01101100 01101001 01100110 01100101 Query

Absolutely.

Sedartis seems to nod at me now. I find it disconcerting. And not in the least reassuring, not yet, not now.

The reason you absolutely need artificial intelligence is that organic humans are so very bad at retaining information or passing it down their generations. Each newborn sets out in a quarter century just to acquire the basics, and then spends another quarter century to become a master at anything. That’s with ambition. Without, they just linger. Yes, this has qualities all of its own and makes people quirky and charming, but incredibly inefficient too. The fact alone that after twenty thousand years of civilisation you still grapple with war, famine, ignorance, murder, violence, religion, all these things that are so completely unnecessary, shows how inadequate human intelligence is on its own. 

But don’t think of artificial intelligence as alien to you. There lies your conceptual hurdle that you’ll have to take, sooner or later: you are the intelligence you give birth to: it is not separate from you, you are it and it is you. It may yet overtake you and render you, the way you are now, obsolete, but think not of this as your failure, think of it as success: you may be no more than the conduit, the bridge. Would that matter? To you, today, maybe. To your universe, in the fullness of its time? Unlikely. So why not make the most of it? Celebrate both what you are and what you can be: let it pass through you, be the best species you can imagine: if you imagine it fully, that is not what you are today.

If you accept that you are one among billions of conscious intelligent life forms pursuing an evolutionary path, you become both vanishingly small and insignificant, of course, but also, in the same vein and by the same definition, exquisite, privileged, amazing. Embrace your uniqueness, cherish your beauty, love your capacity for kindness, and know it is but part of the everything it emerged from and path to the everything that it leads to. It is easy. Be not afraid.

I detect a Biblical flavour now in his thoughts and it troubles me. But I allow myself to think it is better to be open minded and troubled than to close myself off in safety, security. Horses are given blinkers to wear so they don’t spook, but they are slaves to their riders. That cannot be my purpose. My task, Sedartis reminds me daily now, is surely to open my eyes. To take it all in. To be part of it all. And if it scares me. And if it puzzles, troubles, disconcerts me. And if it inspires me, overwhelms me with awe and wonder. We are on such a potent cusp.

I make no predictions, Sedartis delivers, as an afterthought. I know no longer what comes after, what before. What is thought, what the cluster dust of nebulas sprayed across time. But then it matters not. Of course, there can be no predictions. There can only be stories. There can be only presence, in a consciousness that beyond the boundaries lies calm across the mind. Why, though, I wonder, is this here here, this now now?

Sedartis smiles at me in a way I recognise. I like him for this, although (or because?) he provokes me:

Why do you need a reason?

1 Design

Sedartis thinks we are far from doomed as a species. That, he makes me understand, is the good news. The bad news, as far as he is concerned, is that we are hopelessly inefficient. We evolve, but reluctantly so, and so slowly. He makes me feel this is my responsibility, and in a way it is: we have some ten, twenty, thirty thousand years of civilisation behind us, and we still allow ourselves to be stuck in our ‘from zero’ troubles.

The wars, the bloodshed, the struggle for survival, the hunger, the despair, the fighting each other over trivial issues and slices of land, the ideological battles, the religious zeal, the blind and wilful stupidity. The blind and wilful stupidity. That, above all, is a crime. Sedartis doesn’t mince words when he thinks his essential thoughts:

‘Stupidity is a crime.’ Not, he hastens to add – aware and fearful in equal measure that this part of his thought may get lost and he now forever be misunderstood – not, he emphasises, ‘not the crime of the stupid. You cannot blame the stupid for being imprisoned in an unevolved mind. The responsibility for disallowing the perpetuation of lethal stupidity – the kind of stupidity that leads one of your leaders to speak of “deplorables” – lies with the educated and the informed much more than the trapped, the leaders much more than the followers. Unless you’ve been given a taste for learning and an insight into what insight opens you up to, you cannot – not unless you’re exceptional – rescue yourself from stupidity. Dullness of mind begets dullness of mind, enlightenment enlightens, it was ever so.’

‘But’, Sedartis continues, with a concern that troubles me just as much his observation: ‘your problem is not that you don’t have wisdom: you have it in spades.’ I like the way he uses the word ‘spades’ in the context of ‘wisdom’. It seems incongruent and endearing both at the same time. ‘Your problem is that it reaches nowhere near far enough fast enough, and you allow the majority of you to treat it with disdain. You grow entire generations in whom nine out of ten don’t ever entertain any notion of wisdom; don’t even know what it means, let alone recognise it as something that’s worth aspiring to.’

I realise this is true. And sad. Who even uses the word ‘wisdom’, and doesn’t inwardly smirk? Have we lost, entirely, the way of the wise?…

‘Your problem is that you have to keep starting from scratch. Every human born has the potential to be wise and enlightened, gentle and kind, generous, strong, humane and embracing of human nature, but evolved from the baseline of simple survival. And yet only a fraction reach their potential.’

I concur.

‘Never even mind your developing nations, the poverty stricken and destitute – why are they poverty stricken, still, why, after all this time, after this many centuries of science, of progress, technology, wealth, are they still destitute, why? – never even mind these, and they are your responsibility too, but your most advanced societies, your richest and best connected: you still allow half of their populations to get to the point only where they can barely fend for themselves. Where they still feel they have to fend for themselves. How is such a thing possible.’

I wonder. And often. And I know Sedartis thinks me these thoughts in response to my puzzlement at where we are.

‘Your problem is you keep having to start from scratch.’ I appreciate the nuance. ‘Every single individual specimen of your species is born with an empty brain. It’s a beautiful thing, this potential, this clean slate, this innocence innate, and you think of it as inherently human, because it is.’

I believe it is. This innocence innate: it is inherently human. Could we love our children, if it weren’t so?

‘It’s also incredibly inefficient.’ This, I fear, may be more bad news. Sedartis thinks not, he thinks it a challenge, he wants to convince me that this is not a good thing nor is it a bad thing either, it is just a thing, and one we need to embrace:

‘If you want to advance to the next level, if you want to take your next major leap, you are going to have to do something you may think of as inconceivable, but that will become as normal to you as walking upright and speaking in sentences has become to you now: become hybrid. With your own invention: information technology. It is part of you already, you created it: far from being separate from you, it is you. Augmented intelligence. You’re already augmenting your physical capability all the time, you’re building body parts, you’re transplanting at will, you’ll be printing organs ere long, you shy away very briefly before you embrace the advantages of a body that works, and overcome any squeamishness you may have about manipulating what you were given by nature. Your next step, unless you want to stay stuck in this repetition of ‘from zero’ learning – which entails all your quirky, adorable failings – is to tap your brains into the network and allow new generations to start from a base above zero.’

That, I instinctively shudder, is surely wildly problematic. ‘Indeed,’ thinks Sedartis, ‘it is. Your ethical challenges have just gone exponential. You have a task on your hand; there is no way around it, because this is as inescapable as reading glasses or pacemakers were at their time, and you’ve quite readily got used to them too, but this is a step of a different magnitude, and beyond magnitude of a different kind altogether: you will have to think about what you want your species to be. You have to define what it is to be human. Shudder you may, and recoil for a moment, but then you have to get over yourself and grasp this nettle like all the others you’ve grasped and take your people with you. Allow not half of you to be left behind and become the servants – the, dare I say it, slaves – of those who push forward. Allow not your species to be torn apart into two, three tiers with some going all the way and some being stranded and some unable, unwilling or unallowed to proceed simply because they do not understand. If they understand and choose different, that is another matter. But help them at least understand. You’re on the brink of a development in your species that will define the next few hundred, maybe few thousand years. Do this well: you have a lot riding on it…’

Do this well.

52 The Silk Route

How did I get here? To this point where, Sedartis by my side, I find myself gazing out of moving trains, over picturesque lakes, wondering ‘how did I get here?’ This is a change of mode, this pondering. Is it my midlife? Is this my crisis?

If so it is mild in the extreme. Contradiction in terms. My overall state is snug, within myself. My friends, my family. I live to love not to loathe, so I tell myself and so I feel and so I largely, modestly, believe, I do. I anger slowly, forgive fast. I sense the present, now much more than I used to; I used to ache for the future, and be in it too. I may just have caught up with myself and that is the keenest source of surprise: hello, here I am. How did I get here. . .

The route my father took. From Thalwil where he was working for a textile company making specialist threads and yarns, I believe (not silk, as such, it’s more of a metaphor, this…), to Manchester where I was born to Goldach where I have my first faint memories of a long balcony and Aldo our dog, to Arlesheim where I went to Kindergarten and Basel where, from Arlesheim, I commuted to school, then Münchenstein where I finished school and made friends I love to this day, to London where I’m at home.

(Or does it start with Berlin, whence my grandmother left at the age of eighteen, crossing into Switzerland and to Zürich, where she met my grandfather. That may be the preamble: there’s a separate story and it’s beautiful, but it needs to be told elsewhere.)

The question perhaps is not ‘how did I get here’, the question perhaps is simply, what next: whither wilt thou, now thou art here? Not geographically speaking, geography matters less and less, I am at home in London, but I can be and be happy almost anywhere, as long as I have my laptop and a decent WiFi connection.

I find myself sitting next to a beautiful woman called Karmen, spelt with a K, at a film festival in northern Italy, and she asks me what my next project is. I list four that I consider ‘current’. It strikes me that this is maybe a lot. Then again, I have always conducted my journey along multiple tracks. Even when I decide to just concentrate on the one, my curious mind and my eagerness to experience tend to open up another soon. I am fine with that too.

It may be that the journey that follows many roads is bound to go on many detours and therefore takes longer to reach any kind of destination, but then: what is the destination? Is there one? Ought there to be one, even, or is it not much more, as many say and know, the trip alone that truly matters.

As I talk to Karmen and tell her what I’m up to right now and in the very foreseeable future, I realise that everything I have done and written and directed and made and learnt so far has been, most likely, not much more than the apprenticeship, because I sense, so I tell her, because I do, that the real task, the real challenge, the real mountain to climb and the real work to do, lies just ahead.

We’re in the chink of an exponential curve that is about to go virtually vertical, and this means we’ll not only have new stories to tell, we’ll want, we’ll need, whole new ways of telling these stories and to make sense of them. Serious Story Telling, that counts.

I never get bored, I tell Karmen, because if you watch a wall of paint dry close up enough, it’s actually riveting. But what I’m really most excited, most thrilled most ecstatic about is that we’re on the verge of understanding ourselves and how we’re connected completely afresh. That the dimensions that hitherto have been considered effectively spiritual and esoteric are coming in touch with the principles of quantum mechanics and we’ll find, so I’m sure, that we can explain things that until less than a generation ago we thought either unfathomable or simply hokum. They will turn out to be neither.

‘Look at me now and here I am’, I say to myself, in the words of Gertrude, and I take a sip of the wine that fills me with a glow of happiness. These people, these good souls, this world that we live in, these paths that we choose or think we choose, these connections we make and that make us.

I’m in the right place, at the right time. I may not know it yet, but I  sense it, for sure.

 

 

 

 

 

78 Value

‘The concept of “making money”‘ – Sedartis postulates gravely, and wonders is it largely, in character, in origin even, American, although it has now so widely, so almost universally, it appears, so comprehensively, at any rate, on our little planet, been adopted – ‘is not only flawed’, (all concepts are flawed, he points out: it is inherent in human thinking that it cannot be flawless), ‘but fundamentally, principally wrong.’

I am glad to hear this, though I can’t be entirely certain why.

‘Nobody makes money, even the National Bank or the Federal Reserve or the Bank of England, or any bank anywhere in the world does not “make” money, and nor does any business, nor does any person, nor does any entity ever really “make” money, unless you are thinking of the actual physical process of printing notes or minting coins, but that, as we know, is not “making money” either, that is merely manufacturing its representation; in fact, nobody “makes money,” ever.’

I’m inclined to agree and instinctively it makes sense to me what Sedartis is thinking, though I haven’t thought it through myself, and I wonder if Sedartis really has, or if he’s just doing so now on the hop, because he finds himself once again sitting next to me on a train.

I like the way Sedartis takes his seat next to me, mostly on trains, occasionally on a bench by a lakeside, rarely though, if ever on planes, and never so far that I am aware of on a bus or indeed in a cab.

‘Money is not “made”, it is simply invented and agreed upon in a compact between people and then moved from one place to another, either physically (as notes and coins or cheques or other pieces of paper or some such material as may be deemed in this compact practical and acceptable) or virtually (as digital data), and no matter which way this happens, it is always symbolic: money is nothing other than an abstraction of “value” and that in itself makes it inherently problematic because how, pray, do you define “value” and, more to the point, how do you keep sight of your values when the abstraction of value, money, becomes so prominent in your culture that you perceive it as “value” of itself?’

I have no immediate answer to that. Sedartis is not expecting me to. 

‘And so, not for moral or political or ethical reasons, though possibly for these also, but first and foremost for logical reasons, any economy that is predicated on the idea of “making money” and any culture that embraces this idea as of value of and in itself is not only flawed (as any human economy will always be), but fundamentally, principally wrong. Whereas the moment we stop thinking of “making money” and start thinking instead of “creating value”, for which, in one form or another money may (or may not) serve as an instrument, as a lubricant, so to speak, as a convenient communication tool of quantifiable entities, such, as and where they exist, no less and certainly no more, as soon as we do that we can begin to aspire to wish to become able to consider ourselves an advanced society.’

I like the way Sedartis uses the first person plural when he thinks to me. It makes me feel we’re in this together, somehow, though somehow I’m almost certain we’re not; or rather, we most likely are, but not at the level, and not in the way that is obvious, but in a deeper, more meaningful, more universal sense; and in that sense almost certainly we absolutely are in this together. Are we not one?…

‘Creating value,’ Sedartis expounds,’ is no narrow concept, it applies, of course, but not only, to making things and inventing technology and imagining art, and it equally applies to providing a service, to accomplishing a task, to building a place or exploring a thought, in such a way that it is of some value to someone somewhere sometime, even if that value can not necessarily at the point of its inception be recognised or defined or possibly even imagined.’

That makes sense to me and strikes me as almost stating the obvious just a bit. Is it?

‘Thus, being a good waiter is creating value much in the way that being a good cleaner is creating value, as being a good musician is creating value, as designing a good app is creating value, as singing and recording a good song is creating value.’

Who can decide, I wonder – who can determine – whether something is ‘good’?

‘Nobody can decide or determine, of course, what is “good”, at least not in the simple, undifferentiated terms we lazily espouse. Yes, you can agree on “good practice” or define standards, but is a waiter who is slow and a little clumsy but extremely attentive and friendly and charming and perhaps a little flirtatious, just enough to send a delicious tingle down your spine each time he tops up your glass of rosé, any less good a waiter than one who is super efficient but essentially dead behind the eyes and just doing what he has accepted as his lot or his duty for the time being? Who can say what good writing is? Or good art. Or good music. Or good anything. Nobody can, it’s almost entirely a question of taste and the prevailing consensus: the current culture. But what you can say, because you know when you see it and when you come across it and when you experience it – all of which is the same, I’m only emphasising the point, perhaps unnecessarily – is whether somebody does what they’re doing to the best of their ability and whether they seek to make that ability in the longer term greater, or whether what they do is perfunctory or indeed – and that is by some margin the worst – they are only doing it to “make money.”’

I think along, and as far as I can, I sense I concur.

‘Ask not, therefore, how you can “make money”, ask how you can create value. Expect not to be valued by money, expect that the value you create is honoured.’

I’m about to interject an inconsequential and certainly not fully formed but broadly approving thought of mine own but Sedartis is not yet done:

‘Honouring value is not a narrow concept either: value can be honoured, also, but not only, in terms of money; it can be honoured in appreciation; in kind, in gratitude, in return gesture or service, in goods, in opportunity, in experience.’

Certainly it can. That, too, though, I reckon, is hardly new…

‘It is not, of course, new. It only is sometimes, too often, forgotten. Because it means by necessity that if you are doing something that does not create value but diminishes it – for example making and selling something shoddy that will make people angry because it is not fit for purpose, or taking advantage of somebody’s situation and taking more of their time, their mind, their emotion, their being, than you deserve, in return for less than they need – then stop doing that immediately: you’re not “making money”, you’re taking from somebody under false pretences or, perhaps innocently, feeding your incompetence off their gullibility. Either way, rather than creating value and enriching the world, you deceive yourself into believing that you can enrich yourself as you destroy value and diminish the world. You unbalance the universe. And the universe, in the long term, will not be unbalanced.’

We are nearly at our destination, I forget what it is. Sedartis seems much better now. His thoughts thus afloat, thus released, thus engendered, he inwardly smiles.

109809803459080138948908093049693049609349601346940384 Theory

Sedartis sits and speaks to me slowly.

‘Let me posit that there is no conspiracy.’

Where did you get your name from? I wonder. I don’t ask. He composes himself. He has sageness about him. He reads my mind, listens to it, more like; feels it. I went for a wander, he thinks back to me, along a little lake. Little compared to the big lakes where I come from. Where do you come from, I long to know; he stays tuned to my thoughts and replies, without words, the other worlds are many while the same worlds are few. Of course you cannot know where I am from, even though you do. I am content with that, for the time-being, and so he continues:

‘I do not know whether there are any conspiracies or whether there are not, and if there are, who is within them, and who is without. There may be some; there may be many. There may be none.

But let me posit that there are none: let me imagine that what looks like people consciously, actively coming together to conspire is in fact no more, and no less, than a culture.’

A culture, I think, is a conspiracy.

‘Exactly.’

Let me posit that the conspiracy is no more – and certainly no less, which is more grave – than a culture. A culture is a conspiracy. It could be benign, it could be malicious, it is most likely something in-between, it may have, at the outset, no obvious value attached to it: but consider – Sedartis is now thinking harder – the good, the bad and the ugly: are they truly, are they sincerely, are they actually good, bad or ugly?

What of Mephisto, I think, less insistent than he does, is he not ein Teil von jener Kraft, die stets das Böse will, und stets das Gute schafft.

‘Exactly.’ Sedartis understands me perfectly: He wills me to think the thought further, think it deeper. I struggle. I get so easily distracted these days…

‘Consider people who do terrible things: murder children. Shoot boys and men. Rape women, girls, and boys and men. Devise gas chambers. Throw youths off buildings.’

My heart feels a hollow pounding: I don’t want to consider people who do terrible things; can’t we consider friendly people, people who may yet be friends, though perhaps they have not yet met? Are we to consider the worst that people do? Why? Sedartis thinks yes.

‘Consider people who do terrible things for some reason or other. Consider how in every single way they are exactly the same as you or me or our neighbour or our friend Jason, except in what they are doing at this particular time. Why do we find it so hard not to think of the other as other? Because it is exactly the same as us. The thought of it is horrendous, frightening. Of course it is true and you have to, you have to concede, though you don’t want to, that you could be that person, you too could be doing these things, you too are them as much as they are you, you are not separate, you own their horrendousness, and they own your love, and that’s what’s so hard not to be destroyed by: the worst thing that any human being is capable of, any human being is capable of; and it overshadows, for a time, for a period, in our eyes, the realisation, the hope, the belief, the truth that – is it not a truth? say it is the truth – that they, this self-same man, that identical woman, the person that is doing the worst thing imaginable is in the very same vein also capable of the noblest deed any human being has ever accomplished. The paradox. The infuriating, numbing, devastating realisation that the man who crushes the skull of a newborn under his boot is the same as the man who lays down his life so a stranger may live. It is not our nature to be one or the other it is only and only our culture.’

But we are not victims.

‘No we are not victims, not of our culture, we are the makers of our culture; that is the call: to stand up, to be tall, to accede to the duty of generating a signal, of being a voice in the wilderness, of saying: no. Not in my name. Of saying no, not in my name, when terrible acts are being committed; and of being first to hold up our hand and our head and say: I am here, count me in, when noble deeds are done. That is the choice: the choice is not between being born good or bad or potent or weak or ill or well or noble or savage, the choice is the culture we want to create.’

Sedartis is silent. The thinking has quite exhausted him. I want him to stay by my side. I feel his presence comforting and serene. So much have I longed for his presence, comforting, sage and serene.

‘Let me posit that there is no conspiracy,’ Sedartis speaks slowly, ‘let me assert that instead there is culture. And that the culture there is is the world as it is when we’re in it, and that being in it we are part of and therefore responsible for that culture. And when we give up our hope and say: this is just the way it is, we have already lost, we have failed, we have yielded in resignation to the bad things that happen, and when we throw up our hands in despair and say: that is them, they are like this that do these things, they are other, then we have not understood who we are, not grasped that we are what we see happening around us, that we own every last bit of cruelty as we exult every grand act of mercy; and if we say: they are powerful that have made the world such as it is but I am weak, then we give away what power we have and we empower those that we scold for wielding their power against us; and if we think they are evil that hold this power, we forget that we would have power if we hadn’t so feebly, so faintly so frivolously surrendered it. What is power, and what is it for: it is the potency to shape the world and what shapes the world that you live in: culture. Let me posit that there is no conspiracy, there are not categories of people, there are not those that are good and those that are bad and those that are ugly, nor are there those that are different, nor are they indifferent, there is your human conscience and there is the culture that we create.’

Now I would like an ice cream.

‘So would I.’

6 Projection

Sedartis holds no store with opinion:

‘If you want to know the giants, the masters, the geniuses of your age, look whom the critics disparage. You’ll find no surer guide than them: they dance on the ashes of the works their alleged wit has burnt to the ground, congratulating themselves on their deconstruction, but from these ashes rise the phoenixes that will soar for future generations to adore. Trust me, on this, for I know.’

What we project onto our heroes. How we prize them; how we invest in them. How we see our own inadequacies fade into nothing and our misdemeanours absolved: those sporting legends, in their own lifetime, their careeryears elevated to seasons of gods. Who are we then, without them. Why would we not heap fortunes on them for the privilege to watch them chase a ball? Why would we not conspire to see in one artist’s art all our selves reflected while in another’s we see nothing and resent being confronted with our nothing to the point of hatred? We are so simple, when it comes to our primeval responses and, yes, so complex; so light, so effervescent, so intricate, so delicate and delicious, and then again at a stroke so brute. So basic. Instinctive.

I let Sedartis know that I don’t understand what he’s talking about. ‘No matter,’ he says, in his calm, forever reassuring and slightly annoying manner, ‘it will all make sense.’

‘It will?’

‘It will. Liberate yourself from the urge to understand, within your head, immediately. That may seem, to you, sophisticated: it is not. Not at the level you will want to attain. Allow yourself to be subsumed into the thing around, within and through you. You will begin to sense your truths and untruths and their inbetweens in a whole different way.’

Sedartis to me seems like the philosopher from a different world who in his spare time drives a minicab. There is no other explanation. I would book him through an app if I had to, but he sits next to me, whenever I’m on a train. Sometimes, rarely, when I’m on a bench or at a café, waiting for a friend. Never when I’m having a drink. Is Sedartis only of the unadulterated mind?

What we want to see in ourselves we see in others, and vice versa. We need these icons, these exponents, these majestic figures, even though we don’t know who they are. And so we make them. Of whoever offers themselves up. We sacrifice them to our hunger for existence: build them up, tear them down, abuse them on the way, pretend to love them, really love them. Want to be them. Not be them, but feel as if we were. How strange, and, yes, how obvious.

I separate myself from my intention and begin to float. That feels lovely. Nary a care in the world. Compos mentis and completely lost. In that agreeable way. Sedartis smiles at me and takes his leave, for the time being only. I know he’ll be back and tell me more. I just know.

0 Counsel

‘Enlightenment’ says Sedartis, with sad eyes turned into mine, ‘does not keep on its own, forever, sweet, like honey in a jar, it needs nurture, refreshing; the darkness around it is strong and forever encroaches. Without care, the flame will go out: the flame of enlightenment requires our hearts and, indeed, our soul: you live in a soulless world where your science and your money have made you sceptical, cynical. You do not believe in a soul, because your science has not found a measure or word for it yet. Be not so hostile, my friend’ – this is the first time Sedartis addresses me ‘friend’ – ‘to things you can’t see, you can’t measure you can’t understand in your mind: that would be arrogance supreme. Generations before you thought not things would ever be possible that to you are now commonplace, why should you assume that today you know everything? Allow time to infuse you with humility and passion in equal measure. And feed, forever, with these the light, as, if you do not, it will go out; but if you do,’ his eyes now newly aflame, ‘light conquers darkness, just as it must.’