AI, Art and Life

Eric Wayne has just published a most thought-provoking post entitled AI Won. Human Artists and Humankind are Defeated. It’s well worth reading, particularly if, like me, you’re not aware of the amazing capabilities exhibited by the latest AI programs. As Eric says: “the latest algorithm from Midjourney enables anyone at all to make astounding art without any prior skill, training, understanding, or even exposure to art…” Surely an amazing statement, but Eric is an accomplished artist and I’m sure he’s correct.

So, whatever inspiration the artist puts into his/her work can be simulated by the AI forever more and in great variety. Art would appear to have really gone the way of chess, where computers can now easily beat the best human players. And of course other forms of AI are being developed by the likes of Google to make informed decisions from huge amounts of data that would be beyond the individual human being, potentially revolutionising transport, healthcare, environmental management and other sectors of the economy.

What the AI can never do is copy the inner lived experience of the human being, the pleasure of playing a game of chess with another human, the joy of following one’s own creativity, or appreciating the creativity of another, or the appreciation of the AI work itself. Yes, it can simulate all these things, but AI is all on the surface; there is no depth, no life. It is a massive simulation of what the left brain can do and understand. There is no equivalent of the right brain, other than through simulation.

So we face a world of massive change, through an artifical intelligence that has no inner world, no conscience, no morality, no intuition. In a sense this is the ultimate left brain project whereby, somewhere along the way of our development, morality became replaced by laws, the inspiration of the prophets was superseded by institutionalised religions, and now creativity is replaced by algorithms.

We cannot stop all this development, which is itself wonderfully creative. However, we are approaching a world of some peril. Consider the use of AI in warfare. The AI has no moral sense, no common sense, other than a set of rules that someone may have encoded in them. The challenge, as Isaac Asimov was telling us all those years ago, is how do we keep any sort of control on this stuff? Maybe we can’t and, in the end, good and bad things will happen…

Featured image was generated by AI in a few seconds – see Eric’s post.

Sundown over Clwyd

The Marina lake at West Kirby was mirror-like as people walked around its edge on a fine January afternoon (featured image).

As sundown approached, it was impossible to look directly at the twin suns, but somehow the camera made some sense of the scene, making it appear already dark.

Walking along the beach towards Hoylake and Red Rocks, there was promise of a good sunset over the wet sand as cloud welled up and sun slipped down.

With the sun gone, the colours of the sky began to deepen.

And finally, the coup de grace, layers viewed over sand, sea and mountains at Hoylake.

It didn’t last long. But what magic. Not bad for telephoto lens, hand held in low light.

The Healing Place 

Here’s another poem by Steve Taylor, which very much speaks to me. I hope it also speaks to you.

The Healing Place 
 

There is a healing place inside you 
beneath your thoughts and feelings
beyond any concept of identity 
or any sense of separation – 
a reservoir of soul-force
radiant and pure 
infinitely deep and dense
like the nucleus inside an atom.

When your body needs to repair itself 
or your energies need replenishing 
or your restless mind needs calming 
let go of your life’s demands 
and sink into the healing place 
like a diver into warm still water.

Immerse yourself in its radiance. 
Let its healing force soak into you.
Let pure consciousness pervade the cells of your body
and shine through the space of your mind. 

The healing place lies outside space and time. 
It transcends matter, isn’t bound by the laws of physics.
It’s a supernatural place where miracles occur
as naturally as the wind blows. 

And so you will emerge from the healing place 
refreshed, even recreated 
miraculously transformed 
as if risen from the dead.

Featured image is on the Dee Estuary

Red sentinel

A group of red deer are grazing or just enjoying the low January sunshine under the oaks in Tatton Park. Just one magnificent specimen keeps an eye on us, as we walk by with the dog.

Taken with zoom lens to retain respectful distance.

Lake, oak, puddle

A crisp, sunny January afternoon in Tatton Park. A glorious day to raise the spirits.

One of Tatton’s lesser lakes. The featured image shows another one.
Mature oak tree

Don’t just look up and around, look down when snow is melting.

Puddle with oak.

Lake, oak, puddle.

Brimstone

Here’s a picture from springtime in Devon to light up these wintry days – a brimstone butterfly on a dandelion flower.

It’s a fairly shaggy individual with weak markings bleached out by strong sunshine, probably over-wintered. The distinctive green colouring suggests it’s probably a male.

Feeding from the dandelion.

At first I thought it was a clouded yellow, but the markings and time of year suggest brimstone.

Beauty and the Beast

From the promenade at Southport, the sun goes down over Liverpool Bay. At a wide angle, great brush strokes of cloud over the setting ball.

Zooming in gives a different riot of colour.

In a detailed crop (featured image), the setting dome highlights the oil and gas rigs of Liverpool Bay.

Beauty and the beast!

Amid the mêlée

In autumn and winter huge numbers of birds gather together at WWT Martin Mere ready for feeding time. When the warden scatters seed on the ground, the great rush and natural spectacle begins. Particularly prominent are the shelducks, greylag geese, mallards and Icelandic whooper swans. But there are quite a few species there in the mêlée. The challenge is to make any sense of it all photographically.

Here are just a few individuals I managed to isolate with a reasonable shot, albeit in rather poor light.

The Chalice and the Blade

This Christmas I got lucky, as on my list of possible presents was the book by Riane Eisler The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future. I’d seen references to this memorable title and author name in many other works. First published in 1987, this has been a hugely influential book. So what was all the fuss about?

I soon got stuck in and became entranced by a story of human development. It begins in Old Europe maybe 10000 years ago, a land of peace and plenty, well organised, with advanced technologies of the day. All people were equal, creativity and arts flourished, and peace reigned. The feminine was ‘worshipped’ as the source of new life. There was plenty for all. It was a veritable Garden of Eden, the source of the myth in the bible.

The residents were what we might call pastoralists, but around the edges of Old Europe were the nomads who move around from place to place. In hard times, perhaps climate change, they could not resist invading the land of peace. These people were shaped by hardship and became increasingly masculine and warlike. Women were secondary. When they took over an area with violence these people eventualy settled and were influenced themselves to adopt more peaceful ways.

Successive waves of invaders led, over the years to periods of war and hardship, followed by periods of peace and creativity as the invaders were absorbed. In the warlike years the masculine dominated; in the peaceful years the pendulum swang the other way and culture flourished. But the ‘equal’ civilisation of Old Europe effectively died out when Minoan Crete (‘Atlantis’) was destroyed by natural disaster (the flood) around 1400BC.

The undercurrent of the feminine always remained, underneath the masculine domination. Jesus Christ himself, and other prophets before him, came in warlike times and preached the other way. In the end, the mighty Roman Empire adopted Christianity and masculinised the religion, treating the true texts of old, such as the gnostic gospels, as heresies.

If you travel through Europe today, you see visual evidence of this process. So many towns, villages, bastides, fortresses, castles build on high land that can more easily be defended from invaders.

This lens represented by the symbols of the chalice and the blade helps us to understand our history and these two aspects of humanity. Throughout her book, Riane Eisler refers us to all the latest archeological research (at that time), giving convincing evidence.

The story is compelling, and we find ourselves still in masculine-dominated times, where the established order uses ‘culture wars’ to try to maintain this dominance, while invaders from the East again threaten a Europe that has been at peace since the last great war.

How the story will play out is anybody’s guess. But the essential challenge to each of us individually is clear – to reinstate the chalice on a par with the blade in our own lives.

The current paperback includes an epilogue where Eisler comments on developments over the last 30 years since the original publication. Eisler uses the example of the demise of the Soviet Union under Mikhael Gorbachov and the subsequent reinstatement of the old regime under Vladimir Putin to illustrate the struggle that is going on in the world. A key insight is that the various fundamentalisms at work today, both religious and political, and the related populisms, are all evidence of the dominant ‘masculine dominated’ ideology trying to maintain its control. Our desperate need today is to move from this ‘dominator’ mindset to one of ‘partnership’. If we cannot achieve this the dominator mindset appears to be impelling us to destruction.

The consonance of Eisler’s ideas with Iain McGilchrist’s much later Left Brain/Right Brain analysis in The Matter With Things is notable. The right brain of oneness and partnership has been usurped by the dominant left brain of rationality.

The Chalice and the Blade remains an important contribution to understanding where we are today. Do read it.

Featured image is of Ardagh Chalice in the National Museum of Ireland, via Wikimedia Commons

The Lovell Telescope

Just becoming a teenager, I remember the fuss in the papers about some professor who was wasting taxpayers’ money on a new-fangled radio telescope in Cheshire. It was late and well over budget. Then in October 1957, the USSR launched Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite. It became apparent that the near-complete telescope at Jodrell Bank was the only instrument in the world capable of locating and tracking Sputnik and its carrier rocket. Overnight the fortunes of the telescope changed, and within weeks it was fully operational.

Bernard Lovell, whose baby it was, went from zero to hero almost overnight. He had successfully created the largest radio telescope on earth at 250m diameter, fully steerable so could be pointed in any upward direction.

You can investigate the story and exploits of this wonderful piece of technology at the Jodrell Bank Visitor Centre in Cheshire. You’ll find out, for example, that the technology emerged from wartime research into radar, and Lovell scrounged parts from the armed forces for his early experiments.

It’s also quite beautiful, and awe-inspiring when the wheels are set in motion and the disc slowly rotates in two dimensions.

The telescope is still operational today and an integral part of world radio telescope networks, still the third largest. In 2019 Jodrell Bank was recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

One story from the exhibition sticks in my mind. Lovell visited fellow scientists in the USSR to discuss the technology. During the visit he was asked to set up a radio telescope in Russia, which would have meant defecting. After Lovell refused, he believed members of the KGB tried to wipe his memories of the visit using some sort of radiation, he was very sick for a brief period on his return. Le plus ça change….

Stupid

I was intrigued by this fascinating article by Sacha Golob in a recent issue of Aeon Magazine on the subject of being stupid.

“Stupidity is a very specific cognitive failing. Crudely put, it occurs when you don’t have the right conceptual tools for the job. The result is an inability to make sense of what is happening and a resulting tendency to force phenomena into crude, distorting pigeonholes.”

The example is given of the British high command, led by Field Marshal Earl Haig, during the First World War. Their mindset was formed from the cavalry battles of their youth, which actually hampered them in understanding what to do in the new situation of static trench warfare.

So we can be really smart people, yet act in a really stupid way if we do not have the right conceptual framework to work within. Now, we can see that humanity is behaving extremely stupidly in relationship to biodiversity and climate change, because basically it is operating from a conceptual framework that it is power and economics that really matter, to the detriment of both ourselves and our relationship with the natural world. So we have endless COPs that wring their hands, set a few targets, and then go back into the same comfortable mindset. Meanwhile, of course the problems get worse. The problem is the mindset itself!

Proponents of the need for a New Renaissance have often identified the need for a paradigm shift. In the terms of this article we ‘just’ need to stop being collectively stupid – another way of saying the same thing.

The article suggests that “stupidity is primarily a property of groups or traditions, not individuals,” I’m not so sure – we all exhibit this phenomenon, so I suspect that most of us are stupid at times, individually as well as collectively.

I myself have recently become aware of a spectacular personal example. I was interacting with someone via social media, and thought I understood where they were coming from, becoming extremely confused when their interactions did not follow any pattern I could recognise, and which certainly did not coincide with my mental image of that person. It was only after much heartache that I realised that they were coming from an entirely different place, so that my responses themselves were totally imappropriate. I was being stupid.

How about you?

Featured image shows Field Marshal (Earl) Haig in Chantilly, France, December 1915, walking past French soldiers.
National Library of Scotland, No restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons

I Only Need To Meet You Once

I loved this recent poem by Steve Taylor. It’s about those people you meet, maybe only briefly, where you immediately feel a connection and a common understanding. But Steve expresses it so much better than I could!

I Only Need To Meet You Once

I only need to meet you once
to connect with you forever.
I catch your gaze across the room.
We recognise each other, though we’ve never met before
We have an invisible sign of allegiance;
the same shade of light shines through us.

We smile and draw together
and feel at ease straight away.
There’s no need to ask questions 
because we already know each other.

We don’t need to protect our personal space 
because we already share common ground.
Time stops as we stand together.
The room dissolves away 
as if a soft warm cloud has enveloped us. 

Soon we have to go our separate ways. 
We hug and walk away, still smiling. 
We don’t feel sad, but more fulfilled.
We feel no sense of loss 
because we’ve gained each other’s love.

Our connection transcends distance. 
Wherever we are, we’ll inform each other’s lives 
and softly touch each other’s souls
through a timeless spaceless bond.

I only need to meet you once
to know that I’ve always known you
and that I’ll always know you
even if we never meet again.

I only need to meet you once 
to know that we are one.

Featured image of cats by Panini!, via Wikimedia Commons

That was 2022 on this blog

My favourite photos from posts of 2022

Featured image is the chateau at Chinon and River Vienne.

My favourite wordy posts of 2022

  • 1965 Kiev – reflections on visiting Kyiv in 1965, at the start of the still-ongoing Russian invasion.
  • Fens overview – overview of a series of posts on a journey through the Fens of Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire.
  • The Matter With Things – Review of Iain McGilchrist’s masterwork, vital to understand where humanity is at, psychologically.
  • Trauma and the Body – Review of Bessel van der Kolk’s excellent book The Body Keeps the Score.
  • Letting Go – the need to let go of old attachments, both for living and for dying.

Most viewed (2022)

  • Mint Moth (2017) – amazing furry moth, also in 2021 list.

Most liked (6 years)

  • Trauma and the Body – Review of Bessel van der Kolk’s excellent book The Body Keeps the Score.

A happy new year to you all!

Hope you enjoyed at least some of it, and maybe learned something from it.

Thanks to you fellow bloggers for your comments and likes!

Forgiveness

“Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”

Jesus, Luke 23:34

I am republishing this post on forgiveness, first published in 2016, because it is intimately connected with my recent post on Letting Go. We cannot let go if we cannot forgive. See also Edith Stauffer on Unconditional Love and Forgiveness.

Part of growing up is learning to forgive. It is psychologically important.

At its simplest, there are two parties, two sides to an issue. Two different viewpoints, perhaps an expectation or a trust betrayed.

To an outside observer, perhaps one party is in the wrong, perhaps both in varying degrees. Regardless, each has a need to forgive the other – in the sense that they release that inner charge on their own psyche. The hurt that is not forgiven simpy festers and does damage at a later date.

So forgiving is something you do for yourself, not something you do to the other person.

I feel so much for a friend who was wronged and has been unable to forgive the person she had trusted for many years. She cannot let go of the hurt and it almost visibly eats away at her well-being.

It is striking how much we respect someone like Nelson Mandela, who was able to forgive his persecutors of former years – or Gordon Wilson, who was able to immediately forgive the IRA after the Enniskillen bomb that killed his daughter.

I am reminded of the story of the two monks whose order demanded they have nothing to do with women. They came to a river and a young lady asked to be carried over to the other side. The older monk picked her up and carried her over and set her down on the other side. The two monks walked on in silence, until the younger could restrain himself no longer and said ‘you should not have picked up that young lady, it is against our vows’. The older monk simply replied ‘I set her down upon the river bank, you have been carrying her with you ever since…’.

This does not mean there are not consequences. There are choices to be made in the light of what has happened. A relationship may be ended or modified; society may choose to deprive a convicted criminal of his/her liberty for a while, with the aim of a period of reflection and rehabilitation in civilised societies; and so on…

This is not to say that the pent up energy caused by lack of forgiveness cannot sometimes lead to beneficial results. For example, the refusal of many to accept the whitewash of the Hillsborough disaster, probably because it was not forgiven, eventually led to the recent enquiry that has helped the truth to come to light. But we should be clear that there is a psychological cost…

Looking at the broad sweep of history, it appears that the coming of Christianity brought foregiveness to the fore, supplanting the previous philosophy of ‘eye for an eye’ that is still prevalent in many places. More recently, psychologically, we now see lack of forgiveness as one of the defense mechanisms of the ego.

“It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, to forgive.”

Maya Angelou

How to forgive

See eg Wikihow on practical ways to forgive.

See also two excellent posts by psychosynthesis counsellor Catherine Lombard:

1. Birthing forgiveness

2. Writing the apology you long to hear

Catching up on Southport

Catching up with photos from our autumn visit to Southport, I was intrigued to relate them to the history of the place.

It all began in 1792 when an innkeeper named William Sutton built a bathing house on the beach, and then in 1798 he built a hotel, the South Port Hotel. This soon became popular and a settlement grew around it. The deal was sealed in 1848, when the railway arrived, followed by the crowds. In 1860 the pier was established (see earlier posts).

Lord Street was always the main shopping street for Southport, a ‘Victorian canopied boulevard edged in scenic gardens’. Here is a small part of it today. I remember a summer’s day trip there in the 1950s, when it seemed very posh to me with all those glass canopies, and it was extremely crowded. It’s not so busy these days and many shops have closed.

Originally Lord Street was just set back from the sea front. In 1887 local entrepreneurs had a wonderful vision to handle the mass of visitors. A huge new Marine Lake and King’s Park was established and the beach itself was effectively pushed out to sea by several hundred yards, away from Lord Street. Attractions now included the lake, walks, boat rides, funfairs, a bathing pool… And half the pier was now over land, rather than over sand and sea, which certainly surprised me when I first realised it. The Marine Way Bridge in the featured image links Lord Street with the modern sea front.

Here are just a few photos of the Marine Lake area.

I realise that Southport was still in its heyday on that visit in the 1950s. Today, it obviously struggles to sustain the magic without the mass tourism of those days. It’s still popular though, and well worth visiting.

Extraordinary Awakenings

Steve Taylor‘s book Extraordinary Awakenings: When Trauma Leads to Transformation documents a remarkable piece of research which takes a thorough look at the subject of spiritual awakening, which Steve describes:

“Spiritual awakening is simply a shift into a more intense and expansive state of awareness. In awakening, it’s as if the filters or boundaries that limit normal human awareness fall away. At the same time, awakening is a higher-functioning psychological state — a state of enhanced well-being and freedom from psychological discord, in which people live more authentically and creatively.”

Steve has explored the stories of many individuals who have gone through such awakenings driven by traumatic circumstances, in all of the following categories:

  • on the Battlefield 
  • through Incarceration
  • bereavement
  • facing Death
  • depression, stress, suicidal
  • addiction

Many examples are given, such as that of Sri Aurobindo, who was imprisoned for a year for political activism. When Aurobindo was released:

“His political colleagues expected him to continue to fight for their cause, but now he was a different person. Political issues no longer seemed important. It no longer seemed enough to help liberate his country. Now he wanted to serve the whole human race, to help liberate all human beings from psychological suffering. Most of all, he wanted to help manifest the next stage in the evolution of human consciousness. And he devoted the rest of his life to this goal.”

Steve quotes many examples across the above categories of ‘transformation through trauma’. The most important attitude to deal with them is acceptance. We often go into a mode of resistance, such as when we talk about fighting a disease or struggling to overcome obstacles. But doing so blocks transformation. When we shift to acceptance, surrendering to the situation, letting go, then transformation becomes possible.

It is important to recognise that we have a choice about is how to respond to suffering. This was one of the insights of psychologist Viktor Frankl, gained during his three years as an inmate of Nazi concentration camps. Frankl was one of the 10 percent of inmates who survived Auschwitz, and attributed his survival to his strong sense of purpose. He watched others give up hope, losing their sense of purpose, noticing that soon afterward they would fall ill and die. This sense of purpose is the freedom that circumstances cannot take away from us.

In the final part of the book, Steve outlines a Four-Step Process of Responding to Challenges, aimed to help this transformatory process along, and help individuals in their process of response. First, it is essential to acknowledge your predicament, second is to acknowledge your negative thoughts and feelings about the situation, third is to explore them and how they are affecting you, and fourth is acknowledgement of your predicament and accepting and letting go of your own resistance. You’ll just have to read the book if you want to better understand this.

Steve then moves on to consider how this knowledge can help those of us not currently suffering from stress and trauma. The key message he draws out is that we should embrace challenge and expansion, also contemplate death and the change and dissolution of the body, a process that becomes inevitable as we age…

And we should cultivate non-attachment, through techniques such as meditation, mindfulness, letting go. Attachment is of the ego, and the spiritual path enjoins us to transcend our attachments to a state of greater involvement in the whole of life.

Steve’s book gives us the encouraging perspective, that whatever stress and trauma may occur in our lives, we can use this experience as a springboard to personal transformation, becoming more conscious and better human beings.

Our spiritual potential has always been real, and presaged by many wise forerunners. It is only in the material forgetfulness of the modern world that many are in denial of this fact.

At Lincoln Cathedral

I never cease to be inspired by Lincoln Cathedral. Growing up in Lincoln, it was always there, dominating the city and visible across the fens for miles around. On our recent visit we caught the afternoon sun full onto the stunning and newly cleaned West Front.

Our purpose was to attend the candlelit Christmas Carol Service, enjoy listening to the sublime singing of the choir, and join in with the well known Christmas carols, all the while inspired by that superb gothic interior.

Afterwards, purple lighting on the cathedral towers gave some magical effects. I particularly liked this one.

God’s own cathedral, I call it. But then, I am a bit biased!

Featured image is a part of the West Front.

Do you recognise the 36-year effect?

I usually keep my astrological interest separate from this blog, but here is a case where astrological psychology has implications that are easily understood by those of you without astrological knowledge.

Essentially the theory from Huber astrology says that, during our progress through life, we encounter on a regular basis energy patterns that resonate with those from an earlier period of our life. What I would call the minor effect happens every 6 years, and what I would term the major effect happens every 36 years.

This only becomes of particular significance when there are periods of psychological stress, trauma or growth – which may or may not relate to specific events, people, behavioural patterns etc. It is well known that such periods can leave their mark within the body/psyche, and that these hidden patterns can recur later in life.

36-year effect

The 36-year effect says that we re-encounter the same energy pattern, probably in a different but related manner, and from a different perspective, which gives us the opportunity to resolve those issues that were not resolved at the original time – a second bite of the cherry, so to speak. This may involve some stress in reliving aspects of our life 36 years before, but offers the opportunity to put the issue to bed and remove the negative effects it has had on our bodymind for so many years – the opportunity for psychological growth.

We are speaking of psychological matters that evolve over time, so the effect will not necessarily occur after exactly 36 years; it might be, say something between 34 and 38 years…

Of course, there is also a 72-year effect, whereby older citizens may revisit childhood stress/trauma that was not resolved 36 years before.

Your experience

The question for you, dear reader, is:

Looking back over your life and its most stressful/traumatic and positive experiences, can you see any evidence of the 36-year effect. If so, we would be interested in your story! You can include it in a comment or use the confidential email address given in the astrological post (below).

If you send birth date/time/place we can comment on any astrological correlations with your birth chart.

Astrological Post

The astrological post has the heading ‘The Six and Thirty-Six Years in Huber Age Progression’. Here is a link.

The featured image is from the front cover of The Cosmic Egg Timer: An Introduction to Astrological Psychology.