The Uncanny Absurdity of the Uncanny Valley

The problem with programming a machine to feel for others is, of course, that the machine might start to develop other feelings, ones unproductive to her work.  But Klara’s evolving emotions are crucial to our understanding of the novel as a technology of interiority.  The reader experiences Klara’s care for Josie through Klara’s empathetic narration, in which her desire to see Josie flourish and grow fails to completely suppress Klara’s desires.   [From a review by Jane Hu in the New York Review of Books.  2021-11-04]

I am completely baffled that a Nobel Prize winning author, Kazuo Ishiguro, would be responsible for such rubbish, or that a reviewer in the New York Review of Books would countenance such an observation.

I thought, perhaps Klara is a biological creation, as the replicants in “Blade Runner” may be (it’s not completely clear that they are).   When Roy Batty demands “more life”, he is expressing a desire, a want, an aspiration, which no machine can ever have.  That might be intriguing, but, of course, that essentially makes an argument for slavery.

But no: Klara is a robot.  She is at times relegated to a closet.  In the end, when Josie goes off to college, she is sent to a dump.

It appears that Ishiguro wants it both ways, in which case, he has failed as a novelist (I haven’t read the book– so I’ll come back to that when I do).  If, inevitably, humans become aware (as they are in the book) of the fact that robots have feelings, they won’t, presumably, leave them in the closet.  I leave open one possibility: Ishiguro has imagined a new  kind of relationship that the humans experience with their robots that blurs the distinction between mechanical and emotional.  But that does not seem likely given that the characters in “Klara and the Sun” sincerely believe that Klara does have feelings and treat her accordingly.  (It is perceived as an act of kindness when one of Josie’s friends prevents another of her friends from tossing Klara into the air to see if she can land on her feet.)  On the other hand, they put her in the closet.  Which is it?

Yes, many smart people really believe that it is possible for a robot to have feelings.  The theoretical framework for this concept rests on the perverse idea that human consciousness is formed by a quasi-mechanical process that takes place in dense particles.  If you have enough dense particles, eventually a “consciousness” can develop.  This fundamental to the belief in AI.

AI, my friends, is a myth.  Come back to me in 20 or 50 years and you will see I am right.

I have argued that this process cannot possibly produce a being with an aspiration or desire or emotion or any other biological characteristic.  Where does it come from?  How can you add 1 plus 1 and get 5?  There is no component of feeling or consciousness in any of the raw elements of a machine.  No matter how many 1’s and 0’s are in a computer brain, they cannot produce a 2: only a sequence of 1’s and 0’s.   Biological cells are not mechanical: they aspire to eat, to consume, to fuck, to absorb, to kill.   A robot only ever does what it is programmed to do“.  Klara can never be sad about losing her relationship to Josie because she could never have been glad to have it in the first place, and Ishiguro’s concept is absurd and Jane Hu’s review is a hollow, empty shell of misconceived rubble.

In “Never Let Me Go” the Klara’s are biological creations who exist only to give up their organs to other humans.  It’s a strange, alien concept (to us at the moment, in the civilized part of the “civilized” part of the world) which he made believable and sad.  I have no problem believing that such a circumstance could, at least theoretically, exist.

There is no way, theoretical or otherwise, a robot with feelings will ever exist.  Whatever we get– and I’m sure we’ll get it, given our surrender to every commercialization of every device ever– will be something mimics feelings which many stupid people will believe are just as real as their own.

Fuck them.  This is a dangerous course of intellectual development which, if it happens, will have dire consequences.

 

The Myth of Sybil

The story of “Sybil”, the woman with 16 different “personalities”,  is a myth, pure and simple.

(NPR on one of the books that has debunked it.)

One website, defending Sybil, refers to “Michelle Remembers”–without comment–as a reference to the influence of “Sybil”.  That is astonishing.  “Michelle Remembers” is one of the most discredited books of the 1980’s.

First of all, you do need to know what in no other developed country is the concept of a “multiple-personality” widely accepted.    Only in America, and only in a certain part of America.

As is well known, Sybil herself acknowledge the hoax in a letter to Schreiber:

She got the very, very strong impression when she went in and brought this letter of recantation to Dr. Wilbur that if she didn’t go with the program she was not going to have Dr. Wilbur anymore,” Nathan says. “Dr. Wilbur was giving her 14 to 18 hours of therapy a week. Dr. Wilbur was coming to her house and eating with her, giving her clothes, paying her rent … so, how could you give up Dr. Wilbur?

Sybil Exposed

Is this really difficult to see?  Look at the culture around MPD?  Look at who revels in it, thrives in the lurid stories attached to it?

Or look at hypnotism:

HS: Yes. She was very hypnotizable, what I call a “grade five.” On a zero to five scale we can classify most levels of hypnotizability. The top group—the hypnotic virtuosos—are about 5 percent of the population and they show extra phenomena that we don’t ordinarily see even in good hypnotic subjects. For example, they have the ability to regress in time and they will report past experiences in the present tense. It is as if they “ablate,” or remove from memory, the period of time from, say, their fourth birthday to the present time, and you have an expression of what was there up until the age of four. For most people, to get them to a fixed point in time, we use something that has an affect potential. You can’t just say, “I want you to go back to January 14, 1916″—that doesn’t mean anything. You will say to the subject: “You are getting younger and younger. You are now nineteen, eighteen, seventeen years old, twelve years old, seven years old,” and then: “This is your fourth birthday.”  NY Review of Books

If this impresses you, I have some bitcoin I want to sell.

Let’s put it this way: if you want to accept what Dr. Spiegel says about hypnotism at face value, it would be possible, for example, to go back in time to when you lost your keys and discover where you lost them.  In fairness, I believe Dr. Spiegel implies that this is not possible.

It is not possible, unfortunately, and neither is it possible to go back in memory to “a fixed point of time” (see Dr. Spiegel covering his tracks?).  You are always only going back to a memory you already have, or one that you have constructed, if you are suggestible, and I would suggest that the best patients for hypnosis– or any kind of psychiatry– are very suggestible.

That said, even Dr. Spiegel didn’t buy Sybil’s multiple personalities and he made clear why Dr. Wilbur and Schreiber did (and why they stopped speaking to him):

Schreiber then got in a huff. She was sitting right in that chair there, and she said, “But if we don’t call it a multiple personality, we don’t have a book! The publishers want it to be that, otherwise it won’t sell!”

Exactly.  The publishers knew what gets you on Phil Donahue and 20/20 and maybe even 60 Minutes, and they knew that that is what sells books and makes movies.

Watch Me Risk My Life

I am ambivalent about films and stories about men and women who unnecessarily risk their lives, on mountains, in cars, under water– for…  well, that’s the question.  For what?

Almost no documentary or book about these individuals would dare suggest that these people are selfish, self-centred individuals interested primarily in self-promotion and ego gratification.   (I make an exception for “Into Thin Air”, the amazing book by Jon Krakauer which considers the issue at some length.)  Think about why that’s so.  Why doesn’t “The Last Mountain”, for example, seriously consider the issue?

Could that be because the viewer, who adores these stories, would feel implicated?  I get pleasure by watching other people put themselves in grave peril at the expense, sometimes, of their lives?  Could it be because the writers (often the daredevils themselves) or film-makers (ditto) really want you to believe they are doing something important and admirable?  Think of how often they claim there is some higher purpose to their activities: to learn more about sharks, to extend human endurance and achievement, to fulfill personal goals?

Pre-School

According to a study in Tennessee, children from poor backgrounds offered a pre-school program (for 4-year olds) did worse in several important categories by Grade 6.

This is not supposed to be true.  It is counter to other studies which generally showed that children do better — they graduate high school and have fewer disciplinary issues– if they have an extra year of school at about age 4.  For as long as I can remember, that has been the accepted wisdom on pre-school.  But this study flatly contradicts those assumptions.

If it survives further analysis and assessment, it will have to be taken into account regardless of the politics of government-funding for pre-school.

Justin Alexander’s Bid for Authenticity

In the first post on his travel blog, Adventures of Justin, he wrote: “I am running from a life that isn’t authentic…I’m running away from monotony and towards novelty; towards wonder, awe, and the things that make me feel vibrantly alive.”  Outside Online

I am always deeply impressed and disturbed by men like Justin Alexander who embark on quests for “authenticity”, and always disappointed in their inability to relate the “authentic” to me in comprehensible English.

They try, and they are often quite eloquent, but not about what matters most.  This is partly because what matters to them is something that is very hard to describe or explain.  But, like Christopher McCandless, they often scrap and scrape and flourish phrases and ideas and images before you without connecting all the dots.  McCandless ended up dying, stupidly, alone, in an abandoned bus in Alaska, just a short trek from help because he didn’t really know the terrain or the challenges of living in the wild.  He thought he was on to some incredibly valuable insight into the purpose of life but didn’t even take good hiking boots with him (a truck-driver who gave him a ride gave him his boots, out of pity).

He starved to death.

Countless others have died on mountains or in obscure, remote regions.  Justin Alexander is another.  No one knows what happened to him.

There’s not point pitying these men: they took responsibility for themselves and made choices that mattered to them and probably accepted that they might pay a price for it.  In a way, I do admire them, because they are largely right about the predictability and mediocrity of life in the modern suburbs.

The one thing these people don’t seem to really consider is that, just as they might have some secret insight that sets them apart from mainstream society, mainstream society might have some secret insight that keeps them from wandering into the bush or the wild mountains and starving to death.

And yet some of them might have lives that are rich and rewarding and meaningful.

Be Careful Little Eyes What you See

In the category of “you couldn’t make this stuff up” is the story about a North Carolina police department that arrested a 17-year-old boy for having nude pictures of himself on his cell phone.

This is in a country in which 3/4 of the population will admit they don’t know what the 3 branches of government are.  They certainly don’t know what a marginal tax rate is.  And they will never know what common sense really is; they will think they have it, but they will be wrong.  Sense is anything but common in America.  And they will never, ever be able to independently assess the question of what is terrible about a teenager having nude pictures of himself on his smart phone.  You just have to say “nude”, and “pictures”, and “teenager”, they will howl with outrage.

We live in a world in which we can be surrounded by morons who say, “but that’s what the law says” or “it may seem strange, but that’s what the law says”, or “we are complete morons so we only do what the law says”.

Are you telling me there would have been serious consequences for a sergeant or a detective who said, “I don’t care what the law says, no, we are not going to prosecute a teenager for taking pictures of himself”?

A young mother in Utah who took her shirt off in front of her family has been charged with lewdness.  Her husband took his shirt off too, but he is not being prosecuted.

Of course not.

That would be stupid.

Do you have a mirror in your bathroom?

 

 

The #Metoo Crucible

“Stratford Festival decided to put on a sure-fire crowd-pleaser this year: “The Crucible”, one of the greatest, and certainly the most powerful, American drama.

“The Crucible” is about a group of young girls in a small town in Massachusetts in the 1690’s who are caught dancing naked in a woods.  Think about the cultural climate– puritanical New England.  The upstanding leaders of the devout community are beyond horrified, and this is immediately apparent to the girls so they connive to persuade the town elders that they were, in fact, bewitched.  Their deception is helped by a particular girl who seems to be having fits and hysterics and claims to see apparitions.

Who bewitched them?

They begin to name names, including upstanding members of the community.

One of the girls, named Abigail, was a handmaid to a couple, John and Elizabeth Proctor.  John had an affair with her, which Elizabeth knows about.  John and Elizabeth reconciled and evicted Abigail but are terrified that the community will find out about the affair and disgrace John.

Abigail is convinced that John really loves her.  What were the girls doing in the woods?  Abigail had persuaded Tituba, a black slave, to show them how to cast spells, so she could curse Elizabeth Proctor and win John back.  With the community in hysterics, and her own position in the community under threat, she seizes the opportunity to accuse Elizabeth of witchcraft.

When some in the community become suspicious of the girls’ motives, they too are named.  Eventually, 20 citizens are hanged, and one is “pressed” to death because he refused to enter a plea.  Yes, this really happened– the historical record is unmistakable.

Years later, the magistrates who condemned them would– astonishingly– come to the realization that they had been in error and issue an apology.  How often does that happen?

Arthur Miller wrote the play in 1952 and he clearly intended to draw a parallel between the Salem witch-hunts and the McCarthy communist witch-hunt that was taking place at that moment, and which had snared Miller himself.  Miller was called before the House UnAmerican Activities Committee (HUAC) and admitted that he had been a communist at one time in his life.  That was not enough for them.  They demanded that he identify fellow-travelers.  He refused and was black-listed.

In the play, as in real life, a man named Giles Corey discovered that some of the accusers stood to benefit by acquiring the land of the accused (if convicted of witchcraft, a citizen’s possessions were forfeit).  He is then accused of witchcraft himself.  He refuses to plea because doing so would result in a conviction and the land he hoped to pass on to his sons would be forfeit.  He is sentenced to be “pressed”: placed under a board with the weight on it increased gradually with rocks.  He dies under the torment, mocking his accusers.

Do you see a problem with this play?  I don’t see a problem.  The play is historically accurate.  More importantly, it is psychologically accurate: I find the portrait of a community that is fearful and cowardly and not really virtuous in the sense that they all believe it of themselves to be quite convincing even today.  (Think of how we symbolically recycle, and conserve, and care for the environment, while doing absolutely nothing that will have any real impact on global warming.   Think of how women go on national television to tell the world how ashamed they are of having been sexually assaulted.)

But the #metoo movement saw a big problem.  You see, a credo of the #metoo movement is that girls are ALWAYS to be believed.  They never lie about abuse or rape or assault, even if it is assault by the devil himself, as in the case of Salem.  (I am not exaggerating: I heard three women on the CBC discussing the issue and they all insisted that women never lie about abuse and there is never any “collateral damage” (ie. innocent men accused).  Do women ever lie about rape?  Judge for yourself.

And the play makes it clear that the girls are sly, conniving, convincing liars, and that they are responsible the deaths of 20 innocent victims.

So the #metoo movement demands an adjustment.   And the Stratford Festival Theatre made it.  Here is their description of the play from their website:

His (John Proctor’s) refusal to take responsibility for his actions leads to an epidemic of fear and suspicion that engulfs the guilty and the innocent alike. Inspired by historical events but no less pertinent to our own times, this American classic stands as a timeless tragedy of abusive behaviour and its all-consuming consequences.

This is worse than a distortion of the play.  It is an obscenely malicious reversal of it’s meaning.  It is all John Proctor’s fault.  The girls are innocent.  Abigail was forced to lie because she was oppressed by the patriarchy.  They were justified in causing 19 innocent individuals to be hanged to death.

Abigail didn’t enjoy seeing those people hanged.  Not at all.

Or maybe the girls were telling the truth after all: maybe there really were witches.

No young woman or girl would ever lie about that.

Post PTSD Syndrome

“In many cases, more deliberate attempts to process the trauma – for example, trying to think it through or talk it through with friends and family – were actually associated with worse PTSD. The children who didn’t recover well were those that reported spending a lot of time trying to make sense of their trauma. While some efforts to make sense of trauma might make sense, it seems that it is also possible for children to get ‘stuck’ and spend too long focusing on what happened and why.

Shocking.

No, it’s not.  Researchers have hit upon the amazing observation that when well-meaning therapists, parents, teachers, and others make obsessive efforts to treat children for conditions that do not exist but which are projected onto them actually make things worse.  “You’re in shock.”  “No, I’m fine.”  “You’re in denial.”  “No, I’m just fine.”  “Oh, now you’re repressing it.  You need to get it out or you will have symptoms.”   “I don’t have any symptoms.”  “You pathetic human being: you won’t even deal with your issues.”  “Well, maybe I am having a few symptoms.”

Did you know that many high schools where there has been a shooting actually require students to be “treated” by a therapist in order to “process” their trauma?  This is justified with the pathetic medical analogy argument: would you allow a person who comes into a hospital with a broken leg to leave without getting a cast?   No, but your hospital will have him leave with a broken arm, a fractured pelvis, and a broken leg.  If he came to the hospital with a depression, he would probably leave with anxiety, PTSD, BPD, and an addiction.  And depression.  And medications, some of which treat the side effects of other medications.

*

Have you ever heard of “grief counsellor”, which is my nominee for the stupidest phrase ever coined in the last fifty years?

 

Actuarial Love

This story didn’t really surprise me, but it should have.  A modern, educated, liberated woman is bored of dating progressive, enlightened men, and finds herself strongly attracted to a man who believes that he should control the finances in a relationship because he is the man, and only he should initiate sex.  She is very sad when he breaks it off, partly, at least, because he finds that she earns more money than he does.

This is real.  It’s not made up.  It’s not from Fox News.   It is a real, educated, affluent young woman declaring that there is something about a man with conservative values that appeals to her on a visceral level, something she isn’t sure she herself comprehends.

At the same time, some men who behaved the way she describes are being excoriated by feminists.  The question is, how far from “abusive” behavior is the style of a conservative man who believes, as she described, that the man always initiates sex?  That means he makes the first move.  That means he doesn’t ask for her consent first.  He makes a move.  And if the woman is receptive, she makes that clear with her body language and sounds– not with verbal consent.  In fact, that is one things she clearly doesn’t wish.  And she’s not the first writer on the subject in the Times to say so.

Consider this:

My idea of a hero is not someone who comes and sweeps the woman off her feet and turns her into a princess, but a man who cares about what a woman has to say, who listens to her, who pays attention to her needs and wants,” Guillory said when we recently spoke over the phone, adding that the ideal romantic lead would also then ask “what she wants, just to make sure that he’s right” in his assessment.

Well, that pretty well sounds exactly like the one thing Jasmine Guillory in The Atlantic denies she says she wants: to be treated like a princess.  She wants someone who listens, pays attention, addresses her needs and wants only what she wants.  Your highness.

Jesus, that does sound exactly like a princess.  It certainly doesn’t sound like a partnership.  It doesn’t sound like two people of equal abilities and capacities and potential and strength of character coming together for a mutually beneficial relationship in which obligations, responsibilities, and assets are shared equally.  But yeah, doesn’t that sound kind of boring?

Just imagine this:

My idea of a lady is not someone who comes and sweeps the man off his feet and turns him into a prince, but a woman who cares about what a man has to say, who listens to him, who pays attention to his needs and wants…”

 

Linda Bishop

Yet after enduring so many irritations in her hospital unit—patients who wouldn’t stop talking, or who touched her, or sat in her favorite chair, or made noise in the middle of the night—she didn’t mind having time alone.  New Yorker

“God Knows Where I Am” would have you believe that the government, through misguided activism, has extended too many rights to the mentally ill.  They can no longer be locked up, as easily, against their will.  As a result, people like Linda Bishop end up wandering the streets alone in the middle of winter and then starving to death in an abandoned farmhouse instead of wisely accepting the custodial guardianship of her sister, Joan.

They are not completely wrong.  There is a problem.   But I was disturbed by how quickly and easily these advocates slipped into the idea that it should be easy for a relative or guardian to take over an individual’s right to decide, for herself, where she wants to be.  That’s one issue: her safety and health.  But what may have really pissed off the staff at the New Hampshire Hospital was her continued refusal to recognize that they were right and she was wrong.  I am sure they did not distinguish, in their own minds, between their concern for her well-being and their concern for their own status as gatekeepers.  But one of the reasons for her continued incarceration, rather than the actual symptoms of schizophrenia, was that she refused to admit that they had justly appropriated her autonomy.  That she had no right to decide whether she was competent or not.

…psychiatry is stuck in a kind of moral impasse. It is the only field in which refusal of treatment is commonly viewed as a manifestation of illness rather than as an authentic wish.

They are not, as I said, completely wrong.  There are cases– Linda Bishop is probably one–in which it might be necessary for the state to step in to ensure that a patient does not cause herself or others harm.   But there is one enormous flaw in this process and it should not be run roughshod over by those eager to save someone from themselves.  It is this:  we may very well use that custodial arrangement to lock somebody up in a hell-hole from which they have no chance– ever– of escaping.

Or this.

Not one of the advocates for stronger measures for guardianship gave even a little credence to the possibility that the care that will be given to the secured patient will be inadequate, or incorrect, or downright negligent.  Or worse.  The New Hampshire Hospital, where she was institutionalized, seems like a fine, adequately funded operation.   At least, for the much smaller numbers of patients they harbour today than they used to.  But they didn’t acknowledge that, in the past, people with mental disturbances have been warehoused under brutal conditions.   They could be beaten, assaulted, sexually abused, neglected, and abandoned, by an institution deliberately underfunded by an uncaring government unwilling to ask voters for more money to do a better job.

One of the untold  reasons that the mentally ill were moved out of institutions in the first place was not really to free them but to save money.

Patients spent so many years in the hospital that they no longer knew how to leave it. (The institution has two graveyards for people who died in its care.)

Think about that.

It could mean they can’t find the exit.  It could also mean that they don’t understand the paperwork required.  It could also mean that after a certain amount of time spent in an institution the desire to leave, in and of itself, can be regarded as a symptom of mental incompetence.  In Linda Bishop’s case, that is at least partly true.

It is possible that Linda Bishop might have received excellent care somewhere.  It is possible that she was receiving excellent care at the New Hampshire Hospital in Concord where she was held for three years.  But it is possible that the money would run out eventually and she would be moved to a cheaper, state-run institution that needed to save money by cutting staff and buying cheaper food and drugging most patients into oblivion so they wander aimlessly in the common areas to be watched by minimal staff.

During her first, voluntary, incarceration, Linda cried constantly for four days, feeling betrayed by those who had persuaded her to go in.  Finally, she acknowledged she was suffering from delusions.  From the accounts of the staff there, it’s not clear that they make any distinction between a real acknowledgement and the more obvious fact that she gave up trying to convince them that she really was sane and decided to play along so she could be released.  If that’s what she wanted, it worked: she got a prescription.  And a release.

One interviewee argues that one would never allow a patient with a bleeding wound from the chest to just walk out of a hospital, so why would you allow a patient with bipolar disorder do it?  Well, one reason is this: one doctor thought she was bipolar, but another psychiatrist thought she was schizo-affective.  So one doctor thinks the patient needs stitches to a wound in the heart and another doctor thinks he needs a cast on his leg.  And perhaps the surgeon puts in a catheter.

Let’s think further about it: what patient, after getting treatment for a bleeding wound, would intentionally rip out the stitches?  Yet patient after patient who is on medication for a mental illness stops taking their medications.  The medications make them feel less alive, drugged, indifferent.  They feel less creative.  Or they start to feel great but they don’t really seem to believe that the drugs are responsible.

And let’s take note of something else: there is well-known experiment in which a group of perfectly sane psychology students posed as schizophrenics to get themselves admitted to psychiatric institutions.  Once inside, they all behaved exactly as normal, and requested a reassessment and release.  I don’t believe a single one of them was diagnosed as sane and released.  Not one.  Not one.  When a resentful psychiatrist dared them to try his hospital, they announced that they would.  A few months later, that psychiatrist had identified a fair number of “fakes”.  The problem is, that none of them were: no attempt was made to infiltrate that hospital.

At one point, again, Linda was offered access to a funded apartment for people in transition.  But to get it, she had to sign a document which essentially forced her to admit that she was mentally ill.  She refused.  Logic, here, somebody, anybody?  A woman refuses housing intended to help the mentally ill because you want to force her to admit that the diagnosticians are right and she is wrong and, more significantly, she is not competent to determine for herself whether she is sane or not.  And if she doesn’t sign– in other words, if she really is mentally ill– or she really is not mentally ill– it doesn’t matter– she doesn’t get the help intended for …. the mentally ill.

What she needed was a Hogeweyk: the Dutch institution for patients with dementia who want to be free, and wander the community, and shop, and go to school.  The Dutch solution: build a “school”, a “store”, a “community”, staff it with mental health professionals, and let them “free”.  Everyone’s safe.  Everyone’s happy.  It’s a marvel of common sense and practicality.

When Saks was a law student at Yale, she was restrained and medicated against her wishes; she calls it one of the most degrading experiences of her life.

I really believe there should be a constitutional amendment that says this: if the state is going to deprive an individual of the freedom to come and go as he or she pleases, it is required to provide the kind of quality of care that an objective observer would characterize as “excellent”, including good quality food, adequate staff, and opportunities for exercise, activities, relaxation, and privacy.

And it absolutely should include facilities like Hogeweyk.

If not.  If it cannot guarantee that level of care, then the forced institutionalization of individuals with mental problems is nothing more or less than imprisonment and even toture.

Right now, if the government, fails to provide enough funding to make these individuals comfortable, our elected representatives are not subject to any serious consequences.   Only the inmates bear consequences, in the form of neglect, restraint, harassment, lack of privacy, and abuse.

Incidentally, is the belief that there is not such thing as global warming really, in substance, all that different from the belief that “they are spying on me” and “they are out to get me”?  They are both equally fictional.