AI and Bicycle of the Mind

I don’t have the same optimism that Thompson does here, but it’s a good read and worth the thought time!

The Great Flattening – Stratechery by Ben Thompson:

What is increasingly clear, though, is that Jobs’ prediction that future changes would be even more profound raise questions about the “bicycle for the mind” analogy itself: specifically, will AI be a bicycle that we control, or an unstoppable train to destinations unknown? To put it in the same terms as the ad, will human will and initiative be flattened, or expanded?

Curiosity and Stoicism

If you ask why incessantly, something strange starts to happen to you. You begin to notice the nuances and subtleness of the creation and life. Your eyes, ears, and senses open up to new sources of insight about what is happening inside and outside you.

There is no secret or formula to happiness or even success. Curiosity can help you achieve those goals, but curiosity can also bring anxiety, doubt, and apathy if not coached well. When paired with ethical empathy, curiosity is the root of actual paths to concepts such as happiness or well-being.

Unceasingly and insanely, always pursuing root causes, hows, whys, whens, and wheres will overcome generational trauma and an individual’s perceived limitations. Curiosity is a gift from God meant to wake us up to the way of intentional being.

Stoicism teaches us (me, at least) that virtue is the only good and that our characters are entirely in our power to shape and improve. In this context, curiosity becomes a tool for self-improvement and understanding the world. It aligns with the Stoic principle of living according to nature (where we derive the word physics), which involves understanding the nature of the universe and our roles.

Consider this quote from Marcus Aurelius: 

“Look within. Within is the fountain of good; it will ever bubble up if thou wilt dig.” 

This highlights the Stoic belief in introspection and self-awareness nurtured by curiosity.

Ethical empathy, in Stoicism, is closely tied to sympatheia, the mutual interdependence of all things in the universe. The Stoics believed that realizing this interconnectedness leads to a natural inclination to act virtuously and empathetically toward others.

Here’s a thought from Seneca that encapsulates this idea: 

“We are members of one great body planted by nature. We must be helpful to one another, remembering that we were born for cooperation, like feet, hands, eyelids, and the rows of the upper and lower teeth.”

Therefore, when guided by the principles of Stoic virtue, curiosity transforms from mere inquisitiveness into a tool for personal and ethical growth. Through this lens, we begin to see the subtleties of life not just as isolated phenomena but as interconnected parts of a greater whole. This perspective fosters a deeper understanding and appreciation of life’s complexities, allowing us to find joy and contentment in pursuing knowledge and wisdom.

However, without ethical empathy, curiosity risks becoming a self-centered pursuit, detached from the greater good of humanity. The Stoics remind us that our actions and inquiries should not only serve personal growth but also contribute to the welfare of others. As Epictetus said,

“What ought one to say then as each hardship comes? I was practicing for this. I was training for this.”

Thus, curiosity becomes a form of life training, preparing us to face challenges with resilience and empathy.

Curiosity and ethical empathy, when aligned with Stoic virtues, curiosity, and ethical empathy lead us to a deeper understanding of the world and toward a more fulfilling and meaningful existence. They awaken us to the potential within ourselves and encourage us to live in harmony with others and the world.

I uploaded this post into ChatGPT-4 and asked DALL-E to create an image reflecting my words and the concept of curiosity related to ethical empathy and Stoicism. I think it did rather well! If you have no idea what any of that means, that’s ok… but you will soon!

A Stoic Teacher? Lessons from Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus

Recently, I’ve been delving into a philosophy that’s been around for centuries but feels incredibly relevant to our modern times: Stoicism. In particular, I’ve been engrossed in the works of Marcus Aurelius, his ‘Meditations,’ (there are free versions out there on the web, but this Gregory Hayes version is my favorite), and Epictetus with his ‘Discourses (again, there are free versions available on the web that are easy to find, but this is a great version that I use personally).’ It’s been a transformative experience, which I am compelled to share, as it’s begun to significantly shape my perspective on parenting and teaching.

For those unfamiliar, Stoicism is a philosophy founded in Athens in the 3rd century BC but became especially popular in the first couple centuries of the Roman Empire. It teaches the development of self-control and fortitude as a means to overcome destructive emotions. The Stoic does not seek to extinguish feelings but instead transform them with a resolute ‘askēsis‘ that enables a person to develop clear judgment and inner calm.

Marcus Aurelius, a Stoic philosopher and Roman Emperor wrote ‘Meditations’ as a source of personal guidance and self-improvement. It’s a collection of thoughts, musings, and reminders to himself about the virtues he strived to cultivate—patience, humility, and understanding.

One of my favorite quotes from Aurelius is: “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” This concept, often summarized as “the obstacle is the way,” has profoundly reframed challenges in my life. As a parent and a teacher, numerous unforeseen obstacles arise. Rather than viewing these as setbacks, I now see them as opportunities for growth and learning—for myself and the young minds I’m shaping.

Epictetus, a formerly enslaved person turned philosopher, taught that our reactions are the only things within our control. He said, “We cannot choose our external circumstances, but we can always choose how we respond to them.” This insight has shifted my approach to parenting. When my child gets upset, I can’t always control the situation causing the distress, but I can control my reaction. I can choose patience, understanding, and compassion.

In the classroom, the Discourses of Epictetus have also inspired me to shift my focus from the outcomes of my students to their effort and growth. This approach aligns perfectly with the Stoic emphasis on controlling what’s within our power. I can’t control the grades my students receive, but I can encourage their resilience, their determination, and their love of learning.

Stoicism, focusing on inner strength, self-control, and accepting what we cannot change, provides a robust framework for navigating life’s challenges. As I continue to study and incorporate these principles into my life, I’m better equipped to respond to the demands of parenting and teaching.

My journey into Stoicism is ongoing, and I’m excited to share more insights as they come. If you’re interested in exploring this philosophy, I recommend starting with ‘Meditations’ by Marcus Aurelius and ‘The Discourses by Epictetus (and pick up Pierre Hadot’s The Inner Citadel if you want a deep-dive). Their wisdom is timeless and, as I’ve found, profoundly applicable to our modern lives.

How You Frame Content Determines How You Perceive It

I do love Epictetus’s Enchiridion!

τῶν ὄντων τὰ μέν ἐστιν ἐφ᾽ ἡμῖν, τὰ δὲ οὐκ ἐφ᾽ ἡμῖν should be the opening line of every textbook, Driver’s License manual, Facebook user agreement, and marriage certificate as we move through life. It’s the opening lines of Epictetus’ Handbook (“Some things are up to us, and some are not up to us.”).

Plato, TikTok… skydiving? Yale’s Gendler gives ancient texts a modern spin | YaleNews:

We spent about half a class discussing a pair of images, both of which featured the Serenity Prayer: one was a delicate ceramic plate where the text was surrounded by morning glories and puppy dogs, and the other was the same text in the form of a bicep tattoo surrounded by American flags and tanks. Epictetus’s point is that how you frame content determines how you perceive it. And here we had, with the text of Epictetus, two cases of literal frames, one of which made the text seem gentle and available to those who might feel soothed by it, and the other of which made it seem macho and available to those who self-conceive in that way. So that conversation offered three different weavings of meta in the same place.

Satyagraha and Climate Justice

Love this connection from Matthew Klippenstein… we have much to learn about justice, and especially climate justice, from our neighbors and our own history…

Articulating a hopeful, abundant vision of what the future could be has helped climate activism gain widespread support across Canada, and even from a strong majority within Alberta’s energy sector. With the province facing a crisis, our movement may benefit from affirming solidarity with the many who face uncertainty, before we criticize the few who got them there. With luck, and working together, we can craft a “sacred yes” so inspiring that instead of revisiting old wounds anew, Canadians from coast to coast to coast can together create an abundant future “pour tout.”

Source: Three climate justice metamorphoses and a lesson from Gandhi | National Observer

“Random” prime numbers and human projections

“So just what has got mathematicians spooked? Apart from 2 and 5, all prime numbers end in 1, 3, 7 or 9 – they have to, else they would be divisible by 2 or 5 – and each of the four endings is equally likely. But while searching through the primes, the pair noticed that primes ending in 1 were less likely to be followed by another prime ending in 1. That shouldn’t happen if the primes were truly random –  consecutive primes shouldn’t care about their neighbour’s digits.”

Source: Mathematicians shocked to find pattern in “random” prime numbers | New Scientist

Math, philosophically, is spooky.

Does it “really” exist in the cosmos or is it (like most things we consider to be intrinsic to the universe) a human projection based on our finite nature?

Folding Cranes

From one of my students, Jesseca about another one of my students who fell ill this week…

Tree Frog Science: “These stories show us that hope can go a long way and can be exhibited in many forms. Meredith deserves our hope and our support every waking moment, so I challenge you. All of you 8th graders, and any other griffins or friends alike, to take a stand and join me in folding a thousand cranes to send to Meredith to remind her that even though we are not physically with her, we are with her in spirit.”

Let’s fold cranes indeed.

What to Do on Monday

Tears:

Science teacher: The Bambification of Dr. King: “Read ‘Letter From a Birmingham Jail.’
Take a walk outside and watch the grace and agony of life around us.

Yes, it’s complicated. Life is complex,

Bambi’s just the celluloid illusion of a corporation that owns a good chunk of the airwaves today, including ABC. I’m betting you won’t hear much about King’s letter from jail Monday.”

As always, do something that won’t compute and practice resurrection.