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

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Fact Check Me! - AI Hysteria And The Coming Of A Brave New Virtual World

No one really cares about reality, and most people are quite happy to be able to strap on the goggles and live for a few minutes in an altered state - to see reality disappear and become a function of perception. 

Of course this idea is not new.  Robert Browning, Lawrence Durrell, and Kurosawa have all been fascinated by the perception of reality - a thing is only by definition of those who see it.  The Ring and the Book, The Alexandria Quartet, and Rashomon were all episodes of personalized reality.  None of the characters events the same way, and an event could have happened in any number of ways.  

Eye witnesses are notoriously subjective in what they observe.  In one recent police case of a drive by shooting, one witness said the shooter was black, the car red, and the model foreign.  Another said the shooter was white, the car blue, and the model from Detroit.  

Others noticed only the gun pointed out the window - or perhaps it wasn't a gun at all.  In the movie Cop Land a cop in hot pursuit assumes that because the man aiming at him was black and dreadlocked, it had to be a gun, not a tire iron. 


Phenomenologists like Bishop Berkeley challenged the whole idea of reality. 'If a tree falls in the forest and there is no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?'  Plato was perhaps the first to question the idea of reality.  In his famous metaphor of the cave, the shadows were deceiving, and the occupant evolved a completely parallel world based on reverse images. 

Given the proven fallacy of perception, and the inherent relativity of observation, how can anyone conclude that there are such things as facts; and more importantly that they are of any value?  Not only do individuals make conclusions on their particular perceptions, but entire generations do the same.  For millennia people were convinced that the sun revolved around the earth - what could be more obvious? - until Copernicus and Galileo challenged the received wisdom, looked at the phenomenon with unbiased eyes, and concluded just the opposite. 

Because of this understanding about the relativity of perception, revisionism should not exist. Nothing of the past should removed, expunged, or cancelled simply because it is wrong by today's standards for no other reason that our prized standards will be dismissed as naive and laughable in a hundred years. 

Yet the search for the truth and the desire to change the past to fit current moral dimensions are common, insistent, and unshakeable. 

Ironically there are two philosophical currents in America today.  The first is a moral absolutism which insists that there is such a thing as universal right and wrong and that incontrovertible facts provide its foundation; and the second where facts and the absolute are disappearing in a miasma of virtuality.  Once again, it all comes down to a matter of political philosophy.  

Progressives believe that there is a steady, undeniable progress towards a better world, a utopia of harmony, compassion, peace, and understanding.  Today's moral judgements, therefore, are better and more correct than those of the past, so removing those upsetting, unfortunate bits of history is the right thing to do. 

Conservatives on the other hand believe there is no such thing as progress.  Violence, territorialism, and self-interest are hardwired into the human DNA and will continue to shape human events - and to repeat them - ad infinitum. As such, leave history alone, for it cannot be judged.  Today is no more moral than the past.  Our immorality is simply of a different character, no better nor worse than any which preceded it. 


As for the facts?  They may or may not be, and that too is of little consequence. We are hardwired, predestined to observe events subjectively, to make judgments based on opinion and how we got out of bed.  The configuration of 'facts' is nothing more than history repeating itself but in remodeled ways. Shakespeare understood this well,  The critic Jan Kott has suggested that if all of Shakespeare's Histories were laid down in chronological order, one would be struck by the remarkable similarity of the lot.  Human nature has not changed so the events of history will not change - they will only be dressed in a different guise. 

Hollywood, the dream-maker, the nexus of fantasy and fable, the place where there is no place for fact, but only stories about people's lives independent of any notion of boring, tedious, dutiful grounding. It is no surprise that Americans are more defined by Hollywood than any other place, for it is not just a city, but an ethos.  

Donald Trump is popular only in part because of his embrace of conservative policies.  He is more cheered because he is a man of Hollywood and Las Vegas, all show, performance, glitz, glamour, and fantasy.  His supporters would like to see a new age of radical conservatism, but would like to have what he has, to be what he is - the squire of beautiful women, owner of yachts and resorts, a television personality, a burlesque performer, a vaudevillian. 

Trump enthusiasts care little about 'the truth' because they know that there is no such thing.  True relativists they understand that his opponents are spinning fanciful yarns, creating their own comic book image of the man - an evil, misogynistic, homophobic, racist.  

The visions are so starkly different, that they could easily have been created in and for a virtual world.  Let the devil sprout horns, let their be halos. 

Soon such divisions and divisiveness will be moot. As AI and virtual reality enable everyone to create, enter, and live in their own worlds, none of this will matter; and when there is complete interface between mind and machine, the virtual world will be the only one that matters and the only one in which to live. 

Imagine when the brain's electronic patterns have been deciphered and the computer can read and respond to them - the world of unimaginable fantasy will be the only reality.  Walking with the Duchess of Nantes in the royal gardens of Versailles, making love with your long-held fantasy woman, eating and drinking the world's delights with no concerns about what is real and what isn't - all this is possible and coming soon

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