Magical Thinking, Part 1


The following is excerpted and adapted from the introduction to A Darke Phantastique: Encounters with the Uncanny and Other Magical Things, edited by Jason V Brock for Cycatrix Press. Jason’s full introduction is titled “An Abiding Darkness, A Phantastique Light.” The book also features a foreword by Ray Bradbury in the form of a previously unpublished 1951 essay titled “The Beginnings of Imagination.”

Why do we, as a species, create things? What is it to “create”? What is the purpose of such activity?

These are fascinating questions, and likely no one has a complete answer to them. However, from my vantage point, in its most essential form, creativity is making the divine out of the mundane. It is taking the fundamental life force of the human spirit and resolving that unfocused energy into something akin to the spiritual. (Sexuality is another example of this process, and is tied to creativity.)

Shamans were often catalysts of this in pre-religious contexts. In more organized societies, religion has attempted to channel energy of this nature with decidedly mixed results, often heaping upon the creative impulse the added burdens of castigation and humiliation, lest the individual attempt to take their (rightful) place amongst the gods. Just as one need not believe in a godhead to live a moral and righteous life, one can be a creative without the insufferable tyranny of an organized gathering of impotents taking umbrage at every word written, every stroke painted, every dish prepared, every frame captured. We are the authors of our lives and the masters of the final outcome, not the politicians or religious leaders of the moment.

Who are these individuals to dictate to us? How are they more able to advise us than any other person in the world, including ourselves? Certainly none of us needs a pope, a president, a lama, or a god to assist us in navigating any moral conviction; it is an innate function of socialization and reasoning. We have imbued such people with this ability; they are not actually illuming our existence. To understand this takes courage, passion, skill, talent, and inspiration. Otherwise we are all doomed, in the words of Thoreau, to lead “lives of quiet desperation.” And then the grave, followed by the unknown. Why not take one’s life and steer it, rather than listen to the protestations of less valiant persons hiding from the possible?

Other questions of interest to humanity — and to creators, especially in our science-driven, technologically dependent age — present themselves upon analysis: What is the fundamental nature of reality? Why are we alive? Are we alone in the universe? When does consciousness become non-artificial? If a humanoid (or non-human animal for that matter) has enough experience and wisdom to have insight, that means the threshold of insight has been crossed, which means the “artificial” aspects of Artificial Intelligence (simply programming data points or relying on input/output mechanisms) will have been breached. It isn’t artificial at that point. It just “is.”

“What is the fundamental nature of reality? Why are we alive? Are we alone in the universe? When does consciousness become non-artificial?”

Using that as an illustration, we realize that we are at an intriguing juncture as a world-changing species. When the first non-living organism begins to manifest actual sentience (as opposed to simple self-awareness), true emotions (not just programmed reactions), and is able, for example, to produce a profound work of art — a masterpiece of literature, painting, music, cinema, or the equivalent — then there will be no fundamental difference between “AI” and just plain garden-variety “I.” Once that happens, we will really have to examine the ethics of how we treat things that are neither born nor cultivated, but built for a purpose — something humanity struggles with now as it is related to non-human creatures and even to other humans based on sexuality, gender, and race, all of which are natural manifestations of DNA expression on Earth.

And indeed, what purpose is there to creating such a being? If we limit their life course to what “we decide” versus their own free will, isn’t that slavery? What if they are psychopathic and intentionally shut off the electrical grid to a hospital, for example, or commit an act of terrorism? Would that be a crime? I think it means we would need to reconsider many aspects of jurisprudence and mental health, for a start. Additionally, it is said that one learns more from failure than success, so does that mean that for higher levels of consciousness to be attained, AI must first have input from extremely negative learning experiences in order to garner enough data for such things as insight or empathy to manifest? Where does that lead? Uploading all the misery of the Holocaust? The horror of a cancer diagnosis? Deprivation due to the inability to see, hear, or speak, like Helen Keller?

And who are we to decide that these beings are mortals? (They could, technically, be immortals with the current technologies.) Are these prerequisites for such phenomena as the creation of emotionally moving artworks or philosophy, including knowledge of one’s own eventual death? Is immortality a good thing for humanity, either organic or manufactured?

I will address these concerns in Part 2, to be published soon.

About Jason V Brock

Jason V Brock is an award-winning writer, editor, filmmaker, composer, and artist. He is the author of the weird fiction collection SIMULACRUM AND OTHER POSSIBLE REALITIES, and he was Art Director/Managing Editor for DARK DISCOVERIES magazine for more than four years. He also runs the biannual pro digest [NAMEL3SS]. As a filmmaker, his work includes the documentaries CHARLES BEAUMONT: THE SHORT LIFE OF TWILIGHT ZONE'S MAGIC MAN, THE ACKERMONSTER CHRONICLES!, and IMAGE, REFLECTION, SHADOW: ARTISTS OF THE FANTASTIC.

Posted on March 5, 2015, in Monstrous Singularities and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. It struck me from reading your article that AI programmed to love and be empathetic might be superior to human beings who are not programmed to be empathetic. If we either get Terminator or Chobits then I predict that if AI is possible at all that it will be Chobits. I don’t believe that an AI programmed to be intelligent could possibly be evil if it was also empathetic .

  2. These dolls that my girlfriend collect are resin and are a kind of orgonite in some sense that life likeness sticks to them and comes from a culture where dolls are like religious totems or avatars . In this doll world they are superior to human beings. Simply looking at doll clothing and doll houses makes one realize how perfect they are. Gothicism is perfection.

  3. An author named Hien Van Nguyen wrote a book about Vietnamese sorcerers , and another book with more stories . Apprenticed to a sorcerer is already a severe form of mind control as it is since your will is abandoned to the sorcerer in the chain of being. Haunting the Buddha by Robert DeCaroli is also about this in a Buddhist context . the book of Concord is another in a Lutheran context .

  4. Where does creativity come from, and why. A good question. It won’t be experience that gives you the answer, although it helps. It won’t even be your so called IQ. That might even hurt. The answer is in which ‘lens’ you are looking through. The lens here is the lens of SURVIVAL. Thinking of new ways to survive in a competitive dangerous environment. Putting two and two together and coming up with 7. Our brains became the incredible way they are – forged on the anvil of life or death. Our species line survived. The byproduct of that imagination is art. Wondrous art in all it’s many looks and sounds. Complicated question. Easy answer.

  5. It seems that consciousness is being taken here as a kind of thing – despite attempts in other columns on this site to view consciousness differently. If consciousness has no boundaries (and nobody has ever found any definitive boundaries) then it is all pervading. If it’s all pervading – and equally so – then it transcends time and space (if it is everywhere and every-when, by definition it cannot be limited to time and space; it is non temporal and non-spatial, though all of time and space may be an expression of it).

    if this is the case, then the answer is simple – we create because it is the nature of Chit – or more accurately, Chit-Shakti, Consciousness-Force – to create – for the joy of it, which is “why” – if there must be a why, though not in human terms – the universe is “here” at all (though the universe is not really any more “here” than “There” or not here or not there)

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