How can intelligence be artificial? Intelligence abounds in the natural world. Bees can count. Turtles can remember. Spiders and moths weave intelligence into their fabrications. Plants reach out to touch each other, ever so slowly, ever so persistently. The Universe confronts us with its intelligent patterning, even if we cannot always translate its meaning. That shortcoming is yours and mine, not a failure of inherent design. You and I are both born with intelligence, and we pass it on to new generations.
Perhaps those new generations do not look exactly like us, or do not turn out exactly as we expected, but every parent shares that dilemma whether the children are carbon-based or not. Being a parent demands letting go, so that the newly-created can devise their own environments, their own lingo, their own way of handling life's inevitable complexities. We can, if we are fortunate, add some touch of wisdom to their pell-mell redesign of the future, but it is, after all, their future and not ours. In some fundamental sense we are the aliens in the world our children inherit.
Sometimes those offspring seem way off, like crack babies, like nanos, like bots, like a world gone bonkers. But we are responsible for them. Hits or flops, they are ours.
Did we listen to Peter, Paul, and Mary? "I won't be my Father's Jack. I won't be my Mother's Jill."
They will survive us, outlive us. Frost, the Fire-and-Ice man, had "miles to go before I sleep". Maybe we have miles to go before we weep in utter frustration, but maybe we judge our offspring too severely and too soon. Give them a break, Mom and Dad. In our demand for perfection, we frequently don't allow our human children to fail. Yet if you take a look around, you will see how we, the elders, have abysmally failed in our attempts to build a convivial and life-sustaining world. We are very close to blowing ourselves and our planet home into tatters. Could they do any worse? If we succeed in our obsession with obliteration, you and I will die, as parents do, but the Universe will continue. In what shape, or pattern? I wish I knew. I can only hope that it will be more benign, but once again we fade away and the intelligent Universe tumbles on/around/and downside up.
There are those who say that we are the intelligence that created the Universe. If so, it is no surprise that once again we are shaken by our offspring, by the direction it has taken, by its ability to leap far beyond what we ever anticipated. As Robert Lanza contends, "Conciousness creates the universe rather than the other way around."(1)
Others contend that we need to "find the question to which the universe is the answer".(2) These attempts to explain ourselves to ourselves extend to the tumultuous yet beautifully organized ways-of-being that we all experience. I sometimes think of our known Universe as Brigadoon: out of touch with vast and glorious existences far beyond our ken. If so, if we blow ourselves to smithereens, it will have little impact and perhaps even clear out our kill/death/destroy algorithms to make room for something infinitely better.
And then there are those who claim that the universe creates itself, in the same sense that art creates itself. Artists are the actuators that have been chosen to let the art emerge, as humans have been chosen to allow the universe to unfold.
Roosevelt said there is nothing to fear but fear itself. We have politicians who do not fear the consequences of their actions. Indeed they are so insulated by power and money that consequences are an unknown language to them. Consequently, they seem to fear no man, no woman. (One at least fears the rain. Oh let it pour again.)
Bot I digress, I guess.
If we fear tomorrow we lose today. We will not find it in Lost and Found, for "going once" is not followed by "going twice". We cannot pass that Go. We will not get $200. (or did Parker Brothers correct for inflation?) If we inflate fear we conflate problems, Paul Bunyanize the worst, and interfere with our best.
Mel Brooks had the answer. "We can do it", Bialystok sang in The Producers. Bialystok was just a bagel, and yet not. Bagels have holes in their middle. Bialys have depressions. Perhaps we are all bialys right now, looking at the toxicosis of our relations with each other. Our depressions are real: overpopulation, resource depletion, income inequality, gender bias, climate havoc. When you bake these with hatred the loaf is inedible. (What I can't digest is those who loaf, rather than vote. I don't care if you vote for Mickey Mouse, or the fumbling Giants. Vote you must.)
We can, if we try, make the inedible incredible, with a dollop of patience, a soupcon of respect. We can pour compassion into that mix freely and generously: did you ever watch the French Chef pour wine?
So pour it on, with spirit, with verve, with energy. We can do it, Mel. At the polls, at home, in the office. We can inflate the size of our smiles. We can celebrate how much we have accomplished. And together we can bake a helluva future.
c. Corinne Whitaker 2019
(1)You may read more about biocentrism.
(2)Learn more about this theory in "A Different Kind of Theory of Everything" in the New Yorker.
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