Wednesday, 10 December 2014

"We never keep to the present," said Pascal

I can't remember a better description of the destructiveness of ignoring the present moment than this:

"We never keep to the present. We recall the past; we anticipate the future as if we found it too slow in coming and were trying to hurry it up, or we recall the past as if to stay its too rapid flight. 

We are so unwise that we wander about in times that do not belong to us, and do not think of the only one that does; so vain that we dream of time that are not and blindly flee the only one that is. 

The fact is that the present usually hurts. We thrust it out of sight because it distresses us, and if we find it enjoyable, we are sorry to see it slip away. 

We try to give it the support of the future, and think how we are going to arrange things over which we have no control for a time we can never be sure of reaching. 

Let each of us examine his thoughts; he will find them wholly concerned with the past or the future. We almost never think of the present, and if we do think of it, it is only to see what light it throws on our plans for the future. 

The present is never our end. The past and the present are our means, the future alone our end. Thus we never actually live, but hope to live, and since we always planning how to be happy, it is inevitable that we should never be so."

Written a long time ago by someone who I doubt ever heard the term "mindfulness."

With thanks to Sarah for chasing down the whole passage, quoted to us during an excellent day with John Peacock.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Digital cloning - mortality awareness, artificial intelligence and the end of the world?

This remarkable human being:

has warned us that artificial intelligence (computer power equal to the human brain) could threaten the survival of homo sapiens. He's a smart bloke and we'd do well to listen and think, though another prof calmed us a bit by saying that it's a 100+ years threat, not an "AI and Ebola too, which to tackle first?" sort of threat.

One aspect of AI which I find immediately worrying is the idea of a computer cloned with a digital facsimile of a person. I think it's worrying not because Apple might include it in their next upgrade, but because of what it tells us about mortality unawareness.

So I'm someone who has lost a partner in mid-life. I set up a digital clone of my beloved. This clone talks to me as he did, answers questions, chats, the whole bit. Maybe the imagery of him is avatar-like, or better.

So instead of mourning my beloved, I spend a lot of my time with "him." Instead of grieving for him, enduring pain, moving onwards, I stick in a digital version of the past. Not, note, my memories, but an updateable mock-up of him. If I meet someone else, after a decent time interval (I'll check with the kids - they'll tell me) what do I do? Ask my cloned beloved if that's OK? Compare digital nonperson with  actual bloke I've met?


I'm avoiding the pain as well as the joy of being human. I'm pretending death doesn't exist. Don't tell me death and life are the same thing, and we need death to be alive. I'll stay enmeshed with my dead person, who can now talk to me, offer comfort, be soothing and.....

What a horrible temptation for a grief-stricken person.

 But my dead dear one belongs here:

and in my heart. Not here:


(Or is it just me?)