A few days ago, I tried calling my new doctor to get a refill for my medication. I was sent on a merry chase through the different offerings of the talking machine. It was impossible to get past the message loops to talk to a real person on the phone. Digital answering systems – the talking machines found everywhere – were supposed to simplify our lives. Instead, we are left frustrated, helpless and, in this example, still unable to get my prescription refilled. Each of us has hundreds, perhaps thousands, of similar experiences – where disembodied, mechanistic, algorithm-driven “interactions” fail to bring the connection or the solutions we need.
Today we see the realization of something that was reserved for more than half a century to science fiction – the actual capacity to use artificial intelligence in a way that is not discernible from human action, thought and expression.
As we watch more and more powerful machines appear to take over so many functions that required human capability – research, writing, artistic production, medical diagnoses and treatment, and so much more – we are faced with the frightening specter that AI is growing like a nuclear mushroom cloud – devastating, impactful and once released, seemingly unstoppable.
Thousands of people are tapping into this behemoth to get their questions answered. Using powerful algorithms, Chat GPT and similar platforms can answer you in any form you desire – dissertation, essay, article, sermon, poem, graphic, and more.
It would give an answer that might even be interesting. But what would an algorithm know about the inner experience of kabbalah?
It will scan through billions of articles to find the most used words and texts associated with kabbalah. That search could turn up such terms as: secretive, magical, heretical, hidden, nonsensical, misogynistic, mystical, transformative, and the like. AI tries to ‘“match in meaning,” producing a ranked list of words with “highest probability.” The problem is there are “a lot of possible next words to choose from.” We are offered a semblance of reasonableness we can fool ourselves into believing simply based on frequency.
But there is no truth here. AI is simply playing with statistics.
This reminds me of the biblical story of King David undertaking a census of his troops, to prove himself most powerful among men. Instead, we are told, he should have trusted God, whose power is so much more radical and creative! Lacking such trust, David’s troops suffered a devastating plague that killed 70,000 of them. What would have averted the plague? Just this: for each warrior to pay his shekel (dime) to be counted, in effect standing up for his selfhood instead of being lost in a vast sea of anonymity, where personal value is based only on numbers, that is, on frequency.
Today another plague appears to have descended upon us, threatening our selfhood and radical uniqueness. But as Dreamers, I must ask: Does it really?
And my response is: No, not unless we forget that dreaming is the universal language of the body.
Dreaming is our body language, revealing to us the truth of who we are, what is real, and what we need to know. In other words: embodiment saves us from the “plague” – whether biblical or algorithmic.
We are not machines. A machine cannot feel, it doesn’t have the sensations that make us alive and present in the world, it cannot exalt at beauty or fall in love, it cannot create or innovate.
Because we are dreamers, we really have nothing to fear: use AI if you must as an encyclopedia. Factcheck because its algorithms may or may not generate “facts” one can rely upon. And then remember to take three steps back and turn inward to question your truth teller, your intuition, your “still small voice” that speaks to you after the wind and the earthquake and the storm of your emotions, self-doubts, and need for self-glory have passed. You are conscious, you are a part of the vast conscious world. Like a plant that moves inexorably towards water and light, so you, too, move towards the truth. AI can never replicate consciousness. AI cannot dream.
Trust the mystery of the flowing order that keeps this magnificent world dancing. Trust the revelations of your Dreamer’s inner voice that unerringly points you in the right direction. You are a creative being, meant to burst out of the norms of logic to innovate. Your life – and your dreaming – happen in the body. What makes you creative is feeling, generosity, loving kindness, yearning to find healthy solutions, playing with the myriad forms that are also conscious and consciously respond to you. All of this requires embodiment. It is the source of your humanity and your uniqueness. No machine can tell you the whole truth; only dreaming and imagery – the universal language of the body – can do that.
Here’s an exercise to experience this:
Sit up straight, uncross your legs and arms. Close your eyes.
Breathe out slowly 3 times, breathing out from 3 to 1. See the 1 tall, clear and bright.
In your mind’s eye, look at a clock ticking on the mantlepiece and observe clock time. Observe the room you are in.
Breathe out. Look inwards into your body and ask what time are you living in just now? What space are you inhabiting?
Breathe out. Do this three times. What has changed for you now?
Breathe out. Trust the mystery of consciousness, the greatest force in the universe.
Breathe out. Live that consciousness is the spirit of God that blows through your body. As the spirit flows through your body feel the triumphant joy of connecting to all consciousness.
Breathe out. Open your eyes.
by Catherine Shainberg, PhD.