Sunday, July 7, 2019

A New narrative for a Flourishing-Creative World and a Generative Future - Part 3 - The New New Prometheus



The New New Prometheus.

The psychological concept of  generativity was developed and made popular by Erik Erikson. His intention was to highlight the challenges involved in achieving both full maturity and full humanness. The challenges that were especially important, included a need to nurture and guide their own capacity enable their own children and all younger people to in turn care for and nurture others (the sense of it takes a village to raise children).

In essence, generativity encompasses the need to care for others who are dependent as well as to ensure that the larger social systems can also enable and care for its members. Creative generativity provides a more powerful metaphor with which to engage and make sense of an unfolding, unpredictable, uncertain future - a challenge to be ever-creative while simultaneously ever caring - to create new life forms and nurture them with care.
The challenges of generativity may sound straightforward - of course we must all care for our children and be generativity towards our world. The challenge is not simply in caring - but in caring for all of our creations. But enacting generativity to the new, the novel, the foreign can surface deep fears about change and our own uncertainty of the future. Exploring a few myths and narratives can be helpful in illuminating the fears that can foreclose our generative capacity.
The story of Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley, has become a key myth, meme, narrative of post-modern times. However, few people have actually read Mary Shelley’s story - most encounter the story created by the dreams of Hollywood.

In the Hollywood version - Dr Frankenstein creates a ‘monster’ that he ends up fearing. Dr. Frankenstein’s creation seems to have not met his aesthetic framework (he recoils in a sort of ‘insight of revulsion’), and that he is simply unable to control his creation.

This myth is applied by many to humanities advances - advances that seem to indicate that we are on the edge of creating an uncontrollable monster. This is the frame of the story of Frankenstein. Evoking in most minds today, a reasoning applied to Artificial Intelligence or Genetically Modified Organism. A fear that we are creating something beyond control and perhaps because Dr. Frankenstein grasps that his creation can exceed the capacity of its creator. 

In Mary Shelley’s original version Dr. Frankenstein - Victor, creates a new life form - surpassing in many ways his creator. It is when Dr. Frankenstein - revolts in horror (not disgust - but perhaps self-disgust) over what he created and abandons it completely. The creation-creature is now with no generative source of learning, and reasonably reacts with fear and rage for the abandonment and rejection he has been subjected to. 
To this point the story sounds very much like the one we all think we know. But from here on the novel takes some surprising turns. One evening Victor Frankenstein does bring his artificial man to life. He sees it open its eyes and begin to breathe. But instead of celebrating his victory over the power of nature, he is seized by a rash of misgivings. ‘Now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart. Unable to endure the aspect of the being I had created I rushed out of the room and continued a long time traversing my bedchamber, unable to compose my mind to sleep. And what about the newborn ‘human’ back in the laboratory? He is left to his own devices trying to figure out what in the world has happened to him. Quietly he walks to Victor’s bedroom, draws back the bed curtain, smiles, and tries to speak. But Victor, in the throes of a crisis of nerve, is still not ready to accept the life that he brought into existence and simply panics. He might have spoken, but I did not hear; one hand was stretched out, seemingly to detain me, but I escaped and rushed downstairs. I took refuge in the courtyard belonging to the house which I inhabited, where I remained during the rest of the night, walking up and down in the greatest agitation, listening attentively, catching and fearing each sound as if it were to announce the approach of the daemonical corpse to which I had so miserably given life
Winner, Langdon. 1977. Autonomous Technology:
Technics-out-of-Control as a Theme in Political Thought. p.306


Langdon goes on to further explain.
The next morning Victor leaves the house altogether and goes to a nearby town to tell his troubles to an old friend. This is very clearly a flight from responsibility, for the creature is still alive, still benign, left with nowhere to go, and more important, stranded with no introduction to the world in which he must live. Victor’s protestations of misery, remorse, and horror at the results of his work sound particularly feeble. It is clear, for example, that the monstrosity of his creation is in the first instance less a matter of it physical appearance than of Frankenstein’s terror at his own success. He is haunted henceforth not by the creature itself but by the vision of it in his imagination. He does not return to his laboratory and makes no arrangements of any kind to look after his work of artifice. The next encounter between the father and his technological son comes more than two years later. 

An important feature of Frankenstein, the feature of the book that makes it useful for our purposes, is that the artificial being is able to explain his own position. Fully a third of the text is either ‘written’ by his hand or spoken by him in dialogue with his maker. After his abandonment in the laboratory, the creature leaves the place and enters the world to make his way. 

The argument presented emphasizes the perils of an unfinished, imperfect creation, cites the continuing obligations of the creator, and describes the consequences of further insensitivity and neglect.
Winner, Langdon. 1977. Autonomous Technology:
Technics-out-of-Control as a Theme in Political Thought. p.309


The creation’s response is chilling and anyone who remembers the original movie “The Blade Runner’ will recognize this scene (Roy Blatty meeting his ‘maker’).
‘I am thy creature, and I will be even mild and docile to my natural lord and king if thou wilt also perform thy part, that which thou owest me.’

‘You propose to kill me. How dare you sport thus with life? Do your duty towards me, and I will do mine towards you and the rest of mankind. If you will comply with my conditions I will leave them and you at peace; but if you refuse, I will glut the maw of death, until it be satiated with the blood of your remaining friends.’ 


The monster explains that his first preference is to be made part of the human community. Frankenstein was wrong to release him into the world with no provision for his role or influence in the presence of normal men. Already his attempts to find a home have had disastrous results. He introduced himself to the Swiss family, only to find them terrified at his grotesque appearance. On another occasion he unintentionally caused the death of a young boy. He now asks Frankenstein to recognize that the invention of something powerful and novel is not enough. Thought and care must be given to its place in the sphere of human relationships. But Frankenstein is still too thick and self-interested to comprehend the message. ‘Abhorred monster! Fiend that thou art! … Begone! I will not hear you. There can be no community between you and me; we are enemies. Begone, or let us try our strength in a fight, in which one must fall.’ 

Despite this stream of invective, the creature continues to reason with Victor. It soon becomes apparent that he is, if anything the more ‘human’ of the two and the man with the better case. At the same time, he leaves no doubt that he means business.
 Winner, Langdon. 1977. Autonomous Technology: Technics-out-of-Control as a Theme in Political Thought. p.310

Eventually after an arduous experience and Odyssey the creature 
...finds him and pleads for Victor to hear his tale. Intelligent and articulate, the Creature says that his encounters with people led to his fear of them, driving him into the wilderness. 
The Creature demands that Victor create a female companion like himself. He argues that as a living being, he has a right to happiness. The Creature promises that he and his mate will vanish into the South American wilderness, never to reappear, if Victor grants his request.
Frankenstein - Wikipedia - 04 Aug 2016 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frankenstein 

Victor procrastinates for a long time before beginning the work of creating a second creation. In the middle of this work he starts thinking of the possible consequences. His creation had sworn to ‘quit the neighborhood of man and hide himself in deserts’. But this new creation - she had not. 
she, who in all probability was to become a thinking and reasoning animal, might refuse to comply with a compact made before her creation.’ The artificial female would have a life of her own. What was to guarantee that she would not make demands and extract the consequences if the demands were not properly met? Then an even more disquieting thought strikes Victor,  What if the two mate and have children? ‘A race of evils would be propagated upon the earth who might make the very existence of the species of man a condition precarious and full of terror.’ I shuddered to think that future ages might curse me as their pest, whose selfishness had not hesitated to buy its own peace at the price, perhaps of the existence of the whole human race.’ Recognizing what he believes to be a heroic responsibility, Victor commits an act of violence. With the first creature looking on, he tears the unfinished female artifact to pieces. 
Winner, Langdon. 1977. Autonomous Technology:
Technics-out-of-Control as a Theme in Political Thought. p.311

Is the ‘New Prometheus’ Dr Frankenstein or his Creation? 


Victor Frankenstein is a person who discovers, but refuses to ponder, the implications of his discovery. He is a man who creates something new in the world and then pours all of his energy into an effort to forget. 
Winner, Langdon. 1977. Autonomous Technology:
Technics-out-of-Control as a Theme in Political Thought. p.313


There is another dimension of the Frankenstein myth that is vital in our thinking about new knowledge (as embodied know how = techne-ology). And that is every emerging form of knowledge enables a form of forgetting.
there is a sense in which all technical activity contains an inherent tendency toward forgetfulness. Is not the point of all invention, technique, apparatus, and organization to have something and have it over with? One does not want to bother anymore with building, developing, or learning it again. One does not want to bother with its structure or the principles of its internal workings. One simply wants the technical thing to be present in its utility. The goods are to be obtained without having to understand the factory or the distribution network. Energy is to be utilized without understanding the myriad of connections that made its generation and delivery possible. Technology, then, allows us to ignore our own works. It is licence to forget. In its sphere the truths of all important processes are encased shut away and removed from our concern. This more than anything else, I am convinced, is the true source of the colossal passivity in man’s dealings with technical means. 
Winner, Langdon. 1977. Autonomous Technology:
Technics-out-of-Control as a Theme in Political Thought. p.315


I think part of the power this narrative has in the popular mind, harkens to an even deeper narrative - that of Cronus:
Cronus learned from Gaia and Uranus that he was destined to be overcome by his own sons, just as he had overthrown his father. As a result, although he sired the gods Demeter, Hestia, Hera, Hades and Poseidon by Rhea, he devoured them all as soon as they were born to prevent the prophecy. When the sixth child, Zeus, was born Rhea sought Gaia to devise a plan to save them and to eventually get retribution on Cronus for his acts against his father and children. (Cronus also fathered Chiron, by Philyra.)
Wikipedia - 03 Aug 2016 - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cronus 


Through these narratives, we see some of the deep mythic challenges that are the shadows of creativity woven into the fabric of human experience. An experience of the fear of becoming that is displaced and outdone by one’s own creations - a fear that forecloses the successful accomplishment of creative generativity - a fear of life leaving us behind. 
To paraphrase Umair Haque’s blog piece on the Myth of Prometheus, the ‘stealing of fire’ was actually the grasping of the spark of creative will - ‘to dream, act, imagine, create, challenge, love. According to Haque - when Prometheus claimed this spark it was not just fire but freedom. Suddenly, humans had greater possibilities than before a freedom that was greater than power.  And that was why the gods became angry. 
The lesson of this myth is that with freedom comes the need to make choices and to embrace choice requires courage, wisdom, grace. Our sentence of suffering (lashed to the rocks by the gods - and our own ego, selfishness) is our condemnation for giving that spark of possibilities away.  Why should we share this power of freedom? Haques says, “The spark is there to illuminate what is truest in each and every one of us. If we don’t steal it, there is no suffering. We stay machines, slaves, but can never become truly free. And that is the truest emptiness of all.”
The possibilities inherent in our freedom to make choices are a greater gift than the entailing suffering inherent in the inevitable impermanence of our existence - because one can also find joy in suffering arising from choice. In fact, to avoid the responsibilities and response-abilities of choice is a way we fail to embrace the journey of living - the finding of joy in the embrace of our living. 

Two challenges are illuminated by Haque’s short exploration of the Myth of Prometheus. One key lesson is the challenge of making a genuine and honest choice with all its risk and uncertainties and suffering. Another key lesson comes from the gods from which Prometheus had to steal the spark the fire of freedom and choice - the challenge of sharing that freedom. The shadow of freedom for oneself is embracing the freedom of others or of the freedom or our own progeny - of our creations.
This mythic fear is evident in a great deal of the discussions related to artificial intelligence (will robots and computers become humanity’s masters) and biotechnology (e.g. Frakenfood as genetically modified organisms). And while there are many issues involved with the development of these technologies as there are and always have been with all technologies - our fears tend to concern the potential of our creations - whether they are in the form of robots smarter, more capable than humans or new forms of humans turning us into the next Neanderthals. 
As deep and complex as our challenges are - they are also the mother of our inventions and innovations. These in turn are our progeny. All of our creations grow to have their own life - every action soon engenders consequences outside of original intentions. Every evolutionary success was an answer to change - in conditions, in niche opportunities - which in turn generated new challenges, changes in existing conditions. Every evolutionary failure served as an exploration of the fitness landscape. As Turner made so clear, there is no life without challenge nor is it possible to live without dying - there is no way to live forward without creative generativity - the challenge of sharing freedom and power with others. 
The challenge of the gods sharing the freedom of power (via Prometheus) with humans also suggests an aspect of the shadow in the ubiquitous meme that glorifies leadership as the pre-eminent human solution to our challenges. Leaders are only effective when they are able to marshal hordes of followers and that they are lucky enough to be right for long enough. 
Under this meme - Followers are required to wait for great leaders. All too easily the leadership meme enacts versions of our gods, gods-as-kings, leadership-by-divine ordination - management as the whimsy of a particular leader. 

Chronos anticipates the jealousy of the gods of humans who are ready to steal the fire of freedom - from authoritarianism the pre-eminent ideology of leadership. All these leadership shadows of the fear of anyone-everyone ‘grasping’ the challenges of responsibility / response-ability of freedom of choice and the consequent of creative generativity.
Adding complexity upon complexity - our challenges arise not only as a consequence of our past - but also arise with our own creativity and creations - our response-ability to current contexts-situations - our improv-ability. In the common narratives about the arising of humans, is the overlooked fact that humans also became human in the midst of climate change. 
Human survival has included the challenges of a number of planetary homeostasis shifts (allostastic adaptations)  in the boundary conditions that determine larger climate patterns - including the most recent ice ages. What this means is that this is not the first time humans have had to face planetary scale challenges. 
The first surprise is that it takes constraints on the release of energy to perform work, but it takes work to create constraints. The second surprise is that constraints are information and information is constraint.
Stuart Kauffman –in Deacon (2012).
It is time - let’s just get over the blame and accept responsibility that climate change is a natural consequence of our own behavior on the planet. However, there is no simple solution - no easy equation or formula - no idyllic past to restore. There is no way to know the long term ‘good’ or ‘bad’ result of any action - no way to know how small a difference will eventually cause a big difference or how large a difference will in the long term make no difference. All action creates unpredictable affordances that are likely both simultaneously challenges and opportunities. All solutions create new problems - all problems beg for solutions - it’s turtles and the way up and down.
By taking responsibility for inaugurating the current episode of climate change we accept the fact that humans have been in the process of geoforming - that humans have in fact turned the planet into a human made environment - however we proceed, there is no possible way to reverse what has been done even if we were to remove all humans from the planet - we have changed the conditions of evolution - humans have changed the fitness landscape. 
A predominant focus of most efforts to awaken ourselves to the responsibility of climate change has been on production of greenhouse gases - and an entailing focus on mitigating the production of these gases (including more recently the need to more actively capture them). Finding a solution to greenhouse gases is of course vital - but in other ways this focus is like believing by eliminating the symptoms of a problem we’ve dealt with the problem. 
The problem is less about the production of greenhouse gases then it is about human population and human development. This is a very complex issue with many entailing and vigorous debates and many focuses on dimensions of human existence - most often in its current form. 
Economic, political, bio-socio-cultural, ideological-religious, technological and more domains contain any number of debates and perspective regarding the source and cure of our problems. Too many to even begin to enumerate - as perspective continue to bifurcate. The key point however, is that without a focus on the human dimensions - we are not likely to be able to solve the greenhouse gas causes-effects of climate change - nor are we likely to simultaneous adapt our societies to the changes already inaugurated. 

At minimum a way forward to continued human survival is of course the survival of life on the planet - but also of creating conditions for human well being. Conditions where humans can experience a just world, able to stabilize population size and find meaningful ways to live. For that we need education for everyone, available birth control for everyone and meaningful work (ways to create meaningful value) for everyone. We need these basics because the trajectories of our technology and science also enable the development to provide ever more ways to enact through conflict. unprecedented forms of destruction and devastation.
The necessary conditions include those where humans can experience a just world, able to stabilize population size and find meaningful ways to live. For that we need education for everyone, available birth control for everyone and meaningful work (ways to create meaningful value) for everyone. We need these basics because the trajectories of our technology and science also enable the development to provide ever more powerful ways to enact through conflict as well as enabling every individual to access unprecedented forms of destruction and devastation.
However these same trajectories of technology and science also carry unprecedented means to create conditions of global flourishing - although they will not likely be yesterday’s ecologies or today’s domesticated gardens.
People need to feel the have a stake in a flourishing future in order to embrace the constraints and conditions of civilization. Our future requires enabling people to embrace a creative generative capacity - not in order to retreat to an imagined nostalgic past - but to embrace with confidence the response-ability of an unimaginable future. 

As McLuhan noted we now have the human responsibility-ability to transform the planet into a natural work of art - art that imitates life and life that imitates art.
I would like to end this piece with a few various quotes.  
The computer abolishes the human past by making it entirely present. It makes natural and necessary a dialogue among cultures which is as intimate as private as speech. While bemoaning the decline of literacy and the obsolescence of the book, the literati have typically ignored the imminence of the decline in speech itself. The individual word, as a store of information and feeling, is already yielding to macroscopic gesticulation.
McLuhan -1968 - War & Peace in the Global Village p.90

It may be simplest to say at once that the real use of the computer is not to reduce staff or costs, or to speed up or smooth out anything that has been going on, its true function is to program and orchestrate terrestrial and galactic environments and energies in a harmonious way. 
McLuhan -War & Peace in the Global Village p.89

Consider climate change. "The vaunted scientific consensus around climate change," notes Sarewitz, "applies only to a narrow claim about the discernible human impact on global warming. The minute you get into questions about the rate and severity of future impacts, or the costs of and best pathways for addressing them, no semblance of consensus among experts remains." Nevertheless, climate "models spew out endless streams of trans-scientific facts that allow for claims and counterclaims, all apparently sanctioned by science, about how urgent the problem is and what needs to be done."

The ongoing digital revolution, the globalization of cultural information, and the coming age of empathy are pressures likely to lead to structural modifications of mind and self, by which I mean the modification of the very brain processes that shape the mind and self.
Antonio Damasio - Self Comes to Mind p.193

What is certain is that history has again taken up its riotous march and is heading toward an unknown future as it strives to return to a vanished past. 
Edgar Morin - Homeland Earth. 1999.

The next and final part of this series of explorations, will meander around the idea of  earth as on open system and thus not as finite as current thinking wants us to accept - as well as an ongoing evolution. The shadow that evolution casts is a notion of Eden as a restorative nostalgia for an imagined past.

A New narrative for a Flourishing-Creative World and a Generative Future - Part 4 - Metaphors for generative growth.