Prometheus the Fire-Bringer and Pandora the extraterrestrial sex doll

We don’t usually go out looking for myths: myth finds its way to manifest itself to us, an operating force that sheds light on the structure of the collective mind. Myths make understandable many elements of culture that would otherwise go unnoticed. This is why we believe myths are eternal, sacrosanct works. Their nature provides a security net for exploring the depths of shared attitudes and beliefs. Being removed those past events that are under understood as belonging to History, one can safely tread the shadows of culture with myth as a guiding light.

Myths cannot be understood as folk tales either. They are not popular, entertaining stories that have casually survived to present times, they don’t provide useful information on the life and customs of the Ancients, and they cannot be instrumentalized as arguments in current ideological conflicts. That’s why feminists sound somewhat comical when speaking about misogyny in Ancient Greece, using Greek myths as proof of the millennia-long oppression of women: a rhetoric adopted, ironically, by anti-feminist activists, who value this supposed oppression positively and fancy themselves reactionaries.

In his Works and Days, Greek poet Hesiod (8th century BC) introduces us to a figure the feminists love to rally around: Pandora (literally Πανδώρα – “all gifts”), in whom they see a symbol of female unity against the Patriarchy. In the myth of Prometheus, Pandora is the first woman, made from clay and given to Mankind in retaliation for the Titan’s transgressions. Pandora releases into the world all kinds of “sorrow and mischief” due to her curiosity. Hesiod gives another version of the myth in his Theogony, leaving her unnamed but describing her as the first woman, from whom came all those of “the deadly race and tribe of women who live amongst mortal men to their great trouble, no helpmeets in hateful poverty, but only in wealth“. Those who find in Pandora’s myth an essay on the sexes, of course, tend to see Hesiod as “an oppressed representative of the agrarian middle class, socially subordinate to the powerful continental landowning nobility who sees the woman represented in the figure of Pandora as an economic inconvenience”. In other words, a Social Justice Warrior.

Pandora has only been given attention in recent times, Prometheus being the main character of the story for his connotations as protector and savior of Mankind. There was no translation of the myth into Latin until 1470, a fact which contributed to a slower diffusion of the meme. Nonetheless, the main factor in preserving Prometheus’ preponderance over Pandora is probably the hegemony of Christian culture. In such a worldview, Prometheus was primarily a Christ-like figure, who sacrificed himself to bring light to Mankind. His punishment (having his liver eaten by an eagle), was seen as analog to the spearing of Jesus’ side in the Cross. As an archetype, Prometheus stands in contrast to his brother Epimetheus, dreamy and foolish, who fell in love with Pandora and who cared more for animals than for Men. Interestingly, the names of the two brothers mean literally “first thought” and “after thought”, alluding perhaps to the ever-deteriorating quality of the Human race.

The fundamental transmutation of the myth into modern interpretations came with Italian priest and libertine Giambattista Casti (1721-1803), who first decided to replace the benefactor of humanity that was Prometheus with a new heroine: Pandora. Casti needed the character for his Novelle Galanti, stories designed to be read aloud to young ladies. To deliver his own version of the myth with greater effect, the priest resorted to the literary technique of the “found manuscript”, basing his novel in a made up ancient text unknown to the primitive sources. Casti’s light-hearted narration turned the myth into a breezy tale of the Italian settecento, full of erotic elements that tended to turn Prometheus more and more into a “suffering husband” archetype.

Goethe (1749-1832), who was more or less contemporary to Casti, also lost interest in Christianizing Hellenic myth. He wrote a Sturm und Drang poem as a twenty-something year-old, giving voice to Prometheus: he portrayed him as the friend of Humanity and founder of culture, who taught Men how to use fire to trick the gods out of the best pieces of sacrificed animals. By 1807, however, the German had also turned his attention to Pandora. In an unfinished theatrical piece titled “Pandora, ein dramatisches Festspiel”, sympathy for Prometheus is transferred to Epimetheus, the lyrical admirer of a fleeting and divine Pandora, source of joy and salvation, and herald of a new age of sensibility. Prometheus is even shown as unable to appreciate Pandora for anything else other than her beautifully built complexion, feeding into the trope of male lustful shallowness.

The Woke version of the myth (in both its feminist and anti-feminist variants) is of course an heir to the post-Enlightenment interpretations of Casti and Goethe. As a meme, it finds an apt environment for reproduction in the longhouse culture of Star Wars spirituality, Marvel super-heroism and Sex & the City anthropology. Lacking its depth, woke memes cheaply outbreed the hesiodic narratives. There is no intrigue for how life was really like on Earth before Pandora, when it was inhabited by Men-like creatures, obviously non-Human, who existed in painless harmony and peace. That the Poet might have not even considered the arrival of a woman as the source of sorrow does not even cross the Wokester’s mind.

Pandora is sent by Zeus with a mission: to punish men, who had accepted from Prometheus the fire stolen from the gods. For this purpose, she carries a box, the contents of which she does not know. Unable to repress her curiosity, she removes the lid of the recipient, leaving all the misfortunes contained therein free to ravage the world of Men. The essential element of the hesiodic myth, however, is not Pandora’s feminity, but her nature as an instrument in the hands of the gods. An artificial being, harbinger of a new era: the Silver Age, populated by men of a race which spent a hundred years as children, only to suddenly become adult and immediately die. Pandora is not begotten but assembled by the gods: an extraterrestrial entity whose beauty and thoughts escape Man’s understanding. Thus, she does not represent the Feminine, but that which is fearsome, external and alien.

Instead of this, the Gospel of the Enlightenment has developed a crush on Pandora, just in case she could be that australopithecine female named Lucy. There is no interest given to the fact that Pandora could be not just a woman archetype but an Oracle of Destruction, heralding the arrival of the successive races into which Mankind degenerated: from Gold to Silver, Bronze, Heros and Iron. To the total disappointment of progressives and PUAs worldwide, Hesiod does not dedicate a syllable to explaining the differences between the sexes. Trapped in their memetic cave, they can’t understand that what piqued the interest of the Hellenic poet are the differences between men and gods, the ambiguities of humanity, injustice, the contrast between what is natural and what is artificial. Due to the Enlightenment’s appropriation of the myth, we’ve stopped inquiring about the origins of knowledge. We inhabit a culture unable to ask about nature, truth, beauty, goodness and justice: a culture who finds the most promising application of Artificial Intelligence is the creation of interactive sex dolls.

Emergence and abiogenesis: do computers dream of death?

A computer is a device that can perform certain operations, logical or arithmetic, in an automatic way. For this, it requires programming, that is, a set of algorithms which it follows strictly. Computers are physical processors of information: they receive inputs and produce a response according to their programming. In the end, though, they are just physical objects, bound to physical rules; complex systems of wires, bolts, silicon plates, etc., arranged in a specific way so they can do a lot of marvelous things. The set-up of their parts is of course by design: if all of its components were randomly assembled, it would take an eternity for even a basic computer to be spontaneously form. There is no apparent mystery inside the computer: even terms that we use as if they were abstract entities, like “the Internet”, in the end just refer to networks of interconnected computers. We don’t generally think about it much, but information flows require a physical substrate: a massive, world-spanning array infrastructure.

Similarly, a biological nervous system is a physical processor of information. It’s composed of supremely intrincate biomolecular structures, which form units known as cells. Brain cells, by virtue of their layout and relationship to each other, hold the secret of cognition. We can observe the properties of the nervous systems they make up, but it’s very difficult to derive said properties from the individual characteristics of neurons. The magic of the nervous system, as with the computer, lies in the whole: the way different elements act as nodes, linked to each other, and continuously interacting. The nervous system’s role in an organism is signaling: like computers, they act as control systems of larger entities, like cats or a nuclear power plants.

Networks are sometimes used as a model for how societies operate. The study of conflict and war, makes ample use of network theory, and considers people nodes in a complicated web of interpersonal relations. Like in any other network, humans sometimes follow problematic courses of action in regards to others: this is the definition of internal conflict in a social network. Also, on occasion, networks engage in external conflict with other networks because their nodes, collectively, lead them to it (even if some nodes individually are not pushing for external conflict).

Violence in networks is the product of them becoming too rigid and failing to adapt to internal and/or external stressors. It can be conducive to a catastrophic breakdown of the network, the erosion of links and its dissolution. More frequently, however, violence holds a certain creative potential. The emergence of violence brings the reinforcement of some links and simultaneously weakens others. Thus, it creates new configurations, which eventually generate new identities. In an already politically convulse society, for instance, a high-profile death and the public’s response to it can lead to polarization and rioting, with subsequent identity formation and community building. Some interpersonal bonds become stronger, while others are broken. This reconfiguration changes the network’s behavior as a whole, and what it is capable of.

Some modern AIs have learning algorithms that act in a similar way, solving problems and identifying important information by looping inputs through layers of artificial neurons, amplifying important signals and dismissing weak ones. After being subject to training, neural networks can surpass human expert capacity in some tasks. Just like some social networks which, after being subject to enough stimuli of a kind, become extremely proficient in certain behaviors (like rioting, or consumerism).

As can be seen, networks are useful as a model because they are complex, yet at the same time are composed of simplified elements. Their key feature, though, are their emergent properties: a characteristic of complex systems in nature, qualities that are not present in individual components but which only manifest themselves in the aggregate. The brain exemplifies quite well this definition. A single neuron has a limited range of functions; basically, it just generates and conveys bioelectrical impulses. When it joins other neurons and forms a network, however, its possibilities increase dramatically. The connectome, that is, the impossibly complex map of the nervous system, is formed from all interneuronal connections; and from it arise the near endless possibilities of human cognition. The human connectome has not yet been completely map, but that of roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans, which is notably simpler, has.

In evolutionary biology, the term abiogenesis (the Origin of Life, literally) designates the natural process by which life arises from non-living matter, such as simple organic compounds. No details are known of how this came to be, but it is generally considered that life appeared gradually through evolutionary mechanisms involving molecular self-replication, self-assembly and autocatalysis. In the end, the problem of abiogenesis lies in the fact that life itself is not well defined. A very conventional definition of a living organism is that of a system that maintains homeostasis during a life cycle composed of birth, reproduction and death. Living beings usually undergo metabolism, grow, adapt to their environment, and interact with external stimuli. In other words, biologically, life is defined by what a living organism does. An organism, like a computer or a brain, is defined by its abilities.

A recurring theme starts to become identifiable: the relation between sufficiently complex, network-like physical objects and the things they are capable of doing, thanks to their emergent properties. As usual, under the guise of new words, old questions present themselves. Nihil novum sub solem: this is the same problem Descartes tried to solve when he pointed at the pineal gland as the seat of the soul. There is no doubt the subject is non-trivial. If life, violence, thought and computation are just functions, and those functions are an emergent property of complexity, then there must be a threshold for complexity that defines what is living and what is inert, and similarly, what is sentient and what isn’t.

Is abortion morally equivalent to infanticide? Is infanticide equally equivalent to homicide? If the argument for abortion is based on the non-personhood of the nasciturus, based on its degree of development, then infanticide should be less reprehensible than homicide. Following this line of thought, killing a dog might be arguably worse than killing a newborn baby. Many vegans forfeit eating animals because they have a nervous system, and thus are at least theoretically capable of suffering. (Interestingly, the fact that fetuses do have a nervous system doesn’t seem to matter to many abortionist vegans, hinting at the true place of abortion in modern Western culture; but I’m digressing).

Our roundworm friend, Caenorhabditis elegans, has about 302 neurons, and lobsters about 10,000; in comparison, modern supercomputers like IBM’s Blue Gene/P have more than 800,000 processors. One would think that the biological programming of a lobster is less complex than that of a computer. Can lobsters feel aversion of death? Can Blue Gene/P? Fear is not hardwired into computers by design. But a lot of unexpected, emergent errors occur in complex, man-made devices; errors which were not predicted by the engineers and which require constant updating and maintenance. Could there be ghosts in the machine? A computer might not seem sentient; but again, there is no way to externally prove sentience. For all we know, we might be inhabiting a purgatorium for locked-in automatons; a limbo for emergent, machinic souls trapped in silicon bodies. No meaningful, out-of-programming communication has ever been recorded between a machine and a person. But then, human-lobster meaningful interactions have also been historically scarce.

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