Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Machine Stops!

Yayyyyyy!! The Machine stops!

I mean, wait, I just read this short story by E.M. Forster today. What satire, what comedy and what truth!

Of course, it doesn't need me to tell that Forster was so so ahead of his time.

"We have lost a part of ourselves"... now, if this statement is written by somebody like me today, it is not profound. It's common sense, yes most of the people have sensed it and know it already. If I wrote it, I could write it through direct observation and experience. But Forster has written it out of his creativity back during 1900s. Now, that's profound!

One might argue that people felt this way for long, ever since Industrial Revolution started or perhaps since much before - since Renaissance. Ok, for one, I'm not one of those who is against machines as such. It doesn't need much analysis to right away say that the Age of Machine has dawned on humankind for good.

I don't want to walk my way the whole day just to visit my friend a town away. What is life, if it ends before not even seeing and experiencing that ecstatic waterfall or that magnificent mountain range just away in the neighbouring state? What if I can't read the brilliant thoughts and knowledge shared by my fellow human beings? I don't want my appetite to be restricted by just those cuisines my ancestors have passed on. What if I never knew what kind of food, the people on the other side of the planet treat themselves to? What if I never knew how people lead their lives in places I never could visit? Aren't all these things which were once impossible, once incomprehensible, now a reality just because of those machines?

But then, I don't want to miss watching the first faltering steps my baby takes just because I want to be part of the career-oriented lot. I don't want to keep talking to my parents or in-laws over skype and offer them a loving talk/advice - "It's Ok. You have been doing really great. Please do visit the doc and let me know how the visit went" without not being there with them to drive to the doc and lend them a shoulder when in pain. I don't want a random comment that I pass on some "growing gender discrimination" being considered as a serious opinion, assessed and analyzed, be data mined along with others' random observations and used for predicting the "changing human psyche"...and that "changing human psyche" being pumped as an input to change the human psyche - and all of it being called a genuine research study/survey/work. I don't want to be worried about keeping abreast with latest technologies in my project all the time, keeping myselves uptodate with what majority of the human beings around me are upto - what kind of schools they send their kids to, what kind of gadgets they use, what kind of knowledge upgradation they are aspiring for, how they are setting a benchmark for themselves in the society, what kind of wonders are happening around the world - in the form of 24*7 online feeds - and miss the wonders of my own life or not be able to take the plunge to learn the carnatic music I was always passionate of learning.

Comfortable life? Yes, we all need it. A hypocritical life shaped by the society? Should we allow it?

Superstition? Ofcourse, shun it off, we must. But reasoning which says that my belief is a hallucination or is dumb because it is not scientifically backed? No, I don't need it.

Of course, I will believe in my strengths. I will believe in my capacities. I will believe in the weakness of my vulnerabilities. I will believe that love is sacred. I will continue to believe that mutual commitment in marriage is essential. I will continue to believe in God. I will believe that honey is sweet. I will believe that fresh air is pleasant to breathe. I will believe in the truth that I experienced. I don't need any damn Science to back that up for me. No Science has taught me these in the first place. No Science will ever be able to enable a person to feel them. First, a person needs to retain the integrity of one's own personality to be able to experience these simple pleasures of life.

Only people who need these "observations" to do a scientific study to keep their scientific career flourishing need Science to analyze such beliefs. Only people who want to make money out of using Science do anything and everything, will need to do this. I'm not opening up my beliefs as observations to the scientifically enthused nerds of this age. Nor does anybody want to. Not even those very scientifically enthused nerds.


Anyway, keeping my thoughts/criticism on this aside, let's get back to Forster's "The Machine Stops"! Of course, A "Machine" stops in that story. But what a beautiful metaphor to say that the mechanization of man himself must stop at some point lest the machine should enslave the man through his gullibility and vulnerability! Just a 30-page story and what wonderful insights! My favourite sentence in the story is this - "Cover the window please. These mountains give me no ideas". I just loved Forster here. So much so that I wish I were his grand daughter and pulled his cheeks - "Grand Pa! Superb! What a brilliant thought. Love you!"

Though it's impertinent to quote some one and a half-page of content from a 30 page short story and give away the story (to those who haven't already read it), I take liberties to do it since it is already available online for free via gutenberg.org and also because I'm not plagiarizing it, but only quoting it rightly with due credit. Here are some wonderful pieces from the story:

'Oh, hush!' said his mother, vaguely shocked. 'You mustn't say anything against the Machine.'
'Why not?'
'One mustn't.'
'You talk as if a god had made the Machine,' cried the other.'I believe that you pray to it when you are unhappy. Men made it, do not forget that. Great men, but men. The Machine is much, but it is not everything. I see something like you in this plate, but I do not see you. I hear something like you
through this telephone, but I do not hear you. That is why I want you to come. Pay me a visit, so that we can meet face to face, and talk about the hopes that are in my mind.'

Yet the attempt to 'defeat the sun' aroused the last common interest that our race experienced about the heavenly bodies, or indeed about anything. It was the last time that men were compacted by thinking of a power outside the world. The sun had conquered, yet it was the end of his spiritual dominion. Dawn, midday, twilight, the zodiacal path, touched neither men's lives nor their hearts, and science retreated into the ground, to concentrate herself upon problems that she was certain of solving.

'Beware of first- hand ideas!' exclaimed one of the most advanced of them. 'First-hand ideas do not really exist. They are but the physical impressions produced by live and fear, and on this gross foundation who could erect a philosophy? Let your ideas be second-hand, and if possible tenth-hand, for then they will be far removed from that disturbing element - direct observation. Do not learn anything about this subject of mine - the French Revolution. Learn instead what I think that Enicharmon thought Urizen thought Gutch thought Ho-Yung thought Chi-Bo-Sing thought Lafcadio Hearn thought Carlyle thought Mirabeau said about the French Revolution. Through the medium of these ten great minds, the blood that was shed at Paris and the windows that were broken at Versailles will be clarified to an idea which you may employ most profitably in your daily lives. But be sure that the intermediates are many and varied, for in history one authority exists to counteract another. Urizen must counteract the scepticism of Ho-Yung and Enicharmon, I must myself counteract the impetuosity of Gutch. You who listen to me are in a better position to judge about the French Revolution than I am. Your descendants will be even in a better position than you, for they will learn what you think I think, and yet another intermediate will be added to the chain. And in time' - his voice rose - 'there will come a generation that had got beyond facts, beyond impressions, a generation absolutely colourless, a generation seraphically free
From taint of personality,
which will see the French Revolution not as it happened, nor as they would like it to have happened, but as it would have happened, had it taken place in the days of the Machine.'

She burst into tears.
Tears answered her.
They wept for humanity, those two, not for themselves. They could not bear that this should be the end. Ere silence was completed their hearts were opened, and they knew what had been important on the earth. Man, the flower of all flesh, the noblest of all creatures visible, man who had once made god in his image, and had mirrored his strength on the constellations, beautiful naked man was dying, strangled in the garments that he had woven. Century after century had he toiled, and here was his reward. Truly the garment had seemed heavenly at first, shot with colours of culture, sewn with the threads of self-denial. And heavenly it had been so long as man could shed it at will and live by the essence that is his soul, and the essence, equally divine, that is his body. The sin against the body - it was for that they wept in chief; the centuries of wrong against the muscles and the nerves, and those five portals by which we can alone apprehend - glozing it over with talk of evolution, until the body was white pap, the home of ideas as colourless, last sloshy stirrings of a spirit that had grasped the stars.

'Oh, tomorrow - some fool will start the Machine again, tomorrow.'
'Never,' said Kuno, 'never. Humanity has learnt its lesson.'

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