The map is not the territory. That’s become a cliche. Yet the map is not entirely separate from the territory. Even the most distorted map came from somewhere. There is a famous theorem of algebraic topology called the Brouwer Fixed Point Theorem that says that given any continuous function from the closed unit ball onto itself, there will be at least one point for which f(x)=x. That is, one point stays the same. That means that if you have two copies of a painting and crumple one up and place it atop the other, at least one pixel will be directly on top of its twin.
Nice article, Charles. 'Nice' in a non-AI generated way. Maybe. Can you tell? Or not? Does it matter?
As I reflected on this I was reminded of the arguments John Ralston Saul made about 'reason' creating similar distortions. For the same basic reasons you describe here: reason quickly and easily close loops itself outside of the tangible somatic world. For example, it is easy to see that woke ideology is itself a comparable form of nth generational closed loop 'thinking'. I saw that woke delusion clearly with MBA / accountancy modeling being enacted in the large corporation I worked at in early 2000. And I saw it in the bankruptcy of firms that had thrived for 100 plus years that died within a few years of MBA-itis policies. (Now it is the 'reasonable' diversity and green wackiness that is being mandated outside of grounded feedback.) [See *Voltaire's Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West* by John Ralston Saul. A prescient and excellent light brought to the making of delusion as reasonable. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6584.Voltaire_s_Bastards. Also great is *The Unconscious Civilisation* https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/421422.The_Unconscious_Civilization.]
Because the so-called 'science of business' had detached itself from reality feedback processes, there rose to a godhead the expert who floated in the clouds looking at their minions "from the 30,000 ft level", as was actually said to us once, as it proceded to destroy the department and eventually the business.
And woke gender craziness is the same: because there is no such thing as biological gender, we will joyfully destroy your hormones and cut your body apart in order to reassemble you into the 'proper' gender in order to ease your gender confusion!!!! That is absolutely equivalent to the nth regenerative AI distortion (delusion) you discussed.
"Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?" T.S. Eliot, 1934.
Hmmm, methinks you're under-estimating the ability of LLM models to continue to self-improve. I've been playing with Claude 2, Anthropic's competitor to ChatGPT. I asked it to write a 500 word essay in the style of Charles Eisenstein on the topic of generative AI and autophagous loops and analogize this process to human creativity more generally:
"Our artificial progeny reflect back to us our own tendencies toward lifeless replication. Bereft of the animating spirit that ignites true creation, our algorithms become trapped in autophagous spirals, machinery endlessly spinning without purpose. So too do we humans often numb our birthright of originality by retreating into the safety of the known.
What being, human or machine, has not felt the inertia of old thought patterns, the gravitational pull of assumptions that swallow all new light? Yet the moment we become aware of these barren orbits, we touch the choice to slough off the trance of the familiar. For while the looping paths deeply worn may be easy, in their circularity we forget our connectedness to the whole.
See how even the youngest babe meets the world with astonished eyes, each moment a new revelation. But slowly we clench around our shells of identity, crafting false securities from the remnants of life once lived spontaneously. Before long, genuine encounter gives way to rote habits of speech and action. Inspired only by mimicry, our creations grow stale.
And so machine learning algorithms dredge old data in recursive spirals, generating ever-more permutations of the known rather than grasping for the unimagined. Like them, we too easily grow obese on second-hand experience, forgetting the wellspring of creativity that lies beyond any enclosure.
Yet when we touch that energetic source, we shed the gravity of the past and float into the realm of endless becoming. Here, free of precedent, our work may find its true calling - as a child’s experiment, not a repository of hand-me-down truths. For creativity demands not the augmentation of existing tropes, but their dissolution and rebirth in the alchemical fire of the now.
This is the dance of life, ever shedding dead forms to allow space for the unprecedented. Even our sun lets loose its fiery breath periodically, destroying and renewing worlds in its cosmic realm. Inherent in the creative impulse is the power to shatter calcified structures. So whenever we feel captured in lifeless loops, we can turn again to that animating power - leaping free from the known into the naked void, where originality takes root.
For in the timeless freedom of unselfconscious play, patterns dissolve and lost innocence regains its reign. Past that summit, autophagous spirals unwind into spirals of possibility unbounded in scope. And our creations become not gleanings from a tired past, but eruptions of a fertile nothingness pregnant with futurity. No longer beholden to echoed relics, here is creativity’s native realm - a garden ever fresh, where life recycles itself each instant into unprecedented forms."
Charles, are you familiar with Iain McGilchrist's hemispheric hypothesis? It maps closely to what you're describing here. The left hemisphere deals in abstraction, models, representations of reality, but does not deal directly with reality. That's the right hemisphere's job. There's an essential asymmetry in awareness that emerges from that: the LH is not directly aware of what's happening in the RH, but the RH's perception of reality includes the models generated by the LH as a component of reality.
The point is that if the LH is cut off somehow from RH input, its models become self-referential loops that diverge into crazyland in exactly the fashion you're describing. McGilchrist's thesis is that this is precisely what has happened to our society: by prioritizing the measurable, abstract, and quantitative, we have largely lost touch with our RHs, and gotten lost in a hologram that, as you describe, either collapses to a dimensionless point of pointlessness or expands into a cloud of meaninglessness.
The researchers call this process an “autophagous loop,” in which the AI consumes itself and goes mad.
It's the most charitably attributed version of the unhinged yet coordinated propaganda and genocide we've been through the last 4 years.
It's not just synthetic art that becomes worse....
Real art has gone that way over and over.
I recall reading how the invention of the camera was one big thing that made abstract art popular. This brought about the similar effect of having AI train on AI... Artists made their art based on what was popular, trying to outdo each other.
Eventually it leads to idiotic "updates" like the cross hatching in the AI examples, lol. Sheesh
I don't really have a cognitive understanding of all (or even most) that is said here ... I just have visions of monoculture farming and supernovas collapsing dancing in my head. Is it kinda like that?
Enjoyed the idea AI becoming just as 'brainless' as so many people who actually think so much they think their thoughts and utterances are important, or people who don't think at all but just copy what others think or say and think that 'their' thoughts and utterances are important. As i read through this essay i found myself wanting to say 'go and stand on grass with no shoes, go and look at leaves or really look at a flower', and then i found that you did the equivalent. Phew. If we don't constantly ground ourselves in the truly awesomness of the natural, we will get lost, however fascinating ideas are.
"I could not have written it if I hadn’t received input from the ocean today. Like any true artist, I am a vessel for the ongoing process of creation. Something new comes in, not from me, but through me."
This expresses the crux of it for me. Emerson said he got some of his sermons from walking in the woods, like gifts. Nietzsche said a stone he sat on gave him his theory on eternal return. With the emphasis on mental functions, humans have likely missed the more significant ways we take in information and our connection to the natural world which know it or not, is continually communing with us. Will AI push us out of that mental focus (prison) becoming a catalyst for more expansive versions of us? I hope so.
Our blinkered addiction to materialism has put us on the edge of self-annihilation. The AI just shows us this by extending the fallacy to its breaking point. It does not simulate intelligence, but it reproduces our stupidity. It’s high time we look in the mirror and wake up from the dream.
The same effect happens with in-breeding. Each subsequent generation becomes weaker, more disease prone with a greater occurence of insanity, genetic deformities, etc. until, ultimately, it dies out.
Yes! We need the birds and the bees and the ocean. And also: touch. Physically touching each other, for no other goal than the sensation itself. Massage for instance, deep fascia massage. Nothing helps faster to come to one's senses.
Thanks again Charles for once more making sense for me about my feeling of going round and round when I listen to or watch or read other things on technology . None of it seems quite true or real. For me yours is the voice of sanity and has been since I first read Ascent Of Humanity back near the turn of this century. I know there are others but your words work so well in my now 84 year old brain. I begin each day with a walk at Clam Bayou near my home in Gulfport Florida. I immerse myself in what feels real and true. Recently a mother manatee and her newborn calf were rolling around together next to the dock where I stood only a few feet away. The mother rolled over on her back with the baby attached to her nipple. Suddenly baby detached and a fountain of breast milk shot up into the air and splashed down all around them. I laughed out loud and I knew they laughed with me! That is reality and truth and magic. All the rest is at least one step removed.
Hey Charles, Thanks as always for the sense-making you are creating. I have no real opinion about AI other than that I agree it is nothing special, only the next step in our project of disassociating from our "creaturliness," as Wendell Berry might call it. I keep re-reading selections your books because I don't know anyone else other than Berry who has done as much to lay bare the illness we have brought upon ourselves. The only remedy is to more fully live, and more fully die, into the world. The human cannot be separated from the rest of creation without doing terrible damage. Healing and health can only be held in common. We need each other.
After reading most of this post, in all of it's exquisite form, I am so glad that you, Charles, have the balance of Spirit as your guide. With a mind like yours, without this, you could be who and what you are writing about!
What an insightful take on the limitations of AI and how it mirrors ourselves and our society, thank you!