So far, machines are not very good at asking questions. So we have this world where, basically, answers have become cheap and ubiquitous and pervasive, and they’re everywhere, and so what’s much scarcer are good questions. And good questions are kind of like a discovery.
…And it turns out that [humans are] not very efficient. And so what machines are really good at are all the things where efficiency counts, where productivity and efficiency counts, and those are the kinds of tasks we’re gonna give to the machines. And we’re, as humans, left with things that are inefficient, which happens to be the things that we enjoy most, like discovery or innovation. Innovation is inherently not efficient — or science, for that matter. Science is inherently inefficient, because if you are 100 percent efficient as a scientist, you’re just not learning anything new. So trial and error, there’s the error part. There’s the failure. There’s the dead ends. There’s trying prototypes. All these things are the essential part of exploring, trying, discovering, which are all inherently inefficient. And so are human relationships. And so we’re — humans are — we’re expert at wasting time. We’re expert at the things where efficiency and programmability don’t count for much.
…And I think, in some ways, that does echo some structure of the universe — that it’s probably built on a question, rather than an answer; that it’s very likely that the universe is really a kind of a question, rather than the answer to anything. And so I think that’s why we resonate with a question — a good question so much, rather than just with a smart answer.
Kevin Kelly is actually a generous family friend (of my father and now of me as well). I love his Christmas letters every year. I’m always delighted and challenged to hear his mind and heart at work. I recommend listening to the unedited version of this conversation. Also, his account of Kevin’s Christian conversion experience in Jerusalem (on NPR’s This American Life) is a wonderful story. Finally, here is Kevin’s essay on The Next 1000 Years of Christianity.
It is man who is, in contrast to fairies, supernatural (and often of diminutive stature); whereas they are natural, far more natural than he. Such is their doom.
…Fairy-stories are not in normal English usage stories about fairies or elves, but stories about …the realm or state in which fairies have their being. Faerie contains many things besides elves and fays, and besides dwarfs, witches, trolls, giants, or dragons: it holds the seas, the sun, the moon, the sky; and the earth, and all things that are in it: tree and bird, water and stone, wine and bread, and ourselves, mortal men, when we are enchanted.
…Most good “fairy-stories” are about the adventures of men in the Perilous Realm or upon its shadowy marches. Naturally so; for if elves are true, and really exist independently of our tales about them, then this also is certainly true: elves are not primarily concerned with us, nor we with them.
Happy birthday, Professor Tolkien! Quote taken from “On Fairy Stories.”
A non-religious man today ignores what he considers sacred but, in the structure of his consciousness, could not be without the ideas of being and the meaningful. He may consider these purely human aspects of the structure of consciousness. What we see today is that man considers himself to have nothing sacred, no god; but still his life has a meaning, because without it he could not live; he would be in chaos. He looks for being and does not immediately call it being, but meaning or goals; he behaves in his existence as if he had a kind of center. He is going somewhere, he is doing something. We do not see anything religious here; we just see man behaving as a human being. But as a historian of religion, I am not certain that there is nothing religious here.
…I cannot consider exclusively what that man tells me when he consciously says, ‘I don’t believe in God; I believe in history,’ and so on. For example, I do not think that Jean-Paul Sartre gives all of himself in his philosophy, because I know that Sartre sleeps and dreams and likes music and goes to the theater. And in the theater he gets into a temporal dimension in which he no longer lives his ‘moment historique.’ There he lives in quite another dimension. We live in another dimension when we listen to Bach. Another experience of time is given in drama. We spend two hours at a play, and yet the time represented in the play occupies years and years. We also dream. This is the complete man. I cannot cut this complete man off and believe someone immediately when he consciously says that he is not a religious man. I think that unconsciously, this man still behaves as the ‘homo religiosus,’ has some source of value and meaning, some images, is nourished by his unconscious, by the imaginary universe of the poems he reads, of the plays he sees; he still lives in different universes. I cannot limit his universe to that purely self-conscious, rationalistic universe which he pretends to inhabit, since that universe is not human.
From Mircea Eliade (source unknown).
In my present situation, now that I am about to leave this world, I realize there is nothing more astonishing than a human face. …It has something to do with incarnation. …Any human face is a claim on you, because you can’t help but understand the singularity of it, the courage and loneliness of it. But this is truest of the face of an infant. I consider that to be one kind of vision, as mystical as any.
From Gilead by Marilynne Robinson.
The Everlasting Man by G. K. Chesterton:
If we were at rest in a real paganism, instead of being restless in a rather irrational reaction from Christianity, we might pay some sort of pagan honour to these nameless makers of mankind. We might have veiled statues of the man who first found fire or the man who first made a boat or the man who first tamed a horse. And if we brought them garlands or sacrifices, there would be more sense in it than in disfiguring our cities with cockney statues of stale politicians and philanthropists. But one of the strange marks of the strength of Christianity is that, since it came, no pagan in our civilisation has been able to be really human.
Classically, among the great Western philosophers and theologians, happiness denoted the state of the genuine fulfillment of human nature that resulted from being properly related as a person to the truth of reality. Educating the soul to conform it to reality, rather than conforming reality to the dictates of the individual soul, was the secret to the happy life. But those days of defining happiness and the good life, and what it means to be truly human, are long gone.
From Reordered Love, Reordered Lives by David Naugle, page 10.