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Occasional Writing for T17 – The Terminator

February 18, 2013

This week’s film is that exemplar of 80s awesomeness, The Terminator.

Term 1

I don’t think there’s any doubt about it: You can watch this film and just enjoy the hell out of it without getting into any of the philosophical issues at all.

But let’s not do that since I still need to justify drawing a salary.

Well, the idea that technology is a natural (or almost natural – thanks a lot, Monolith) extension of the human mind is familiar enough from films like 2001. In fact, film itself is one of the extensions. And the idea that technology is dangerous to our status as human and perhaps or our existence as a species is also familiar from films like Metropolis and The Matrix. But when you put these ideas side by side, you might get the further idea that we’re a threat to our own very existence – not accidentally, but in virtue of being the clever monkeys that we are. Indeed, everyone’s favorite movie about nuclear holocaust, Dr. Strangelove, makes this point pretty clearly:

(It’s worth remembering that Dr. S is another Stanley Kubrick masterpiece. You should watch this film several times a semester; I do.)

Anyway, ask yourself whether mousey Sarah Conner could become mighty Sarah Conner without this essential conflict. The traits that eventually make her legendary – her resourcefulness, her courage, her willingness (literally) to crush her foes to protect or avenge her loved ones – are also the traits that led other humans to design Skynet in the first place. More generally, it’s worth asking whether we could be what we are – uniquely interesting residents of planet earth – without threatening our own existence in the process. Recall that in Blade Runner, Dr. Tyrell says,

The light that burns twice as bright burns for half as long – and you have burned so very, very brightly.

Tyrell is, of course, talking about Roy. But what he says might apply fairly well to humanity as a whole. What do you think?

As always:

  • Please limit yourself to 300-500 words;
  • Please post your assignment as a comment to this blog entry;
  • Please do all of this no later than 24 hours before class begins on T17.

From → Assignments

  1. Taylor Warren permalink

    I think the easiest way to sum up my thoughts on this prompt is with the generalization of: experiences make you who you are. There are no reactions without actions. Sarah Conner goes through a remarkable transformation… one involving pain and emotional trauma, but I think she has the “stuff” that makes her a legendary fighter from the beginning. I think we all do. I think the potential is always there inside us, it is just a matter of experiencing the right things at the right time to set those reactions in motion. I guess that’s more of a personal outlook on life rather than one backed by philosophical inquiry, but I stand by it anyway. I think the definition of “threatening our own existence” needs to be defined—by this do we mean creating artificial intelligence? Nuclear weapons? Driving cars on highways? There are a lot of simple daily activities that you could say “threaten our existence” … however, either way I still do not think we could acquire the traits of “mighty Sarah” without tough situations. After all, how do you become courageous? By finding yourself in a situation that requires courage. If Sarah didn’t need to be resourceful in order to survive, or to keep her loved ones safe, then she probably wouldn’t have developed the skill of resourcefulness. Furthermore, progress is made through failed attempts. If we, as a human race, wanted to get smarter and acquire more intelligence, then we have to experiment and build things to learn from. Some of these are dangerous, such as nuclear weapons, time travel, hovercrafts, etc. They make “us” (as a human race) who we are today, and thus I see them as pertinent to our growth. Without trials and experiences (both good and bad) we cannot develop as people and thus cannot be who we have the potential to be.

    • pythagoras permalink

      Good point. You write, “After all, how do you become courageous? By finding yourself in a situation that requires courage.” That’s true, but it’s also how you become rash or cowardly. You can’t really become a coward without putting yourself in situations where you develop a disposition to behave in ways that involve feeling too much fear or that involve overreacting to that fear. Somehow, Sarah become courageous rather than cowardly or rash, and it’s interesting to ask what’s special about her (if anything) that allows her to do so.

  2. Cory Johnson permalink

    The human propensity is indeed to burn so very bright and only through a courageous use of our intellect can that be overcome to ensure our earthly survival.

    The monkey in us is by default competitive and consumptive. Kubrick’s prehistoric confrontation at the watering hole illustrates the nature of our past, present and hopefully not future. In disputes over resources the human instinct is not to diplomatically reach for the other man’s hand, but to grab the tapir bone and smash head.

    Steve Pinker points toward a solution that may already be underway. His argument in “Better Angels of Our Nature” is that human violence has decreased remarkably over both the long and short term because of changes in society’s structure The relative costs of gainful or vengeful violence have increased so tremendously that few choose that path because their pragmatic inclinations. Crime doesn’t pay! Thus, better angels emerge. Man’s character has improved not from an Aristotelian point of view, but instead a situational one. This trend applies to both interpersonal and international conflicts, so it’s a promising start to hoping we won’t kill each other off kinetically. This is an example of our intellect surpassing natural tendencies.

    More encouraging news comes from population experts. Some models predict that world population levels will stall from 2050 to 2150, easing pressure on the world’s resources. However, any decrease in demand for resources from number of people will be surpassed by the increased standard of living enjoyed by more affluent world populations. This is all speculative, of course, but something to consider. It appears that our runaway appetite for resources might threaten our survival even in spite of a population plateau. How do we apply the lessons of Pinker to stop this from happening?

    The answer may lie in something that might startle our fragile capitalist sensibilities, or it might not. I don’t know. Somehow we need to shape society in such a way that discourages consumption or the consequences could be dire. History suggests that top-down governmental approaches aren’t particularly effective at shaping these things, although one could argue that North Korea has done a magnificent job to that end. The bottom line is that we’re going to need to think our way through this. Cooler heads prevailed throughout the cold war; hopefully similarly sensible people will lead the way through this century.

    • pythagoras permalink

      I’m glad you got a chance to read Pinker’s book. You’re ahead of me! At any rate, some of it has proved quite controversial. I’ll post a few links on a separate blog post. But I think you’ve put your finger on the right point (or, a little more precisely, one of the most important points) in evaluating Pinker’s thesis: the continued availability of natural resources. Think back to Kurbrick’s 2001. The hominids ultimately come to blows over a resource (a pond of filthy water on a drought stricken plain), though only after one group masters a bit of technology that anyone gets killed. Advances in technology often allow us to live in conditions where we can thrive in peace with one another, but those conditions depend, at least in part, on access to resources which are surely finite in nature. That’s troubling.

  3. kim cory permalink

    I do not think the light burning theory applies to humanity as a whole. The main reason that makes me think that way is my understanding of what defines a human and humanity. If the light represents human beings as a group, as long as people keep producing next generations, the theory does not apply. Since there are more than one person who can do the same job, if one person cannot continue doing the job, there will be other people who can step up to the position and finish the job. Even if the light represents one person, it is hard to apply the theory. The way humans work is not as simple as the way lights are created. Determining a human’s capability is more complicated than determining an object’s function because of a thing called “mentality.” Just because they are working harder, they are not going to last half less time period. If they have the capability to do so, they can last as long as they have the will to do so. Because humans are the product of combination of mental and physical capabilities, those two can fill each other’s weakness. If humans start slowing down because they are physically too tired or they have overworked themselves too much, their mentality (as long as they are willing to continue) will keep him or her moving to accomplish the job. In the movie, when Sarah Connor could not handle the stress of being followed and the stress of knowing someone is trying to kill her, she was able to keep pushing through and fight back because of Kyle (including her emotional attachment towards him), and knowing her future and why she needs to survive. Because she had the will power to fight back and kill the robot, even with the fact that she was weaker than the robot and she injured her leg at the end, she did not give up and ultimately killed the robot. People usually say ‘will power’ is one of the most powerful weapons human beings have. Based on that, there is a saying “where there is a will, there is a way.” Also, there is a story – when a person is in a danger but knows what he/she has to do, whether that is logically or scientifically possible or not, he/she will make that happen. Because human’s abilities are not only based on their physical powers, but also mental powers, it is hard to apply a linear function.

    • pythagoras permalink

      You make a very fair point about applying a theory as sweeping as this to humanity as a whole, though we might be willing to grant something like artistic license for the purposes of entertainment and emotional impact. A non-linear function could be a little closer the truth, but it may make for a much less interesting film and a much less striking thesis.

      Note, however, that this is applies to some of the things you say as well. “If humans start slowing down because they are physically too tired or they have overworked themselves too much, their mentality (as long as they are willing to continue) will keep him or her moving to accomplish the job.” Sometimes that does happen. But sometimes we psyche ourselves out before we even begin. A badger or a wolf, or a giraffe won’t – can’t – think “I’m too dumb or too slow or too weak to do this task so I won’t even try.” But humans do that every day.

  4. Uddit Patel permalink

    In the first quarter of the film, Sarah Conner has no confidence in herself. To question her role in life she states “Are you sure you have the right person… Oh, come on. Do I look like the mother of the future? I mean am I tough, organized? I can’t even balance my checkbook. Look Reese, I didn’t ask for this honor and I don’t want it, any of it!” Sarah did not show any sign of courage, resourcefulness or willingness to kill when working at the diner or when attacked by the terminator. Instead she seeks help from the proper authority (like any one of us will do). The question that could be asked is could mousey Sarah Conner become mighty Sarah Conner without the essential conflict? Overall, different experiences are what make a person who they are and the traits they develop. But why do certain experiences make a person who they are? Why did this one experience change Sarah to a totally new person? The different experience and decisions shapes the present and future. Sarah could have decided not to go with Kyle or the people who have gone to jail could have made the decision not to rob the bank or kill the other person. Their future would have definitely been different. Without the almost death experience from the terminator, and stories from Kyle Reese, Sarah would have lived no different than she was portrayed in the beginning of the film. She may have even been killed if Kyle Reese did not save her.

    Kyle Reese did more than save Sarah from the terminator but was able to save Sarah from herself. Kyle helps Sarah realize that she has certain traits to help humans’ existence. Sarah’s experience with Kyle gives her the motivation to become legendary and the confidence to know that she can help save human’s existence. Once Sarah was able to realize this she was able to develop these different traits, she was able to practice them and she had the bravery to do anything to help protect her loved ones. Every human faces conflicts on a daily basis, maybe not as severe as this, but these decisions and experiences help the individual learn more about themselves. Humans have learned through different experiences and Sarah with this once experience has become a changed person. This essential conflict reconfigured Sarah from being her cowardly self to a really brave person.

    Sarah going from being cowardly to a really strong women because of her experiences represents how humans overall control what we do on earth with our decisions and experiences, and control our environment so things do not get out of hand. The experiences many have faced have created nuclear weapons, aircraft, and other defense mechanisms. These particular experiences could be the light from Dr. Tyrell’s theory that could threaten our own existence. These technological advancements can be seen as the light burning very brightly. As human we have experimented and experienced a lot. This light burning very brightly can either be the end of our existence or strengthen us to be the most elite in the universe, if there is another living organism which can be another debate in itself.

    • pythagoras permalink

      There’s what looks like a paradox here when you write, “Without the almost death experience from the terminator, and stories from Kyle Reese, Sarah would have lived no different than she was portrayed in the beginning of the film. She may have even been killed if Kyle Reese did not save her.” It looks like Sarah would not have lived if Kyle hadn’t come back and saved here. But Kyle never would have been able to come back if Sarah hadn’t been who she was – brave Sarah who terminated the terminator. It looks like we’ve got causal interdependence in bizarre sort of way. We’ll talk about that a lot more later in the semester.

  5. I think the idea of technology as an extension of humanity’s evolution is truly not too far from accurate. In a way, you could see it as us “outgrowing” our biological constraints- Our minds are evolving at such a rapid rate that our bodies lack the ability to perform to the level we can think…
    (Imagine the hominid with the tapir bone, or a fighter pilot in an F-22).

    At some point this has to be tied back to a biological function however- The fact that we have a physical, biological organ which is advanced enough so as to be self-aware, and to think and comprehend on a level beyond its own abilities, and the abilities with which its body equips it. This raises the questions discussed in Blade Runner and Total Recall, of what our physical self contributes to our identity. In this sense, I think consciousness is a function of the physical- There is no “magical element” which lends us our self-awareness, or our unique ability as humans to create tools and technology.

    For this reason, I would argue that we as humans aren’t anything special- merely lucky; the species which happened to make it fastest to the point where our biological means of advancement as a species (evolution) no longer serves us, and we must now utilize technology outside of our physical selves.

    However, the entire reason we are driven to create this type of technology, at its core, is the same reason all animals do things- a sense of self-preservation and furtherance of the species and our own genetic code. This is the same reason Sarah Conner fights, the same reason she prevails- As a human being, her drive for self-preservation, and the preservation of her loved ones is far greater than that of the emotionless machine she fights.

    I think to this end, the general human spirit (a biological function- millions of years of evolution resulting in emotional responses which help us to preserve our species) is much stronger than our desire to eradicate one another. While we have the means and ability to do so, I ultimately believe in the goodness of humankind to overcome (think of the end of the cold war).

    For some, this emotional appeal may seem to be flawed, since emotion is often manifest in opposition to logic when it comes to human action, but the fact (to me at least) seems to be this- emotion is not a flaw, but a self-conservative, evolutionary trait. While it can make us strong enough to kill, I believe it can also work in the opposite manner, making us strong enough to tolerate one another and compromise. I think that as a whole (the human race), it will be our emotions which save us- the compassion to understand and care for one another, not simply destroy each other over our differences. Just as Sarah Conner’s emotional responses help shape her into the strong willed protagonist who is able to defeat her emotionless, robotic, would-be assassin, human emotion will ultimately prevail, and stop us from destroying one another.

    • pythagoras permalink

      There are a number of really worthwhile points here, but let me focus on one. Sarah is, as you point out, courageous and gutsy and unrelenting. But she’s also nurturing in a way that’s totally at odds with the T800. The T800 (at least the one in this film) wouldn’t try to save Kyle’s life at the risk of its own, and it surely wouldn’t give the kid at the end of the movie a couple of dollars. She can feel compassion for her fellow creatures and act generously as a result. Contrast that not only with the T800 but with the xenomorph or “Mother” from Scott’s “Alien”!

  6. ricardochavez permalink

    Obviously since there are not a lot of people like Sarah Connor who have had to fight against a persistent cyborg Arnold Schwarzenneger, the entirety of the human race I feel is not going to shine too bright where it ends up backfiring on us. Again, that’s not to say that we are continually modernizing, but there are only few small groups who catalyze the advancement of our race, like genius innovators. Other than that, most of us haven’t been told that we are the mother of the future leader of the Resistance (I hope). And because of that, most of us seem to be the people that Sarah connor was before she met Kyle Reese and before she almost met her maker and club TechNoir. For that reason I don’t think we’re going to “peak” like Roy did and just implode due to techonological advancement. And plus, scifi movies are a blessing due to their prognostications on making cyborgs to make our lives easier, so I think those few will think twice before implementing a cyborg manufacturing plant. However, the experiences that we have shape our characters is clearly evident in Sarah Connor. At the beginning of the movie not until the point where she gets to the motel with Kyle, she’s constantly scared (with good reason) and almost jumps out of the car just to escape Kyle and the whole situation for that matter. But by the time the end comes around she realizes without Kyle and will for selfpreservation, she must kill the terminator and even does it with a badass attitude by saying “you’re terminated f*cker.” This becomes the beginning of her realization of her self worth but also her capability to be a badass. In T2, she gets stabbed by the T1000 and still manages to shoot the T1000 with her other good arm and eventually save her kid. If this happened at the beginning of the first movie, I feel like she would have just accepted her death just to get herself out of the situation. Nonetheless, her experiences shape the actions she takes in the future. However, I don’t think there’s enough sarah Connors in the world to make the human flame shine so bright that we unknowingly develop the beginnings of an Armageddon.

    • pythagoras permalink

      That sounds exactly right: Sarah is not typical of human beings in the sense that she’s like most of us. If she is typical at all it’s because she represents the best of our type. She has certain traits (her courage, her willingness to put herself in harm’s way for the people she cares about) that are the sort of thing that you’d want to put on the brochure for humanity, if you were trying to sell our species to a buyer.

      “Other than that, most of us haven’t been told that we are the mother of the future leader of the Resistance (I hope).” I have counted zero people like this, but perhaps I haven’t been asking the right questions.

  7. Matthew Drake permalink

    I think this would be hard to say because who you are is based on the experiences you’ve had. For mousey Sarah Connor, she was still a young, naive woman. She had good friends, and seemed to not have many cares in the world, besides getting stood up on a date. But after the essential conflict of meeting the Terminator and Kyle Reese, the experiences that she had endured shaped who she became. For example, I was abused as a child and had to endure some pretty harsh lifestyles. For this reason, I am very protective of my sister and make sure that not a single person will bring harm to her. The same goes for Sarah. After losing her two friends by the Terminator’s gun, she becomes more aggressive and ready to fight to preserve those she cares about. But this theory does not extend to just a single person, but rather to the entirety of the human race. We, as a species, have become more sensitive to the issue of death. For centuries, we have waged endless war on ourselves, killing many of our own for stupid reasons. Now, the world cringes whenever the media releases a story of mass murder. It is from experience that we are able to change, though not entirely.

    The bottom line is that experience shapes who we are. This is in direct correlation with the Modern Philosophical idea of Immanuel Kant. He states that the we are driven to our decisions and senses based on our experiences. We know that the chair is in the room because our experiences have led us to know that it is in the room. We know that a lemon tastes tart based on our experiences with lemons. This movie is illustrating that we become someone different every time we experience something new. I cannot be a loving person until I have gone down the path of despair. Sarah Connor cannot vow to save all mankind until she experiences near death due to the machines. John Connor cannot send his father back into time to save his mother, until he loses his mother and the rest of those he loves. We are who we are because our experiences led us there. We cannot be born a hero, or a loving mother, we learn it.

    • pythagoras permalink

      All fair points, though let me just follow up on the Kant reference. You’re surely right that Kant placed a great deal of importance on the role of experience in our lives, and one of the central questions with which he was concerned was how experience is even possible. That said, Kant seemed to think that the conditions necessary for experience are themselves, in a sense, beyond experience. The self is a thing-in-itself, and, as such, is something we can have an experience of. Certainly, there were philosophers who a read as claiming that experience is the whole story, though it’s probably better to look to those in the tradition of the British empiricists such as John Locke, David Hume, and John Stuart Mill for this point-of-view. Here’s a relevant passage from Locke “Essay”:

      “All ideas come from sensation or reflection. Let us then suppose the mind to be, as we say, white paper, void of all characters, without any ideas:- How comes it to be furnished? Whence comes it by that vast store which the busy and boundless fancy of man has painted on it with an almost endless variety? Whence has it all the materials of reason and knowledge? To this I answer, in one word, from EXPERIENCE. In that all our knowledge is founded; and from that it ultimately derives itself. Our observation employed either, about external sensible objects, or about the internal operations of our minds perceived and reflected on by ourselves, is that which supplies our understandings with all the materials of thinking. These two are the fountains of knowledge, from whence all the ideas we have, or can naturally have, do spring” (Book II, Chapter 1, Section 2)

  8. J. Lucky permalink

    I seem that one of the most unique qualities of man is our ingenuity. We are essentially problem-solvers. Not all of us are as capable as others and some of do not exercise this ability but it does appear to be a rather uniquely human characteristic. For Sarah Connor this means that she had to rise above a pretty traumatic experience. But as we see in the film with each passing moment she comes up with new ways to get away from the robot that threatens her and eventually becomes the Sarah Connor that we briefly see at the end of the film now ready for war. It is not just about killing her enemy though or protecting her son so much as it is about surmounting the odds against her. That is what makes humans so unique.

    Undoubtedly our creative abilities have been greatly put to use in threatening our own existence since so often the opposition we face is embodied by other humans. As a result we have thought up a myriad of way to kill ourselves. But that aside we have also used it, rather impressively in my opinion, to prolong life and cure of species of certain ailments. We have discovered ways of easing the burden on our bodies through machinery. We have even found ways to make knowledge more easily accessible to our minds through archiving.

    Currently humanity already has the means to destroy itself entirely and yet it has not done so. Now perhaps that is only because no one with that power has been sufficiently back into a corner to do so as of yet, however there does appear to me at least to be some part of humanity that would rather see the whole continue than to see all perish with one (or a group) of us. For that reason even though we may have burned brighter than our predecessors I think that as a species humanity will be extremely hard to exterminate as we have a very good track record of overcoming the things that threaten our existence. Perhaps the only thing that could do away with us is something with equal or greater powers of inventiveness. Whether it is even possible for us to create such a thing I find extremely doubtful.

    • pythagoras permalink

      I wanted to riff a little on two sentences fairly early in your Occasional Writing: “We are essentially problem-solvers. Not all of us are as capable as others and some of do not exercise this ability but it does appear to be a rather uniquely human characteristic.” The first sentence reminds me a bit of John Dewey’s and Richard Rorty’s work in philosophy. Unlike most of the major figures one encounters in courses in departments of philosophy, Dewey and Rorty wrote in the shadow of Charles Darwin and thought of us – very crudely speaking – problem-solving machines engineered (if unwittingly) by our environment. That brings me to you second sentence. Dewey and Rorty did not think that our problem-solving nature was unique. On the contrary. The thought that the sort of traits, characteristics, and capacities that are often cited as being uniquely human – our ability to use written and spoken language, our talent for thinking abstractly and deploying mathematics and logic, our flair for practical reasoning, etc. – are simply our species’ rather unusual way of dealing with the problems which evolution has set for us. Other species might deal with the pressures brought to bear upon them by their environment by reproducing more rapidly than their rivals or by growing bigger fangs. (I’m writing in a bit of a slapdash manner to make the point, of course.) At any rate, understanding ourselves this way has pretty deep implications for the usual host of questions which philosophers ask (and which we have been thinking through in this class). You might follow up on all of this (especially with a term paper in mind) by looking at Dewey’s “Human Nature and Conduct” or the first three essays in Rorty’s “The Consequences of Pragmatism.”

  9. Towards the beginning of the movie, as we are being introduced to mousey Sarah Connor, there were times where I literally yelled at the television because I thought that she was being weak and acting like a child. For example, there was a moment where she was sitting at a table in “Technoir” waiting for someone else, of more aggressive and protective personality, to come save her from whoever she assumed to be after her. She was visibly frightened, and even as she watched the Terminator walk closer and closer to where she was sitting, she did not have enough courage and bravery to run or fight back; instead, the terminator was able to pull out his gun, aim, and attempt to shoot her in the head. Her lack of courage and willingness to protect her own life, never less someone else’s life, at that point was apparent as I watched Reese take it upon himself to save her incapable self. At that point, when Reese and Sarah met, her legendary traits began to grow. The seed of mighty Sarah is now present because her life’s experiences have changed for the better after meeting the Terminator and Reese. The mighty Sarah now begins to develop because her selfish worries and concerns transform into bravery and resourcefulness as she begins to understand the impact she could have on the world, and as she falls in love with Reese. Her experiences and priorities start to shift throughout the movie, which is the reason why mousey Sarah is able to successfully transform into might Sarah. I think that it is the combination of war, her knowledge of her future son, her love for Reese, and fear of the Terminator that caused the change. This idea all comes down to Sarah going through life and changing do to her surroundings, people, and experiences.

    • pythagoras permalink

      Yes, Sarah develops a lot in this film! It might be worth comparing her development with that which the replicants go through. Take Roy. He’s designed for military use but begins life without emotions (so we’re told). It’s only as a result of having the time to be around other replicants that he develops feelings that are recognizably…well…human. It’s only by the time we see him that he lives his life passionately. Sarah is at the other end of the scale. She has people she cares about; she has family and friends. But it’s only after being exposed to a murder machine like the T-800 that she develops (slowly, at first) courage and hutzpa. An important point of contrast is that for Roy (and the other replicants) emotions and the inner life that goes with them are unintentional byproducts. They emerge prior to their creators design, and, eventually, they destroy him. Sarah develops the traits we admire her for because what we create tries to destroy us. If the T-800 hadn’t been sent back in time to kill Sarah, it’s not at all clear she ever would have developed the courage that ultimately led to their defeat.

  10. John Decker permalink

    If I understand the question correctly, it is asking whether or not the human race is threatening its own existence through progress. Assuming that this is the correct question then I would have to say that I have two distinct ideas on the answer to it. First, I say that we indeed are threatening our own existence by our rapid progress. This is very apparent in the rapid rise of fossil fuel use in the 20th century. Whether or not this is actually affecting the environment can be debated and is outside the focus of this response. However, it seems as though, assuming that global warming is affecting the planet, then we are indeed threatening our own existence. Perhaps it is the speed at which we are improving technology and the human race, our understanding of the implications of these changes usually lags behind our implementation of these advances. However, I could also make a strong argument that we are not threatening our existence by saying that as we develop technology, we develop understanding of its effects and also develop solutions to the problems that it has caused. By pursuing technological advances we have eliminated disease, pushed the boundaries of space and much more. Eventually these sorts of advances may aid us in saving our race. Therefore, I say that humans as a light are indeed burning bright, albeit by our perspective, and depending on the advances may either threaten us or one day save ourselves from extinction. In relation to Terminator, the parallels are easy to see. The technological advances that humans have made are ultimately threatening their existence. However, human ingenuity, in the form of Sarah Connor’s adaptations, may very well save the human race.

  11. Shelby permalink

    I wonder, in both Sarah Conner’s and Roy’s the android cases, they had been merely made legendary by the influences of their circumstances. Both became a light which burned twice as bright; but as we saw with Sarah Conner in The Terminator, she did not begin that way. It is impossible to say how Roy became the way he was or if he was created that way, but in the end it seemed that they were reacting to their environments. Sarah Conner would not have became the mighty Sarah with that essential conflict of the Terminator trying to kill her. Yet she acted not to threaten her own existence in the process. So of course, as the prompt ask, have we put ourselves in threatening situations to be who we are, or have we only been a product of our violent world?
    I find it hard to apply the phrase, “the light that burns twice as bright burns half as long,” to humanity as a whole. There are too many exceptions to this rule – too many who burned brightly for a lifetime and not just a fleeting moment in the sky. Though brightness in both cases, mostly Roy’s, must not be confused with greatness. Humanity has been much more than self-destructive in its process of becoming what we are. We have had greatness and brightness in one which contributed to humanity in a nonthreatening way. In our weapons and fear it is easy to assume that it is our threat to our existence which will be our demise. Yet as Sarah’s experience shows, it is that essential life threatening violence that enabled her to become courageous and mighty. Maybe I am only playing into one humanity’s paradoxes by assuming our own self destruction leads to growth, but without those who ‘burn bright’, I doubt there would be any positive development.

  12. Creating danger for ourselves through our own advances is a natural progression of technological evolution. In creating the first hammer man was able to produce more than he was before the hammer, but then he became aware of the ability to use it as a weapon to kill other humans. This is the paradox of tools, almost always they are capable of equal or more evil as they are good.

    From the hammer we progressed to metal tools (swords), combustion engines (tanks), airplanes (bombers), genetic manipulation (clone armies….er….wrong movie). With every progression of technology and the creation of new tools that can do so much good in the world we take another big step in ending our own species.

    We could remain interesting and unique inhabitants of Earth if we lobotomized everyone. All of this is a natural progression. If we attempted to move backwards away from these technologies, say by removing all engines to prevent tanks and planes from killing people, then we would simply find our swords and continue wiping each other out.

    What scares people is not that technology has gotten more powerful and capable of killing everyone on the planet, it is that while our technology is capable of killing in a bigger radius, our expansion into the universe has remained stagnant for millenniums. If I have a rifle, but people live on different continents, it isn’t a threat to humanity. If I 1000 nukes, but people live on other planets, suddenly it becomes less problematic and we can focus on the usefulness of a nuke to destroy asteroids rather than people.

    When the time comes that humans are able to colonize other planets – we will become far less afraid of our machines and their growing capacity to kill us all. Until then, technology is scary, but so are a lot of other things human imaginations create.

  13. I have to agree that our experiences directly change our ability to express emotional strength, though I do not believe this is anything extraordinary anymore, though it once was. The ability for humans to use their brains to realize their current situation, to review past situations and decisions/outcomes, and act upon it in the present is a very sensible program. Ancient species advanced due to this ability to analyze both the past and present almost instantaneously allowed organisms to advance further than fight or flight. Instead, with self-awareness paired with memory, they could use past experience to change themselves and improve the species’s fitness. In this same way humans retain memory, use the information to analyze their present state, and make “informed” decisions based on these past experiences but with our relative stability we’re able to focus this ability into other facets of life, including the development and use of technology, etc.

    This biological survival mechanism allowed Sarah to advance. The trouble the film’s logic faces is that, if she hadn’t gone through the experience of being hunted by The Terminator, she wouldn’t have borne the child that could save the future world, therefore invalidating Reese and The Terminator’s presence in the past (Conner’s world). The argument the prompt also makes is that the technology to build Skynet would not have been created either. This is less believable though, as it is arguable (through the previous theories discussed) that a collective conscience and advancement from that simple fight or flight response could reach a technological apex allowing something like Skynet to be created. In short, I agree that Sarah Conner could have adapted into the “badass” she is in the future, but only as a result of the experiences she had that led her to learn how to fight: being hunted by The Terminator and taught by Reese, who was taught by her child (this is getting confusing…).

  14. Micah Patten permalink

    Humanity is indeed an interesting creature as a whole. Throughout history, humanity itself has presented the greatest threat to humanity. Millions have been killed by governments and radical groups as one aspires to domineer the other. This is all based on a simple concept; one that seems to be the very definition of humanity: self-awareness. Man is set apart from animal because of the level of self-awareness he is capable of. Not only does mankind understand itself enough to desire to live, as animals do, he also is capable of experiencing pleasure and desire as he can better his situation. Sarah Conner is a case study and reflection of this concept. Although she is conceptualized as the heroine, she fights for these very same selfish reasons. She desires to survive as well as preserve the life of others because their lives affect her. She is transformed by the removal of comfort and security, which represent a decrease in her position in the world. She becomes something much more terrible than the innocent, content woman she was. She becomes a killer and destroyer as she resists the efforts of the machines to destroy her life and that which matters to her. These same motivations and characteristics can be attributed to humanity as a whole, which is why they created the skynet; to better their position. It back-fires as the computer becomes aware of the very same idea: selfish self-awareness. The machine develops the capability to put itself first (as all humans do) which is what enables it to attempt to destroy humanity.

  15. tony.sullivan permalink

    Would Sarah Conner have become the person she needed to if not for the struggles she was put through? We see a dramatic change in her even just in this movie, not mentioning the sequel. She goes from a timid young woman who “can’t even balance a checkbook” to a warrior, who will kill without hesitation, focused on one goal: raising her son to be the savior of the world. The irony here is interesting to note. While trying to preserve themselves and destroy humans, robots send something back in time to kill the only hope the humans have of survival. In doing so, the robots forge Sarah Conner into the woman she needs to be in order to raise her son with the mentality to save the world. If they had done nothing, history would not have repeated itself, and John Conner would never have been born (at least not as the same person, because Kyle would not have been sent back to protect Sarah). The entire plot of the movie could have been avoided, and there would have been a robot victory.
    A deeper question which this movie brings up is how humans always seem to create their own destruction. Much like in The Matrix, where humans created AI which lead to the war, it was some computer system that was set up in the not so distant future which led to nuclear war which killed most humans in The Terminator. The scary part is that these futures are possible; eventually our arrogance will get the best of us and we will create something which we cannot control, and it could very well be the end of us. The human reliance on technology is a weakness which would not be difficult to exploit; most people could not go back to the days before machines and cars. Most people can’t even read a map!

  16. Simeon permalink

    I found Andy Clark’s piece on Natural Born Cyborgs to be quite interesting thought A. it was not entirely what I was expecting, and B. it was at times a bit difficult to follow and hard to hear due to the audio quality. In any case however, I thought the piece added some interesting perspective to the Terminator and perhaps to cyborgs as a whole.
    Before viewing his talk, I had an opinion of cyborgs that was similar to that of robots; in fact I would not have been able to distinguish to anyone the difference between the two. According to Clark’s description, however, it seems that a cyborg is a altered and theoretically improved version of a human being with the use of machinery. Upon concluding this definition, I began to wonder, then at what point does a human become a cyborg, and in turn at what point does a cyborg become a robot or less human? In the case of the first question, does a human become a cyborg when he uses prosthetic limbs? How many machine alterations would a person need to have to pass from a machine-driven human into a robotic organism?
    To answer this I paid additional attention to whatever the point Clark made by doing several visual and mental tests in the speech. Several times he did experiments which are similar to those I have learned about in my Sensation and Perception class. The general point of these experiments seemed to suggest that a human mind uses applicable information from the world around it though it can be aware of all of it. A machine or robot mind will be aware of it all and must be told or programmed to discern only applicable information. With such an emphasis on what the mind of both subjects respectively perceives, I conclude to myself that a cyborg still will maintain its human status as long as its mind is left uninfluenced by machine capabilities or programming.

  17. Caroline Martin permalink

    Unashamedly, I consider myself an idealist. I think, with this philosophy attached to my own moral and religious inclinations, I am afforded a certain amount of optimism. For this reason, I believe that humanity has displayed enough adaptability throughout history that it can survive and even thrive despite the threat of advancing technology. I could discuss my answer within the context of human evolution, but I feel like I touched on that enough when discussing 2001: A Space Odyssey. The only question remaining is has humanity burned too brightly? Will the golden reign of humanity end with our own innovations, giving way to a new earthly existence? Certainly, we can cite prominent examples such as Alexander the Great. Alexander the Great led military campaigns, expanding his empire and always seeking the “ends of the world and the Great Outer Sea.” Eventually, Alexander died from the hardships of his conquests and his heavy drinking. Alexander burned too brightly. Using a Freudian perspective, Alexander fueled his “id” too much. He let his own desires cloud his survivability. In my idealistic point of view, I will surpass even the “ego” and go as far as to say that the “superego” is needed for the survival of humanity and the soul. I am almost apprehensive to make such a claim, however, I will say that, in order to survive our own technological advances (in the form of a Cyborg rebellion), we must strive for a superego. This superego, in my belief, is what drives Sarah Conner to maintain “her resourcefulness, her courage, her willingness to crush her foes,” making her the stuff of legend. Of course Alexander the Great was the stuff of legend because of his notorious id, but who had the greater survivability? Sarah Conner. Therefore, Sarah Conner survives on all the things that accompany a superego: faith, hope, etc.

  18. Seth Rodgers permalink

    If we assume that technology could and would eventually reach a level of sophistication that would rival our ability to control it, the scenario is only problematic if our goal on earth is to maximize survival. This perspective seems likely only if you believe that death marks the end of ones existence in all realms, in which case your existence as a conscious entity is dependent on your physical survival. If a longer life is always better, then the limit imposed by technology (i.e. the point where the benefits for survival produced by technology are outweighed by the detriments) is extremely disconcerting.

    Now consider the alternative possibility: if our lives on earth are only one phase in our existence, and if we have no reason to fear existence in the next realm, then one’s purpose in life might be to simply enjoy it as much as possible. In this case, the problem of technology would simply be to know when and in which areas to cap it off so as to maximize the benefits we could derive from it.

    The previous perspective is rather passive, given that it still defines no true purpose for life except enjoying it. However, yet another perspective might assign a more definitive goal to humanity; a specific mission that must be carried out. If this life has been specifically designed for humanity to carry out that purpose, then there is no fear of the inability to do so. In this case, the paradox of technology is also of little concern since there is an element of overarching control in the universe. In other words, “so long as I do what I think I’m supposed to do, then everything will work out.” Austrian cyborgs would be unpleasant to deal with, but ultimately there is nothing that could limit human potential if our true potential is not dependent on the physical but rather on a being that wants us to maximize that potential (hence creating the realm we are currently inhabiting).

    Furthermore, in this scenario there would be little incentive to produce technology with artificial intelligence (assuming that would be necessary for technology to overpower humanity). After all, if the world is designed for us to fulfill our purpose then we must be equipped with the necessary tools, our minds being sufficient source of intelligence. Furthermore, what seems to make artificial intelligence appealing is simply power which, once again, becomes irrelevant if you already live your life in submission to a higher being.

  19. Monica Hottle permalink

    After viewing The Terminator, the first thing I thought of was Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. In Frankenstein, Victor creates life using science, yielding the amazing yet terrifying “creation.” This creation is able to learn and begins to hunt down his creator in an attempt to end him. The same thing happens in the film (essentially): Skynet is created, only to become self aware. It then initiates almost a cleansing of humans in the year 2029. However, it is realized that John Connor would lead the revolution against the machines so The Terminator is sent to kill his mother, Sarah, before he is born as a method of prevention for the coming of John Connor. This leads me (along with plenty of other people) to ponder whether or not the human being can truly outwit themselves and ultimately cause their own demise? Going back to the Frankenstein example, one of the largest controversies was the fact that Victor creates life, which can be paralleled to the divine being of God. Although Skynet is not essentially a mortal “life,” it is a form of intelligence created by humans, which can interact with humans, and eventually learns to have its own train of thought, independent of their creator. Perhaps it is intentional that humans do not touch on the role of a higher being.

  20. pythagoras permalink

    Posted for Amy L. Vander Wyst:

    Our experiences make us who we are. As far as we know, we are not Neo, being downloaded with different skills and memories. Everything we have experienced changes how we will react to experiences in the future.  The fact that Sarah was able to become a complete badass in order to protect everything and everyone she loved is not a surprise to me at all. Through whatever experiences she had up until that point, she learned to love those things that were most important to her. She also learned of different ways to protect those things and people. Along the way, I’m sure that she also learned the most drastic ways to do so and when it would be appropriate to use them. That she eventually had to become stronger in order to carry out these increasingly dangerous and courageous acts is not surprising. It was a gradual change, one brought on by her circumstances.
    If designing Skynet was the way that other humans chose to protect the things they love, then it is entirely plausible that they were incredibly similar to Sarah Connor. They say a way to protect, they created, and were destroyed. Just as we are currently destroying the very world on which we live in order to build better lives for ourselves. I do agree that humans, as part of our very nature, will eventually be responsible for the ultimate destruction of the human race. We always seek to advance technology and knowledge without being fully aware of the consequences or even the capabilities that we have introduced into the world. We lack forethought when caught up in advancement. This is easy to see through our history and as the reimagined Battlestar Galactica warned in its controversial final episode, we are well on our way to creating the predecessors to Skynet, cylons, or whatever apocalypse that will cause us to colonize the galaxy.
    Sir, I also thank you for your concern regarding my absences. Don’t worry about overstepping your bounds, you haven’t. If I feel comfortable enough and the opportunity presents itself, perhaps I will fill you in a little more on my situation.

  21. K.Rengan permalink

    *****This is late I know*****
    In reference to Sarah Conner’s legendary traits, Aristotle said that habit builds virtue. In this sense it is very unlikely that the “mousey” Sarah Conner could transform so fast into a strong leader unless she already possessed those traits –which seems unlikely since she appeared very frail throughout the movie never proving any of the traits mentioned. However, it is possible to gain those traits if she practiced them.
    As a bit of a change to what Cory J. and his reference to Steven Pinker, Edward Wilson said roughly the same thing when it came to the structural makeup of society influencing human behavior, but said that we do not know how much mental evolution has actually occurred. I take this to mean that no matter the structure of society we have generally kept the same root behaviors. To me that root behavior is fear; an emotion that keeps us alive. I say this because in the past, in hunter-gatherer bands, we feared intrusions by others and used force to quail that fear. Today we fear retribution for our actions from governmental institutions, and in a parallel to the hunter-gatherer state, we fear retribution from other groups/governments. Our nature compels us to fear, this trait is what keeps us alive and in league with what Dr. Strangelove said:
    “it is essential … deterrence is the art of producing in the enemy the fear to attack … the dooms day machine is terrifying.” Alfred Noble said the same thing as he wished to produce a bomb so frightful that wars should become impossible. With Noble in mind, I can say that fear of complete destruction keeps us in peace because above all else we fear for our own existence and will keep it in tact no matter what the other threat is.

  22. John Yang permalink

    Humans, when pushed to extremes, are capable of remarkable feats, whether they concern fear, love, hatred, or faith. Each compulsion or conviction (however you choose to look at it) originates from a unique source, and because of this, makes people’s legendary achievements vastly different, even if they seem similar through the traits that carried them through: devotion, resourcefulness, perseverance, courage, and force of will. The motivations that pushed Sarah Conner to pull from those reserves of strength previously unknown and untapped could not be more different from the motivations that drove the creators of Skynet to construct Skynet; her survival instinct is based in the natural reaction of defending herself and her loved ones from hostile forces with clearly evil intentions, while the creators of Skynet develop their invention from the initial/proactive (as opposed to reactive) feelings of paranoia and the desire for power and global domination. Despite the crossover in certain traits between the two, namely, resourcefulness and force of will, the nature of how these traits are put to use are, again, inherently different. This of course brings us to the issue of whether our own ingenuity as a race will eventually threaten our existence. Despite the fact that these traits can be technically the same for all humans but much different in application, conflict tends to be a part of human nature, and the clash of motivations will pit these traits against each other continuously and indefinitely. Who is to say that this issue may ever be resolved? The conflict between motivations, but not human cleverness, may be a threat to our existence and may continue to be a threat to our existence, but while that cleverness may accelerate or intensify the effects of ideological conflict, it will not be the source of humanity’s own self-destruction per se.

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