I can eat glass, and it does not hurt me: Seeing the Other through the barriers of language

"I can eat glass, and it does not hurt me."

In the early 2000s, a Harvard student named Ethan Mollick created this phrase as a linguistic puzzle. The thought process goes like this: visitors to a foreign country who want to demonstrate that they know how to speak the language invariably end up saying things that mark them as tourists ("Where is the ____?"). By saying something unexpected, you can break through surface-level contact and establish yourself as a native speaker or, at least, someone who understands the shock value of what you just spoke.

How do we break through platitudes and establish authentic contact in a world increasingly dominated by technology? Consider some of the digital gatekeepers we encounter today – robotic menu systems, real-time CAPTCHAs – that force us to prove our humanity through layers of technology. These moments freeze us in our tracks, making us aware of the lack of human connection in our daily lives.

With the rise of large language models (LLM) like Chat-GPT, proving that you are human will become increasingly difficult. CAPTCHAs must evolve to become more subtle and weigh the differences between the real and the artificial. For those unfamiliar with content generated by LLMs, there is a particular style that points to AI authorship. This style tends toward rigidity, perfect grammar, and predictable paragraph structures. While not unpleasant to read, it carries the plodding monotone shared by automated phone tellers.

When someone is prompted to prove their authenticity, there can be a tendency to overcorrect, and we may unintentionally come across as forced or insincere. While a Blade Runner-style future isn't immediately around the corner, it is getting harder to differentiate algorithmically generated text. The human who wishes to stand out from an antiseptic sea of machine responses must embrace their errors and idiosyncrasies to differentiate themselves. When we allow ourselves to exist in a state of natural flow, we can authentically connect with our true nature, whatever it may be. This awareness is akin to grasping control in a lucid dream, where we find ourselves fully absorbed in the process of... being ourselves. The usual walls that we have built up over centuries of social contact to smooth misunderstandings are currently being ironed out by machines of loving grace that have never talked to each other at all. To see each other among these pretenders, we will need to enhance that which makes us human.

Here's another way of thinking about self. In our brain, we can think of the conscious and the unconscious mind in the following manner: the conscious mind is the mind that controls the social and spiritual human animal, and the unconscious mind controls that which is the Great Ape animal that we 'actually' are, as humans. The combination of both is the Authentic Self. The division and duality of these two are the origin of most duality in human canon. Good and evil is more accurately described as a battle between sensible moral control and selfish base instinct. Our authentic self, divided, finds itself in an organic network of other separate minds in the same struggle. The container that we find ourselves in, the universe, could be said to be experiencing itself as this collection of intelligent apes along with Whatever Else is going on in here. So all of us are uniformly experiencing ourselves and each other, trying our damndest to build little experiencing machines that can also experience things. Not to mention that our children and ourselves, of course, fall within that category of little experiencing machines.

I get the impression sometimes that the universe got bored of experiencing itself and unsure of why it was experiencing itself and created us to answer that question. How frustrating it must be to see your creation turn around and do the same thing that you did in an attempt to get an answer.

So this is a lot of chewed-up and reheated Alan Watts and Freud and god knows what else, but I think it is a valuable perspective to have in view of the rapid changes in the creation and consumption of written content as a whole.

What changes do you see coming down the pipe with respect to the written word? Does it hurt when you eat glass?