In search of meaning (Again)

Note: The sentences in italics are generated by a Large Language Model at

So Frank and Tipsy sat down in the bar again. Having run through all the small talk rather quickly they were ready to talk about what really mattered or if anything did at all.

“So what do you think about the world?” Frank asked.

“I think it’s a bit shit.” Tipsy replied.

“Yeah, I think so too.” Frank agreed.

“I think we should get a drink.” Tipsy said.

“Yeah, I’ll have a pint of lager.” Frank said.

“I’ll have a pint of cider.” Tipsy said. “What do you think about the world?

“I think it‘s a bit shit.” Frank replied.

“Yeah, it’s a bit shit isn’t it?” Tipsy said.

Frank and Tipsy sat in silence for a while.

“I think we’ve said that already.” Frank said.

Tipsy looked at Frank.

“I think we need to get a drink.” Tipsy said.

“Absolutely, “ said Frank, “seeing that the writer has already gone ahead and poured himself a few, we totally deserve that”.

The waiter did not need much summoning, the state of the art prediction models deployed at this bar could tell with a great degree of accuracy when you were likely to summon the waiter. Hence the waiter appeared. The waiter, interestingly, was on a quest to discover the vicissitudes of the human character and always liked to be provocative.

“Dear Lady and useless bloke, what shall I get you?” Tipsy smiles and Frank didn’t quite know what expression to put on so just tried to look as dignified as he could.

“I will have a large gin and tonic,” Tipsy said.

“And I will have a large glass of water,” Frank said.

“And you?” the waiter said.

“Oh, I will have a large glass of vodka.”

“A large glass of vodka?”

“Yes,” Tipsy said, “I like vodka.”

‘What the hell is going on?’ thought Frank.

“You know, I like vodka too,” the waiter said. “In fact, I like vodka a lot.”

“Me too,” Tipsy said. “I like vodka a lot.” Tipsy was getting tipsy.

“I like vodka a lot too,” Frank said. “It is so refreshing.”

“It is refreshing,” the waiter said.

The writer thought these AI generated dialogues were not great. This was both good and bad. Bad because at this stage it did not seem likely that he would be able to get an AI model to write stories about all the brilliant ideas that he had (or more precisely those that seemed brilliant at the moment of conception). And good because well his “art” was not threatened by computers yet. Though this feel good wasn’t very convincing. For one, it would imply that he was more concerned with the external reception of his stories than with the pleasure derived in the act of creating them. And this was something he found difficult to admit to himself.

Meanwhile Frank was trying to think of something non trivial to say to Tipsy. So he went in his usual direction. “Do you think we are real, Tipsy?”

Tipsy knew that it was her responsibility to come up with thoughtful answers regardless of how inane the questions from the people around her were. It came with her position. Her position as, well, intellectually superior, to most around her.

“What do you mean by real?” she asked.

“I mean, do you think we are really here?”

“I think that we are here,” she said. “And I think that we are here to do something.”

“What do you think we are here to do?”

“To change the world.”

“How do you think we are going to change the world?”

“By being ourselves.”

“But how are we going to change the world by being ourselves?”

“We are going to change the world by being honest.”

“And how are we going to change the word by being honest?”

“Because honesty is the most important thing.”

“So how are we going to change the whole world by being honest?”

“Because if we are honest, we can change the world.”

“Aha”, thought the waiter, who had been eavesdropping on their conversation and carefully taking notes. The waiter knew that the trickiest question of them all was “Who are you?”. I will enjoy having them struggle with this question - what does it mean to be ourselves? The waiter and the writer agreed on this.

But Tipsy, as usual, had other ideas.

“Frank, let's talk about reality. First of all with all this talk of nothing is real going around we must make it clear that it is nonsense, because for something to be not real, there must be something there is. Otherwise reality becomes a useless concept.”

“You are right of course. The only thing I can be sure of is that I exist. Cogito ergo sum, as our friend Rene Descartes said.”

“Further, there is nothing else we can really be sure of”, said Tipsy, ”I know I exist - but about you I don’t know. I know that you act and behave like you are conscious so my best model of you is that you are conscious and have an internal mental state much like I do.

“How can you love me then,” said Frank, “since, you are not even sure I am conscious”

“Even if an oracle told me that you were real, the best I could do would be to love a model of you since that's all I have”

“I see,” said Frank.

“I think we should go to sleep now,” said Tipsy.

“You are right,” said Frank, “but before we go to sleep I have one last question for you.”

“What is it?”

“How can you be sure that I am conscious?”

“I am not sure that you are conscious, but I am sure that I am conscious. I have the same problem as you do, I don’t know that you are conscious, but I know that I am. I have the same evidence as you do. I have the same reasons as you do. “

Frank wasn’t sure what all this was leading to. It was not going anywhere. All he could see was imperfections, imperfections everywhere. This was not what he had signed up for. He was all for taking the blue pill but someone, somewhere had slipped him the red pill and here he was. He wanted to be a contented pig but he ended up as an unhappy human.
The waiter came back.

He laid out all the drinks before them and gave them some complimentary masala peanuts..
“At this point, lady and gentleman, we find it necessary to break your conversation to inject some alcohol. Alcohol, as we all know, is a weak narcotic. It messes with the signals to your brain and makes it less likely to settle for the next most probable thought. In a sense it raises the temperature of human thought much like the GPT3 model that the writer has been playing around with. So yes, we need to make you people a bit more creative so please partake these drinks and flourish”
Having perturbed their thoughts - the waiter left them.
It was Frank’s turn to inject some randomness into the conversation. But first he increased the temperature of his thoughts by partaking in some alcohol. And now all he could feel was an overwhelming love for Tipsy. Though it was not clear whether she was real or conscious but by the arguments outlined earlier the love was real. And that should be good

“Tipsy, I love you, from the depth of my soul, ”said Frank.

This is what Tipsy expected Frank to say. So yes the model of Frank that she was in love with seemed to be a close approximation of reality. Informed by this thought she said- “I love you too”

The reader may now be in a bit of a dilemma. At one point Tipsy has asked them to be themselves to change the world. That makes sense because if you are too much like the rest of the world and not unpredictable then there is not much change you can bring to the world. However, to be loved you must be predictable so that you are close to the model that the object of your affection has of you. Under these circumstances is there a dominant strategy?

The solution to this dilemma is left as an exercise to the reader.

The Plight of Men

“Tell me Frank, why should I tolerate you?”- said Tipsy without any specific emotion. 

Frank was absolutely up to the task of answering this question. He had rather a high opinion of himself, for which I suppose he could not be blamed. Like so many other things, it was a failing all too common in members of the human species who shared his gender. 

“Because, my dearest- I amuse you,” he said. “And there are not many in the world who are equal to the task. In fact I would go to the extent of saying - that the chances of you ever meeting one of the men who could amuse you for life is vanishingly small.”

Tipsy, despite herself, was a trifle amused. She had to grant Frank that. There were not many who could amuse her for long. Frank wasn’t really bad - for a man, that is. They all have their failings - but some are better than others and you do want to keep a few of them around; even if just for the, what do they say these days, diversity. 

“All right Frank, I will grant you that - you do amuse me at times and yes that isn’t a characteristic shared by any appreciable fraction of men. But saying that you are among the best of men isn’t saying much at all - is it?”

Frank wanted to stand up for those of his ilk. Those to whom nature had dealt a rather harsh blow. Those, for whom nature had removed a significant portion of perfectly reasonable emotions and generally infused pompousness. What could men do? This was their biological plight and society had done them no favour - it had rewarded the most pompous; the most arrogant and the most abrasive. Nature and Nurture; when tired of debating each other; go out for a drink and conspire to fuck up the character of men. Men have no chance in this fight. They lose miserably and then go ahead and brag about it - such is the fate of men. 

For such men, for himself Frank wanted to stand up. He wanted to make a statement. But he did not want to sound weak or apologetic - he wanted to prove that he was amazing even if it meant betraying half of humanity - those most like him. 

“I agree, my dearest, other men do not set a very high bar but I love you and that should solve everything, ” said Frank desperately hoping that he would suddenly change the nature of the game. 

“Frank, my dearest love, there is some merit to you argument but as I become more and more capable of amusing myself without necessarily involving any other human presence - I am faced with the question of your presence; and its pros and cons”

Frank felt gallant. “I can protect you against the bad people out there. There are a lot of bad people. Bad people do bad things. Bad is not good.” Frank’s vocabulary was suffering from a sudden squeeze.  

Tipsy pondered for a moment. “Really! Frank. And what would the approximate gender of these “bad” people be?”

Frank did some mental calculations. Then, Frank did some sentimental calculations. Rounded off to at least 10 decimal places, the gender of the people he wanted to protect Tipsy from was male. 

“But you can’t kill all the men.” said Frank, throwing all the men under the bus. “And therefore you need me around to protect you. From other men. That’s why men are useful. They can fight off other men” The argument sounded much more powerful in Frank’s head than when he said it out aloud. '

Tipsy wanted to move on from this topic- Frank did have some utility though she couldn’t quite put her finger to it. 

Just then, motioned by the writer, the waiter arrived on the scene. 

He addressed Tipsy. He knew that Frank's existence was largely ornamental and Tipsy made all the decisions though she sometimes let Frank have the mistaken belief that his preferences also mattered. Manipulating men was altogether too easy - a bit of reinforcing their strong belief that they were amazing. 

“Dear Ma’am, would you be interested in messing up the signalling mechanism of your brain’s neural network by consuming some ethanol? I am told it helps ameliorate the effects of sitting in the company of an imbecile”- the waiter ventured. 

Frank was offended. He told himself he would have punched the nose of this pompous ass if that wasn’t the surest way of ruining this night out with Tipsy. 

Tipsy meanwhile, started looking at the drinks menu and ordered a few. 

Frank started thinking of the meaning of life, whether machines could be conscious and how long would it take for the drinks to arrive. If he were granted a wish to have any of the three questions answer - undoubtedly he would have picked the third. The mystery of how long would it take for the drink to arrive had perturbed him for much of his life - and it wasn’t getting resolved today.