Listened to Episode 40: Adrienne Mayor on Gods and Robots in Ancient Mythology from Sean Carroll's Mindscape

The modern world is full of technology, and also with anxiety about technology. We worry about robot uprisings and artificial intelligence taking over, and we contemplate what it would mean for a computer to be conscious or truly human. It should probably come as no surprise that these ideas aren’t new to modern society — they go way back, at least to the stories and mythologies of ancient Greece. Today’s guest, Adrienne Mayor, is a folklorist and historian of science, whose recent work has been on robots and artificial humans in ancient mythology. From the bronze warrior Talos to the evil fembot Pandora, mythology is rife with stories of artificial beings. It’s both fun and useful to think about our contemporary concerns in light of these ancient tales.

Adrienne Mayor is a Research Scholar Classics and History and Philosophy of Science at Stanford University. She is also a Berggruen Fellow at Stanford’s Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences. Her work has encompasses fossil traditions in classical antiquity and Native America, the origins of biological weapons, and the historical precursors of the stories of Amazon warriors. In 2009 she was a finalist for the National Book Award.

I’d never considered it before, but I’m curious if the idea of the bolt on Talos’ leg bears any influence on the bolts frequently seen on Frankenstein’s monster? Naturally they would seem to be there as a means of charging or animating him, but did they have an powers beyond that? Or was he, once jump-started, to run indefinitely? Bryan Alexander recently called out his diet (of apples and nuts), so presumably once he was brought to life, he was able to live the same way as a human.

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Chris Aldrich

I'm a biomedical and electrical engineer with interests in information theory, complexity, evolution, genetics, signal processing, theoretical mathematics, and big history. I'm also a talent manager-producer-publisher in the entertainment industry with expertise in representation, distribution, finance, production, content delivery, and new media.

11 thoughts on “”

    1. Of course, now I’m curious if there are references in classical literature to the importance of ankles besides those of Talos and the famous anatomical weakness of Achilles?
      There were also the winged sandals (Latin talaria, which have a seemingly close lexical relationship to the name Talos) of Hermes.

      I suspect it’s also not surprising that we call the anklebone the talus either.

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