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Sat, 01 Apr 2023
The World for People who Think

Science of the Spirit


Mental jigsaw - How AI carves out space in your brain

Mental Jigsaw
Our minds project the world around us. That doesn't mean it's not there

With the explosion of AI chatbots and their bizarre statements, media attention has focused on the machines. Google's LaMDA says it's afraid to die. Microsoft's Bing bot says it wants to kill people.

Are these chatbots conscious? Are they just pretending to be conscious? Are they possessed? These are reasonable questions. They also highlight one of our strongest cognitive biases.

Chatbots are designed to trigger anthropomorphism. Except for a few neuro-divergent types, our brains are wired to perceive these bots as people. With the right stimulus, we're like the little boy who's certain his teddy bear gets lonesome, or that the shadows have eyes. Tech companies are well aware of this and use it to their advantage.

In my view, the most important issue is what these machines are doing to us. The potential to control others via human-machine interface is extraordinary. Modern society teems with lonely, unstable individuals, each one primed for artificial companionship and psychic manipulation. With chatbots getting more sophisticated, even relatively stable people are vulnerable. Young digital natives are most at risk.


The spirit has left us

cleaning blood stained carpet
They always tell stories of the quiet unproductive or dissolute wasteful sorry debauched lives many of the heirs of the wealthy and powerful lead. The lack of ambition or corruption is not invariable or inevitable, but it is common. The "regression to the mean" kicks in especially strong by the generation at two removes and more from the great man who sired the line. Think of Paris Hilton. Et cetera.

The point of these stories is in part to let us, the readers, feel better about ourselves. We didn't have a stratospherically rich granddaddy, but at least we're not desperately leaking perverted sex tapes to regain waning attention.

The other part is the cautionary tale aspect: these stories are metaphors showing the majority of the high and mighty fall despite their best attempts to secure their legacies.

Comment: See also:


What is the Longhouse?

© unknown
The Longhouse
Something has gone wrong in modern cultural and political life. Only those hopelessly numb, or deceived by the academic parlor tricks of someone like Steven Pinker, can observe the state of things and not see serious problems on the horizon. The Great and the Good have become the mediocre and the lame. The conditions necessary for civic and personal virtue have steadily eroded. Even if a cataclysm never comes, a civilization contenting itself to die on history's hospice bed is crisis enough.

In certain corners of the online right you encounter a term that is at first glance puzzling, "The Longhouse." Maybe you have heard this term. Maybe you have wondered what it means. Maybe this term means nothing to you. Even for those of us who use it, the Longhouse evades easy summary. Ambivalent to its core, the term is at once politically earnest and the punchline to an elaborate in-joke; its definition must remain elastic, lest it lose its power to lampoon the vast constellation of social forces it reviles. It refers at once to our increasingly degraded mode of technocratic governance; but also to wokeness, to the "progressive," "liberal," and "secular" values that pervade all major institutions. More fundamentally, the Longhouse is a metonym for the disequilibrium afflicting the contemporary social imaginary.

Book 2

A history of lost adventure: On the tragic death of the boys' adventure novel

haggard she
"If this don't fetch the kids, why, they have gone rotten since my day."
— Robert Louis Stevenson, while writing 'Treasure Island'
In 1887, H. Rider Haggard wrote a novel called She. She was an adventure into deepest Africa to rediscover a lost civilization dominated by a mysterious white goddess. The novel was an immediate success and a phenomenon at all levels of society. Freud and Jung referenced it in their psychoanalytic theories. Authors such as Rudyard Kipling, J.R.R. Tolkien, Graham Greene, and Henry Miller have acknowledged its influence on their own writing. The novel even developed many of the 'lost world' tropes that underlie the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Arthur Conan Doyle, H.P. Lovecraft, Robert Howard, and Abraham Merritt. Everyone, in other words, read She. Yet Haggard said he wrote it for boys.

Haggard isn't the only writer who wrote similar boys' adventure stories. Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island tells the story of young Jim Hawkins, and Dick Shelton, the hero of The Black Arrow, is "not yet eighteen." Stevenson, after being struck from the canon by Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group, has enjoyed a minor resurgence among academics prompted by Roger Lancelyn Green, one of the Inklings, who also wrote for boys. And, of course, many of those who I mentioned admiring Haggard also admired Stevenson and wrote boys' adventure fiction of their own. I would also be remiss not to mention the Hornblower series by C. S. Forrester, Lost Horizon by James Hilton, and the works of Harold Lamb, Jack London, Daniel Dafoe, Erskin Childers, Anthony Hope, and Rafael Sabatini.

But the boys' adventure novel - that is, stories written to boys "not yet eighteen" and set in exotic, but still broadly historical locales, with perhaps some light fantasy or romantic elements - is something of a dead letter these days. The Young Adult field today is far more focused on the fantasy elements and on stories written to a much broader audience to the degree that the two become easily distinguishable. Perhaps the last culturally relevant example of boys' adventure is Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe series, debuting in 1981. The series sold very well, but it's the exception that proves the rule. If you mention Alan Quartermain today, you'll be lucky if someone remembers Sean Connery's character from the 2003 film The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. The League opened alongside Pirates of the Caribbean, partly an homage to Stevenson's Treasure Island and itself the last great boys' adventure film. For twenty years that well has been dry as a bone.


Neurologists offer explanation for political polarization in societies

MRI scan
© Johnny Greig/Getty Images
MRI Scan
A study published in Science Advances links diametrically opposite perceptions to differences in neurobiological mechanisms...

The sheer level of political polarization witnessed in many societies these days may be down to the neurological makeup of those involved, a fresh study has indicated. Researchers believe the fact that different people perceive the very same event or notion in profoundly dissimilar ways may be a sign that their brains function differently.

The study published in Science Advances in early February, started with the premise that previous theories were missing some key factors when they postulated that political polarization is the result of people consuming information from selective news outlets. A team of researchers from Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island suggested the formation of entrenched political opinions may start at an earlier stage.

Comment: Are we thinking or reacting? What's your filter?


Reclaiming Diversity

diversity street fighter video game characters
© Capcom
This is diversity.
Tonic intersectionality is what makes everything awesome

All the best words get stolen from us. Woke now means its opposite. Therapy used to mean, well, therapy. Now it means castration. Inclusion used to be an inviting word. Now it pretty much means its opposite, self-censorship, and copy-and-paste thinking. "Gaslight" used to mean something. Now it just means someone is saying something you disagree with. Toxic used to be a good word too. No longer. Rainbows used to be cool.

Yes, Marxcissism is where words go to DIE.1

But one of my favorite words has been so maligned that I feel something must be done to rehabilitate its battered and flayed corpse: diversity. Not only is it the source of everything good in life, it's one of the basic principles underlying all of creation. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Over at The Radical American Mind, Grant Smith posted something you should definitely check out:


Tonic Intersectionality

race harmony hands interlinked tonic masculinity
© woraput/iStock
In the year 1989 Kimberlé Crenshaw introduced a new word to better articulate the overlapping nature of identity and its impact on how people relate to one another. As a prominent scholar of Critical Theory, Crenshaw noticed that discrimination laws weren't adequate in circumstances where discrimination was dependent on both gender and race. She was right of course. Laws meant to force people to treat everyone the same are difficult to enforce when what constitutes a protected class is very clear, let alone make determinations that consider the complex intersection between protected classes. This is a logical consequence of the fact that proving discrimination when it is directed towards a particular amalgam of these groups is nigh impossible, unless of course, you can read minds. The thing is, Crenshaw wasn't concerned about some random amalgam, as a self-described black feminist she was concerned about the intersection of discrimination against African American women specifically.

The classic example Crenshaw uses to illustrate this concept is the constructive discrimination against black female employees at General Motors in the 1970's who were fired under the auspices of a "last-hired-first-fired" seniority based provision in the company's labor agreement. The court recognized race and gender as protected classes under Title VII of the Civil Rights act, but expressed concern regarding the idea of creating new protected classes out of the various possible permutations of those already recognized. Judge Wangelin expressed his concern thus:
The prospect of the creation of new classes of protected minorities, governed only by the mathematical principles of permutation and combination, clearly raises the prospect of opening the hackneyed Pandora's box.


Near-death research slowly fills in the picture

© Unknown
In a survey article at Business Insider, Erin Heger points to several studies that shed light on what happens when we die.

She starts by referencing Julia A. Nicholson's recent account of her own NDE when she was 18, as a result of a near-fatal car crash:
"I didn't feel any pain but I heard voices around me. I could then hear my sister screaming, "She's dead, my sister is dead." So I believed that I must have died. I remember my sister, Allan, and John saying, "If you can hear us, move, or touch something," but I couldn't move at all.

"After I started to regain consciousness, I remember seeing the faces of the people that I loved flashing before my eyes. Every single face that appeared in my memory had something in common: they were the people that I loved and deeply cared about. I thought: I love all of these people, and I never got to tell them."

Nicholson survived to tell the story, of course, and — looking back — she reflects:
"Having a near-death experience caused me to have a sense of urgency to get things done, not knowing if my next minute alive would be my last. It also allowed me to live my life to the fullest, not worrying about other people's opinions or the fear of 'failure.'"
Near-death experiences are commonly life-changing events that provide evidence that the human mind is not simply a function of the body and appears, at times, to operate independently of it.


Brain area necessary for fluid intelligence identified

fluid intelligence
A team led by UCL and UCLH researchers have mapped the parts of the brain that support our ability to solve problems without prior experience -- otherwise known as fluid intelligence.

Fluid intelligence is arguably the defining feature of human cognition. It predicts educational and professional success, social mobility, health, and longevity. It also correlates with many cognitive abilities such as memory.

Fluid intelligence is thought to be a key feature involved in "active thinking" -- a set of complex mental processes such as those involved in abstraction, judgment, attention, strategy generation and inhibition. These skills can all be used in everyday activities -- from organising a dinner party to filling out a tax return.

Better Earth

Jordan Peterson against the spirit of totalitarianism

The article below was originally written for our Icelandic website at my request. The author knows Peterson well and has brought him over here twice for lecturing, with great success.

Gunnlaugur Jónsson is the founder and CEO of the Reykjavik Fintech Cluster. He is one of the founders of a startup called Veriate, whose mission is to transform discussions on the internet. His book on the banking system, personal responsibility and freedom, Ábyrgðarkver (The Little Book on Responsibility), was published in Iceland in 2012. He invited Dr. Jordan Peterson to deliver lectures in Reykjavik in June 2018 and June 2022.

* * * * *

I first became aware of Jordan Peterson over six years ago, when he publicly protested legislation designed to force people to use and memorize other people's made-up personal pronouns. I didn't get to know him personally then, but I followed what he posted online. Although his protest was important, it was not the most remarkable thing about him. His lectures in psychology had been available on YouTube for years and they were a treasure trove of musings, wisdom and knowledge.