Tag Archives: poet

… 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.



Filed under Blog


Nationalism is the pathology of modern developmental history as inevitable as neurosis in the individual.  – Tom Nairn – ‘The Break-Up of Britain.’ 

Brexit and Trump have not suddenly happened.

The Pilgrim Fool - Celcil Collins

The Pilgrim Fool – Cecil Collins

My generation has been outpaced by the frenzied speed of technological advances for some decades now. Large sections of society lack meaningful vocations and work, small shops and community centers are disappearing, since such places are no longer considered financially viable. Public services in Britain have been sold out. Liberal arts and crafts are reduced to soft and unprofitable educational choices. People have become exploitable commodities and are being gradually deprived of culture. I am reminded of Cecil Collin (1908-1989) and his ‘Vision of the Fool.’ For him, Saints, artists and poets are one with the joy and sorrow of the Fool, in whom the poetic imagination of life lives and coordinates heart-intelligence in human society. A cosmic folly that is present in the person of us, which cannot be exploited because it is above state, class or politics. It’s what I sense in many people I meet, a longing for what has been demeaned as useless – the poetic imagination of the innocent fool.

Western citizens should of course be grateful. We have progress, gadgets, toys – life has never been better. Yet the cornucopia of consumer choices does not replace human relationships, community facilities, lack of housing, lost jobs, lost pensions, does not prevent the gnawing disillusionment that is spreading like a virus, while beneath the impotent silence fester anger and self-destructiveness. When starved of meaning, what tends to make people feel alive, short of war, is upturning the apple cart and watching the unfolding drama.

Britain’s populist Brexit vote was valuable fuel for Donald Trump. He even called himself Mr Brexit – down with cosmopolitanism and multiculturalism – up with nationalism and walls to keep out the alien hordes. Brushing over complex issues with simpleminded slogans resulted in over 50 million Americans to vote on promises to make America great again by a man whose opportunist character will be severely tested by reality. Hopefully the task will mellow his character, and not result in toxic consequences for years to come.

For Britain, and other EU countries, there is yet an opportunity to re-evaluate the cards that have emerged on the public table. The Brexit referendum event gave food for thought, enough to serve the intelligent questioning of what truly lies at the heart of the growing disagreements and dissatisfaction among so-called affluent societies.

I guess I’m not the only one to suffer from Br -exasperation.

Not scapegoating, but a careful analysis is called for – and a constructive participation, with Europe, towards addressing the challenges of our time is what I wish for. The biases in the trail of globalism must be acknowledged and engaged with. The EU, despite massive failings, still offers the bests chance for stability. Turning the clock back is futile. In my view, to support and effectively influence the EU project is the intelligent way forward for Britain.

But is seems the British Parliament hasn’t got the guts to open the real discussion that was never held, and hasn’t got the guts to acknowledge how its senseless policies have allowed injustices and inequalities to heap up. It is utterly hypocritical to blame the results of bad politics on migrants.

Stakes are high. Sanctioning the pathology of nationalistic frenzy could destroy what has been achieved. See the history of Human Rights.

Well, that’s my small voice in the internet wilderness. A post I wrote in 2012 may be relevant:

… here is everywhere …


Filed under Blog

… moans from an unruly writer …

Installation by Frederick Franck

Installation by Frederick Franck

While I write, wrestle with style, query words battling for attention and set out sequences to string ideas together, anyone watching me might assume I’m a nervous wreck. My body, perfectly able to string an arrow to a bow and hit a target, has a wild notion of focus when it comes to writing. It shifts and wriggles, gets up pretending I need a coffee, ends up cleaning the sink, checks the porch for post and so on, all the while allowing my word sculpting to continue until, bingo …. I rely on intuition, which slips into little silences, opens a crack in the surface of things and reveals a hidden layer, and, occasionally offers a glimpse into the infinity of now. A tiny glimpse is all it takes to relax, sharpen senses and spark a creative dialogue between my inner voices that often quarrel and fool around like the average family.

I respect moderate conflict, it stirs up mud but clears the air, and even when the inner crowd gets fed-up with listening – grace, solitude, or a good night’s sleep bring additional insights, bridge divides and re-establish a tolerable rhythm of chaos and peace.

Am I fooling myself? Is my knack for intuition just guesswork. Is it inborn? Does it evolve with experience, as a kind of deeper listening skill humanity moves towards? Can it be learned? Is it worth defending? Or is it the relic of a go-with-the-flow philosophy that avoids closer analysis of my thought processes and behaviour? I seem to struggle with two kinds of temperaments, one looking for the particle and the other for the wave, stretched between rational and irrational numbers. The two temperaments compete but need each other.

Pilgrim Fool by Celcil Collins

Pilgrim Fool by Celcil Collins

Scientists and statisticians tend to approach the unknown rationally, and seem set to eradicate human incompetence and messiness. Some frenzied rational prophets go as far as knocking anything that can’t be quantified and evidenced. I value logic, what annoys me is the attitude that scoffs at people who hold hands with the fool.

There are more reliable methods than the vagaries of intuition, shown in a New York Times piece by Gary Wolf ‘The Data Driven Life’ from April 2010,  a long but brilliant article that received many pages of diverse comments. Not everyone is keen on the Quantified Self.

I resist being monitored and quantified by data, fixed as particle, ticked off for my risk-taking folly, my random cross-referencing. The geeks and outliers the article describes have fun recording their every move. And I grant that someone suffering from high blood pressure or apnoea benefits from being nudged by a gadget to take a deep breath. I remember being excited and applauding the first biofeedback devices that affirmed how thoughts affect our physiology and vice versa. When it comes to data dependency, I have a hunch it will starve emotional intelligence, which I strongly believe develops through mastery of language.

Working a few years for Social Services, we used to write narrative assessments until a computer programme with tick boxes was introduced. We hated it. Conveying observations in writing was shoved aside as time-consuming, subjective and vague, while quantitative recording was hailed as reliable, though its data hinges no less on interpretation and application.

Recently I skimmed an article suggesting future novels will be written by computers. My cynic leapt from its slumber and argued that a machine hasn’t got 100 Billion neurons and can’t be intimate with nature, is immune to changing metabolisms and moods – hour by hour, night and day. Immune to what comes on the breath, with wind, dust, rain and radio waves that travel through the cosmos, nor is a machine influenced by dreams, synchronicities, diets, layers of revolving memories, kind gestures, general anxieties, rejection, loss of control, loss of a loved one, global news … the unpredictable influx of thoughts and emotions that our mind continuously sifts, evaluates and re-interprets.

Irrational humans can’t be quantified and controlled, which may be why since ancient times there has been an ambition to create artificial beings.  Here a bit of fun from Turing and his colleague Strachey – a reasoned-out love letter, achieved through programming a 1951 computer to make sentences via algorithms, having been fed on love synonyms from a Thesaurus:

Honey Dear – My sympathetic affection beautifully attracts your affectionate enthusiasm. You are my loving adoration: my breathless adoration. My fellow feeling breathlessly hopes for your dear eagerness. My lovesick adoration cherishes your avid ardour.

Yours wistfully, M.U.C. (Manchester University Computer)

…. M. U. C. is eager, if a little verbose and breathless 🙂

Since then, artificial intelligence is even more breathless with numbers, but operates highly sophisticated technology that improved the quality of our lives. I admit I’m fascinated by the concept of cyborgs, but don’t want to get plucked into the human network protocol .

Our privacy is at stake. And our relationship with nature? … its record of life and the human experience, the treasure house of the collective unconscious, translated and re-membered through DNA, invisible spheres and the very light we breathe. Anything alive changes from moment to moment. And our experiences, insights and expectations have a vital part in the changing.

Nature is the book I grew up with, it taught me stuff:                                                                                                       About growing … put a seed into earth, tend to its needs and its story flowers.                                                        About resilience … a seedling lost in a dark corner will grow towards any spot of light, no matter how it must bend and curl its stalk around obstacles.                                                                                                                                       About connections … the dynamic geometry of the tiniest plants and vast galaxies are reflected in each other.

Enough samples to show the obvious – nature teaches through metaphors. My theme is resilience. I take risks and accept that struggling makes me inventive, expands my consciousness, polishes my heart and challenges me to think for myself.

My moan extends to the growing practice of enticing people to emulate machines in service of progress and economic efficiency, in jobs that dull the senses and dull the mind.

Meanwhile I cheer the unruly folk, including fools, dreamers, innovators, artists, poets and writers with an ear towards the hidden – who translate past and future newly into the present – the open-minded, who can tolerate conflict, value intuitive signals that chime in the heart, and who can occasionally endure being suspended like a leaf on a gossamer thread.

What do you, my reader, think?


Filed under Blog