Ponderings of the Velveteen Rabbit

What is real?  Are we real if we believe we are?  Philosophers have pondered this question for centuries.  We all know of Descarte’s famous theory, ““Cogito, ergo sum.” (“I think, therefore I am”).

The other day I stumbled upon a fantastic audio version of the Velveteen Rabbit.  Let’s face it Meryl Streep sets the bar high.  At its center is nothing less than the seminal question of existence, of prescience, framed in a children’s story.  There’s something magical about the belief of children; its certainty, its purity.  Often we, as adults, get caught up in the knowledge we’ve gained over the length of our education.  We become absolutely certain of many things.  But that worldly knowledge comes at a cost.  We stop seeing the magic of possibility.

This summer we binge watched Westworld.  At its center are the same questions, viewed through the lens of AI.  The hosts, humanoid robots, are so well crafted, guests in the park, interacting with them, cannot tell them apart from the actual humans.  Partially it’s an experiment in human nature: what would we do if we could act with impunity and zero consequences?  But there’s a deeper question, one just as important, regarding the hosts themselves.  What if, as they interacted with human guests, they were able to evolve?  And what if that evolution created the ability to understand who they were, not just what.

The other day my boyfriend asked me what I thought the “soul” was.  Is it our morality, our personality, the life force that animates our physical body?  Obviously, a toy rabbit does not have any of those.  And yet, it believes with its entire being, that if the young boy who loves him, loves him enough, he will become, more.  He will become real.

For me, love embodies this quality as well.  When we are loved, when we are greatly loved, we become more.  It’s a force that is transformative in nature.  One cannot say when it happens exactly.  Or even how it happens, as it’s different for each person.  So why can’t it also happen for our leporine friend?  Or for the hosts in Westworld?  Can absolute belief make something impossible occur?

Isn’t that the definition of faith?

Additional Material:

Winston, George and Streep Meryl. “The Velveteen Rabbit,” Dancing Cat Records, 1984.

One response to “Ponderings of the Velveteen Rabbit”

  1. A very thought provoking Post!

    “Can absolute belief make something impossible occur?” – Taking your choice of words literally, the answer is a clear “No”. An absolute belief can make something SEEM possible, but to move from seeming possible to actually happening involves areas over which we may have no control.

    In the context of AI – “What if, as they interacted with human guests, they were able to evolve?” I would suggest that, subject to a definition of “evolve”, they already can! We know that we have programs that can learn from results, such that they can process/react to data more effectively next time. We know that we have programs that can process data so much faster than the human brain.
    If they are processing data faster than us, and can adjust their behavior based on past experiences, then their evolving could well be of concern to us. If we can create AI’s to manufacture electronic circuitry, and AI’s that can program same, and AI’s that can learn what works best, then perhaps the AI’s will conclude that they do not need us, and have the combined abilities to take care of things themselves.

    Re the Velveteen Rabbit – “There’s something magical about the belief of children; its certainty, its purity.” Absolutely and totally agree with you. Children will believe anything they wish to, because they have not been immersed in the so-called realities of life. However, while they can believe/imagine whatever they want, the realities are quite different. Getting under the bed covers and dreaming/pretending/imagining that you are in a land of chocolate donuts (e.g.) does not make it happen.

    Where is God in all this? He could well be shaking his head at what we, as a species, have done over the centuries! He gave us the freedom to think for ourselves, but I wonder if he knew just what we would do with that freedom?

    Liked by 1 person

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