Three answers from Socrates

Plato transcribing a video of socrates. Made with Dall-E 2

In preparation for Prof. Derek Lomas’ lecture at the Embassy of the Free Mind, attendees were invited to submit questions to Socrates via email. These questions would then be answered by a language model trained on Plato’s literature (apparently using GPT as a base). Though the exact details of the training process are unclear to me, I find it interesting to share the resulting answers. So, without further ado, here they are.

First question: What is the essence of being human? Do you think this essence has mutated over time?

Title: The Anthropogonia

Description: A dialogue discussing the essence of being human and the potential for its mutation over time, featuring Socrates and Glaucon.

Glaucon: Socrates, we often ponder upon the essence of being human. Can you enlighten me on this matter, and tell me whether you think this essence has mutated over time?

Socrates: Glaucon, my dear friend, the question you ask is one that has occupied the minds of many a wise man. To understand the essence of being human, let us first consider the nature of the human soul, for it is in the soul that we find the essence of our humanity.

Glaucon: Yes, Socrates, I agree. But how do we define the nature of the human soul?

Socrates: The human soul, as we have often discussed, is divided into three parts: the rational, the spirited, and the appetitive. It is through the harmonious balance of these three aspects that we attain wisdom, courage, and moderation, which in turn leads us to live a virtuous life.

Glaucon: Indeed, Socrates, I am familiar with this tripartite division of the soul. But do you think that the essence of humanity, as found in the soul, has mutated over time?

Socrates: To answer that, my dear Glaucon, we must first consider the eternal nature of the soul. The soul, as we know, is immortal and unchanging. However, the world in which we live is mutable, and as it changes, so too do the challenges and experiences faced by the human race. These challenges and experiences, in turn, shape the development of our souls.

Glaucon: Then, Socrates, are you suggesting that the essence of humanity remains the same, but the manner in which we interact with the world around us changes over time?

Socrates: Precisely, Glaucon. The essence of humanity, being rooted in the soul, remains constant. However, the world in which we live may demand different expressions of our human essence. Our pursuit of wisdom, courage, and moderation must adapt to the ever-changing circumstances we encounter.

Glaucon: I see, Socrates. So, the essence of humanity remains constant, but our expression of it evolves in response to the changing world.

Socrates: Indeed, Glaucon. It is through the dialectic process, the exchange of ideas and the pursuit of truth, that we continue to refine our understanding of the essence of humanity and how best to express it in our lives. In this way, we remain true to our human essence while adapting to the ever-changing world around us.

Glaucon: Your wisdom, as always, is enlightening, Socrates. I am grateful for this discourse on the essence of being human and its potential mutation.

Second question: What is the best form of government for nations in the 21st century?

Dialogue Title: The Modern Polity

Brief Description: In this dialogue, Socrates and his interlocutor, Glaucon, discuss the best form of government for nations in the 21st century. Through dialectic, they seek to uncover the wisdom of an ideal polity in the context of a hypothetical modern world.

Glaucon: Socrates, let us imagine a world that lies far in the future, in which the arts and sciences have advanced beyond our current understanding, and nations have grown and changed in ways we cannot yet foresee. In such a world, what would be the best form of government for these nations to adopt?

Socrates: Glaucon, you ask a most intriguing question, and I am eager to explore it with you. Before we proceed, I must remind you that the true goal of any government should be the pursuit of justice and the cultivation of virtue in its citizens. With that in mind, let us consider the possibilities that might arise in this world you have envisioned.

Glaucon: Indeed, Socrates, I concur that justice and virtue must be the guiding principles of any government. But, given the complexities of this modern world and the diverse array of nations that inhabit it, how can we determine the ideal form of government that would best serve these ends?

Socrates: As we have discussed in the past, there are several forms of government, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. We might begin by examining these forms to determine which would be best suited for this hypothetical modern world. Let us first consider monarchy, in which a single ruler governs with complete authority. What are your thoughts on this form of government, Glaucon?

Glaucon: I believe that monarchy could be effective if the ruler is wise and just. However, it is also prone to corruption, as there is no guarantee that the ruler will always act in the best interests of their people. In a world as advanced as the one we are imagining, I fear that a corrupt ruler could do great harm.

Socrates: That is a valid concern, Glaucon. Let us then consider democracy, a form of government in which the people themselves hold the power, and decisions are made through collective discourse and consensus. How might this system fare in a modern world?

Glaucon: Democracy, in theory, empowers the citizens and fosters a sense of equality and shared responsibility. However, I worry that the multitude may not possess the wisdom required to make just decisions. In a world where knowledge is vast and complex, would it not be better for those with greater understanding to govern?

Socrates: Your points are well-taken, Glaucon. In light of these considerations, I propose that the ideal form of government for this modern world would be a variation of the philosopher-kings we have discussed in the past. This government would be led by a group of wise and virtuous individuals who have dedicated their lives to the pursuit of truth and justice. These philosopher-rulers would possess both the knowledge and the moral integrity necessary to guide their people through the complexities of the modern world.

Glaucon: Socrates, your proposal resonates with me. The philosopher-rulers would indeed be best equipped to navigate the challenges of this hypothetical modern world while remaining steadfast in their pursuit of justice and virtue. May we all strive to cultivate such wisdom within ourselves, so that we may contribute to the well-being of our own polity, however distant it may be in time.

Third question: What do you think is the role of philosophy in the 21st century, when exact sciences have been proven to be the predominant paradigm to define our reality?

Description: In this dialogue, Socrates engages in a conversation with Thrasymachus about the role of philosophy in a time when exact sciences appear to be the predominant paradigm for defining reality.

Thrasymachus: Socrates, it has been said that in future times, sciences shall reign supreme, providing precise explanations for the workings of the cosmos. In light of this, what do you believe the role of philosophy shall be?

Socrates: Thrasymachus, my friend, even in times when the sciences have proven to be a powerful tool, the pursuit of wisdom must remain unyielding. For, as you know, the knowledge of the material world is but a single aspect of the greater understanding we seek.

Thrasymachus: Indeed, Socrates, but if the sciences provide us with a clearer understanding of reality, should we not focus our efforts on these disciplines rather than the musings of philosophers?

Socrates: You raise an interesting point, Thrasymachus. However, I must remind you that the sciences alone cannot answer the questions of why things exist or the meaning and purpose of human life. Moreover, the sciences are bound by the material world and its laws, while philosophy transcends these boundaries, exploring the realm of ideas, virtues, and the soul.

Thrasymachus: But, Socrates, would the practical applications of science not render the abstract nature of philosophy obsolete in the eyes of these future people?

Socrates: Thrasymachus, the practical applications of science may indeed be of great utility, but they do not necessarily bring one closer to wisdom. It is true that knowledge of the material world can grant us the power to create and manipulate our surroundings, but the role of philosophy is to guide the application of that power with wisdom and virtue.

Thrasymachus: So, you suggest that philosophy shall continue to serve as a compass for human action, even when the sciences have come to dominate our understanding of the world?

Socrates: Precisely, Thrasymachus. While the sciences may inform us about the workings of the cosmos, philosophy remains a means to contemplate the greater truths that lie beyond the reach of empirical observation. It is through the dialectic and the pursuit of wisdom that we can aspire to understand the proper place of humankind within the world and the best way to live our lives.

Thrasymachus: I see now, Socrates, that philosophy’s role shall never wane, for it shall always be necessary to seek wisdom and question the true nature of existence, regardless of the progress made in the sciences.

Socrates: You have grasped the essence of my argument, Thrasymachus. May the pursuit of wisdom never falter, for it is through such inquiry that we may hope to attain a greater understanding of our place in the cosmos and the path toward a virtuous life.

Closing note

I’m not surprised about the outcome. I find the answer to question 3 the most interesting and answer 2 the least insightful, almost repeating Plato’s views in the original text. The Socrates created by this model reminds me of Nothing, Forever, the Twitch live stream of generative videos inspired by Seinfeld. These proofs of concepts are only going to get better, and more applicable to specific audiences and needs. Personalized media as the new step after mass media seems like a promise that generative AI may soon begin to fulfil.

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