Thursday, 19 February 2009

Cogito ergo sum?

You may be familiar with the Philip K. Dick novel Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep on which the film Blade Runner was based. Its central theme explored the moral premise of whether androids - the replicants in the film - that had developed consciousness could be regarded as any less human than their creators. I immediately thought of this when I recently came across an article on Wikipedia regarding the China Brain thought experiment. The experiment postulates that consciousness need not be dependent on biological synaptic activity within a brain but could exist in a similarly organised structure with analogous interconnected synaptic elements. In fact in the thought experiment this synaptic activity is mimiced by the individual Chinese communicating to each other by telephone.

While the implications of this discovery were still taking root in my mind I got a call from my twin brother. James it transpired, was already familiar with the premise of non-biological consciousness from the work of Oxford Professor of Philosophy Nick Bostrom and put me onto a paper of his entitled Are You Living In A Computer Simulation. The paper has been around since at least 2001 but its implications are simultaneously profound and banal: profound in the sense that if you accept the proposal that we are individual elements in an ancestor simulation run by by an advanced post human society there are significant implications (for example, are the physics we observe in our universe 'real' or a limited representation of the truth); banal in the sense that it changes nothing about the way we live our lives now. Does it matter that we ourselves will never reach the post human stage: once we have consciousness, are we any less 'real' than Dick's replicants? It would be puerile for example to suggest that a person who was suffering could take consolation from the fact that their pain was simulated. Personally I am inclined to disbelieve the simulation argument. Not because of any rational rebuttal to Professor Bostrom but for the purely emotional and egotistical implication that do so would imply my existence was somehow less than the post human who created it. Truly I am like the publican who eyes the Pharisee askance: the ego and rational thought are poor bedfellows.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

"But I believe...

...Aang will save the world". I may have mentioned this before but I am mad for anime. In the hands of its principal exponents it is an art form. The renowned Studio Ghibli collection is unparalleled anywhere: Howl's Moving Castle, and the Castle of Cagliostro being among my favourites. Anime however, is not just a Japanese preserve. Nickelodeons excellent Avatar series The Legend Of Aang has taken me and my son Luca on our own odyssey. Its principal characters Aang, Sokka and Katara feel like part of our family now. As events have unfolded I have been moved from enmity to sympathy for Prince Zuko on his trajectory from royalty to outcast, from darkness to redemption; I have been enlightened by the zen-like tutelage of Iro his compassionate and wise uncle; and laughed my sides sore at the antics of Sokka. In its treatment of themes as diverse as friendship, loyalty, love, responsibility, evil and redemption it sets exemplary role models for developing children. Who said TV had to be bad for children?

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

The western as allegory

The opportunity to sit down together with Elissa and watch a movie in the evening is an infrequent pleasure in chez Connor. So when we do get the chance we tend to watch a movie we've bought in advance for just just such a moment. Sometimes I will choose the movie and sometime Elissa will. It so happened that last nights viewing choice was selected by Elissa: Seraphim Falls.

Essentially it's a pursuit thriller with Liam Neeson's Carver pursuing Pierce Brosnan's Gideon across a breathtaking Oregon landscape which excellent cinematography really brings to life. Carver is accompanied by a posse of men intent on killing Gideon for a reason that is only revealed much later in the film. The dialog is sparse and the action frenetic as Gideon endures one close encounter after another as he attempts to outrun his hunters. This is Western on a grand scale but what makes this film especially compelling is its alternative context - this is Western as allegory.

It is a story of a descent into Hell. The pursuit is relentlessly downwards: from the high mountain fastnesses where it begins, it proceeds first to the plains, then the scrublands and then ultimately to the desert - to Hell. The further downwards Gideon runs, the baser the people he encounters: the people in the mountain cabin are essentially good; the railway engineers, the hypocritical mormons he meets on the plains are worse; the bandits he meets in the scrublands worse still. Ultimately in the desert, where the film has its conclusion, he encounters the Devil in the guise of Angelica Huston's snake oil salesperson. Unfortunately this is also the weakest part of the film. Huston's role clumsily and unnecessarily signposts the allegory and mars what is otherwise a very fine film. I am assured too that once she was able to look beyond Pierce's handsome countenance, Elissa also appreciated this Icon films production. I recommend it.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Pass it on

I got a nice mail from the people at Macmillan today thanking me for my marathon efforts so I have posted it below so that all my sponsors can see what a contribution their money makes and how much it is appreciated. Thanks again.

Dear Mr Connor

May we begin by congratulating you for completing the Abingdon Marathon. Your fantastic achievement has also raised £402.13 (including Gift Aid) for Macmillan Cancer Support through the Just Giving Website. It is with the support of people like you that we can improve the lives of more and more people affected by cancer.

Macmillan provides practical, medical, emotional and financial support and we push for better cancer care. It’s not only patients who live with cancer, we also help carers, families and communities; providing practical support, such as precious time off for a carer, or a simple lift to a hospital. We guide people through the system, fund nurses and other specialist health care professionals and build cancer care centres.

We share information and give emotional support, though our CancerLine, website, support groups and trained professionals. Our Macmillan Grant and benefits advice help people cope with the financial impact cancer can have. We are also a force for change, listening to people affected by cancer and working together to fight inequality and improve cancer care. We believe everyone with cancer should receive the same level of care regardless of whom they are and where they live.

We can’t do any of this without your support. You have helped change lives.

Once again, please accept our warmest thanks for your valuable support.

Yours sincerely

Victoria Morgan

Supporter Services Assistant (Monday - Wednesday)

( Tel: 0207 840 5092


Visit the Macmillan website at

Macmillan Cancer Support improves the lives of people affected by cancer. We provide practical, medical, emotional and financial support and push for better cancer care. Cancer affects us all. We can all help. We are Macmillan Cancer Support.