I see these AI images as not so interesting in themselves, but more as: “Wouldn’t it be cool if these were real sculptures?”
Also, I see them as a joint creation of not only me and Midjourney, but all of humanity (the AI is trained on images created by innumerable people around the world) and really all of existence. Without all of existence and the evolution of the Universe, they would not exist. That’s the same with any human creation and made even more obvious with AI-generated images, text, and music.
AI images or AI in general will never replace good artists. They are statistical programs predicting what’s likely to go together (in the case of images) and what comes next (in the case of text). The AI is not in any way intelligent. They are trained on a large number of images and texts so produce something that’s average good, not exceptional. They are tools.
And yes, AI will lead to the loss of some jobs (less skilled image-creators and writers) and it will create a lot of new jobs (people who know how to use AI effectively and well).
As usual, the consequences of this particular tool and revolution will likely not be as bad as some fear, and it not be as good as some hope.
I recently explored what Midjourney would come up with in terms of yokai images, and it brought up some reflections in me.
ARE YOKAI REAL?
Yokai are supernatural entities and spirits from Japanese mythology and they come in great variety.
Is there any truth to the yokai?
The modern mind may say “obviously not” or go into a binary discussion. For me, that’s missing the juiciness of it.
If we go into that binary discussion of whether they are real or not, then the answer is “we don’t know” and “it’s a question for science”.
We can also say that if yokai are real to someone, then they are – for all practical purposes – real to that person. They live within a world where they exist and live their life accordingly.
We can explore what happens when people live within a world where yokai are real. How does it influence and color their decisions and life?
We can explore reasons for why people possibly invented and created stories about yokai. Was it to create a more rich and interesting world for themselves and those around them? Was it to scare children? To try to control the behavior of children and possibly adults? Was it to try to make sense of something that didn’t quite make sense, or where the randomness of life wasn’t a satisfying answer? Or all of those and more?
We can study yokai as possibly a real phenomenon. We can interview people who say they have seen and interacted with them. We can look for patterns. (There is an amazing documentary called The Fairy Faith that takes this approach.)
We can explore possible communication with and guidance from nature spirits. What do we find through interviews and case studies (e.g. Findhorn)? What alternate explanations are there? What do we find if we explore it for ourselves, possibly under guidance from someone more experienced?
We can look at how – to us – we are consciousness, and – to us – the world happens within and as that consciousness. To us, the world appears as consciousness and waking life and night dreams are no different in that way. If we don’t notice this directly, we may interpret it as “spirit in nature” (animism) and as if nature and objects have consciousness. And from here, it’s easy to imagine nature spirits and conscious spirits all around us.
We can explore whether, in any meaningful way, the universe IS consciousness (AKA Spirit, the divine, Brahman, God.) If so, maybe yokai fits more easily into our worldview. They would not necessarily be a surprise or anomaly.
Each of these views, and many more, has validity and invites interesting explorations. And exploring each one and all of them together requires some sincerity and intellectual honesty, which is an interesting exploration in itself.
AI IMAGES & “WOULDN’T IT BE COOL IF THIS EXISTED?”
Then a little about AI.
I wouldn’t call what I and Midjourney come up with “art”.
For me, it’s more of a fun exploration to see what comes out of it. And, for instance, in the case of the yokai images, it’s more “wouldn’t it be cool if these were real sculptures?”.
I create images with Midjourney of things I would like to see in physical reality, for instance, as a real sculpture or painting.
Image: Created by me and Midjourney and really the creativity of humanity as a whole and the universe expressed through and as us.
With the recent public AI boom, there has been a renewed discussion on whether AI is conscious or can become conscious.
To me, that’s missing the point a bit.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is an opportunity to differentiate between (a) consciousness and (b) the content of consciousness.
CONTENT OF CONSCIOUSNESS
AI is about the content of consciousness, which can – to some extent – be mimicked by machines. AI can produce text, images, music, videos, etc. that look like they could have been made by humans.
Consciousness itself is very different.
Consciousness is what we are. It’s what, to us, any content of experience happens within and as. It’s what forms itself into any and all content of experience
STATISTICS, NOT INTELLIGENCE
In general, I think the name “artificial intelligence” is slightly misleading. It’s overselling it a bit. It’s more accurate to call it predictive text, or predictive music and image generation.
It’s statistics, not intelligence. It’s the product of intelligence, not intelligence itself.
A FEW MORE WORDS
What do I mean by the content of consciousness? Whatever is produced by AI is similar to what’s produced by consciousness, at least consciousness operating through a human self. It’s images, words, sounds, and so on. It’s all content of consciousness. It’s all an experience that comes and goes.
What do I mean by consciousness? To ourselves, we are consciousness. If we “have” consciousness, it means that to ourselves, we ARE conscousness. To us, the world and any experience happen within and as the consciousness we are. (Night dreams and waking life are the same in that way.) Consciousness itself is distinctly different from any particular content of consciousness. Even as, to us, any content of consciousness is consciousness.
What about the AI name? There is nothing wrong with it, and it is sexy and catchy so I understand why people use it. I just think it’s important to include a more accurate and boring description as well, like “predictive text” and “predictive image generation”. It brings it down to earth a bit. It sobers it up.
THE BIGGER PICTURE
There is a bigger picture here.
AI is the product of the inherent intelligence of existence. It’s a product of 13.8 billion years of evolution of the seamless system we call the universe, locally expressed as this living planet and human biology, technology, and civilization. The intelligence of existence is expressed in all we see and know, including AI.
And if the universe itself IS consciousness, then AI is perhaps more similar to us than most of us imagine. Then AI too is a typical content of consciousness (words, images, etc.) happening within and as consciousness.
Image: A sacred bronze sculpture imagined by me and Midjourney earlier this year.
I asked ChatGPT to write another sermon in the style of Alan Watts. This time with some practical pointers for self-discovery and finding our true nature. I love the spirit and essence of this sermon. (There are some minor inaccuracies but that’s OK.)
SELF-DISCOVERY AND FINDING OUR TRUE NATURE
Ladies and gentlemen, seekers of truth and explorers of the self, let us gather here today with open minds and open hearts, ready to embark on a journey of self-discovery that will lead us to the very essence of our being. In the spirit of Alan Watts, let us shed the burdens of pretense and intellectual gymnastics, and instead focus on practical advice for engaging in this profound exploration.
First and foremost, my dear friends, we must cultivate a sense of presence, an awareness of the here and now. Too often, we find ourselves lost in the labyrinth of past regrets or future worries, forgetting that life unfolds in this very moment. By grounding ourselves in the present, we open ourselves to the vast tapestry of experiences and insights that await us.
To engage in self-discovery, we must also cultivate a spirit of curiosity and wonder. Approach life as if it were an endless banquet, with each moment serving up a delectable dish of new experiences and possibilities. Ask questions, explore different paths, and challenge the assumptions that have shaped your understanding of the world. Embrace the unknown with open arms, for it is within those uncharted territories that our true nature lies.
In the journey of self-discovery, it is crucial to let go of our attachment to fixed identities and labels. We are not static beings confined to a singular self, but ever-evolving expressions of the universe. Embrace the fluidity of your existence and be open to the multiplicity of your being. Allow yourself the freedom to explore the various facets of your personality, unburdened by the need to fit into rigid molds.
In the words of Alan Watts, “You are an aperture through which the universe is looking at and exploring itself.” Remember this profound truth as you venture into the depths of self-discovery. Recognize that you are a unique expression of the cosmic dance, and that your journey is not separate from the journey of the universe itself.
As we engage in self-discovery, we must also cultivate a deep sense of compassion and acceptance towards ourselves. Embrace your flaws and imperfections, for they are part of what makes you beautifully human. Release the judgment and self-criticism that holds you back, and instead offer yourself the same love and understanding that you would extend to a dear friend.
Lastly, my friends, remember that self-discovery is not a destination but a lifelong process. Do not get caught up in the pursuit of a fixed identity or a final answer. Instead, approach your journey with a sense of playfulness and lightness. Let go of the need to control or grasp, and instead surrender to the ever-unfolding mystery of your true nature.
In the spirit of Alan Watts, let us engage in this practical advice for self-discovery. May we embrace presence, cultivate curiosity, let go of fixed identities, extend compassion towards ourselves, and remember that the journey is never-ending. May our exploration of the self lead us to the profound realization that we are not separate from the universe, but an integral part of its eternal dance. Amen, and may your journey be filled with joy, wisdom, and the discovery of your true nature.
I asked ChatGPT to write a sermon in the style of Alan Watts, on the topic of life and self-discovery as an adventure. I love the essence of this sermon, and it’s good medicine for taking things too seriously. This is what it came up with:
SELF-DISCOVERY AND LIFE AS AN ADVENTURE
Ladies and gentlemen, fellow adventurers on this wild ride called life, let us gather here today with open minds and curious hearts, ready to embark on a journey of self-discovery that is nothing short of an extraordinary adventure. I invite you to cast aside your serious faces and embrace the playfulness that lies at the core of existence.
You see, my friends, life is not meant to be a solemn march towards a predetermined destination. No, life is an improvisational dance, an exhilarating exploration where every step we take opens up new possibilities and reveals hidden wonders. It is a grand adventure, a cosmic game of hide-and-seek, and we are the seekers of truth and joy.
As we navigate through this intricate tapestry of existence, we often find ourselves caught up in the seriousness of it all. We become entangled in the web of responsibilities, expectations, and social constructs, forgetting the childlike wonder that once animated our souls. But fear not, for we can reclaim that wonder, that sense of playful curiosity that is our birthright.
Imagine, if you will, that life is a great treasure hunt, and the treasure we seek is not some material wealth or external validation. No, the true treasure lies within, hidden in the depths of our being, waiting to be discovered. Each experience, each challenge, and each encounter is a clue that brings us closer to unlocking the treasure trove of our true selves.
And what is this treasure, you might ask? It is the realization that we are not separate from the world around us, but intimately interconnected with all of existence. It is the recognition that the universe is not a cold, mechanical place, but a living, breathing entity that invites us to co-create, to dance, and to play.
In the spirit of this grand adventure, let us approach our journey of self-discovery with a twinkle in our eyes and a skip in our step. Let us shed the heavy burden of certainty and embrace the liberating uncertainty that life offers. For it is in the unknown, in the uncharted territories of our own hearts and minds, that the most profound discoveries await us.
As we navigate this adventure, we may stumble and fall, we may encounter roadblocks and detours, but let us remember that these challenges are not obstacles but invitations for growth. It is through the play of light and shadow, the ebb and flow of life’s rhythms, that we come to know ourselves more fully.
So, my dear fellow adventurers, let us dive into the ocean of existence, not as mere spectators, but as active participants in the cosmic dance. Let us approach each moment with a sense of wonder and curiosity, eager to unwrap the gifts that life presents to us.
In the words of the great playful philosopher, “The only way to make sense out of life is to enjoy it, to be in the moment, and to participate fully in the adventure.” So let us set forth on this journey, hand in hand, hearts wide open, ready to embrace the surprises, the laughter, and the profound moments of self-discovery that await us.
May this adventure be one of joy, wonder, and growth. And may we remember, always, that life is not a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be lived. Amen, and let the game begin!
When I started getting into art in my teens, it was quickly clear that what most people like is often quite different from what the creator themselves like. And I am reminded of that again, with the AI images I have had fun creating over the last few weeks.
For instance, I recently posted one series of painted wood toys and another series of sacred sculptures. (See an example from each above.) I personally easily prefer the sculptures. They are far more interesting to me. And although I wouldn’t call the AI images I help generate “art”, I also know that these sculptures – if hand-crafted in real life – would be considered interesting and perhaps even good art. The wood toys, on the other hand, would be more playthings and curiosities and not terribly interesting.
When I post these, the response from others is the reverse. I typically get very little response to the sculptures, and people love the wood toys. On the main Facebook group for sharing Midjurney images, the wood toys got 300+ likes, and the sculptures one (!).
Why is that?
It may be because the wood toy is more relatable. It’s colorful. It’s something you can imagine having yourself. It’s more ordinary and familiar. And it’s easier to take in quickly since it is more colorful and familiar. On a social media feed, it “pops” more.
The sculpture, on the other hand, doesn’t stand out in the same way. It’s dark. It’s not colorful. It’s less familiar. It requires time and attention to take it in.
We see this in the art world too. Classic artworks are curated by experts, and people will go to museums to see them. They see some of the best classic art exactly because it’s curated by experts.
With contemporary art, it’s often a bit different. It’s not curated in the same way. And most people like art that’s relatable, pop, and easy and quick to take in. That’s not necessarily the most amazing art. For that reason, the best contemporary artists are often less known and less popular.
Note: As I have written before, I enjoy exploring AI images right now. It’s fascinating, and I can get out some of the images in my mind that I wouldn’t be able to create by hand. (I used to do art full-time in my teens and early twenties, but life took a different direction, and because of my disability it’s been difficult to take it up again to the extent I would like.)
I also see AI art as a reminder that all art is collective. The author is really humanity or existence as a whole. The AI is fed thousands or millions of images created by thousands or millions of people, and the prompts just get out some of the immense potential stored in the AI. I cannot take much credit for what comes out. All I am doing is coming up with the instructions, refining them, and curating the results.
Existence as a whole is the real creator. As is the case with anything the universe is creating through its local and temporary expressions we call humanity, culture, and individual humans.
A few gold figurines imagined by me and Midjourney. Several of these are imagined as part of shamanic rituals. For instance, the sculls represent our connection with the rest of nature. Our bones and bodies are intimately connected with all life, as is all of us.
Do AI image generators steal people’s art? Not really. It learns from existing images, just like any human artist does. It scans millions of images and learns patterns, and that’s about it. It doesn’t store or steal or use parts of images. (One exception may be if it learns the style of a living artist very well and is able to generate images that are as good as what they make. That’s something laws and the legal system need to catch up with.)
Will AI-generated images replace human artists? It will never replace good artists. It cannot match the best of human-created art, and there will always be a good market for good human art – whether it’s world-class or charming or fascinating in other ways. It may replace some illustrators or less-skilled artists. And in the process, it generates new jobs for people skilled in making AI-generated images.
Who is the artist behind AI images? When I generate images, I am tapping into a vast ocean of (AI) potential to see what comes out of it. I am definitely not the one “creating” the images, although I play a role in coming up with the idea, refining the text prompt, evaluating the outcome, and selecting a few of the many images generated. It’s a partnership between me, the AI, the ones creating and training the AI, and the millions of images it is trained on and the millions of humans creating these images. Just like any art, the real artist is all of us and all of existence.
Will it lead to a new renaissance? I don’t know. The outcome of these kinds of shifts is usually not as terrible as some fear and not as amazing as some hope. That said, yes, it is obviously a kind of revolution. It is already giving a large number of people the possibility to generate images they otherwise would never be able to produce. It will replace some illustrators and stock photographers. It will give work to people skilled in generating AI images. It will inspire many artists to new types of creations. And as anything new that’s dropped into society, it will likely lead to much we cannot easily foresee. (Which is not bad or a problem, that’s just life.)
Is it art? That depends on what you mean by art. I like to say “AI-generated images” for what I dream up with Midjourney, and I mainly consider it fun explorations, similar to exploring dreams.
Why am I fascinated by AI art? Isn’t it artificial? Cold? Impersonal? Doesn’t it steal from artists? Make artists superfluous?
I have some general answers and a few more personal ones.
The general answer is that it has come to stay, and there are many ways to use it that make sense.
For instance, many use it to inspire and get ideas for hand-made art and design.
People who normally wouldn’t hire human artists use it to spiff up advertisements, websites, and more.
Many like to explore it just for fun, just like it’s fun to explore a lot of different things in our culture. (And it’s more engaging and involving than some other common activities, including passively watching movies or series.)
And there is no reason to assume it will replace old-fashioned design and art. The two will likely co-exist, just like photography and hand-made art co-exists. I also suspect that the existence of AI art may make human-made art more prestigious and sought after.
For me, it’s also fun. I find myself fascinated by it. Even if very few see what comes out of it, the process of exploring different styles and scenes is inherently rewarding to me, at least for now. It sparks my imagination.
There are also some other reasons I am fascinated by it.
It ties in with my background in programming (I started programming in the early ’80s and have worked with it in periods since). It ties in with my art background. (I did art full-time in my late teens and early twenties, and was a student of Odd Nerdrum.) It ties in with my formal and informal studies of European and international art history. It ties in with my architecture training and occasional work with graphic design. And it ties in with my fascination for the future, including technology and AI.
AI AND DISABILITY
More to the point, it ties in with my disability. I have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS/ME), and that makes it difficult for me to engage in traditional forms of art like drawing and painting. It takes time and energy to engage in it to the point where it’s meaningful for me and I get results I enjoy. And my life is full enough so there are few resources left over for painting and drawing. It has fallen by the wayside, to my regret.
With AI-generated images, I get to explore and bring to life images similar to what I likely would have explored if I had continued with more conventional forms of art, and I also get to be surprised and explore things far outside of my what I imagined I would do by hand. It’s fun. It’s fascinating. And it doesn’t take that much time or energy to do it. Similar to photography, the results come quickly.
And similar to photography, the results are not quite as personal or human or full of character as we find in hand-made art. That’s OK. It’s much better than nothing.
I assume I am not the only one. I assume many people with different forms of disability have found making AI images fun and rewarding. It opens up possibilities for us that we otherwise may not have since our disability makes traditional art more difficult to engage in.
I haven’t seen any mainstream articles on AI art including the perspective of the disabled. And I understand why: disabled people make up a minority and often don’t have the resources or platform to have their voice heard. Still, when the public discourse on AI art leaves out the perspective of the disabled, it is one of many examples of how disabled people are ignored by the mainstream.
The pandemic shifted many things to benefit people with disabilities: Many office jobs were now done from a home office. Many doctor appointments were done online. A lot of events were streamed. Classes and workshops were taught online.
All of these are things disabled people have requested for a long time.
I have personally asked for it more than once, and the answer in each case was: No, it’s not possible. (In each case, there was no curiosity about the situation, no further discussion about it, no acknowledgment that it would make it easier for me and for others with a disability, and a dismissal of the suggestion.)
When the pandemic impacted healthy people and society as a whole, then it was suddenly possible. It wasn’t just possible, it happened quickly. Funny how that works.
This is an example of ableism. If something is requested mainly by disabled people, it’s ignored or not possible. And when it’s of interest to healthy people, it’s suddenly relevant and possible.
The mainstream discussion on AI-generated images is another example of how the perspective of disabled people is left out.
Of course, the mainstream tends to focus on the mainstream, and most people don’t have disabilities. But many do, and it’s important to acknowledge the situation for those with disabilities.
I have explored AI art for about ten days, mainly using Midjourney. (AI art is, in short, software that creates images from text based on having analyzed perhaps millions of images.)
I am not all that familiar with the discussion around this, although I have picked up a few things here and there.
Here are some additional thoughts from my side.
INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY RIGHTS
There is obviously a discussion about intellectual property related to AI-generated images.
Personally, and so far, I am just exploring it for fun and I share a few images on social media. It’s perhaps a bit similar to creating collages using other people’s works, which is what people did before AI art.
If someone makes AI art in the style of a specific artist and sells it for money, that’s more questionable.
But what if the style is a more generic one or one that cannot be pinned on any one particular artist? Is that too a problem? Some will say yes since the AI is trained on the art of many artists who unwillingly contribute to the AI result.
It also seems clear that to many, AI art is an exciting new frontier. It brings professional-grade image-making within reach to more people. And AI art may inspire human artists, just like human art informs AI art. It’s likely not possible to put the genie back into the bottle, and would we want to if we could?
For me, what it comes down to is: (a) It’s good to have these conversations. (b) This is a kind of wild west where the law has not yet caught up with the technology.
AI art is informed by images in our western and global culture, and obviously reflects biases from the material it’s trained on.
For instance… Jesus and his human parents are depicted as white Europeans, not Middle Eastern. A secretary is assumed to be female. Unless something else is specified, people come out young, white, fit, and beautiful according to western conventional standards. The default man comes out very muscular. And so on.
Some are concerned that this will reinforce existing stereotypes, and that will probably happen in some cases.
The upside is that the inherent – and quite obvious – AI bias leads to conversations among people and in the public. It makes more people more aware of these biases – the standards, norms, and expectations – in our culture.
When I was little, I loved stories about the exotic – other parts of the world, other people and cultures than my own, other landscapes than I was familiar with, science fiction, and so on.
I wonder if this is a natural fascination. We may be drawn to what we don’t know, partly because it helped our ancestors be familiar with more of the world and this aided their survival. The unfamiliar and exotic are also good projection objects, which tend to create fascination.
When I make AI art, I often find I follow my childhood draw to the exotic and unknown: Shamans, different ethnicities, fairy tales and mythology, UFOs, and so on.
Is this problematic? If we exoticize certain ethnic groups and people and think that’s how they are, then yes, to some extent. It’s out of alignment with reality and whether we idolize or vilify, it does these groups and people a disservice.
Is it inherently problematic? Perhaps not always, at least not in the sense that it harms certain groups.
For instance, I have a series of images of neo-druid shamans in the future and make sure to include a wide range of ethnicities and ages. This is a form of exoticism, and I aim at making the exoticism universal and include all types of people.
I have wanted to explore AI image generation for a while and finally got around to it tonight in front of the fireplace and with the neighboring café playing live jazz.
Here is one of my first experiments with Midjourney. A neo-shaman in Tokyo in the rain with dramatic backlighting. I love that he or she is covered in plants and flowers.
I have seen some discussions about AI-generated images.
CONCERNS ABOUT NEW TECHNOLOGY
Will it replace human artists? Will it make it possible for people to make their own illustrations instead of commissioning photographers and artists? Will it ruin creativity?
Yes, some of that will probably happen.
And it’s also important the remember that these are the type of concerns that predictably come up when new technology comes onto the scene. And each time, the new technology finds its place among everything that has existed before and continues to exist.
When photography came, people said it was the end of painting. What happened was that it caused painting to change. Much of it became more free, imaginative, and abstract, and photography and painting not only co-exist but inspire each other. When CGI became viable, people said it would replace practical effects and even actors. In reality, CGI co-exists with practical effects, and it has even led to new types of jobs for actors in the form of motion capture.
I assume something similar will happen now. Some will use AI for illustrations. Some will continue to hire artists and photographers. AI art will inspire human-created art. Human-created art will continue to inform AI art.
It’s not either-or, it’s both-and. And it may well be that the interplay between AI and human visuals will create a kind of artistic and creative mini-revolution.
It’s also very likely that human-created art will be valued even more. AI art will make it more prestigious.
CULTURE MEANS LEARNING FROM OTHERS
Some say that AI steals people’s work to create new work and make money on it.
I understand that argument and concern.
And I also know that that’s culture. That’s what people have done from the beginning. We learn and take good ideas from each other and do something different with it. That’s how we have a culture in the first place.
The AI is just a bit more comprehensive and effective than any human can be, and also a little less creative.
WHO DO THE IMAGES BELONG TO?
Another question is: who owns the images?
In a practical sense, it’s determined by the AI companies and the law.
And in a larger sense, they come from the collective experience and creativity of humanity and really from the whole of existence. It’s always that way, no matter which particular human or technology it comes through. It’s just a little more obvious with AI images.
Some also criticize AI-generated images because they reflect cultural biases. They learn from our culture so they will inevitably reflect biases in our culture.
For instance, if I don’t specify ethnicity for a portrait, I get a European person. If I ask for a god, even a traditional Hindu god, I get someone absurdly muscular. If I ask for Jesus or his parents, I get Europeans and not middle eastern people. If I ask for a general person, I get someone unusually good-looking in a conventional sense
I would say that’s equally much an upside since it brings cultural biases – picked up by and reflected back to us by the AI – more to the foreground. This leads to awareness and discussions – in the media and among those exploring AI art and the ones they share these reflections and observations with.
A lot of people are more aware of these kinds of cultural biases now because of these AI images.
MY OWN BIAS
I have a background in programming and in art, so I naturally love AI-generated visuals. I see it as a way for people without too much experience to still create amazing images. It’s a way to generate ideas. And it has its place and will co-exist with old-fashioned human skills and creativity.
UPDATE AFTER ONE WEEK
I have explored Midjourney and AI image generation for a week now, and find it seems to fit me well. It’s fun to see images created that I have had in my mind for a while but haven’t created in pencil or oil. It’s also fun to get to know the AI and sometimes be surprised by results better and more interesting than I imagined.
I also find I cannot really take ownership of the images, apart from in the most limited sense. They are generated by the AI, the AI is trained on perhaps millions of images created by others, and it’s really all the local products of the whole of existence – going back to the beginning of the universe and stretching out to the widest extent of the universe (if there is any beginning or edge). It’s always that way, and it’s even more obvious with AI-generated images.
The images are very much co-created by me, Midjourney, innumerable artists whose works have informed the AI, and all of existence.