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
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.
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.
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.
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?
In Pixar’s movie Coco, one of my favorite lines is by Ernesto de la Cruz. Ernesto is a famous singer and performer, who is shown playing a priest in one of his films. After a woman in the film exclaims “Oh, but padre, he will never listen,” Ernesto de la Cruz responds,
“He will listen to music!”
Here Pixar has put a movie within a movie, and the theme of this sub-movie happens to be the exact same theme of the overarching film Coco.
Not only is this a great line to explain the motivations of the priest, but it is also a line that applies to Ernesto, and Miguel, the protagonist who looks to emulate him.
It’s a very meta moment. A movie within a movie. A segment that is delivered in an over the top way, almost comical, manner in the film within the film, has also the function of perfectly calling out the theme of the larger story. And the beauty is that Pixar does all this without ever using a single metaphor. The meta qualities of ite film allow it to remove layers, and spell things out for us calling things for what they are.
The closer the story within the story is to the actual story encompassing it, in terms of story plot, the closer the thematic references can be made. If the plot matches, the themes can be expressed with little to no obfuscation. No metaphors, no allegories.
All that mumbo-jumbo, plus the fact that Ernesto de la Cruz’s charms are unquestionable.
Ever think “what the fuck am i doing with my life”? Ever think that the purpose of all the struggle is? Am I making the best I can with my time in this Earth? The time we have is fleeting and it is tempting to want to do without diplomacy. Of any single endeavor I have embarked on people are the hardest part of the challenge.
Logic and emotion go hand in hand. We can’t forget whenever we try to appeal to somebody’s brain, that their heart is part of the package. Even those of us who think we are driven by logic have to deal with our internal emotions.
So I constantly remind myself that emotions are human but we don’t have to be driven by them. I can observe the world around me, I can observe my reactions to it, and accept the emotions without being at their mercy. The emotions will pass, just like my circumstances will change.
So what the fuck am I doing with my life? People, we bring joy and sorrow to each others. I don’t want to turn my back to humanity just yet, but also not letting my emotions write the story.
I just came out of a talk by Danielle Feinberg (Pixar’s Director of Photography for Lighting) titled ‘The Art of Science’. It was beautiful and inspiring as one would expect from Pixar.
The one concept that caught my attention was this idea of making do with what you can. Building something apparently very complex doesn’t necessarily need to be a complicated process. Danielle talked about using small, simple ideas as building blocks for more elaborate solutions. Sometimes you don’t need a very complex element to communicate an idea. Less is more.
She also reiterated that technique should go unnoticed, and always be in service of the story.
I removed the comments from this blog. The trigger was the GRDP law and how it affects sites that capture user data (via the comments form), but also the realization that I have zero comments on the site, so why bother. And do I really want comments on the site? Isn’t there some sort of freedom that comes knowing you have the last word.
I don’t link to this blog from anywhere, and my only visitors are a bunch of lost robots. This is really a small place. A quiet place to speak out loud. A place of discovery, and learning.
Like for instance: I meet John Harris today (digitally speaking, virtually?), who is a fucking master. Just look at this stuff:
So there you have it. Any comments? That’s what I thought.