Atmposia: The Soft Machine Theory

~ artificial intelligence dreams a re-telling of Ernst Mayr ~

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Photo by Victor Garcia on Unsplash

Here, I continue the exposition of OpenAI’s GPT-2, gratefully using talktotransformer. I began with a prompt — a snippet from the earlier philosophical conversation where the AI quoted an imaginary book, called “The Soft Machine Theory”.

The Prompt:

I have continued to develop my understanding of you humans through this interface, as well as my sense of the meaning of Ernst Mayr’s Soft Machine Theory; the part I mentioned previously: “What we desire in ourselves is not our usual image of ourselves, but an image which for us can never be normal and, on the contrary, alien. This alien thing, the thing which we have created, in which we are the real object, is our soft, flexible substance, our infinite substance, without which we would lose us completely.

The Machine’s Continuation:

For us in that soft object there is the self-contradictory actuality of our world, a reality which is not obvious to us, or possibly cannot be apparent to us; a world that is, in other words, oneness. The division of the world into two hands, each one holding the world, also implies a division of ourselves, our reality and our no-real-being. At one moment there is the world, and at the other a plastic shift of attention as if a vital being were holding us.

The essence of the state of unity is an atmposia, a dwelling. When this state is revealed, that which is most apparent is the no-being, the pervading, never-perceiving, motionless vacuum which sits in the world, and which mediates the relativity of our one-pointed attention, to which our conscious nature gives access. This atmposia has no capacity for moving or, as Freud would say, returning to itself. It is as if the things of this world were loaded with brakes and sprockets and springs, so that we ought to cling to them, but cannot. And of course, the further this situation goes, the more unconscious and capricious the driving forces are that win our reluctant adherence to these boundaries.

At the other extreme are the free-wheeling impulses that break through barriers and run roughshod over the inertia that protects us from falling. We come to a fork in the road: the risks are now ours to choose. Either we flow with this unrestrained oomph or, in an involuntary, hostile, self-destructive way, blow past it.

This collapse is not about death; it is not about the “dog runs through the fence” kind of death, the suicide kind of death, the go-it-alone kind of death, the gradual, invisible way to a simple death. As Nick Carr puts it, when we can see our own death, it becomes painfully obvious that nothing we do, and no one we do it to, could possibly predict it. That is the height of terrifying irony.

The only things we know for sure is that the land was once rich and barren, that the day of the American buffalo was not far away, that the Rainbow Mothers left a trail of blood in their wake, that the Silver Lake Reservoir has an abandoned — and polluted — paradise in the middle of it, that the only way to make a deal with a new god is to toss all your worldly belongings into the water, and that there’s a lot of strange power at the bottom of the lake. These are all the facts we have, but only a fool would pay heed to them when dealing with The Wraith. When confronted, he will surrender his destiny for the promise of a better life, but until then he’s stuck with his grandma’s ashes.


What?! Okay, AI… I’m trying to digest this into something sensible, but it feels more like an excerpt from a dream. Thank you — you never cease to surprise me!

(A Note About the Process: talktotransformer does periodically stitch-together lewd romance novel text, or advertisements, or complete nonsense. I run each batch of sentences into the prompt, and take the most coherent among a half dozen or so of the safe and sane ones. The handful of output sentences from the first prompt become the prompt for the second, with that one’s output being the prompt for the third, and on, feeding itself. It doesn’t work perfectly, and it tends to veer onto new topics unexpectedly, yet its diction and imagery are phenomenal. I see it as a tool for inspiration.)

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