Category Archives: Posthumanism

Detecting and Integrating ChatGPT in the College Classroom

Sebastian Williams, PhD

Instructors can use several methods to detect whether a text has been authored by a chat bot such as ChatGPT, including both heuristic approaches and GPTZero. Additionally, instructors can limit the use of ChatGPT and other chat bots by modifying assignment prompts, asking for pre-writing (e.g., outlines) and early drafts, or by requiring more handwritten work.

Ultimately, however, faculty should try to integrate these technologies into the learning process. ChatGPT does not fully eliminate the need for problem solving or navigating complex issues, and, in many cases, it frees up writers to worry less about grammar or style than higher order issues such as developing original claims or expressing an individual position.

Heuristic Methods for Detection

ChatGPT can be detected by many writing instructors based on organization, word choice, and the originality of ideas.

For example, when asked to write a close reading of William Wordsworth’s “The World is Too Much with Us,” ChatGPT authored a relatively formulaic response that moved from the start of the poem to the end (i.e., chronologically) and was unable to produce a coherent argument when asked to organize topically instead. (See Appendix for the sample text created by Chat GPT.)

This reflects another tendency in the current iteration of ChatGPT to organize short essays using a tripartite structure. For example, ChatGPT now tends to write “First, X occurred [. . .] Then, Y happened [. . .] Finally, Z was present.” Though machine-learning programs are able to adapt over time, some writing experts have noted a simple, formulaic organization method (“X, Y, Z”). This may only be true if a user does not modify an original response (e.g., by asking ChatGPT to write more).[1]

Other basic issues indicated that the text was automated: the AI-generated text misquotes the final line of Wordsworth’s poem as “the sea that bares her bosom to the moon; / The winds that will be howling at all hours.” The bot includes two lines (not a single line) from the third quatrain and replaces “This Sea” (with a capital “S”) with “the sea.” Plus, the actual final line of the sonnet is significantly different; these surface-level problems caught my attention even before submitting it to GPTZero.

The chat bot also tends to elide in-text citations (though, again, this may change as the technology adapts). And, perhaps most notably for contemporary writing instructors, the essay reiterates only basic ideas or the most accepted interpretations similar to those on Sparknotes, Cliff Notes, and Wikipedia. I.e., it offers the most accepted reading and the main points easily found elsewhere, and, in terms of argumentation, the close reading is not an original or unique interpretation. The sample essay probably would not score an “A” based on expectations for college-level students to go beyond the commonplace reading, balance multiple interpretations at once, or to “read against the grain.”

Formulaic organization, simple interpretations, and basic errors when identifying the lines of a poem are not definitive proof that cheating has occurred, however. A student (or parent) might easily point out that the issues above are reasonable for a student writer.


GPTZero detects AI-generated text based on “perplexity” and “burstiness.” Perplexity refers to a probabilistic detection of unique words within natural language, including randomness and complexity. It also measures “burstiness,” or what rhetoricians commonly refer to as sentence variation (including random variations between complex, compound, simple, and compound complex sentences). GPTZero detects patterns in word choice and sentence length based on massive databases of stored information. In sum, human writers are often more random than a chat bot, though, obviously ChatGPT is not a static technology – it “learns” over time based on inputs.

GPTZero is currently free to use and generates a descriptive report that not only evaluates a sample text but also explains terminology.

In the sample text, GPTZero detected that the close reading of Wordsworth’s poem had a comparatively low rate of perplexity in several instances (see Figure 1) – an indication that certain parts of the text were not written by a human.

Fig 1 The perplexity evaluates the unique word choices that writers make. AI-generated text is less perplex, but, as the program notes, it’s also important to note perplexity across sentences (i.e., relative to the individual text more so than general word use).

Repeated use of GPTZero with the same text found the same results:

  • Perplexity: 16
  • Perplexity (across sentences): 46.1
  • The line with the highest perplexity: 151
  • GPT Zero wrongly concluded that the text was human-generated (see Figure 2)
Fig 2 The green text indicates that false-negative conclusion of GPTZero in this first attempt.

The last two bullet points are related. The most unique line in the essay came from a direct quote of the poem (it is actually two sentences, but it is missing punctuation). In other words, the AI-generated text included several quotes from a Romantic poet whose work is highly distinct (see Figure 3). When summarizing the results, this led to a false-negative report. The tool was fooled into believing all of the text was written by a human because several parts were in fact written by Wordsworth.

Fig 3 The most perplex sentences were written by Wordsworth, which, given their frequency in the essay, ultimately led the GPTZero bot to make a false conclusion.

Submitting a Text without Direct Quotes

I submitted a close reading of the poem without direct quotations. This involved deleting quotes while still maintaining the integrity of the syntax in the original essay. The results were promising:

  • Perplexity: 10
  • Perplexity (across sentences): 32.8.
  • The line with the highest perplexity: 58.
  • GPT Zero correctly concluded that the text was AI-generated.
 Fig 4 When eliminating direct quotations, GPTZero came to the correct conclusion.

This indicates that GPTZero is an effective tool for recognizing when text is AI-generated. However, when using the tool, instructors need to be aware that false-negatives are highly possible in a sample text that quotes other material.

Finally, GPTZero users should acknowledge two important factors. First, GPTZero was “trained” on a previous iteration of ChatGPT and will likely become less effective over time. Second, GPTZero uses a limited, probabilistic method and cannot confirm its results with 100-percent accuracy. Students accused of using ChatGPT could easily point out that GPTZero is subject to errors in several cases.

Other Ways of Addressing AI-Generated Text

Instructors should also recognize that they may need to modify their assignment prompts, ask for pre‑writing or drafts, or require more handwritten work to diminish use of ChatGPT.

For example, ChatGPT is less effective when writing about events, texts, or issues within the last few years (post-2020).[2] So, asking a student to analyze a historical document and then to connect it to current events may impact their ability to use a chat bot in place of original work.

Alternatively, asking students to write assignments by hand or to turn in pre-writing and drafts will likely offset the use of ChatGPT. But students can obviously generate an automated text and work backward from it, either copying it by hand or creating an outline after the fact (which is something many students admit to doing in composition classes anyway).

In short, these are not fool-proof methods.

Conclusion: ChatGPT in the Classroom

Perhaps the best method to address automated text in classrooms is to change the mindset that instructors have when approaching the issue. Rather than viewing ChatGPT as yet another tool for plagiarism, instructors can adopt methods for integrating it into classwork.

For example, in a previous writing course, I asked students to generate poetry using Google Verse, which is a machine-learning chat bot similar to ChatGPT that is designed to write poetry specifically. One assignment required students to generate a poem using AI and then to analyze what is omitted in the process. The assignment recognizes that these technologies are highly effective, yet it shows students the value of individual thought, critical analysis, and creativity.

In a literary studies class, a similar assignment might ask students to read a ChatGPT-generated close reading of Wordsworth’s poetry. Then, students could write about what the chat bot has omitted (I have used a similar assignment with SparkNotes and Wikipedia entries). This acknowledges the value of balancing multiple, often contradictory, interpretations of a literary text while still finding meaning in imaginative writing. Most importantly, it does not necessarily downplay the value of chat bots in organizing information – especially regarding dominant interpretations or common knowledge.

Ultimately, such technology will likely allow students and instructors to create more complex assignments and courses overall. Rather than viewing ChatGPT as a floodgate for new issues, instructors should use technologies to their advantage to eliminate some of the more tedious aspects of assignments and course design.

As a concluding remark, it seems worth mentioning that the text I chose to sample, Wordsworth’s “The World is Too Much with Us,” is itself a meditation on how technology changes the human imagination. But a twenty-first-century interpretation of the poem might recognize that what Wordsworth laments is not unique to the Industrial Revolution, and that the persona is ultimately critiquing how humankind uses and responds to technology – not necessarily the technology itself.

[1] Ian Bogost, “ChatGPT is Dumber than You Think.” The Atlantic, 7 Dec. 2022, Bogost is a world-renowned digital humanist and rhetorical theorist.

[2] Kevin Roose, “The Brilliance and Weirdness of ChatGPT,” New York Times, 5 Dec. 2022, ChatGPT does not “crawl the web for current events,” and its knowledge is somewhat restricted.

Radium Age Fiction and Nuclear Energy

With the recent announcement that researchers have achieved nuclear fusion, atomic energy is once again in the news. But debates surrounding nuclear energy have actually existed before fission was fully realized. As H. Bruce Franklin notes, “for fifty years, the first atomic explosion in Robert Cromie’s 1895 novel The Crack of Doom until 1945, nuclear weapons existed nowhere but in science fiction” (131). H. G. Wells was the first to coin the phrase the “splitting of the atom,” and writers such as Karel Čapek explored the impact of atomic energy on sustainability and human progress.

Put differently, many of the debates surrounding nuclear energy — its benefits and dangers — are deeply impacted by literature, film, and other cultural products.

This is important to understand because, as Ann Stouffer Bisconti notes, one of the greatest factors shaping the public opinion about nuclear energy is media representation — whether real or fictional stories. For example, something like the Chernobyl disaster is relatively rare for nuclear reactors, but it received extensive media coverage and is still widely discussed today. This includes fictional stories about Chernobyl, such as the five-part HBO series by the same name. In short, stories matter, especially when it comes to environmental discourse.

Sci-Fi and Nuclear Disaster

Several scholars explore the cultural fascination with nuclear apocalypse as well as indirect reactions to the Atomic Age. For example, Cyndy Hendershot notes that many of the B-movies from the 1950s and 1960s — such as It Came from Outer Space (1953), The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), and Them! (1954) — may be a sort of psychological displacement about the horrors of nuclear annihilation. In other words, people struggle to deal with the fact that humans have created world-ending technologies, so “monster flicks” are a way of confronting our fears — at least indirectly.

Susan Sontag similarly wrote about this issue in a now-famous essay called “The Imagination of Disaster.” Why are people so captivated by disaster films, especially in science-fiction? Sontag theorizes that there’s a convergence between “high-brow” philosophical issues about the ethics of nuclear power (and nuclear weapons) and the “low-brow” B-movie genre. We should analyze film as an expression of cultural anxiety, for Sontag, precisely because it’s not rigid, academic discourse.

This view has had some effect, as many film viewers can’t see Godzilla as anything other than an allegory for nuclear war. But looking to cultural products like science-fiction is an important way to continue studying — including writers like Karel Čapek, who may not be a household name for Americans (yet!).

The Radium Age: Nuclear Before Nuclear

Cultural artifacts such as film and literature offer insights about how we discuss nuclear power today, because many of these films and books deal with the same issues. But these early films and novels are perhaps more notable, because they had these conversations before fission technology even existed.

Joshua Glenn describes an entire movement or “era” that pre-dates fission as the “Radium Age.” H. G. Wells, Robert Cromie, and others knew about radioactivity (radium, in particular, was widely discussed in the early twentieth century), and therefore imagined the many things that could be made from it. Cromie saw disaster as imminent; Wells imagined a utopic vision of a world forced into pacifism by the threat of nuclear holocaust.

For me, though, one writer stands out: Karel Čapek (pronounced cha-pek). Čapek wrote two novels around the same time dealing with nuclear power, The Absolute at Large (1922) and Krakatit (1924). And the former is really about what happens when we do achieve sustainability. Is it really enough to have the technology, or is there perhaps more at play, like politics and rhetoric?

Čapek’s Portrayal of Nuclear Energy

Čapek is perhaps best-known today for introducing the term “robot” along with his brother Josef in the 1920 play R. U. R. (which stands for “Rossum’s Universal Robots”). Čapek wrote extensively, and is one of the most influential Czech-language writers in history. His journalism and nonfiction are just as powerful as his novels and plays, particularly his writings about anti-fascism and anti-authoritarianism.

The Absolute at Large follows the development of nuclear energy through the creation of the “Karburator,” a technology vaguely described in the book as using atomic energy to create virtually unlimited power. There’s one horrible side effect: the technology releases the “Absolute,” a transcendent, possibly spiritual, force that drives humanity to fanaticism.

Čapek uses nuclear energy as a metaphor for political division and authoritarianism, a problem he recognized would become increasingly dire in the twentieth century. But his story’s reliance on atomic energy roughly 15 years before fission was fully realized is important because it shows the role of imagination in shaping public opinion.

In many ways, the technology works well: it creates energy like it should. The engineer who creates the Karburator realizes that there’s a side effect when you destroy matter (at least in this fictional world). The primordial memories of the universe, as well as the power of the Absolute (which seems to have a mind of its own), is no longer constricted by matter. Therefore, Čapek raises a fundamental question: simply because you can create a technology, does it mean you should?

The Absolute at Large is a good read for any sci-fi buff. It’s an interesting concept, and Čapek occasionally uses experimental writing techniques, especially toward the end of the book. He asks big questions about historiography (how we write history after major world events) and what he views as the key problem of environmental sustainability: Sustainability is not simply a technological problem, but it is also an ethical one.

We need humanists, novelists, journalists, and philosophers, to help us navigate the ethical and rhetorical dilemmas posed by sustainability. More people should study and read Radium Age fiction if they really want to understand the nuances of the nuclear debate (and also find some really good science fiction), and Čapek is a great place to start.


Bisconti, Ann Stouffer, “Changing public attitudes toward nuclear energy.” Progress in Nuclear Energy, vol. 102, 2018, pp. 103-113,

Čapek, Karel. The Absolute at Large. University of Nebraska Press, 2005.

Franklin, H. Bruce. War Stars: The Superweapon and the American Imagination. Oxford UP, 1988.

Glenn, J. “Science Fiction: The Radium Age.” Nature, vol. 489, no. 1, 2012, pp. 204–205.

Hendershot, Cyndy. “From Trauma to Paranoia: Nuclear Weapons, Science Fiction, and History.” Mosaic, vol. 32, no. 4, 1999. Reproduced in Mosaic, 54.2 (2021): 37-54.

Sontag, Susan. “The Imagination of Disaster.” Against Interpretation and Other Essays, Ancho, 1966, pp. 201-25.

Posthumanism and Michel Serres’s The Parasite

The Parasite: Overview

The Parasite by Michel Serres combines information theory, poststructuralism, and posthumanism. Originally published in 1980 as Le Parasite, it was translated to English and published by Johns Hopkins University Press in 1982. In the early 2000s, however, the book gained renewed attention when it was picked up and reissued as part of the “Posthumanities Series” (from the University of Minnesota Press), a special book series edited by Cary Wolfe. It is an important work for two major reasons. First, The Parasite challenges the idea of the humanist subject; that is, Serres argues that ideas such as independence, autonomy, and agency obscure the interdependency of humans with their environment. Second, Serres writes in an experimental style, as he aims to write a “new” type of philosophy that’s not hindered by academic conventions. The book is rigorous and playful, and it is sometimes affectionately referred to as “the book of books,” because Serres relies so heavily on intertextual references to structure his writing style.

To summarize the text is quite difficult, but you might simply say that this book is about the role of the parasite in social, biological, and informational systems. Serres suggests that the parasite is not simply a key facet of any system, but that it also serves as a “thermal exciter,” as a catalyst for changing the very nature of any system.

In this sense, Serres deconstructs the relationship between host and parasite (also note that l’ hôte means both “guest” and “host” in French). The parasite in this sense is less a “drain” on the energy of a given system or organism, but rather something that changes the very nature of the host. And, the radical implication of this idea is that the parasite isn’t necessarily negative—as we commonly conceptualize it today—as it opens a new range of possibilities. So, for example, minority groups who are commonly deemed “parasitic” can make “pests” of themselves to bring about social, political, and other forms of change.


Types of Parasites

There are three types of parasites:

  • Biological – a parasite is an organism that lives in a body or under the skin. It harms the host by draining energy (i.e., blood or nutrients) without providing any benefits. In the seventeenth century, “parasite” was likely used to refer to flora exclusively (e.g., mistletoe is a common form of parasitic plant).
  • Social – a so-called social parasite is a person who drains resources from a society without giving anything in return. Originally, parasitos referred to a specific character trope in Greek drama, and the word “parasite” was later co-opted by biologists.
  • Informational – le parasite is “static” or “noise” in a system. For Serres, an organized system exists in opposition to noise.

Serres is talking about three different types of parasites, but he emphasizes that these different types are not mutually exclusive. Arguably, one of the key aims of the book is to show that the use of the same word in three different contexts is not coincidental; instead, it informs the cohesion of the theory Serres aims to advance. For example, the biological term comes from the social context, and, in the early twentieth century, the biological context was often used (problematically) to refer to marginalized social groups, such as the Jewish people, black people, women, or migrant farmers. There is an inter-relationship between the biological and social; that is, parasite is always already a biosocial idea.

The final iteration is likely unfamiliar to most English readers, as it refers to the French word for “static” in information theory. Le parasite in this sense refers to an interruption in a signal, a break in a chain of communication, and so forth. So, in the first parable Serres discusses about the city and county rats, the noise that frightens the rats is itself a sort of parasite.


Relationship to Posthumanism

Though published before posthumanism was a distinct approach within literary studies, philosophy, and culture studies, The Parasite provides an early example of posthumanist concepts. On the one hand, it openly destabilizes the ways we conceptualize nonhuman animals, such as rats and so forth, but on the other hand it is much more significant in that it undermines the idea of an autonomous, individuated subject.

Key to liberal humanism (which posthumanism critiques) is the notion that individuals are autonomous and self-contained; Serres works to push back against this idea to suggest that parasites are inherent in any system, that relationality and dependency are much more widespread than we openly admit. Furthermore, such dependency often isn’t a negative thing; it represents a catalyst, a “thermal exciter,” a possibility for change.

To put it differently, it was quite common in the early twentieth century to describe “undesirables” as parasitic, which happened frequently in eugenics discourse, sociological theories, and so forth. Ergo, a person could be a humanist and still claim that certain groups (e.g., impoverished individuals) were parasites on the so-called productive class (think, for example, of capitalistic critiques of social welfare that so often rely on the image of independence as paramount). What Serres proposes that fits so well with posthumanist discourse is instead the idea that so-called parasites aren’t all bad, that independence is really more a product of problematic discourses than a reality, and that we need to think more critically about the potential limits of humanism.