complexity

Embodying the Ineffable

voice-data.jpg

Grant Health and Fitness Center, January 28, 2014

VOICE/DATA
by Daron Larson 

An imaginary woman—
a voice that communicates
the impression of female
—invites me to enter my digits

She remains inordinately polite
in word choice and tone
regardless of my ability
to fulfill her desire for my data

I'm sorry
I didn't quite get that

I sense the presence
of a sophisticated algorithm  
calculating the odds of my legitimacy 

I am at her mercy

Please try again

But she can't know
I'm assessing her for fraud
even as I'm being monitored
for virtual trespasses against her

Please stay on the line
Your call is important to us

There is much talk on screens these days
about computer programs evolving
human-like consciousness

Some predict its inevitability
based on laws governing exponential increase

We forget how difficult it remains
for us to accurately convey
the direct experience of loneliness
     of connection
         of longing
             of grief
               given the constraints of language

This is not limited to storage bandwidth or process speed
but speaks of the capacity for embodying the ineffable

I'm sorry
Please stay
Please?
You're important to me
I'm so sorry

I'm not afraid of the machines
we create in our own image

I fear our shared tendency
to overlook the intangible
sparks that signal our humanity

How are We Going to Be Able to Live Together?

Excerpts from “Restoring Political Civility,” a conversation between Krista Tippet and Richard Mouw (president of Fuller Theological Seminary and a professor of Christian Philosophy and Ethics and author or Uncommon Decency), Being, October 14, 2010:

Richard Mouw: …to be civil comes from civitas and it means learning how to live in the city. The origin with a guy like Aristotle, the ancient philosopher, who said early on, as little children, we have a natural sense of kinship. We have strong positive feelings toward those who are blood relatives, my mother, my father, sisters and brothers, cousins and the like. And then as we grow up, we have some of those same positive feelings that develop toward friends. So we go from kinship and we build on that to a broader sense of friendship where you have that same sense of bonding or something like it that isn't just based on blood relative stuff.

But he said to really grow up, to be a mature human being, is to learn in the public square to have that same sense of bonding to people from other cities, people who are very different than yourself. And that's not just toleration, but is a sense that what I owe to my mother because she brought me into this world, what I owe to my friends because of shared experiences and memories and delights, I also owe to the stranger. Why? Because they're human like me and I got to begin to think of humanness as such as a kind of bonding relationship

Krista Tippett: So here's another statement from you about just an essential Christian truth, which is, "In affirming the stranger, we are honoring the image of God."

Richard Mouw: Oh, yeah. That's right. Going back to that Aristotle idea that, you know, we all understand kinship and then we understand friendship, but then there's this person who is neither kin nor friend, but we have encountered them. And what is it that links me to them if it isn't just a lot of good feelings that I have about people like that? What the Bible teaches is that every human being is created in a divine image. And this means that every human being is — you know, this is where I've been thinking more about this lately — is a work of art.

Seeing other people is a kind of exercise in art appreciation. I find that very powerful. I come across a person who isn't just a stranger, but maybe represents a strangeness to me that initially I might feel very alienated from that person, and then to think this is a work of art by the God whom I worship, that God created that person. And it doesn't come easy. I'm kind of aesthetically deprived, so I have to work at it, but it's a very important exercise to engage in.

Krista Tippett: You have been very clear and open across the years, for example, about your theological opposition to gay marriage. I could imagine that someone who is homosexual might hear what you just said and feel that in fact that doesn't find expression when you look at them.

Richard Mouw: Well, and — and it should. I have really tried to emphasize the fact that even in expressing our disagreements — and this is a very complicated thing — but that we're dealing with people who are precious works of divine art. You know, I have argued on a number of occasions and actually gotten some very positive response from folks in the gay-lesbian community that maybe — I even wrote a Newsweek piece on this.

You know, maybe it's time to stop yelling at each other and accusing each other in public and maybe we ought to just sit down and turn the agenda into something like this where I would ask my gay and lesbian activist friends, "what is it about people like me that scare you so much? And that you in turn would listen to me when I say, what is it about what you are advocating that worries me so much about the future of our culture and the world in which my grandchildren are being raised? And that we talk about hopes and fears rather than angrily denouncing each other as homophobes or as people who are engaged in, you know, despicable behavior, but could that shape a very different kind of discussion." As we move toward — the really important question is how are we going to be able to live together in this pluralistic society with at least some better understanding of what motivates us beneath the angry denunciations and things?

Extraordinary Depth and Richness

“I had the very good fortune of going into therapy with a man by the name of James Bugental who was a humanist existentialist; a very sensitive and mature man. So I went in for what I thought would just be a few interesting weeks and I came out two years later with my whole worldview just turned around. I was opened to the inner world, which I literally really had no appreciation of. I felt as though I’d spent my entire life living on the top six inches of a wave on top of an ocean that I didn’t even really know existed. I really had, I mean so much in my head, I really didn’t appreciate at all just the extraordinary depth and richness of the inner world and the potentials and also the gifts it can give us.”

~ Roger Walsh, from “A Technology of Transcendence,” Buddhist Geeks Podcast: Episode 171 (May 10, 2010)

[Thanks Linda!]

Which is the Real One?

"There are times when I look over the various parts of my character with perplexity. I recognize that I am made up of several persons and that the person that at the moment has the upper hand will inevitably give place to another. But which is the real one? All of them or none?”

~ W. Somerset Maugham

Neil Jenman has the largest private collection of Somerset Maugham books and memorabilia in the world.

Simple Principles that Guide a System

Excerpt from “Complexity Used to Be So Simple. It Meant Progress,” by David Segal, New York Times, April 30, 2010:

Preparing for the launch of Apollo 11. (NASA)What we need, suggests Brenda Zimmerman, a professor at Schulich School of Business in Ontario, is a distinction between the complicated and the complex. It’s complicated, she says, to send a rocket to the moon — it requires blueprints, math and a lot of carefully calibrated hardware and expertly written software. Raising a child, on the  other hand, is complex. It is an enormous challenge, but math and blueprints  won’t help. Alex's first day of school. Performing hip replacement surgery, she says, is complicated. It takes well-trained personnel, precision and carefully calibrated equipment. Running a health care system, on the other hand, is complex. It’s filled with thousands of parts and players, all of whom must act within a fluid, unpredictable environment. To run a system that is complex, it’s not enough to get the right people and the ideal equipment. It takes a set of simple principles that guide and shape the system. For instance: Teach everyone the best practices of doctors who are really good at hip replacement surgery.

“We get seduced by the complicated in Western society,” Ms. Zimmerman says. “We’re in awe of it and we pull away from the duty to ask simple questions, which we do whenever we deal with matters that are complex.”