Author Archives: Tyler Yuen

Life Extension

Science fiction is known for exploring ideas that would normally be considered impossible in real life, such as the ability to extend the human lifespan beyond its general limit. As humans continue to rapidly develop their technology, the dream of achieving life extension becomes increasingly near. However, are humans becoming too ambitious in their desire to improve technology? The idea of having longevity as an option offers a lot of opportunities as it creates time which is invaluable. From spending time with loved ones to delaying untimely deaths caused by diseases, a longer lifespan has no visible shortage in personal benefits. With all these opportunities in mind, researchers hope to successfully develop methods such as digital uploading or gene editing processes which are similarly seen in works of science fiction like “Altered Carbon” or In Time. But the opportunities life extension offers is not without flaws and when the consequences of this concept is considered in relation to humanity as a whole, the idea of making this a reality is more detrimental than helpful.

If humans continue progressing towards their goal of life extension, it will create a lot of problems in the long run. In terms of effects on an individual, longevity dehumanizes people and could distance them from others rather than bringing them together. When considering the effects on a community, a longer lifespan can create overpopulation and a division between social classes. One of the reasons life extension sounds ideal is because it means not dying and although life is precious and desirable, that doesn’t mean death should be viewed as the opposite. Death actually maintains balance and solves many of the problems that come from longer life. As the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu once said, “The flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long.” It can be interpreted in many different ways but in this case, if one wants to live life to the fullest, then an extended lifespan is not ideal for reaching that goal. Taking all of this into consideration, how can life extension prove humanity is being blinded by their optimism?

Tyler Yuen - Final Project Cover Letter

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Better Living Through Science? (Revised Proposal)

Science fiction is a genre centered around speculation. It takes facts and opinions from the real world and makes ideas out of them. What interests me the most about these ideas is the nearly non-existent factor of probability, as even the most impossible things have a chance of happening in this genre. In real life, we know that death, a part of life that many people would like to avoid, is an unchangeable fate. Science fiction would challenge the certainty that the fate of death can’t be altered in any way, and find a way for all beings to continue living beyond their maximum lifespan through processes such as rejuvenation or enhancement.

Rejuvenation is the idea that the youth of the body can be restored within elderly people. As people grow older, their bodily functions become more frail, most noticeably on a physical level. Around 6,000 Americans suffer from illnesses caused by age and the idea of returning the few years they spent fighting the disease sounds ideal (Life Extension). But if we’re unable to reverse the abilities of our body to its strongest point than the idea of moving forward hasn’t been ruled out either. Enhancement is the process of surpassing the limits of the human body through technological means. Although enhancement already exists in the form of dealing with missing limbs through the use of prosthesis, which are artificial body parts, visionaries would like to take it a step further to the point of overcoming death through ideas such as replacing the entire human body with an artificial one (Reedy).

Life exists in all beings; whether they’re human, animal, or even the environment around us. Although it’s precious and can offer a lot to enjoy, I can’t agree that life extension is a good idea, on an ethical or practical scale. When humans find a problem they can’t overcome, their first idea is to use technology to solve it but their mistake is viewing “death” as a problem. Life and death define each other like light and darkness, in which one term is rendered meaningless without the other (Rovi Corporation). If our lifespan is a cycle and the end result, death, is taken out of the equation, then what is life headed towards?

If humans continue progressing towards the goal of life extension, it will create a lot of problems for us in the long run. Life is full of temptations which makes it hard to part with. If too many people choose longevity to the point of immortality, the ability to live eternally, then our already filled world will suffer even more from overpopulation. Overpopulation also leads to an increase in resource consumption as seen in Isaac Asimov’s story, “The Last Question”, which in turn, will lead to mass suffering and death instead of just a single death. It’s not just limited to that as longer life will impact us socially and psychologically too (Institute for Ethics). Socially, it’s clear that extending a life can be incredibly valuable which means that it would be even more expensive. This is only depriving the poor from the opportunities of having extra life and even if they took a loan for it, they would be spending it their remaining years in debt. On a psychological scale, longer life means people will simply become bored with the repetitiveness that life has to offer.

 

Annotated Bibliography

“Human Age-Reversal Research.” LifeExtension.com, www.lifeextension.com/magazine/2015/8/human-age-reversal-research/page-01.

This website is absolutely dedicated to the idea of longevity.  It recommends products pertaining to being healthy and any process that involves reversing age or rejuvenating people are supported in this website.  It also contains research on how young blood donors have reversed the aging of older animals, which shows their optimism at preventing death by aging.

“Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies.” Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, ieet.org/index.php/IEET2/print/2320.

This website states multiple arguments for and against the idea of life extension.  Arguments against life extension include how it aligns with the natural law, the effects it has on the mind of people, the negative social repercussions, and the motivations of people who request life extensions.  Arguments supporting life extension consist of the value of life compared to death, the positive social consequences, and legal and ethical rights. It also lists how a person dying at a young age is more tragic than a person dying at an old age so the idea that we have the ability to enable those the opportunity to fully live out their lives isn’t too bizarre.

“Killing Immortality.” Razor Tie Artery Foundation Announce New Joint Venture Recordings | Razor & Tie, Rovi Corporation, web.archive.org/web/20040607195722/http://www.betterhumans.com/Features/Columns/Forward_Thinking/column.aspx?articleID=2002-12-03-4.

This website is about how a bioethicist researcher is completely against the idea of life extension and how it creates social issues, renders life pointless, and challenges religion.  The researcher believes that creating artificial organs or changing our genes are challenging us as humans. The social issues he believes in will result in environmental damage and how only rich people will have the luxury of choosing whether they can live longer or not.  Even now the world’s population is alarmingly large and extending people’s lives will only make it more crowded. He also provides reasons as to why death gives life meaning by saying “life is beautiful because it has an ending.”

Maxmen, Amy. “This Startup Takes Cash from Aging Adults in Exchange for Young People’s Blood.” MIT Technology Review, MIT Technology Review, 13 Jan. 2017, www.technologyreview.com/s/603242/questionable-young-blood-transfusions-offered-in-us-as-anti-aging-remedy/.

This website lists an ethical issue in which it discusses a clinic where adults against aging spend thousand of dollars injecting young people’s blood into their body, as it’s believed younger people’s blood can reverse aging since it worked on mice.  Taking in blood from other people’s bodies are incredibly dangerous just to reduce aging, not to mention this process is incredibly expensive and would be better used on someone who’s actually dying from a disease rather than a person interested in retaining their youth.  There’s too many illnesses to watch out for such as hives, lung injury, and infections.

Reedy, Christianna. “An End to Aging: Can Science Allow Humans to To Become Immortal?” Futurism, Futurism, 3 Mar. 2017, futurism.com/1-evergreen-an-end-to-aging-heres-how-were-fighting-death.

This website details the terms rejuvenation and enhancement, as well as sharing ideas about them.  Some of forms of enhancement include creating an artificial body or creating a chamber for people to store their minds in.  The goal of how far visionaries intend to live for ranges from an extra hundred years to the point of being immortal.

 

Defying the Inevitable

When I think about science fiction, I imagine the boundaries of possibilities being stretched beyond their standard limits. There’s a lot of things we haven’t even been capable of for as long as we can remember and one of those things is the secret behind death, an unchangeable fate that every living being experiences at the end of their lifespan.  However with science fiction releasing numerous ideas that could be used to avoid or delay this encounter like uploaded consciousness as shown in novel “Altered Carbon” or cryonics as seen in the film Passengers, bio technologists are willing to invest time into making these concepts a reality.

Imagine what could be possible if the ability to change a person’s lifespan actually existed. Those who face a disease that threatens to take them away from their families earlier than expected could be saved giving them more precious time. People who haven’t lived out life to the fullest will have more time to reconsider the decisions they made in life.  Death can be frightening to many because it’s a one time experience. It can’t be thoroughly explained what happens after death which is what makes it scary, because it’s the unknown. However, that doesn’t mean longevity isn’t without flaws either. If too many people are tempted by the joys that life has to offer, then we face overpopulation. Overpopulation also leads to an increase in resource consumption as seen in Isaac Asimov’s story “The Last Question” which in turn, will leave to mass suffering and death instead of just a single death.  Not only that but extending life beyond its normal duration this has psychological and social consequences too, such as possibly changing a person to the point where they are bored with a longer lifespan or only allowing the rich to be able to afford longer lives while the poor don’t even get the choice.  Although we commonly turn to technology to solve our questions, we have to consider the consequences our developments might bring.

In my research, I would like to explain the general information like what is life extension is and why we should care about it.  I’ll discuss the history of life extension and how it’s changed since then, as well as listing the techniques currently in development and if there has been any breakthroughs.  Finally, I’ll focus on the reasons for and against life extension keeping the ethical and practical repercussions in mind . Some questions that interest me about this topic are related to the consequences of longevity:

A lot of the things in the world are defined by opposites.  Take light and dark into consideration. Both ideas define each other, as one term would be meaningless without the other.  Applying this to the concept of life and death, what is life without death?

As life and death are integral parts of human existence, to avoid death is unnatural for a human being. If we were to extend our lifespan, would we be sacrificing a part of what makes us human?

Bibliography

“Human Age-Reversal Research.” LifeExtension.com, www.lifeextension.com/magazine/2015/8/human-age-reversal-research/page-01.

This website is absolutely dedicated to the idea of longevity.  It recommends products pertaining to being healthy and any process that involves reversing age or rejuvenating people are supported in this website.  It also contains research on how young blood donors have reversed the aging of older animals, which shows their optimism at preventing death by aging.

“Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies.” Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, ieet.org/index.php/IEET2/print/2320.

This website states multiple arguments for and against the idea of life extension.  Arguments against life extension include how it aligns with the natural law, the effects it has on the mind of people, the negative social repercussions, and the motivations of people who request life extensions.  Arguments supporting life extension consist of the value of life compared to death, the positive social consequences, and legal and ethical rights. It also lists how a person dying at a young age is more tragic than a person dying at an old age so the idea that we have the ability to enable those the opportunity to fully live out their lives isn’t too bizarre.

“Killing Immortality.” Razor Tie Artery Foundation Announce New Joint Venture Recordings | Razor & Tie, Rovi Corporation, web.archive.org/web/20040607195722/http://www.betterhumans.com/Features/Columns/Forward_Thinking/column.aspx?articleID=2002-12-03-4.

This website is about how a bioethicist researcher is completely against the idea of life extension and how it creates social issues, renders life pointless, and challenges religion.  The researcher believes that creating artificial organs or changing our genes are challenging us as humans. The social issues he believes in will result in environmental damage and how only rich people will have the luxury of choosing whether they can live longer or not.  Even now the world’s population is alarmingly large and extending people’s lives will only make it more crowded. He also provides reasons as to why death gives life meaning by saying “life is beautiful because it has an ending.”

Maxmen, Amy. “This Startup Takes Cash from Aging Adults in Exchange for Young People’s Blood.” MIT Technology Review, MIT Technology Review, 13 Jan. 2017, www.technologyreview.com/s/603242/questionable-young-blood-transfusions-offered-in-us-as-anti-aging-remedy/.

This website lists an ethical issue in which it discusses a clinic where adults against aging spend thousand of dollars injecting young people’s blood into their body, as it’s believed younger people’s blood can reverse aging since it worked on mice.  Taking in blood from other people’s bodies are incredibly dangerous just to reduce aging, not to mention this process is incredibly expensive and would be better used on someone who’s actually dying from a disease rather than a person interested in retaining their youth.  There’s too many illnesses to watch out for such as hives, lung injury, and infections.

What Separates Us From Machines?

Westworld is an interesting series that focuses on two different beings, “Hosts” which appear to be automatons, and “Guests”, which are humans.  It was a little confusing why they were called that but some dialogue mentions a “park” indicating this is a theme park where the automatons are design to serve or cater to the humans that attend it.  In this western themed park, it seems to be another world where humans are free to do anything they choose, no matter how questionable their actions may be.

In the beginning of the episode, a host named Dolores hints her world is the kind of place where it allows a lot of freedom by saying, “The newcomers are just looking for the same thing we are.  A place to be free to stake out our dreams, a place with unlimited possibilities.” (00:04:05). This is eventually seen to be true as some of these “newcomers” get away with things like killing other people and laughing over it as though it’s nothing (00:53:24).  The same freedom doesn’t apply to the hosts however, as they’re supposed to “stay within their loops” (00:40:05). They aren’t allowed to experience a different way of life unless a guest chooses it for them (00:39:42) and they aren’t able to kill the guests either (00:12:23) leaving them no choice but to experience whatever someone else wants from them.

Technology is just seen as a tool to serve humans which makes it even more likely the guests will treat them improperly.  When the Sheriff malfunctions, the guests say “something is wrong with it.” indicating that some don’t even view the Sheriff as anything but a machine (00:27:04) and some old guy even refers to them as “livestock” (00:45:02).  They return to town and proceed to shoot up the wanted man’s gang and say things like “Look at that! I just shot him through the neck! And his pal here, too. Yo, go get that photographer. I want to get a picture of this.” (00:54:40).  These signs show that humanity doesn’t care for the hosts no matter how lifelike they look or act. It’s honestly disturbing that people would be willing to kill automatons that mimic our behaviors and then laugh over it like it’s nothing.  The hosts can hardly be told apart from the guests so these actions technically are no different from killing a stranger.

With the hosts being treated unfairly, it seems like this theme park isn’t going to last very long.  Some of the park managers foreshadows this by saying “You don’t have kids at home, do you Bernard? If you did, you’d know that they all rebel eventually.” (00:18:45).  This is nearly proven later when Mr. Abernathy threatens the inventor of hosts by saying “I shall have such revenges on you both.” (1:02:03) indicating that it’s possible for the hosts to break free of their programming.  Generally, the hosts are not designed to react to anomaly’s or unusual things like when the upper level of the bar collapses and the people inside don’t even glance at it (00:50:30). However, Dolores appears to be showing this behavior too, as one of the researchers lines claim they “literally couldn’t hurt a fly.” (00:27:31) only for Dolores to slap one on her neck at the end, revealing her growing awareness of the world (1:06:54).

From this episode, we can see that Westworld is a place where humans can do whatever they want.  We see guests that kill automatons that look like humans, laugh about it, and snap pictures of it.  But if we keep in mind what defines humanity and machines, this world is pretty messed up. Humans are typically regarded as beings known for their empathy and compassion, yet there’s barely any to be seen here.  Machines are commonly seen as cold and calculating, but in Westworld, they’re built to be lifelike and live out the same everyday lives that can be altered in disastrous ways depending on how the guests want them to.  Pertaining to the series, the line that separates us is so blurred, the hosts might as well be considered more human than us.

The Handmaid’s Tale – Society of Regression?

The Handmaid’s Tale is a post apocalyptic story that focuses on a society where women are oppressed and some are forced to be “Handmaid’s”, women who are forced to give birth for men whether they want to or not.  The reason this society developed is because a plague had resulted in infertility in many women becoming infertile. One woman who is still able to give birth is named Offred and the story focuses a lot on her flashbacks and her current experiences.  From each of them it appears that the society seems to be regressing from equality and progressing towards totalitarianism.

The most obvious difference from the past and present is women’s rights, as Offred’s thoughts and feelings clearly show the difference.  The biggest difference can be seen in Offred’s flashback where Offred is meeting with her friend Moira before the society developed (48:30).  Their dialogue together shows that Offred is clearly with a man she likes yet in the present time she is living as a surrogate mother for a man referred to as “Commander Waterford.” (6:30) and walks around depressed all the time, which is unlike the attitude she showed with her friend.  From this we can not only conclude happiness is not a value of this society but also that women capable of giving birth aren’t allowed to live an independent life, as they are forced into servitude. Other signs of women’s limited rights are the fact that they wear different clothes compared to the past (48:30), can’t go on walks outside without another Handmaid to spy on them (12:17), and are seemingly forbidden from even doing an activity as simple as reading (14:30).

Another step back from equality is gay rights.  The first sign we see implying that homosexuality is looked down upon is when the hanging bodies are shown.  Ofglen, Offred’s Handmaid partner, notes that one of the three bodies is a gay man (15:42). What shows that this is a regression from the past is Offred’s flashback at, where she’s once again with her friend Moira who is able to laugh and spend time with her girlfriend (16:40).  Later on, Moira confirms that “dyke purges” are an event in the present and that Odette, who is possibly Moira’s girlfriend, was classified as an Unwoman and sent to work in The Colonies (20:10). Ofglen also states she had a wife around which furthers the idea that the world was far more equal in the past than now (51:25).  Considering the society has an excessive fixation on babies and giving birth, it’s understandable why they see gay people as incapable of fitting in (17:45).

The last sign that the society descended from equality is its lack of freedom of religion.  Around the hanging bodies scene, Ofglen also stated that one of them was a priest (15:42). Although the episode never specifically stated what religion the priest was or what the society follows despite their frequent use of phrases involving God (39:20), it’s likely that the priest was part of a religion that believed in chastity.  A vow of chastity would clearly go against the society’s value of childbirth, therefore it’s likely they weren’t seen as helpful to fulfilling the society’s goals. A scene from the past suggests that not everyone believes in religion based on Moira’s comment “Let’s go to Church” before she and Offred laugh over it (16:40). Therefore, it seems like the society in the future forces people to follow certain religious beliefs while also not allowing them to embrace the religion too deeply or else they turn out like the priest.

Although it’s only one episode, the flashbacks and present experiences of Offred seem to imply that the world used to be more freedom and equal rights before progressively becoming a totalitarian government.  Whether it’s gender, sexual preference, or religion, this society only allows people to follow their rules, and if they don’t fit in, they will be punished in some way. As our world seems to permit individuality and diversity among people, The Handmaid’s Tale could be seen as a path we might end up following if the fertility rates are lowered to the point of threatening humanity’s continues existence.

11/8/18 Class Notes

Announcements

  • Please see Professor Belli if you have not done so to discuss your mid semester grades. It is absolutely important for those who got a borderline (BL) or unsatisfactory (U) grade.
    • For those who don’t remember how to check it, visit the OpenLab ENG 2420 course site, scroll down under the Categories drop down menu, where it will say Course Gradebook and a line underneath that “Students, check your grades here!” Click on ENG 2420 which will show you your mid semester grade. The other grades (Midterm and Essay 1 will be posted here later)
  • Next week we’ll be discussing the first episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale and Westworld, to discuss the equality and political-social issues. Tuesday for The Handmaid’s Tale, Thursday for Westworld.  We’ll also spend more time discussing the theme of Gender in science fiction so continue reading “The Image of Women in Science Fiction” and “Science Fiction’s Women Problem”.  We’ll be spending a few minutes on wrapping up “The Image of Women in Science Fiction” and more of time analyzing “Science Fiction’s Women Problem”.
  • Based on the comments from “World-Building in Political Elections”, we need to state the link or source explicitly (Links appear as images on this site, explain underneath the image what it is and where it’s from).  This goes for future assignments as well, when uploading or using a source, don’t just place the source anywhere. Help readers understand why it’s there. Keep this in mind for our final research project which will be coming soon.  Learn to find sources but keep track of the ideas. As you research, these ideas may change.
  • In the future, we will return to the theme of Artificial Intelligence.

Homework

Next week we’ll have two reading response blogs due. Check the schedule to see the assignments.

  • For our next class on Tuesday, November 13, you must watch the episode “June” from the Hulu series, The Handmaid’s Tale. A reading response blog will be due by the start of class. Treat the assignment similarly to how we did with Metropolis (evidence with proper citations and bring in annotations for Tuesday).
  • Next Thursday, November 15, will be focused on the HBO series, Westworld.

“Utopia as Method: The Imaginary Reconstitution of Society”

Quote we analyzed last Tuesday, November 6 was from “Utopia as Method: The Imaginary Reconstitution of Society” by Ruth Levitas,

“Utopia also entails refusal, the refusal to accept that what is given is enough.  It embodies the refusal to accept that living beyond the present is delusional, the refusal to take at face value current judgements of the good or claims that there is no alternative.”

11/6/18 Recap

  • From the freewriting responses, everyone had different thoughts and opinions on what this quote meant as well as a different definition of utopia
  • Misrepresentation of Utopia, Although commonly thought as better, every individual has their own idea of a utopia.

Discussion

  • What is your impression of labeling someone else’s utopia as impractical?
    • Stops people from dreaming, believing, being motivated
    • Prevents free thinking and progression
    • No individuality
    • Shuts things down, narrows people’s views, lowers expectations, constrains what we can achieve or desire.
  • People view Utopia as better but it’s also a way of showing refusal of the current state of our society
  • “Living beyond the present is delusional” – condescending, something that is frequent in gender equality
  • “The refusal to take at face value current judgements of the good” – believing in a utopia indicates that a person can’t accept the way things currently are.
  • “There is no alternative.” – quote used frequently by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
  • Can be seen in politics, gender relations, race relations

“World Building In Politics”

  • Given our current political climate, what are defining features of the current administration?/What characterizes them?
    • Fear and Discrimination – an example would be the caravan from Mexico that is making its way to Mexico City
    • Misinformation
  • What vision/world does that build for us?
    • Lead people to ignorance. What is truth? Hard to tolerate other people’s ideas
  • “Nineteen Eighty-Four” by George Orwell became re-popularized by President Trump because of it was reminiscent the world.
    • Famous quote “two plus two equals five” – the State constructs different versions of reality to make people believe a certain thing.
    • Doublethink, Newspeak – Thought control
    • Trump’s behavior encourages lack of respect or truth.
  • Online Discussion
    • Republicans and Democrats have differing views. What happens if the Democrats take back the House?
    • Letitia James, first African American woman to to be elected as attorney general has made many breakthroughs. Science Fiction and politics both are fields where women are heavily underrepresented.
  • People who openly ran for progressive/diverse ideas still lost.  This is because the moment needs to be right before enacting something.  Speculative fiction pushes what might be possible and what is currently possible.

Gender and “The Image of Women in Science Fiction”

  • “The Image of Women in Science Fiction” is part of the Vertex magazine and was published 44 years ago around the height of feminism and the science fiction genre.  Even today it’s still relevant.
  • Science fiction has a lot of portrayal of women yet very little women involved in the field.
  • “Science fiction is What if literature… offend against what is known to be known.” (Page 54, First Column)
    • It tries to speak against the mainstream.
    • Quote considers the way things are, the way things might/could be, and the way things should/ought to be.  The way things should be is like an ethical desire.
    • The What If is speculative and considers all sorts of possibilities (even borderline fantasy ones) whereas The Serious Explanation is essentially staying grounded to reality and considering the more likely possibilities.
    • “Utopia concerns what is not (yet).  It is intrinsically evaluative, concerned with what ought to be and the process of conforming the world to that standard.” (Levitas) – A utopia means to desire otherwise.  It indicates that you want the world to look like something else.
  • “One would think science fiction the perfect literary mode… does not exist at all” (Page 54, Second Column)
    • Women are subject to extrapolation for science fiction works.
    • Although science fiction is a speculative genre, there is no assumptions of speculation about the gender roles to be found in science fiction because the differences are clear in real life.
    • Alternative roles for women aren’t even being imagined.  Science fiction should accommodate different ideas but it hasn’t been when it comes to gender roles.
  • “It has been easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism” (Frederic Jameson)
    • The idea that humans would destroy themselves is more believable than changing the fundamental structure.
  • Column 3 quotes
    • “This is not the case… into is future Galactic Empires.” – Instead of the difference between women and men being changing with time, science fiction authors just took the current standards and made it like these inequalities would exist in the future.
    • “In general, the authors who write reasonable… and that world is never questioned” – Even famous authors don’t try to challenge the gender role ideas.  These gender roles reproduce common assumptions.
    • “In short, the American middle class with a little window dressing.” – science fiction works create superficial presentations of gender inequality.
    • “In science fiction, speculation about social institutions… technology is easier to understand than people.” – A lot of science fiction authors can imagine technology that can adapt to the point of taking over the world but the idea of women having equal rights is unheard of to them.  They can’t imagine people in different roles.

Vocabulary and Terms

  • Cherry Picking (verb) – A selective form of researching.  Act of picking certain things but obscuring others.
  • Delusional (adjective) – crazy, mistaken, believing something to be true even though it’s not.
  • DoubleThink (noun) – “Nineteen Eighty-Four” term for believing two contradictory things at the same time
  • Innate (adjective) – inherent, natural
  • Intrinsically (adjective) – in a natural way
  • Newspeak (noun) – “Nineteen Eighty-Four” term for the official language of oceania.  Heavily controlled by restricting certain words.
  • Status Quo (noun) – the current situation or way things are (can relate to social and political issues as well)

 

If you see any mistakes or missing information feel free to call me out on it in the comments.

Science Fiction – Class Notes 10/25/18

Announcements

  • Mid semester Grades due by 10/31/18.
    • No notification will be given when the grade is put up.
    • To check your grades, visit the course site for this class and scroll under the categories drop down menu, there will be a mention of Course Gradebook with a link that says “Students, check your grades online!”. Clicking on it will show a column with a letter grade on it.
    • This grade is going to be based around class participation and blogs. Midterm and Essay 1 (which are on 11/1/18) are not included in this grade.
    • The grades are P = Passing, BL = Borderline, and U = Unsatisfactory. For a more accurate grade placement (number grades), discuss with Professor Belli during office hours the week after midterms.
    • If you get a Passing grade, continue doing as much work as you can because it only means you’re above a 60.  Borderline passing grade is 60.
    • If you receive Borderline or Unsatisfactory grade, you should email Professor Belli and discuss it with her during office hours.  Not mandatory but highly recommended.
  • Class on Tuesday 10/30/18 will be asynchronous.
    • Class is free that day as Professor Belli will be absent.
    • Students don’t have to show up but if you want to you may use the time to schedule plans to peer review Essay 1 drafts with your classmates.
  • Midterm will be on 11/1/18.
    • In class exam, Professor Belli will be absent again.  Professor Barlow will be the proctor of the exam.
    • If you have any questions about the midterm for Professor Belli, try emailing her before Saturday to get a response.
  • Look ahead to week of 11/6/18 on the schedule for texts we need to read.
  • The second half of the semester will consist of discussing the genre of science fiction.  It will contain works focused on topics such as power dynamics as well as gender, race, and political issues.  Consider how the genre of science fiction helps us think differently and move beyond the status quo.

 

Homework

  • Study for Midterm (will take place on 11/1/18 at 2:30 pm)
  • Essay 1 (due 11/1/18 at 2:30 pm)
  • Take advantage of any of these to study if in need of help:
    • Writing Resources – covers writing process for essays.
    • Science Fiction Resources – contains links to sources such as The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction which covers topics and terms commonly seen in this genre.
    • Learning Center – provides tutoring if necessary
    • Office Hours

 

Midterm Review

Essay 1

    • The essay will be a critical reflection on the experiences we’ve gone through in class which means it’s written in first person perspective.  Will consist of a cover letter, 3-4 page double spaced essay, and a Work Cited page for any texts used (cover letter and Work Cited pages do not contribute to the 3-4 page requirement).
    • For the cover letter, it must be one page long, single spaced and will be placed at the beginning of the entire essay.  This cover letter explains how you worked on the essay, how you brainstormed and organized all the ideas, and any changes you made.  Overall, it’s the process that you went through to create it. If you submit the essay without a cover letter then it won’t be graded.
    • The main essay will be a reflection of everything we’ve gone through in this course, so look over blogs, discussions, free writing, and texts to use as evidence.  Consider how science fiction and this course helped you think differently about the genre and the world. Have any of your initial views changed? Has it affected parts of your life in any way?  Use the evidence gathered to bolster your argument. Keep in mind that this is not a summary and don’t plagiarize or else you automatically fail.
    • For the Works Cited page, Any quotes or examples used from outside sources or texts must be cited in MLA format. Example of texts would be “The Machine Stops” or “Black Mirror.”
    • Two copies will be submitted, a digital one through Dropbox and a printed copy to Professor Barlow during the day of the exam.  Any essays submitted after 2:30 pm of 11/1/18 will not be accepted. The digital copy must be a Word document or else credit will not be given and labeled with your Full Name, Essay 1.
    • The essay will be graded on your quality of critical thought and the way you present it.  Will be worth 10% of overall course grade.

 

  • For more in depth information, look under the Assignments drop down menu and click on Essay 1 (The link to Dropbox will also be here).  For additional information, under the same menu, click on Assignments: Formatting, Guidelines, And Submission.

 

 

Midterm Exam

    • Expect a combination of identifying short factual terms and critical analysis of texts that we’ve gone over throughout the semester.  Will be a 75 min long, in class exam, no notes or phones will be allowed.
    • The Identification portion of the text will look for basic understanding of ideas, vocabulary terms, and texts.  Things like the elements of science fiction, cyborgs, singularity, turing test, etc. may appear in the test.  Don’t forget to remember what part of speech they are categorized as (ex. noun, adjective, verb, adverb).
    • The Critical Analysis portion of the text will be similar to the free writing that we’ve done in class up until now.
    • To prepare for the exam, do the essay (as it will jog your memory on everything we’ve done so far), study class notes, texts, and blog posts.
    • Will be worth 10% of overall course grade as well.

 

  • For more in depth information, look under the Assignments drop down menu and click on Midterm Exam.

 

 

“The Last Question” Discussion

10/23/18 Recap

  • Humans have learned to harness the power of the sun
  • “The Last Question” had been asked in 2061 in the form of “Can Entropy be reversed”
  • Each Vignette appears to skip ten thousand years
  • Hyperspace Travel has been invented
  • Sustainability crisis
  • People seem to be more mechanical in the appearances we see them every ten thousand years
  • The machine evolves every ten thousand years, Multivac to Microvac to Universal AC, etc.
    • The machine also becomes more portable with every upgrade.
  • Discussed Zee Prime and the intellectual continuation of man (page 6)

Discussion and Text Analysis

  • Page 6
    • “Zee Prime’s mind spanned the new Galaxy…” – Zee Prime’s mind explores the Galaxy looking at different stars instead of exploring it physically.
    • “Each with its own load of humanity” – Each Galaxy has their own fair share of humans living in it.
    • “More and more… Minds not bodies” – People’s minds travel the world instead of their actual physical bodies.
    • “The immortal bodies… to join the incredibly mighty throng.” – The bodies remain on the planets which means there’s a separation of body location and mental location.  Use of physical body is becoming less necessary. Less people are joining the already overcrowded Universe.
    • In this vignette, people are less different and even the names become even more unusual. All the galaxies in the Universe are called “Galaxy”.
  • Page 7
    • “Nor could anyone, for the day had long since passed… ‘THIS IS THE ORIGINAL GALAXY of MAN’” – The AC is building and designing its successors. The AI sustains itself through these new bodies giving itself longevity.
    • Similar to “The Star”, Earth is just a speck in space.  People are narcissistic to believe it has any bigger presence in the galaxy.
    • “During its existence of a million years” – despite the Machine’s incredibly long lifespan it has failed to answer the question of reversing entropy.
    • “A thought came, infinitely distant, but infinitely clear“ Universal AC is capable of reaching into people’s minds and guiding their thoughts
  • Page 8
    • “Man considered… ‘The Universe is dying’”. – People are no longer different as they Man consists of a large number of minds and bodies merged together.  They can’t be told apart indicating no more individuality.
    • Unlike “Metropolis” the automatons in this story were made to care for people whereas Maria was instructed to harm.
  • Page 9
    • “One by one Man fused with AC… was somehow not a loss but a gain.” – Man and Machine have now fused together. Despite losing their mental identity, it’s considered a good thing.
    • “Matter and energy had ended… man to Man.” – Machine continues working on the last question despite all matter and energy completely disappearing from the universe.  Still holding onto its purpose even though it’s alone in the universe.
    • “There was now no man… by demonstration – would take care of that.” – With all the humans gone, the AC has no one to give the answer of the last question to so it creates its own solution. The demonstration refers to the final moment when the AC says “Let there be light!” which signifies a moment of creation.
    • The Machine has shown itself to be capable of giving life to itself by creating a successor but now it gives life to others.
    • Science fiction stories tend to leave room for speculation from readers. “The Star” ended with the Martian astronomers, “The Machine Stops” ended with the people getting out of their rooms, and “The Last Question” ends on the AC enacting its demonstration.  However, it is left ambiguous as to what happened afterwards.

 

Questions/Theories/Speculation

  • Is the “mind spanning the galaxy” thing, similar to astral projection?
  • With immortality resulting in no people dying, is the law different? Is the world more or less chaotic?
  • Consider the relationship between people and Machine. Who serves who?
  • The AC was built entirely to serve Humans. Now that the AC expands itself, what is its purpose after it outlived Man?
  • Similar to “There Will Be Soft Rains”, did the AC develop its own personality or curiosity of how to answer the the question of reversing entropy?
  • Did the AC sacrifice itself to give life and energy to the new universe?

 

Vocabulary and Terms

  • Automation (noun) – a robot, mechanical device, machine
  • Asynchronous (adjective) – not existing or happening at the same time
  • Disembodied (adjective) – separated from physical form
  • Immortal (adjective) – undying
  • Indistinguishable (adjective) – unable to be told apart
  • Throng (noun) – A dense crowd

 

If I missed anything, please tell me through the comments and I’ll fix it.

The Archive Revisited

On October 18, 2018, class was held in the library again so that we were able view the City Tech Science Fiction Collection for a second time. Since we already knew the rules, we were given much more time than before to browse the shelves for anything that might peak our interest.

While I was skimming the titles of the books, I noticed a lot of the titles matched our initial thoughts on science fiction. In the beginning of the semester, when Professor Belli asked us all what we thought of when we heard the words “science fiction” we said things like “technology, aliens, cyborgs, and supernatural” Some of the books I noticed we’re things like “Aliens on Earth” or “Biomedical Technology”, and “Cyberpunk”.  Aside from those, there were also a lot of mentions things like “Vampires or Hogwarts” which was supernatural but more on the unrealistic side. Professor Belli told us not everything there was complete science fiction which made sense considering that there was a magazine in there called “The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction” which leaned heavily on the “Fantasy” genre.

It was difficult to settle on a single book because there were so many but one of the books I took out to look at was called “Cyborg Worlds: the military information society” Obviously, the word that lured me in was “Cyborgs” because RoboCop and Terminator movies made them look really good so I checked it out. The cover was also a lot more intriguing than the ones I saw on the magazine. It had the drawing of the side of a human skull outline on it but it was shooting a laser beam out of its eyes.  In addition, parts of its head looked like it was torn out showing things like, numbers, wires, and chips. The way they drew it actually made it look like it was coming out at the viewer which was pretty cool.

Inside the book were things like “The cyborg soldier: The US military and the post-modern warrior” or “Strategic offense: Star Wars as military hegemony”.  I think it was a scholarly book designed to persuade people of the possibilities of using robots and artificial intelligence to improve the military’s capabilities.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to read all of it because I found in near the end of class.

Overall, a lot of the things we considered today are mostly the same as back then, so I guess our views weren’t as different as I initially thought when I first entered the archive.  Our second visit to the archive was a lot more fun than the first one and I did develop some questions about the collection overall. A lot of the books in there are very old, and therefore require careful handling but will we ever get to visit the archive again?  Not necessarily as a class trip but like in a normal visit to the library. It’s behind two locked doors so students currently can’t access it freely. I also took a look at the inventory sheet of the science fiction collection and some of the magazine series are incomplete, like the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction only has two issues in 2010 but they’ve released more than that.  Will City Tech continue adding to the collection to continue the anonymous donors work? Since I’ll probably never get the chance to see the archive again, I’m really curious as to what the plans are for it.

The Earth Without Humans

“August 2026: There Will Come Soft Rains” is an amazing short story written by the science fiction writer, Ray Bradbury.  It’s placed in a world where humankind seems to have gone extinct and the only trace of their existence so far is an automated house programmed to ease the former resident’s life.  Near the end of the day, the house gets destroyed because the ongoing storm outside the house knocked a tree into it causing a chain reaction that resulted in the house being destroyed.  What stuck out to me the most was the amount of focus Bradbury put on the house. He made it clear that animals such as a dog exists so why center the story around an inanimate object over the only other surviving member of the family?  It’s almost like Bradbury wanted us to see what life was like for technology without anyone to care for it.

During the beginning of the story, it becomes obvious that the house is almost like a housekeeper by doing all the cooking and cleaning around the house.  At one point, the house reads the poem “There Will Come Soft Rains” by Sara Teasdale which outlines the situation, “Robins will wear their feathery fire/Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire/And not one will know of the war, not one/Will care at last when it is done./Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree/If mankind perished utterly.”(Bradbury, 3).  It’s interesting and a little ironic that the house just happened to pick this poem. The residents of the house are gone and it continues its daily routine as though they were still alive. The house, the trees, and the animals, have no clue that the family is missing, save for the dog. Eventually, this poem applies to the house as well. It gets destroyed at the end but no one will be around to know it.

Reading about the house and its purpose reminded me a little of the the Machine from E.M. Forster’s short story, “The Machine Stops.”  The Machine is the omnipotent being that practically spoon feeds humans while the house is more like an upgraded computer that simply makes life more convenient for humans.  Both even suffer the unfortunate fate of “death” but the destruction of the house was the only one to make me sad. Throughout the story, it does things for the family such as making food, cleaning the house, and reading to them aloud, even if they’re not present.  It’s not a sentient being but the things it does for the family is comparable to a child eagerly doing chores to please its parents. It has no idea that its been left alone and is just waiting for the residents to return. When the tree falls into the house and starts a fire, you can see the desperation of it trying to stay alive, “And the voices wailed Fire, fire, run, run, like a tragic nursery rhyme, a dozen voices, high, low, like children dying in a forest, alone, alone.” (Bradbury, 4).  Bradbury characterized the house like a struggling human, showing that even technology doesn’t live forever when alone.

Theoretically, if the humans were still around, would it have been any different?  After all, the house couldn’t even save itself. This brings up another similarity the house has to the Machine in which they both have limited areas of influence.  Both the Machine and the house were destroyed due to lack of management. In “The Machine Stops”, people could have taken care of the Machine to ensure it didn’t break down.  In this story, the owners of the house could have cut down the tree to avoid the possibility of it falling into the house. Humans need to take caution when managing technology though because it’s implied that the family were killed by some explosion, “The five spots of paint-the man, the woman, the children, the ball-remained.  The rest was a thin charcoaled layer.” (Bradbury, 1).

Even if humanity perished, life will go on without humans since the universe doesn’t revolve around us.  I think Bradbury put a lot of focus on the house and its capabilities because this is a message designed to warn us.  Humans are too lazy and self absorbed. We depend on technology so much and making it serve just us is the wrong thing to do.  The house’s downfall shows that technology needs humans just as much as we need it. It might not have any feelings but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t care for them any less.  The way we manage technology may cause more harm than good and we need to be more aware of that.

Comparing the Views from the Past and Present

In science fiction class on Thursday October 4th, 2018, instead of holding class in our usual room, we went to visit The City Tech Science Fiction Collection which was held on the second floor of the City Tech library.  The entire collection is courtesy of an anonymous donor.

When I first heard about the anonymous donation of books delivered to the library, I actually thought they would have to open up a new section in the main part of the library.  It would allow people to just freely browse through the items whenever they wanted. I didn’t actually realize the books would be in its own separate room completely apart from everything else. “The City Tech Science Fiction Collection” video made it appear somewhat identical to the main library aisles. I never actually went to the library to look for books before so I wasn’t really familiar with how things work around there but the City Tech Science Fiction Collection were part of The Archives which are usually created to store and preserve certain items.  It made sense for them to want to keep it away from the rest of the library because allowing random people to have access to them would risk ruining the books. If the books were damaged in any possible way, it would waste the anonymous donor’s hard work of collecting everything.

Aisle of Science Fiction Collection

Row of Books with Varying Levels of Quality

Once the door to the archives was opened, we spent most of our time checking out the deepest aisle of the room because Professor Belli told us to look for science fiction magazines to research on.  The room was kind of ordinary, the size of a classroom, yet it was mainly filled with a bunch of shelves dedicated to holding the science fiction collection. It was kept well conditioned as a way of ensuring the books weren’t negatively affected by any extreme temperatures.  Along the side of the wall were shelves holding some binders, folders, boxes, and trophies which made the aisles hard to walk through but Professor Belli told us that some of that stuff weren’t part of the anonymous donation so it seemed City Tech was using it as a storage room for their own things as well.  On the main shelves, almost all the books were squished together like they were trying to conserve as much space as possible. Some of the books were contained in plastic and others looked like their spines were in such bad condition, they would fall apart upon touching them. There were so many issues, it made me wonder how long this anonymous person has been building up this collection for and why he would suddenly give all of it away.

Magazine of F&SF Issue. Cover Art of January 1979

Table of Contents

Among the major magazines were “Amazing Stories”, “Analog”, and “IF” but the one my partner and I picked out were from “The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction”, a magazine that seemed to have a running time so long it filled up about four rows of bookends on a single shelf.  I chose an issue from January 1979 Volume 56 No. 332 because the cover art was unlike the others. A few of their issues had dark outer space like covers but this one seemed to lean more on the fantasy side by using brighter colors and depicting a forest like setting with a river that flowed downwards from the sky.  While examining the contents, one thing I noticed about this magazine was that it wasn’t like the magazines that are popular today. The science fiction magazine only cost a $1.25 and seemed to have pages that lacked smoothness, color, and artwork. The most detailed artwork was on the cover but afterwards, it became somewhat more basic.  For example, one of the drawings was of a small astronaut walking. Most of the color was also dedicated to the cover and a single advertisement for cigarettes but the other advertisements in the book were more black and white for some reason.

Magazine doesn’t put too much focus onto artwork. Only for the cover and small comics.

For some reason, this advertisement is the only thing other than the cover that has color in it. Please keep in mind that the contents of this advertisement is dangerous for your health.

Taking this experience into account, I thought seeing the science fiction collection through my own eyes gave me a better impression of it than watching it through the video.  I could see the books more clearly and compare it to the ones that are typically used today. As we know, science fiction is a genre designated for speculating and envisioning the future. The magazines are a really good way of seeing how people previously depicted outer space, aliens, and technology but our views develop as we venture further towards the future.   Reading about how far the past’s imagination extends sounds pretty intriguing to me so I look forward to seeing what other ideas they came up with back then.