HFS, Plato at 7 a.m.?

It’s a cold morning in the Bark of Beyond, the coldest yet. And, of course, as THAT would have it, a circuit breaker flipped just at sunrise. Speaking for the sunrise, it was beautiful. Speaking for the dogs, “Yay! She’s up! Let’s help her get dressed!” Speaking for me? It’s all good. Now I’m waiting to see what my supermarket will not have later when I go to pick up my order. I had planned to go Tuesday but, besides the roads, the store had NO YOGHURT. I have NEVER missed a grocery pick-up, but I called in “sick” for that one. Then I thought, “O Brave New World where you call in sick for a grocery pick-up.”

Last night I thought of the original title for my first novel. I wondered where I’d found it long, long, long ago. It was a quote from a Greek philosopher — I imagined Aristotle, but I wasn’t sure. I typed in the title — A Vast Chain of Dancers — and BAM there it was. I started reading and was (surprisingly) deeply moved. It was from one of Plato’s dialogues, Ion, in which Socrates is “talking” to a person named Ion who recites Homer.

I got dim memories of a class and teacher I hated some 40 years ago. It covered a mountain of material, truly 3000 years of literary criticism, in an 8 week quarter, and the teacher had total contempt for his students. He began lecturing while he was walking down the hallway toward the classroom, lectured for an hour. Stopped, everyone rushed out to find a restroom. Exactly fifteen minutes later, he began lecturing again and lectured as he left the classroom at the end of class. Strange and scary man with no tolerance AT ALL for the fact that he had at least 30 years on most of the people in his classes and could not (reasonably) expect them to be where he was, but OH WELL.

Having had a lifetime in the meantime, and forgotten almost everything about that abysmal “learning experience,” I saw the paragraph differently. But I must have seen something magical in it back then, too, or I wouldn’t have lifted the line and put it on top of my first novel.

I’m going to have to read the whole dialogue again. Plato is subtle.

Soc. Do you know that the spectator is the last of the rings which, as I am saying, receive the power of the original magnet from one another? The rhapsode like yourself and the actor are intermediate links, and the poet himself is the first of them. Through all these the God sways the souls of men in any direction which he pleases, and makes one man hang down from another. Thus there is a vast chain of dancers and masters and undermasters of choruses, who are suspended, as if from the stone, at the side of the rings which hang down from the Muse. And every poet has some Muse from whom he is suspended, and by whom he is said to be possessed, which is nearly the same thing; for he is taken hold of. And from these first rings, which are the poets, depend others, some deriving their inspiration from Orpheus, others from Musaeus; but the greater number are possessed and held by Homer. (The Ion)

Oddly, it made me think of Artificial Intelligence. And then it made me think of God in the Judeo/Christian sense — God picking up a lump of clay and breathing life into it. Inspire. For the Greeks inspiration came from the muses, Who the Muses were and what they did? Whoa… THAT was high school, so I consulted that repository of all knowledge:

In ancient Greek religion and mythology, the Muses (Ancient Greek: Μοῦσαι, romanized: Moûsai, Greek: Μούσες, romanized: Múses) are the inspirational goddesses of literature, science, and the arts. They were considered the source of the knowledge embodied in the poetry, lyric songs, and myths that were related orally for centuries in ancient Greek culture. Melete, Aoede, and Mneme are the original Boeotian Muses, and Calliope, Clio, Erato, Euterpe, Melpomene, Polyhymnia, Terpsichore, Thalia, and Urania are the nine Olympian Muses.

SO…the poet prays to the Muse for inspiration (or maybe the Muse comes unbidden?) and the human poet takes it from there. Fuck. Artificial Intelligence? I laughed.

Plato called this a “vast chain of dancers,” and as well as I understand/remember it, it goes from the gods through the human poet, to the performer, to the audience, each link a step away from the gods but leading to the gods at the same time. The Judeo/Christian god made humans in the image of God. AI. All derivative of something.

I saw this morning as I was making my coffee how dangerous this is, leading as it could to that ONE maddening question, “What’s real, anyway?” I think that was part of Plato’s thing, as well as I remember. Ion, the Rhapsode, reciter of poetry, could portray all the characters of the Illiad but that didn’t make him a general who could lead an army.

Caveat: I’m not afraid of AI. It’s just interesting and useful as a tool. My “worry” is what I would feel if I were teaching writing now. I used an AI program yesterday to help me put finishing revisions on the article I have finished about the crane festival. “OK Grammarly, I finished this, what do ‘you’ see?” It was helpful. Where I am as a writer, I can accept or reject suggestions. I’m not turning in my homework for a grade or ostensibly learning tools I will use later. My doubts and questions about AI in writing are focused on THAT; what would I do if I were teaching writing now? AI would be a problem.

6 thoughts on “HFS, Plato at 7 a.m.?

  1. I use Grammarly too. If I were a teacher, I’d allow my students to use it on their papers. I have improved my spelling with Grammarly and started writing in an active voice. I have become less wordy. Over time I need it less. Even when I disagree with it, I have to formulate why Grammarly is wrong in a particular instance, which is a good mental exercise. Most of the time, the fight is over comma placement.

    When calculators came along, many teachers thought of calculators as Satan’s toy that allowed students to skate on knowing math. Today calculators are required in any class more advanced than basic algebra.

    Cursive penmanship was once central to writing. Now it is keyboarding. Soon it will be voice-to-text conversion linked to a Grammarly-type program.

    It won’t become scary until AI starts doing fact-checks or challenges one’s reasoning. Whoever writes the program decides what truth is for all users.

    • Grammarly is one thing — I like it but I suspect its comma rules… It’s that students COULD use AI to write their papers is another. As for calculators? I had a student stunned and bewildered when I averaged his grade using long division. He’d never seen it. I’m sorry but I don’t think that’s OK.

      There’s more to learning than the answer, and that is my concern with AI, that and only that. If a person can CHOOSE (as you do and as I do) what to pay attention to with. Grammarly, that’s one thing. If a person can’t, then that person is missing a huge piece of the equation. I’m a teacher and my thinking goes there. “What if they don’t LEARN what’s behind all those answers?” Really the answers are secondary to the knowledge that leads to them, to the curiosity, the potential for wonder, the challenge of figuring something out. Your description of the way you use Grammarly illustrates that you know how to learn. That’s central, I believe, to being human. It doesn’t scare me. It makes me sad.

  2. I don’t think the English majors would use the AI to write stories or poetry but those Business majors would be all over the AI generated papers!! We are having dipping temps but the weather is dryer than usual and no snow is in the forecast!

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