Darby Lorents-Prandi

  • When I read the course description for this class I was very intrigued, but also intimidated. And it turns out that there was good reason. I had anticipated that we would talk about what it means to be conscious, […]

    • Your neurologist friend is fairly typical, though there are many exceptions. Your friend probably couldn’t do the kinds of research he’s doing if he had to factor in the kinds of cultural variables you’re describing, so there are reasons for the “reductive” impulses of much neuroscience research.

      On the other hand, there are some really interesting multi-disciplinary collaborations. The research that’s the basis for Gabrielle Starr’s book is one example. Check out The Memory Network (based in London) for others: http://thememorynetwork.net/.

      You’re asking fascinating questions.

  • ThumbnailHi everyone! I just wanted to share this cool thing called Brain City Time Square. I am not sure how much it has to do with consciousness but the visuals are quite lovely. It seems to be about the similarity […]

  • I totally didn’t see Professor Tougaw’s post about The Curious Incident show! When I got to the post titled “let me be frank” I thought it was about Frankenstein! Doh. I feel like a fool. Oh well.

  • While I was reading A Curious Incident I kept thinking about this lady who had designed humane slaughter houses. I knew that she was on the autistic spectrum but for the life of me I couldn’t remember her name! I was watching this video of Wendy Chung, the director of clinical research for the Autism Initiative (also a great watch) and low and behold, there in the suggested videos was Temple Grandin! She had done a sweet TED talk. You can see in here. This little video gives pretty good insight into what it is like to have autism (or at least for her). She also talks about the place of autism in the world and how important it is to to have “all different kinds of thinkers.” In Wendy Chung video she talks about how autism diagnosis have gone up, but whether that is because there are more incidences or more awareness it unknown. Temple Grandin suggests (and I feel rightly) that many of the greatest thinkers of history have been somewhere on the autistic spectrum. So what, then, does the diagnosis do to the potential of these brilliant minds? Does it confine them or give them the resources (through government initiative and research) to thrive? Is it a stigma and a label or a source for possible success? Is is possible for Christopher to go to university and become a scientist? What do people think?

    • I totally didn’t see Professor Tougaw’s post about The Curious Incident show! When I got to the post titled “let me be frank” I thought it was about Frankenstein! Doh. I feel like a fool. Oh well.

  • I really enjoyed this novel. It was so easy to slide into the text and let Christopher’s words take me away. But it might have been a little too easy. I say that because I think a lot about authenticity and I […]

    • Your description of the staged performance of A Curious Incident of a Dog in the Night-Time got me thinking about how much Christopher’s conscious/mental experience sounds like he is aware of–that he is living and watching–a neurological “mapping” mechanism as posited by consciousness theorists. His living mostly “in his head”, as it were, puts him at such close-range to the sight and sound of his neurological gears, etc, and the text manages to make Christopher’s almost tangible conscious experience palpable for the reader, as well. Seriously skillful prose.

  • Ha! This happens to me all the time Angela! Isn’t it funny when you start to notice echos of things that you have read in other things that you are reading? It is almost like you mind is trying to fit one thing into the space created by another, or even Déjà vu! This is a great gift and a great curse at the same time because it allows you to see c…[Read more]

  • Seeing children’s consciousness grow and change is certainly a fascinating and wonder-full experience. I have two nieces and I am always shocked to discover how much their minds have grown between visits. One is six and the other is four. My first real extended interaction with a baby was with the youngest, she was just a mewling vomitty little…[Read more]

  • I have been thinking about Frankenstein all semester! Finally I get to talk about him too. (Now if only we can have a discussion about Star Trek’s Data I will feel fulfilled).

    Freud talks about what it means for something to be uncanny (aka creepy). He suggests that to be uncanny something must be life-like, yet is actually inanimate (think The Polar Bear Express movie). Conversely if an object is alive yet moves in a mechanical way that is also uncanny (like the silver robot man in Time Square). Freud also says there is a whole basis for a “doubling of the self” in evolution (the ego vs id etc) and he illustrate the importance of this duality as an understanding of the essence of what makes something uncanny. Frankenstein’s Monster is most definitely uncanny. So is Data. So is poorly done CGI. I think this is called the uncanny valley…the space between reality and the copy of reality that seems impossible to cross. (can someone back me up on this?)

    It would be difficult to argue that Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein does not inspire feelings of uncannyness (or creepiness). Its very nature as a gothic horror ensures that the reader will feel strange and discomfited, perhaps even have an experience of fear. But specifically why is this? Is it the monster’s unnatural existence that gives the story a sense of what Freud called “intellectual uncertainty” as a reaction to its uncanny nature? Is it because Frankenstein created his own double in the monster by giving life where none should have been? Is it the use of Natural Philosophy to defile the dead and create a new inhuman creature? The answer is yes to all, but maybe, at its core, it is an even more subtle presence of the uncanny that makes Frankenstein so unsettling. Perhaps it is the reflected succession of characters, which suspend the sense of the known, and creates an undertone of the uncanny at the outset. Let me explain…
    The book begins with Robert Walton writing to his sister Margret to tell her of his time at sea.  He writes about himself, his past, his accomplishments and failings.(13) But in particular he complains about the fact that he is friendless “I have no one near me, gentle yet courageous, possessed of a cultivated as well as capacious mind, whose tastes are like my own, to approve or amend my plans.”(14) In his very next letter he writes that the ice floe delivers the just the type of man. This new person possesses all of the traits a friend should have, but more importantly he contains all of the qualities Walton wishes for within himself. “He is so gentle, yet so wise; his mind is so cultivated; and when he speaks, although his words are culled with the choicest art, yet they flow with rapidity and unparalleled eloquence.”(22) It is almost as if Walton conjured up this apparition as a mirrored and improved vision of himself. This specter is Victor Frankenstein. Yet, when Walton shares his desire to be friends he is rebuffed. Frankenstein agrees that this filial love is important saying, “we are unfashioned creatures, but half made up, if one wiser, better, dearer than ourselves – such a friend ought to be – do not lend his aid to perfectionate our weak and faulty natures.”(23) But Frankenstein himself has already had such friend in Henry Clerval. This fact seems to serve as another manifestation of Walton’s desires for himself. Walton wishes to experience profound friendship and Frankenstein already has experienced it. However there is an underlying glitch in Frankenstein’s reflection of Walton. Frankenstein’s imperfection lies in his unwillingness to enter into friendship with Walton. Eerier still is the fact that Frankenstein has also, quite literally, already created his own double in the monster, just as Walton seemingly created his own double in the man found on the ice. Frankenstein handmade his double, chose his appearance and made sure his “limbs were in proportion and…selected his features as beautiful.”(55) But just as Frankenstein was an imperfect reflection of Walton, this creature was an amplified imperfect reflection of Frankenstein. He is so horrible that Frankenstein is actually “unable to endure the aspect of the being [he] had created,”(55) and abandons him. Thus begins the decent into recursive yet imperfect reflections that occur throughout the book. Just as when two mirrors face each other to create a mise en abyme, Walton, Frankenstein, and the monster are continual reflections of the original, repeating seemingly in perpetuity. Just as an imperfect mirror will create a progressively imperfect reflection,  the relationships between Walton and Frankenstein, Frankenstein and the monster, and the monster and his wished-for mate are progressively imperfect. Recursive reflections are not only a doubling, they are a tripling, a quadrupling into infinity. There are still more multiples that exist with in the text. Walton’s sister, Frankenstein’s mother, Elizabeth, the monster and the monsters mate are another succession of the complex repetitions. This multiplicity is most certainly present in the text, particularly in Frankenstein’s dream of kissing Elizabeth who then turns into the corpse of his mother which upon his waking, becomes the visage of the monster.(56) Each character representation is echoed in the image of the next.
    The action in Frankenstein centers on Victor Frankenstein and his monster and it is their voices that tell the bulk of the story. But in the end, it is through the eyes of Robert Walton that the reader comes to understand the events that culminate in Frankenstein’s death and the monster’s ultimate rejection of the world. The result is that the reader is not so much enlightened but more that he is shocked and possibly (hopefully) scared. There is an ambiguous sense of encountering something true that is actually false while simultaneously experiencing of something fabricated that turns out to be true. Is Frankenstein a figment of Walton’s mind?  Is the monster a figment of Frankenstein’s mind? Where does the truth start and where does it end? The fact that the original sources of truth and of the reflected double cannot be determined is what makes Frankenstein uncanny ad infinitum!

    (also…was this book assigned because it was Halloween?)



    • I wonder why the effect of the text’s narration should necessarily be fear inducing as opposed to enlightening. I’ve read Shelley’s novel multiple times and often reflect on how inspiring the work is as a cathartic critique of and commentary on humanity. I find the epistolary element personalizes the narrative, and makes it more “believable” than would a straight narration delivered solely from the lips of Victor Frankenstein (almost like some sort of “authentication “).

    • You bring up a good point in the pairing or grouping of characters. Shelley wants to emphasize that it is in a being’s nature to find connections with others. Frankenstein has deep emotions for his closed ones, and the Monster has an equally strong desire to create filial bonds. However, there is a constant obstacle in all of these endeavors and that is fear. It is fear that drives the people the Monster watched for months to attack him, and it was fear that lead Frankenstein to drive away the Monster. In the end, the characters push to find love in each other, but are afraid of the frightening world outside.

    • Honestly, I didn’t make the Halloween connection, but I should have!

  • Ok, I realize now that David B. himself was really pretty nasty to Jean-Christophe. I apologize for getting all worked up about defending the family. And now that I think about it the father wasn’t really in the story that much. And maybe the mother was looking so hard for a cure for her son so that she wouldn’t have to deal with him any more. Now…[Read more]

  • Uhhg!! I totally agree with you about how dark this book is! After I finished it I was seized with a melancholy that was very difficult to explain and could only be shaken through vigorous exercise in the cold air. Isn’t it wonderful that we can be affected in such ways by works of art?! I usually don’t like difficult stories…I get to involved…[Read more]

  • I have to disagree with you on your final point. According to David B.’s account, the family was actually incredibly supportive. They so desperately tried so to find something that would cure him, or at least help him enough to live a reasonably normal life. I concede that they might have been to preoccupied with finding a miracle treatment and…[Read more]

  • (I posted this yesterday….on my other class blog! They probably were wondering “what the heck”….anyway here it is. Sorry for the delay!)

    I dreamt a lot about running while I was reading this book. Running […]

    • Your experience with dreams while reading this text is striking. Reminds me of how Hustvedt experienced literature and aesthetics in her wake and her sleep. Bringing it back to The Man Who Walked Away, you’re right when I believe you’re suggesting that the book can read like “running in sticky sand.” That is, of course, purposeful for Casey tries to imitate Albert’s life experience with his fugue states in her writing. This is not only captured in the constant switching of perspectives, but in the writing itself, specifically in Albert’s chapters which reads with a heavy viscosity. In the end, maybe you’re as in-touch with yourself as Hustvedt seems to be and you have some sort of synesthesia that allows you to experience aesthetics (literature) in your sleep.

  • I think one of the most frustrating things about being a scholar (of anything…art, theatre, whatever) is the inescapable desire to critique everything. I know I am guilty of it. We are taught to pick apart literature, find the flaws, the foundations, and the perfection (if there is any). Hustvedt’s book is certainly better read, and most…[Read more]

  • I completely agree with Amelia that this book encourages self reflection, and I add that the self reflection (at least for me) aids for understanding, relevance and finally retention. Thank you for sharing your very difficult experiences Jenn! You certianly must felt a ring of truth while reading this book! I know that many of the books we have…[Read more]

  • I quite enjoyed this weeks reading, especially compared to the morass that is Antonio Damasio’s book. Noë is accessible and actually quite fun to read. I appreciate the metaphors he employs in an effort to illustrate his point that the brain is only part of the question. I recognize that Damasio and Noë have inherent differences and understand that Damasio, as a bona fide scientist might be more qualified to write on how the brain actually works. Noë, as a philosopher (albeit a brilliant one well versed in his subject), can merely speculate without any of his own researched empirical evidence. Certainly this might be problematic for some. However, I think that what Noë is actually trying to do is move the conversation away from how the mechanics of the brain forms consciousness alone, because he thinks the answer is not to be found along that line of thinking. Instead he pushes for a recognition of an amalgam between interior exterior, making the action of consciousness exist in a sweet-spot of relation to the world. It is neither in-here nor out-there, instead it is where the in-here and out-there meet and interact and form some sort of bilateral relationship. I can’t help but agree that without an external to cause sensory stimulation the possibility for consciousness seems nonexistent, or at the very least troubled, even beyond the implications for those suffering from brain damage.

    While reading this, I was frequently reminded of when Mary Shelley’s monster slowly comes into consciousness and awareness of him self. Noë almost seems to reference to the monster when he says “Life is the lower boundary of consciousness. I do not know where we will find its upper limit. I don’t rule out the possibility of artificial robot consciousness. But I would not be surprised if the only route to artificial consciousness is artificial life.”(45) The monster was in fact artificial life formed from organic living matter, complete with an instinct to survive and a mortality. As such, the sun and moon, the warmth and cold, his thirst and hunger, the sounds of the birds were all able to initially form his consciousness of himself. His artificial life is formed by his relationship to his environment. As his experience with the world broadens and changes so does he himself. In the same way, it is our relationship, not only of our selves to our minds but also our minds to the outside world, which serves to give us awareness. What a beautiful and poetic statement, one which serves the literary more than the scientific.

    The problem with the sort of assertion Noë makes is that it is totally theoretical and can only be theoretical. It is well and good to claim that scientists are asking the wrong questions about consciousness by only focusing on the mechanics of the brain, and that a shift in their thinking would be incredibly revelatory. But revelatory of what? How can the shift in thinking be adapted to practical scientific research? How does one study that sweet-spot if it doesn’t actually exist? Noë never really provides a practical application for his insights. I have a feeling that the class is going to split into two camps on this, the pro-Noës and the pro-Damasios. I think I am a pro-Noë, and not just because his book was more accessible. I like that with his definition the answer is just out of reach, like something you can see in peripheral vision and then when you turn your head it is gone.

    • I think your analogy of the sweet-spot of the consciousness is spot on. However, it has to be felt by something, no? And although Noe makes the situation more “accessible” supposedly, he also overcomplicates an already complex matter. I feel like Demasio not only offers a simpler solution, but already acknowledges Noe’s arguments and exceeds them. I also think I might be biased towards Demasio because I’m a big fan of anyone that understands Spinoza.

      I also liked your Frankenstein reference, Noe’s ideas to me resemble the creature, the way that it’s all an amalgam of different ideas, since he is after all a philosopher. Victor hands down resembles Demasio. Maybe, I’m being facetious?

  • I also found aspects of this weeks readings, if not shockingly disturbing, then certainly rather mind blowing, an experience I am having quite often in this class. I particularly loved to conception that each little cell in our body, including the bacteria of the microbiome, all work in concert to creat us, as beings, and that each individual cell…[Read more]

  • Amelia, I love the James quote you provided. I wrote it down on a post-it and put by my desk. There is a very interesting element about the idea (albeit perhaps debatable) that our perception of the world, our consciousness within ourselves and of ourselves, is comprised of only partial elements from “reality” due merely to the fact that there…[Read more]

  • As much as I hate to admit it, reading Mrs. Dalloway was difficult for me. Not the emotional content of the book, but rather its narrative form. I have experienced this kind of disconcerting inability before, not surprisingly while reading Faulkner. It seems that the stream of conscious style really messes with me! I find my mind wandering almost immediately, as if the non-linearity of the text gives my brain permission to follow its own meandering thoughts and connections. As a result, I usually resort to reading along while listening to the audio book at double speed. The imposed focus of my attention on a voice helps immeasurably. (I recommend it to anyone who is likewise distractible). Yet, it strikes me now as I write this that my experience, my initial inability to focus on what precisely is occurring within the text, perhaps adds another intentional level to the cacophony of experiences, emotions and events portrayed in Mrs. Dalloway. Reading Lisa Zunshines article helped me feel a little better about my attention deficiency. Her demonstration of Woolf’s multiple levels of intentional realities seems to make the project of the book, if not clearer, certainly closer. I was often reminded of the quote from James that we discussed the first day of class, the idea of consciousness as a bird flitting from branch to branch. Certainly Woolf’s narrative style gives rise to the image of a bird moving quickly from place to place. But I think I like Woolf’s own explanation or her perspective better:

    “Look within and life, it seems, is very far from being “like this”. Examine for a moment an ordinary mind on an ordinary day. The mind receives a myriad impressions — trivial, fantastic, evanescent, or engraved with the sharpness of steel. From all sides they come, an incessant shower of innumerable atoms; and as they fall, as they shape themselves into the life of Monday or Tuesday, the accent falls differently from of old…Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end.”

    Woolf’s expression of life as “semi-transparent envelopes” or “luminous halos” intrigues me. It seems nearly eastern in its cosmic implications, like auras, energy forces etc. In Mrs. Dalloway, the characters “halo’s” brush up agains each other, their consciousnessed creates ripples that extend out and connect (though not literally) with others, including perhaps the reader. The narrating voice, the omniscient, omni present presence reveals these ripples while all the while hopping from person to person, inhabiting their mental space until it grasps another persons consciousness and moves on. Perhaps that is giving the narrator too much autonomy, but it is difficult not to try an organize this novel into something more structured. The concentric nature of time adds to this sensation of flitting about. The chiming of the clock certainly implies and emphasizes the passage of time, but because we as readers are everywhere and nowhere with the characters, time ceases to have any inherent meaning. I wonder, what does this say about Woolf’s experience of time and perhaps modernism itself or, more importantly, the experience of time after the WWI? Could it be that the great trauma had somehow fractured certain experiences of time? For four years, three months and fourteen days people had been waiting, loosing sons, brothers, husbands, friends. When that sense of anxiety begins to fade time looses its power and importance. Certainly we have all experienced time moving slower when one is waiting for a specific event, and conversely it moves faster when it becomes a diminishing commodity as when one is writing a paper (or blog post) by a certain time. Could this fracture of time in Mrs. Dalloway be more than a mere attempt to describe multiple simultaneous moments and more about truly portraying the experience of time for the survivors of the war (both civilians and veterans alike). Perhaps Septimus is himself an embodiment of such a fracture?

    Another thought…Peter Walsh returns from India having already lost one wife (is she dead? divorced?) in order that he might marry again. Yet one of his first visits is to Clarissa, someone who spurned him and perhaps spurred him to leave in the first place. He behaves very badly, even weeps uncontrollably and unexpectedly. He also (creepily) follows a young girl all the way to her house, going so far as to partially open his knife on the street. What does this say about Peter Walsh? Is Clarissa still in love with him? Can we see him as a sort of errant representation of youth? Missed opportunity? He is both endearing and aggressive, a failure and a success, because he has retained his youth, his potency to some degree, but to what price. And why does he still have power over Clarissa’s self identify?
    Hugh Whitbread is another character who seems to be much dismissed by all the others. Yet he is also perhaps the most self assured. What does he stand for? Why does he work “a little job at court”? I feel that there is a deeper relation between the characters of Peter and Hugh that might be interesting to explore. They are perhaps to sides of the same thing – England pre and post-colonial. Peter’s affiliation with India but his need to return to England indicated his inability to part with the homeland (with Clarissa?) despite his anxiety and desire for independence and happiness. Hugh’s continued subservience to the crown combined with his own high opinion of himself and the low opinion of others might be read as a attempt to explore how the idea of the old England was shifting, that a position which would have before endowed the holder it prominence instead diminished him, making him, and ultimately England, pointless. Perhaps I am pushing these particular readings to far but it might be interesting to discuss in class.

    Also I just want to share a pretty cool site that I found when I fell down the internet rabbit whole reading about modernism…
    seems pretty cool with lots of resources and important texts arranged chronologically.

    • I am also easily distractible and am very guilty of having read-a-longs. I also pondered the connection between Peter Walsh and Hugh Whitbread. Though slightly elusive, and probably reaching, I did in fact find myself wondering if they were, in some respects, almost intentional foils of each other. However, my interpretation began falling apart when I realized I could not even sympathize with Peter and Hugh was just there. It is almost as if to say that the “sides of the same thing” argument which you employ here could be flipped to allow for the fact that even though these men come from opposite corners of life they still fall into the same category. On a personal level, this category was just that I had this sort of indifference to reading them. On a broader scale, Peter and Hugh, as with all the characters in Mrs. Dalloway’s world, are people who hold onto regrets and secretly reminisce. And on an even larger scale, that makes them very much like the rest of us.

  • I thought it might be fun to crowd source a watch list of the best films with interesting AI premises. We have been talking a lot about how our minds work and what it means to have a human consciousness, but what […]

    • What a great list! THX1138 is one of the most amazing films out there, in my opinion.
      Full-metal Alchemist Brotherhood http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1355642/?ref_=tt_rec_tt
      The Animatrix http://www.imdb.com/find?q=animatrix&s=all
      Brazil (1985) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0088846/
      Shutter Island
      even that new film Lucy that came out…

    • Serial Experiments Lain http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0500092/

      “Serial Experiments Lain describes the ‘Wired’ as a virtual reality-world that contains and supports the very sum of all human communication and networks, created with the telegraph, televisions, and telephone services, and expanded with the Internet, cyberspace, and subsequent networks. The anime assumes that the Wired could be linked to a system that enables unconscious communication between people and machines without physical interface. The storyline introduces such a system with the Schumann resonance, a property of the Earth’s magnetic field that theoretically allows for unhindered long distance communications. If such a link was created, the network would become equivalent to Reality as the general consensus of all perceptions and knowledge. The increasingly thin invisible line between what is real and what is virtual/digital begins to slowly shatter.”

  • I was intrigued by your observation as well, Amelia. The characters fell a little flat to me in the end and I think it is in large part due to the fact that there seemed to be very little evolution. Certainly Helen rediscovers her sexuality and begins to truly heal after the death of her husband. Likewise Ralph becomes faithful, begins to act his…[Read more]

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