Care is not an Algorithm

Poetry as a meditative act of care stands outside of calculative thinking. Pablo Neruda, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and Kathleen Raine provide examples of this way of thinking and of seeing. I shall contrast these examples with those of AI compositions.

One may easily listen to this as a standalone episode. Still, it continues and develops many themes explored in Poetic Vision & The Present Time (Episode 020) and Poetry & Nature: Life Feels Itself (Episode 021).

I. The poetic dimension is an inner dimension of the soul / of our Being as care

We begin with Neruda and his call for quiet. In the meditative process there is an activity of the interior sort, in which one builds, cultivates, discovers inner dimensions. I call this the poetic vision. The way that the poet approaches the world, and life within it, comes from this inner dimension. The poetic vision resists giving precedence to the single-mindedness of calculative thought. It calls us to silence, to contemplation. Neruda’s “Keeping Quiet” is a wonderful example of this. This poetic contemplation awakes our sense of care.

II. Calculative thinking (e.g. AI) does not involve care

Here I discuss some of the recent developments in artificial intelligence (AI). First, the use of AI to compose Christmas carols shows a disconnect between the calculative and contemplative realms of thinking. The presumption in media coverage of these stories is that AI will eventually overtake humanity in this sphere of writing carols. This seems preposterous unless we are engaging the world from a flattened perspective in which techne simply speaks to the technical, and not the truly poetic, aspect of our being and engagement.

I then address the recent attempts to teach AI not to kill human beings, but to value our lives, by way of data sets of human stories and algorithm. There is no essential relationship between calculative thinking and care.

III. ‘Flattening’ does not merely apply to our perception of ‘things’ but also to the human image

First, Goethe’s comments from 1828 on Tobler’s letter help round out the poetic vision of nature discussed previously. Viewing the matter in nature as having both material and spiritual characteristics makes a difference in the way that one sees. One must be able to see unity in multiplicity, without then becoming stuck in an abstract holism.

We then find Kathleen Raine’s comments on the use of poetry are quite helpful here. Using Raine’s remarks to build upon Goethe’s, the danger posed to the human image by a view of nature as being lifeless comes into view.  Raine’s call for poetry as a meditative act to awaken love, care, and life, is akin to the ‘saving power’ cited by Hölderlin. Finally, we directly contrast poetry as a meditative act with a calculative composition by AI.


Pablo Neruda’s “Keeping Quiet”

Understanding Poetry – Dead Poets Society

Christmas Carols, generated by a neural network

An A.I. Wrote a Christmas Song and It’s Really, Really Creepy

This AI tried to write Christmas carols, and the results are hilarious

Reading stories can make robots more sympathetic to humanity, and less likely to kill us

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