Friday, July 29, 2016

Wish I was there.

Following brain surgery, months of recovery, and the death of my grandmother. my sisters and their families when on a vacation to Costa Rica. During a conversation, before they left, one of them casually mentioned that after the year we had all had they just needed a break. It had not been a long planned or thought out trip, it just kind of fell into place. They sent wonderful pictures during their getaway of laughter and fun. Lush jungles, gorgeous ruins, cool dips in the pool, and quiet moments reading books in an exotic locale. It was truly beautiful, and I wasn't invited.

Don't get me wrong, after everything that had happened: the loss of all savings, the weight of the financial burden of medical care and living expenses during the recovery time off, the lack of any additional vacation time to take off from work, ongoing recovery, and the fact that a lingering side effect to my brain surgery was an aversion to heat where changes in temperature could literally make me physically ill, I truly was in no position to go with them on this much needed vacation... but I wasn't invited (even though no one needed a break more than I did).

Unfortunately, survivors of illness, crisis and trauma, often don't have a lot of options for escape. Beyond the monetary, current health, and time off logistics, there is literally no way to take a vacation from our own bodies and emotional stress. We can't take a break from the inner turmoil. We can't walk away from our own pain.

It is difficult to watch others go on with their lives, have the luxery of such simple pleasures as "down time" and the ability to do something as simple as just take a vacation, when we are trapped in the struggle of our own lives.

It can create feelings of isolation, longing, anger, jealousy, sadness, regret and even shame. There is self-loathing and hatred to feeling this stuck in our own particular crisis. It is impossible to explain or adequately express to others. It can feel utterly hopeless. And, these feeling have a way of compounding onto and compressing down on each other.

Work days can be literally oppressive. But, even our days off can be relentless. They involve collapsing into our own bubbles because we are beyond exhausted, or additional grueling, often painful doctors visits, or struggling to live up to the routine responsibilities of existing, when we are having enough trouble just surviving. 

We don't get any real escapes. 

There are no true vacations during recovery. And, recovery doesn't happen overnight. It can take weeks, months, even years and sometimes a lifetime, long after everyone else has moved on. 

And, a sad truth is that sometimes the longer a recovery takes the harder it can become to recover. The longer someone is down the harder it becomes to get up.

In our own survival, we are not invited or blessed with the gift of escapes. We miss vacations, parties, get-togethers, date nights, and utter relaxation, in general. Literally and figuratively we miss out.

But, we can't blame others for their specific blessings and we can't give up the search for our own healing. We need to be happy for each other, and fight for our own moments of happiness.

Make room to inhale when you feel like screaming. Find beauty in darkness. Steal moments of light. Laugh when you need to cry. Cry when you need to exhale. Take a breather, it may be the only vacation you get. But, a second of grace is better than none at all.

Don't waste time wishing you were there, embrace being thankful you are here.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Our Imitation Game

Recently, I rewatched The Imitation Game with Benedict Cumberbatch, about scientist Alan Turing and his work during World War II to break the coding of the Nazis' Enigma machine. Although having read numerous books on the subject, watched a variety of films and television shows depicting the story, as well as a handful of documentaries on this topic, over the years, I realized I had never actually read Alan Turing's paper, "Computing Machinery and Intelligence", in which his Imitation Game is presented amid the topic and debate of eventual digital computer technology and the advancement towards artificial intelligence. 

It surprised me to realize this, as I tend to be someone who initially seeks out the source material well before adsorbing the material which it inspires. But, I rationalized that I had merely circumnavigated my way around this particular source information due to a personal aversion to math. However, I decided it was high time I at least attempted to read this Turing Test paper.

I can honestly say only a handful of things I have ever read shocked, delighted, and inspired me to thought as much as "Computing Machinery and Intelligence" did.

Years after helping break the Enigma codes, Alan Turing wrote this paper, at the height of his career, when he was thirty-eight years old.

And, far from being an inconceivable, convoluted scientific text, only someone with an advanced doctorate could comprehend, it is a concise, provoking, witty, open-minded, often humorous, philosophical and clinical debate, mixed with personal ideology, on what constitutes thought, humanity, intellect, consciousness, extrasensory perception, Man, God, and machines. 

Scientifically, the paper's ideas are still debated today, proving to have been both highly influential and widely-criticized. But, for me, beyond the science, there is a genuine and powerful humanity to Turing's thought process.

Uncomplicated and simple in its presentation, the paper is frighteningly insightful in its forethought and computer advancement predictions, with an underlying depth in applying what are basic human beliefs and assumptions to the complexity of the idea of computers and the eventuality of artificial intelligence. It's revolutionary in its basic philosophy and rather mind-blowing to discover its relevance almost seventy-years later.

All one would have to do is pick up a paper or turn on a news channel these days to be struck by the increasing levels of violence, terrorism, intolerance, and hatred becoming commonplace in our world. Within that truth and current mindset, my thoughts have been drawn again and again to a particular passage in Turing's paper:

" 'The consequences of machines thinking would be too dreadful. Let us hope and believe that they cannot do so.'
This argument is seldom expressed quite so openly as in the form above. But it affects most of us who think about it at all. We like to believe that Man is in some subtle way superior to the rest of creation. It is best if he can be shown to be necessarily superior, for then there is no danger of him losing his commanding position. The popularity of the theological argument is clearly connected with this feeling. It is likely to be quite strong in intellectual people, since they value the power of thinking more highly than others, and are more inclined to base their belief in the superiority of Man on this power.  

I do not think that this argument is sufficiently substantial to require refutation. Consolation would be more appropriate: perhaps this should be sought in the transmigration of souls." 

Turing was plainly dismissing Man's idea of supremacy in the context of facing artificial intelligence, through his "Head in the Sand" argument. He also speaks in his paper about solipsism, the view that the self is all that can be known to exist. 

But, the same theory applied to our current humanity's behavior is equally relevant. 

We are killing other people because we believe our rights to be more important than someone else's rights. 
We are bombing other people because we believe our God to be more valid than someone else's God. 
We are shooting other people because we believe our sexual orientation to be more normal than someone else's sexual orientation. 
We are electing and empowering fear-mongering people because we believe our fear to be more righteous then someone else's fear. 
We are raining war down on other people with our hate because we believe ourselves to be more important than someone else.

The basic premise of Turning's paper is the contemplation of the question, "Can machines think?" and justifying his arguments about how to better answer and test the underlying theory of that question. 

But, maybe for us, in our current climate, the larger contemplation should extend to "Has Man forgotten how to think?" 

Alan Turing wrote a paper about a digital world of intelligence that was only beginning to be imagined. He would die four years after its completion, before seeing the actual scope, of that computer intelligence, grow in leaps and bounds. But, he had the foresight to know this and concluded his theory with this simple statement:

"We can only see a short distance ahead, but we can see plenty there that needs to be done."

Those words are profound in their simplicity and relevant beyond his theory's intent.

As the survivors we all are and are attempting to continue to be, we need to stop fearing the danger of losing our commanding positions, overwhelmingly accept the rights of other people's positions, and individually learn to embrace that there is room for all of us. Room on this Earth for all of us to struggle, to share, to love, to contemplate, to theorize, and to believe without seeking to destroy another's belief.

We have take the time to stop and look. If we do make the conscience choice to see with better eyes, we all have the potential to see clearly that there is plenty there that needs to be done.