Tag Archives: AI

… body electric …

Tolima Pectoral 1000AD

In my last post, Teddy mentioned my fascination with AI. This interest became obsessive while doing a sabbatical film degree that ended in 1997 – my lucky chance to catch up on cultural history and post-modern theories. I plan to re-type my dissertation, which includes pages of tedious notes and a bibliography. But presently, like so many papers I wrote at the time, the master piece rests in an old Mac disc in a format I can’t translate to Word.

Artificial intelligence is unstoppable. I’m curious as to your take on the subject, so I’m sharing a few quotes from my exploration of human identity in the digital age.

I pinched the title for my dissertation ‘Body Electric,’ from Walt Whitman’s poem ‘I sing the body electric.’  He celebrates the body – of man, of woman, of child, bodies of flesh, sinew and blood. Do follow the above link, the invigorating poem stands in ironic juxtaposition to the theme of AI. Could a mechanical electric body ever convey the curious, breathing, laughing flesh that Whitman hearts because it pleases the soul? How would its divine nimbus compare to a form governed by mechanical algorithms? For Whitman the human body is sacred. Its magnetism comes through eyes, from the soul, a term shelved by neuroscience. Call it what you will, soul or consciousness; its light will forever seek vessels and new direction.

Fronting ‘Body Electric’ is my translation of R M Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus X, which, even at his time, bemoans machines that ignore the hesitant gesture of a radiant hand. Here only one a few lines:

Yet our being remains spun in mysteries of birthing

Origins from enchanted wells, a play of pristine powers

To behold only with eyes closed and in adoration.

The text develops as an intuitive assembly and starts with a quote by Michael Foucault:

‘Man is only a recent invention, a figure not yet two centuries old, a new wrinkle in our knowledge; he will disappear again as soon as that knowledge has discovered a new form.’

For the artist Maya Deren (1917-1951,) who created some highly influential films in her short life, scientific findings were but the raw materials of creative action: ‘The first step of creative action is the violation of the natural integrity of an original context.’ She saw the function of art and its validation in the creation of mythical realities. Her symbolic images of personal significance also chime universally.

Here is a link to her film ‘At Land.’

In dreams, time vanishes. This applies equally when dream worlds are shared, with the additional ecstasy of an interactive virtual reality:

‘… we would enter the world of fluids … Over with the solid, over with the continuous and the calm; some dance quality would invade everything and Cartesian philosophers would go through a trance, floating on history like chops on gravy.’ – Henry Michaux

But what about the vanishing space? In the public realm of instant ‘in’form’ation’ nothing keeps its form long enough to take root. Spaces to hide or resist the other fade as human nature is flood-lit. Jean Baudrillard foresaw a silence of the masses as ironic and antagonistic coping mechanism:

‘… hyper conformist simulation of the very mechanism of the system, which is another form of refusal by over acceptance …’  Jean Baudrillard

Simulated reality blinds with the Gestalt of our collective mind, where every viewpoint exists at the same time. It lacks context and shadow definition, over-exposes our field of consciousness. For Baudrillard, the schizophrenic subject can no longer produce the limits of its own being, or produce itself as a mirror. It becomes a screen, a switching center for all networks of influence. The electric sphere of the internet simulates our nervous system and turns it inside out. There remains the reality of our psychological experiences, where shadows have to be reckoned with.

Donna Haraway, a biologist and professor of the History of Consciousness, sees pleasure in the confusion of boundaries. She once said, ‘I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess.’ This intrigues. The inspiring, if manic torrent of concepts pouring into Haraway’s lectures requires extreme co-presence from her students. I resonate with her thought that contradiction is the criterion of the real, which is a theme in my planned third book (following Course of Mirrors and Shapers.) I like it that Haraway’s favourite story teller is Ursula Le Guin 🙂

CYBORG – a human, enhanced with integral technology. Visit this link for a taster – a TED talk by Kevin Warwick, a Professor of Cybernetics.

When it becomes possible to clone super humans one has to ask, why the need for babies, why the need for women, and what’s the point of males. Can myth be banished, and what if the human being – that pack of neurons – is squeezed into microchips like genies into bottles, how will future societies hang together?

An emerging idea proposes that to maintain homeostasis requires a new religion, DATAISM. Check this link to an extract from Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, by Yuval Noah Harari on WIRED … 

Would shadow entities of the collective psyche slip through data and act out hidden agendas? Kevin Kelly wrote: ‘… as we unleash living forces into our created machines, we lose control of them. They acquire wildness and some the surprises that the wild entails. This then is the dilemma all gods must accept: That they can no longer be completely sovereign over their finest creations.’

Besides the above quotes, my dissertation includes thoughts from Marshall McLuhan, Paul Virilio, Roger Callois, Walter Benjamin, Gregory Bateson, Don Cupitt, Francis Crick, D Dennett, Goethe, Anthony Stevens, John Searle, David Chalmers, Horst Hendriks-Jansen, Sherry Turkle, Danah Zohar and many more – all of them google worthy.

As a golden thread through my dissertation I use scenes from the film Bladerunner, where replicants are indistinguishable from humans and develop emotional responses. If we give them a past, Tyrell says, we create a cushion for their emotions and can control them. A fail-safe device makes sure of that. Familiar? It turns out that ‘mother’ the equivalent of history, is a trigger word for lack. One replicant blasts his tester to smithereens and seeks revenge on his maker. The film leaves one with the uncomfortable sense that we are all replicants, with memories implanted by history. There is no escape from the burden of existential insecurity.

Theodor Kittelsen 1857 – 1914

Relationships and the context of place are vital to experience a sense of identity, like an energy field that grows in relation to the reality we create for ourselves. In other words, we are artists of our continuous self-invention, and we must choose our horizons.

Reverend Don Cupitt wrote the self is an animal with cultural inscriptions on the surface. Not that he is wrong, but when he assumes the soul has died, he must refer to his personal version of soul and its loss of meaning.

The Soul, the light of the universe, eternal life and consciousness, is essentially independent of matter and mind. Once embodied, we tend to forget the light’s source and feel trapped and homesick. Whether there is a purpose to the cyclic embodiment of consciousness may be a useless question, since purpose can only emerge through living and through the myths we create. Bless our imagination. Presently AI is the most generously funded myth, forging ahead, regardless of the dire state of humanity and our planet as a whole.

Birth and death remain the ultimate spinners of life. In the parlance of the mystic, the moment of exaltation is in the immanent glimpse of the curl of the beloved. Can the beloved be the beloved if she is fully known? And what do we know of the various dimensions where she resides?

Don’t miss this worthwhile article by John Gray in the New Statesman (Oct 2016) on the upgrade from Homo sapiens into Homo deus. The page may take a while to load.

All links open a new page. They are part of post and totally worthwhile.



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… musings of a neglected teddy bear …

She brought me down from the attic this morning and gave me a good bashing and brushing at the back door, where the wind scattered my accumulated dust. She had no idea why she suddenly wanted me, the transitional object, around. But I know.

I make her smile – something to do with face muscles relaxing. And she needs a perk. Glued to the news, she’s expecting a revelation of meaning from the madness around the globe. She tells herself to ignore the surreal headlines that flit across her laptop screen, to no avail. As if that was not enough, her intense curiosity in AI and its implications on society, can take up her mornings. It may be because a new, man-made race is the theme of ‘Shapers,’ the sequel to ‘Course of Mirrors.’

And I used to think teddy bears were the pinnacle of man-made intelligence.

Though she can’t remember, she valued me time ago, to be held by her therapy clients in need of hugging. How cool is that? Then, one day, I was unceremoniously replaced by a trickster rag-doll, apparently more successful in bringing up suppressed psychic material – alarmingly uncool.

For now I’m redeemed. Everyone knows that teddies are brilliant listeners. I nod and never talk back, avoiding all misunderstandings.

Her son used to benefit from an associate of mine. Such shame he was a rare antique, and had to be sold.

Not that my presence fools her. She may be a good listener to her clients, but not to her own heart in these bewildering times, which is why she brought me down from the attic. I listen and open spaces for self-reflection. Just think of the waste of all the other teddies dusting away in attics.

She learned that to really understand how another person feels, their experience has to be felt in her own heart. There is nothing to be done. She’s a crushed angel and needs to feel her own bewilderment deeply to be of use to anyone.

That said – I’m happy to be here, in this warm space of reflection.

She says hello to all crushed angels. There must be many of you out there, given the consistent visits to a post of this poem by Hafiz from May 2015.


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… weeks sans heating – rant about smart devices – an offer …

I’ve not been so happy for a long time, which I’ll explain later. Following a November without heating, I was

The Poor Poet by C Spitzweg, 1839

initially cheered by a brand new boiler and enjoyed a span of blissful warmth and hot showers. Turned out the new boiler’s sensitive mechanism couldn’t cope with the system. In my young days I used to be tolerant of temperature changes. Small groups of poor students occupied large houses that had a big stove in the kitchen and coal or wood fires in individual rooms. Halls, toilets, bathrooms were freezing zones. During severe winters in    Bavaria we used hairdryers to defrost our car engines. On the upside, our car tires had spikes in them, making driving on snow and ice brilliant and safe fun.

December brought two more weeks in sub-zero conditions. Attempts to write and edit with stiff fingers continued, helped by three pair of trousers, jumpers, legwarmers, wrist warmers, winter coat and hat. In addition I frequently refilled the hot water bottle on my knees to supplement the electric heater taking the chill off my back. Concentration was difficult, nerves frazzled. Baked chestnuts and hot lemon drinks brought a little warmth to my hands.

I dealt with government agencies that give grants towards new boilers, involving subcontractors, and more subcontractors. Bless them all, but among the experts I felt like a girl serving coffee at a conference table. The situation made me immensely grateful to have a home at all.

And being me, my mind went into a spin, considering the bursts of technological innovations during my lifetime, deceptively useful, miraculous even, yet challenging, never more so when it comes to integrate old systems with oversensitive devices and their narrow applications.

A mass of data doesn’t equate with intelligence, unless used with skill, heart, intuition and imagination. Artificial neural networks aim to emulate human potential that is only just emerging, be it the psychological understanding of the self in relationships, the impact of the unconscious psyche on our lives (as explored by C G Jung,) enmity or collaboration rooted in past experience, strange attractions, genius, intuition, creativity, attitude. A flow of fresh associations reach us from spheres that hold accrued knowledge. I like Pierre Teilhard de Chardine’s concept of a self-reflective noosphere.

Whatever one may call this sphere, white noise permeates it with a new brand of global wilderness. Beleaguered hive minds resist dialogue and integration. To use a lame metaphor, as a radio needs tuning to reach a required station, so a brain needs to be free of agitation to access harmonising frequencies.

I think of the physical brains as mediator, like the motherboard of a computer, or a radio. I hope future generations will be receptive to the body and find ways to relax it, so the brain can maintain the antennae to the psychic totality of the wisdom of our collective, non-local mind-being & its guidance, and not be misled by expectations that every pesky problem in daily life can be monitored and sorted by automated devices.

 ‘Long live the dead because we live in them.’ ― Clarice Lispector – A Breath of Life

From an old postcard I can’t source

AI intrigues, yet also brings our shortcomings into sharp perspective. Humans mirror the vast intelligence of the cosmos, through myth, art, religion, the insights of seers and scientists, all encapsulating equal measures of truth and untruth. If a higher will exists it must include the collective experience of a universal psyche, including yours and mine.

I must be free to make mistakes and form perception. Neurotic people muddle through. Old cars muddle through, old washing machines, ovens, fridges and boilers muddle through all manner of obstructions and, with a little devoted attention, can be mended until they have fulfilled their purpose. Life wings through seasons of existence in this limited material world, resurrected through other forms in further life cycles. Heck; imagine your experiential persona trapped indefinitely in a robotic body whose every need is monitored and anticipated. Imagination and the potential to understand another human being would wither away, the wisdom of aeons reduced to numbers. What a dumb and spiritless existence.

‘Technology, instead of liberating us from myth, confronts us as a force of a second nature just as overwhelming as the forces of a more elementary nature in archaic times.’ – Walter Benjamin.

I like my old car. It doesn’t lock me in or out, records my whereabouts, or suddenly cuts off its engine at a red light because its programme decides to safe petrol. I like devices that can be repaired with a little thought or the occasional bang of a hammer. I like my seasoned washing machine that doesn’t tell the world where and when I’m doing my laundry.

My old boiler pushed through the sludge in my pipes and could have been made to work again, with attention to the system. My rant is NOT about the new as such, but about the general dis-empowering trend that sells us short and prevents recycling of perfectly repairable items.

Each day we navigate unpredictable situations and complex problems. We feel the joy and pain of organisms, creatures, people, and often our reason is clouded by our passion. If only children were taught about emotional intelligence early on. Yet industries decree that trusting humans is risky, dangerous, and uneconomical. The story begins to resemble Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. Not worth a thought of course, because Shelley was a woman.

Jeanette Winterson expresses similar thoughts more poignantly in a lecture she gave in Holland … Super intelligence could conclude that all mankind is a waste of space and resources. Check for a translate button on the site. I thank my Dutch friend, Kitty, for sharing this link on FB.

Yesterday I had brilliant news. A couple of competent plumbers took up some floorboards and, with impressive intuition, and skill, solved the problem. My new boiler is at peace with the old system.

Happy & warm, I want to share my pleasure with a festive offer on Course of Mirrors:

The paperback will be half price for a limited period on this Troubadour page

In addition, the e-book will be 99 pence on most platforms up to the 2nd January 2018

In case you enjoyed reading my magical novel, you may consider leaving a short comment on the above Troubador site (no signing in required) and Amazon, where it apparently boosts sales, which would be wonderful.

I’m wishing all my readers peaceful festive days and a blessed New Year.


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