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Questions About the Computer Too Smart for Humans to Understand

Q: If we invented a computer that was so smart no human could understand it, and it had a theory of physics none of us could understand, but its predictions were correct, would the theory be true.

A: Sure.  If we had a computer which had our current theory which we know to be true, and there was a neurological plague the result of which that no human being could understand the theory any more, it would not stop being true.

Q: But that’s upsetting!

A: Well what we should do in that case is try to use the computer to re-engineer our brains so we become smart enough to understand the true theory.

Q: But wouldn’t that cause us to stop being human.

A:No, human beings are beings for whom their being matters for them.  It doesn’t require being dumb.

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It’s Not Like That!

Some big thinkers have gotten their reputation for bigness by saying things are not the way people think they are.  For example: Socrates said everything we think might be the definition of “courage” is wrong, but he proposed no alternative, better definition.   Others (Kant, Nagarjuna, the Upanishads, the pseudo-Dionysus) have done their work by saying no as well.

A worry I’ve always had is — what’s the difference between negating a sentence and affirming a sentence?  Why should it be deep?   Take a simple case: I have written an integer from one to three on a paper and not shown it to you.  If you ask “Is it 2” and I say “No” you have learned that it’s either 1 or 3.  If you asked “Is it 1 or 3” and I said “Yes” you would have learned exactly the same thing.  So in this case negation and affirmation supply precisely the same information.

Why then do thinkers like Socrates et. al. seem deep?

Imagine a different game.  I have told you that I have hidden a pawn on a chessboard which you do not see.  If you ask me “Is it on square A1” and I say “No” it might seem that I have told you the same as if I had affirmed the pawn is on one of the other 63 squares of the chessboard.

However that’s not true.  In fact, in this example, it is a very, very tiny pawn and I have placed it on the black line that separates square A1 from square A2.

Negation may negate our accustomed categories in other words and point towards a solution that we have not imagined yet.  You assumed in this case that the pawn hidden on the chessboard had to be on one of the 64 squares.  But you were wrong to do so.  The negation of your guess — A1 — was correct.  But the affirmation that you thought was logically equivalent to it — it is on one of the other 63 squares — was also incorrect.

Of course if the negator offers us literally no help at all at imagining these other possibilities he is not so helpful.  But he’s still right.

 

 

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“Spirit, Are These the Images of Things that Will Be or Things That May Be?”

A good question from Scrooge!  As Hamlet pointed out we could be bounded in a nut shell and count ourselves “Kings of Infinite Space” save for one problem, namely: Bad Dreams.  That is to say our consciousness is troubled by Images, and these Images are either delusive, the teasing emanations of sickness, or actual revelations of the One True World, the splendor of which, it is each our gifts and duty to explore.

A certain wily conman having more or less failed as a writer of science fiction tall tales decided to become the founder of a psychotherapeutic cult.  The cult’s belief system claimed that each of us possesses a Foolish Mind, and this Foolish Mind can be misled by puns.  So for example in embryo state the Foolish Mind might overhear the uterus-owner (i.e. mother) request an “aspirin” and end up with a rash on its posterior, interpreting “aspirin” as “ass burn”!  This foolish conceit about the pun-misled mind allowed the conman to enrich himself, processing the seemingly exhaustive reserve of human foolishness into cold hard cash!

But here’s the rub.  Upon demise the conman’s spirit was led into the pearly gates, which are also known as the Tibetan Bardo and from thence escorted into a world in which his con was soberest truth!  And there he found his flesh was dry and sickly.

Why am I so dry like a prune?  I simply wanted to wisen up!

Ah said the custodians — when you wanted to wisen — instead you did wizen.   And thus became wizened.

Why then? he asked.

Wai, zen! they responded.

And he achieved what he had always wanted.

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Gods of Confusion

Honestly my parents were hard-working and good people but very sad, very beaten by life and not ones to give me a crisp explanation.  Not of life, not of anything.  Don’t tell a lie, sure but why not, get a job, but why, not quite “just because” but not much more than it either.  If you’ve ever experienced that I think you know.

So I went to the school and they explained it to me.  God of birth, god of death.  God of now, god of yesterday, god of tomorrow.  God of love god of parting.  Did the gods create being, or did being create the gods?  Artemius of Sha said one thing, Dilododoskorus of Premee says the other.  The fractal texture of the soul’s armor, the diaphanousness of epiphany and vice versa.  I learned it all.

I learned it all.  But I didn’t believe it.  Not really.  The other students who came from normal homes believed it.  They were grateful to the teachers for teaching them.  But me although I wanted the teachers to understand that I understood it, thought on some level it was a joke a big game.  I could say those things, but I knew I was just saying them.

I spoke to my teacher once when he was quite an old man and I told him that.  By that time I didn’t really care if anybody thought I was dumb or smart.  He said “You’re confused.  That’s just an epiphany of the god of confusion.  It all seems fake. That’s an epiphany of the god of it all seems fake.”

But — obviously — I didn’t believe that either.  I think I believe in the texture of my life.  I think I believe from that texture thin or thick, torn or sure, the gods are woven along with me.

Maybe I’ll start a school!

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Roger Complained to G-d That He Was Bored

It says in the prayer book that You “Renew Continually the Work of Creation”, but you don’t.  I go to sleep every night and I wake up every day and there it is — the same old Creation.  Sun and moon, work and t.v., mother and wife, enemy, stranger, and pal.  Where’s the continually renewed creation I’m promised?  Where is the new?

Hang on, said G-d, it didn’t say I renew creation.  It says I renew the work of creation.

Same difference?

Uh-uh-uh.  Don’t be smart.  What do you think that means, to continually renew the Work of creation?

That you are continually working to make creation anew?

I’m working?  Like hauling bricks from uncreatedness so it doesn’t all go to pot?

Um.

Think some more.

Okay, the person who does the work of creation is me!   You are continually giving me new jobs in order to make creation new, and I have to do them.

Very good.  Every moment you have a different job.

And what’s my job now?

Obviously, to understand what it means that I continually renew the work of creation.

Great!  I did that.  I’m done.  Now I can finally rest.

Done with what?

My job of understanding.

That ‘s not your job anymore.  That was last moment’s job.

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Obsessive Fantasies of Defeating an Enemy

Well, the problem, the problem I said, is I have obsessive fantasies of defeating our enemy; always thinking about it, always hoping it will happen, I have no time to think about anything else.

-It seems to me you have plenty of time.  I don’t think that’s your problem.

-Well, maybe it’s not, but it’s a problem; maybe the problem is that I am full of fear, fear of defeat and failure; what if we don’t defeat him.

-Time defeats all enemies. You know that.  I don’t think that’s your problem.

-Well maybe the problem is that when you say that to me I think you’re my enemy.  If you’re not with me in my fight against my enemy, you must be on the other side.

-Really?  You don’t acknowledge lots of people are useful idiots and bystanders and just part of the scenery?  Really?  That’s a lot of people’s problems friend — awful pathetic violent people. Just not yours.

-Fine, fine, if you know so well, what is my problem?  It’s hard to say isn’t it, what with the perpetual distractions we read on twitter, one steps forward and a million steps back, and everywhere we look the enemy’ face now pompous, now grinning, now sly, now stupid, filling my attention every moment, forcing me to check on him when I wake up and when I go to sleep.  What is my problem Mr. Smart Guy if it’s so easy to say?

-Your problem is you are afraid if there were no enemy making you think about him you’d have to decide what else to think about.

-You really are my enemy!

 

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Pacifists of Thought

The people at my old high school were what you’d call “pacifists of thought” — they would never try to convince you of anything cause they thought it was akin to a violation of your mind’s integrity.  Nor would they try to tempt or tease you into inquiring what they thought, because to them this was a kind of fraud or lure, like the web of a spider or lantern of an angler-fish.  I have to say one time I embarrassed one of them because everything he said was mysterious — you couldn’t figure out why he said it or what he meant by it — and I said “oho!  you are deliberately adopting an air of mystery!  Like the ancient philosophaster Empedocles who went about in metal slippers and a purple robe and tried to seem deep by self-murdering into a volcano as if to suggest he vanished leaving no mortal remains; oho my friend your obliquity oppresses, your ambiguity stuns the mind, your lack of pretention to having anything to say is pretention to having nothing to say.”  As I mention I shamed this man and he said “Fine, what do you want?” And I said “Tell me” and he told me.

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