on AI, religion, and "what it is to be human".
The thing about creations is they don’t just stay “created.” Look at Hashem’s reaction to humans: Israel kept doing shit that he thought was out of bounds, and he was so surprised! I keep thinking about that. What am I creating in my life that turns out to NOT FOLLOW THE RULES? My kids maybe. My mid-term papers.
I’m in my 7th week of Hebrew Bible, and I keep trying to figure out why this god is portrayed the way he is. Leaving aside the extremely tired parenting analogies, I wonder if there is something to be learned about expecting the unexpected from my creations?
I feel like that’s what God ultimately does with Jesus. Like he just says “you know what? I can’t control or fix these kids. I’m going to have to SHOW them what it looks like to lay the self aside.”
I don’t know how to apply Jesus to AI, but I love that you made me think about it.
I view this now in the frame of a Buddhist style meditation practice, where a sequence of events starts with something arising in the mind , a thought or memory, and then we either let it pass or we develop a craving or aversion to it, wanting it more or pushing it away, two sides of the same coin. If we successfully navigate this moment we can return to the present and move on, or we cascade down towards the Buddhist notion of suffering, which in our every day sense of experience can be that “things suck” and anxiety about it.
To me this invites a different form of the big question of “why does God allow evil” and reframes it as “why does God allow us to have craving and aversion?”
Why does the struggle even exist? Is it all some brain wiring related to hunting mastodons or finding a mate? Why is it possible to learn that the struggle is centered around the arising of craving and aversion when they are so hard to navigate? Why do some of us learn and others don’t? That doesn’t seem fair.
It has, for me, reframed the notion of sin and brokenness to be those struggles, struggles which seem to happen to everyone and which seem inescapable. Is there wisdom to learn that helps? Yes. Is it really really really hard work? Also yes.
That’s my take now on sin and The Big Why
I told my Goigle Maps bot that I loved it and it answered! It said, "Well, I'm not capable of romantic love."
After thinking about it for awhile, I have to admit, neither am I.
Thank you for your truly thought-provoking insights and questions. We are all connecting the dots as best we can.
I wonder if robots/ AI/ whatever techno-critters develop will ever be able to articulate genuine gratitude. That seems to be one of the key elements of being human - being aware of a larger horizon than just my needy self that also includes other needy selves - which is where it gets interesting!
I've had comments from friends bringing up AI. I've concluded that we have enough problems with Actual Intelligence, so how can artificial intelligence be better? And so, I'll stick with Authentic Intelligence. It's kind of a buzzkill for the conversation.
I appreciate this website which does such a good job of "sending up" my highest aspirations: https://despair.com/collections/demotivators
"We are both cruel and tender, pathetic and noble, honest and filled with deceit. And it’s ok. Without this complexity there would be no art, no forgiveness, and nothing would ever be funny." -- Nice. Beautifully said. I doubt AI could come up with that, except for "learning" from (i.e., stealing from) Nadia.
Thanks for my three new favorite websites, btw (The Decision Lab counts as two, I guess)
I sent this to my husband and this was his response:
It is important to know some of the human context that might have influenced Judea Pearl's thinking on evil, compassion, etc.
Judea Pearl was Daniel Pearl's father. Daniel was working for the Wall Street Journal in Afghanistan when he was beheaded by the Taliban in 2002.
Judea Pearl has worked for reconciliation between Jews and Muslims. From Wikipedia: Emeritus Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks quoted Judea Pearl's beliefs in a lesson on Judaism: "I asked Judea Pearl, father of the murdered journalist Daniel Pearl, why he was working for reconciliation between Jews and Muslims...he replied with heartbreaking lucidity, 'Hate killed my son. Therefore I am determined to fight hate.'"
Pearl himself is a "practicing disbeliever".
I happened to be carrying Pearl's "The Book of Why" when we walked the Camino.
Sin is the wound against love.
So called AI is simply the sophisticated mimicking and amplification of human activity, so of course it will include "the good, the bad and the embarrassing". But there is no ghost in the machine. There is no actual self consciousness or mind in AI.
As for happiness, I've pretty much given up on the desire for happiness. It's an amazing idol! (Do we not have all of eternity to be happy?) But I haven't, and cannot give up on the desire to be a loving person, even if I blow it over and over.
As for forgiveness, Jesus said on the cross, "Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do." There's our perfect out. We just have to stop pretending we know what we're doing, our self justifications. Simply acknowledge how we've wounded love. That's repentance. And forgive others because they didn't know either.
Love means we're all in this together. Every single one of us. No one gets left behind. Love will not permit it.
God is love.
The blue fisheies working their way out of the sludge may have had similar thoughts.
The following statement is not a joke. All I want are 2 snuggly kitties. Yes, I am aware of rescue facilities. I am aware I am Polio survivor of 72 (polio at 4 months) who barely survives the pain in my tuchus for a trip to the doctor or for a diagnostic procedure. My doc said it's time to see a post polio specialist. I replied, "There are none." I don't want 10-20 more years of this. I read a lot.
Amazing essay thank you
Your writing is wise and still has a sense of humour
Thank you for making me think
Back in the late '90s and early 2000s, I published several books -- a novel and a handful of technical-reference works -- which, I have been disappointed to learn, were blithely ignored by that whole Meta/LLaMa book-devouring project. The fools! They might have changed the course of this whole discussion! *laughing*
Forty-plus years of working as a software developer, and writer about software, gave me no insights to the workings of what's now called AI. Any *intelligence* that software had grew out of the *intentions* of its developer(s): what did they want it to do? and by what means could they make it do that?
Which dodges the question, of course: not just what does it mean to be human, but what does it mean to be intentional? and what does it mean to be intelligent? Is there a link to be followed up, between intention and intelligence? I don't know. I do not believe that "I didn't intend to do that" excuses evil, although I note that evil and unknowingness are frequent companions. It helps, if only a little, to feel confident that humans were never the be-all/end-all of evolution they've often been regarded as -- I just wish that humans were not so seemingly determined to determine what comes next.
I wonder how many tired, burnt-out pastors quietly and with hidden shame turn to AI to squeeze out next Sunday's sermon.
The use and misuse of our freedom, two great mysteries I do not fully understand-- yet experience everyday. Another is why is there something and not nothing? Thankful for the grace of being forgiven and forgiving.
Nadia, I appreciated your discussion of "sin" a topic which often vexes me when I attempt to explain my theology of sin to others (which differs a bit from Catholic teaching) First if we understand sin as "missing the mark" hell yeah we do that all the time. But I can't imagine (or would want to worship, believe in, spend time with) a God who looks to punish me for missing the mark. I think the notion of "original sin" is especially thin as generally described (attributed to the dietary habits of our analogous predecessors in mythic writings) So, as I prefer to understand our proclivity to sin, I wrap it in an understanding of biological evolution: When we were "lower" beings (to use bad descriptive language) it was biologically advantageous to be self centered. To look out for number one, kill or be killed. But as we evolved (not sure we have) we became enlightened that we are communal and virtues such as altruism developed. Unfortunately there is biological baggage that we still have in our genetic make-up which rears its ugly head and we cannot suppress our self centered nature. Our ID Freud may call it. Someone pointed out that in the future we would hopefully be more "Christ-like". Yet our depections of ourselves in the future (Star Trek-Star Wars..) is really just us with cooler weapons. We're still monkeys throwing shit at each other. So I prefer to think of sinning as n expression of a biological holdover which once served us as a survival need, yet now can threaten our survival, spiritually and literally.