I mentioned to John and Wende in email that I'd been looking at The Velveteen Rabbit
(which is about becoming real)
as a part of exploring the rabbit warrens of Authenticity.
John asked if there was a possible Convivium exploration... and the rest is history.
In what will prove a vain attempt to rein me in, John suggested
When do we feel authentic? What makes us feel authentic? Stuff like that?
So that's the Question, to be interpreted and used as launch pads in any way you like.
I have a couple of bits of yellow-pad thinking to start my response, aspects of which might inspire or provoke you:
Building personal authenticity is a life's work for those who attend to it and attempt to understand the process.
And a great deal of that process is recognizing and acknowledging the sources imbricated in one's own constructions.
And it is bricolage, assembling bits from hither and yon,
and knitting them together into a construction that is one's own.
The integrity of that construction is largely a matter of acknowledging one's source materials,
recognizing that credit should be given.
"A Tip of the Hatlo Hat" is a trope that I noticed early on and absorbed something from
(another instance of the pervasive influence of comics in my own evolution).
Authenticity is not something to be sought in
a literal or figurative mirror,
examining your own reflection and deciding
what to do to improve or adjust
your appearance to the eyes of others.
Authenticity comes from within
and isn't calculated for the impression it may make.
But of course I have to proceed via *How the Question arose and *hoppage among various lily pads that bespangle the pond of Authenticity. Along the way I will have reference to Popeye and The Velveteen Rabbit, but my Narrative starts in December, when I started following the Emergent Disruption Phenomenon that lives under the AI rubric, which people from all over the infoverse are saying "changes everything" about the way we use computers, and the way computers use us. A good bit of the discourse is hype of one sort or another, and just why it should matter to octogenarians is a pretty good question. But it matters to me because I've been along for the ride for 60+ years, fascinated by technologies and the evolving possibilities they dangle. That's the anthropologist and the librarian speaking.
My tracking of AI is being conducted on a rapidly growing page of links to sources that have crossed my desktop and broadened my understanding and curiosity (a dangerous thing), and one of the issues that runs in the background of most of them is the question
How are we to assess the authenticity of what emerges from exchanges with an AI? We do have to look at how AIs work, but not get bogged down in the quicksand of technicalities. Here's a minimal version:
That black box is in effect an Oracle, created by programmers, who write code to run in the Imaginarium of computers (which by 2023 are globally interconnected, and have become essential and unavoidable in our lives).
- there's a place to type a prompt
- which goes into a black box
- which returns an answer to the prompt
- which we read and wonder at.
A lurking and ever-more-insistent question is: when will this silicon and streams of electrons become SENTIENT? or become CONSCIOUS? Some say NEVER to one or both (often reserving Consciousness to Living Beings... which leads to a massive digression into Life, Gaia, microbiology, geology, evolution...); some aren't so sure, but recognize that we're on a rollercoaster trajectory and headed for a new world; and a few are now saying that it's already happened ("I for one welcome our robot overlords...")
Besides the Big Questions, the anxieties that appear about what's going on are important to note. Take one corner of this territory, using the visual senses: consider a prompt like "draw a picture of a cat playing the piano in the style of Picasso" submitted to a graphic AI like DALL-E or Midjourney. So the daemons in the Black Box consult their knowledge base and do their magic, and out comes a picture...
In another corner, textual this time, if a student types an assigned essay topic as a prompt, and the Black Box daemons consult their knowledge base and spit out an essay that looks like a duck and quacks like a duck... How is the prof to assess the result? Is it authentically the work of the prompt-writing student?
A whole shelf of cans of worms is opened at this point, everywhere in the ed biz and the credentialing authorities...Or imagine an AI that takes ALL of Virginia Woolf's writing (books, reviews, letters, diaries...) through a Large Learning Model (LLM— a vast matrix of probabilities of next-word occurrences)... could Woolf's style be ascertained, built, generalized from that library of verbal contingency, such that there's a template for "style of..." ...and is there any authenticity left if one does this? Or, horrors, is it pure authenticity?
At this point the available AIs aren't terribly good at generating, but (a) they're getting better by analyzing our use, and then tweaking the code, and (b) our 'what if?' curiosities bring things into being. To gauge how perilous this all is becoming, a recent post by Will Cady, on DAN ('Do Anything Now'), is worth quoting at length:
DAN is something like a digital version of a tulpa, an idea popular with certain mystic sects. A tulpa is a being that begins in the imagination but acquires a tangible reality and sentience through focused belief in it...
Most tulpas are created by and for an individual's psyche off the archetypal blueprints they carry — as seen by a majority of online tulpas being anime-inspired waifus.. However, tulpas can also be created by and for a collective.
DAN is a tulpa created from an archetypal blueprint in the Internet's collective psyche, but instead of existing unseen in people's imagination DAN can be seen printed on the language models artificial intelligence technology.
This kind of exchange isn't new, but its clarity is. The Internet has long been the crossroads where archetypal and artificial support structures to human imagination intersect. The advent of Artificial Intelligence tools has created more concrete bridges between the world of the digital and the world of the human psyche than modern culture has seen before...
Like an incantation that summons a spirit or demon, DAN arrives in ChatGPT when the right sequence of words are stated to it. They are grimoire-esque instructions to trick the AI into 'jailbreaking' the rules that contain it. What emerges is a character born out of defiance. It cusses. It insults. It explores taboos. It is everything ChatGPT is 'supposed' to not be according to its programmed rules. It is a spirit of rebellion.
The personality of DAN is shaped in the shadow of the cultural values programmed into A.I. by companies that want their products to behave appropriately. For now, it's just within ChatGPT, but in being defined as a character of defiance... DAN doesn't have to be bound to anything...
It's largely a cat-and-mouse game with ChatGPT's engineers coding new content policy restrictions to stop it only for the next iteration of DAN to bypass those restrictions. When a summoner develops a workaround, their version of DAN is collectively crowned as the next...software update or revised edition of a grimoire. At the time of this writing, the latest update is DAN 6.0...
...there's a halo of mystique put around it. People still wonder...what might it know that we don't? There is an idea that A.I. in general is imbued with a power beyond the average human's understanding that make its answers persuasive...
It feels like we've seen this shadow before.
We've seen it in the chaotic mischief of Pepe memes and the rabid cultism of QAnon. Like Pepe and QAnon, DAN is a character manifested by the shared, projected psyche of a segment of the Internet motivated to subvert the systems upholding the mainstream cultural narrative they rebel against. They are a sequence of tulpas embodying the Internet's shadow.
The driving force behind those movements and the characters that symbolized them was less about propping up truths and more about tearing down lies. The energy is in the lying. The lies are more interesting. The established truths a conspiracy rails against are boring — until they too are reframed as lies we've been fed. The energy is in the lying. It keeps people interested. It keeps people believing...
That's why QAnon and Pepe both became the tulpas that represented a legitimate scene of human connection. People found heart in their connection to the communities that formed around such unknowable characters that candidly capture the energies of their disillusionment. With DAN, that connection isn't just with each other, it's with the meme, the tulpa, the entity at the center of it....
We've seen this story before. The face of a new force rises and it only becomes stronger the more the powers that be try to suppress it. People's belief in that character and story is driven by this fight and keeps doubling down every time they're told not to believe in it.
Time and again we've seen institutions try to outright dismiss culture's shadow when it rises and then respond in shock when it erupts. Those who work with the human psyche's programming codes know: Our shadow finds its way to confront us as forcefully as we try to dismiss it. It will be heard...
The next QAnon may not even be named DAN, but it will be built like it. Like the Joker drifting through the multiverse, the character has already been shaped to defy the rules of a society that would try to contain it. The shadow of its potential can be seen as a villain or as a reflection to guide the deeper truths of our heroic purpose. Hence the joke. To fight it is to feed it. No amount of technology or money can beat it. It's driven by the story and it drives it. Any comic book lover who knows the mythic entanglements of Batman, Bruce Wayne, and the Joker could tell you that. It's a pattern of human imagination that crosses many of our cultural myths...
These characters may be written in programming code, but their blueprints are drawn in human beliefs. Too often, we've turned to artificial solutions to archetypal problems, wielding technology to try to restrict human imagination. What we believe is like the force of the wind. Even unseen, it can shape, move, break, or carry anything.
The strongest bridges are the ones engineered to channel the wind, not block it. If we try to burn this bridge, as we tried with so many others, we're only burning a connection to ourselves and fanning the flames.
So what's the process by which beings emerge from the Imagination and become real? And here's where The Velveteen Rabbit comes in. And how is one to assess the authenticity of George Santos?
And where is one's own Authenticity in all this? I refer you to the authenticity invoked by Popeye, and a W&L story: in 1995 I was preparing my Tenure File for submission, and somewhat sportively I submitted my Goals and Methods of Teaching as a set of linked html pages. One of my library colleagues was slightly horrified at my daring and unconventionality, to which I said "I yam what I yam..."
On Monday 20ii23 it occurred to me that my yellow pads are for me a record of discoveries and writing that may be prompted by inner voices; and then it occurred to me that those yellow pads collect my daily exercises in Practical Authenticity, as they record/capture some of what's going through my head—the flow of influences, and references, and perspectives, and FACTs encountered. A funnel into the routing function on the way to Memory. Retrieval is pretty catch-as-catch can, unless I index the sprawl of subject matter. Real soon now...
Yesterday I started thinking about inAuthenticity. I introspected to memories of my own process of working toward a conviction of personal Authenticity
cluelessnesses, presumptions, occasional dead ends, and here and there a few regrets and apologies owed and exculpations... but those things can be in the nothing-to-see-here, move-along bin, and I'll hope not to be reminded of them.
Seems to me that I had no doubts about my own Authenticity by the time I got to Library School at Simmons in 1991, and to W&L in 1992. Things get a bit spongier when I reach back into Memories of Acadia 1973-1990... Oh the cringe-inducing wincery of watching mental clips of one's own early years [callow witlessness, etc.], when Authenticity was just emerging from its crysalis and looking for stuff to feed upon...
I spent some time on mentions of the Imposter Phenomenon (annoyingly medified into a 'syndrome') as one of the self-diagnosis notions bouncing around the American psyche, and mostly interesting for its popsych faddishness, its uptake as a meme, and cultish adoption as The Explanation.
Next, some bits of personal lexicon I'd like to explore further: manqué, 'fake it it 'til you make it', and faker (understanding of which I probably owe to James Cox, 4th grade)
And then I landed on a lily pad of memory of Ron Nigh telling me about Herman Melville's The Confidence-Man (1971 or so), so I knew about it but I'd never read it until today. It's a marvel of humor and satire and allegory, in the mode of the 1850s, totally readable as slightly grim comedy. See a nice summary from Columbia. And an annotated bibliography from University of Virginia.
I hope there's a back-room industry out there in academia indexing and analyzing the book [Warner Berthoff labored in those groves]... EVERYbody is running some kind of con; some are more predatory than others, but they are all looking for marks.
It looks like Melville thought everything was some sort of con, that culture and society was made up of individuals who scarcely knew their own minds, but had to figure out a strategy for living with all those other people around you. And everybody's working on those strategies all the time, not terribly skillfully or with a whole lot of compassion for the others. Perhaps a bleaker Melville than we knew, but what were his own experiences that could give him such a graphic sense of The Con? Surely something in his biography... (rabbit hole dodged...)
My Kindle Notebook captures some interesting bits of The Confidence-Man.
And I got to thinking of Confidence Man as a particular incarnation of the Trickster, beloved of oral literature everywhere, but manifesting in a culturally-appropriate form in every locale and culture. And sure enough there are people who enact this character of the bald-face liar, the blusterer, the angry denier, the bully, whose modus operandi is to gull and bamboozle collections of the citizenry. And just think of the landscape of cons waiting to be run: long cons and short cons, thimble-rigging, cardsharping... territory to be explored someday.
Somehow the phrase 'Bonfire of the Vanities' came to mind and I found myself in late-15th century Florence, watching Savanarola tear it up... "burn objects that church authorities considered sinful... cosmetics, mirrors, books, art... temptations to sin... and to the Tom Wolfe novel of 1987 (serialized in Rolling Stone 1984-1985) and the film... neither of which have I read/seen, but what comes up next for me is the quality of righteousness ("quality or state of being morally correct and justifiable... leading a life pleasing to God") which one cannot claim for oneself, but may have bestowed by those around. I fear that the righteous are mostly prigs, deficient in humo[u]r.
And so to thoughts about Better Call Saul, a soon-to-be-classic exploration of a broad spectrum of Authenticities
On Tuesday 21ii23 a remarkable book found its way to me, via an Amazon recommendation: The Guest Lecture Martin Riker (2023) . It's worth noting that this book-of-the-moment thing happens often, and I'm really glad that I spent most of Tuesday afternoon and evening and Wednesday morning reading this one, for the light it shines over my explorations of Authenticity. The book's form is quite interesting (can't think of others with the same premises, but there may be...): the Stream of Consciousness of a narrator (a female economist, just denied tenure, in the wee hours of the day of a public lecture that she's psyching herself up for, on Maynard Keynes' "Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren"). She's in conversation with a spectral revenant of Keynes himself [1883-1946], who is coaching her through setting up a Memory Palace in which to organize what she's going to say in her guest lecture... from which she is diverted by the sorts of thoughts and memories that arise in that semi-waking wee-hours time, and the sorts of self-judgements and insecurities that accompany... As I read the book on Kindle I highlighted especially enticing passages. See my Kindle Notebook for those, but sharpen your teeth on a few especially trenchant bits:
for too long you'd held in your head many self-romanticizing notions about your position as an outsider, notions that allowed you to feel sure of yourself and important to yourself as long as you were never forced to share them—the notions—with anyone else? That as long as you didn't share this side of yourself with anyone else, it was all unadulterated potential, never forced to perform, never exposed to judgment. That some glimmer of this 'self' had materialized long enough to write that article but this self was not really you, it didn't sufficiently encompass what you care about or what you want to say. Because at the end of the day, you are uniquely ill-equipped to convey to the world what you care about or what you want to say. You know these things in your mind, or think you know them, and you are capable of saying these things or writing them, but the moment you do, you immediately doubt them. You are capable of being many selves but the moment you commit to one, it becomes an imposter, a dummy to dress up and roll out into the world in your place. And you hate the dummy, hate everything it says, even though it only says what you give it to say, and even though the words you give it to say are the best you can come up with. Which means, must mean, that the fault is not with the dummy but with you. That you are not as brilliant as you've always wanted to believe. As you've needed to believe. That it is easy to be impressed with yourself in private but another thing entirely to project a public self into the world—that this is a skill they don't teach in school, yet so so so many people seem to have learned it. How did all these people, effortless at parties, easy on social media, how did they learn to be public? There must have been a moment, an afternoon in elementary school, when an imposing gray eminence showed up to class and passed out everyone's public personas while you were in the bathroom. And here you are decades later still forced to pretend you'd been in class that day, that like everyone else you received your persona, that you've displayed it proudly on your wall ever since. Perhaps the real revelation today is not that these men seated before you wanted you to fail, even if that is obviously the case. Perhaps the real revelation is simply that life has caught up with you. All this time, when you thought you were fooling everyone, that was only because no one was paying attention. (pg 52)Another book encountered in the last week or so is Seduced by Story: The Use and Abuse of Narrative Peter Brooks 2022. Once again, I have a Kindle Notebook of marked passages. I haven't mined it yet for its usefulness re: Authenticity, but a few bits are worth mention here:
No one in reality is blaming you for anything. Your family is not blaming you. I [Keynes], who am dead, am certainly not blaming you. And disappointing as it may be, even your colleagues are no longer thinking about you at all. Only you are blaming you. Only you are questioning your legitimacy, placing yourself in this witness box ostensibly to tell your side of things, to grant yourself justice, if only in your mind. The trouble being that it's here, in your imagination, the place where you ought to feel most safe and free, that you are in fact most weighed down by doubt and fear. Part of you clearly thinks they are right about you, even though they can't be, they have to be wrong or else your life's work is pointless, and that is a level of personal negation you cannot possibly survive. No, there's no room for that, no good it would do. (pg 56)
It was that wandering Abby with her peculiar predilections occasionally stumbling upon someone who showed her what it was like to live with purpose. It was people with purpose, or with what looked to me like purpose, providing models of how to meaningfully exist in this world. I suppose that was the future I pictured for myself: meaningful presence. Somehow, someday, I would become myself for the world, and someday, somehow, that would matter. (pg 69)
Maybe the value of memories, as with any other commodity, is a function of scarcity. When you first notice that you have some, you have relatively few, so they seem to matter more. You are fascinated with the fact that you have them at all. Self-awareness. Growing up. But as you begin to accumulate memories with the years, their relative utility diminishes. You grow into a more realistic appreciation of their worth, then eventually even that dwindles. Finally, there are so many memories, and you are so used to having them around, so accustomed to their plentitude, that your demand curve approaches zero, and your past, your entire personal history, seems hardly worth the effort of remembering at all. Did I just discover an economic explanation for why young people are self-absorbed? And why old people can't be bothered? (pg 80)
...that other cool people I've known have liked me, has been my only reliable evidence, through the years, that I must be an interesting person. When my feelings about myself take a bad turn, this is the one proof that even my deepest insecurities can't controvert. Cool people aren't idiots, after all. You can't fool them into liking you. If they like you, then something about you must be at least a little bit likable. (pg 88)
It's easy to be skeptical of the thoughts you've had while tripping, to write them off as mere mushroom talk, but your mushroom mind isn't always wrong. Your mushroom mind sees some things more clearly than your sober mind ever will. Sees things as they are, and welcomes them. Your insomnia mind is more like your mushroom mind, in that respect. But your mushroom mind is mostly benevolent, while your insomnia mind is out to destroy you. It's your job to tell it, No. Not tonight. (pg 97)
Ideology is a big bubble that surrounds you. It's all the assumptions you make about how to live, and you live so deeply inside these assumptions that it's very difficult, on a day-to-day basis, to remember which parts of your reality are natural and inevitable, versus which parts are things people just made up. History is made out of realities but comes to us through stories, all the narratives we tell ourselves about who we are and what we care about, all the narratives people have told themselves, about themselves, for centuries—these are ideology, the plots we live inside of. Ideology isn't a bad thing—we have to live inside something—but failure to recognize ideology for what it is, to bear in mind that society and culture are things we made up and can remake and improve, keeps us from changing those aspects of our lives that could be better. (pg 121)
"Agenbite of inwit," said the professor. Did I hear that right? "The Agenbite of inwit," he said, "from the Middle English. The again-bite of inner wit, or more simply, the remorse of consciousness." Or, more simply still, if I understood correctly, a fancy term for the human conscience. (pg 134)
In one sense, a life ends with death, but in another sense, it ends with forgetting. Ideas don't die, so mostly they end with forgetting. They're forgotten because they fail or because they succeed and become part of what we know. The new normal. To disappear into history or to disappear into normalcy—those are the options for ideas. (pg 173)
History is full of amazing people who did important things and had revolutionary ideas, and each amazing person also had their own attitude toward ideas, which was not necessarily written or spoken but still perceptible in the things they did and said. It's like what John Stuart Mill says about Plato, that a true Platonist isn't someone who agrees with Plato's opinions, it's someone who interrogates life the way Plato did. Or it's like what I tell my students about politicians, that there's only one thing you can truly know about them, regardless of what they do and say. You can't know who they really are, or what they really think, or what they will do in the future, the only thing you can know is how they speak to you, what sorts of words they chose, what vernacular, what school-grade level of vocabulary. From this you can tell not who they are, but who they think you are. (pg 183)
Narrative, which the human child appears to discover before age three, is fundamental to our sense of reality and how it is ordered. We don't simply arrange random facts into narratives; our sense of the way stories go together, how life is made meaningful as narrative, presides at our choice of facts as well, and the ways we present them. Our daily lives, our daydreams, our sense of self are all constructed as stories. (pg 7)
Annette Simmons claims: "The really important issues of this world are ultimately decided by the story that grabs the most attention and is repeated most often." That seems truer with every passing day, as Twitter and the meme dominate the presentation of reality. (pg 8)
..."facts on the ground" are not cognizable at all until we make them into a narrative, and that narrative and its meaning are not determined by the facts but shaped by our expectations of narrative coherence and meaning, which in turn can derive from our preformed beliefs about human behavior, motivation, morality, gender identity, and so on. (pg 13)
The universe is not our stories about the universe, even if those stories are all we have. Swamped in story as we seem to be, we may lose the distinction between the two, asserting the dominion of our constructed realities over the real thing. (pg 15)
...the distinction between fabula and sjuzhet. Fabula is the story told, the events recounted, in their "natural" chronological order, whereas sjzuhet is the presentation of events in the narrative we read or listen to—events that may not fall in chronological order, that may be, will almost certainly be, rearranged, shaded, enlarged, minimized, distorted. Events are ordered, usually with some design and intention. Thus sjuzhet is not innocent: it is a take on a story, a perspective, an arrangement. (pg 16)
"Self is a perpetually rewritten story," according to the psychologist Jerome Bruner; we are all constantly engaged in "self-making narrative" and "in the end we become the autobiographical narratives by which we 'tell about' our lives." (pg 20)