A LOVE SUPREME

I am now blogging at a new blog: erdman31.com

If you post comments here at Theos Project, please know that I will respond and engage your thoughts in a timely manner.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Human - all too human

I haven't blogged much on college football this year, but it has been an incredible year. Yesterday's action typified, mystified, and stupified the college football world, as it has been the case all season long. Both the #1 and #2 teams lost on the last day of the pre-bowl college football season. West Virginia (#2) lost an absolutely stunning game to Pittsburgh, who carried a losing record into the game. But this kind of upset occurs nearly every week, and the #2 team in the nation seems to be particularly prone to deflowering. In fact, the 2007 college football season is the year of the #2 curse.

So, I'm watching Lou Holtz, Mark May, and Chris Fowler discuss the situation this morning. Ohio State will sneak in to the #1 position. But who gets the #2 spot? This is where the debate touches on a philosophical issue: Who decides the #2 and how? Does the computer calculate the statistics and make the purely rational, objective decision? Lou Holtz was asked who should be #2. Lou answered by quickly whipping himself up into something of an emotional frenzy and made a call for those who vote for the #2 team to vote "from the heart." The computers don't watch the game, Holtz said, and the human element is necessary. This drew a pointed criticism from Mark May (which is a rather regular occurrence) who sarcastically suggested that one should not use their brain when voting. The discussion continued as to whether rational/objective measures should be used, or whether the undefined human element should be the ultimate standard for determining the college football rankings.

In some ways this is a debate we will continue to have as the lines blur between "reality" and "virtual reality." College football currently uses something of a hybrid method. The rankings are based both on human voting and also complex mathematical formulas based upon statistics; however, the so-called human element is favored. There are three elements to a BCS ranking: The AP Poll (human voting), the Coaches Poll (human voting), and the Computer Averages. The computer averages are a combination of 6 different computer rankings systems based on objective, mathematical statistics. The BCS tries to take something of an average of these various computer ranking systems to calculate the non-human element.

Why a preference for the human element? Why not just split it down the middle? Or, better yet, just let the computer decide. This is a philosophical question of great importance. As human beings we cannot ultimately choose a purely objective or mathematical means of ranking our college football teams. We still believe that there is a subjective and undefinable element that human beings possess that a computer cannot simulate. Given the choice of which college football team is "the best," we will favor a "human" choice over an objective choice. Most of us relate to Lou Holtz. We want those who cast the votes to choose "from the heart." For the majority, there is something about football that is essentially human and un-quantifiable.

College football rankings are just one of many areas of life where we must question the role of the subjective human being in relation to the objective computer system. Where it gets really interesting is when computers generate virtual realities that simulate the so-called "human element." What happens when we can no longer distinguish a difference between the "virtual world" and the "real world"? I blogged about this in relation to Warcraft and a South Park episode a while back. If one spends their lives in their mother's basement battling in an online video game of Warcraft, then what is more "real"? The virtual world of the game or the world outside mother's basement.

Another intriguing issue regarding the virtual and real world is that of sexuality. If sexual fantasies can be indulged in the virtual world with greater satisfaction than in the real world, then what are the moral implications? In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul says, "The body is not meant for sexual immorality....Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body?....All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body." If there is no other "real" person involved, and just virtual stimulation, where is the sin? Is it a "virtual sin"? Is it a lesser sin to engage in cyber sex rather than to find a hooker on the street? If most of us are being realistic, we would generally say that cyber sex is not as bad as real sex.

The virtual world is becoming the real world, and the real world is becoming the virtual world. It is increasingly becoming difficult to tell the difference.

The virtual/real overlap is also seen in Spielberg's movie A.I., the brainchild of Stanley Kubrick. In the movie, there is a moral dilemma regarding how to treat "mechas." A mecha is an artificial life form. The movie opens with a discussion of the moral implications of creating mechas that can love. There is a sequence of dialog that I have always loved. "Hobby" is giving what appears to be a lecture at a Corporation sometime in the future regarding a new virtual person (robot) that looks just like a real human. In fact, they have even equipped it with the capacity to love. A female team member raises a few questions that are intriguing:

FEMALE TEAM MEMBER
You know, it occurs to me... um...with all this animus existing against mechas today, it isn't simply a question of creating a robot who can love, but isn't the real conundrum - can you get a human to love them back?

HOBBY
Ours will be a perfect child caught in a freeze-frame - always loving, never ill, never changing. With all the childless couples yearning in vain for a license, our little mecha would not only open an entirely new market, it will fill a great human need.


FEMALE TEAM MEMBER
But you haven't answered my question. If a robot could genuinely love a person, what responsibility does that person hold toward that mecha in return?
It's a moral question, isn't it?


HOBBY
The oldest one of all. But in the beginning, didn't God create Adam to love him?
[Taken from http://www.moviescriptplace.com/main/movie/501]

Trailer for A.I.:


In this extended A.I. clip, David, the robot boy who is made to love (played by Haley Joel Osment) meets up with Gigolo Joe (Jude Law) and they search for the Blue Fairy (recall Pinocchio) so that David can win his mother's love. Gigolo Joe makes several, very interesting comments relevant to our discussion here on cyber sex. Also intriguing is at the very end of this clip when Joe and David combine "Fact" with "Fairy Tale" in order to find the real existence of the fairy tale character, Blue Fairy.

13 comments:

T Michael W Halcomb said...

A lot to this post! I'll have to read it a few times; very thought provoking, especially the portion about virtual vs. real. Good stuff.

Melody said...

Interesting.

Why a preference for the human element?

Because we're human and we like us.

I don't know much about football and especially not about the ranking part...but wouldn't it be less fun if the computer just told you which team was best? The uncertainty is part of the game, yes?

Anyway, it made me think of how in marketing they use quantitative and qualitative analysis to evaluate people's experiences with a product.

Clearly a certain amount of sadism is involved in having the words sound so much alike, but the idea is that a quantitative approach is just using scales and numbers.

Ex. "On a scale of one to ten, ten being the best and one being the worst, how would you rate the customer service at Best Buy?"

Where as qualitative asks open ended questions.

ex. "How does the customer service at Best Buy make you feel?"

Merely using the quantitative approach would allow the Best Buy execs to understand that they were in poor standing with customers. A computer could figure out all the numbers and tell them where they rank in relation to other stores.

On the other hand only a qualatative questionare is going to tell them that the customer service was so bad it made someone cry or that another customer is contemplating setting fire to the store.

Unless of course they asked people on a scale of one to ten how likely they were to set fire to the store...but you can see how even then it would leave a lot of unanswered questions.

Sorry, I am rambling, my point is I think that's what your Mr. Holtz would miss if "heart" weren't part of the decision. It's not, not using the brain, but not everything that happens in the brain is quantifiable.

College football rankings are just one of many areas of life where we must question the role of the subjective human being in relation to the objective computer system. Where it gets really interesting is when computers generate virtual realities that simulate the so-called "human element

I'm sorry - not only do I not understand how you jumped from computer analysis to virtual reality...I'm having problems thinking of an actual instance when computers have simulated the "human element".

I mean, the clips from A.I. were quite interesting, but we don't have anything like that...nor are we really close to it.

And the World of Warcraft game...the human element is still from humans...it's only the setting that's computerized (and even that's made by human beings)

Jonathan Erdman said...

Melody: not everything that happens in the brain is quantifiable.

Brilliant point.

I'm sorry - not only do I not understand how you jumped from computer analysis to virtual reality...I'm having problems thinking of an actual instance when computers have simulated the "human element".

I mean, the clips from A.I. were quite interesting, but we don't have anything like that...nor are we really close to it.

And the World of Warcraft game...the human element is still from humans...it's only the setting that's computerized (and even that's made by human beings)


Well, what we see in A.I. is coming at some point in the future. It won't be exactly like in the movies, but technology will continue to grow in leaps and bounds.

But put A.I. aside. What about Warcraft and other similar video games? These are an elementary form of a virtual reality setting. You can transport (or "portal," to use John Doyle's term) yourself to another "reality" - it is a reality of a game with opponents spread all over the globe. If you've got a 35 year old boy playing Warcraft for 28 hours in his mother's basement, then you have a scenario where the virtual world is more real for him than the so-called "real" world that exists outside his mother's basement. If you and I were to walk in on him in the 28th hour of his Warcraft marathon, we could look at the same screen, but we would not be in the same world. His mind has portaled into another reality that you and I could not understand by simply looking at the screen.

Yes. You are right. A Warcraft "setting" is created by humans for humans. All artificial intelligence and virtual reality is created by humans, at least to a large degree. However, the machines power it. Humans make the machines, but the machines keep the virtual reality alive. That's what I mean when I say, "Where it gets really interesting is when computers generate virtual realities that simulate the so-called 'human element.'" The world of Warcraft can stimulate human reality and evoke human emotions. It can set up scenarios that make us feel joy, anger, suspense, disappointment, conquest, courage, etc.

The world of cyber sex is another where the "human element" is present.

Melody said...

What about Warcraft and other similar video games? These are an elementary form of a virtual reality setting. You can transport (or "portal," to use John Doyle's term) yourself to another "reality"

I'm going to hate myself for asking this question...who decides what's real?

I grew up homeschooled and evidently that wasn't real. Of course I didn't think my friends who partied all the time were experiencing the real world either.

Then I went to college, and everyone knows Grace isn't real. Grace might be less real than homeschool.

Now I work in Amish country and that's not real either.

If you play your cards right you can live your entire life without ever setting foot in reality.

Rambling again - my point is that I don't have a problem with virtual reality...since no one seems to agree on what's real in the first place.

And since I spent a lot of late nights in highschool talking people through rough times or out of suicide...who I only knew across a computer screen...since the only people my age who I've had to mourn the death of are people I've never seen face to face...I think I understand pretty well just how real it is.

But that's because there are actual people involved. Whether you're writing on paper or talking on the phone or face to face...or typing a long rambling comment on someone's blog...it's still people

The emotions from that are just as real as anything.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Melody,

Your thoughts go to the fact that there is an overlap between virtual reality and the "real thing." In college football we can't decide whether we want an objective computer or a subjective person to decide the number one. So, let 'em both decide together!

The description of your virtual life is fascinating, and it was never my point in this post to discard the human element. It is just that the human element is being displaced into a new terrain of virtual reality. The questions are numerous, but they seem to come back to asking about the implications of changing the playing field from the so-called "real" world to virtual interactions. For example, how does a suicidal teenager deal with their life if all "real" people are warped and abusive, and they can only find love/compassion from someone on the internet??? In this case, the virtual people that the teen never sees in person seem to possess more of the "human" elements than the humans they interact with in the "real" world.

Melody said...

For example, how does a suicidal teenager deal with their life if all "real" people are warped and abusive, and they can only find love/compassion from someone on the internet???

I've seen a variety of scenarios play out - but typically you don't have a teenager saying, "Gee, these people are more human than the 'real' people that I know," you have a teenager who says, "These people only like me because I can present myself however I want on the internet, if they knew me in real life they'd hate me too."

They see their internet self as made-up even though people tend to be more honest online than in real life.

I think it's because they wouldn't have the courage to be honest in real life so even the honesty seems fake,where as really it's just a different setting. But our faults always seem like the most real part of us.

I've seen the same thing happen at camp, which - to be fair - is also an artificial atmosphere.

On the other hand I've also seen it happen that the teenager realizes the world is bigger than his own social circle and that one day they will have the option of leaving and finding people who are more likely to like him.

Or, fortunate children realize that if they could reproduce their internet confidence in real life, it would yield similar results.

In any case, I think these results are the same as when people have different realities in real life.

My sister and I used to refer to our different worlds...homeschool world, church world, camp world, Florida world, internet world, etc.

Which "world" we were in would determine how popular we were, if we were intellegent or not, even how much we enjoyed certain activities.

Most people at least have a distinction between their work and home lives/worlds.

On Seinfield, George addresses the problem/necessity of seperate worlds, as he worries about the worlds colliding, which amused us very much as we had never successfully explained to our parents why this was a problem.

The biggest difference between the internet world and other worlds, though has to be that you can't do things with the people you know online as you can friends in real life.

Often times having good online relationships can be what makes people realize that they want good real life relationships, where they can share a meal with a friend or play golf with them or whatever...they either look for friends in the real world or they meet up with their virtual friends in real life...which is really the same thing you do if you don't have enough friends outside of work.

You either start looking for friends there or you start inviting coworkers to do things after work.

So, all this to say, yeah, the internet is a new reality...but it's newness is really the biggest difference.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Good points, Melody. Good points.

Melody: My sister and I used to refer to our different worlds...homeschool world, church world, camp world, Florida world, internet world, etc.

Which "world" we were in would determine how popular we were, if we were intellegent or not, even how much we enjoyed certain activities.


Just to let you know: In the Theos Project World, you are the resident genius!

In regards to the flow of this discussion, it is intriguing for me to think about how people's Christian faith carries over between different "worlds." In the church world we are sincere God seekers, but our faith still has to conform to the institutional norms and standards of the church. In the work/corporate world, we are good people who don't speak about faith unless spoken to: an underground type Xianity. At home, perhaps, more of our junk can come out and we have to grapple with how faith relates to interpersonal relationships. And what about the times that we are seeking the face of God in prayer? That's a whole 'nother world. What are we in the prayer world? Expectant listeners, eager petitioners, just going about our religious duty and fulfilling our prayer mandate, humble and contrite, disinterested, too tired at the moment????? I think it was C.S. Lewis (maybe the Screwtape Letters) where the comment is made that most prayers are made toward a little corner of the ceiling and that they rarely make it past. In this case, the so-called "prayer world" is little more than some space in the corner of the room!

Melody said...

Just to let you know: In the Theos Project World, you are the resident genius!

Good to know ;)

it is intriguing for me to think about how people's Christian faith carries over between different "worlds."

I hadn't thought about it from that perspective...it is really hard to not majorly adjust your faith to fit the setting. Even the thought of not doing that makes me cringe.

And what about the times that we are seeking the face of God in prayer? That's a whole 'nother world. What are we in the prayer world?

Whatever we happen to be that second, without the ability to pretend it into something else...

And yeah, it was in The Screwtape Letters that Lewis talks about praying to a corner of the room. When I read that book as a kid that bit frustrated me so much. Like, how could you know if your prayers were bouncing off the ceiling or making it through? It wasn't fair. Did praying in a variety of locations lower your risk of this bizzare ailment? Very traumatic.

ktismatics said...

Very interesting Melody. Doing counseling face-to-face is also an artificial world, or and alternate reality set apart from the everyday world. And it works for similar reasons: the counseling setting is intended to be the "no-spin zone," where the counselor doesn't care about your image or see you as a competitor that needs chopping down to size. "Real" communities are too dangerous for this sort of self-exposure.

Regarding the alternate realities, I used to know several vets who shot up heroin everyday while in Nam but who never touched the stuff when they got back to the States, with no withdrawal whatsoever. Even addictions are context-specific.

Melody said...

the counseling setting is intended to be the "no-spin zone," where the counselor doesn't care about your image or see you as a competitor that needs chopping down to size.

Ha, yes, very artificial.

Even addictions are context-specific.

So true, people have triggers that make them crave ciggerettes/drugs/alcohol/whatever.It's just that for most of us those triggers are woven into the fabric of our every day life, so the context is hard to get away from.

ktismatics said...

So Melody, is there an online suicide prevention website or chatline or something that you're involved with?

Melody said...

No, I've just known a lot of people who struggled with depression and addictions.

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