Marvin Minsky Stories
I am saddened by the passing of the brilliant Marvin Minsky who helped found MIT. I became interested in his writings and wrote him several letters and I took note especially of comments on freewill and population control. Below is a story on his life from the JEWISH JOURNAL:
Posted on Jan. 26, 2016 at 1:37 pm
Marvin Minsky, the artificial intelligence pioneer who helped make machines think, leading to computers that understand spoken commands and beat grandmasters at chess, has died at the age of 88, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said.
Minsky, who died on Sunday, suffered a cerebral hemorrhage, the school said.
Minsky had “a monster brain,” MIT colleague Patrick Winston, a professor of artificial intelligence and computer science, said in a 2012 interview. He could be intimidating without meaning to be because he was “such a genius,” Winston said.
Minsky’s greatest contribution to computers and artificial intelligence was the notion that neither human nor machine intelligence is a single process. Instead, he argued, intelligence arises from the interaction of numerous processes in a “society of mind” – a phrase Minsky used for the title of his 1985 book.
“Marvin basically figured out that thinking isn’t a thing but an embarrassing mess of dumb things that work together, as in a society,” said Danny Hillis, a former Minsky student and now co-chairman of the Applied Minds technology company.
Minsky’s insight led to the development of smart machines packed with individual modules that give them specific capabilities, such as computers that play grandmaster-level chess, robots that build cars, programs that analyze DNA and software that creates lifelike dinosaurs, explosions and extraterrestrial worlds for movies.
Artificial intelligence is also essential to almost every computer function, from web search to video games, and tasks such as filtering spam email, focusing cameras, translating documents and giving voice commands to smartphones.
Minsky was co-founder in 1959 of the now-legendary Artificial Intelligence Group at MIT. He also built the first computer capable of learning through connections that mimic human neurons.
Minsky lent his expertise to one of culture’s most notorious thinking machines – the HAL 9000 computer from the book and film “2001: A Space Odyssey” that turned against its astronaut masters. Minsky served as an adviser for the movie, which he called “the most awesome film I’d ever seen.”
Minsky, who was born in New York City in 1927, was drawn to science and engineering as a child, enthralled by the works of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells.
He also composed music in the style of Bach – an interest he pursued into his later years.
Minsky graduated from Harvard in 1950 with a degree in mathematics and in 1954 earned a Ph.D. in math from Princeton University.
Below is the first letter I wrote to Dr. Minksy:
Marvin L. Minsky, MIT Media Lab, Cambridge, MA
April 16, 2014
Dear Dr. Minsky,
I was very interested in what you said in the “Do Science and Religion Conflict?” interview for CLOSER TO TRUTH. In it you said that religion is a wonderful psychological device in the short run but it teaches people not to ask questions in the long run since you can always resort to saying that God did it. Let me throw that back on you and ask you if you think that the Jews deserve full credit for restoring the country of Israel in 1948 or was it predicted beforehand by God and God made it happen?
Today I am writing you for two reasons. First, I wanted to appeal to your Jewish Heritage and ask you to take a closer look at some Old Testament scriptures dealing with the land of Israel. Second, I wanted to point out some scientific evidence that caused Antony Flew to switch from an atheist (as you are now) to a theist. Twenty years I had the opportunity to correspond with two individuals that were regarded as two of the most famous atheists of the 20th Century, Antony Flew and Carl Sagan. (I have enclosed some of those letters between us.) I had read the books and seen the films of the Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer and he had discussed the works of both of these men. I sent both of these gentlemen philosophical arguments from Schaeffer in these letters and in the first letter I sent a cassette tape of my pastor’s sermon IS THE BIBLE TRUE? (CD is enclosed also.) You may have noticed in the news a few years that Antony Flew actually became a theist in 2004 and remained one until his death in 2010. Carl Sagan remained a skeptic until his dying day in 1996.
You will notice in the enclosed letter from June 1, 1994 that Dr. Flew commented, “Thank you for sending me the IS THE BIBLE TRUE? tape to which I have just listened with great interest and, I trust, profit.” It would be a great honor for me if you would take time and drop me a note and let me know what your reaction is to this same message.
Robert Lewis noted that many orthodox Jews believed through the centuries that God would honor the ancient prophecies that predicted that the Jews would be restored to the land of Israel, but then I notice the latest film series on the Jews done by an orthodox Jew seemed to ignore many of these scriptures. Recently I watched the 5 part PBS series Simon Schama’s THE STORY OF THE JEWS, and in the last episode Schama calls Israel “a miracle” but he is hoping that Israel can get along with the non-Jews in the area. Schama noted, “I’ve always thought that Israel is the consummation of some of the highest ethical values of Jewish traditional history, but creating a place of safety and defending it has sometimes challenged those same ethics and values”. There is an ancient book that sheds light on Israel’s plight today, and it is very clear about the struggles between the Jews and their cousins that surround them. It all comes down to what the Book of Genesis had to say concerning Abraham’s son by Hagar.
Genesis 16:11-12 (NIV)
11 The angel of the Lord also said to her:
“You are now pregnant
and you will give birth to a son.
You shall name him Ishmael,
for the Lord has heard of your misery.
12 He will be a wild donkey of a man;
his hand will be against everyone
and everyone’s hand against him,
and he will live in hostility
toward all his brothers.”
14 And I will bring back the exiles of My people Israel, and they shall build the waste cities and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards and drink the wine from them; they shall also make gardens and eat the fruit of them.
15 And I will plant them upon their land, and they shall no more be torn up out of their land which I gave them, says the Lord your God.
Some people think the Amos prophecy was referring to the return of Israel after their Babylonian captitvity in 586 B.C. But the nation was uprooted in 70 A.D. And notice God said they would “NEVER AGAIN TO BE UPROOTED.”
Even the preservation of their language is a miracle. For centuries, Hebrew was a dead language spoken nowhere in the world. But within the last century, this dead language has been resurrected and now millions of Israelis speak Hebrew...Have you noticed how often Israel is in the news? They are only a small nation about the size of New Jersey.
I have checked out some of the details that David O. Dykes has provided and they check out. Philip Lieberman is a cognitive scientist at Brown University, and in a letter dated in 1995 he told me that only a few other languages besides Hebrew have ever been revived including some American Indian ones along with Celtic.
Also Zechariah 12:3 also verifies the newsworthiness of Israel now: And in that day I will make Jerusalem a burdensome stone for all peoples; all who lift it or burden themselves with it shall be sorely wounded. And all the nations of the earth shall come and gather together against it.
I do think that Isaiah also predicted the Jews would come from all over the earth back to their homeland Israel. Isaiah 11:11-12 states, “And in that day the Lord shall again lift up His hand a second time to recover (acquire and deliver) the remnant of His people which is left, from Assyria, from Lower Egypt, from Pathros, from Ethiopia, from Elam [in Persia], from Shinar [Babylonia], from Hamath [in Upper Syria], and from the countries ordering on the [Mediterranean] Sea. And He will raise up a signal for the nations and will assemble the outcasts of Israel and will gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth. (Amplified Bible)
I was reading THE BOOK OF DANIEL COMMENTARY (Cambridge University Press, 1900) by the Bible critic Samuel Rolles Driver, and on page 100 Dr. Driver commented that the country of Israel is obviously a thing of the past and has no place in prophecy in the future and the prophet Daniel was definitely wrong about that. I wonder what Dr. Driver would say if he lived to see the newspapers today?
In fact, my former pastor Robert Lewis at Fellowship Bible Church in his sermon “Let the Prophets Speak” on 1-31-99 noted that even the great Princeton Theologian Charles Hodge erred in 1871 when he stated:
The argument from the ancient prophecies is proved to be invalid because it would prove too much. If those prophecies foretell a literal restoration, they foretell that the temple is to be rebuilt, the priesthood restored, sacrifices again offered, and that the whole Mosaic ritual is to be observed in all its details, (Systematic Theology. [New York: Charles Scribner & Sons, 1871; reprint Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdman’s Publishing Co., 1949], 3:807).__
Robert Lewis went on to point out that the prophet Amos 2700 years ago predicted the destruction of Aram, Philistia, Tyre, Edom, Ammon, Moab and Israel, but at the end of the Book he said Israel would one day be returned to their land and never removed. We saw from Isaiah 11:11-12 that the Lord “will assemble the outcasts of Israel and will gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.” And that certainly did happen after World War II. I corresponded with some secular Jewish Scholars on this back in the 1990’s such as Irving Kristol and Daniel Bell but they dismissed these type of Old Testament prophecies. In his letter of September 23, 1995, Daniel Bell wrote, “As to the survival of the Jewish people, I think of the remark of Samuel Johnson that there is nothing stronger than the knowledge that one may be hanged the next day to concentrate the mind–or the will.”
After looking at the accuracy of Old Testament, I want to turn my attention to the accuracy of the New Testament. Recently I was reading the book GOD’S NOT DEAD by Rick Broocks and in it he quotes Sir William Ramsay who was a scholar who originally went to Palestine to disprove the Book of Luke. Below is some background info on Ramsay followed by his story.
Sir William Mitchell Ramsay (15 March 1851, Glasgow –20 April 1939) was a Scottish archaeologist and New Testament scholar. By his death in 1939 he had become the foremost authority of his day on the history of Asia Minor and a leading scholar in the study of the New Testament. From the post of Professor of Classical Art and Architecture at Oxford, he was appointed Regius Professor of Humanity (the Latin Professorship) at Aberdeen. Knighted in 1906 to mark his distinguished service to the world of scholarship, Ramsay also gained three honorary fellowships from Oxford colleges, nine honorary doctorates from British, Continental and North American universities and became an honorary member of almost every association devoted to archaeology and historical research. He was one of the original members of the British Academy, was awarded the Gold Medal of Pope Leo XIII in 1893 and the Victorian Medal of the Royal Geographical Society in 1906.
William Mitchell Ramsay was born on March 15, 1851 in Glasgow, Scotland. His father was a lawyer, but died when William was just six. Through the hard work of other family members, William attended the University of Aberdeen, achieving honors. Through means of a scholarship, he was then able to go to Oxford University and attend the college there named for St. John. His family resource also allowed him to study abroad, notably in Germany. It was under one of his professors that his love of history began. After receiving a new scholarship from another college at Oxford, he traveled to Asia Minor.
William, however, is most noted for beliefs pertaining to the Bible, not his early life. Originally, he labeled it as a ‘Book of Fables,’ having only third-hand knowledge. He neither read nor studied it, skeptically believing it to be of fiction and not historical fact. His interest in history would lead him on a search that would radically redefine his thoughts on that Ancient Book…
Some argue that Ramsay was originally just a product of his time. For example, the general consensus on the Acts of the Apostles (and its alleged writer Luke) was almost humouress:
“… [A]bout 1880 to 1890 the book of the Acts was regarded as the weakest part of the New Testament. No one that had any regard for his reputation as a scholar cared to say a word in its defence. The most conservative of theological scholars, as a rule, thought the wisest plan of defence for the New Testament as a whole was to say as little as possible about the Acts.”
It was his dislike for Acts that launched him into a Mid-East adventure. With Bible-in-hand, he made a trip to the Holy Land. What William found, however, was not what he expected…
As it turns out, ‘ole Willy’ changed his mind. After his extensive study he concluded that Luke was one of the world’s greatest historians:
The more I have studied the narrative of the Acts, and the more I have learned year after year about Graeco-Roman society and thoughts and fashions, and organization in those provinces, the more I admire and the better I understand. I set out to look for truth on the borderland where Greece and Asia meet, and found it here [in the Book of Acts—KB]. You may press the words of Luke in a degree beyond any other historian’s, and they stand the keenest scrutiny and the hardest treatment, provided always that the critic knows the subject and does not go beyond the limits of science and of justice.
Skeptics were strikingly shocked. In ‘Evidence that Demands a Verdict’ Josh Mcdowell writes,
“The book caused a furor of dismay among the skeptics of the world. Its attitude was utterly unexpected because it was contrary to the announced intention of the author years before…. for twenty years more, book after book from the same author came from the press, each filled with additional evidence of the exact, minute truthfulness of the whole New Testament as tested by the spade on the spot. The evidence was so overwhelming that many infidels announced their repudiation of their former unbelief and accepted Christianity. And these books have stood the test of time, not one having been refuted, nor have I found even any attempt to refute them.”
The Bible has always stood the test of time. Renowned archaeologist Nelson Glueck put it like this:
“It may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a Biblical reference. Scores of archaeological findings have been made which conform in clear outline or exact detail historical statements in the Bible.”
1) The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament (1915)
3) See page 366
4) See page 31 of: Rivers in the Desert: A History of the Negev (1959)
Tom Flynn in his article “Easter: What Really Happened?” April/May 2014, FREE INQUIRY MAGAZINE, asserted, “If Christianity is not true, how on earth did it manage to assume so central a role in the unfolding of the West?” As you know I am a firm believer that the Bible is correct about the creation of the world by a creator and it is also correct about Easter. I want to challenge you to attend a Bible believing church this Easter Sunday April 20, 2014 and just ask the Lord to reveal himself to you. That would be quite an experiment! Thank you again for your time and I know how busy you are.
PS: My good friend John George was an atheist like you are and we loved each others’ company. I was very sad when he passed away. Since you are in the Boston area you need to check out Park Street Church at 1 Park Street in downtown Boston and their Easter services are at 8am, 9:30, 11, and 4pm and I love going to church there surrounded by all those Harvard and MIT students.
David Perry interviews legendary poet, artist and activist Lawrence Ferlinghetti
SUNDAY PROFILE / Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Updated 3:05 am, Monday, September 24, 2012
Lawrence Ferlinghetti was in his early 30s when he wrote a poem of hope and innocence about a penny candy store in New York and the magic to be found in jellybeans and licorice sticks, about the evanescence of a rainy September afternoon.
Sixty years later, Ferlinghetti has written a new book-length poem, “Time of Useful Consciousness,” where “technocracy” dominates the heart, where corporations rule the people, where man is greedy and badly educated, andWalt Whitman‘s optimism is needed – as time is running out.
Since the 1950s, Ferlinghetti has been a San Francisco institution. He openedCity Lights in North Beach, a renowned bookstore that attracts visitors from across the world. He stood behind the publication of Allen Ginsberg‘s “Howl,” an act of daring that changed the course of publishing in America. He penned dozens of books, published breakthrough works – including the Beat writers, who insisted on oral incantations – and became San Francisco’s first poet laureate and its most lyrical town crier.
“My poetry, including ‘The Time of Useful Consciousness,’ is activism,” Ferlinghetti said, sitting in a cafe in North Beach near his home. “Ecologically and politically, it’s a totally dim prospect.”
The 93-year-old poet spends one day a week at City Lights, and on other days can be found at his painter’s studio in Hunters Point. Painting, he says, is the lighter antidote to his more painstaking poetry. With his keen blue eyes, white beard and snazzy, paint-streaked sneakers, he looks every bit the part of painter, poet and gentleman radical.
“The norm is that when people get older, they get more politically conservative, but it’s been the opposite for me,” Ferlinghetti said with a laugh.
Striving to improve world
Ferlinghetti’s biographer, Bill Morgan, an archivist and bibliographer for Ginsberg, said the San Francisco poet has always been “interested in making things better and calling attention to the crazy things going on.”
“Lawrence is still an activist interested in the politics of our time,” Morgan said. “He’s a really good performer of his poetry. He does not consider himself a Beat poet, but he was a publisher of the Beats. And City Lights is one of the best book stores in the country – and it’s been there for 60 years.”
Barry Gifford, the Bay Area author, screenwriter and poet who was friends with Ginsberg, was introduced to Ferlinghetti’s poetry in high school.
“When I was a kid in high school, I remember someone had ‘A Coney Island of the Mind,’ and it made a real impression,” Gifford said of Ferlinghetti’s book of poetry, which has sold more than 1 million copies. “Lawrence has a way of saying what he needs to say in a style that is immediately comprehensible. He’s always been able to communicate with his poetry better than most.”
Gifford added, “Lawrence’s connection with the Beats is not to be underestimated, but he has made – and continues to make – a lasting contribution to American literature.”
Ferlinghetti was born in Yonkers, N.Y., in March 1919. His father, Carlo Ferlinghetti, died before he was born. His mother, Clemence, overcome by stress, asked a relative to care for Lawrence, the youngest of her five boys. Only later did he reconnect with his family.
Awakened to activism
He earned his bachelor’s degree in journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; his master’s at Columbia University, with a thesis on critic John Ruskin and painter J.M.W. Turner; and his doctorate at the Sorbonne in Paris in 1950, where he studied comparative literature and delivered his thesis (in French) on “The City as a Symbol in Modern Poetry.”
He attended the Sorbonne on the GI Bill, having served as a lieutenant commander in the Navy during World War II.
“I was the all-American boy, the Eagle Scout,” Ferlinghetti said. “I remember I was at my girlfriend’s apartment, and there were these strange publications like the Nation and the New Republic. I started looking at them and thought, ‘Gee, this is weird; people saying things against America?’ It was an awakening. On the East Coast, I’d never even heard of conscientious objectors.”
Ferlinghetti came to San Francisco in January 1951, knowing no one and having little money. He walked up Market Street from the Ferry Building, and asked a passer-by for the Bohemian part of town. Soon settled in North Beach, he began listening to KPFA, the free, independent FM radio station that included a weekly segment by Kenneth Rexroth, the poet, essayist and philosophical anarchist.
KQED Spark – Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Partnering for City Lights
The idea of City Lights came about by chance.
“I was coming up from my painting studio, and I drove up Columbus Avenue,” Ferlinghetti said. “It was a route I wouldn’t normally take, and I saw a guy putting up a sign where City Lights is now.” Ferlinghetti hopped out of his car and went to say hello.
“I said, ‘What are you doing?’ and he said, ‘I’m starting a paperback bookstore, but I don’t have any money. I’ve got $500.’ I said, ‘I have $500.’ The whole thing took about five minutes. We shook hands, and the store opened in June 1953 as City Lights Pocket Bookshop.”
Ferlinghetti’s partner was Peter Martin, a sociology student at San Francisco State who had been publishing a small magazine called City Lights. Martin was the first to publish the works of Pauline Kael – who was another KPFA contributor and would go on to be a film critic for the New Yorker.
“Peter’s idea was to sell quality paperbacks, which were just coming onto the market,” Ferlinghetti said. “At the time, paperback books weren’t considered real books by the trade. They were just these 25-cent pocketbooks that were merchandized like newspapers on the newsstands, but the newsstand guys didn’t understand what they had.”
Around the same time, Ferlinghetti married Selden Kirby-Smith, who went by “Kirby.” She was the granddaughter of a Civil War general and the daughter of a successful doctor, and she had earned her master’s degree from Columbia. The two met in 1946 aboard a ship en route to France. They were both heading to Paris to study at the Sorbonne.
Lawrence Ferlinghetti & Timothy Leary
[l to r: Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Timothy Leary, at the Human Be-In, Golden Gate Park, 1967 January 14], photograph by Gene Anthony, courtesy, .
Dylan & Ferlinghetti
Ferlinghetti & Burroughs. Lawrence Ferlinghetti …
Lawrence Ferlinghetti, born March 24, 1919
[The City Lights in North Dakota Conference, in Grand Forks, North Dakota, sponsored by the UND English Department, was the first of many Beat related conferences recognizing the cultural importance of the Beats. Clockwise from top left: Michael McClure,Gregory Corso, Miriam Patchen, Kenneth Rexroth, Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Peter Orlovsky, Gary Snyder, Janie McClure, Shig Murao, Curator (name unknown – female), Joanne McClure Curator (name unknown – male), March 18, 1974. – Photo by D.Sorensen ]
Obscenity trial for ‘Howl’
In 1955, Ferlinghetti went to a poetry reading at the Six Gallery on Fillmore Street to hear Philip Lamantia, Gary Snyder,Philip Whalen, Michael McClure and Ginsberg – all introduced by Rexroth. Jack Kerouac also was there but declined to read.
It was Ginsberg’s first public reading of his wild, graphic and shattering poem, “Howl,” which opens with the lines: “I saw the best of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix.”
“Allen gave me the manuscript a couple of weeks before the public reading,” Ferlinghetti said. “What a great poet does is let you see the world in a way you’ve never seen it before. That’s what Allen did.”
The day after the reading, Ferlinghetti sent a Western Union telegram to Ginsberg, who was staying in Berkeley. “I wrote, ‘I greet you at the beginning of a great career,’ which is what Emerson wrote to Whitman when he first read ‘The Leaves of Grass.’ I asked, ‘When do we get the manuscript?’ ”
“Howl and Other Poems” was the fourth book in Ferlinghetti’s City Lights’ Pocket Poets Series, and featured an introduction by William Carlos Williams. In 1957, hundreds of copies of the book were seized by U.S. customs officials – who stated, “You wouldn’t want your children to come across it” – and Ferlinghetti was charged with obscenity in a trial that drew international attention.
“We had submitted the manuscript to the ACLU ahead of time, asking if they would defend us if we were busted,” Ferlinghetti said. “They committed themselves ahead of time. Of course, when the trial began, I was young and stupid and thought a few months in jail would be OK; I’d have a lot of time to read.”
Free flow of literature
Ferlinghetti won that year, when the Municipal Court judge ruled that the poem couldn’t be deemed obscene because it had “redeeming social significance.”
“That established us as an independent bookstore,” Ferlinghetti said. “And after that, the floodgates were open. Grove Press – which spent a lot of money on the trial – was able to publish ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ and Henry Miller’s books and so on.” City Lights also was known for carrying the first gay, lesbian and transgender publications.
While many of his writers were known for drug and alcohol use – he once lent his Big Sur cabin to Kerouac to dry out – Ferlinghetti always made it home for dinner.
“My mother was very protective in terms of who we had over at the house,” said daughter Julie Ferlinghetti Susser, who now lives in Tennessee. “We had Gregory Corso to our house, and he once tried to shoot up. He was never allowed back. My mother did really like Kerouac. Ginsberg would come over whenever he was in town, and my mother tolerated him. He was never interested in what women had to say.”
Immediacy of painting
Throughout her childhood, Susser remembers something else: “I would sit by the door every night, waiting for my dad. … He was home every day by 5:30 or 6. I remember I begged and pleaded for a pony, and my dad got me one. I saw him as a businessman who went to work and came home at the same time. He always made things fun.”
The Ferlinghettis, who divorced in 1973 but remained close, also had a son, Lorenzo, who lives in Bolinas and has two children. Kirby Ferlinghetti died this year and is buried in their family plot in Bolinas.
These days, the poet is gravitating to painting. George Krevsky, Ferlinghetti’s longtime gallerist, said, “When I first met Lawrence, I said, ‘I’ve met two great poets – you and Robert Frost,’ and he said, ‘You should see my paintings.’ ”
For Ferlinghetti, painting is a “lyrical escape,” a way to express himself that has more immediacy than his poems.
“It’s easier to get high doing a painting,” he said, walking home from the North Beach cafe. “For one thing, it’s more instantaneous. A book – this new book of mine – is two years of work. Whereas a painting, I might have one in a day. I feel like I can take a lot of chances in painting.”
Ferlinghetti’s outlook, like his poetry and like his paintings, moves from dark to light, from foreboding to hopeful. He looks at poems such as “The Pennycandystore” as embodying a time of innocence for himself, and America.
“I wrote that in the early ’50s,” he said of the candy store poem. “America was full of hope.”
Sending a lifeline to culture
The title of his new work, “Time of Useful Consciousness,” to be released in October, comes from an aeronautical term denoting the time between when one loses oxygen and when one passes out, the moments when it’s still possible to save your life.
“It’s a statement about where culture is,” Ferlinghetti said. Smiling, his blue eyes taking in the sunshine in North Beach, he added, “I’m trying to be an optimist.”
Good article on Lawrence Ferlinghetti: