Plasma Studii on Fri, 28 Jun 2002 17:11:59 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> Are Machines Living Things? (Kevin Kelly and Steve Talbott)

(from a conversation between Steve Talbot and Kevin Kelly)

while i primarily agree with steve's main stance (organic mechanisms 
can inform non-organic research, in fact, there's really no precise 
difference between them), and really like the WAY he unfolds his 
argument, the words, questions.  But it's the more popular here and 
kevin's view ridiculously neglected (there are tons of differences 
that are for some reason, intolerable and must be extinguished by the 

>[ST:]  Yes, one can legitimately investigate what is machine-like
>in the human being.  But when for several hundred years a culture has
>progressively lost its ability to see what is non-machinelike in the human

exactly!  on one level, sure they are indistinguishable.  But that's 
no reason to eclipse a dozen other interpretations.  The organic vs. 
mechanistic argument reminds me of the 19th cent view of the 
universe, that the universe is operated by strict rules and filling 
in the blanks for all of those rules is all there is to knowing (and 
even predicting) the universe.

Well, though it seems quantum mechanics says "no, not that simple", 
folks still go by the assumption "well, yes actually, the laws are 
still the only thing but they are just more complicated than we had 
predicted previously".  They haven't given up their original premise 
that these governing laws control EVERYTHING.

>[ST:] when technology veils from view the natural world so that 
>almost all our activity is mediated in one way or another by 
>machines; when "official" science proscribes research that in any 
>way transcends a mechanistic model, making such research unfundable; 
>and when all this commitment to mechanism leads to a continual 
>flirting with environmental disaster for the entire living earth

that stuff has been going on since WWII.  now far narrower varieties 
of technological research are "legitimate".

>[ST:] well then, I don't understand why your further promotion of 
>the limiting, machine-human analogy should be seen as the positive 
>stance, while my suggestion that we recover a fuller understanding 
>of the human being and of nature is dismissed as the negative stance.

seems like you are asking for balance, when the trend is for all or 
nothing in a very narrow direction.  Unfortunately, this has been 
going on for so many generations, I suspect the background knowledge 
is no longer within reach for many who enjoy the simplicity of a 
binary interpretation of the world.  It's hard to get folks to put 
effort into further acquiring what they have absolutely no experience 

>[KK:] I am not sure who speaks for rats other than rats themselves. 
>If I was a rat I might enjoy having an implant for the sheer novelty 
>of it, just as I
>am certain many humans will take implants themselves so they can 
>experience something different, or to extend their sense of self.

i have an artifical brainstem implant.  it's not particularly 
novelty-worthy.  if it was in a rat, can't imagine they would even 
see the difference as significant.

>[KK:] Of course no human knows what a rat thinks or feels,

because rats don't.  and for some reason humans want to attribute 
these anthropomorphic qualities.  But really WE are the mutated, 
deformed apes with our over-grown cortexes.  But because the disease 
effects the structure of our very minds, it more than influences our 
"thoughts", it over shadows what other brains do normally for all the 
other animals.

We're stuck with it though and can't escape.  We can't NOT think 
around our abnormal thought generators.  Rats don't have the same 

>[KK:] but with implants we actually may know one day.  Rats may want 
>to have nothing to do with us and be left alone, or they may want to 
>have everything to do with us and want a chance to be something 
>different.  Or both.

what!?  rats want food.  if we provide food, works for them.  often 
because we are bigger we can breed, sell and experiment on rats. 
They don't have the deformed organ we do to interpret being 
experimented on as any different.  They still just want food.

>I suggest the following as a possible starting point for any assessment of
>the experiment's meaning for the rat.  Every organism strives to express
>its own wholeness;

well this seems like exactly the same approach but with a different 
conclusion.  What makes anyone think a rat seeks a human mental 
construct?  "Wholeness" is not an a priori idea.  We may sympathize 
with a rat scurrying around, but to the rat scurrying is just one of 
the survival strategies it has in it's motor skills.  It will try 
that and see if it works.  Depending on how many tricks it has on 
file, it may try other things.

while it's misleading to ONLY learn from rat's mechanical behavior, 
how can anyone determine it is happy?  Happiness is something humans 
made up. And has had very different value in different parts of the 
globe, mainly gaining importance in Europe 4000 years ago.  Rats may 
have other stuff to think about and we may not even have the organs 
to appreciate it because we are obsessively over-burdened with our 

But enough science!  I will learn from the rat now and go find food.


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