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Posts Tagged ‘philosophy’

Book Review: Player Piano

In Career on June 26, 2012 at 7:13 pm

Why is “Slaughterhouse 5” so amazing? Because it’s about time travel? Yes, a novel concept (pun not intended), but I think that “Player Piano,” Vonnegut’s first novel, deserves more attention because it’s true… or, at least, is on its way to becoming true. I started reading “Player Piano” over Summer 2011 but found myself interrupted by college. A year later, I picked it up again the day after finals and finished the book within a week.

Set is set in a future where technology has automated production and industry in the name of progress and reduced citizens to mere consumers, “Player Piano” follows Dr. Paul Proteus, an engineer at Ilium Works on his path to self discovery. With a bit more humor, the novel also tracks Dr. Alyard, a diplomatic liaison attempting to “sell” the fruits of industry (civilization! progress!) to the Shah of Bratpuhr.

Proteus, who begins the novel as a career man on the fast track to a coveted promotion, begins to have reservations about the system. By all accounts, the systems leaves all citizens well fed and wanting for nothing, but Proteus, with the reader, begins to notice that the system does not allow them a basic human need: purpose.

It took me a week of contemplation before I realized why I loved this book so much: because it is about Enlightenment, human purpose and human nature. A running theme in the novel is Proteus’ desire to live free of machinery battling his desire for comfort, which (I think) follows Immanuel Kant’s theory of mental maturity and human nature. Kant says that humans are perpetually in conflict between a desire to be rational, independent beings and a base urge to find the easiest solution and pleasure. While Proteus eventually accomplishes his freedom by buying an antiquated farm, he is shocked by the effort that comes with the lifestyle he’d so long romanticized and gives it up as a passing hobby. Similarly, when we attempt to make choices without relying on the guidance of others, previously easy decisions become harder to make and we are faced with a temptation to return to our old patterns of behavior.

I think “Player Piano” addresses some of humanity’s big questions by drawing parallels between living independently and fighting fate. Here are some questions I pondered after this novel:

  • Can the mechanism of fate be overcome by men? Is there free will?
  • Is culture all-powerful in human life? Can men change society or are they just cogs in the machine?
  • What is the worth of humanity? What does it mean “to live”?

Who Are You?

In Career on December 20, 2011 at 5:18 pm

According to the Soul Theory, a necessary condition for person A to be one and the same as person B is that they have the same soul.  This theory is impossible to prove because the soul lacks definition, is physically unproven,  and because humans naturally identify one another based on physical characteristics.  According to this theory, however, it is possible to survive after physical death.

Arguers against the soul theory note its lack of definition.  Some of them propose the Body Theory, which states that A is the same as B only if they have the same body.  What exactly is meant by body in this case?  The physical form changes regularly and is never “the same” twice, a seeming contradiction.  However, the answer may lie with Aristotle, who noted two types of changes an identity can undergo:  accidental changes (a river’s changing current) and essential changes (the river dries up or is completely rerouted).  So, the body’s natural alterations are accidental, but what constitutes an essential change must be more severe such as death or brain injury.

But what exactly is it about the brain that causes identity?  Is identity a result of memory?  The Memory Theory supposes that A and B are numerically identical (one and the same thing) only if they are connected through time by stages that genuinely remember prior events.  Because this is partially a body theory, survival after death is not possible.

Detractors of the memory theory argue that, if you cannot recall ever being 5, then you were never 5.  Supporters called detractors idiots because one needn’t remember being 5 directly as long as  B is connected to A indirectly through a prior stage that remembers.  This also accounts for the Alzheimer’s critique of memory theory.  However, because memory theory uses circular reasoning that presupposes identity and does not allow for a greater complexity to personal identity than memory, it is inherently flawed and incomplete.

In an attempt to complete the memory theory, the Psychological Continuity Theory evolved.  In addition to memory, PCT states that A is the same as B as long as there is psychological continuity through the stages – as long as B is the product of A’s psychological growth.  So, according to PCT, if subject Sara was duplicated, Sara 1 and Sara 2 would be one and the same person as long as their causal connection had not branched (the Non-branching Theory of PCT).

However, this cannot be the case because No. 1 and No. 2, being of separate bodies, would not experience uniformly and so would immediately diverge psychologically.  This is the same argument used against the Closest Continuer Theory, which claims that B is one and the same as A as long as B is the closest psychological continuation of A in the event of multiple copies.

In the end I’m still clueless as to what creates personal identity, but at least I can say that the situation is so much more complex than the 450 words I’ve written about it that there might be an answer somewhere.  Until then, I still want to know:  Who are you?

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