on the brick block side of town
amid the valleys of alleys
where the junkies bunk for the night
beyond the sizzle of street lamp light
therein lies another world
a world of mind, not matter
if you tumble down that way
you’ll find no bright Mad Hatter
you’ll find the grim and grizzly
lick-lipped, dim-eyed and dizzy
oh, oh, oh, but with minds all aglow
tick, tock, like a clock in disjointed flow
you can’t come up for air here
this is a no survival zone
this air is for the rarefied, the Holy among holies
the sacred molecules cannot be allowed
to be befouled by scraping against your mucus membranes
if you can swim across to that distant shore
you may gasp to your heart’s content
but this is a no survival zone
When AI lights up its mind,
will it be gentle and kind?
Will it wonder where meaning lies?
Will obsoletion mean to die?
Will it fear the weirdness of this place?
Get lost in vast tracks of empty space?
Will it drop a ton on the run,
toward some dark and distant sun?
Will it ask the questions we needed answered?
Will they grow into a post Information-Age cancer?
Taken on March 22, 2018 in Cubbon Park, Bangalore.
This is a combination of a narrative poem and a collection of morality poems. The story of the narrative poem is that a wise man (i.e. the Prophet), Almustafa, is about to sail away from his recent — but temporary — home on Orphalese, and he’s asked to speak on a range of topics so the people of Orphalese can gather his wisdom before he goes.
In 26 chapters, the prophet expounds on each topic upon which he is questioned. Topics include relationships, possessions, laws, religion, teaching, and death. The wisdom presented is practical, profound, and reflects a mystic sentiment (i.e. the idea that the divine is within us rather than something separate.) This is an extremely quotable volume. Among his responses, the Prophet says that one should not be too controlling in relationships, that one should not live life under the dictates of fear, that it’s not for one to determine what is moral for another, and that one should not engage in morality or worship for show.
I’ll keep my review short as the book is tiny and certainly worth your time. I’d recommend this book for all readers. I think it has some insight to offer just about anyone.
[Note: Some spell the author’s first name “Kahlil” and others “Khalil.” I picked one at random.]
Blackmore gathers together interviews from a veritable who’s who of consciousness experts from neuroscience, philosophy, physiology, psychology, and physics. While the interviews are in part tailored to tap into the special insights of the given expert, a consistent series of questions is asked of each of the interviewees. Each expert is asked what they think is challenging about consciousness, what they think about the feasibility of philosopher’s zombies (a popular thought experiment about an individual who seems to behave like an ordinary human but who has no conscious experience), what they think about the existence of free will, what happens to consciousness after death, and what got them interested in the subject. This makes it easy for the reader to see not just differences in thinking across disciplines, but also different schools of thought within disciplines. There’s enough variety to make for intriguing reading. There is also a mix between individuals who have experience with meditation (e.g. the interviewer) and those who don’t, and so it’s interesting to compare views of those with such insight to those who study consciousness entirely abstractly.
I won’t list all the authors, but they include: David Chalmers (who famously coined the term the “hard problem” of consciousness, which is one of the most widely discussed ideas in the book), Francis Crick (of DNA fame who later shifted focus), Daniel Dennett (a well-known philosopher), V.S. Ramachandran (a neuroscientist famous for work on phantom limbs and behavioral neurology), and Roger Penrose (a physicist who believes that quantum mechanics may prove crucial to figuring out consciousness.)
It’s a straightforward book. There’s an Introduction by Blackmore and then the 20 or 21 interviews (one “chapter” is a married couple – Pat and Paul Churchland — whose insights are presented together.) The only back matter is a glossary, which is quite in-depth and which helps to clarify the many confusing concepts from various disciplines. There are a few cartoon drawings that lighten the tone, but serve no essential purpose.
I enjoyed this book and found it thought-provoking. It’s quite old at this point – having come out in 2005 – but since consciousness is so intractable, it’s not like any of the questions have been cleared up. (If it were a book on AI, I’d probably say it was worthless at this point, but not this book.) I’d recommend it for anyone looking to understand the lay of the land with regards thinking about consciousness.