June 2011


Artificial Intelligence or Transmigration of Thought, Mind and Soul?

The movie, Avatar to some students, is a boring movie with blue smurfs cast in a repetitive theme reminiscent of  Pocahontas. Childish. Inconsequential.  In other words, both thumbs down. To them I say, when you’re a little older- watch it again. And then again.

I agree with them that elements of the movie are taken from Indian culture- the naturalists’ idea of love the earth that feeds you and provides for you,  the inter-dependence  that exists between nature, man and beast.  Beyond the American Indian theme, it reminds me of the Buddhist dogma of “do no wrong”  as well. I  love the movie. Two thumbs up. -And not because of the all too obvious jab at capitalist lust and greed for limited resources, and thus the creation of perpetual war -I’m not that snarkey or pessimistic-or political, but because it’s a story of the struggle for courage and morality achieved through the unlikely means of transmigration- from one state of mind and existence to the other, from one reality to another.

In a very subtle but artistic manner, Avatar introduces to a young audience the big ideas that have been debated for centuries. When we dream do we escape the reality of our very ordinary life, travel to distant lands and return to ourselves, and maybe as a better person?  Or are dreams just memories and a reprocessing of the days events; are they a creative means of escape that is otherwise not possible?

In a bed with who-know-what wired to his brain, Sully falls to some kind of sleep or coma condition and his mind connects to its avatar. Is he  dreaming a dream and in a dream state, or is he alive and awake and actually in an avatar body and enjoying all the freedoms and sensations the same as his human body? Philosophically,  this is a good example of Descartes’ Cartesian dualism, and being captain of the ship, but separate from the ship body.  Which life is real? The one in the bed, or the avatar?  Is he human or is he machine? Scientifically, when I ask the class if they think this transmigration of sorts is possible, the majority answer, yes. Indeed.

I attended the MIT symposia, Minds, Brains and Machines hoping to learn new ideas and data about how the brain works. Instead I learned more details about the direction for AI. Artificial Intelligence had been on my mind but usually in reference to robotics. I think robots will settle the moon for example, not humans.  But there was little talk of robots and what their function will be throughout society. Not putting intelligence and programming into robots, the future seems to be the opposite- putting intelligence and programming into us. We are moving toward an AI integration, not sooner or later, but sooner. To that point, is science and research merely following Hollywood scripts?  Will we be Sully someday, in two places at the same time , enjoying life and all its freedoms, living two different experiences? It appears that we are  moving toward that frontier.  As super-humans we’ll be machinated and immortal, but will  we forget we once thought without programming? Machines, robots and AI  have a place in an industrialized economic society, but we are humans, not machines.  We are a unique species and we should embrace our mortality and all our imperfections and leave it to the machines to be machines.

Does the dream end?

If a dream inside a dream is a dream,   does the capability of the lucidity of existing in three places and three realities at the same time end when the dreamer wakes from the dream?

Is life an illusion we create for the sake of reality?

These questions  have simple answers, but they’re fun to debate because we all know that whatever we give as an answer is theoretical and therefore open to argument.  Each generation questions its place in society – from the individuated perspective and from the perspective of the greater collective, and each generation changes the answer in some way from the generation before them.  Nothing is carved in stone- nothing! I think our  eagerness to argue and redefine what has already been defined is because we don’t want to be our parents;  we don’t want to be those who were before us. We want to be ourselves, – so we seek ways to create that distinction.  However slight the separation between the past and the present  perspectives and theories may be, they do act as a reflection of who we are and  the culture in which we live.  Like the rings of a tree trunk tell the story of the tree’s existence, the ever-modifying answers to existential questions are a reflection of the times,  and society’s perspective of how we perceive knowledge.

However, it is also true that the majority consensus  says one thing, while an individual silently believes another. – It is that individual, in the circle of change who will forge the path for future generations to follow.

At Commentary Magazine, Jonathan Tobin has an article about anti-Semitism. Full article at  Contentions:

Should the federal government intervene when an American university permits its campus to become unsafe for Jews? When the prevailing atmosphere on campus is hatred against Israel and all things associated with the Jewish people?After a long and involved debate, the Obama administration finally did the right thing last October and stated definitively that such conduct is impermissible at institutions that receive federal funding. While that ruling, which was prompted by an epidemic of anti-Semitic harassment of Jewish students at the University of California at Irvine, ought to have been welcomed by both academia and the organized Jewish world, it has now been challenged by the American Association of University Professors. In a newsletter on the AAUP website, Cary Nelson (the association’s president) and Kenneth Stern of the American Jewish Committee contend that recent events on American university campuses—at Berkeley, Santa Cruz, and Rutgers in addition to Irvine—do not rise to the level of a “working definition” of anti-Semitism. Calls for redress by Jewish students and professors are nothing more, they conclude, than an unscrupulous effort to “censor anti-Israel remarks.”

For my experience I’ve not heard of antisemitism or antisemitic actions on any of the Fenway campuses, in fact it’s been the opposite with a great diversity and tolerance. I can say the same for Harvard and MIT. However, I made a very deliberate choice to not attend Smith College because of the intolerance.  I made my choice; rather than change the campus, the students  and the professors who propagate intolerance I elected to attend a campus where I felt at home. Yes, Smith had a program I very much wanted to study, but not enough that I was willing to sacrifice who I am and what I hope to be that I would make myself over to reflect their politics . I have to assume that those who do attend universities such as Smith where Israel can’t seem to do anything “right”  in the eyes of the professors, attend knowing the politics in advance and feel as much at home as I felt alienated. I have said many times, we seem to be unremembering everything we should have learned.  I have no answer as to why anti-Semitism  is on the rise in the US,  except it has to be taught; that it’s coming from our college campuses- therein lies the tragedy. Not to be forgotten is that in many cases this fervor against Israel is purchased, not inspired. The same for environmentalism and political campaigns.    If you’re young and looking for a good job this summer in the Boston area, Craigslist is listing many opportunities for activists at Downtown Crossing.  The positions are paid- not volunteer- and well above minimum wage.  I don’t know the source(s) of this fountain of money. But how easily the heart and mind of these “activists” are purchased is something I’ve yet to see put into a chart or analyzed by an academic institution.  No doubt we’d be shocked. Shocked! The UN is the bigger problem, if not the root.   Not only is there little interest in protecting democracy and nurturing  freedoms it has become incapable of it. Few politicians stand up to their intolerance  or dares debate the depth and breadth of the problem. Evidently the importance of  not offending world opinion, even when it supports and propagates oppression and destruction, has become more valuable than the importance of truth,tolerance,  ethics and equality.  America has a unique history as a stalwart and steady voice for democracy so we should not be surprised that leftists and socialists want that  history tarnished and the future altered, but what is surprising is the degree to which they are able to achieve it and to the peril of this once great  country.