The Debut of the Apple Disk II, Ambiguous Terminology, and the Effects of Memory: Digging Deeper into an Anecdote from Kirschenbaum’s Mechanisms

The first Apple Disk II and controller card hand wired by Wozniak. Photo taken at the Apple Pop-Up Museum in Roswell, GA.
The first Apple Disk II and controller card hand wired by Wozniak. Photo taken at the Apple Pop-Up Museum in Roswell, GA.

Matthew Kirschenbaum constructs a compelling and interesting argument in his book Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination (2008). He argues that while new media and computer software might seem ephemeral and intangible, it has in fact physicality, a many-layered history, and emerging archaeological protocols (developed by Kirschenbaum and many others).

However, one section titled “Coda: CTRL-D, CTRL-Z” attracted my attention, because its use of the term “recover” in a story about the debut of the Apple Disk II seemed to imply computer disk data recovery instead of what historically happened, which was the manual rewriting of the software that had been accidentally overwritten during a botched disk copy operation.

Kirschenbaum uses the story of Steve Wozniak and Randy Wigginton’s development of software to control the reading and writing of data to Apple’s Disk II, which was based on Shugart’s 5 1/4″ floppy disk drive, before its unveiling at the 1978 CES in Las Vegas to establish an analogy: “Nowadays we toggle the CTRL-D and CTRL-Z shortcuts, deleting content and undoing the act at a whim. Gone and then back again, the keyboard-chorded Fort and Da of contemporary knowledge work” (Kirschenbaum 69). The idea is that computer facilitate a kind of gone and back again play as described by Freud. Of course, the keyboard shortcuts that he refers to are not universal across platforms or software, but the concept is pervasive. Nevertheless, my focus is not on that concept per se but instead on the Apple Disk II debut anecdote, the terminology surrounding what actually happened, and how that relates to the kinds of work that we do in new media archaeology.

After introducing the story of the Apple Disk II’s debut at CES, Kirschenbaum cites a passage from Steven Weyhrich’s Apple II History website:

“When they got to Las Vegas they helped to set up the booth, and then returned to working on the disk drive. They stayed up all night, and by six in the morning they had a functioning demonstration disk. Randy suggested making a copy of the disk, so they would have a backup if something went wrong. They copied the disk, track by track. When they were done, they found that they had copied the blank disk on top of their working demo! By 7:30 am they had recovered the lost information and went on to display the new disk drive at the show.” (Weyhrich par. 13, qtd. in Kirschenbaum 69).

First, it should be noted that Weyhrich uses the term “recovered” to describe the way that the “lost information” was brought back from the brink of the overwritten disk. Then, Kirschenbaum reads Weyhrich’s account above in the following way:

“Thus the disk handling routines that took the nascent personal computer industry by storm were accidentally overwritten on the very morning of their public debut–but recovered and restored again almost as quickly by those who had intimate knowledge of the disk’s low-level formatting and geometry” (Kirschenbaum 69).

Weyhrich uses the term “recovered” to refer to the software Wozniak and Wigginton had lost during the bad copy operation. Kirschenbaum borrows Weyhrich’s “recovered” and adds “restored” to describe the final state of the software on Wozniak and Wigginton’s floppy disks for use on the CES show floor. When I first read Kirschenbaum’s book, his reading seemed unncessarily ambiguous. On the one hand, Kirschenbaum does not directly say that the two Apple engineers used their knowledge of controlling the disk drive and reading low-level information on the floppy disks to “recover” the lost data–i.e., use the drive and disk technology to salvage, rescue, or retrieve what remains on the disk but otherwise might seem lost to someone with less advanced knowledge. On the other hand, Kirschenbaum’s reading of the incident–“recovered and restored again almost as quickly”–is implicitly aligned with his own project of the physicality of data stored on new media storage devices. One could mistakenly believe that Wozniak and Wigginton had restored the lost data from the overwritten floppy disk.

Steven Wozniak writes about this episode in his autobiography, iWoz: Computer Geek to Cult Icon (2006). Before turning to Wozniak’s later recall of this event in 1978, I would like to look at the two sources that Weyhrich cites on the passage that Kirschenbaum cites in his argument.

Weyhrich’s first of two footnotes on his passage points to page 168 of Gregg Williams and Rob Moore’s 1985 interview with Steve Wozniak titled, “The Apple Story, Part 2: More History And The Apple III” in the January 1985 issue of Byte magazine. In the interview, Wozniak tells them:

“We worked all night the day before we had to show it [the disk drive] at CES. At about six in the morning it was ready to demonstrate. Randy thought we ought to back it up, so we copied the disk, track by track. When we were done, he looked down at them in his hands and said, “Oh, no! I wrote on the wrong one!” We managed to recover it and actually demonstrated it at CES” (Williams and Moore 168).

In this primary source, we see Wozniak using  the term “recover” to indicate that they were able to get the demonstration operational in time for CES that day, but what form the “recovery” took place is not explained. Was it data recovery in the technical sense or data recovery in the hard work sense of re-writing the code?

Weyrich’s second footnote on his passage points to Paul Freiberger and Michael Swaine’s “Fire In The Valley, Part Two (Book Excerpt)” in the January 1985 issue of A+ Magazine. While I have been unable to find a copy of this magazine, I did refer to the book that this excerpt was taken from: Freiberger and Swaine’s Fire in the Valley (1984). On page 286, they write in regard to Wozniak and Wigginton’s disk dilemma at CES:

“Wigginton and Woz arrived in Las Vegas the evening before the event. They helped set up the booth that night and went back to work on the drive and the demo program. They planned to have it done when the show opened in the morning even if they had to go without sleep. Staying up all night is no novelty in Las Vegas, and that’s what they did, taking periodic breaks from programming to inspect the craps tables. Wigginton, 17, was elated when he won $35 at craps, but a little later back in the room, his spirits were dashed when he accidentally erased a disk they had been working on. Woz patiently helped him reconstruct all the information. They tried to take a nap at 7:30 that morning, but both were too keyed up” (Freiberger and Swaine 286).

Unlike Wozniak’s “recover” in the Williams and Moore interview above, Freiberger and Swaine use the term “reconstruct” in their narrative about the pre-CES development of the Disk II demonstration software. Unlike the term recover, which means to regain what is lost, reconstruct means to build something again that has been destroyed. Freiberger and Swaine’s selection of this term seems more accurate when considering what Wozniak says about this episode in his autobiography:

“We set up in our booth and worked until about 6 a.m., finally getting everything working. At that point I did one very smart thing. I was so tired and wanted some sleep but knew it was worth backing up our one good floppy disk, with all the right data. . . . But when I finished this backup, I looked at the two unlabeled floppy disks and got a sinking feeling that I’d followed a rote pattern but accidentally copied the bad floppy to the good one, erasing all the good data. A quick test determined that this is what happened. You do things like that when you are extremely tired. So my smart idea had led to a dumb and unfortunate result. . . . We went back to the Villa Roma motel and slept. At about 10 a.m. I woke up and got to work. I wanted to try to rebuild the whole thing. The code was all in my head, anyways. I managed to get the good program reestablished by noon and took it to our booth. There we attached the floppy and started showing it” (Wozniak and Smith 218-219).

In this account, Wozniak says that he is responsible for overwriting the good disk with the bad (as opposed to what he said to Williams and Moore for the 1985 Byte magazine interview), but most important is the terms that he uses to describe how he made things right: “I wanted to try to rebuild the whole thing.” He “reestablished” the program by reentering “the code . . . in [his] head” into the computer that they had on-hand. Wozniak’s word choice and description makes it clearer than in his earlier interview that he had to remake the program from memory instead of attempting to “recover” it from the overwritten media itself. While, it might have been theoretically possible for someone as well versed in the mechanism that by that point he had had a significant hand in redesigning from the original Shugart drive mechanism and controller card and of course his development with Wigginton of the software that controlled the hardware to read and write floppy disks in the Apple Disk II system (computer-controller card-disk drive), Wozniak, who reports throughout his autobiography as an engineer who works things out in head meticulously before putting his designs into hardware or software, took the easiest path to the solution of this new media problem: write out the software again from memory.

Memory, of course, is another tricky element of this story. It was my memory of Wozniak’s exploits that drew me to this passage in Kirschenbaum’s book. My memory of Kirschenbaum’s argument informed the way that I interpreted what I thought Kirschenbaum meant by using this episode as a way of making his Fort-Da computer analogy. Kirschenbaum’s memory of the episode as it had been interpreted secondhand in Weyhrich’s history of the Apple II informed how he applied it to his argument. Wozniak’s own memory is illustrated as pliable through the subtle differences in his story as evidenced in the 1985 Byte magazine interview and twenty-one years later in his 2006 autobiography.

Ultimately, the episode as I read it in Kirschenbaum’s Mechanisms was caught in an ambiguous use of language. The use of certain terms to describe the work that we do in new media–in its development, implementation, or daily use–relies on the terminology that we use to describe the work that is done to others–lay audience or otherwise. Due to the kind of ambiguity illustrated here, we have to strive to select terms that accurately and explicitly describe what it is we are talking about. Of course, primary and secondary accounts contribute to the possibility of ambiguity, confusion, or inaccuracy. Sometimes, we have to dig more deeply through the layers of new media history to uncover the fact that illuminates the other layers or triangulate between differing accounts to establish a best educated guess about the topic at hand.

Works Cited

Freiberger, Paul and Michael Swaine. Fire in the Valley: The Making of the Personal Computer. 2nd ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1984. Print.

Kirschenbaum, Matthew G. Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2008. Print.

Weyhrich, Steven. “The Disk II.” Apple II History. Apple II History, n.d. Web. 13 Sept. 2015.

Williams, Gregg, and Rob Moore. “The Apple Story, Part 2: More History And The Apple III”, Byte, Jan 1985: 167-180. Web. 13 Sept. 2015.

Wozniak, Steve and Gina Smith. iWoz: Computer Geek to Cult Icon. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2006. Print.

2012 Retrospective: My Big Year in Review

2012 was a big year for me. I earned my PhD and I obtained my first job with that degree. I traveled for my research–first to California, then to Detroit,  and later to Germany. And, my wife, our cat, and I relocated from Ohio to Atlanta for my new job at Georgia Tech and we moved into my old house in Norcross, which had not sold during the past six years of graduate school.

Unlike years past, I thought that it might be appropriate to jot down some of the milestones of 2012. Here are a few of those big things:

  • January 5-8: Yufang and I attended the MLA Convention for the first time and met up with a number of our friends and colleagues.
  • February: I spent two weeks in Riverside, California to read and research in the University of California, Riverside’s Eaton Collection in the Library’s Special Collections and Archives. This was an incredibly useful research trip that gave me the original research materials to complete my dissertation. Prior to leaving for my research trip–funded by the prestigious R. D. Mullen Fellowship–I had completed my dissertation’s theory chapter and compiled outlines for the other chapters.
  • April 2: I interviewed for the Marion L. Brittain Fellowship at my alma mater, Georgia Tech.
  • April 9: I delivered printed copies of my dissertation to my committee members. Since my trip to Riverside, I wrote approximately 68,000 words for a final word count of 81,948. Needless to say, I channeled the spirit of Philip K. Dick during this feverish time of hypergraphia. I could not have written this amount in such a short time had I not already created an efficient organization system for my research and deployed a number of digital humanities tools in my workflow. It was a terribly stressful time, because I drove myself relentlessly to complete it as quickly as possible. However, I would not have had it any other way.
  • April 19: I accepted an offer from Georgia Tech to join the rechristened School of Literature, Media, and Communication as a Brittain Fellow! My term of appointment is for three years.
  • May 15: I successfully defended my dissertation titled, “Brains, Minds, and Computers in Literary and Science Fiction Neuronarratives.” I came prepared with a suitcase of gear and donned with my only suit. During my opening statement, I showed off the ebook version of William Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy on a Powerbook 145.
  • June 4-15: I met my parents in Norcross to work on my house. We replaced the main water line, repaired the plumbing, installed a new dishwasher, worked on the house, and cleaned the yard. Prior to this trip, I had maintained a vegetarian lifestyle. During my second day of using a grubbing hoe, I decided that I needed to eat meat again.
  • June 28-July 1: I attended the SFRA Conference in Detroit. This was my second and final meeting as the organization’s vice president. I presented my paper, “Philip K. Dick as Pioneer of the Brain Revolution.”
  • July 10: Yufang and I said goodbye to our friends in Kent and drove straight through to our new home in Norcross.
  • August 11: While I was unable to attend the ceremony, I officially graduated from Kent State University with the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
  • August 13-17: I attended new hire orientation at Georgia Tech, or as my cohort and I came to know it: Brittain Fellow Boot Camp.
  • August 21: I began teaching at Georgia Tech. I had three sections of ENGL1101. I designed my classes around the theme of becoming better communicators and professionals through neuroscience.
  • September 1: I began building the Lego Death Star set.
  • September 10: My Dad called me early in the morning to tell me that my Granny Ellis had passed away during the night. I wrote about it here.
  • November 15-18: I attended the first international Philip K. Dick conference at UT-Dortmund in Dortmund, Germany. I delivered a heavily revised version of my SFRA 2012 paper, “Philip K. Dick as Pioneer of the Brain Revolution.” The conference was a fantastic experience. I promise to write more about this in a separate post. In the meantime, you can see my pictures from Germany here.
  • November 22: My parents spent the Thanksgiving holiday with us in Norcross.
  • December 16: I filed my students’ grades and completed my first semester teaching at my alma mater. Looking backward, it was a tough semester, but it was extremely rewarding. I will reflect and write about this more soon.
  • December 17: I completed building the Lego Death Star set.
  • December 25: My parents spent Christmas with Yufang and me. They arrived bearing many gifts, and they took us out for more surprises. I believe that we all had a really wonderful time!
  • December 26+: I am preparing my teaching and publication materials. I also have a few job applications to complete. I have been using my chain saw and weed eater with saw blade a lot. When the weather and wind permit, I get to burn a small bit of excessive yard waste that I have to do something with.
  • December 29: Yufang and I met our friend (and fellow Georgia Tech alumna) Smitha for pastries and tea at Sweet Hut. We had a great time catching up.
  • December 30: Now, I am writing this post.

Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow: Thinking About Steve Jobs and the Marriage of the Humanities and Technology

Steve Jobs programming with an Apple I.

Yesterday was the one year anniversary of Steve Jobs’ death. I wrote about it last year when I was still in Kent, Ohio–right after my Dad called me to tell me the sad news.

Yesterday, I reflected on missing out on meeting and talking with Jobs–something that Scott Kurtz captured brilliantly on PvP. Growing up, I wanted to meet him–the natural element, the force of nature, the man who led his company to create “insanely great” things that enabled people to be creative in the digital age. However, I didn’t want to meet him in passing. I wanted to make or do insanely great things myself–things worthy of his admiration and interest. I suppose I’m still working on those insanely great things, and I unfortunately missed my window of opportunity to accomplish those things while Jobs was still with us. Nevertheless, his inspiration lives on and it drives me.

Yesterday, Apple debuted a fitting tribute video to Steve Jobs’ legacy–Apple’s inheritance. To borrow Michael Stipe’s words out of context, it was “a right pretty song.” I snapped the pictures at the top and bottom of the post from that video. I decided to keep the frame of Mac OS X, because it just seemed right.

Yesterday, I thought about something Jobs says in the video. He says, “It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough. It’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities that yields us the result that makes our heart sing.” This was from Jobs’ surprise appearance to introduce the iPad 2 on March 2, 2011.

Today, the obvious need for the humanities to be infused in our technologies is lost, I believe, on many people–particularly other technology innovators and so-called “education innovators,” who fight for STEM to the exclusion of all other ares of study. It extends also to education debates taking place right now in the United States. At the recent presidential debates, there was mention made of the need for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education, but there was no mention of the humanities. How can we produce top rate engineers without instilling them with the ability to communicate effectively, the ability to think critically, the ability to argue rhetorically, the ability to think ethically, the ability to recognize and appreciate human difference, and the ability to situate themselves and their work within historical, cultural, and social networks? STEM is obviously one half of the solution, but the humanities and all that we have to offer are the other half of creating a total solution. If we choose to ignore the interconnection and interdependence of STEM and the humanities, we will not create an “insanely great” future. Instead, we will destroy the legacy of insanely great innovators, leaders, and teachers who worked so hard to give us a present time that could lead to a brilliant future.

Tomorrow, we will reflect on the choices that we make today. We have to seize this opportunity to work collaboratively and integratively towards that future. If we ignore this opportunity today, tomorrow we will regret our choice: “Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away/Now it looks as though they’re here to stay/Oh, I believe in yesterday” (John Lennon and Paul McCartney).

Steve Jobs looks toward the sky next to Apple’s flagship store in New York City.


Learning from our Grandmothers: Memories of my Granny Ellis (1918-2012)

Papa and Granny Ellis with me after high school graduation in 1995.

Early Monday morning, I received an unexpected phone call from my Dad. Obviously upset, he told me that my Granny Ellis had passed away during the night. It was hard to wrap my head around this fact. She was 94 years old, and she marshaled on despite numerous health problems–especially later in life. She was from “old stock,” a heartier stock that could weather setbacks and troubles without much complaint or fuss.

She was my last grandparent to pass away. I am very fortunate to have had so much time to spend and learn from my grandparents. Wilma, Papa Gerald, Papa Ellis, and Granny Ellis contributed in so many ways to my emergence as the person that I am today. I feel somewhat disconnected now from the past anchored by my grandparents–grandparents who I spent time with every day, every week, every summer when I was younger and who I called once a week no matter where I might be in: in Atlanta, Liverpool, or Ohio.

There are  a couple of things that immediately come to mind in remembering Granny Ellis. The first has to do with food and the second has to do with the surprising power of memory.

When I was younger, I would usually spend Wednesday afternoons and some weekends with my Granny and Papa Ellis. More often than not, I wanted to “play” with my Legos or other toys, but what no one knew–even myself–was that I was learning. I was modeling. I was thinking through narrative. I was thinking about the possibilities in social interaction, engineering, and creativity.

Granny Ellis let me explore through my play without interruption–except when it was necessary, as she would remind me, to eat. She believed in making sure that I was well fed. With energy stores fulfilled, she would release me from an empty bowl of chili or a now barren plate where once sat made-from-scratch biscuits to return to my building, my thinking, my “play.” In her own way, I believe that she recognized that I needed to do those things to make sense of a world far different from the one she was born into so many years before. She recognized that even play is an important part of learning.

Then, many years after those afternoons on the carpeted floor hunting for the right brick, Granny Ellis developed neurological problems. Papa Ellis would need to guide Granny around. It was like she was there, trapped behind her eyes, unable to express herself as she had when I was younger. However, her doctors began experimenting with different medicines to combat what were ultimately long undiagnosed micro-seizures and dementia, she regained to some extent her old self. You could speak with her once again and she could recall the past remarkably well. Unfortunately, her short term memory was impaired–she could not remember from day-to-day or even minute-by-minute on most occasions.

Due to Granny Ellis’ trouble with short term memory, I expected her to not remember my wife Yufang after I introduced her. To my overwhelming joy, Granny Ellis not only remembered that I was married to a beautiful girl named Yufang, but she also remembered to ask how Y and I were doing. Granny’s face would light up when she saw Y on the too few occasions that we could both travel to Brunswick to visit. Despite these few encounters, Granny Ellis overcame her brain’s degenerative hurdles to hold on to that memory. Did her love for Y and me play some role in her brain’s ability to build a lasting long term memory from her short term memory? This question deserves further investigation. In the meantime, I believe that she expressed her love through her memory of Y, and I am glad that I now have that memory to hold onto in my life.

Our friends and family (and especially our grandmothers) have a lot to teach us. We can learn from them and our experiences. We can reflect on what they did–how they demonstrated solid pedagogical practices for learning and enabling learning–in our own thinking about the theory and practice of teaching.

Godspeed, Gary Stephen Thompson (1945-2012)

Scanning from left to right in the adjacent picture from Christmastime 2008, you will see Bob Rainey, Mark Warbington, Paul Talamas, Gary Thompson, and me. This was the last time that I saw my friend Gary jovial and excited with life.

On my way home to visit my family that year, I stopped through Atlanta to see the good friends that I made during my Mindspring and Georgia Tech undergraduate days. The five of us in the picture often met up at Mark’s house to tinker with computers (and technology in general), watch Red Green episodes (among many other things), and play Battlefield 1942 (with the Desert Combat patch).

Since I had left Atlanta for graduate school at the University of Liverpool and Kent State University, I had not stayed in touch as much as I would have liked to. However, news has a strange way of finding its way to you through unexpected paths or random encounters. In Gary’s case, I knew that he continued with his annual participation in the Stone Mountain Highland Games, worked with another group of friends building an experimental kit airplane, and recently retired from General Electric where he was an highly experienced machinist.

When I received a postdoc offer from Georgia Tech, I was excited about the prospect of catching up with my friends and hanging out again like we used to do at Mark’s. I realized that time and life had continued during the six years I was absent from Atlanta, but I did not expect the terrible event that coincided with my moving back to the area.

Continue reading “Godspeed, Gary Stephen Thompson (1945-2012)”

Test-Taking Cements Knowledge Better Than Studying, Researchers Say –

According to a report in The New York Times, test taking is the best method for remembering learned information. I had heard anecdotal evidence for this before, which is why my first tier writing students will have a few writing exams during the semester. This will serve two purposes: 1) My students will have additional impromptu writing practice, and 2) It will help them remember the things that we discuss, which I hope will help them write more advanced essays that fully integrate the theme of the course into their writing. Read more about the research here:  Test-Taking Cements Knowledge Better Than Studying, Researchers Say –

The Cognitive Game Panel at SLSA 2008, Notes on Consciousness, Cognition, and Neuronarratives

As you may have read on my CV, I am writing my dissertation on the potentially important work being done in science fiction on minds and brains. Specifically, I will read the works of several authors through the lens of cognitive cultural studies with the goal to establish the significance of science fiction to literary studies as well as cognitive science.

I have been long interested in the human mind. I wrote a 20 page paper in my high school psychology class on consciousness after reading Roger Penrose’s book The Emperor’s New Mind. At the University of Liverpool, I took part in a study on human facial aesthetics only after receiving the researcher’s promise that I could have a copy of my MRI dicom data so that I could look at my brain in the comfort of my own home.

Until recently, I had forgotten about a panel that I attended at the 2008 Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts conference in Charlotte, NC. Titled “The Cognitive Game,” the panelists discussed different aspects of cognition in and through literature. I remembered this panel only after browsing an old notebook about a week ago when I ran across my notes. This bit of happenstance is itself a hallmark of my mind and the way my memory works. So much seems lost to the past, but I can capture glimpses of the past through my notes. However, I honestly have very little memory of the panel even after reading through my notes. In a sense, it seems like I wasn’t really there, but I do know that the notes are mine. You may have noticed that I take copious notes in class or at conferences. Part of this is an attempt to help me remember things in the short term while maintaining my focus on what is being discussed. It is also my effort at recalling things at a later time–if I have a chance to go back and review my notes. Unfortunately, I do not always have the time to really go back through all of my notes–at least not as thoroughly as I would like.

As an exercise to help retrieve weak connections in my mind’s holographic memory, I copy my notes from “The Cognitive Game” panel below.


Saturday 10:30 panel

The Cognitive Game

Sarah Birge – “Paper Memories”

narrative identity theory

trauma disrupts narrative

loss of self without normal brain function


Richard Powers and Umberto Eco novels

how to compensate for these disruptions

Andy Clark

self as tool kit — Dennet

The Echo Maker – Powers

Capgras Syndrome

recreation of self and creation of self by others

liminal state of Mark

enforcement of stable sense of self in the face of trauma

issues of dignity and self-determination

this would be good to add to BSG paper [note: this did not happen]

The Mysterious Flame _________ – Eco

persistence of self through time

cultural memory

Yambo’s “paper memory” vs. personal memory

“notebook of his mind”

dispersion of self into cultural memory

self and certainty-> allow space for others’ narratives


Mark Clark – “Post-traumatic Experiential”

Nabokov – it is the re-reading that matters (?)

villanelle vs. narrative sense of self

Dylan Thomas – “Do not go Gently into That Good Night”

final words are a whisper

son is not finished project of the father

consider context of the words – respoken, altered meanings?

changing memory based on trauma


therapeutic endeavor


audience – reader and participant in narrator’s trauma aftermath


Pawel Frelik – “To Think or Not to Think”

begins with the novel that Sarah talked about

Richard Powers’ The Echo Maker

Antonio Damasio

Edelman and Tononi

Thomas Metzinger

D. M. Wagner


1) performance of subjectivity – PKD, terminal fictions, cyberpunk, surfaces

2) artificial intelligence – Maddox Halo, Galatea 2.2

3) cognitive processes problematized – Egan’s Oceanic, Moon – The Speed of Dark, Matt Ruff

intelligence vs. consciousness

alien narratives is one place this is engaged

morality or transcendence – imply consciousness

1) inescapably coupled – Dix and Williams, Echoes of Earth trilogy

2) possibly conflicting – Peter Watts – Blindsight

Echoes of Earth – ingrams of humanity

E.E. Smith – Lensman series

contrasts with Echoes of Earth


Blindsight – one of the most inventive novels of alien otherness in recent years

construct – “heaven”

third wave to make alien contact

“posthuman sociopaths”

Susan James – “gang of four” – multicore persona/ae

1) blindsight – brain lesions – see things without cognition

2) Chinese room – John Searle – 1980 – thought experiment

3) zombie – blindsighted zombies, consciousness is baggage that they have jettisoned, expand possibilities for the species

what about aesthetics

for humanity consciousness not landing on Earth

cruxifix glitch – vampires

downgrade humanity

reptilian ascendancy – also Power’s language



emotion and affect – importance to consciousness

subjectivity and the fragmented self

what about posthumanism and sentience

Earth: backwater, lucky for us, allowed us to survive

disability – ascendency for posthuman specialization

Suzan Jones – savage that we now don’t tolerate multipersonalities – in Blindsight, humanity accepts that – how to manage, utilize

scramblers – respond to stimuli, volition isn’t really addressed

Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, Uncle Woodrow, and World War II

I read Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five (1969) tonight for the first time, and one particular passage struck me in its depiction of memory of World War II.  At Billy and Valencia’s eighteenth wedding anniversary, the barbershop quartet, the Febs, begin singing “That Old Gang of Mine,” and Billy is assaulted by the pain of memory:

Unexpectedly, Billy Pilgrim found himself upset by the song and the occasion.  He had never had an old gang, old sweethearts and pals, but he missed one anyway, as the quartet made slow, agonized experiments with chords–chords intentionally sour, sourer still, unbearably sour, and then a chord that was suffocatingly sweet, and then some sour ones again.  Billy had powerful psychosomatic responses to the changing chords.  His mouth filled with the taste of lemonade, and his face became grotesque, as if he were really being stretched on the torture engine called the rack. (172-173)

I’ve seen this before when I was once asking my Uncle Woodrow Head about his experiences in the war before he succumbed to Alzheimer’s Disease.

He told me about the time, prior to the Battle of the Bulge, General Patton inspected his auto group while he was working on the breaks of his jeep.  Despite others telling him to snap to attention, he said he had to get it fixed for when they rolled out.  Patton’s car pulled up to where my Uncle’s legs were sticking out from under his vehicle.  The general got out and told my Uncle that it was men like him that were going to win the war.

He told me about guarding one of the major conferences of the war while manning an anti-aircraft gun with orders to shoot any airplane on sight.

Then, he told me about his friends and the death he witnessed.  However, he stopped short and his face took on the “grotesque” that Vonnegut describes in the selection above–the only scene from the book that explicitly invokes memory instead of time warps.  The memory of the event overwhelmed my Uncle, a good natured and quiet man who I never before or ever saw again with a face transfigured by a memory so great and terrible that I cannot imagine it.