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Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Dilbert on ID

I will join the many recommending Scott Adam's comments of Intelligent Design Theory. See the link to his blog.

I think that Mr. Adams restrictions on who should count as a credible authority on ID are too strong. As to the criterion that science must not be based on pre-conceived notions, this seems to elliminate a lot of good science. Crick and Watson (according to Watson's account, "The Double Helix") were lead directly to the DNA model from the data because they had the pre-conceived notion that "nature is beautiful", that it is harmonious, symetrical, resonant, or whatever depending on the aspect of nature you were studying. In general, to the extent that scientists don't know they have only intuitive pre-conceptions to guide them in research and part of being an experienced scientist is aquiring good jusgement about what pre-conceptions to go with. So one can be a good authority in science and be guided by pre-conceptions. Concerning the criterion that a credible authority will not have any career or financial interests involved, it is difficult to imagine that there could be a good scientist in who we would invest trust in her authority if she was not fully employed in the work of science by a professional institution of research. We are not likely to listen to or even hear from the isolated bayou pond researcher who pays for his livelyhood through aligator poaching and does his research on the side, no matter how good he is. Consequently, any prima facie candidate for authoratative opnions is ruled out by his career and financial connections.

One expects that he needs to have such a strong criterion because it has to be strong enough to eliminate attaching credibility to ID scientists who are as much employed research professionals with different but educated pre-conceptions as those scientists who aren't. He says that he does not deny that there is knock down evidence for blind evolution, just that there are reliable competent people who can identify this evidence for him. he might say the same thing about the existence of knockdown evidence for ID theory. One wonders what he would say about Dr. David Berlinski who wrote a very competent and "Dilbert friendly" book, A Tour of the Calculus, and who also, in an article for Commentary magazine, wrote that he could not even find probable evidence for either one much less knockdown evidence.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Yes, Yoko, there is an Armitage!

WARNING! This post contains spoilers for the anime films "Armitage III: Poly-Matrix" and "Armitage: Dual-Matrix". These films contain strong language, some nudity, sexual references, violent images, and continuity problems and are not recommended for everyone.

I am currently going through a phase where it seems to me that there are anime productions that live somewhat up to their promised potential. More specificly, I can't seem to get enough stuff related to the anime hit films in the "Armitage" storyline. I was thrown off of course because of ignorance and picked up "Dual Matrix" first, mostly because it gets a higher profile at my FLGS, but also because "Armitage III" sounds like a sequal. (Of course, I couldn't help but wonder what happened to the availability of "Armitage II".) Both films, and epecially the second film ("Dual Matrix") deserve high praise for the outstanding production values, not only in the art and story development but also in the voice talent casting for Anglophonic audiences (thank you, thank you, thank you) and in the outstanding incidental music in both films.

But more importantly than that, the storyline and depiction were valuable to me both philosophically and religiously, which is what I want to focus on. In general, anime has always fascinated me in its consitent attempt to try to picture the humane and mystical into the space of science and technology -- and here we have a fine example of that conceptually. What I want to do is summarize the plot in both films and then reflect on it from a philosophical point of view.

In the near future, the Earth has carried out a more or less successful colonization of Mars but part of what has made this reasonably possible is the development of robot technology. However, this has led to the formation of new frontiers of crime. Ross Sylabus is a detective from the Chicago police force who transfers to the Mars police department after his partner is killed by an assassin robot. In general the proliferation of robots in society, ones which closely resemble humans and mainly serve in service capacities, are becoming quite controversal in general, and especially so in the case of Earth/Mars political and economic relations. But Sylabus is especially pained by robots because of the death of his partner. Mars PD is less orthodox than Earth police and he is assigned a partner, a feisty, petite, but aggressive women detecteve named Naomi Armitage, who tends to shoot first and ask questions later.

Ross's role in the MPD is to investigate crimes involving technology. No sooner does he get there but he becomes involved neck deep in a series of altercations involving the shooting of robots. But these robots are not standard service robots (called 'Seconds' to indicate the series of robots they are the members of). These robot terminations are of robots that have effectively assimulated themselves into society so as to be indistinguishable from humans. They tend to function with complete autonomy and to occupy creative roles such as artists, writers, and musicians. Apart from the damage of being shot, they were assumed to be normal members of the human race. In fact, the purpose of the shootings seems to be to expose their presence and infiltration into human society. Another disturbing fact is that they seem to be all female. This series of robots (called 'Thirds') is off the books and seems to be an illegal underground production line to the police. Since these altercations involve terminating robots, it is not clear that there is even being a crime committed, even though it seems like the police are hunting a serial killer.

Ross is warned that there is no room for sympathy with robots on Mars, since many Martians are struggling with the loss of jobs due to the availability of robots as cheap labor. Ross is already with them based on his own experience. But he eventually discovers that his partner Armitage is also a Third. At first it seemed that she was a robot rights sympathisizer, but her position becomes more clear after getting shot up going against the assassin. "I feel like some grotesque puppet. I can walk and talk and I can laugh and I can cry. But I'm only a monsterous doll!" Strikingly, Armitage is filled with shame at her true nature, she sees herself as a mere instrument though she tries to hide this from everyone. But the police department is beginning to suspect her connection to the Thirds. Ross finds himself faced with the dilemma of whether to help Armitage solve the mystery of what she is for or to do his duty to help bring her into police custody. When Armitage asks why he has decided to help her and become a rogue cop, Ross becomes angry and frustrated. "'Why? How come? You sound like a child. There is no reason at all!" Ross seems frustrated by his inability to make clear his motivations for risking so much in order to help her.

Armitage discovers that the government of Mars originally designed the Thirds as assassins for military use and that the shootist is actually one of many of these series of robots. But the series agenda was changed to deal with the Martian interest to obtain a political identity distinct from Earth. Since the population of Mars was in remission after colonization, the Thirds were developed to be robots that could bear live human children and consequently were designed to possess artficial intelligence, emotional responsiveness, and creative autonomy as a human woman (a variation of the 'Mars needs women' plotline). But in a change of policy, the Mars government abandoned the repopulation project in order to have a more stable reunion with Earth and in order for this to be acceptible to Earth government, Mars had to terminate its aspirations of autonomy and the project of the thirds. This move is what was in progress when the assassin robots were activated to kill and expose the presence of Thirds in society.

Ross is faced with the further dilemma now of becoming a fugative from Martian justice and defend Armitage's life from the now uniform will on all levels to terminate her. At this point, in the story Ross has been so badly damaged in the line of duty that more and more of his body has been replaced with cybernetic parts so that the line between him and Armitage becomes more and more blurry. He finally decides to give up everything and assaults the Martian military in order to go into hiding with Armitage and the two become husband and wife. According to Ross, "I know a true heart when I've met one."

In the second film, "Dual Matrix", time has passed and the two have successfally altered their identities and assumed a non-descript place in Martian society. In this period, Armitage has given birth to a daughter, now four years old named Roko, but they have labored to keep Armitage's nature as a robot a secret from her so that to her Armitage is like any human mom. Unfortunately, an illegal attempt to ressurrect the project of developing the Thirds brings Armitage back into her investigative work in behalf of new Thirds. Further, a successful attempt to thwart a terrorist attack on the company that Ross is serving as a security guard brings Ross and his family out in the open to interested parties and forces him to serve the cause of robot rights. The villian who is responsible for both reviving and then terminating the new Thirds project is trying to corner the market and discover the secret of producing robots that procreate. He seems to assume that the humans born to such will be human but be complete tools, instances of Aristotle's natural slaves. But all of his attempts to discover the secret of reproduction fail since even though coming to possess full details on both Armitage's hardware and software, he can find nothing in them that will show him how to produce a child. Armitage's explanation of the mystery does nothing to clarify it; "Being able to bear a child takes more than just a female form. The secret is of child bearing is in her heart!" But the villian is unconvinced; "The answer is in the software. I know that's it."

He captures Yoko and holds her hostage, forcing her parents to attempt to rescue her from his own high tech weapons and robots. The family makes an attempt to escape but not before the damage done to Armitage exposes to her daughter her robotic systems through her flesh. At that point the daughter (at four) is put in the same position Ross Sylabus was in years earlier, faced with the dilemma of whether to accept her mother knowing that she is a robot. At this point the little girl clings to her father and refuses to talk to her mother/that robot, confused and frightened. In her eyes, Armitage rediscovers the sense of shame of what she is again, this time not in the eyes of society in general but in the eyes of her precious daughter and fears that she has lost her forever even if they escape. It takes a long time but Armitage's defense of her family to the point of near self-sacrifice and self-destruction finally draws out the child who begs her mommy to stop because if she keeps going on she will die. In the end, the villian is exposed and the family escapes back to Mars, to a planet seeing a brand new day. The family is now fully intergrated and fully established in Martian society like a typical human family but with the full consent and understanding of all of its members. Armitage is now completely identified as human and free. (But we are not allowed to just leave things there without being further disturbed. Be sure to catch the redivus at the end of the credits.)

In the movie-world, the characters including Armitage herself, are faced with the dilemma of deiciding what Armitage is. Everyone who looks at her sees to things simultaneously; (1) a creative and autonomous agent with concerns and values and the feelings and emotions that go with them and with the capacity to reason, to be aware, and form intentions to think about things and more particularly about people, and (2) a machine whose componantry can be completely described and analyzed with precision, an artifical apparatus, an instrument or tool. The movies make it clear that the assumption that Armitage is nothing but a machine is not safe no matter how well we understand her make-up. Is Armitage just the machine or is she a soul within the machine? This point is underscored in several ways, in the larger debate about robot rights that forms the cultural backdrop, in the personal dilemmas that confront the human characters who know her personally, and in the symbol of childbearing as an evidence of life that cannot be cashed out from the software. The basic dilemma that all face is whether Armitage should be treated as a mere means as the Seconds are and as we take it that any robot would and should be or should Armitage be treated as an end in herself. She especially needs to know that Ross will perfect in his own attitude and with full awareness the vision of Naomi as an end in the relation of covenantal partner love. What will the man do when he hears, "Oh Ross, I love you so much!"?

The basic problem is, even given what we know about Armitage in the hard science, we are confronted with a conflict of metaphysical visions about her, that these visions underlie the moral dilemma about how to treat her, and that this choice is not one that can be made abstractly since she herself plays a role in the decision by our characters always being in communication and relationship with her. Once the decision is made and one makes a commitment, one can begin to cultivate the relationship; the commitment opens up communication and interaction, especially in the case of Yoko for whom the decision to accept her mother as her mother is simutaneously expressed in her resuming commincation with her to plead with her to stop. Were Ross and Yoko (especially Ross of course) rational in the fictional future world to wholey commit 'heart and soul' to the autonomous agency and personal devotion of Armitage, which is to ask if they were rational to accept the existence of Armitage as something other than a mere machine? The decision called for was one of total commitment on metaphysically desputable premises and yet the decision carried with it finally kind of intelligible certainty as to what to do. Is it really the cas that no explicit reason counts as having "no reason at all"?

But this dilemma in the Armitage world is directly analogous to our real situation with each other. It is not possible for us to take each other seriously as mere machines but that is the picture that science puts forward as most credible -- that there is waiting some complete description of human nature along Hobbesian materialist lines. But if we must pause at the idea of a robot being nothing but a machine when exhibiting such characteristic traits of personal agency we must also pause at the same phenomena with regard to each other. The question Ross faces as to whether to take Armitage to wife is faced in a similar way to any of us taking anyone as our spouse. This is made much weaker if the typical understanding of marriage is of the no-fault divorce type of contract, but this model fails to capture the profound need for personal devotion in the case of Ross and Armitage. The decison is as to whether we treat each other as ends (humans) rather than mere means (robots). I think that we have demonstrated that we have faced the dilemma and are committed to the existence of a world of 'non-natural' persons by our actions. Armitage is a way into metaphysics.

Finally, this not only applies to the issue of personhood but to the universe as a whole. Through an evolutionary account we seem to have a completely full potential description of the universe as a lucky machine. But the phenomenology of the universe may suggest something more if anything strikes us about its design and complex functionality or even the commitment to the existence of rational relational agents. If evolution were true there could be no geneuinely altruistic conduct by any person and we would have to treat appearances to the contrary as needing further explanation of their true selfish roots. But we are in no better position to deny the existence of love as we are to deny the existence of the lover. The question remains open and the sKeptical and suspicious appraoch remains rebuttable even though not refutable. We may make as deep a commitment to the existence of an agapistic theism if we were to discover one in history as we are to one another in marriage with full communication practices fully in place, such as prayer and worship. Thus, there is a philsophical approach to legitmate faith to which Armitage points, a way which shows that religious belief and practice need not be motivated by mere sentiment or convenience, a kind of "existential rationalism".