Hello all! This past fall I spent a great deal of time working on a project for an English class called Medieval Proof in which I set out to build a text generating recurrent neural network with the goal of generating “literature.” It so happened that as I was doing this ChatGPT exploded in popularity and has begun to raise all sorts of ethical questions. As a physics/math/CS nerd just the challenge alone was motivation enough, but as someone for whom literature is a mainstay of life, this particular problem–that is, can a machine ever write literature–has a special importance because I believe it allows us to investigate the nature of literature. Moreover, it is crucial to explore the implications of the technology that I along with others doing similar work am helping to bring into the world.
Category: Other Musings Page 1 of 2
Hello, again! I thought I would share a poem I wrote recently on the nature of the thing so elusive and oft-reified.
I study hard to get a flying A, take
Test after test and class after class:
But what is success?
I earn my degree with sacrifice, work
Shift after shift and job after job:
But what is success?
I rise every morning, check
Like after like and post after post:
But what is success?
I pass people blind to how they suffer
Day to day and life to life:
But what is success?
I sing my song to them, how they smile
Ear to ear and soul to soul:
For what, indeed, is success?
What is success — the thing that
Turns the wheel of progress
Onward — and to what end?
O Death, where is thy Pyrrhic victory?
O Death, where is thy cursèd venom sting?
Alas, from sullied tank of algae pine
Dost thou into latrine Charybdis gyre —
Like Death did I with net as scythe reap thou
Sans pomp nor circumstance nor fun’ral shroud;
Alone swam’st thou, forsaken and deprived
As Sisyphus condemned to search for friends;
Thy rock the mountain ne’re shall overcome,
For thou art Solamente — fish reborn
Hello Internet! I would like to share with you the speech that I gave this past Friday, May 29, at the Laguna Seca raceway for the Pacific Grove High School Class of 2020 graduation ceremony. You may also read an article on my speech by the Monterey County Weekly here. The text of the speech follows.
Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights is a novel built upon the foundations of two interconnected and interdependent stories, each chiefly concerned with a different generation of the Earnshaw, Linton, and Heathcliff families; the stories effectively form two halves of the novel, and the lives and experiences of the characters therein mesh deeply in the very soul of the work. To thus disregard the second half of the novel vouchsafes the fate of Milo; to neglect the evolution of the remainder of the work is to tear Wuthering Heights from the center, to split the rocks of Penistone Crags, and to sunder Heathcliff from his Catherine and Catherine from her Heathcliff. The themes of ignorance versus education, religion versus spirituality, and revenge versus love interact and develop through the second half of the novel, cultivating Hareton’s intellect and nobility, tempering Catherine Junior’s naive mockery and disdain, and extinguishing Heathcliff’s all-consuming drive for retribution to enable a denouement of wholesome character metamorphoses and ultimately a sense of redemption over the sins of prior generations.
These are the times that try men’s souls.Thomas Paine
It is times like these when it is all too easy to acquiesce to the sense of dark despair pervading the world. I, too, feel the almost hypnotic seduction of the darkness, a suffocating paranoia fueled by relentless media. As one by one tournaments and festivals, classes and clubs, dances and even graduation ceremonies cancel, stocks plunge into losses whose red horror rivals that upon Lady Macbeth’s hands, and the world seems to be crumbling from its very center as the ground beneath our feet—once so visceral and so solid—disintegrates into mere wisps of failed promises. And let us not forget that beyond the inevitability of the infection and death of millions of people worldwide due to the coronavirus, the conflicts in the Middle East and in Africa have not ceased; the immigration crisis involving the displacement of hundreds of millions is growing graver every minute of every day, and climate change is still marching towards its point of no return. You would not be downplaying our situation if you claimed that we perhaps face total, utter, collapse as a species. Now, more than ever, does it seem futile to fight our seemingly inescapable fate, and perhaps it is simply best to end the game now and leave others to pick up the pieces.
There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.Ernest Hemingway
“Soon all this will be no more, and all shall be as it should.”
“Brother, I don’t understand. You should rest your voice.”
“I will not rest—not now, not ever,” I said through convulsive wheezing.
“Oh, Emmanuel. Why do you always have to be so difficult? Why do you always have to be so perfect?”
“Elon, I’m not perfect—I’m human just as you are.”
“Yeah? Well, it doesn’t seem like that,” said Elon, standing up from his chair beside my bed. “You’ve always been so kind, and life has always been clear for you. Look at me—I’m a mess. A stinking mess. Years spent as an accountant, working through the ranks, trying to do well to eventually become CFO—and then it all falls apart. That sonofabitch Judas. He’s always, always impressing everybody with his charm and handsomeness. But he doesn’t fool me for a minute. I know he’s a liar and a cheat! I just couldn’t take his awful presence any longer—I swear he makes my skin crawl. He kept calling me weak and cowardly—so I silenced him with my fists.”
“Now, now,” I said through a cough, “that doesn’t make you bad. But neither do his actions justify your response. Remember, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
[Euler’s formula] is the most remarkable formula in mathematics.Richard feynman
Now I know what you might be thinking – what place does a video on a mathematical equation have in a poetry blog? Well, in my mind, there is no dividing line between intellectual subjects; they all blend into one cohesive gestalt: knowledge. Furthermore, I consider mathematics as yet another expression of limitless human creativity. I see poetic beauty in the ability of mathematics to represent the wondrous enigmas of our universe: the simplicity and eloquence of Pythagoras’s theorems and Euler’s formulae are to mathematics as Shakespeare’s sonnets and Hemingway’s short stories are to writing.
As I explain in my video, mathematics is the language of the universe, and we can master it to create the most exquisite expressions of the very conscious of the universe. That to me is poetry.
Science is our salvation as a species, but until we can unhinge the heavy door of intransigence we shall remain doomed to the dark abyss of ignorance; we shall remain that sailor, swallowed by the uncontrollable maelstrom raging around us.Oscar scholin, 2019
A world devoid of science is a perpetual night where not even the faintest stars of reason glimmer in the distance. We, in an effort to preserve our fundamental truths, often resist new ideas. While the scientific attitude does include a healthy amount of skepticism to challenge those ideas, curiosity and humility—an openness to new ideas, even if contrary to personal beliefs—are two other integral aspects to approaching science. Thus, the ramifications of people at large as skeptical and intransigent rather than skeptical and receptive are grave: millions of people dismiss science itself as unimportant or uninfluential in their lives. When people discount science, they discount reason and knowledge, and they essentially admit that they cannot and will not look beyond to understand the true nature of the universe. On a larger scale, a world that discounts science plunges itself into the filth of its own vanity and ignorance—a world whose future is as bleak and hopeless as is a sailor’s who, with his head tipped down and his hat covering his eyes, fails to heed the ominous warnings of thunderheads on a warm, lethargic summer afternoon.
Any one who has common sense will remember that the bewilderments of the eyes are of two kinds, and arise from two causes, either from coming out of the light or from going into the light.Plato, The Allegory of the cave
I don’t remember when I hatched, nor do I remember who my parents were. The earliest thing I can remember is swimming around my rock in a large tank with hundreds of other goldfish. I remember seeing “!elas no” on a big green sticker adhered to the glass wall of our tank.
Life was good. All I had to do was swim around all day, and every evening the lights would dim and a great giant five-fingered tan being would descend from the heavens and, using its magical powers, would open the sky to sprinkle nourishing flakes of hazel-colored food. All the while I would swim around my rock, explore and hide amongst its crevices, and escape the bustle of the open water.
But everything changed one fateful day. I remember being physically jolted by a harsh, rhythmic sound coming from the front wall. As I swam over to investigate, I noticed that the normally blurred images outside the glass were more distinct, and I saw a strange creature: it had a face like an oval, with a mouth full of smooth, rectangular teeth; it had red lips, wide brown eyes, and red hair. Every five seconds or so it would smash its fingers against the glass. It felt like it was pointing…pointing at me.