Saturday, September 3, 2016

Why It’s Not So Great To Become A Robot

            Implicit in this column is not only the idea that people are gradually becoming robots, but also, that it is not a good thing that they become robots.  There has been some discussion about the problems related to this transformation, but I thought it might be good to dedicate a column to the negatives involved.

            What are some of the things that are missing in a robot’s existence?  For one thing, a robot is activated by a series of discrete data, signals, stimuli, that are not held together by a coherent sense of self.  As has been previously discussed, it is the flowing blendable continual stimuli that provide the glue that keep the sentient being that we call a human together.  Without these flowing blendable continual stimuli, a person cannot feel together enough, not only to have a coherent sense of self, but also to have the coherent perception and awareness of himself and of the external world that we call consciousness.  A person needs a coherent sense of himself to feel himself as a together entity.  Ideally a person also has self-definition, so that he can experience himself as having boundaries that separate him from other human beings as well as from the whole external world.  But to feel himself as indivisible from within, a person needs a coherent sense of self and, by extension, a coherent consciousness.

            This consciousness cannot be reduced to a series of stimuli and responses for the purpose of a scientific experiment.  That would also reduce the person’s sense of self to the manner in which it would be defined and circumscribed for the purpose of the experiment.  Consciousness is based on a flow of stimuli leading to a flow of perceptions leading to a flow of participation, none of which can be properly accessed within the limitations of a scientific experiment.  Even now, I am limiting consciousness with this description.  Consciousness also includes so many different mental processes that mediate not only between stimuli and responses, but also  between stimuli and perceptions.  It is the way we interpret what we perceive.

            This grounded mental activity is limited to animals, reaching its apogee with humans.  No matter how scientists and engineers try to approximate consciousness in the machines and robots they create, they have to break down the so-called mental activity they create into component parts, and, at the smallest level, defined discrete digital parts. Scientists and engineers cannot recreate the flows of blendable continual mental activity on which consciousness is based.

            Both a coherent sense of self and a coherent consciousness are essential to feeling vibrantly alive.  By feeling vibrantly alive I am not talking necessarily about experiencing things that make a person feel happy.  Rather, I am talking about the capacity to fully experience whatever one feels.  If one becomes numb and jaded from the sensory distortion of modern technological society, one’s sense of self and one’s consciousness are broken up, fragmented.  This, in turn, affects one’s capacity to feel fully present in one’s life.

            Without being fully present, it is not only difficult to make and receive the organic imprints that are necessary to feel alive.  It also means that life becomes a series of more distinct mediated experiences that lack the full flavor to make life feel more meaningful.  It is as if one were almost going along sliding off the surface of life, not feeling fully connected to anything, not feeling fully grounded in one’s living environment.

            Surrounded by lots of technological devices and immersed in a highly technologized living environment, there is no question that the intensity, the passion, the flavor have all diminished considerably for the average person moving through the events and the experiences of his daily life.  One often hears the expressions “I’m not really living.” Or “I haven’t really lived.”  It is quite possible that people who feel they haven’t really lived or they aren’t really living may very well be some of the people who are most obsessed with the idea of death.  If you feel you aren’t really living or you haven’t really lived, perhaps it makes you want to keep hanging onto life in the hopes of finding a way of pulling yourself out of numbness, so that you can start to really live before you die and, hopefully prepare for death in a proper way.

            I am sure there are some people who doubt not only that humans are gradually becoming robotized, but that the quality of life as it is lived and felt today is diminishing.  Such people want measurement and statistics and concrete evidence.  But a major point of this column is that many significant criteria for assessing quality of life are intangible and aren’t accessible to measurement and statistics.  And yet the decline in marriage and family and the growth of drug dependency and mental illness certainly seem to indicate that we have some big problems facing us.

            Perhaps the most important one is that robotization leads to weaker bonds between people and this threatens the whole flow of the human race from generation to generation.  Yes, climate change and environmental degradation are very important elements in the crisis humans face today.  My point is that healthy natural environments are important not only for keeping people physically alive.  They are also essential for keeping people psychologically alive, experientially alive.  Alive as organisms.  Alive as life.

            Talking about what allows people to feel fully alive means talking in terms of the way people experience flowing blendable continual stimuli, which are not susceptible to measurement or discrete definition and for which one has to use imprecise blurry language.  This is why I have always taken a philosophical approach to the subjects of sensory distortion and robotization, rather than an approach related to sociology, for example, which is focused on the defined discrete stimuli of statistics.

            Blurry intangible stimuli are not something that can easily be processed by a robot.  A robot would be forced to attempt to convert such stimuli into defined discrete measurable stimuli.  And yet a full experience of life is not something that can be done on the basis of defined discrete measurable stimuli alone.  Such stimuli do not provide the basis for strong organic bonds with other people or for strong organic grounding in one’s living environment.  In other words, a robot is not capable of experiencing the kind of stimuli that are necessary for feeling fully conscious and fully activated as an organism.  A robot is a machine that lacks free flowing consciousness, a sense of feeling alive from within, and a capacity to blur together to different degrees with other people and with its living environment for purposes of bonding and grounding.  A person has to give up a lot to become a robot.  So why is it that so many people are voluntarily moving in the direction of taking on the attributes of a robot?

© 2016 Laurence Mesirow

The Sanitized World Of Virtual Art

The extent of applications of technology in our modern world seems to have no bounds.  One particularly interesting group of applications deals with the ability to create within a virtual world of experience.  Sound Stage is a program which allows a person to set up a virtual music studio for creating music without the expense or, for that matter, the clutter of real solid equipment and instruments.  In terms of the technology, only one piece of hardware is required.  Tilt Brush is a 3D painting program that allows a person to paint in virtual reality.  And what Tilt Brush is for painting, Medium is for sculpting.  It allows a person to manipulate a virtual object and to shape it as if it were made of real matter.  Whereas Sound Stage avoids clutter, Tilt Brush and Medium avoid material waste products and the messes made from them.  Clutter, waste products, messes – sounds like things that we all would like to avoid in our lives.  Most people have an inherent dislike of the disorder and chaos that clutter, waste products and messes generate.  There are people today whose job it is to go around to other people’s homes to help them sort out the messes and clutter that have developed from the agglomeration of their possessions.  Get rid of the possessions that aren’t really needed or desired and put some order in the possessions that remain.  Clutter and mess are dirty words (no play on words intended) to people who think like this.

            However, for many creative people, a certain amount of mess or clutter in their lives may not only be normal for them, but may even be more comfortable for them.  Mess and clutter provide a kind of environmental grounding for them.  The different things and materials that eventually form a perceptual blur in their residences and studios, create a kind of reassuring organic connection for them.  Seeing the mingling of different materials and things acts as an unconscious stimulus for different creative connections in their minds leading to the further development of components and aspects of works of art.

            Far fewer of these implicit organic connections appear in habitations and workplaces where everything is very neat and orderly.  Things and materials in such environments can be experienced as clumping together in fully defined discrete free-floating figures that float in the sterile empty vacuum spaces in which they exist.  Implicit creative connections are not as easily made in such formalized environments that contain relatively few overlapping phenomena.  Placed in a different perspective, messy cluttered habitations are conducive to acting as templates for creative connections in the minds of creative people.

            And messy cluttered environments may not just be good for artists.  There are many articles that show that messy desks are associated with innovative people in whatever field is considered.  For such people, messy desks can be both a source of comforting grounding and of organic stimulation.  In contrast, a neat orderly desk and living environment may be conducive to thinking in neat orderly practical ways.  Finding the shortest, most efficient, defined discrete pathway to solving a problem.  In other words, conventional solutions to conventionally defined problems.  The difficulty with this approach is that many problems in work and in life look simple on the surface but, in reality, have many complex aspects with which to deal.  Complex problems are usually uniquely complex, having a special combination of problematic factors.  Such problems cannot be solved by an approach of finding the shortest distance between two points.  They often require creative innovative intuitive solutions that have more indirect, even convoluted, pathways.  They often require creative thinkers who work well in more messy cluttered environments.

            Which brings us back to possible problems with the process of creating within virtual environments.  All the virtual applications that we talked about at the beginning of this article don’t have mess or clutter in using them.  Sound Stage is free of the clutter that comes from equipment and instruments lying around.  In Tilt Brush, it would be a freedom from the mess that comes with paint that is used on palettes but also that can get on everything: on clothing, furniture, and floors.  Also no more clutter from paints, brushes, and canvasses lying around.  In Medium, it would be the freedom that comes from a lack of all the dust that gets on everything and the discarded pieces of sculpture material that come from creating any sculpture in the real world.  Also no need for the clutter of different sculpture tools.

            I would submit that the clutter and messes just elaborated on actually help a creative person, even while he is in the process of creating his artistic works.  As the work is created, the mess and clutter are created, and they become a kind of encompassing organic grounding, a template that helps to stimulate the ongoing interaction between the artist’s creative tools and the work of art that is being created.

            In other words, it is the contention of this article that a certain amount of mess and clutter actually stimulate creativity.  And when people consider the lack of mess and clutter in Sound Stage and Tilt Brush and Medium as benefits, because then, one supposes, one can create in a totally sanitized vacuumized focused environment with only neat defined discrete phenomena with which to deal, these people have a flawed understanding of creation.  In nature, childbirth is messy.  Planting trees is messy.  Cultivating crops is messy.  Raising animals is messy.  You can’t get away from messes when dealing with creative processes in nature.

            But we must remember that people today are trying to transcend above their organic natures in order to break away from the cycle that includes organic perishability.  As much of an oxymoron as it is, people today are trying to explore paths that lead to the development of robotic creativity.  A creativity that transcends above the arbitrary uncontrollable mingling of different kinds of matter and things that in and of itself represents a kind of primary unfocused creativity.  On the other hand, robotic creativity supposedly allows a person to preserve an imprint in a vacuum, before it has been made with the supportive stimulation of surrounding messes and clutter.  Such creativity produces imprints (audio as well as visual) that are sparse in the kind of flowing continual blendable stimuli that are an essential part of the experiencing of traditional more organic works of art.  Without these stimuli, meaningful connections cannot be formed between the viewers or the audience, on the one hand, and the works of art on the other.

            In today’s world, messes and clutter get a bad rap.  At least in the area of the creative arts, this bad rap is not deserved, and, on the contrary, messes and clutter are an essential element of the whole creative process.

(c) 2016 Laurence Mesirow

Making A Good Impression On The World

One of the most fundamental concepts that has been discussed in this column is that people need organic imprints to feel fully alive and to prepare for death.  An organic imprint need not be a direct physical impression on a surface in the external world.  It can also be a mental impression, an idea or series of ideas that are conveyed sometimes through a physical object – a book, a magazine, a newspaper, and now we have digital books and online magazines and newspapers.  It can also be a mental impression conveyed through speeches, discussions and oral and written agreements and contracts.  It can also be conveyed by different people to one another in everyday human interactions.

            But before a person conveys organic imprints to other people using any of the different methods just discussed, he has to be able to convey imprints to himself.  Unless a person can leave organic imprints of all his actions, thoughts and feelings on himself, he can’t experience them and he can’t feel alive.  A person has to be able to experience making organic imprints on himself, if he is going to be capable of experiencing making organic imprints on other people.  If he can’t experience the effects he has on himself and on other people because he is too numb, then he is merely an automaton or a robot.  Automatons and robots are run by bundles of discrete digital stimuli and don’t have coherent consciousness or a coherent sense of self.  They are lacking in the capacity to absorb or produce flowing continual blendable stimuli that are a fundamental component both of experiencing organic imprints as well as of producing them.

Once it is established that a person is capable of experiencing the organic imprints he leaves on himself and not simply going through the motions of life like an automaton or robot, then it can be assumed that the person is going to make imprints on other people that he is, in turn, capable of experiencing himself.  In most instances, those imprints can be assumed to be imprints that he makes in his everyday encounters with people.  Everything from his appearance to other people, casual conversations, formal meetings, ceremonies, classes, embraces, fights, and sex.  Some of these imprints like casual conversation, embraces, fights and sometimes sex (when it focuses on pleasure) are not imprints that a person consciously makes with thoughts of their being preserved in the future.  Rather, the emphasis is on making imprints on others in such a way that a person can experience himself making imprints on others and thus feel alive.  Others of these imprints like formal meetings, ceremonies, classes and sex (when it focuses on pregnancy) are imprints that are made with a conscious desire to preserve them for the future.  In truth, more casual encounters can become preserved memories in the minds of people who experience them, even though they do not involve imprints that are made to be preserved.  Casual encounters, usually cumulatively, become a preserved memory in the minds of people who experience a series of encounters with a particular person.  The series of encounters become a cumulative preserved memory in the minds of people who survive the person here being considered as a maker of imprints.

So there are different kinds of preserved imprints.  There are imprints that are preserved inadvertently from a person’s casual encounters with others.  Then there are imprints that are preserved as a result of a conscious effort through what should be described as more planned encounters with others.  Some preserved imprints last for just a generation until the last person with preserved memories of a deceased person passes away himself.  Some preserved imprints last longer, maybe even multiple generations.  A pregnancy that leads to an imprint that lasts at least one generation, but that through possible succeeding generations of children can go on more.  A planting of a tree.  A building of a house.  The creation of an enduring business.  In particular, a brand name or branded product that lasts a few generations. 

Some preserved imprints become a part of history.  A famous event such as a general leading his troops into a famous battle.  A whole war.  A revolution.  A peace treaty.  A constitution.  An expedition of exploration.  A scientific discovery.  The breaking of a record in a sports competition.  A famous book – a narrative or a treatise that leaves an indelible memory on a nation or on mankind.  A famous work of art or musical composition.  A play.

But all imprints have certain basic requirements in order to exist.  They all require a coherent organic sense of self on the part of a human who makes one.  And to be properly absorbed, they all require a coherent organic sense of self in a person who receives it and absorbs it.  Even though a flag is left on the moon, it only has meaning as an imprint, because there are humans who know that it’s there.  An archaeological excavation of a civilization is itself an imprint, because humans have rediscovered what had been a dominant previous imprint and have ascribed significance to it.  Without humans being aware of the significance of the excavation, the imprint of the dead civilization has no meaning.

The problem today is not only a lack of physical organic surfaces on which to leave certain kinds of basic organic imprints.  Yes, we live primarily in modern technological living environments with a lot of sensory distortion as a result of the vacuum and tension pocket fields of experience that are created in the physical external world.  But we also are creating another problem as a result of the increasing robotization of human beings.  To the extent that humans are receptive to the mirroring and modeling created by modern technological devices and, in particular, modern consumer technological devices, to that extent they become less and less receptive to the organic imprints that they can leave both on themselves and on others as well as the organic imprints that the people around them are capable of leaving on them.  As a result of becoming increasingly less receptive to imprints, both those they create and those that others create, people today are gradually becoming less and less capable of participating in the two broad purposes of life: feeling fully alive and preparing for death.  As a result of becoming increasingly numbed and jaded from their technological living environments, humans are participating less and less in what has traditionally been the fundamental human enterprises.

            Organic imprints are crucial to all animals, but they are particularly crucial to human beings with their rich variety of life experiences and their capacity to somehow extend their lives over time beyond their death through their surrogate immortalities.  Organic imprints are not only a product that emanates from a more organic coherent sense of self, but they, in turn, activate this sense of self to life.  The sensory distortion of modern technological devices and modern technological living environments disrupt this loop of stimulation and thus gradually weaken the organic sense of self, turning a modern human into a more fragmented brittle entity mentally.  A sense of self that turns into a bundle of overly defined discrete disjointed data.  To the extent that excessive involvement with modern technology leads to the weakening of the organic human sense of self, the weakening of the capacity to feel vibrantly alive and to prepare for death, we can say that this excessive involvement is immoral and something that has to be more effectively studied in order to limit human interaction with this technology.

© 2016 Laurence Mesirow