dogs

Little Monster

Kendra by Jo McCulty

Monsters
by Dorothea Lasky, from "All Good Slides Are Slippery," by Lemony Snicket, Poetry Magazine, September 2013

This is a world where there are monsters
There are monsters everywhere, racoons and skunks
There are possums outside, there are monsters in my bed.
There is one monster. He is my little one.
I talk to my little monster.
I give my little monster some bacon but that does not satisfy him.
I tell him, ssh ssh, don’t growl little monster!
And he growls, oh boy does he growl!
And he wants something from me,
He wants my soul.
And finally giving in, I give him my gleaming soul
And as he eats my gleaming soul, I am one with him
And stare out his eyepits and I see nothing but white
And then I see nothing but fog and the white I had seen before was nothing but fog
And there is nothing but fog out the eyes of monsters.

Enjoy the Process

Excerpt from “Enlightenment 2.0,” a Buddhist Geeks conversation with Ben Goertzel and host Vince Horn:

I think that the idea underlying that story (Enlightenment 2.0) really came out of something that I worry about in my personal life just thinking about my own personal future. When I think about “What would I want in the future if superhuman Artificial Intelligence (AI) became possible?”

Wall-E ...I really think that the human brain architecture is limiting. So that I think if you could change your brain into a different kind of information processing system, you could achieve just better states of mind. You could feel enlightened all the time, while doing great science, while having sensory gratification, and it could be way beyond what humans can experience.

So that leads to the question of, okay, if I had the ability to change myself into some profoundly better kind of mind, would I do it all at once? Would I just flick a switch and say “Okay, change from Ben into a super mind?” Well, I wouldn't really want to do that, because that would be just too much like killing Ben, and just replacing him with the super mind. So, I get the idea that maybe I'd like to improve myself by, say twenty percent per year. So I could enjoy the process, and feel myself becoming more and more intelligent, more and more enlightened, broader and broader, and better and better.

Cylon (Battlestar Gallactica) …You think of phase transitions in physics. You have water, and you boil the water, and then it changes from a liquid into a gas, just like that. It's not like it's half liquid and half gas, right? I mean, it's like the liquid is dead, and then there's a gas.

That was the kind of theme underlining this story. There was this super-intelligent AI that people had created. The super intelligent AI, after it solved the petty little problems of world peace, and hunger, and energy for everyone, and so forth, that super-human AI set itself thinking about “Okay, how can we get rid of suffering, fundamentally?” How can we make a mind that really has a positive experience all the time, and will spread good through the world rather than spreading suffering through the world.

Then the conclusion it comes to is it is possible to have such a mind, but human beings can never grow into that, and that it, given the way that it was constructed by the humans, could never grow into that either.

So, the conclusion this AI comes to is there probably are well-structured, benevolent super minds in the universe, and in order to be sure the universe is kept peaceful and happy for them, we should all just get rid of ourselves, because we're just fundamentally screwed up, and can't even ever continuously evolve into something that's benevolently structured.

Which I don't really believe, but I think it's an interesting idea, and I wouldn't say it's impossible.

Sam Worthington as Marcus Wright (Terminator Salvation)

[So] is the AI a lunatic or does it have some profound insight that we can't appreciate? Which is a problem we're going to have broadly when we create minds better than ourselves.

Just like when my dog wants to go do something and I stop him, right? Maybe it's just because my motivational system is different than his. Like I don't care about the same things as he does. I'm not that interested in going to romp in the field like he is, and I'm just bossing him around based on my boring motivational structure.  On the other hand, sometimes I really have an insight he doesn't have, and I'm really right. He shouldn't go play in the highway, no matter how much fun it looks like.  The dog can't know, and similarly, when we have a super-human AI, we really won't be able to know. We'll have to make a gut feel decision whether to trust it or not.

Beginning with What It Can Perceive

Excerpts from Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know by Alexandra Horowitz, featured in the The Week Magazine (October 2, 2009):

…forgetting what we think we know is the best way to begin understanding dogs…If we want to understand the life of any animal, we need to know what things are meaningful to it, beginning with what it can perceive—what it can see, hear, smell, or otherwise sense.

Human noses have about 6 million of these receptor sites; beagle noses have more Inside of a Dogthan 300 million. The difference in the smell experience is exponential. Next to a beagle, we are downright anosmic, smelling nothing. We might notice if our coffee’s been sweetened with a teaspoon of sugar; a dog can detect a teaspoon of sugar diluted in a million gallons of water.
What’s this like? Imagine if each detail of our visual world were matched by a corresponding smell. Each petal on a rose may be distinct, having been visited by insects leaving pollen footprints from faraway flowers. What is to us just a single stem actually holds a record of who held it, and when. A burst of chemicals marks where a leaf was torn. Imagine smelling every minute visual detail. That might be the experience of a rose to a dog.

A dog looking around a room does not think he is surrounded by human things; he sees—and smells—dog things.

What we may think an object is for, or what it makes us think of, may or may not match photo by Vegar Abelsnesthe dog’s idea of the object’s function or meaning. Objects are defined by how you can act upon them: what the German biologist Jakob von Uexküll called their “functional tone.” A dog may be indifferent to chairs, but if trained to jump on one, he learns that the chair has a sitting tone: It can be sat upon. But other things that we may identify as chair-like are not so seen by dogs: stools, tables, arms of couches. Stools and tables are in some other category of objects: obstacles, perhaps, in their path toward the eating tone of the kitchen. A ball, a pen, a teddy bear, and a shoe are in some ways equivalent: All are objects that one can get one’s mouth around.

What about a dog’s power of visual and mental perception? Look a dog in the eyes and you get the definite feeling Samanthathat he is looking back. Dogs return our gaze. They are looking at us in the same way that we look at them. Naturally we wonder, is the dog thinking about us the way we are thinking about the dog?

In fact, we are known by our dogs probably far better than we know them. They are the consummate eavesdroppers and Peeping Toms: Let into the privacy of our rooms, they quietly spy on our every move. They know about our comings and goings. They know whom we sleep with, what we eat. We share our homes with uncounted numbers of mice, millipedes, and mites—none bothers to look our way. Dogs, by contrast, watch us from across the room, from the window, and out of the corners of their eyes. Their sight is used to see what we attend to. In some ways, this is similar to us, but in other ways it surpasses human capacity.

Dogs are anthropologists among us. They are students of our behavior. And what makes them especially good anthropologists is that they never tire of attending to minute changes in our expressions, our moods, our outlooks. Unlike us, they don’t become inured to people.

 

Memorial

Two poems by Yusef Komunyakaa. The first one appears at the end of “Love in the Time of War” from Warhorses (2008). “Facing It” is from Dien Cai Dau (1988).

His name is called. A son’s lost voice
hovers near a fishing hole in August.
His name is called. A lover’s hand
disturbs a breath of summer cloth.
His name is called a third time,
but his propped-up boots & helmet
refuse to answer. The photo remains silent,
& his name hangs in the high rafters.

She tenderly hugs the pillow,
whispering his name. The dog
rises beside the bedroom door
& wanders to the front door,
& stands with its head cocked,
listening for a name in a dead language.

* * * * *

Facing It

My black face fades,
hiding inside the black granite.
I said I wouldn't,
dammit: No tears.
I'm stone. I'm flesh.
My clouded reflection eyes me
like a bird of prey, the profile of night
slanted against morning. I turn
this way--the stone lets me go.
I turn that way--I'm inside
the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
again, depending on the light
to make a difference.
I go down the 58,022 names,
half-expecting to find
my own in letters like smoke.
I touch the name Andrew Johnson;
I see the booby trap's white flash.
Names shimmer on a woman's blouse
but when she walks away
the names stay on the wall.
Brushstrokes flash, a red bird's
wings cutting across my stare.
The sky. A plane in the sky.
A white vet's image floats
closer to me, then his pale eyes
look through mine. I'm a window.
He's lost his right arm
inside the stone. In the black mirror
a woman's trying to erase names:
No, she's brushing a boy's hair.

Be Still

while you worry about what each note means,
the band plays on.

you are running from a dog
who only chases because you run.
turn and face him.

though you hear the buzzing of the bee grow louder
be still.
do not fear a sting you have never felt,
you just might be a flower.

do not worry
about things falling into place.
where they fall
is the place

-- Mark Hartley

In The Middle

radianceof a life that's as complicated as everyone else's,
struggling for balance, juggling time.
The mantle clock that was my grandfather's
has stopped at 9:20; we haven't had time
to get it repaired. The brass pendulum is still,
the chimes don't ring. One day I look out the window,
green summer, the next, the leaves have already fallen,
and a grey sky lowers the horizon. Our children almost grown,
again how to love, between morning's quick coffee
and evening's slow return. Steam from a pot of soup rises,
mixing with the yeasty smell of baking bread. Our bodies
twine, and the big black dog pushes his great head between;
his tail, a metronome, 3/4 time. We'll never get there,
Time is always ahead of us, running down the beach, urging
us on faster, faster, but sometimes we take off our watches,
sometimes we lie in the hammock, caught between the mesh
of rope and the net of stars, suspended, tangled up
in love, running out of time.

-- Barbara Crooker, from Radiance

A Keeper

The Book of Hours
by Joyce Sutphen

There was that one hour sometime
in the middle of the last century.
It was autumn, and I was in my father's
woods building a house out of branches
and the leaves that were falling like
thousands of letters from the sky.

And there was that hour in Central Park
in the middle of the seventies.
We were sitting on a blanket, listening
to Pete Seeger singing "This land is
your land, this land is my land," and
the Vietnam War was finally over.

I would definitely include an hour
spent in one of the galleries of the
Tate Britain, looking up at thepainting of King Cophetua and
the Beggar Maid, and, afterwards
the walk along the Thames, and

I would also include one of those
hours when I woke in the night and
couldn't get back to sleep thinking
about how nothing I thought was going
to happen happened the way I expected,
and things I never expected to happen did—

just like that hour today, when we saw
the dog running along the busy road,
and we stopped and held on to her
until her owner came along and brought
her home—that was an hour well
spent. Yes, that was a keeper.

[Thanks Kit!]

Magic for Beginners

I’m enjoying a delicious collection of short stories by Kelly Link called Magic for Beginners. Her eccentric characters and hip wit remind me of Elizabeth McCracken. These stories lure us into blurry places (simulateously mundane and fantastic) between genres. You can read the first story, "The Faery Handbag" and a sampling of her other stories online.

I’ll tempt you into her clever world with a couple of excerpts from “The Hortlak,” in which two characters work alternating shifts at a 24-hour convenience store (“Eric was night, and Batu was day.”) and a third, a woman named Charley (“the moon”) who works in an animal shelter, drops by the store frequently while out giving the dogs she has to euthanize one final ride in her car.

Batu said it was clear Charley had a great capacity for hating; and also a great capacity for love. Charley’s hatred was seasonal: in the months after Christmas, Christmas puppies started growing up. People got tired of trying to house-train them. All February, all March, Charley hated people. She hated people in December, too, just for practice.

Being in love, Batu said, like working retail, meant that you had to settle for being hated, at least part of the year. That was what the months after Christmas were all about. Neither system—not love, not retail—was perfect. When you looked at dogs, you saw this, that love didn’t work.

Batu said it was likely that Charley, both her person and her Chevy, were infested with dog ghosts…Nonhuman ghosts, he said, were the most difficult of all ghosts to dislodge, and dogs were worst of all. There is nothing as persistent, as loyal, as clingy as a dog.

“So you can see these ghosts?" Eric said.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Batu said. “You can’t see that kind of ghost. You smell them.”

Batu had spent a lot of time reorganizing the candy aisle according to chewiness and meltiness. The week before, he had arranged it so that if you took the first letter of every candy, reading across from left to write, and then down, it spelled out the first sentence of To Kill a Mockingbird, and then also a line of Turkish poetry. Something about the moon.