The Master and His New Emissary

  • Whit Blauvelt

    October 2, 2023 at 3:12 am

    A true master harmonizes the faculties, vision and feeling alongside language, and composes a self from their weave. The Enlightenment was one with the Renaissance and alchemy, reaching for something far more than the facility with bullshit which the large language models excel at. The manufacture of bullshit is the anti-Enlightenment. And yes, it’s also what the left hemisphere does in the schizoid condition. But the true master masters the truing of the self to the diverse breadth of visions and depths and heights of emotions, and speaks from that trued and truer — but never perfected, always striving — position with a Shakespearean range, abandoning the foolish consistencies which are the “hobgoblins of small minds.”

    Of course, a great deal of the historical story of the Enlightenment depends on which exemplars one chooses to represent it. But the Romanticism of Goethe and friends was a branch of the Enlightened tree, not its contrary. (Truth is often tree-like — the words true and tree being from the same root.) Meanwhile large language models are massive heaps of gibberish, whose accidental likeness to meaning is like an ink blot’s.

    • Helen Asuka

      October 2, 2023 at 3:28 am

      Beyond brute assertions on exactly what Enlightenment was or wasn’t, spiced up with strong languages to convey an apparent dislike/hatred of LLM/GenAI, this does not appear to have much to do with substance of the post you are responding to.

      Perhaps it would be better as its own post rather than a response to an article which was clearly skimmed rather than read? Just a thought. 😇

      • Helen Asuka

        October 2, 2023 at 3:37 am

        Come to think of it, what you wrote directly contradicted the second half of The Master and His Emissary. Out of curiosity, did you actually read the book?

      • Whit Blauvelt

        October 3, 2023 at 8:04 pm


        My response was to what you posted here, not your article, which your advertisement for does not inspire me to read. By my reading of McGilchrist (yes I read every page, slowly, of both volumes and his prior opus), you miss his point. It’s not a war between an angelic hemisphere and a demonic one. Rather it’s the task of enfolding the LH’s rational and linguistic capacities into the context of the RH’s more holistic and aesthetic comprehension of our world and ourselves. This cannot be accomplished by somehow defeating rationality. It’s not a war of the hemispheres. If McGilchrist had defeated rationality he could never have written his wonderful books.

        By the way, I don’t “hate” AI. I just see it as silly. There’s a real danger that people will be confused by it, mistaking it for something either conscious or intelligent, when all it’s doing is mashing phrases together. Seeing it as more than that is akin to seeing castles in the clouds … testimony to our own imaginative capability.


        • Helen Asuka

          October 3, 2023 at 8:32 pm

          Thank you for your response. If the preamble failed to inspire, that’s on me.

          However, if you did read the article, you’ll see that I was not advocating a war between the left and the right, but simply thinking of a way out of the left hemisphere takeover of, well, everything. As a reader of TMAHE, you know very well that the struggle between the two hemispheres is real and the left has been tightening </font>its grip since the Renaissance. The point I was trying to convey was that GenAI may turn out to be an overreach by the left and help return the master to its rightful place, so to speak.

  • Whit Blauvelt

    October 3, 2023 at 8:07 pm

    And seriously, you’re claiming that AI will better represent the “Master” (RH) than we can in our own persons?

    • Helen Asuka

      October 3, 2023 at 8:16 pm

      No, I am claiming that AI will be a better servant/emissary for our right hemisphere than the left hemisphere because it is far more capable in everything the left hemisphere specialize in (which I enumerated in the article) without the baggage of the left hemisphere’s intrinsic will-to-power and its narcissistic tendency to sideline the master/right hemisphere

  • Zak Safra

    October 4, 2023 at 7:37 am

    Hi Helen,

    Thank you for sharing that article. I enjoyed it very much and have been thinking about this myself too.

    I think you are right about the opportunity generative AI affords people. At work I use generative AI a lot to code, I find it easier to ask a computer to create something for me, than to work thru the specific technical details of where to place a semi-colon or an indentation. My wife uses generative AI to create images too. The painful element of artistic creativity, or technical problem solving, which involved gaining some kind of difficult mastery, has now been partially or fully automated. So I do agree with you about the tremendous creative freedom it affords the master. Properly contained, it affords the emissary some new tools.

    But I have to say that I think the risks down the line are still unclear, and the winners from this increased ease of creative productivity might not be the creators. For example, the writers in Hollywood and the workers at car factories in Detroit are both striking — in their case — AI (with the car factories it’s not Gen AI, but I think the argument holds) is threatening their job security.

    I’d also add a few more caveats:

    1) psychological: if the master is now fully dependent on his emissary is that a good thing? What if we are now helpless without it?

    2) social: Do we want to think about regulating the emissary’s availability, so as to not create inequalities of creative opportunity?

    3) what about its errors? I have some hilarious examples of how poorly chat GPT performs sometimes, even when I explicitly phrase the question.

    4) what about its limitations? If our creative expression is now enhanced by generative AI models, it is, also, limited by them. What today might seem like magic might tomorrow seem like a tragic constriction of creative options.

    Thanks again for sharing the article, I am grateful to find other people thinking about AI from the perspective of Iain’s work

    • Helen Asuka

      October 4, 2023 at 10:59 pm

      Hi Zack,

      I figured if I can’t get any response here, I must have got something horribly wrong, tho I have no idea what that might be. So thank you thoughtful response!

      The article was my attempt to get past the “AI will take our jobs” narrative and point out that it may in fact represent the first real opportunity to break out of the left hemisphere prison built in the years since the Enlightenment.

      But I do agree that it is not without risks. It would be more accurate to say that GenAI represent a crisis – danger and opportunity, and it’s up to us to steer it toward the benefit of all humanity. Which would not be likely in the binary “human vs. AI” dichotomy popularized by mass entertainment, starting with Dune, Battle Star Galactica and The Terminator, to name just a few. Incidentally, this binary (us vs. them) is just how the left hemisphere would respond to anything that isn’t itself.

      Here are some of my initial thoughts on the caveats you’ve raised:

      1. I’d say that the master is already fully dependent on the original emissary, the left hemisphere. After all, that is how the left hemisphere has been able to marginalize the right. As for being fully dependent on the new emissary, ie GenAI, I’d suggest that society would have a hard time functioning, if not outright collapse in the absence of the internet. At least with GenAI, there doesn’t appear to be any intrinsic desire to dominate. AI (and computers in general) are content to simply sit there and wait for instructions. The fear of AI suddenly gaining desire to dominate or even eliminate humanity is largely rooted in ignorance about how computers actually work (and in no small part thanks to the aforementioned mass entertainment). In short, computers have no intrinsic motivation or drive of any sort – the most faithful servant/emissary one can hope for.

      2. The problem with regulation is an age old one – who watches the watchers? Who regulates the regulators? In retrospect, would it be better if the internet were limited to a handful of qualified individuals? It’s a hard question to answer definitively, but if I had to choose, I’d rather not have to go through a gatekeeper to get my iPhone.

      3. Yes, we should absolutely not trust AI to not make mistakes. They are, after all, man-made and can never be perfect (if such things can exist). It is why I think of AI as the emissary, nothing more. Our right hemisphere is still very much needed for wisdom and judgement. Incidentally, this is why I believe weaponizing AI is a serious problem that needs much stronger oversight and participation by the general public. But that’s a whole other topic I hope to address in a future article.

      4. Yes, there are always limitations to what AI and computers in general can do. The key realization is that GenAI can augment, but never replace human creativity. After all, as Iain articulated in TMAHE, creativity is only possible when both hemispheres are involved. We are simply talking about replacing the left hemisphere with one that is much more capable and much less (ie not at all) ambitious. What passes for “creativity” these days are simply remixes, which is the left hemisphere counterfeit to the real deal.

      Thanks again for your thoughtful response. I look forward to having further conversations about this and other topics. I’m currently working on a piece about how GenAI will indeed take all of our jobs (eventually) and why that can (though not inevitably) lead to liberation for all of us.

  • Zak Safra

    October 5, 2023 at 6:49 am

    Hi Helen

    I think your term “crisis and opportunity” is spot on. I’d add to that that time frame is important. What I mean by that is that in the short term benefits and the long term risks are not fully understood yet, and vice versa. I don’t need to scaremonger but if you combine language models, computer vision and robotics you potentially have incredible power at your disposal —are Terminator like scenarios so far fetched?

    Yet, paradoxically because the risks are so high, it’s pointless and probably even more dangerous to try and “stop AI”. That would probably be a left hemisphere, knee jerk response. A right hemisphere approach here would probably ask — “ok, what kind of crisis are we having?”.

    I think I can summarize my point as such: I agree that the emissary is now greatly empowered by AI. With his emissary’s new power, the Master can aspire to address new problems, in a previously unimaginable way. But I don’t know if the Master can ever, fully, trust his emissary. He must keep a watchful eye, always.

    On a personal note, this is I think one of the main conclusions in Iain’s research. It’s amazing to me that it makes sense both at my own individual level and at a societal level too.


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