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José Yañez fashion

Feb. 12, 2023

Dr. David Fialk, Editor / Publisher

José Yañez, a local fashion designer, made me a present of a small bottle of liquor he distilled from a certain wild berry he harvested on a hillside in his home state of Michoacán. When José was a boy, he would ride horses up into the mountains with his grandfather, visiting remote villages, far from any road.

Some years after receiving his gift, while I was praising how delicious it was, José corrected me: "It's wasn't made from a berry. It was made from the small fruits of a certain bush." I smiled and thanked him for the clarification.

Recently, with the advent of ChatGPT, Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been very much in the news. While informing myself on the subject by listening to experts in the field, I thought of José and his liquor.

Joscha Bach, a frighteningly intelligent man, equates religion's idea of spirit with the idea of an operating system (OS). An operating system is an ecosystem that ties things together, the environment that runs things, the big, defining picture, the point of it all. Your digital device has an OS. Macintosh's way of connecting to the internet, handling files (text and images) and programs (Whatsapp, Photoshop...) is different than Windows'. iPhone's OS is different than Android's.

Joscha Bach

Bach says that countries and cultures, animals and people all have operating systems, a unifying, master plan that organizes the parts, keeping everything working together towards the prime directive. Our human OS is designed to help us navigate a world filled with many creatures, many of which are, just like us, people.

This holistic function, this overriding, defining, meta-principle, Bach equates with religion's idea of spirit. He notes, with great irony, that it's taken science a long time to arrive at what religion has understood for thousands of years.

If I believe José Yañez regarding Michoacán berries, it seems that I should also take his word for how people in the mountains there cook over open fires and any other point of Michoacán cuisine or culture. José should be my authority about Michoaca.

Similarly, if Bach admits that religion got the concept of spirit correct thousands of years before science did, it seems he should grant some authority to, should be interested in, what religion has to say about spirit.

José Yañez

So, too, until very recently, the dominant scientific opinion about consciousness was that it didn't exist, or, at best, that it was an epiphenomenon, a trick caused by the electrical activity of the brain. But today, admitting that you cannot get blood from a stone, science admits that something as elegantly nuanced as consciousness could never have evolved from inert matter in the four billions of years it has had to do so. Current scientific theory has it that mind just exists as a primal force, like gravity or electromagnetism.

Here again, you'd think that these Johnny-come-latelies would be interested in what the experts on the subject, what mystics, shamans and meditators have been saying for thousands of years about the mind. But such is not the case.

This prejudice is no doubt due to Scientific Materialism, a philosophical bias at the heart of the Scientific Revolution three centuries ago, and still with an honored place in the academy.

Society in the 1700s was fascinated by the life-like clockwork automatons that artesans were building at the time. Wind them up and the little robotic man moved his limbs, eyes and mouth, the metal bird flapped its wings.

Orthodox science, then and now, holds that all things, human beings included, are clockwork, or biological, mechanisms, similar to the windup toys those fine lords and ladies played with in their parlors. It holds that nature, people included, differs from these toys only in the degree of complexity of our mechanisms. Materialism's close cousin, Determinism, the opposite of free will, holds that the behavior of everything and everyone is determined by the forces at work on it or us the moment before.

René Descartes

René Descartes agreed with materialism, up to a point. But beyond that, he reasoned that since thoughts are immaterial they are evidence of a non-material spirit. He is still ridiculed for his unorthodox dualism, his "ghost in the machine".

Artificial General Intelligence (AGI), turning the tables on the tradition of 18th century windup toys, is trying to program the ghost into the machine, attempting to build a machine that will think like a person. But Noam Chomsky is pessimistic on the subject, and his opinion carries weight.

Thought seems to be similar to speech; we think like we speak. And Chomsky, the world authority on linguistics, is very doubtful that we will ever build our thinking machine. Actually, he is quite bitter about the "tricks" that lead to billions of dollars and megawatts of California's electricity being poured into this dead-end. To paraphrase Chomsky, "The only thing the Large Language Model knows how to do is plagiarize."

Noam Chomsky

The auto-complete function that suggests words while you type is an example of Artificial Intelligence (AI). It's the G in the AGI that is the problem. General Intelligence is the capacity to learn about things in general, anything that comes your way, on your own. It's something we humans do all the time, when we have a simple conversation, when you understand these words on this page. But it's hard to imagine ever making General Intelligence, giving it to a machine. Right now, AI is a great tool. But it needs to be shepherded along, pointed in the right direction, by a human intelligence.

François Chollet, Google's expert on AI agrees with Chomsky: AI's development "has nothing to do with AGI, which is a pipe dream".

François Chollet

Learning makes use of imagination and intuition, takes place in fanciful leaps rather than linearly, is more poetic than rational. Existence is not explained by mechanics. Despite a superficial similarity, windup toys do not resemble life. Submarines do not swim. Computers will never think.

Human consciousness cannot be reproduced by composition, by adding pieces together, even a great number of pieces. Despite scientific showmanship and over-reach, our spirit, our operating system cannot be put in a box, no matter how big the box.

To get its meager results ChatGPT uses enough electricity to power a small town. Our exquisite consciousness does so much more, so much faster and with so much less energy; less energy than it would take to light a 25 watt lightbulb.

The machine might be able to determine which plant grew the fruit, but it will never appreciate the flavor of the liquor, nor the feel of being horseback in the mountains of Michoacán.


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