I enjoyed the movie Gattaca when I watched it the other night, and I thought some of the ideas it presented worked in an interesting way with the ones Walker Percy discussed. I think Percy would definitely categorize the society Vincent lived in as “lost”. It seemed to be like they achieved (for the most part) physical perfection at the cost of their spiritual or emotional growth. I’m sure I would feel differently if I were raised among a group of people who could genetically alter their children, but to me, it seems so callous that they could just pick and choose the best possible combination of traits for their potential children. You can’t just custom-design a person like you can a cake decoration; that’s not what parenting is about. This society of people seemed to place the vast majority of their identity in their physical characteristics. How could it be any other way in a world where any stray eyelash or bit of hair can – and is – used to identify its owner?
I haven’t decided if I think Vincent is any more or less lost than the general population. He does not place so much of his identity into his physical self and name, like they do, which to me implies that he is less lost. But he puts so much of himself into his dream of being considered equal and going to the stars that I can’t quite bring myself to approve of it, either. I don’t think of Vincent so much as a person as a symbol for avenging the wrongs dealt to him every day since before his birth. He wants to prove their assumptions about him wrong and then escape the world that put him down. His idea of himself is as much tied up with other’s ideas of him as if he had simply believed everything they told him about his inferiority.
I found it really interesting how, after spending 18 years on the spaceship together, none of the astronauts on the spaceship wanted to stay together, apart from the captain and Dr. Jane. At one point, it is even implied that Jane will take all the children with her, not their mothers. For all they knew, they were the last humans on the planet, and it was their responsibility to repopulate the earth, but they would rather be apart. I found this to be an incredibly selfish act, and I mean that in the literal sense. They were concerned about their selves and what brought them happiness, not about the needs of future selves or the human race. My question is: What was their purpose? They all chose places they thought would be relatively safe from radiation, so they clearly intended to live for some time. But did they just expect to sit and enjoy nature, or interact with whatever remnants of humanity they could find? I suppose I am simply surprised that anyone would chose a life like that, one of loneliness and uncertainty, as opposed to working to ensure the survival of their species and raising their children.
What I found most interesting about this week’s reading was that the PC3 spokesman knew from the beginning what type of consciousness he was dealing with. Their linguist knew about Helen Keller, and they admitted to monitoring Earth for years. The only question I have is why they even bothered asking the spaceship what their consciousness was. C1 could have obviously been ruled out from the beginning, but did the PC3s want to see if the humans would ask for help?
After reading this book, I would place myself somewhere between C2 and C3. I recognize that I don’t have an understanding of myself the way that I do of all the other objects around me, but I am still working to understand what it is exactly that I do not understand. If I were on the spaceship, I would probably ask for PC3’s help in transitioning to a C3, but I would like first to know more about my initial state of consciousness.
As for the second thought experiment, I would choose the best qualified crew, the one with the possibly ironic astronaut. From what I read, he and his partner already have a strong friendship, and I think they would be the best at helping each other through all the issues, psychological and non, that would arise during the trip. Even if he did feel guilty, she could help him work past it, at least from what I’ve seen in my experience with friendships like that.
In Percy’s second thought experiment, a prominent scientist advises a military official to use a weapon that will supposedly bring peace to the world, but at the cost of approximately 10 million civilian lives. He then donates sperm that will impregnate specially picked women in order to “improve” the next generation. Percy asks if the scientists’ contribution will indeed improve the future quality of life. I think it has the potential too. This particular scientist was acting on his best judgement, and while 10 million civilians might die, that number might increase tenfold without the use of the weapon. Whether his decision was right or not, he cited his reasons as being for the ultimate good of mankind. Even if one argued that his thinking was flawed and he should have found a way around loss of life, that does not mean that his genes will adversely affect any of his children or grandchildren. The whole nature vs. nurture argument shows that it is not just DNA that defines a person; the way they are raised and their life experiences come just as much, if not more, into play. His children could be of above average intelligence and decision-making ability, but they could have mothers that would raise them to be caring of everyone around them. Or they could even learn from the devastating wars that took place right before their birth, and have a deeper understanding of what “civilian casualty factor” really means, one that their father did not.
This week’s reading touched on the failings of science and religion to adequately explain how we came to be. Religious teachings do not satisfy us because we are taught in every other aspect of our lives to depend completely upon science, but in this case, science can’t find an answer that fits within its own governing laws; Percy points out that Nobel-winning scientists who work with DNA seriously believe it did not come from this world. This lack of a satisfying answer helps to explain why we are lost: by all the rules that hold true for every other experience we encounter, we don’t make sense. We have trouble placing ourselves in a world that we can’t quite prove we fit into. It would currently take a combination of science and religion to explain us, because neither alone can do it right now.
Percy also discussed certain scientists’ driving need to discover the ability to use language. His points are, of course, spot-on when considering the problem from a philosophical/psychological point of view, but as a student and hopeful future scientist, I want to mention the obvious: maybe these men and women are so bent on developing language in animals because they want to be able to increase the overall knowledge of the human race. They have dedicated their lives to the pursuit of learning new things, and being able to converse with animals like Percy discusses would open up a whole new world for them to discover. Percy is probably right, but this answer struck me as obvious during my reading of the section.
On page 142, Walker Percy asked why it was that artists and writers have such trouble with their reentries back into the world. I think his answer choice e explains this phenomenon exactly. Those who have transcended (i.e, scientists and artists) have left behind the day-to-day dullness of life to pursue something larger. To be successful in those fields, one almost has to be fundamentally dissatisfied with life as it is and want to search for deeper meaning in everyday events. As an artist who seeks to capture the human experience and what it means to be alive, it must be heartbreaking to step outside and see how dreary and monotonous most people make their lives. The contrast between an imaginary world full of meaning and promise and the real world that waits five-sevenths of their lives for the weekend is enough to drive any writer to drink. And although they might try to find reentry through travel, anesthesia, or whatever means, I don’t believe that any of the options Percy discusses offer a true reentry. They are just temporary solutions to a permanent problem: once you start transcending the world, your mindset has forever changed. Scientists have an easier time entering and reentering the world because they deal with facts; their escape into particle physics or relativity makes the world they live in less dreary rather than creating a whole new, fictitious, world.
One of the points that Walker Percy talked about this week was transcendence, or the act of going beyond the world by the self. He talked about the two methods (according to him) that modern people can use to achieve this task: through either science or art.
This is one of the few ideas where I have found myself agreeing completely with Percy right from the start. My favorite reading material is not young adult fiction or self-help books (sorry, Percy), but is instead books on quantum and relative physics. Learning about the boundaries of not just human knowledge but even possibly the universe is truly an escape, and every time I set the book down, I experience that reentry back into the world as we all know it. I am once again a person, instead of a representative of my whole species’ quest for knowledge, and it’s actually depressing to make that change. I imagine artists feel similarly, when they stop becoming a tool of expression for the human existence and go back to their everyday lives.
Notice that Percy doesn’t talk about how businessmen, physicians, or historians transcend the world. Their work deals strictly with other humans and their knowledge does not test the limits of humanity like science and art.
When did we turn our sovereignty over to “them”, the experts of society? More importantly, why?