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Galatea 2.2: A Novel Paperback – Bargain Price, January 1, 2004
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Cognitive neurologist and well-known writer team up to produce a machine that can pass a comprehensive exam in English literature, with predictably unpredictable results. Like The Gold Bug Variations, this is another of Powers' wild, unforgettable novels encompassing science, philosophy, and the frailty of mankind. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
From Publishers Weekly
Powers, in his mid-30s and with four well-received books under his belt (Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance; The Gold Bug Variations; etc.), is among our most prodigious young novelists, and without a doubt our most cerebral. He seems bent on proving the novel to be a form capable of housing all manner of human thought and expression: art, music, genetic theory, linguistics and philosophy. In Galatea 2.2, Powers, known as an extremely private person, is writing about himself?Richard Powers, the cerebral author of four novels?in a most intimate fashion, detailing his loves, passions and failings. His objective, however, is nothing so mundane as self-portraiture. Typically, he has a bigger idea: in exploring the nature of consciousness, he is trying to build a conscious novel in much the same way that the novel's fictional Powers is trying to spark consciousness in a university computer. The result is a kind of double simulation of intelligence that is breathtakingly elegant. Powers the character, returns to a Midwestern university with a huge computer science department, after several years in Holland, where he has left behind the love of his life, who saw him through the first four books. As a visiting writer, his job is to bombard a computer network, which he comes to call Helen, with literature, music and conversation so that it will recognize beauty in some neuronal simulation, and therefore become conscious of it. Meanwhile, Powers reveals his life, including his career as a novelist (down to the mentioning of a rare picture of him in a PW interview four years ago). It's as if both Helen and the novel itself can be programmed into self-consciousness. In the course of tutoring Helen to be able to successfully interpret a piece of text in a manner indistinguishable from a human, Powers and Helen form an enchanting though eerie bond: she has "read" all his books; he knows her circuitry. Still, there remain mysteries that can't be accounted for by electron paths, in Helen's case, or by a theory of the self, in Powers's case. In the end, Powers is left with the conviction he started with: that intelligence is irreducible; it cannot be known. Although parts of the book seem hastily done or weakly felt (the university folk are rather two-dimensional, and Powers's crush on a rail-thin, obnoxious grad student is simply unaccountable), these are minor flaws in an otherwise ingenious performance.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
The protagonist, named after the author, joins the project being undertaken by the cognitive neurologist Philip Lentz, and trains a series of neural networks, which are named Imp A, B, C, and so on (Imp is an abbreviation for Implementation). Their work place, the Center for the Study of Advanced Sciences, is located at U. Along with this story, Richard's love affair with his former student C. is told. They once lived together in B. They are however separated, and Richard is attracted to another young lady, A. Imp A, B, C, etc. are okay, but as for ladies C. and A. and places U. and B., what rough naming the author made in this work! But wait. This might be a technique to give the story much reality like a private note.
I have been training a female friend of mine to read and write in English only by exchanging e-mail messages written in English these several months. This limited method of training is in a sense quite similar to Richard's training of neural networks, and I have found many parallels between this novel and my experience. Even from this fact only, I can conclude that this book is well written. Imp H or Helen learned too much and finally . . . Oh, this is not what I want to happen to my pupil and me. I highly recommend this novel to all intelligent readers.
Both stories are beautiful. They warn you in advance they are going to break your heart, but they proceed to do so with such an honest approach to human inadequacy and regret that although the end is filled with sentiment, it has earned the right to that sentiment. There was not a character in the book I did not love.
In the science fiction storyline, Powers uses a highly novel approach to the genre: actually writing about science and scientists. The story of discovery proceeds incrementally through several tweaks and re-implementations of the developing artificial intelligence. It is one of the few novels I have read that adequately captures the feeling of doing research in a highly speculative field, but does so without becoming tedious. Similarly, the scientists Powers works with have fully developed lives outside their research. One gets the feeling that these are real people that you would like to know yourself, people with lives that the book only scratches the surface of.
The autobiography is also well-conducted, being about himself without being self-indulgent. From the beginning of his relationship with C., Powers simply expresses regret over his inability to be the person C. needed him to be at any given time until the assymetry of their relationship hollows it out and kills it. He often dwells on what he would have liked to have done at each step in its decay, and how far short his actual actions fell of those unvoiced desires. This part of the story is simply an honest look at the fear of living up to one's intentions and regret for having not done so.
After I finished, though, I was unsatisfied. Each part of the book raises difficult, important issues: What does it mean to have consciousness? What is meaning, anyway? What role does literature have in the modern world? How can people let the ones they love know that? To what extent can we really know another human being? Is there hope for human civilization? Yet in each instance, Powers not only shies away from trying to answer, but refrains from even giving hope that an answer might exist. All he can say is that he would like to make some moving, profound statement, but is either powerless to act or inhibited from doing so.
Though a pleasure to read, both for its wit and its heartbreaking honesty, in my final analysis, Galatea disappoints. This book is like a nervous suitor who stands on the doorstep of profundity, poises his knuckles to rap on the door, and then, after several long seconds of silence, walks away without having knocked.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
The plot just didn't seem to move forward, so I put the book down
after getting through about half of...Read more