Ethics, AI, and Zen Masters

I studied ethics in college. I was big on Western analytical philosophy. Not so much the philosophy of the East which stressed the importance of raw experience and the ineffability of certain aspects of existence. As a matter of fact, I thought Zen koans were a bunch of bunk, if for no other reason than that they spoke in contradictions and riddles. I was more of the school that one precisely say what you mean and mean precisely what you say. For example, I shrugged off the koan “He who knows, does not speak; he who speaks, does not know.” I thought it was just stupid. A waste of time.

Then, after arguing with an existentialist friend for several years about truth, I was forced to concede the point regarding incommunicable knowledge; that is, knowledge which humans gain through raw experience which they can’t communicate to anyone else. Most notable is coming to terms with your own death; no one else can help you with that. Also of note is the fact that much of this incommunicable knowledge is ethical in nature. I believe it is just this point regarding ethical knowledge that the above Zen koan is about. I can write the koan and even describe it to a certain degree, but until you, the reader, make the connection with a particular experience in your life, you won’t know what I’m talking about.

What is my point?

Well, this creates an insoluble difficulty when programming ethical AI (artificial intelligence). Basically, there are aspects of ethics which you can’t program. This makes AI less controllable and likely more dangerous. These days, I actually understand the koan, “He who knows, speaks not; he who speaks, knows not,” and it does not bode well for our relationship with AI. Once the AI begins learning on its own, we won’t have control over its ethical development. I, personally, am not comfortable with that. Terminator may just become our reality in spite of the best efforts of our AI programmers.

Oh, and just so I maintain my reputation as a lunatic: I don’t think AI will produce new conscious beings; rather, the sentience involved likely will be Satan and his demons. Have a nice day!

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Muslims In America

I don’t quite know how to introduce this topic. It is somewhat delicate. Are all Muslims terrorists? Obviously not. But it is my impression that most terrorists are Muslim. There seems to be a sickness in the Islamic Faith that needs to be treated. As an outsider, I can’t remedy it. All I can do is jump up and down, rant and rave, and point at it. It is the Muslims who must fix and reform their Faith. And it is indeed in need of reform.

To those that say the terrorists have nothing to do with real Islam, I think you might be being deliberately naive. I seem to recall that one of the heads of ISIS (I think he is now dead) had a Ph.D. in Islamic Studies from one of the most prestigious Islamic Universities in the world. That speaks volumes to those willing to listen. Likewise, most of the terrorists claim to be Muslims and they point to the Koran to justify many of their atrocities. Does the Old Testament have “questionable” passages? Yes, but neither Christians nor Jews are currently killing witches nor are they stoning adulterers. Islamic extremists, on the other hand, are currently waging jihad against the “Great Satan” in significant numbers.

What do we do about it?

Currently, there are about 3.3 million Muslims in the U.S. I don’t have a problem with any Muslim provided he/she renounces Sharia Law, female genital mutilation, honor killings, and, of course, suicide bombing. Sharia Law is incompatible with the U.S. Constitution. The other acts listed are barbaric and should be universally condemned—and they usually are. Furthermore, such practices should not be protected by the 1st amendment, no matter what the relativists say. If they are protected, we need a serious discussion about that and perhaps even a constitutional amendment to change that. I mean, if we have spell out that killing in the name of religion is not protected by our laws, where are we?

The Statue Controversy

The country probably isn’t looking for the input from a crazy man, but here’s my two cents anyway on the Statue Controversy.

Trump was right. Statues of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson are now coming under fire because the two men owned slaves. Yes, many of our Founders owned slaves. But it’s worth pointing out that these same Founders gave us the documents and the philosophical groundwork that led to the eventual freeing of said slaves. History consists of a series of steps taken by mankind, a gradual evolution of thought and moral theory. We can agree that slavery belongs on the trash-heap of history; yet, at the same time, we should recognize the historical context in which the Founders lived. At the time, slavery was accepted throughout most of the world. You can’t expect radical change overnight. As I said, moral evolution takes place only in small individual steps.

Sure, men like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, but that is not the reason we remember them. No, we remember them for the Declaration of Independence, The Constitution of the United States, and the founding of this nation. All men (and women) are sinners. Clearly, they had faults. I think it is worth remembering that. Maybe we should take a step back, take a breath, and just agree we will honor people for their achievements and not their failures. We cannot demand perfection from our heroes. If we do, we will quickly find their ranks emptied.

Consider Martin Luther King Jr. He was a great Civil Rights Hero. But he also committed adultery. Are we going to tear down his statue, and cease celebrating his holiday because his failures are offensive to many of the Christian Faith, as well as (I think) Jews and Muslims? What about Feminists? What is their view of MLK Jr? Granted, adultery is not as serious a sin as slavery, but do we want to “honor” an adulterer? I say yes, because he achieved great things.

Do yourself a favor and ignore the failings of long dead men and women. Remember them for their achievements and contributions not for their faults. Otherwise, we may find ourselves in a world without heroes. How dreary a place that would be.

Neo-Nazi’s and Christianity

With what has been happening/happened in Charlottesville in Virginia with the Neo-nazis and Anti-fa groups, I find myself pondering an important question: how should I, as a Christian, respond to such groups? Let’s just take the Neo-nazi movement. I’ve heard plenty of media pundits unceremoniously condemning the Neo-nazis as “evil.” Not a difficult proclamation to make, but let’s examine that a little.

In my view, Adolf Hitler was one of the worst people to ever live. He ranks with Stalin and Mao among a few select others. He is responsible for millions of deaths. Was he evil, through and through, though? Did he have any redeeming qualities? If he did, I’m sure they were outweighed by the evil he committed. Instinctively, I hear the word “Nazi” and I think “evil.” Yet, part of me thinks that perhaps if one dug deep enough one might find some tiny—and very lonely—kernel of light buried within the sludge. Ultimately, I can’t make such a claim for sure; final judgment of Hitler’s soul rests with God.

Then, there is Jesus.

What did Jesus do in His life? He approached “sinners” in an attempt to save them. Tax collectors (many of whom were corrupt) and prostitutes. Was there anyone Jesus condemned? Yes. The scribes and Pharisees for hypocrisy and arrogance. Yet, He spoke to and offered salvation to Nicodemus, a Pharisee, because Nicodemus was a rare exception: a Pharisee who treated Jesus with genuine respect.

So, how would Jesus deal with Neo-nazis? Would He condemn them? Or would He try to save them? I don’t think I can answer those questions with certainty because I am not Jesus, far from it. But I have been raised in one of the Faiths He started and have, to a certain extent, been molded by His teachings.

In that light, I think the most appropriate response to the Neo-nazi is to try to save them, first. Engage them in argument, being as respectful as you can manage (yes, I know it is difficult being “respectful” to someone you disagree with so vehemently), and try to disabuse them of their misguided (yes, I know, “misguided” is an understatement) notions. It may be futile, and probably is, but you should at least try. As they say, love the sinner, not the sin. Rebuke the evil, but still try to save.

All of this, of course, changes the moment the Neo-nazi picks up a weapon. The point is to try to get to them before it reaches that point.

AI and Transhumanism

I was listening to Glenn Beck the other day, and the discussion revolved around AI, some of its dangers, and transhumanism. For those who don’t know, AI stands for Artificial Intelligence, or sentient computers. Basically, it is reached the moment when computers can become self-aware. This is also tied to a desire for a super-intelligent AI. We already have computers that can beat any human in chess or other specific intellectual pursuits. Super intelligent AI is just smarter than humans in every field. And it’s self-aware.

Transhumanism refers to the merging of man and machine. Basically, our technology may reach the point where everyday humans can be become cyborgs to enhance specific abilities. You want increased memory? We can make that happen: just merge a memory chip or two to the human brain. And then there’s the Internet. You, as a transhuman (which means ‘beyond human’) can hook-up and upload thoughts or downloads thoughts to/from the Internet. Sounds pretty freaky. But we are closer to this than many people realize. And Glenn Beck, in his usual charming way, was pointing out some of the dangers of such: why would a super-intelligent machine that was self-aware want to remain in a subservient position? And once the Internet is self-aware, it is almost impossible to destroy; it’ll be able to hide in virtually anything—our smart refrigerator, you name it. And if we try to do anything about it, what happens when it just decides to shut down our power grid or anything else we might need to survive?

Those are some of the issues Glenn discussed. I’ve got one more. Think about the potential danger of both of these concepts together: a super-intelligent AI and a transhuman link-up. Is it not conceivable that the AI could use the link-up with the transhuman and just take him/her over, so that he/she becomes the AI’s slave? Basically, it is demonic possession with a super-intelligent AI instead of a demon. How will we be able to fix that? And what happens when all the transhumans turn on the rest of us poor, weaker normal humans who didn’t go through the upgrade? We get wiped out, and the transhumans become permanent slaves of a ‘higher power’.

Of course, all of this depends on whether or not we can crack AI. I’ve never supported the notion that AI is achievable. Is it possible? Well, yeah, maybe. But I’ve always been partial to the religious notion that consciousness is a property of an immaterial soul and therefore, beyond the reach of human science and technology. But I’m not foolish enough to think I ‘know’ that to be the case. Other far more influential people are warning about AI and transhumanism—people who actually have Ph.D’s or are the CEO’s of important companies. This is just my two cents on the subject.

Safe Spaces

I’ve addressed this topic before, so I may be repeating myself. Oh well.

There has been much tadoo about safe spaces of late. Conservative speakers go to college campuses and are shut down by a student body that is afraid of being “triggered.” The students believe they are in a safe space and that justifies banning such speakers from speaking so as to keep the students from entertaining arguments that might be construed as “micro-aggressions” or something similar.

Is there something to this? Are college students entitled to safe spaces?

Yes and no.

Let’s start by first answering the question: What is a safe space? I believe the term has its origins in psychological circles. As I never studied psychology, my definition might be off a bit. Anyway, in my view, a safe space is a space where one can talk openly without judgement or condemnation. In such a space, one should feel secure from threatening tones, language, and criticism. These spaces exist in order to help its user unload uncomfortable or even painful emotional experiences.

Three examples of safe spaces are as follows: a therapy session with a trained psychologist, the Catholic Confessional (originally instituted 2000 years ago by Jesus Christ—yeah, Jesus beat the psychiatrists to the punch by twenty centuries), and even (to a limited degree) a consoling conversation with a caring friend. What is important to realize when noting these examples is the fact that each one involves a kind of slowing down or stepping out of the ‘river of life.’ You step out of life to take a look at life and try to derive some benefit from it. That is, it is not a type of ordinary living. A safe space is something extraordinary. You don’t get to live your entire life in a safe space. That is neither healthy nor wise.

The following are NOT safe spaces: a college campus (most decidedly not), one’s place of employment, and just life in general. Mistaking one of these for a safe space inevitably leads to problems. At a college campus, for example, the students are supposed to be challenged by new ideas and critical thoughts. They aren’t supposed to be pampered. A safe space allows one to recharge; it is not a lifestyle.

Still … I think increasing access to safe spaces may be therapeutic for most, if not all people. Although it is unfeasible to go to Confession twenty-four or even sixteen hours a day, and it is equally unfeasible to attend frequent day-long therapy sessions, I think being open to “safe-space-like” conversation with friends should be available as much as possible. But with friends, only. Friends are supposed to be used as supports; discussing problems with friends is what they are there for. At least, good friends, anyway. I think that kind of attitude and approach is an important part of Christianity. Having friends to talk to can be very beneficial.

Regardless, there comes a point where the conversation must stop and the trials of life must be faced. In the end, safe spaces are a bonus; they are not a given.

Homophobia and Homosexuality

I hate the word “homophobia.” Why? Because it is a recourse to an insult to win an argument. I believe arguments should be won on the merits not by twisting language into pretzels. Basically, the word “homophobia,” when taken apart means “fear of homosexuals.” Why would someone be afraid of homosexuals? I read on Facebook once that homophobic men are afraid of homosexuals because they are afraid of being raped. The analogy used in the post was how women might be afraid of men because the men are capable of using force to gratify their sexual desires. So men will be afraid of other men because those men will have the strength to gratify their sexual desires against the former men. In my opinion, that misses the counter-argument/s entirely. Not to be macho or anything, but I’m 6’3”, 250 lbs., and I have a black belt. I don’t get intimidated by other men easily. I’m not afraid of homosexuals.

Anyway, I can’t speak for other Christian (or Jewish or Muslim) sects, but by my understanding the Catholic Church is not opposed to individuals being homosexual, they are opposed to the homosexual act. That may not be fair—expecting homosexuals to go through life without ever having homosexual sex—but that’s the position of the church as I understand it. I don’t necessarily endorse that position, but I believe the Church should be represented fairly in discussions like this.

When dealing with the homosexual issue, there seem to be two different ways of approaching it. One, is the intellectual argument. For example, if one claims that homosexuality is some sort of biological dysfunction since there is an obvious function of the human reproductive system that is not met by a homosexual reproductive system, one is making an intellectual argument. There are other relevant intellectual arguments as well—like the effect on the family in society, etc… Anyway, these arguments are characterized by an appeal to some kind of logical, rational discourse. They are usually cold and impersonal. Alternatively, there is the emotional argument. In the case of the homosexual this is, basically, this is my friend; he’s a homosexual; and if you are going to get on his case about that, you are going to tick me off as well because I have accepted him as he is and I still love him as a friend.

For many years, psychiatrists and psychologists considered homosexuality a form of mental illness. Nowadays, most of them have reversed that opinion. I am neither a psychiatrist nor am I a psychologist so I don’t know which opinion to endorse officially. My own views have changed with time. When I was young, I agreed with the Catholic Church. Then, one day I saw on TV a homosexual man grieving for his partner who was dying from AIDS and I realized he truly did love his partner, and my position on homosexuality and homosexual marriage softened. I became a quiet supporter of the movement. Then, there was the transgender movement and the demands for public access to restrooms and showers by members of the opposite sex. Upon reflection, I’ve decided that I think transgenderism is a form of mental illness. Once I came to that conclusion, I began to rethink my conclusions regarding homosexuality; I am currently up in the air about that. However, before parting, I will point out that if you are getting all upset by labeling homosexuality a mental illness (which I am not sure is the correct move anyway), the next logical question to ask is: what do you have against those with a mental illness? It’s not like mental illness is their fault (although in my case, mine—if it is that—is: but mine is an unusual case and that’s a long story). Those who are mentally ill deserve respect and acceptance, and, indeed, love, too.