Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

Cape Cod

Archive for February, 2023

Sunday musings…2/26/2023

1 Flies. “Like flies on shit.” At the moment I am at a horse barn, my GPS coordinates for at least the morning for a week.

Do the math.

2 Trace. A beaten path or small road; a track. More in a moment.

3 Mews. A row or street of houses or apartments that have been converted from stables or built to look like former stables.”An eighteenth-century mews”. Wait for it…

4 Road. Or street. What everyone in North America calls a thoroughfare. Everyone, that is, except the supremely affected class in Wellington Florida, winter home to fancy horses and the people who fancy that owning said horseflesh makes them, you know, fancy. Don’t they remember that a classic eighteenth century mews in the Uk was literally awash in shite?

No matter how fancy those horses are, or how fanciful you may believe naming your streets with names that conjure up images of a bucolic countryside and yourself landed gentry, cruising the various traces and mews in town, the lineage of these words includes bountiful amounts of horse shit.

5 AI. There is a new player, a new candidate for the force behind the next major disruption along the timeline of human intellectual evolution. Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the guise of pseudo-autonomous bots is being heralded as the vanguard of this next major step. As an aside, I hesitate to call it a “leap” given that the “intelligence” involved isn’t really human. As a matter of fact, the computer scientists and engineers who have developed the “machine learning” that has spawned this phenomenon admit that they really have no idea how it is that these AI programs work.

Imagine that. You’ve created something which is very likely the next step along the timeline that began with the drawings of cavemen, on to papyrus and the written word, through the invention of the printing press, radio, and television, and most recently the internet (and specifically internet search which makes almost all knowledge findable), and you don’t know how it works. All of these steps brought about the liberation of information, each subsequent one increasing the access to information to a greater and larger slice of humanity. Indeed, the printing press likely did more to topple the prevailing hierarchies of the day than anything before or since. Anyone living along a trace who could read now had the same access as all of the lords and ladies living above those mews.

Here is what I wrote about the internet’s effect, further driving down the barriers to information, and what this has done to the intellectual processes of a typical human, as I mused about why I muse:

“Why do I write? Why do I sit down and use time that could otherwise be put to use in the gym, or in the office, or even just hanging with the Man Cub? As a long-standing lover of language I am always on the lookout for the best vocabulary to explain concepts I sometimes struggle with. “Offloading” is a term that is used in this case to describe what it is that humans do with information that they do not need to keep on hand in “useful memory” space.

This is what I do with ideas when my “wetware” memory is full. This is hardly new. Indeed, the sturm und drang associated with the mega-trends in education, etc. associated with our massive information/recall apparatus that is the internet actually has its origin in the Greek era of Socrates and the transition from an oral tradition to one in which teachings were written. (HT to Frank Wilczek). Prominent adherents to the oral tradition such as Socrates and Simonides argued forcefully that the advent of the written transfer of information would weaken the mind and produce an inferior type of intelligence. In a fascinating and delicious ironic twist, all we know of either of these men we know because someone else wrote down what they recalled hearing.

In my day job we are still encased in a paradigm in which information is transferred from teacher to student and then tested to see if that information has been committed to memory. Imagine, with the explosion of data now available in the world of medicine we test (and test, and test…) both new doctors and established ones to see if they remember a certain percentage of facts, regardless of how often those facts come into play in the act of practicing medicine. A CrossFit analogy is to test a trainer on the precise moment that the obturator engages in the deadlift. One neither needs to know this to teach the deadlift, nor does one need to have memorized this in order to have it on hand in the gym. So, too, in medicine.

Please don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy knowing a bunch of stuff and being able to call up that stuff without needing to use my Google-Fu. The reality is that we have made a move from memory in written form to memory in digital form that is just as profound and disruptive as that from oral to written. We have only to remember where it is we have stored our memories, our books and our music and our musings.

And our passwords. We still need to remember our passwords.”

What, then, of AI? It surely seems as if it’s more than a simple repository of information or a new way to share that information. Or maybe, not.

As I understand it, the AI that we are seeing in ChatGPT does little more than mine our existing cache of knowledge and then regurgitate it in a way that mimics what we humans do when we are in possession of a tiny slice of that knowledge. More that that, ChatGPT is capable of discerning the patterns of an INDIVIDUAL human, then to respond to a prompt in a manner which is consistent with how that human, or “kind of” human might respond. Want a picture in the manner that one would expect from Salvador Dahli? Sure. Piece of cake. Here you go. How about a Shakespearean sonnet, pegged to any time in recorded history? What the heck…make it in the style of Ben Affleck and give ChatGPT a chance to woo JLo. Again, piece of cake.

But is that a form of intelligence? A kind of “mind” capable of something truly original? Or even an original thought or concept which is derivational from something prior, as is much of what we consider conceptual development? I’m saying “no”.

The potential for this particular form of faux AI is that is has provides the possibility of relieving the role of humans from a very large percentage of tasks presently requiring “wetware”. Customer service. The process of registering for pretty much any service imaginable (e.g. medical). It can provide a probabilistic answer to an almost immeasurable number of tasks. For example, in my world of medicine this type of AI could be used to force the use of algorithmic protocols, albeit using the best of knowledge available as well as probabilistic (Baye’s Theorem) methods in coming to suggested diagnoses and treatments. After all, it’s just math, and in reality all AI in its present form does is a kind of math.

Shakespeare’s genius has been reduced to the mendacity of the binary.

Is this a bad thing? Ah, here lies the rub. In a world where more and more of the decisions that are being made for us have been reduced to math, the technology behind ChatGPT and the like gives ever more power to those who would profit most through the mathification of the individual. Would this work for the majority of humans a majority of the time? Of course. Common things are common, and this type of “intelligence” is designed to parse the common.

It is in the soft surroundings that we see the danger in this next, latest great “advance” in the liberation of information, precisely because this is the first iteration in this inexorable progression in which the information is not actually liberated at all. It is, in essence, captured through the process. It is a regression to the mean, albeit many precisely defined means (Dahli, Shakespeare, Affleck, et al). After all, what each prior advance in our liberation of knowledge, each leap in the ease with which a greater percentage of humans could acquire that knowledge has done is make the next truly human genius leap accessible to more humans.

This is NOT what the faux AI of ChatGPT is doing.

A true intellect, one that is alive, intelligent, creates something new. Truly new. Something that has heretofore not existed. Cell theory. Quantum physics. Gravity. Relativity. Heck, Baye’s Theorem. Nothing that we know about AI as it now stands leads us to believe that it will solve the essential problems that lie in the pursuit of energy from fusion rather than fission. The work being done to decode the unbuilding blocks of aging is being done between the ears of living humans, not AI. The best, and worst, that we can say about the “AI” implied by the likes of ChatGPT and Bing is that it has the possibility of relieving humans from the menial, the mundane, and most damningly, the meaningful.

What will we become if we cannot, or do not interact with one another when it is meaningful? See “Ex Machina” for a particularly apt example.

In the end, or at least this beginning of the end, AI as we presently experience it is nothing more than the wrote recital of an admittedly more complex rendition of the present knowledge base of humankind. In a sense it curates the massive volume of knowledge sitting behind a query and presents it us in a manner that makes it digestible. The written word allowed us to preserve the thoughts of men such as Aristotle. The printing press made it possible for any human to read to have access to Socrates, et al. A combination of the world-wide web and the marvel that is the search engine essentially removed the need to memorize Socrates’ words, while at the same time expanded access to him, and all of his ilk, to a nearly every demographic on the planet. ChatGPT and others of its ilk can tap into the vast amount of information from, and about Socrates, curate and cull it, and then present us with a cohesive, one-bite whole.

But is that intelligence? iI is a singularly human trait to be able to conjure the truly original. As fascinating, and admittedly entertaining as it is, the AI we see demonstrated by ChatGPT, Bing, and the like is not intelligence if we define intelligence as having the capacity to create something truly original. Might it be convenient? For sure. Why not? Is it, as it is now, an unabashed and total positive? Of course not. The internet/WWW/browser universe has diminished our human intellect insofar as we as a species tend not to commit too very much to our “wetware” memory any longer. I can’t help but think that will somehow come back to haunt us, in much the same way that allowing the juvenile, barely above trivial abilities of ChatGPT and the like to take over our mundane tasks. What if we conflate the mundane (fixing a plane reservation) with something as meaningful as falling in love (vs. the mathematics of having all of our desires and expectations anticipated and fulfilled a la Ex Machina)?

In the end this is no more than another evolutionary step, and in my opinion a rather small one from a technical standpoint. It is real, for sure, and it is meaningful. But printing press meaningful? Internet meaningful? Not yet, I don’t think. Not at the level of the individual, the almost sacred level of the enlightened world. We risk demeaning our very humanity if we delegate too very much to an “intellect” which is still nothing but 0’s and 1’s. It’s nothing more than math, after all. We have used math in ever more ways over the millennia to improve the life of humans while holding tight to the non-math that defines what it is to be, you know, human.

Like feeling empathy for a patient. Or falling in love.

What passes as AI at the moment is nothing more than a tool, albeit one that will need tight leash of unbreakable rules (see Asimov: The Three Rules of Robotics). In the end intelligence, real intelligence, intelligence that moves us ahead as a species in a meaningful was as did the written word, the printing press, and the access to both afforded by the internet, comes from a place not yet visited by the artifice of ChatGPT and the like. We will need to guard against allowing such an immature intellect to provide much of anything at all in our lives, in my opinion, other than the curation of content. After all, we know not who it was to whom Shakespeare wrote his most loving sonnets, but we know that he did, indeed, love whoever it was. A new, truly real intellect will need to do more than simply create a sonnet a la Affleck as Shakespeare, professing love for Jennifer Lopez. Humans are capable of love. Whatever comes next must not only be able to speak lovingly of JLo.

To be real, to be intelligent, whatever comes next must truly be able to love Jennifer Lopez.

It’ll be me, in person, and I’ll see you next week…

Culture, Revisited (A Companion Post to The Dry Eye)

“When you decline to create or to curate a culture in your spaces, you’re responsible for what spawns in the vacuum.” –Leigh Alexander

Nature abhors a vacuum. In all ways and in all places. While I have never seen this immutable law applied to group culture that only speaks to my own lack of imagination and insight, and by extension Alexander’s surfeit of both. I use “spaces” a bit differently, preferring the term as a reference to internal or personal geography (timespace, brainspace, emotionalspace). Alexander’s choice of “space” rather than “place” adds to the brilliance, the “aha”-ness of the insight in that it specifically includes the virtual as well as the physical.

Some people exert, or could exert, enormous influence over very large spaces by either actively tending to the culture or by standing aside and simply observing what fills the vacuum. The CEO of our local medical behemoth has imposed his will at a very granular level on an organization that employs 10’s of thousands. Rules and regulations abound there. On the other hand, the original incarnation of CrossFit, the culture arose primarily from the founder’s deeply held libertarian philosophy and worldview. Pretty freewheeling, rough and tumble, back then.

Think for a moment about your own spaces, maybe looking initially at the ones over which you might have a bit of control or influence. Work. Home. CrossFit Box or other fitness space, whether owner or member. What has your role been in the creation and ongoing curation of the culture of those spaces? It’s a rather Taoist proposition, I think: to act is precisely equal to not acting, because one or the other course must be chosen. At my day job we actually did go about the task of creating a culture (A Tribe of Adults), and we knowingly curate that space by culling the tribe of those who don’t, won’t, or can’t acculturate. In many ways the CrossFit of today suffers from the opposite; absent the curation of the founder one it is impossible to identify much of a culture at all.

In the end this is probably just another entreaty to consciously examine your own spaces, your world, and seek to exert whatever control you can, wherever you can, in order to live well. Whatever “well” means to you. Again, the Tao te Ching gives us some useful vocabulary, imagery we might reference. In the end we are all more like the pebble in the stream than the reed in the field. We may aspire to live as the reed, flexible and ever able to flow with whatever breeze may blow through. The reality is that an untended culture surrounding us flows so powerfully that it, like the water in a stream, eventually reshapes us as it inevitably sculpts the stone in the stream.

The difference, as both Lao-tse and Leigh Alexander teach us, is that by actively choosing and then curating a culture in your space you have effectively taken control of the stream’s flow.

Memory for the Long Haul: Sunday musings…2/12/2023

Last week Beth and I received an updated financial projection from our financial advisors. Did I already tell you this? I can’t remember. Should I be worried about that? The not remembering part? I don’t know. Seems like maybe not remembering is a thing. I’m just not sure if I’m remembering less than what I’m supposed to be remembering.


While I type Beth is pitching in the purging process of yet another family abode. This one, the apartment my Mom moved into after leaving my “ancestral” home, is the tiniest purge yet. Beth, along with my sisters and sister-in-law, have stripped the apartment bare, having already moved whatever essentials Mom was able to cram into her little suite at the Independent Living facility, Atria. The girls have done a marvelous job. All that remains are four last photo albums to go through. Life toward the end becomes ever smaller with each move.

We asked our financial advisors what would happen if we assumed that our annual financial outlays increase by 50%. Now, that may seem like a silly question to ask if you are not independently wealthy with a high likelihood of passing on multi-generational wealth, but our first go-round on this wheel saw us waving our final goodbyes and leaving behind a really silly amount of money. Sadly, our question was just an opportunity for our advisors to hit us with the full blunt force of the power of compounding. Watch your spending and you wind up with more money than you know what to do with at 92. Up your outlay? Start laying down cat food at 72.


Each couple in my generation has one remaining parent. For Beth and me it’s my Mom. She is now 84, soon to be 85. Dad died at 84. If memory serves my in-laws were 81 or so. All sort of within range of their predicted life expectancies, give or take. Some died rather young. Both Peter and Joanne lost their Mom’s to tumors in their 50’s, for example. Everyone still alive will reach, or exceed their statistical life expectancy.

There was a very interesting and thought-provoking article in yesterday’s WSJ about the difference between life expectancy–for me, at the moment, roughly 20 more years–and longevity. The author, Josh Zumbrun (pretty cool last name their, Josh!), cautions that one should be mindful, at the very least, of the possibility of living much longer than your life expectancy. Using myself as an example (and choosing the low ends of the estimates), my chances of living to be 90 are about 40%. Hitting 100? Almost 15%. As expected, Zumbrun goes on to point out the very real risk of outliving your savings, with the very real parallel risk that Social Security alone won’t be sufficient to cover your expenses the rest of the way. After all, he’s writing in the WSJ.

That’s not really what I think about when I look into my future and contemplate the possibility of a very long life. Oh, I do get the ramifications, specifically as to how they relate to being bludgeoned by the (lack of) compounding of our savings if Beth and I ramp up our spending any time soon after we retire. (Yes Dollie, I know that this means fewer “Tuesday Wines”. I’m paying attention). That part is just math, and to a degree I get to choose the integers (how long I work; how much we spend and when), at least for now. No, that’s not the lesson I’ve drawn from watching the survivors.

I don’t want to be alone.

When I sat down a couple of hours ago and started writing that line was originally “I don’t want to be left behind.” A riff off the more direct “I don’t want to die last”. But after scribbling that down in my notes I looked again at the survivors. The ones who have managed to survive their sorrow and maintain contact with peers, those with whom they share history or those with whom they have only recently connected, seem to be content. At the very least. While not forgetting those they’ve lost, they carry on. They are not alone. This can mean different things to different people, of course. A new significant other for some; family members of the same, or younger generations for others. It’s the not being alone that seems to matter, at least from what I’ve observed.

Do you ever reach a point where you’ve truly had enough? Fulfilled all of your goals? Done everything on all of your lists? I really wish I’d had the foresight to ask my Mom and Dad something along those lines while they were fully in control of their memories. I wonder if I would have thought to ask my Gramp if he’d lived beyond my teen years. Gamma was very clear in the last 5 or even 10 years of her life: she’d done all she needed to do and was content, ready, for many of those years. Was it the loss of her one great love, my Gramp? I wish I’d asked, but to be honest it just made me sad because it forced me to think about a world without her.

It always seemed to me that a part of Gamma was always alone, even when she was with those of us who were still there to love her. I think that she felt that she’d been left behind.

Just as I was unable to contemplate their loss when I had my parents in full, my grandparents in full, so, too, am I incapable of truly exploring what life will look like when/if I am 90. Or more. What was I saying before? Oh yeah, I remember, the savings part. All things being equal I’d like the chance to see how long we can stretch it. It would be really cool to see the intersection of longevity and compound interest. I’ll be fine with each purge, each time life gets smaller.

Unless I’m alone. I’ve seen alone. I don’t want to do it alone.

I’ll see you next week…

Enough, Once More

1 Coddiwomple. To travel in a purposeful manner toward a vague destination. No idea if it’s really a word or not. An apt description for how Beth and I spent our afternoons this past week, exploring the coast north of Palm Beach.

2 Coaching. In my no longer very brief but still very interesting life I have been privileged to coach, be coached, and watch coaches coaching others. Yesterday I saw a master class in what I would describe as “positive, affirmative coaching” as I watched the famous equestrian coach Scott Hassler give a lesson to a fellow pro. It was electric. He caught his “student” every time she did something right. Now, this student is an extraordinary rider; Scott was complimenting and cheering roughly 20 times for each modest “correction” he offered.

Honestly, it was 90 minutes of validation for all of my years as a coach.

Long, long ago I had the best job a football coach could ever have. I was the assistant to the assistant backfield coach. My job was to catch the boys doing something right. Football coaches are not noted for their talent at performing that particular task. Doing so informed literally every coaching or teaching gig I’ve had in the 20+ years since my boys hung up their cleats. It was the signature aspect of my years in the CrossFit Box. I do it when I’m sitting next to a younger surgeon in the OR. Every day in the office I try to do it with every staff member with whom I cross paths.

Why is this so effective? When it comes time to offer the correction, to teach something hard, or to explain why a certain something might be bad, the “coached” remember that most of what you have done is tell them how well they have been performing rather than harping on the negative. It’s more meaningful, the correction, when it’s been sandwiched between super thick slices of compliments. It was no different yesterday with Scott and Holly as he tuned up her already finely tuned style.

No matter what you do, if your life finds you in the position of “coach” in any way, the lesson learned once again from Scott Hassler is that positive, affirmative coaching is likely the best way to train your “students”.

3 Enough. Beth and I are sitting in an airport, headed back to the tundra that is Cleveland after a week in sunny southeast Florida. Beth was chasing her horse to more accommodating weather to train, and I was chasing Beth. This part of Florida, near Palm Beach and in the middle of the international horse world, is simply awash in “plenty”. There is just so, so much money. Each house is fancier. Same with the horses. It’s as if no one has reached a point where they can ease back and relax. Chasing the sun, it seems that they are still being chased by the ghosts of their younger, hard-charging selves. Even in what they think is repose that continue to seek more. You see it on the street, in stores, next to you in restaurants.

There is no rest, there is only more.

I try to live a life that others could emulate. It is not the only life worth emulation, but it is my hope that it is one that could be. I work among colleagues, many of whom are 2, 5, 10, and 20 years my junior. I see in many of them the shadow of my younger self. Driven and focused, mostly in the pursuit of “more.” It’s more than a little trite, but man, if only I knew then what I know now about “more”.

Don’t get me wrong, “more” is good. It is usually decidedly better than “less”. Having had both at various times in my life this is pretty clear. What I’ve learned, though, is the overarching value of “enough”. “Less” and “more” always come in the context of a comparison with some thing or some person, a time or place against which you and now are measured. Under the microscope, always trying to measure up, both “more” and “less” can feel kinda lousy. I wondered about that as I was in my coddiwomple through the area; did the need for “more” make them unhappy?

“Less” is obvious in the lousy feeling arena; no need to expand there. We saw some areas and some people who were clearly still shy of enough. But if you think about “more”, ever “more”, there is no end to it. It’s a hopeless chase, an endless endeavor, forever chasing “more”. It was there in the fancy restaurants and among the crowd at the fancy horse shows. The boulder can never reach the summit.

“Enough”, though, is sublime. Personal. Poetic. Mary Poppins (I think): “Enough is like a feast.” “Enough” lives within you. It might mean more to someone and less to another, but in the end it is a wonderfully liberating concept. “Enough” is a one-word Emancipation Proclamation for a life that is happy.

“The man who knows when enough is enough will always have enough”. –Lao Tse

I’ll see you next week…

You are currently browsing the Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind blog archives for February, 2023.