Made You Think Podcast

Feb 13, 2024
The Pursuit of Intelligence: Flowers for Algernon
Part of

“I don’t know what’s worse: to not know what you are and be happy, or to become what you’ve always wanted to be, and feel alone.”

Welcome back to another episode of Made You Think! Today, we're delving into Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes. Join us as we take you through the journey of an intellectually disabled man who undergoes a procedure with the hopes of increasing his mental abilities. We'll unpack several themes that resonate deeply with the human experience, and seek to get our questions answered on what it truly means to be intelligent.

We cover a wide range of topics including:

  • The relationship between intelligence and loneliness
  • Whether the experiment actually made Charlie worse off
  • Influence of social norms and media on individual beliefs and behaviors
  • The existence (or lack of) internal dialogues
  • How handicapped people are often viewed and treated

And much more. Please enjoy, and make sure to follow NatNeil, and Adil on Twitter and share your thoughts on the episode.

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(0:00) We open the show by talking about new hardware innovations on the horizon from Apple’s Vision Pro to the pocket-sized Rabbit. 

(3:23) As it's become increasingly easier to make software, what will this mean for SaaS companies and the future of software?

(6:18) Today we’re talking about Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes. The book takes us on the journey of a severely handicapped man who enters into an experiment in order to increase his intelligence. There will be spoilers so if you're planning on reading the book, we suggest you do that before listening to this episode!

(12:28) Through Charlie's progression and regression, we get a glimpse into his levels of intelligence, awareness, and loneliness. He finds himself lonelier the more intelligent he becomes because as he gains more awareness, he learns that some people aren't truly his friends.

(13:21) There seems to be a human desire to improve no matter what. Nat, Neil, and Adil debate whether Charlie was better or worse off in the end than he was at the start of his journey.

(18:35) We discuss some of the other characters in the story and what their relationship with Charlie is like. Notably, Alice is one of the only people who saw him as a person throughout his whole life, even before he gained his intelligence. 

(22:00) Charlie's family life and how the author wrote each of their closures with Charlie, or lack thereof. 

(25:12) Despite Alice being a very positive figure in Charlie’s life, you could make the argument that he didn't treat her very well. Regardless, Alice kept her hope and optimism in every situation.

(28:18) Though the book is classified as science fiction, it also poses instances of moral philosophy. Showcased by the author were examples of how people with mental or physical disabilities are treated by others, both obviously and subtly. 

(32:52) One of the symbols in the story was a window that Charlie would watch the world through. It was a way for him to interpret his disconnection from society. Throughout the story, Charlie makes progress once he acknowledges himself and his past rather than running and hiding from it. 

(36:54) The progression of Charlie's intelligence vs. his emotional intelligence and how they changed at different rates. Plus, we talk about the role of the researchers and how he treated them.

(40:02) Nat, Neil, and Adil talk about their interpretation of one of the earlier scenes in the book. In the background was some type of educational tape played for Charlie, but it could have also been symbolized to be his internal monologue.

(41:40) Does everyone have an internal dialogue? We dig into a tangent of internal dialogue and why it may be that not everyone has one.

(50:13) We break down the different versions of Charlie throughout his life and how his character changed throughout the story.

(53:20) Recalling the Texas shooter from the 1960's who was found to have a brain tumor. This brings up many moral dilemmas as to whether someone like him should be allowed to walk after having the brain tumor removed.

(56:02) Similarly, what is the tipping point for something small to snowball into a very dangerous idea? We continue with a discussion on the role of social norms and social media. You can live very close proximally to someone but be engaged in completely different social worlds. It's all about who you choose to follow and what types of content you engage with.

(1:03:03) Where should the line be drawn in giving punishments to someone who has some type of illness in their brain, such as a brain tumor or lead poisoning? Let us know what you think!

(1:09:13) Adil shares his experience with re-reading the book as well as ChatGPT's take on Charlie's sessions with his psychiatrist.

(1:13:36) We talk about the author’s writing career, including one of the other pieces that he has written. In fact, Apple TV came out with a mini-series based on one of his books! 

(1:18:46) That wraps up this episode! We've got an exciting lineup for our next few episodes, beginning with Venkatesh Rao's essay, Fear of Oozification. Down the line, we'll also be covering Logicomix and re-reading East of Eden. Stay tuned and read along with us. You will not want to miss these!

If you enjoyed this episode, let us know by leaving a review on iTunes and tell a friend. As always, let us know if you have any book recommendations! You can say hi to us on Twitter @TheRealNeilS@adilmajid@nateliason and share your thoughts on this episode.

You can now support Made You Think using the Value-for-Value feature of Podcasting 2.0. This means you can directly tip the co-hosts in BTC with minimal transaction fees. To get started, simply download a podcast app (like Fountain or Breez) that supports Value-for-Value and send some BTC to your in-app wallet. You can then use that to support shows who have opted-in, including Made You Think! We’ll be going with this direct support model moving forward, rather than ads.

Thanks for listening. See you next time!