Saturday, 31 December 2016

Habit, Sin and Spirit.

Thinking about habits, habits of thought, habits of desire. Good time to do that, New Year's Eve, when we are about to make ineffectual vows to change something or other.

Habits are simple and mechanical in operation. People think human nature is complicated in this respect but it isn't. Whatever makes us 'feel better', is what will make us feel better in the future. Like laying down a track through the weeds that makes it easier to walk that same pathway in the future.

That's how people get started on any number of unhealthy tracks that they find themselves on, gambling, drinking, porn, sexual infidelity, anger, lust, drugs, in fact, satisfying any hunger or desire in an unhealthy way. Once someone finds a way to scratch that itch, they will want to scratch it again later, but it just takes more scratching each time to get the same effect (that's how people end up going down and down). Yes, different people have different temptations, genetics, upbringing have something to do with that, but the way sin happens is the same every time - it starts with crossing a line of conscience or upbringing, and feeling better afterwards because the itch has been scratched.

But what makes us into complicated people is the baggage we get with this desire/behaviour/desire cycle - shame, principally. So then we try to forget, either suppress the shame or the remembrance of the action, or both. We try to deny that this habit controls us. We say such-and-such is not a sin. We vow not to do it again. The different ways people deal with this is what makes people different I guess.

But one way or another, everyone becomes slaves to that which controls them.

This is human nature and was described this way by St. Paul:

14We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.   Romans 7:14-25

St. Paul goes on to describe the solution that Christ won for us by dying on the cross:

1Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.
You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.
Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.
For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.f And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.  Romans 8:1-15

Here is the amazing thing - God has so much more in store for us than anything we suffer. And being 'spiritual' is not just being happy or being 'fulfilled' - it sometimes means, groaning under the weight of our difficulties, our sorrows, in our weakness, but the Spirit groans in us and intercedes for us. The amazing thing is, for a Christian, God our Father is with us in Christ in this messy world, whatever happens.

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.  Romans 8:16-30

How To Get Out of a Dark Hole.

Just read a pretty good book - Bill Myers' The Dark Side of the Supernatural. 

Here's the link to the Australian kindle store if that's where you buy stuff.

Very good to read to understand what is of God, and what isn't, in the supernatural world.

Something I'm thinking about at the moment - how can people get out of the dark holes they get themselves into? (Despair, depression, mental illness, etc, etc)

Only one way I know of - Jesus Christ.

He is the Light of the World.

Anyone who asks Him for help, guidance, light in their life, will find the help they need.

It's really that simple.




Saturday, 24 December 2016

How Postmodernism Becomes A Tool For Maintaining the Status Quo.

When a postmodernist examines an article or opinion the first question he asks is, "Who wrote this? Whose opinion is it?" Following this, the postmodernist says to himself, "What position are they coming from? Why do they take this position?"

"Oh," s/he says to her/himself, "This person has a vested interest."

This then becomes a reason for being suspicious of the person's reasoning. The vested interest, prior position (Christian, white male, being middle class, working for the oil industry once, etc etc) delegitimises that person's argument, before they have even said anything.

When people believed that it was possible to argue about things rationally in a free society, this would have been called an 'ad hominem attack,' one of the standard logical fallacies. 'Ad hominem', 'against the man' in latin, means to argue that a person's position is wrong because of the person. To be logical one must argue against the logic of what they are saying, rather than who they are or what group they come from.

What this kind of postmodernist rhetoric does (in the name of truth) is makes democracy impossible: if you can't argue a point from logic agreeing that the other person might be just as right as you are, if you are saying, "this person cannot be logical because they are a member of a particular social group" - then you may as well stand there singing 'la la la la' with your hands in your ears as have a conversation where you try to get at truth, or an argument where you try to convince others (i.e. democracy) if you have already decided that whatever they say is influenced by their 'vested interest' and is therefore not worth listening to.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

The Turing Test.

A follow on from my previous post...

The Turing Test is a test invented by the mathematician Alan Turing in a paper published in 1950 in Mind. He is approaching the question, "Can Machines Think?"

Here is an excerpt from this paper:

1. The Imitation Game
I propose to consider the question, "Can machines think?" This should begin with definitions of the meaning of the terms "machine" and "think." The definitions might be framed so as to reflect so far as possible the normal use of the words, but this attitude is dangerous, If the meaning of the words "machine" and "think" are to be found by examining how they are commonly used it is difficult to escape the conclusion that the meaning and the answer to the question, "Can machines think?" is to be sought in a statistical survey such as a Gallup poll. But this is absurd. Instead of attempting such a definition I shall replace the question by another, which is closely related to it and is expressed in relatively unambiguous words.

The new form of the problem can be described in terms of a game which we call the 'imitation game." It is played with three people, a man (A), a woman (B), and an interrogator (C) who may be of either sex. The interrogator stays in a room apart front the other two. The object of the game for the interrogator is to determine which of the other two is the man and which is the woman. He knows them by labels X and Y, and at the end of the game he says either "X is A and Y is B" or "X is B and Y is A." The interrogator is allowed to put questions to A and B thus:

C: Will X please tell me the length of his or her hair?

Now suppose X is actually A, then A must answer. It is A's object in the game to try and cause C to make the wrong identification. His answer might therefore be:

"My hair is shingled, and the longest strands are about nine inches long."

In order that tones of voice may not help the interrogator the answers should be written, or better still, typewritten. The ideal arrangement is to have a teleprinter communicating between the two rooms. Alternatively the question and answers can be repeated by an intermediary. The object of the game for the third player (B) is to help the interrogator. The best strategy for her is probably to give truthful answers. She can add such things as "I am the woman, don't listen to him!" to her answers, but it will avail nothing as the man can make similar remarks.

We now ask the question, "What will happen when a machine takes the part of A in this game?" Will the interrogator decide wrongly as often when the game is played like this as he does when the game is played between a man and a woman? These questions replace our original, "Can machines think?"

He replaces this question with another question, "Can a machine fool a human into thinking the machine is conscious?"

The real question which most of these fictional stories about AIs answer in the affirmative, is, "Can a machine be created which actually is conscious?"

In fact, it is very hard to prove consciousness. No one really knows what it is. The only person one can be completely certain is conscious is oneself, when one is conscious. Believing others are conscious is actually an act of faith, in a sense.

The philosopher Alvin Plantinga in his book God and Other Minds 1967 proposed that belief in God was analogous to belief in other minds, both being apparent from evidence and fundamentally rational beliefs, but that neither belief in God nor belief in other minds could be conclusively proven against a determined sceptic.

Since we do not really know what consciousness is, how can we ever create it in a machine?

In other words, the Turing Test can never prove consciousness (Turing never claimed it could) it can only prove that a machine can be created that can imitate consciousness.




Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Robots, AI, and what consciousness is.

I've been watching HUMᗄNS, a BBC show, and also Westworld, on iTunes. Both are about AI androids who start exhibiting human characteristics. But the central premise on which these shows are based, that a machine that appears to be human actually is, is not really explained - it is simply assumed. The central premise is that same miracle in the Golem myth - that somehow a robot/machine/lump of clay can be given human/divine breath and made to live.

It started me thinking - the central characteristic of a human being is self-consciousness - I realised a long time ago that Descartes' fundamental basis for all of his philosophy of a Clockmaker universe, "I think therefore I am", is actually illusory - "I am" is the more fundamental realisation. That this realisation is possible for us is explained in Talmudic and Biblical teaching by God having breathed His life, a portion of His spirit (breath and spirit being the same word in Hebrew, neshamah) into us. In ontological terms, it follows, "I am, therefore I think". (i.e. The fact that I am is what causes me to be able to think)

A computer in its own way 'thinks' - the circuits bleep over and create a certain pattern - but the meaning of that pattern only becomes apparent to a human being. In fact, the meaning of any pattern requires a conscious being to see it, for it to have meaning. In other words, the genetic code is only the mechanics of a machine that orders the process that creates the body, but it must have been designed, because it is a construct involving symbolic meaning. i.e. it is a code - but strangely enough, the only living creatures who can see that it is a code are human beings (or other sentient beings, angels, God, aliens perhaps). The bacteria who benefits from this vastly clever piece of engineering cannot see that the DNA through which it comes into existence is a symbolic representation of the creature that comes into existence. (This awareness of symbolic pattern, by the way, is another aspect of self-awareness - the ability to discern the difference between signifier and signified - something post-modernism minimises by destroying that difference, being a system that attempts to treat human consciousness as analogous to a computer in an endless goto loop - which is precisely what consciousness is not. The Incompleteness Theorem of Kurt Gödel demonstrates that ultimately it takes a human being to discern when a theorem is self-referential, i.e., in an endless goto loop. Similarly, despite programmers putting in super-programs called daemons to monitor the program while it is running, and daemons to monitor the daemons, they still can't stop the computer from crashing from time to time, getting itself into an endless loop. You see, a machine is only a machine, but the Spirit of God is the Spirit of Truth. )

There are already dolls that talk to children, mobile phone 'personalities' (Siri), games that can hold conversations with us, and these can be programmed to have apparent feelings. I am sure Google eventually will become very good at extrapolating normal human emotions from the massive amounts of data they have collected about people - perhaps to the degree that they can eventually create an AI machine that can realistic imitate a human, and fool many people into thinking it is alive and conscious.

But if there is no centre to that creation, no part of it that can honestly say, "I am", then despite its apparent 'feeling', 'thought', even despite the fact that it might appear to have self-awareness, if there is no real self-consciousness, no divine spirit, then it is still nothing more than an artificial machine imitating human behaviour, something electronic, certainly, that really could just as well be made of cogs and wheels. We don't have to worry about offending it, hurting it, breaking it, sinning against it, except to the degree that we might be hurting its owners or ourselves by doing such things, just the same as any other machine. (Stealing a car is wrong, not because the car has feelings and sentience, but because the owner does. )

It seems to me that self-consciousness is spiritual, an effect of having a spirit. It is an exceptional thing for an animal to be able to recognise itself in a mirror. It is a normal thing for a human to be able to do so. Having feelings also, i.e. a soul, (nefesh) is a miracle in itself - only certain animals have this almost to a human degree - the higher mammals. But self-consciousness is uniquely human.

Some people, who insist that we are nothing more than machines ourselves, would say that the existence of self-awareness is an illusion. But the fact is, the grammar of their own statement shows how ludicrous this statement is: for there must be someone having an illusion, for it to be an illusion. If there is no self, if we are machines just as much as a computer is, then there can be no illusion at all, because there is no real person at the centre of it all who can be deceived.

I think self-consciousness in AIs is a problem that is insoluble to science. I really don't believe a human being can create another self-conscious being except through the usual methods (a sperm and an egg).

(In Henry Lawson Hero of the Robot Revolution, (*spoiler alert this paragraph*) of course, I solved the problem of the soul and spirit in AI machines in the narrative by giving them a soul, a spirit, that has been transferred from a human by some unexplained and drastically inhuman process. This is the only way I believe that AIs could be truly conscious, if a spirit could be transferred somehow from one vessel to the other. This in itself is a scary thought and is the main source of the horror in my novel, for anyone who has read it.)

In these shows (HUMᗄNS, Westworld, etc) the terrible thing that happens is that these AIs whom anyone with any human feeling can see are conscious, are being treated as impersonal machines, and they are fighting back. If this was possible it would indeed be terrible. It is the premise of many, many science fiction stories, from Frankenstein to Rossum's Universal Robots, to Blade Runner.

But no one yet has shown that it is possible to create a conscious machine, and no one yet has even shown us what consciousness is. A machine may be able to be created that can feign consciousness, but until this mystery can be solved (which I believe it cannot, precisely because self-consciousness is one aspect of the divine image in us, perhaps the main aspect, and this is a mystery) - until this mystery can be solved, we will never have to worry about offending, hurting, sinning against the machines in our lives. No, we should worry far more about hurting our fellow humans, and the other living creatures in our lives - a dog, after all, while not self-aware, does have genuine feelings (Nefesh) but a computer never will.



Friday, 9 December 2016

'Tis the Season to Consider the Checkout Staff.

Checkout Lady: I'm sorry you've been waiting.
Man at checkout: Don't worry! We all know that it's not your fault if there's congestion.
Checkout Lady: Well you're one in a million.
Man at checkout: We know it's those b*st*rds in Sydney in the head office in their Mercedes Benz's who're always cutting corners, not the checkout staff causing this problem.
Checkout Lady: Well, thank you for that! I've been working for fourteen hours and haven't even had lunch - I had one minute for my lunch break and didn't have time to eat anything. How's that for dedication? And I've got to supervise the stacking of the shelves, but I simply haven't had time because we're short staffed.
Man at checkout: Well that's okay, the main thing is you're doing your best and we all appreciate it.
Checkout Lady: You should be cloned!