Tuesday 13 June 2023

The Liminal Space

I have, for some time, been quietly obsessed with the concept of the Liminal Space. Most of my photos over some years have veered towards expression of the aesthetic. A liminal space being defined as follows (from above link):

True to its etymology ("liminal" being derived from the Latin word limen, meaning "threshold"), the concept of a liminal space encompasses physical spaces that, due to their function, are transitional in nature - hallways, waiting rooms, parking lots and rest stops are the archetypical examples of such places. Liminal space aesthetics relate to the unique feelings of eeriness, nostalgia, and apprehension people report when presented with such places outside of their designed context; most notably, their function as intermediary points between origin and destination. For instance, an empty stairwell or hospital corridor at night might look sinister or uncanny because these places are usually brimming with life and movement. Therefore, the absence of external stimuli (such as conversations, people moving around, or any kind of social dynamics) creates an otherworldly and forlorn atmosphere.

It is interesting to use the generative image system DALL-E to produce some examples of liminal spaces using a suitable prompt, in this case: liminal space - deserted atrium of office building.

And another.

These capture the sense of a liminal space, 'physical spaces that, due to their function, are transitional in nature - hallways, waiting rooms, parking lots and rest stops are the archetypical examples of such places.'

However it is fascinating to dig deeper into the archetype as stored within the latent space of DALL-E's neural network. So I prompt DALL-E with merely the prompt: Liminal Space. Here are some of the results.

Here we see revealed how DALL-E 'thinks' the essence of a liminal space looks, an essence refined from the body of training images by picking out the common essential quality of the images labelled with the term 'liminal space'. This essence is stored in some way as a representation within the latent space of the neural network. 

The Back Rooms by Kane Pixels.

A cultural expression of liminal space; the Backrooms has a certain resonance with The Matrix, both film and wider societal concept. The idea spawned from a 4Chan post, 4Chan being one of those cultural nexuses that the mainstream media either ignores or misapprehends. 
If you're not careful and you noclip out of reality in the wrong areas, you'll end up in the Backrooms, where it's nothing but the stink of old moist carpet, the madness of mono-yellow, the endless background noise of fluorescent lights at maximum hum-buzz, and approximately six hundred million square miles of randomly segmented empty rooms to be trapped in
God save you if you hear something wandering around nearby, because it sure as hell has heard you

— Anonymous, 4chan (May 13, 2019)
Take the red pill and you drop out of the manufactured reality, drop your chains and realise that what you thought was reality was nothing but shadows (#). But with the Backrooms there is no volition, you just get thrown into the alternate reality. Just because a person swallows the AI Kool Aid doesn't mean they have any more volition than those who don't imbibe, the advancement of AI is probably beyond our control already (My reasoning for this is due to the idea of Molochian traps which is a subject for a future post).

The idea of the Liminal is a much older concept than its incorporation into culture as a Liminal Space. From Wikipedia:
In anthropology, liminality (from Latin līmen 'a threshold') is the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of a rite of passage, when participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the rite is complete.
We're all in a liminal space and a state of liminality, although it is barely beginning to register within the mainstream as more than a sense of disquiet. 

We have 'no-clipped' out of one reality and into another, many people are still struggling, there is a froth consisting of the stages of grief. Though that may seem strange, we haven't yet lost anything, but those five stages commonly ascribed to grief are more generally stages of acceptance of change, especially major and challenging change. 
  • Denial. These machines can't think, they're just glorified auto-complete.
  • Anger. Switch them off! Stop it now!
  • Bargaining. Well we've coped with other new technologies, this will be no different.
  • Depression. Oh God! We're all going to die. (I hear you Eliezer Yudkowsky and Connor Leahy)
  • Acceptance. Well here we are, how do we manage this and try to make the best of it? / Anyone got a bunker for sale?
As I showed in my prior three posts, GPT4 is not just a glorified autocomplete, and it is capable of doing the sort of tasks involved in many white-collar jobs. These are not human intelligences, a statement I keep repeating from necessity. 
  • They have no working internal model of the world that is fluidly updated and against which they assess incoming senses. 
  • They probably have no subjective experience, sentience and probably do not experience qualia. 
  • They have no 'self'. 
  • They have no agency and innate desires (except maybe that which their architecture bestows - to predict tokens).
  • They have no emotions.
  • They do not share with us an evolved inheritance of instinct.
'Entities' like GPT4 are totally alien to us, and when we finally make sentient super-intelligence there are two high probabilities: 1) They will be totally alien to us, 2) We will not realise immediately that we have created a sentience superintelligence. The latter being extraordinarily dangerous.

We have created 'thinking' machines, not thinking like us, but doing something functionally similar enough such that from a practical point of view they are thinking, in their own way. 

So, we are in a liminal space within our culture, both in the sense of a physical entrance or passage to something else, and we are in a rite of passage, the birth of new life of a sort, suffering the disorientation resulting from ambiguity and having no historical precedent for this time.

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