"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Thursday, June 8, 2023

ChatGPT, Fake News, And Virtual Reality–No One But Government Cares

America is a fake news country, a nation of glitz, glamour, Hollywood, and vaudeville.  Reality is up for grabs, a fungible commodity, easily exchangeable or imagined.  There has always been something about the larger than life, the fantastical, and the impossibly beautiful which has always been appealing.  Virtual reality has always been in the cards – who needs or wants the drab and the ordinary? Life, said Ivan Karamazov’s devil, would be boring without me.  Who wants a life of honesty, piety, and unrelenting goodness? We all need a bit of evil and some nastiness.  I make life interesting since you are incapable of it.

Sympathy for the Devil in Russian Literature - Russian Tumble

Ours has always been a country of fantasy and image.  Hollywood for more than a century has turned out imaginary, romantic dramas.  Soap operas, star magazines and women’s romantic fiction, one of the most popular literary genres ever, assume a suspension of disbelief, cater to an ethos of idealism, hope, and opportunity, and shamelessly appeal to simplistic emotions.

The social media have shown that we are quite willing to accept our own versions of the truth and none other.  Truth and facts, never hot commodities in a country of snake-oil salesmen, carny barkers, evangelists, and vaudevillians, have less traction than they ever did. All of which is to say, that we are ready for a completely virtual world – not just an occasional dip into the unreal, but an embrace of it so entire that any residual claim on reality will be jettisoned.

Americans have always been free-floating, untethered from land, caste, and history.  There is no point in being mired in a Hobbesian short, nasty, and brutish life when aspiration cleanses the spirit and makes all seem within reach.  Hollywood and Las Vegas are America; so virtual reality was only the next step, conclusive that reality is not all it’s cracked up to be. When the symbiosis between electronic media and human brain is complete and each of us will be able to create visions like no other, tethered to nothing, a world of our own making based on nothing more than desire and peculiarity.

Thomas Hobbes Quotes

In other words reality is but a convenience.  ‘Blue’ is a convention regardless how each of us see it. Trees always make noises because the laws of physics say they do, regardless of any metaphysical issues. Simply because reality is a convenience and an integral part of our daily lives, many of us are reluctant to give it up.  Those who believe in alternate universes, astral projection, and impossible physics are kooks, outliers, not to be taken seriously. Yet when virtual reality become a reality, all these theories will be acceptable.  Logic will be an option.

Why should anyone prefer the humdrum, prosaic, and entirely predictable world of brick-and-mortar experience when one can explore the jungles of the Amazon, dine with the Duchesse de Nantes in her chateau, stroll through the gardens of Versailles to the music of Bach played by Louis’ own chamber orchestra, bed Scarlett Johansson, Marilyn Monroe, and Marisa Tomei, travel to Mars, and sample concoctions of the most famous chefs that have ever lived? No one.

Few of us bother about abstruse concepts; and it is probably a good thing.  We have enough on our plates without adding metaphysical doubt.  Others worry obsessively about current events; and even those who correctly see them within the context of history and realize that plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose, wonder how we got ourselves in such a pickle.  It would be too much to ask to reflect on the nature of reality.

The train has left the station.  Virtual reality, complete symbiosis between mind and machine, Artificial Intelligence, and the loosening of logic’s hold are the future.

The comedian and political commentator Bill Maher recently criticized Zuckerberg and Meta, urging young people to reject this fantasy virtual world.  ‘Get off the couch and get a girlfriend’, he said.  A real girlfriend.  But he and others who are desperately holding on to a fading, passé world do not get it, can never get it.  They are too wedded to the real taste of a cold beer, the soft touch of a woman’s breast, the bracing cold of an October morning; when the virtual representations of them will be even more exciting, more stimulating.

There will be no mediation in this new virtual world.  The bright red leaves of Vermont will be exactly the red we want to see – brighter, more vivid, more spectacular; or more subtle, muted, and nostalgic.  Fall will be our Fall, not Vermont’s.

Donald Trump is the first President to have understood the real ethos of America – the America of the movies, the fabulous spin of advertising, and the marvelous tales of happiness.  We are not upset about fake news because we have always lived in a world of subjective truth; and in reaching that conclusion we are no different than metaphysicians like Bishop Berkeley who asked ‘what is, and how do we know it?’. 

He and later philosophers questioned the nature of perception and how it determines reality.  Berkeley’s question ‘If a tree falls in the forest and there is no one there to hear it fall, does it make a sound?’ suggested the subjectivity of reality.  Artists like Browning, Durrell, and Kurosawa suggested that although there might be such a thing as reality, it is only relative  - what one observes. 

Hubbard's ReelzChannel picks up Miss USA pageant after Trump flap

Each of these writers and filmmakers told stories from the perspective of different characters, all of whom saw the same event differently.  Police forensic psychologists have known that eyewitnesses cannot be trusted.  They are too influenced by prior events, social conditioning, personality, and personal circumstance to be counted on for objective accuracy.

We come by this understanding via a different route.  A culture based on image, fantasy, and fabulous dreams cannot but value the subjective over the objective.  Why is it necessary to pin down Donald Trump down when we don’t care about whatever truth may underlay is confabulations.  We viscerally, subjectively, and passionately get his message, spun like a true carny barker or televangelist.  

The new world of ChatGPT is our medium, for now the demarcation between real and fake, subjective and objective, imagined and happened has disappeared. With its marvelous ability to change anyone into anything, weave the most believable but untrue stories about them, place them in setting where they would never go , ChatGPT is revolutionary.  It is hilarious to see Joe Biden as the transgender drag queen he champions. Any speech, any public appearance can be wholly, absolutely, completely fake, so ‘real’ that no one can tell the difference.

Finally, say those who get Donald Trump.  Their man had it right from the beginning.  The truth itself is fake, the world is indeed a stage, we are all players and nothing more.  Only the entrenched Washington elite is upset by all of this, and damned determined to do something about it.  Rather than stop and think about how life will never be the same again, or that metaphysics texts will have to be rewritten, or that a virtual, subjective, fake life was always in play, in the cards, and a done deal centuries ago, politicians can only say, ‘Shut it down!’. 

Censorship is the easiest button to push. A priori judgements, always the stock in trade of progressives, are now becoming universal.  ChatGPT is wrong, bad, inhuman, destructive because it just is.  Tautology, another easy refuge, is back in vogue. 

The genie is out of the bottle, and there is no putting him back.  ‘Reality’ has become old-fashioned, out-of-date, and hopelessly useless as a marker.  Deconstructionists have nothing to deconstruct.  How can you deconstruct fiction?

Of course Iowa farmers will still produce corn, Walmart is still very much in business, Wall Street and the Fed will still determine how much and for how long; but they too eventually will be folded in to a radically transformed world.  And when the human genome is finally completely decoded and when human beings will have ultimate choice over who they want their children to be, and a whole new, engineered race emerges into a virtual world, the revolution will be complete.  There will be no going back.

So government is gearing up to clamp down.  This cannot stand! politicians howl when they see caricatures of themselves gone viral, lies and distortions of their policies spread by weird avatars, the world itself gone awry and completely crazy.

Big Brother in 1984 by George Orwell | Quotes & Character Analysis - Video  & Lesson Transcript | Study.com

Where did you think this whole identity thing was going? Thanks to ChatGPT you don’t have to dress like a woman, say you’re a woman, and use women’s facilities, you can be a woman and let your avatar do the talking for you. 

So, there will be a period of censure, extreme censorship, and media lockdowns; but none of it will have any impact whatsoever.  It’s too late. 

Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Death In The House Of Strathmore–Strange Murders On The Black Prairie Of Mississippi

“I did not kill that man”, said Lavinia Holt in the Beecham County courthouse to the judge, the jury, and Harlan Pickens, the District Attorney.  The entire country suspected she did, although the evidence presented by the defense was enough to acquit.  Yale Holt had been drunk that night, belligerent, and half-cocked as he came up the stairs after her, standing like Cleopatra in her silk caftan, embroidered with snakes; a diamond tiara on her trussed and gold-braided hair.  

He had stumbled and fallen two floors to his death, soaking the Kashmiri carpet with his blood and flecking the Roman copy of Apollo with bits of his brain.  “He fell, and that was all there was to it”, Lavinia testified.

Beauty Flashback: Elizabeth Taylor, Cleopatra

Of course that was not all there was to it, and as much as the jury had been instructed to disregard any innuendo or suggestion of impropriety in her past life, this was Beecham County where everyone knew something about Lavinia Holt, the suspicious drowning of her lover, the untimely deaths of her two Natchez cousins, and stories of strange visitations of the dead.

It was the house itself, however, which was recalled more than any of the happenings within it or the doings of the five generations that had lived there. 

Lavinia, in a long soliloquy of reminiscence and illusion allowed by the judge because of ‘context’, provided far more than a background of innocence, but the stuff of the rumors and innuendoes which she hoped would acquit her.

“After my husband left the first time', she began, "I moved to the front bedroom. It has a balcony overlooking the street, and if the weather wasn’t too cold at Christmas, I would step outside and watch the guests arriving.  I always imagined how it must have been in the days before the War – polished black phaetons with finely-groomed horses drawing up to the gate, our gas lights lit, the door decorated with a wreath and holly berries, the Negro butler opening the door, and the master of the house greeting his guests. It would have been warm inside with fragrances of flowers, perfume, firewood and pine.

“My room was at the top of the stairs across from the Southern Room. While it was decorated with the same care as the others, all the furnishings were my own. I had my own vanity table with the comb and brush I used as a girl. My own grandparents’ photographs are on the walls. My diary, covered in pink lace and secured with a little brass lock and key, was on my bedside table along with the books I read as a child. 

"I created a sitting area in the sunny corner of the room like the one my mother used and put her oval Victorian mirror, her tortoise shell combs, her cut glass perfume bottles with their crystal stoppers in it. On the writing table I put my souvenirs – two tickets to the rides at the Augusta fairgrounds and one from the Atlanta Symphony."

Lavinia said that she had decorated and furnished every room differently. On the vanity table in the Southern Room she put a diary of a young Civil War bride whose husband had been sent to Vicksburg; and put a small potpourri next to it, imagining that the dried flowers might be just like those that the bride’s husband had given her, and that the scent might be like that of those she had pressed in the book.

She put a silver hand mirror nearby and a comb and brush for ladies’ toilette at night. Next to the potpourri she put a photograph of a young man, an officer in the Confederate Army who could very well have been her husband. The picture was very small, and visitors could only see his stiff collar and a few of the brass buttons on his tunic. She covered the table with lace embroidery and next to the diary put a pen, an inkwell, and a Bible.

Pin on Favorite Period Photos

The Magnolia Room had a floral motif.  She put silk flowers on the end tables and a large vase of gardenias touched with perfume on the dresser; and put two Victorian urns of a dozen long-stemmed roses on the mantelpiece, one red and the other white. The bedspread was a floral print, and each of the throw pillows of a different flower. The wallpaper was a very Southern scene with a white mansion, horse-drawn carriages, live oaks, and a garden filled with phlox, asters, and roses.

The Sitting Room was in the back of the house and Lavinia imagined the same young war bride spending her afternoons there. She put a lot of old photographs on the walls, many of Civil War soldiers. She had found pictures of women who could have been her mother, aunts, and sisters and placed them on the mantlepiece. She wanted to make the room comfortable and lived-in, so gave her mother a rocking chair and wicker sewing basket, a small library of poetry, extra large pillows and a mahogany bed tray painted with Southern scenes.

It was a dead house, a crypt of Dickensian memories, rooms shut up and preserved like that of Miss Havisham, dressed in the same white wedding dress she wore before being jilted by her fiancé, now after fifty years crumbling on her bones, falling to the floor in flakes of white lace, the floor of a room all white and never been touched since the moment of the fiancé's departure. 

I regret to inform you that Miss Havisham, Dickens' embittered crone, is  actually only . . . 40. ‹ Literary Hub

Anything could have happened in that house, but nothing so simple as a deliberate murder.  Yale Holt could not have been pushed down the stairs by an angry, vindictive wife.  There had to be more to it – a deliberately loosened stair, a flickering light from the Victorian chandelier at the top of the stairs, distracting him for a moment as he tripped on the bunched carpet on the last stair before the landing on which she stood.  No, the jury reckoned, it all could have happened incidentally or planned by Lavinia but in a way that only an accident could be concluded.

A rich uncle had died the same way, the jury was told, but then told to disregard, stumbling up the same circular staircase in the dark, the same swaying Victorian chandelier, and the same precipitous fall to the Italian marble floor below.

“The House of the Seven Gables”, the Beecham Beacon had written as the trial opened.  “The horrible legacy of Strathmore” the front page article went on, uncovering one murderous rumor after another.  “A fiction, a novelty, an imagining of absurd proportions”, thundered the defense attorney to the jury and the crowded courtroom. “You are here to judge this alleged crime and this one only!”; but there was no way of dismissing the facts, stories told by boys who had peered through the windows of the house and saw Lavinia Holt sitting alone in a white, long dress, tresses down to the floor, combing them with a silver brush which reflected the light of the full moon.  Or she was on her knees in the Magnolia room amidst the red and white roses now dried and brittle, looking up at the image of a Confederate officer who had died in his sleep there but was said to return.

The voir dire was only a formality, for although each of the jurors had never personally met Miss Lavinia or had any reason to judge her before the fact, there was no way to avoid the strange, unsettling presence of Strathmore.  Their parents and grandparents and great grandparents had stories about the house and what went on within it – strange disappearances, the Cotillion of 1820 where a fire in the very ballroom which was to celebrate Beecham County’s most beautiful young men and women killed all of them; and the urns of their ashes were placed within floral arrangements in the new, graciously appointed hall of mirrors; or the disappearance of 500 Creek Indians in the War of 1812, taken up and away from the front lines in a swamp fog never before seen on the Black Prairie.

Lavinia Holt was acquitted.  How was one to convict someone of Strathmore, bedeviled by the ghosts of ancestors and the legacy of impossible doings?  Hawthorne was right, the dead are immured in the walls, in the rafters, in the staircases and railings, and they cannot be ignored.  The supernatural? Never; but there had to be something in between, a limbo, where memories lived. Lavinia may not have deliberately pushed her husband over the railing, but certainly wished him dead and saw his body spattered on the floor below, just like her great-great uncle and what her longsuffering great-great aunt must have wished.