duminică, 19 februarie 2012

My Life as a Fake

I never have suspected that the life of poets was filled with so much adventure. 
Carey’s characters are defined by the search for an extraordinary work of genius. They search it in one of the strangest places, Malaysia. Here they unravel the mystery of a man that came into being from a hoax created in Australia by Christopher Chubb. An editor (Sarah Wode- Douglas) in search of her own piece of information that can put order into her life finds herself gripped by the power of the hoax, in which she sees an opportunity to publish one of the greatest poetry of her decade. Although her family friend (John Slater) tries to warn her of the danger of this endeavor, she finds herself gripped firmly into a morass of fine deceiving and drama. She must record the history of the hoax creator in order to get the product of the man which came into being from the hoax. Christopher Chubb created a fictional character, Bob McCorkle, in order to mock the Australian society for its lack of literary culture. When his friend is being prosecuted for his hoax, he tries to hold himself accountable, but cannot undo the wrongdoing. Even worse, a man claims the name of Bob McCorkle and then pursues in assuming this identity, in the process claiming Chubb’s sanity. McCorkle kidnapped Chubb’s daughter, and so the pursuit of the man and his daughter commence.

The entanglement of fiction is maintained in a fine balance by personal details and a great deal of events which seem so unreal and yet so powerfully human. The writing appeals to a hidden part of humanity, one that can carry us through great trials in order to achieve our goals. Maybe this is the book’s charm, in that it carries you through a world so far and exotic and still being an expression of an inner need and fear (the need for a purpose in life and the fear of losing a thing/person that defines our existence).

Because the work of Bob McCorkle is never and published we can speculate that the hoax becomes real only when the creator realizes the destructive potential of his creation. Maybe this is the moral point of the novel: that we must be careful in what we want to obtain when deceiving other because we might end up deceived.

The author draws his inspiration from a real hoax devised by Harold Stewart and James McAuley, in which the poet’s name is Ern Malley and exceeds this by adding details of personal dramas and creating a world full of feelings and angst.

luni, 13 februarie 2012

If a Lion Could Talk - How Animals Think

In my pursuit to understand how cognition appears it seems natural that I would be inclined to read about how animals process the information around them. It was indeed necessary to take into consideration the idea that all the research and study into animal intelligence carries a powerful bias, that of anthropocentrism. The fact that we as humans are bound to our own experience of consciousness, of how we perceive the world around us, limits the understanding of other experiences, namely of that which other animals might have. 

Budiansky’s account of cleverly designed experiments is a proof that we need to take into consideration a lot of factors and conditions before we can state something about the way in which a different species reacts based on the stimuli it receives. The very nature of our sensory organs bounds us “to see” only a part of the environment, the one that is the most important to our own survival. Because we are social specie we put emphasis on the accurate perception of those signals that can offer information about other members of our specie (the social position, symbols of power or wealth, relations amongst ourselves) much like other social species: monkeys, chimpanzees, dogs, horses etc. We tend to consider these signs as those of greater intelligence, just because we are used to intelligence being expressed in this manner. 

Every organism learns through associations during its lifetime. Animals do that all the time and it’s a big advantage to their survival to do so. Learning and responding appropriately to the environment guarantees a better chance at transmitting the genes, and continue the legacy of every species. Only those organisms that adapt can maintain a competitive edge against other members of their species. Associations between stimulus and a response from environment (reward: food, water, sex, inclusion in the social environment etc., or punishment: food deprivation, injuries etc) are a powerful tools in learning. Dogs and other social animals exhibit this feat mostly because we know how to perceive it, but other animals do to. Budiansky offers a great amount of evidence to support this.

Some remarks are so true that I feel compelled to mention them. For instance: “Many animal researchers are fairly confident that more-sensitive experiments will show that apes, at least, do possess some ability to attribute mental states. But the entire search has been a vivid reminder of the dangers of anthropocentrism. The things that apes are good at are the things they evolved to do to survive in their particular ecological niche. And the things an animal is good at generally do not require three decades of ambiguous experiments to discover.”(p. 188) This particular point made me think of all the implications in every aspect of scientific research, mainly the idea that when we set ourselves to test a hypothesis we limit the perceived reality to only a narrow bit, the one that fits into our experimental instruments.

The final passage of the book is another idea that made me think, mainly because it manages to sum up different ideas about evolution. “It is always dangerous to draw moral lessons from the blindly amoral process of evolution. But if there is a lesson here, it is that all of the creatures that evolution has fashion are remarkable in their own right. All have hit upon unique ways to make a living against all probability. And that is something to respect, and to treasure.”(p. 194)