Morning Reading

I start my day with coffee and the news these days, rather than routinely starting with meditation as I did through all those years of residential training. Sometimes things coalesce in an interesting way, as they did on Monday:

Many years ago, Thich Nhat Hahn, the Buddhist monk and spiritual leader, posed a question to Marc Benioff, the co-founder and chief executive of Salesforce.

“What is more important, being successful or being happy?” he asked.

Mr. Benioff answered pretty much the way you would expect a Silicon Valley entrepreneur to answer.

“Both,” he said.

Thich Nhat Hahn cautioned that “if everything is important, nothing is important.” (from the New York Times)

This was followed by a (I presume slightly tongue-in-cheek) interview with ChatGPT:

Which is more important: a person’s ability to get things done quickly and at scale, or a person’s ability to socialize, empathize, and sustain meaningful relationships with other people?

Both efficiency and empathy are important aspects of human life. Efficiency can help us to be more productive and achieve our goals, while empathy and social skills are essential for building and maintaining relationships with others…

Before we wrap up this interview, please write something beautiful.

The fields of wildflowers sway in the gentle breeze, their colors blending together in a tapestry of purple, yellow, and pink. The birds sing their final songs of the day, their melodies carried on the wind. As the sky turns from orange to pink to purple, the world is bathed in a peaceful tranquility. (from the New Yorker)

And that sent me off to re-read the article that the same magazine had written about Sam Altman, currently running OpenAI, in which he opined:

“We need to level up humans, because our descendants will either conquer the galaxy or extinguish consciousness in the universe forever. What a time to be alive!”

It was not quite as revelatory as re-reading the 1994 article about email, which I did recently, but still very thought-provoking.

My first thought, from the Benioff quote, sent me down well-worn tracks on what success actually means. I was reminded of the talk Suzuki Roshi gave right around the time of the first moon landing in 1969, the gist of which is contained here:

“If you find out something very interesting, you know– if you want to find out something quite interesting, only way is– instead of hopping around the universe, you know, like this– to enjoy our life in every minute, you know, and to– to see– to observe things which we have now. The surrounding– or to live in the surrounding, in its true sense.”

I found it interesting that, asked to write something beautiful, the AI bot came up with a piece of nature writing, something that is beyond its own criteria of aesthetics (I presume). There is progress, and then there is this beautiful human life that we are living, that we can pay close attention to.

(First published on my Patreon page)

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