Infinite Gesture: Automata and the Emotions in Descartes and Shakespeare

Scott Maisao

in Genesis Redux

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print August 2007 | ISBN: 9780226720807
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226720838 | DOI:
Infinite Gesture: Automata and the Emotions in Descartes and Shakespeare

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This chapter draws a line from René Descartes back to William Shakespeare, who was already a psychophysical dualist. It tries to explain that the distance separating twenty-first-century theories of artificial life from seventeenth-century thinking about the relationship of bodies to machines begins with Descartes contemplating the possibility of resurrecting a dead loved one, and a dead woman at that. The “passions of the soul,” which can accompany both real and fictional tragedies, depend on the bodily passions as their impetus. In the Treatise on Man, where Descartes “supposes” the “body to be nothing but a statue or machine made of earth,” he refers specifically to automata that had been in existence in Shakespeare's lifetime. Throughout The Winter's Tale, characters find themselves in situations where an automaton is required, situations where the proto-Cartesian logic becomes inescapable.

Keywords: René Descartes; William Shakespeare; artificial life; machines; passions of soul; bodily passions; Treatise on Man; automata; Winter's Tale

Chapter.  8998 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of Science and Technology

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