Monday, February 17, 2014

Ch. 8-14: Passage Person

1) "About that mystifying enthusiasm millions of years ago for turning over as many human activities as possible to machinery: What could that have been but yet another acknowledgement by people that their brains were no damn good?" (Ch. 8)

Vonnegut points out the irony of how we use our intelligence to make technology that exists to be smart FOR us.We pour everything into bettering our machinery, and Vonnegut suggests that this is so we can trust the artificial over our own unreliable minds. What do you think about humanity's constant struggle for innovation? Do you think the inventions that take burdens off of ourselves inhibit our skill and capacity for greatness, or just allow us to make further advancements? The desire for greater accomplishments drives the human race; what do you think would happen if humans no longer possessed this passion?

2) "Anybody looking for them would not be able to find them anywhere. Any big-brained search for them wouldn't even start on the correct continent." (Ch. 12)

I just wanted to draw attention to how Vonnegut always references "big brains" with a mocking tone. He obviously sees normal brains as more detrimental to humans than beneficial, and I wonder what humanity is like after the shift in brain power.

3) "But her self respect had been severely crippled by the discovery that a little black box could not only teach what she taught, but could do so in a thousand different tongues." (Ch. 14)

Here we see a consequence of Man's technological achievement. While it is rewarding to be able to create highly capable machinery, humans lose purpose as a result. We see this in today's society, for many people are being laid off and replaced my robots and technology; money is saved, but self worth isn't.



  1. I think it's important to remember that the story's being told by an unknown, perhaps even unreliable, narrator. He might have been the last of Earth's "big-brained" sort, he may harbor a resentment for the relatively large-brained people of Wait's and Hepburn's time. I can't bring myself to believe that Vonnegut would denounce the use of the brain in this story, after having made the merit of thought and reason so painstakingly clear in his work, Cat's Cradle, the characters in which are so quick to discard just that. Anyway, I felt that the first sentiment was to be taken in jest. While I believe that ever-advancing technology can come to hinder genuine social interaction, I don't entirely agree with the idea that technology exists so that we might trust the artificial over our own unreliable minds. Take Mandarax, for instance. The Foundation for Endangered Languages has stated that the world loses about twenty-five 'mother-tongue' languages each year. Roughly half of the world's languages are made up of fewer than a thousand speakers. When the oldest of these tribal, spoken languages, or 'mother-tongues', die, the languages are forever lost. Mandarax is said to "identify every one of the thousand languages after only hearing a few words, and begin to translate those words into the operator's language". If we possessed technology comparable to Mandarax, hundreds of tribal languages, and ultimately cultures, could be preserved, perhaps under a new script. This idea also reminds me of Raphael's Portrait of a Young Man, a paragon of High Renaissance artwork whose likeness I can only describe to you because it's been stored in our internet database. The original piece has been missing since the Nazi plunder, among 59,000 others according to the Polish Ministry of Culture. Advanced technology may, in some cases, sway people from relying on their brains, however we must take care to remember that it has made knowledge more readily accessible to those who wish to learn.

    More information:,

    (Sorry for the lengthy response, props for choosing a thought-provoking excerpt!)

  2. I completely see your point, and I should be more conscientious of when I refer to Vonnegut vs. the narrator. I didn't mean to suggest Vonnegut had a negative view of the brain, but rather the narrator's tone indicates a pessimistic perspective. And while I definitely agree that technology has enhanced our understanding of the world and expanded our intelligence in incredible ways, I think the humor in the first excerpt comes from an over generalization of sorts. From a big picture stand point, we do give up a lot of our responsibilities to technology, which in many cases results in us forfeiting the skills that allowed us to carry out that responsibility in the first place. Of course this provides us with opportunities to spend our time advancing in other areas, but something is ultimately sacrificed in these situations (which in most every case results in a positive exchange). I see this excerpt as poking fun at this cycle that we have, in which we create technology to do something for us, and then spend the newly accumulated time to create more machinery to do something else for us. This is of course a great over simplification, and I don't necessarily agree with it, but I think that's what the narrator was ridiculing within these lines.

  3. So, both of you make wonderful points and I stand somewhere in the vague grounds of uncertainty on the issue. There is half of me that sees technological advancements as damaging to human interaction, social conduct, and genuine happiness. How often do we stare at a screen instead of engaging with the person next to us? How often do you see a young child playing with an iPad instead of playing in the natural world? There is a sting of melancholy when I think of how many images and ideas are bombarding humans every day and causing stress and negativity. There is also a side of me that sees technological advancement as a phenomenon of accessible information and a vast network of human interaction. Precious art can be viewed and analyzed, science and mathematics can be understood more easily, political and social change can manifest through social media connections, etc. etc. Technological advancement is not good or bad, yet rather is a homogenous mixture of the two. I think Vonnegut is playing with the irony of this topic, and reminding us to not forget the sacrifices that we make in exchange for technological advancement.