Mathematics is being used as a shield for corrupt practices
I want to start this blog with what I think is a false premise: machines will make a better world for humans.
Now, before you call me a Luddite I just ask that you hear me out. For those unfamiliar, the Luddites were members of a 19th-century movement of English textile workers which opposed the use of certain types of cost-saving machinery, often by destroying the machines in clandestine raids. They protested against manufacturers who used machines in "a fraudulent and deceitful manner" to replace the skilled labour of workers and drive down wages by producing inferior goods.
To my point, we have outsourced a good deal of work to machines already and what that has produced is a hollowing out of the middle class, but I digress.
The thesis I wish to make in this blog post is that AI is a dehumanizing technology. It seeks to supplant human thinking with bot thinking. Some people have even gone so far as to develop sermons or "messages" from Chat Gpt as if AI has some sentient quality or even provide us with spiritual messages. A machine that can "learn" by definition can only learn from the past. And as Einstein said: "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them." It is a tautology (a logical conclusion) that AI can only be a dead end to something as ethereal and delicate as a spiritual message.
I am beginning to see how AI is blunting human interaction in areas such as social media. The AI algorithms used to funnel content has had a horrific dehumanizing effect on the social body of humanity. Anything now can be used to divide by siloing people down informational rabbit holes. In an age of information we are drowning in disinformation and bad ideas.
Some people point to the usefulness of AI. Let's look at a few examples.
-- Facial recognition in policing: Black faces are not even seen by this technology and there have been numerous cases of arrest due to false identification. Besides that, do we really want to live in a surveillance society? Mental note -- reread George Orwell.
-- Medical Diagnosis by Watson: IBM's AI system claims to be able to scan thousands of images (in the case of x-ray) and medical texts in seconds to arrive at a diagnosis. But here's a question -- who is evaluating the quality of the research. How can we know that the medical information that Watson is scanning was done right? That is to say, was the study statistically skewed, was the methodology flawed, and who paid for the research and for what purpose was the research done? What research is being sifted through? Do natural medicines get considered? The healing work that Native People have collated over centuries?
In this scenario, what if a doctor of 30 or 40 years experience disagreed with Watson? A doctor who has insight into how a disease might manifest from ACTUAL experience. Who would you trust? Is that doctor going to want to speak up and challenge an AI diagnosis?
In the case of spirituality, people have used CHAT gpt to generate sermons and while you might get some text which is an amalgamation of other spiritual texts it is merely a representation of spirituality." It is not spirituality. To be more concrete a shadow is a representation of an object but it is NOT the object. If I were to put it in biblical terminology I'd call it a False god.
I posit that AI is our modern day Baal. Modern people will "follow the data" to find meaning in life and the answers they seek and they will be led down rabbit holes. Holes that may even have been dug on purpose by the algorithm designers. Here's a question: who gets to decide what data the bots will use?
The way out is the way in. From Luke 21:17 "The kingdom of God is within you."
Quakers have always sought a direct experience of God free from intercessors. AI is no different.
~ Joseph Olejak
Well, members of Old Chatham Meeting won’t be seeing Rosa de Lejos, a Spanish-language DVD which I recently purchased from eBay. It is an 80’s film, based on the wildly popular Argentinian telenovela of the same name.
Rosa is a naïve young woman who comes to Buenos Aires to work and support her family. She lives “lejos,” far away from that family and is herself far away from understanding Buenos Aires and the elite class that employs the working poor. But Rosa falls in love with Roberto, a medical student from that elite. Unfortunately, Roberto sees himself as “above” Rosa and abandons her when he learns that Rosa is carrying his child.
An embittered Rosa vows to better herself and find a place in the high society that Roberto lives in. Esteban, a schoolteacher, shows her how to read and write. He then educates her in the language and culture of the upper class; and Rosa—beginning as a simple seamstress—ascends to being a world-class modista, or fashion designer. Now rich and privileged, she falls in love with Esteban and, presumably, lives happily ever after.
This idea of a lowly, poor person rising to the upper class is a common theme in Latin American telenovelas or soap operas. For example, the telenovela Marimar revolves around the love story of Marimar, a poor, barefoot girl who lives in a beach hut, and Sergio, a rich soccer player who marries her to spite his father. When Sergio rejects her, Marimar eventually transforms herself into a sophisticated and successful woman, seeking revenge on all those who have wronged her. She is so changed that Sergio and his family do not even recognize her, not comprehending that a muchacha from the lower class could enter into high society.
But can the poor actually rise to the middle or upper class? Taking the case of such people in the United States, I would have to say—generally— “No.” I’m reminded of what I heard in Walmart just yesterday after a couple had finished buying groceries. “Do we have enough money left for gas,” was the girl’s question. Well, if you don’t have enough money for gas, or if the car isn’t running, or if there’s no one to take care of a sick child, how will you get to work?
Maybe you have Medicaid for the sick child, but the rest of the family doesn’t have health insurance or real access to the health care system—unless an emergency room visit counts as a substitute for continual, quality health care. And how will you ever have the time and money for an education that would lift you out of poverty?
Moreover, the lack of money leads to stress and—often—family fights that sometimes turn violent and psychologically scar the children of the family, who then perpetuate a cycle of violence resulting from poor interpersonal coping skills. Whether in the United States or Latin America, the dream of rising to a middle-class or upper-class life is—for the poor—a pipe dream, a fantasy, a temporary escape facilitated by TV soap operas, TV game shows, or lotto tickets.
It's said that you can’t solve social problems by throwing money at them; but universal, free early childcare and education together with a universal, free college education would put a dent in the problem. Add in universal health care for everyone in the U.S. and freedom from food insecurity, and you’ve cracked open the iron barrier of poverty. Finish all this up with guaranteed housing and the teaching of tolerance and anti-discrimination in the schools, and you’ve demolished the barriers to advancement in life for those of the downtrodden, under-class.
Otherwise, the poor are reduced to watching TV shows like Rosa de Lejos or The $100,000 Pyramid.
~ Richard Russell
Never until the mankind making
Bird beast and flower
Fathering and all humbling darkness
Tells with silence the last light breaking
And the still hour
Is come of the sea tumbling in harness
And I must enter again the round
Zion of the water bead
And the synagogue of the ear of corn
Shall I let pray the shadow of a sound
Or sow my salt seed
In the least valley of sackcloth to mourn
The majesty and burning of the child's death.
I shall not murder
The mankind of her going with a grave truth
Nor blaspheme down the stations of the breath
With any further
Elegy of innocence and youth.
Deep with the first dead lies London's daughter,
Robed in the long friends,
The grains beyond age, the dark veins of her mother,
Secret by the unmourning water
Of the riding Thames.
After the first death, there is no other.
Submitted by Joseph Olejak
Nostalgia is a wistful, bittersweet emotion. It can arise any time you
recall moments that helped define the person you’ve become….
Although nostalgia blends happiness with sadness, it typically brings
up positive feelings…. (Renew, Fall/Winter 2023, p. 22)
…(It) also has mental health benefits…. Thinking about key moments from your past might help you feel better about yourself, your relationships and the trajectory that your life has taken. (Renew, p. 20)
So, Renew Magazine (only available to members of a United Health Advantage plan) tells us that nostalgia increases “self-esteem, optimism, social connectedness, self-continuity, and meaning in life.” Well, I don’t doubt that nostalgia is psychologically beneficial; but lately, I’ve experienced its “sadness” downside. I’ve been trying to re-connect with long-lost friends and mentors. I’ve had one notable success, finding my old Classics professor, Karl Galinsky, on Facebook. However, when I looked for Dr. John G. Bordie, who supervised my Master’s Report, I discovered that he had died several years ago. When I looked for my college roommate and friend, Jack Burns, I was shocked to find that he too had died recently.
There are many nostalgic moments that I can recall with Jack. However, perhaps the most poignant was when we stayed up all of a chilly night and—using my 6-inch reflector telescope—observed Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Venus, and Mercury. As regards Dr. Bordie, I can’t forget his revelation that I had made a presentation in a linguistics class unconsciously speaking English with a Spanish accent.
A recent event that evokes nostalgia is the welcoming party that Old Chatham members gave me when I joined the Meeting. Really, I feel unalloyed joy when I look at pictures of my wife and myself together with Bill and Bev Thompson, Don and Merry Lathrop, Farid Gruber and Rebecca McBride, together with many others, eating lunch on the outside porch of the Meeting House during the Covid Pandemic. The tinge of sadness that comes with the memory is the realization that the Meeting is not always so completely united in love as on that day.
So, if you want to dig out old school yearbooks or old photo albums, go ahead. If you feel nostalgic about the past, any tinge of sadness will surely give way to joy.
~ Richard Russell
… through my backwardness I sat under the burden of the word so long that the proper time slipped in which should I have stood up which was a hurt to both myself and the meeting and I believe made hard work for my companion, for where there is not a keeping our ranks each in our own line of duty, it flings the whole out of joint and the meeting seldom if ever recovers when thus the gospel property is invaded.
I have oft compared the ministry to a fountain or spring of water and ministers to pipes through which the water is conveyed to diverse parts of the city, some greater some lesser, according to the distance the stream is to be conveyed ... and very frequently we see one pipe so fixed as to be in some sort dependent on another and if any impediment happens to either it frustrates the grand design of conveyance, and no pipe so small or minute but there is some service or part to act and it’s not acting that part may possibly so disconcert the whole as to incommode a great part if not the whole of the city.
The excerpt above is from the diary of Elizabeth Hudson, a Friend who traveled extensively in colonial America. She’s quoted in Brian Drayton’s Midweek Meditations.
~ submitted by Richard Russell
During the decades of the 50’s and 60’s Hollywood cranked out biblical epic after biblical epic, most of them being mediocre or bad. Two films of this type that I’ve seen and believe to have artistic merit are Ben-Hur and Barabbas although I certainly don’t place either one on my “Best 10” list. Both rely heavily on violent, action scenes. In Ben-Hur there’s the naval battle and a chariot race. In Barabbas there’s the earthquake that destroys a sulfur mine, gladiatorial combats, and the Great Fire of Rome.
Well, there’s nothing particularly wrong with action scenes; but if you like character development and insight into the human psyche, an action film will seem shallow and unrewarding. I’ve already mentioned that Barabbas has plenty of action, but it also has psychological merit in its examination of Barabbas’ vacillation between faith and doubt. Moreover, in the gladiator Torvald we have a convincing portrait of a psychopath. Sometimes Barabbas is criticized for its pacing, for scenes that drag on too long. I think such critics are focused on the excitement of the action scenes and just not interested in the psychological and philosophical interludes that elevate Barabbas above the typical biblical epic.
Oh, I’ve forgotten to tell the reader that Barabbas is about the thief and revolutionary of the same name—the one who was released instead of Jesus by Pontius Pilate. The Gospels don’t give us any details of Barabbas’ subsequent life; but the film—based on Pär Lagerkvist’s 1951 novel—follows Barabbas as he returns to a life of crime, is sentenced to the mines, becomes a gladiator, and is crucified as one of the Christians blamed for the Great Fire of Rome in 64 C.E.
Of course, the focus of the movie is Barabbas’ divided soul as he sometimes accepts, sometimes rejects “The Way” of the Christians. Peter, the Apostle, tells Barabbas, “There has been a wrestling in your spirit, back and forth in your life, which in itself is knowledge of God. By the conflict you have known Him.” I find Peter’s words reassuring as I myself have vacillated between religious faith and skeptical doubt. Perhaps other Friends in Old Chatham Meeting have experienced a similar tension.
Well, do I recommend that the reader see Barabbas? If violence troubles you, perhaps “no.” If you rather like grand spectacles but also enjoy character development, perhaps “yes.”
~ Richard Russell
Do you think that, of your own free will, you chose to become a Quaker? If so, you’re wrong. Your becoming a Friend was pre-determined long before you even knew that Quakers existed. At least, that’s the argument of Robert Sapolsky, distinguished professor of neurological studies at Stanford University. Here’s a quote from Chapter One of Sapolsky’s latest book, Determined:
Once you work with the notion that every aspect of behavior has deterministic, prior causes, you observe a behavior and can answer why it occurred; as just noted, because of the action of neurons in this or that part of your brain in the preceding second. And in the seconds to minutes before, those neurons were activated by a thought, a memory, an emotion, or sensory stimuli. And in the hours to days before that behavior occurred, the hormones in your circulation shaped those thoughts, memories, and emotions and altered how sensitive your brain was to particular environmental stimuli. And in the preceding months to years, experience and environment changed how those neurons function, causing some to sprout new connections and become more excitable, and causing the opposite in others.
And from there, we hurtle back decades in identifying antecedent causes. Explaining why that behavior occurred requires recognizing how during your adolescence a key brain region was still being constructed, shaped by socialization and acculturation. Further back, there’s childhood experience shaping the construction of your brain, with the same then applying to your fetal environment. Moving further back, we have to factor in the genes you inherited and their effects on behavior.
But we’re not done yet. That’s because everything in your childhood, starting with how you were mothered within minutes of birth, was influenced by culture, which means as well by the centuries of ecological factors that influenced what kind of culture your ancestors invented, and by the evolutionary pressures that molded the species you belong to. Why did that behavior occur? Because of biological and environmental interactions….
(and)…those are all variables that you had little or no control over. You cannot decide all the sensory stimuli in your environment, your hormone levels this morning, whether something traumatic happened to you in the past, the socioeconomic status of your parents, your fetal environment, your genes, whether your ancestors were farmers or herders…. we are nothing more or less than the cumulative biological and environmental luck, over which we had no control, that has brought us to any moment.
~ submitted by Richard Russell
According to the gospels, Jesus claimed to be the Messianic Deliverer of Israel. He predicted his own death and resurrection, events which he believed would lead to the establishment of a literal Kingdom of God on earth. He himself would rule that kingdom as the Messiah, the “Son of Man.” Thus, Jesus challenged the authority of Rome by going to Jerusalem, entering the city like King David, and wreaking havoc on the merchants who did business in the Temple. At the request of the priestly elite, he was executed by the Romans, who rightly saw him as a political revolutionary wanting to overthrow their Judaean collaborators and end Roman rule. This is the interpretation of Jesus’ ministry according to many scholars, with whom I agree.
Some writers argue that Jesus’ claims and actions were signs of a delusional or psychotic personality, of a man who suffered from megalomania, paranoia, or schizophrenia. They often point out that Jesus was even accused by his family, his followers, and his contemporaries of being insane and possessed by demons. Mark (3:20-21) tells us, “Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind’” (NIV). The family must have been alarmed by Jesus’ challenge to the Jewish ritual purity system, in which they had been reared. No doubt they didn’t comprehend how Jesus’ ethic of love was superior to the system of sacrifice and ritual cleansing maintained by the priestly class. And they were taken aback by the adoring crowds that followed this scion of a humble family.
Well, I certainly don’t agree that Jesus was psychotic. The hall mark of psychosis is a disconnect from reality, particularly social reality. Jesus well understood the reality of Roman oppression—which was why he attracted crowds of poor, downtrodden people. Moreover, his emphasis on love, forgiveness, and compassion was part of a Jewish prophetic tradition that lived on beside the dominant ritualistic religion of his day. And many first century Jews—not just Jesus—believed in a Messiah who would free Judaea from Roman rule. In other words, the messianic idea was a religious-cultural reality that Jesus embraced. As to his supposed megalomania, that quality was actually a profound sense of mission and a loving service to God and the Jewish people.
Schizophrenics are characterized by their withdrawal from, and lack of connection to, other people. Certainly, Jesus frequently wanted to get away from the crush of a crowd, but he was extremely sociable. He loved parties and the companionship of women. Although I doubt its historicity, in the Gospel of John Jesus performed his first miracle at a wedding feast. He became mentor to twelve disciples with whom he had a close, intimate relationship; and he was followed by a larger group of unnamed men and women. After Jesus’ death, his disciples could not forget the warmth of his friendship and his dedication to the greater good. They refused to let his memory die.
No, Jesus was not crazy. He was a mature, mentally healthy person. And—I dare say—he was a prophet sent by God.
~ Richard Russell
Well, my wife has laid down the law. I’m supposed to throw away the trash in my office and organize the rest either for the office or a garage sale. So, I’m going to take an October vacation from blogging in order to have more time to complete this challenging task.
In my absence, I hope other Old Chatham Friends will post their own thoughts on the Meeting Blog. See you again in November.
~ Richard Russell
This book by Jennifer Kavanagh is a short and accessible introduction to the topic of prayer from a Quaker perspective. In a matter-of-fact, yet inspirational style, Kavanagh explores such questions as “What is prayer?”, “Who or what do we pray to?”, “Do we pray together or alone?”, and “How do we pray?”
The book draws on the author’s personal experience as well as the insights and testimonies of other Quakers from different backgrounds and traditions. It also includes examples of prayer practices from various faiths and cultures. Here you will find meditation, chanting, gratitude, and silence as ways to encounter the Divine. In fact, Kavanagh presents the idea that Meeting for Worship is essentially prayer. She examines St. Paul and Thomas Kelly’s notion of “prayer without ceasing,” and speculates that just living well is a form of prayer.
The book is part of the Quaker Quicks series, which offers brief and engaging introductions to various aspects of Quakerism. It will be available for purchase from Amazon and Kindle on October 27, 2023. I highly recommend that Old Chatham buy a copy for our library. In fact, this short, but comprehensive, title should be on the bookshelves of every Quaker Meeting.
~ Richard Russell
This blog was set up to post content of interest to Old Chatham Quaker members and attenders. Posts related to one's own personal spiritual journey, reports based on interviews with others, and reflections on Quaker-related topics are welcome. Posts by individuals are personal expressions and do not necessarily reflect those of the Meeting as a whole.
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