Sunday, May 9 2004
Today was the first anniversary of the day Gretchen and I were married. I was busy on client-related web work most of the day, but in the evening we ate out to celebrate at the Catskill Rose in Mount Tremper (not far from Phoenicia on the road to Woodstock). We'd never been there before, but Gretchen had seen some tempting items while investigating dining options on the web.
As Gretchen pointed out, the Catskill Rose is obviously trying to be something of a fancy restaurant. This is evident in the prices and the severe outfits worn by the waitstaff. But the place could really use a visit from the Fab Five of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy fame. The decor is only a little fancier than what you'd expect to find in a diner. This includes the vaguely-retro metal chairs, the hotel-style art on the walls, the china, and the dinnerware. When we ordered red wine, it was served in white wine glasses. We're not freaks about protocol, but that's a mistake that would never be made at our house. There's a reason red wine comes in a big wide glass. Mind you, I'm such a philistine that I probably wouldn't have noticed had Gretchen not pointed it out.
The food, however, was delicious. But I found the portions to be disappointingly small. I was hungry enough when dessert came out to help Gretchen with her strawberry shortcake.
We talked about the restaurant decor, the food and the music being played. It was Diana Krall, all restaurants like this had before Nora Jones came along. We also wondered aloud what sort of restaurant industry there'd be in this country if the radical boneheads succeeded in extirpating the gays. (Not that they'd suffer - McDonalds would chug along just fine.)
We talked for awhile about the abused Iraqi prisoner scandal, and how wonderful it is that all this awful shit is coming to light in an election year. Sure, it sucked for the abused, especially those who were killed, but this scandal might be a crucial trigger for a necessary geopolitical immune response. Who knows how long the NeoCon infection might persist in the absence of scandals.
Somehow I got to talking about an idea that struck me the other day, a crucial difference between the way computers calculate and the way humans think. Computers have data that they crunch through using pre-defined and very precise algorithms to get to their answers. Humans, on the other hand, are willing to make wild connections between very dissimilar ideas and forge endless new ideas seemingly (at least for creative people) at random. They're also perfectly happy bypassing calculations and simply guessing at answers. Sometimes these ideas and guesses are useless, but when they resonate profoundly with reality and are communicated to others, they're assimilated by humanity into its trove of Knowledge. As a result, humans have access to a large number of "answers" that no computer would ever have enough time to calculate.
This led into a bizarre argument that lasted well into the drive back home. It was about whether or not brains are really just biological computers or whether they're "something more." I said that I thought "something more" theory was a bunch of "woo-woo mystical crap" and that it's time for us to all face the reality that our thoughts are just computer processes. Gretchen vehemently disagreed. "What about love?" she asked. I said that love was just a set of data based on other data. At first she tried to claim that I was taking all the romance and poetry out of life, but I didn't think so. I pointed out that it's possible to understand the mechanical, unthinking processes of nature and still marvel at the complexity of their results. How about evolution? Doesn't it actually make nature more sublime to view it as a web of evolving, inter-related traits, completely free of divine intervention? Gretchen conceded that this was a sound argument and gradually came to modify her position, allowing that perhaps everything we think and know is just information and the effects of processing it, but that humans would never be capable of making a machine that can feel sad or fall in love. She may or may not be right about this. But my feeling is that one day machines will be capable and connected enough to absorb their own information and then develop complex brain-like systems. I imagine such systems evolving on their own out of global internet communication once the right protocols are developed and deployed widely.
Gretchen suggested that my reason for wanting to view humans as robots stems from a deep-seated discomfort with them. If humans are actually robots, they're easier to control. They can be hacked. Hell, when you approach them from the right direction you can just kick them over! Meep Mop Merp Mop Where Is My Spray Cheese? I thought about this theory for a moment and then agreed that Gretchen was probably on to something.
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