes in time, space, and characters, each of the stories share in common humanity’s relationship with a supercomputer called Multivac and its successors – every sub plot revolves around certain characters discussing the life span of the universe and then asking the Multivac computer whether entropy (destruction) of the universe can be reversed, which is a question it has insufficient data to answer until the very end. This is a great read from start to finish – I give it a 5 out of 5; it is WAY ahead of it’s time!
Ghost in the Shell is a sci-fi anime masterpiece set in the future where technology has spawned cyborgs, cybernetic enhancements, and super artifical intelligence. If it wasn’t for Ghost in the Shell, The Matrix would never have hit the cinemas. The above clips from the movie showcase three of the films most philosophical moments, so if you have no intention of watching it from start to finish, you can at least absorb some of it’s most profound moments.
Check out my post ‘Are You a Bot?’ for my thoughts on the direction of technology.
“‘You engage in an exchange of emails or instant messages or Facebook updates. Is the unknown respondent another person, or is it a bot? Is it someone, or is it a computer programming passing as a person? You want to know. Based only on the conversation, can you judge whether the other is human or machine? Is there something in what is said or how it is said that differentiates people from programs?’ (Baldwin, 2009, p. 8-9)
Film director Ridley Scott’s sci fi masterpiece ‘Blade Runner‘, based on Phillip Dick’s novel ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?‘, asks some pressing questions on what it means to be human, and whether we can really distinguish the difference between man and machine. The protagonist Deckard, uses a process called the Voight-Kampff Empathy Test to decide whether the subject is a ‘replicant’ or not. This is based on what we humans call a ‘turing test’, which was introduced by Alan Turing in 1950 to probe the abilities of machines to ‘imitate’ human responses. If a human is unable to discriminate between a person and a machine, then the computer is said to have passed the test. For example, a man is asked to play a game of chess against both a human and a machine, it is very difficult for him to tell which opponent is which, as the machine has a large database of moves it can make which mirror those of real human players; therefore even if the human beats the machine, the machine wins. So in a nutshell, a turing test is a test a human gives to a computer to decide whether or not it is a human, while a reverse turing test is a test a computer gives to a human to determine whether or not it is a machine.
In 1987 a groundbreaking conversation took place between scholar Joseph Campbell and journalist Bill Moyers on the topic of mythology, this conversation was recorded at George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch and was turned into a famous 5 part series called ‘The Power of Myth’. In this series, Joseph Campbell delved deep into the world of mythology, and even discussed the archetypal figures that Lucas had used in the Star Wars films. Joseph Campbell left this earth shortly after in 1988, but Bill Moyers returned to the Skywalker ranch in 2000 to further discuss with George Lucas, the mythological grounding which his movies were based on. The result is another fascinating 5 part conversation series on mythology, watch this if you are a fan of Joseph Campbell or Star Wars, or film analysis in general, and you will surely find something of worth!
Joseph Campbell was an extraordinary man with an extensive knowledge on world mythology, symbolism and psychology; he borrowed elements from Carl Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious, and his concept of archetypes, and used them both to help bridge a gap between East and West and all of the world religions and rituals. Joseph Campbell is most famous for his formulation of the fascinating and widely studied ‘monomyth’ theory, which states that all myths and stories – whether they be from religious texts or fiction novels – follow the same narrative structure, which he called the ‘the hero’s journey’. This structure was outlined step by step in Campbell’s best selling book, ‘The Hero With a Thousand Faces’, and is referred to as the ‘monomyth’, or one-myth, which is an archetypal journey or transformation that is repeated in every story told by man, in an endless circular pattern. The reason this theory is so popular, is that it touches on that intuitive element found in every man, that nothing is really separate, and that man and the universe is really interconnected in every way.
1). The Call to Adventure
2). Crossing of the Threshold (Entering the Unknown)
3). Trials and Tribulations of the Journey
4). Attainment of Enlightenment
5). Return of the Hero
Take a good look at any myth, story, novel or movie, and chances are you can see all of the same elements, simply wearing a different mask. The short video below shows one such example of the ‘monomyth’, found in the great sci fi masterpiece: ‘The Matrix’.
by Andy Weir:
You were on your way home when you died.
It was a car accident. Nothing particularly remarkable, but fatal nonetheless. You left behind a wife and two children. It was a painless death. The EMTs tried their best to save you, but to no avail. Your body was so utterly shattered you were better off, trust me.
And that’s when you met me.
“What… what happened?” You asked. “Where am I?”
“You died,” I said, matter-of-factly. No point in mincing words.
“There was a… a truck and it was skidding…”
“Yup,” I said.
“I… I died?”
“Yup. But don’t feel bad about it. Everyone dies,” I said.
Bill Hicks, one of the funniest men alive, also had a very interesting philosophy, watch this video to find that out.
This beautiful video on enlightenment by philosopher Alan Watts discusses how enlightenment, or simply ‘waking up’ (The Buddha means ‘awake’), is a simple process that any one is capable of, yet we disallow ourselves to do it as we feel we don’t deserve it. As he eloquently puts it: “when you’re ready to wake up, you’re gonna wake up, and if you’re not ready you’re going to stay pretending that you’re just some ‘poor little me'”. This video is a wake up call to anyone who’s still asleep and doesn’t know why, or doesn’t even care. Watching this video however, will not wake you up, but hopefully will change your perspective and allow you the first step towards doing something about your lack of total happiness.
‘They say in Zen when you attain satori, nothing is left for you in that moment except to have a good laugh’
This is a great video by RSA about the nature of human and animal civilisation and how we are all connected through empathy.
Creators of South Park, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, have created a few animations which capture the essence of some of Allan Watts’ teachings on Zen and Philosophy. The videos are fairly short and so there’s no reason you shouldn’t watch them.
Life and Music:
Prickles and Goo: