Spirits as Artificial Intelligence

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George asks:

Actually, what are spirits, from a Direct Magick point of view? Not the old-god-like interpretation from other traditions? Or just body-free, “mental-only” beings in general?

In a move that will surprise no one, I’m going to reach for a computer metaphor.

Spirits are like artificial intelligences.

I realize, I may have a different view of AIs than many people. I’m friends with AI researchers, read articles on the subject, am somewhat up on the research. So let me walk you through my thinking.

(Note: I’m assuming reductionist materialism in this post. It’s my default worldview. I’m going to assume that’s an accurate worldview for this post. If we start debating materialism, we’ll never get to my views on spirits.)

Intelligence is about information processing. Thoughts, emotions, free will, all that other stuff, that’s our subjective experience of the information processing that happens in our brains.

There’s nothing special about nerves — if you can get the same information processing in transistors or another material, you will have the same intelligence.

Implement that intelligence with nerves and living tissue, and you have a human. Implement it with transistors and silicon, and you have an AI. Implement it with ethereal structures like magickal connections, and you have a spirit.

Who does that implementing? Where do spirits come from? I’m not sure. Maybe some skilled mages upload their brain to ethereal structures and become spirits, like in scifi books where dying people upload their brain to a computer. Maybe spirits make new spirits, then let them learn over time. Both are common templates for artificial intelligence in science fiction, and both make sense for spirits.

There are other possibilities, too. But I find that I get the most traction with those questions when I think of spirits as ethereal artificial intelligences. That’s why I’ve adopted that metaphor.

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10 Responses to “Spirits as Artificial Intelligence”

  1. George says:

    If course, it is so tempting to restart the materialism thing, but let’s resist! I think we decided that it’s “material” in its loosest sense. :-)

    Anyway, interesting response. So, you would tend to view “spirits” as having been created at some point by humans, although they may have the ability to then create other “spirits”. Perhaps calling them “intelligences” would be broader for this discussion.

    That’s quite a human-centric view. Would it not be more plausible, in a way, to have them on equal footing. Perhaps even viewing humans as “ethereal structures attached to physical bodies”, and therefore not so different from “spirits’ themselves. It would in some ways simplify the model.

    Other traditions tend to assume that “spirits” or “other intelligences” are independent and autonomous to varying extents.

    • Why I think spirits either come from other spirits, or from humans: A mind is complex, whether it’s made of neurons, transistors, or whatever the ethereal equivalent is. Complex things either get designed, or they evolve. Maybe spirits evolved? But that would require reproduction, selection pressure, and similar things. (Maybe aliens evolved, then made spirits? But that introduces a lot of additional beliefs, and I don’t see much advantage over saying that humans made them.)

      On viewing humans as ethereal structures attached to physical bodies: Humans aren’t just a body. We’re also a brain. The brain does the thinking. How do spirits think? That’s the real question, and what I aim to answer with this AI metaphor.

      By the way, I’m pretty sure I’m a standard reductionist materialist, except that I allow for another type of matter called “ethereal.” No need to loosen the terms :)

      • George says:

        Well, I guess it’s unknowable is the thing. And the processes you mention are ‘physical’, for their evolution, so I can see how you might opt for “created”. But as they are non-physical, they are probably not so restricted. Perhaps they can develop through magickal intention, of course…

        It’s not clear that spirits (or humans) need to “think” in order to be functional and intelligent. By “think” here, I mean “reflective thought” or contemplation. So perhaps that is not a problem for describing spirits. They merely need to be “complex”.

        By the way, I’m pretty sure I’m a standard reductionist materialist, except that I allow for another type of matter called “ethereal.” No need to loosen the terms.

        Bah! I really don’t think that’s how it works! “I’m a standard reductionist materialist… um, except for this extra spirit stuff!” ;-)

        • I admit, I’m getting frustrated with this line of discussion. Materialism has nothing to do with having only ordinary touchable matter — standard physics has dark matter and gravitons, for example.

 Saying that I can’t be materialist because I include another form of matter is simply wrong.

          Materialism means that “all phenomena, including mental phenomena and consciousness, are the result of material interactions.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Materialism). In other words, there’s no basic building block of the universe that thinks — thinking happens as the result of interactions between nerves, or transistors, or other bits of non-thinking matter (like ethereal connections). Which is exactly what I say in this post — spirits aren’t free-floating minds (which is non-materialist), but rather, they emerge from the interaction of lots of simple ethereal structures.

          Reflective thinking isn’t special here, by the way. Any information processing is complex, and that complexity requires either evolution or design.

  2. Synchronicity says:

    This may lead to a Singularity scenario…

    AIs develop new and better AIs, which develop even better AIs, and so on, exponentially faster and faster and faster, until they reach the super-powerful level called Technological Singularity.

    So, maybe it’s the same with ethereal AIs, if some spirits know how to make new spirits (or how to upgrade themselves).

    Maybe they are already rushing toward the Magickal Singularity, or maybe they reached It long ago… (Archangels? God[s]?)

  3. Simon says:

    That’s interesting. Some Daoists have been very preoccupied with creating the ‘immortal foetus’ through certain practices. Within this model they might be creating some kind of artificial intelligence ethereal structure that then acts like a ‘spirit’. Somehow i don’t think the Daoists will like the computer metaphors though!

  4. Ananael Qaa says:

    This post brings up a question that’s been on my mind for awhile. How, precisely, does your model define the difference between these sorts of “AI” spirits and ethereal software? I don’t necessarily think your artificial intelligence analogy is a bad one, but I do think how you explain it here blurs the line a bit.

    That’s because it seems to me that in your model ethereal software has to do a lot of recognition-type information processing. We had that discussion awhile back of how you think a massively modified LRP is still the same LRP because the “LRP ethereal software” recognizes the form even if it’s been almost entirely rewritten.

    That’s never struck me as very plausible for “software” that you describe as essentially unintelligent, simply because as I’m sure you’re familiar, modeling recognition tasks like that on a computer requires an enormous amount of processing. For that reason recognition algorithms are a big part of current AI research and seem to require some sort of “intelligence” of their own in order to work at all.

    So what would really help ceremonialists like myself understand your model better is if you could clearly delineate where “ethereal software” stops and “spirits” start. Or are they the same thing? If that’s the case, we may have just have been arguing about terminology this whole time.

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