Man vs. Machine

David Apatoff from the blog Illustration Art talks about one of my favorite topics in his essay for Phil Hale‘s book Let’s Kill Johnny Badhair: the conflict between man and machine, between natural and artificial, between creator and creation…

The clash between man and machine has inspired many legends, from John Henry’s race against the steam drill to John Connor’s struggle with Skynet. You might say it has become a central metaphor for our time. Like all great metaphors, the clash between man and machine offers both strength and flexibility. Its imagery is strong and clear while its message is flexible and ambiguous, permitting a wide variety of interpretations. For example, a clash between man and a machine might represent humanity’s clash with modernity, but it might also symbolize sterile efficiency against organic imagination. We might reflect on it as a statement on the endurance of the human will when flesh is pitted against metal; or the value of a soul in a conflict with the soulless; or the conflict between order and disarray.

—David Apatoff, Comic-Con 2016: Phil Hale

Man vs. Machine

Art by Phil Hale, from his book “Let’s Kill Johnny Badhair”.

Ernest Hemingway on the Daily Practice of Writing

You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice and know what will happen next and you stop and try to live through until the next day when you hit it again.
—Ernest Hemingway

Here is an interview conducted by George Plimpton on 1954:

[Hemingway] keeps track of his daily progress—“so as not to kid myself”—on a large chart made out of the side of a cardboard packing case and set up against the wall under the nose of a mounted gazelle head. The numbers on the chart showing the daily output of words differ from 450, 575, 462, 1250, back to 512, the higher figures on days Hemingway puts in extra work so he won’t feel guilty spending the following day fishing on the Gulf Stream.

— George Plimpton for the Paris Review, issue 18, Spring 1958

And here is Hemingway’s daily practice in his own words:

When I am working on a book or a story I write every morning as soon after first light as possible. There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write. You read what you have written and, as you always stop when you know what is going to happen next, you go on from there. You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice and know what will happen next and you stop and try to live through until the next day when you hit it again. You have started at six in the morning, say, and may go on until noon or be through before that. When you stop you are as empty, and at the same time never empty but filling, as when you have made love to someone you love. Nothing can hurt you, nothing can happen, nothing means anything until the next day when you do it again. It is the wait until the next day that is hard to get through.

Ernest Hemingway, The Art of Fiction No. 21

History of the Far Future

I love fiction and non-fiction stories that imagine the far, far future. One can think of flying cars and super-computers, but what comes ten thousand years after, or one million years after?

Nobody knows, but here are some stories that try to answer that question:

Lastly, here are a couple of links from Wikipedia with many more resources:

The Hero’s Identity

Video games, basically interactive storytelling, fulfill a great number of human needs. If only the rules of the game on real life where do clear…

Today, Cam has been sober from gaming for seven and a half years. For him, it was a problem that insinuated itself into every corner of his life over the course of his adolescence. “Gaming fulfills all of my needs in one thing,” Cam explained. He earned rewards consistently. Benchmarks for success were clear, tangible. He got his social interaction. Structure. It helped him forget about how he had dropped out of high school, lost friends, got too out of shape for hockey. Or his bullies, his deteriorating family life, his pretend jobs. He had an identity.

The Truth About “Video Game Addiction”

On Quiet Minds

Alan Lightman on the human need to spend quiet time unplugged and alone every day.

Invisibly, almost without notice, we are losing ourselves. We are losing our ability to know who we are and what is important to us. We are creating a global machine in which each of us is a mindless and reflexive cog, relentlessly driven by the speed, noise, and artificial urgency of the wired world.

Why we owe it to ourselves to spend quiet time alone every day

On the Value of Bad Art

Bad Art. It sounds awful.

I love Art. Art that is big, and confident. Art that is unapologetic and grand. Art with capital A.

But there is also beauty in “bad” art. The art that’s small and unpretentious, that is not educated, that is unfinished, rushed, abandoned. There are worlds of infinite complexity in the most simple of art.

And so it’s funny when you look at a piece of Art with a fat A–


–and then you put it next to this doodle by Austin Kleon:


Hard not to see how they stand equal side by side.

Sometimes I See People

When I’m in my head I see another world. I know I do. I see people that aren’t there for me under the daylight. I look at the eyes of a homeless man and I can see a soul. A universal, human soul that speaks of human struggles and dignity. I look at the face of a confident young professional and I see a fighter scared of the world. I look at an old woman and I see satisfied ambitions and dreams of new victories.

Are these stories real? I don’t know. But they feel real. More real than the blank masks we look at.

Maybe I should be able to see people all the time. Maybe we should feel more united than we feel apart. Maybe the climax of humanity will come when we believe each other to be even more than brothers and sisters, but One.

Inner Logic of Sci-Fi Stories

Readers, we’ll believe any fictional world a book describes, but once that world is established, the author can’t change the rules of the game. Whatever the crazy world a sci-fi writer can come up with, it has to have an inner consistency that can’t be broken.

In a story about an alien invasion you might be willing to accept the fact that aliens just landed on your backyard, but you would have a hard time believing unlikely behavior, such as the possibility that said aliens have fallen madly in love with you.

So don’t lie, and keep your stories consistent.

On Doing the Right Thing

There is pride that comes from doing the right thing with no regards for rewards or recognition. And this pride feels good. It really does.

—Some western hack

On the Robot Soul

When thinking about robots most of us ask ourselves several questions (I know I do). _Could humans build intelligent robots? Could we build a machine that is self-aware and conscious? Could robots have feelings and emotions? Could a machine have enough sensibility to write a poem that could move a human?

Maybe you believe that human beings are just the product of a particular configuration of particles (long ago set in motion) that eventually gave rise to life and intelligent. If so you are likely to believe also that such process can be repeated by humans. On the other hand, you might believe that there is another plane of reality to our existence, and that not everything we are and do can be explained by physics. In that case then, you might have serious reservations as to whether humans can build machines that can replicate Life. We are talking about “soul” (the traditional or the new age kind).

In truth I do believe that we are nothing that particles. But that’s just not the whole story. I do believe that we are driven by the laws of physics in this part of our cosmos. It is likely that those laws that govern reality are more complex than we know. And so, there might exist something as esoteric as hidden dimensions, instantaneous action across space time, or even a cosmic omnipresent “field of energy”. But I am also certain that those mysterious things–as much as they might look like magic to us today–are govern by specific, defined rules. Not religious ideals, but physical rules.

So back to the question, could machines become conscious beings? Sure.

Could robots have a soul? I don’t know. Do you?