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Old 01-17-2010, 10:49 AM   #16
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Other constellations would have lacked symbolism, and most readers wouldn't have recognised them just from a description of the stars - Orion is the most widely known, and easily recognised constellation seen from Britain.
Thanks, I didn't know that. In my country, the constellation known in English as 'the big dipper' or 'the plough' (part of ursa major, I think) is the most commonly known. Indeed my father told me it was the cart/wagon of the god Thor

Anyway, it's interesting to know Orion is best known in Britain, since Forster was English.

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The thing that intrigued me most (I think) about the story was the "search" for ideas on the part of Vashti and others including Kuno. I just re-read this section where he really sets up the tone and conflict that is behind the story (this just precedes the Orion description:
This search for ideas struck me, too. It seems that it's something everyone looks for, but according to Forster, they seem only truly to be found through direct, physical experience and people search ultimately in vain if they rely on input from the machine. Vashti urges her listeners of her lecture (a ten min. lecture! - short) to study early musicians for ideas - and right after the lecture she listens to a lecture on the sea - by somone who physically was there.

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Old 01-17-2010, 12:57 PM   #17
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Do you have any idea of the intention behind choosing the name 'Vashti' for the protagonist?
Vashti, in the book of Esther, got into trouble by refusing to display her beauty. Forster's Vashti is reclusive and avoids direct contact with other people, so there is a certain similarity.

I don't know what significance Kuno might have.
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Old 01-17-2010, 01:26 PM   #18
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One thing that struck me is the prominence of “ideas.” It seems almost as if Forster is lampooning philosophical idealism. This seems odd as no one would blame people like Plato for the excesses of technology.

I think I may have an answer. I have been reading Simon Critchley’s Continental Philosophy in the OUP Very Short Introduction series. If I understand him correctly, he is saying something like the following:

Traditional European Christian culture, by valuing truth and rationality, subverted itself by encouraging the kind of philosophizing that, in the person of Kant, caused traditional beliefs to seem to be no longer viable. Much of post-Kantian Continental philosophy responds to this crisis.

Forster’s story may suggest a similar sort of self-subversion in secular scientific empiricist culture. Science produces technology upon which people become increasingly reliant, using it to mediate their interactions with others and with nature. They become more and more cut off from direct interactions with others and with nature and retreat into a sort of de facto idealism. People who think like Hume create technology which produces people who think like Plato.
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Old 01-17-2010, 01:37 PM   #19
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I think there's a bit of an undercurrent, not quite overt of "worshiping the machine as God" and the danger therein.

Maybe that is my one-sentence description...
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Old 01-17-2010, 01:53 PM   #20
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Forster’s story may suggest a similar sort of self-subversion in secular scientific empiricist culture. Science produces technology upon which people become increasingly reliant, using it to mediate their interactions with others and with nature. They become more and more cut off from direct interactions with others and with nature and retreat into a sort of de facto idealism. People who think like Hume create technology which produces people who think like Plato.
I think you have a good point here. It's been a very long time since I read anything of what you talk about, though, so bear with me. From what I remember from Forster's writing, is that he puts 'nature' very highly. He appears critical of 'culture' because it restricts nature in man - and I think in this context, technology is part of 'culture'. It cuts off man from experiencing life in full. 'Nature' meaning being direct, immediate, something that encorporate both body and mind.

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I think there's a bit of an undercurrent, not quite overt of "worshiping the machine as God" and the danger therein.
Have you noticed that several times when the machine is mentioned in this way, there's some three-fold repeated sentence/words? For example. "... that the Machine may progress, that the Machine may progress, that the Machine may progress, eternally." There were at least two more instances, perhaps more.
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Old 01-17-2010, 01:55 PM   #21
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Vashti, in the book of Esther, got into trouble by refusing to display her beauty. Forster's Vashti is reclusive and avoids direct contact with other people, so there is a certain similarity.

I don't know what significance Kuno might have.
Yes, that was what I could think of in relation to Vashti. I'm probably still just leaning towards what the names are simply supposed to be from two different cultures though they are mother and son, signifying that being a parent had much less meaning when the machine took over the work.

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Old 01-18-2010, 12:51 PM   #22
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Vashti, in the book of Esther, got into trouble by refusing to display her beauty. Forster's Vashti is reclusive and avoids direct contact with other people, so there is a certain similarity.

I don't know what significance Kuno might have.
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Yes, that was what I could think of in relation to Vashti. I'm probably still just leaning towards what the names are simply supposed to be from two different cultures though they are mother and son, signifying that being a parent had much less meaning when the machine took over the work.
I think you both have made interesting observations. I also have no clue as to what the name Kuno might signify, but what Vector says here in relation to the Biblical character seems logical. As to the aspect of having names from two different cultures, that may be reflective of the disconnect between mother and son in a world where parenting is no longer the role of the biological parents.

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One thing that struck me is the prominence of “ideas.” It seems almost as if Forster is lampooning philosophical idealism. This seems odd as no one would blame people like Plato for the excesses of technology.

I think I may have an answer. I have been reading Simon Critchley’s Continental Philosophy in the OUP Very Short Introduction series. If I understand him correctly, he is saying something like the following:

Traditional European Christian culture, by valuing truth and rationality, subverted itself by encouraging the kind of philosophizing that, in the person of Kant, caused traditional beliefs to seem to be no longer viable. Much of post-Kantian Continental philosophy responds to this crisis.

Forster’s story may suggest a similar sort of self-subversion in secular scientific empiricist culture. Science produces technology upon which people become increasingly reliant, using it to mediate their interactions with others and with nature. They become more and more cut off from direct interactions with others and with nature and retreat into a sort of de facto idealism. People who think like Hume create technology which produces people who think like Plato.
I see other parallels to Plato, especially as regards how children are to be raised. It is interesting that the Machine's view of childcare by the state so closely resembles Plato's in The Republic.

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I think there's a bit of an undercurrent, not quite overt of "worshiping the machine as God" and the danger therein.

Maybe that is my one-sentence description...
Obviously with the reverence shown toward the words of the Machine contained the Book of the Machine, worship of the Machine and faith in its pronouncements has become the new religion; despite what Vashti says about having no religious beliefs.
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Old 01-18-2010, 01:32 PM   #23
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If you had to sum up the story in a few words or one sentence what would it be?
In the dystopia Forster paints, people believe no better society is possible. They think the Machine state is perfect, no further improvement is conceivable, and any criticisms are met with accusations bordering upon treason. How different is that world from modern life in the United States. The folks in Forster's world falsely believe that they have the best of all possible worlds, while we in this country KNOW the USA never makes mistakes and is better than all other nations at everything it does.

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Old 01-21-2010, 12:43 AM   #24
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I see other parallels to Plato, especially as regards how children are to be raised. It is interesting that the Machine's view of childcare by the state so closely resembles Plato's in The Republic.
Interesting. I suppose the members of that Central Committee can be regarded as philosopher-kings. Perhaps Plato is more important here than I realized when I first mentioned him.
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Old 01-25-2010, 08:23 PM   #25
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I finished this last night, and I'm not sure what I want to say about it. I can say, for sure, that it got me thinking. I was expecting it to be mostly a tirade against dependence on technology, but it seemed to me to be more of a tirade against dependence on other people's ideas. I am left with the weird feeling that if the story (which is an indirect experience) caused me to re-evaluate how I think about things, that these changes are somehow less valid than if I'd been led to that re-evaluation through my own direct experiences. But that seems silly and maybe a little pretentious. I can't think of anything to say about the story that doesn't seem pretentious when I read it back to myself! I think I am sorely out of practice in reading things critically.
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Old 01-25-2010, 11:26 PM   #26
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I finished this last night, and I'm not sure what I want to say about it. I can say, for sure, that it got me thinking. I was expecting it to be mostly a tirade against dependence on technology, but it seemed to me to be more of a tirade against dependence on other people's ideas. I am left with the weird feeling that if the story (which is an indirect experience) caused me to re-evaluate how I think about things, that these changes are somehow less valid than if I'd been led to that re-evaluation through my own direct experiences. But that seems silly and maybe a little pretentious. I can't think of anything to say about the story that doesn't seem pretentious when I read it back to myself! I think I am sorely out of practice in reading things critically.
That brings up the question of whether E. M. Forster could properly be termed a Luddite. On first sight, it seems obvious, but upon reflection, his message seems deeper than a simple tirade against technology. What he really seem to deplore is allowing technology to become our masters rather than remaining our tool.

The other aspect of The Machine Stops that gives me pause is Forster's attitude toward religion. From what I can gather, he was an atheist, but there are passages in the story that seem to lament the loss of traditional religion. Perhaps he was similar in that respect to George Santayana, of whom someone once said that he "believes that there is no God and that Mary is His mother."*

E. M. Forster was certainly not a simple man.

<><><>

* Some say Bertrand Russell was the originator of that witticism, but I can find no verification for that, and most people who quote it give as its source simply "an anonymous wit."

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Old 01-26-2010, 10:12 PM   #27
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Interesting. I suppose the members of that Central Committee can be regarded as philosopher-kings. Perhaps Plato is more important here than I realized when I first mentioned him.
I got the impression that the Central Committee was not actually a committee made up of humans, but rather another function of the Machine. The people seem far too passive to have been able to make executive decisions.
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Old 01-27-2010, 04:48 PM   #28
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I finished this last night, and I'm not sure what I want to say about it. I can say, for sure, that it got me thinking. I was expecting it to be mostly a tirade against dependence on technology, but it seemed to me to be more of a tirade against dependence on other people's ideas. I am left with the weird feeling that if the story (which is an indirect experience) caused me to re-evaluate how I think about things, that these changes are somehow less valid than if I'd been led to that re-evaluation through my own direct experiences. But that seems silly and maybe a little pretentious. I can't think of anything to say about the story that doesn't seem pretentious when I read it back to myself! I think I am sorely out of practice in reading things critically.
That was a very interesting comment. Thank you. I think I can understand what you mean. I noticed (mostly from reading - but I sort of knew Forster's view-point beforehand, too) that he puts much value into first-hand - and first and foremost, physical - experience. As we see in the story, only Kuno seeks out a true first-hand experience, while Vashti urges her listeners/viewers to seek inspiration (ideas) second-hand. It's rather like looking at a number of paintings of a sunrise and then create a painting based in that experience - rather than experienceing a real sunrise. I'm sure Forster would have wanted and expected the experience of the real sunrise.

I don't think you should feel your experience is less valid, though. It's one thing not to experience something physically which you could easily do - another to experience this story. In this case, I'd say the story is the original source 'idea'. I don't think the story is less valid than real sunrise - so to speak

As for myself. I've found this story was more or less the first time I've seen really interesting and valid arguments against the idea of the Internet. Oftentimes it's just 'technology is bad' kind of arguments - and really, what can you do with that? The Internet has opened up a new world to me, but everything has it's negative sides, too. This story showed me better than anything possible negative side effects. Not that it will necessarily happen - but this story opens up ideas in my mind.

All in all, this story was - somewhat - mindblowing - especially because it's so old. I've read a great deal of Forster's writing some 18-20+ years ago - but not until now do I really 'get' what he was about. And I'm quite impressed - and also because it's given me new ideas, suggested some new ways of thinking. There's little enough writing that does that.
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Old 01-27-2010, 05:10 PM   #29
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That brings up the question of whether E. M. Forster could properly be termed a Luddite. On first sight, it seems obvious, but upon reflection, his message seems deeper than a simple tirade against technology. What he really seem to deplore is allowing technology to become our masters rather than remaining our tool.
I don't think he is/was a luddite. I think in all his stories he was mainly concerned with direct and true emotional experience. As he shows in this story, 'the machine' can hamper this experience. He doesn't seem to hate it, more bemoan that humans can no longer see the difference. The machine is not the problem - it is the way that humans react to and deal with the machine that is the problem. Macines are not our problem - it's our (in)ability to deal with those machines.

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The other aspect of The Machine Stops that gives me pause is Forster's attitude toward religion. From what I can gather, he was an atheist, but there are passages in the story that seem to lament the loss of traditional religion. Perhaps he was similar in that respect to George Santayana, of whom someone once said that he "believes that there is no God and that Mary is His mother."*

E. M. Forster was certainly not a simple man.
...
I don't know if he was either - but he grew up in a time when religion was much in dispute. I think if you really know the myths and the stories of religion (for example the bible) you are able to both say and understand some things at a greater depth with less words than if you don't know it. Just like using the words of a culture. I don't know what Forster wanted, but I think that perhaps his critisism of early 20th century British society, made him - to some degree - critisise religion as well. My feeling though, is that Forster mainly critisised society; it's ideas, culture, religion. I don't think he opposed religion in itself - but 'only' the impact it had on society. Perhaps that's also why he's so sarcastic with regards to the machine becoming a religion in this story.
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Old 01-31-2010, 05:05 PM   #30
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Hello -oo -oO!

Anybody there -ere -eRE...?!

Some of you were so keen on discussing this story, but the discussion seems to have run out like the sand so quickly and silently... Don't you have anything more to say/ask/question/suggest/put forth/point out/etc.?
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