July 30, 2017 (Sunday)

by Yule Heibel on July 29, 2018

And so it’s chaos, or nearly so, in and around the house as it’s being ripped apart and we expend our mental energy on glue, imagining it all whole and unwounded again. It’s so strange that humans can do this, without effort, seemingly.

Yesterday, walking the posh stretch along Masconomo Road to Smith’s Point and back around again in Manchester-by-the-Sea, Ax. tried to argue that Artificial Intelligence will eventually attain some form of consciousness, while E. and I made the case that without true embodiment that won’t happen – because we “think” with our bodies, too. In fact she added something really interesting: that “knowledge” of our mortality resides in us, in our very cells, before we’re even “aware” of our mortality “consciously” (note how confusing the terminology gets). It’s something our bodies “know” even when we’re very young, and this differentiates us, makes our “consciousness” unique (not exactly her words). It makes us different from other species, and certainly different from any as yet conceivable AI. This morning I’m thinking, “Add to that that in the middle of emotional or physical turmoil – or both – we can imagine the opposite as well: wholeness.”

We stopped at the little beach by Lobster Cove, before you reach the carefully ignored “keep out, private road” signs, and I pointed out some of the things that go into creating one’s “consciousness” of the place: the evolutionary memory of appreciating refuge and prospect, delivered in droves by the scene before us, hardwired through millennia spent as hunter-gatherers; the social memories and comparisons and envies (also hardwired as status consciousness, part of group living) as we observe a wealthy family on their private part of the Lobster Cove beach; ditto our observation of the houses of the rich that ring the small semi-circle of public access, and so on. Also, so many different memories informing what we see, informing our consciousness of the place – knowing the weather cycles, that this, peak summer, is one of the loveliest for the beach, that in fall one might visit and feel regret, or in winter one’s body will shrink into its protective layers of clothing, that night will fall, tides ebb and rise again, moon will wax and wane. That it costs a packet to maintain the landscaping on those mansion grounds, that crews arrive on weekdays, and it’s not homeowners wrecking a hard-won weekend peace with a Saturday-through-Sunday “suburban symphony” played by lawnmower-pushing dads (…because, we’re not quite in the suburbs here, are we?). (It’s different in mansion land.) That the crews who do the work are Mexicans (even here, in the Northeast), perhaps seasonal, perhaps legal, perhaps not. That 99.5% of Smith’s Point’s residents are surely white. And so on.

Maybe one day an AI will replicate all that: remembering how a child’s parents sold a beloved dog behind her back to rich, perfect people in the wealthiest enclave of a city (in my case, Tuxedo Park in Winnipeg) because the parents and child had to move to a small apartment that didn’t allow dogs …but to what end? What would be the point of AI with consciousness of all that?

This morning, Sunday, we’re up very early, leaving soon for the airport. Ax. and E. were already up when I got up, dressed, ready. I’ll miss them, E. especially (obviously). I’ll try not to cry even as my world feels shredded to pieces again by all that distance, all the difficulty of travel. Three-plus hour layover for them in Newark. They refused to make sandwiches, and I know they won’t find anything to eat that’s vegan or even vegetarian at the airport. And then, also this morning, on a Sunday, the work crew returns to continue ripping up the deck, shredding my house. (They’re working weekends to make up for all the lost rain days.) They started on taking out the old deck yesterday, and I think they expected it to be easier. It’s harder than they thought to get all the nails out – when nails are cheap, some carpenters will overuse them freely. Tough luck. My house, my family – up in the air.

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