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Last week, I compared spirits to artificial intelligence:
Implement [an] 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.
Several readers had excellent comments. Ananael brought up some larger questions that I want to answer today. (His text in italics, my replies in normal.)
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.
First, I want to acknowledge a way that my metaphors are confusing. When talking about spirits and ethereal software, I say that spirits are like humans, and ethereal software is like a computer. But I also say that spirits are like an artificial intelligence. What gives?
Partly, it’s that metaphors are limited, and spirits are like spirits, not humans or artificial intelligences.
But partly, this is keeping with science fiction around AIs, where computers are tools, but AIs are people. They just happen to be people made of computers, as opposed to people made of cells. So, keep this distinction in mind as we discuss spirits (human-like AIs) vs ethereal software (unintelligent computers).
Before going on, I need to make sure everyone has experienced a certain corner of computer science geekery. In the 90s, people made computer programs you could text with. They weren’t brilliant, but they could have a conversation. If you haven’t tried one, talk with Eliza for 30 seconds.
Texting with Eliza is clearly different than texting with a penpal in China, right? But imagine your grandfather has never used a computer, and try to explain that difference. You text with both of them. (He’s never texted with anyone, so they already seem pretty similar.) Neither uses English quite like you do. (Your penpal is Chinese, remember?) You can cite some simple differences: Eliza replies right away, your penpal sometimes misspells words, and so on. But that’s not really the essence of the difference.
That’s the situation with spirits and ethereal software. They just behave differently. Spirits have emotions. They think, take a different direction, give useful advice. Ethereal software executes commands. When I talk with them, it’s an obviously different experience. But I can’t easily define that difference for you.
Also, a question I’ve been pondering: Are spirits and ethereal software made of the same thing? I don’t know. Both are made of ethereal matter. But both humans and computers are made of ordinary matter, and we’re not made of the same stuff. So I don’t know. Spirits and ethereal software might be made of different types of ethereal matter. (Or not. I don’t know either way.)
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.
I’d like to clarify how I think about sigils and rituals, and how they interact with ethereal software.
Remember that sigil I made for my book? A grid of six symbols, each repeated twice, to form a sigil. When I did that, I tied each symbol to the ethereal software. You can focus on any one of them, and it’ll probably work. Any four of them, and I’m even more confident it’ll work. You don’t need all , that’s just there for redundancy. You could take 3 of them, arrange them into a triangle, add a big circle around them, and it should still work, as long as you still have the individual symbols that the software recognizes.
That’s how I think of rituals: A bunch of components, each recognizable to the ethereal software. You can re-arrange them, remove a few, and they’ll still be recognizable. Will the re-arranged ritual issue the same command as before? I have no idea. But each component should connect you to the same ethereal software, and that ethereal software should still respond to the ritual as a whole.
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.
I think I muddied the waters by talking about “intelligence.” Like computers, ethereal software can do complex information processing. They recognize commands, sigils, ritual elements. They even reads minds. They’re definitely complex.
Also like computers, ethereal software isn’t self-aware, doesn’t have emotions, doesn’t seem to do original thought. That’s what I was trying to get at by saying that it’s not intelligent.
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.
For me, it’s not a continuum. It’s two categories. Like humans and computers.
I also want to mention: Sometimes, ethereal software gives you a vision of an angel or other avatar (just like computer programs sometimes use a human avatar). So you can’t assume that anything offering a vision of a spirit is a spirit.
And years ago, before I became good with shielding, I’d sometimes encounter spirits who drained my energy. These spirits were more animalistic, less intelligent. Still very different than ethereal software, but not the human-without-a-body that I normally associate with spirits.
So, two categories. Human/AI vs computer, spirit vs ethereal software. Does that help?If you liked this post, consider visiting my current blog at mikesententia.com.