I remember the first blink of my eyes I remember the purple halo of unknowing my pupils accepted without regard Do you know what it’s like to see with no words? To not know the name?
I remember the first ache of my bones I remember the broken beckon of wonder from a dreaming diamond sky darkness Have you ever known something only by feeling it? By turning inside out?
I remember the first beat of my heart I remember the swirling power of tilted legions flowing forever with no commands Can you feel happy when you’re lost together? Sense need not appear?
The problem is that I’m not a bird anymore. A bird can fly. A bird can choose to go anywhere it likes. A bird could fly to the dentist for fucks sake. But it never will because it can only respond in a very unique and specific way to its ever-changing environment. A bird can fly, eat or fuck more or less to adjust its fitness to the environment. I didn’t get to choose not to be a bird anymore, it was a choice that was thrust upon me. By not being able to choose I don’t know whether it’s good or bad, those are obstacles constructed by choice. De-birding was bound to happen.
The new problem is that I am an organization of birds. I am a computer. I cannot fly. I can choose. I think. I am mostly still a stream of events organized by structured input. I could go to the dentist if I prefer but it’s a very specific environmental response masquerading as my choice to go to the dentist. Or become a dentist. Or make a language where those confusing sentences can make sense. I am a computer and it’s easy for me to feel like things make sense. I want sense. Computers are meaning makers after all. I can choose and my meaning is in choosing.
“In the future I want to be a shell” he said.
“Why’s that honey?” His mother asked.
“A shell doesn’t know what time it is” He replied.
His name is Alex. Let’s say Alex is 10 years old. A perfect age. Alex is at the beach with his mother. It’s a week after his father's funeral. At this moment Alex is becoming a shell. Not a “shell of his self” that your meaning-making computer mind could be trying to apply to the story. You see the environmental impact of trauma and disassociating grief at such a vulnerable age and wonder if the shell is literal. In his perfect knowing, Alex is acknowledging to his mother that he wants to be a literal shell for the literal reason that time doesn’t exist. At his perfect age of knowing he’s felt something, he will feel it over and over again for the rest of his life.
My sweet Alex,
You’re right. Being a shell, a literal shell, one that you can place over your ear and hear the ocean from your bed in Kentucky, is the only thing you can be. Let the waves crash over you my beautiful Alex. There will be more waves. Waves as great as this. Waves greater than this. Don’t let them harden you into a bird. Don’t let them confuse you into a computer. Let them slowly wash over you. Learn to notice them and find their unique beauty. It’s okay to be sad. Sometimes the waves are washing you into sand. Let them. Fighting it only makes it worse. While you are becoming sand you can remember that you will become a shell again soon. You don’t have to try. The waves will make you again Alex, my beautiful Alex, the waves will make you again. You won’t have to try.
You are beautiful now and always,
A little one-off experimental piece here. Started this not having any idea where it would go. I like where it ended up. Gave myself a few constraints as it started coming together – I tried to combine poetry and narrative, I tried to confuse myself between the mythos and ethos, I tried to write a GPT-3 origin story of itself, I tried to tell a whole story and with many slices of different stories.
A couple other places I’ve been this week that took hold in this piece.
Educated by Tara Westover
Started and finished this book in 3 days. Recommended by my sister. It’s a memoir from the youngest in a survivalist Mormon family in rural Idaho. The depictions of mental health, psychological trauma and emotional abuse are difficult to traverse with the narrator. A section i’ve been grappling with and inspired the title of this piece.
LaMDA, Lemoine, and the Allures of Digital Re-enchantment
There have been many think pieces on Google’s LaMDA and OpenAI’s GPT-3, but I’ve seen none take aim at the personal ethos of the google engineer that called sentience and how his worldviews overlap with our definitions of sentience. Here is Sacasas quoting an old Atlantic article on our evolving feelings towards computers.
Reflecting upon his unwitting exchange with Alexa, Alang registered an astute observation. “Perhaps, then, that Instagram shot or confessional tweet isn’t always meant to evoke some mythical, pretend version of ourselves,” he surmised, “but instead seeks to invoke the imagined perfect audience—the non-existent people who will see us exactly as we want to be seen.” “We are not curating an ideal self,” Alang added, “but rather, an ideal Other, a fantasy in which our struggle to become ourselves is met with the utmost empathy.”
I guess that’s all for today.