Coffee With a Sorathian
- A burst of thunder rattled the ceramic saucers and shook the
windows---and shortly thereafter sheets of snow and rain brushed
over the streets in waves. The weather provided him with an excuse
not to attend his six o'clock appointment at the Elm Grove Golf
Course in Lenexa, KS. He called his secretary and had her make the
necessary calls, then pushed his cell phone into his jacket pocket
and resumed his careful study. The pictures that appeared on his
computer screen over the next hour made it abundantly clear that the
future that Billy Bayber envisioned was one where remarkable effort
was no longer required to achieve remarkable success. All that was
required was the implantation of mechanical devices and unfathomable
powers were instantly bestowed upon humanity. The idea was
For the second time today a stranger approached him
concerning the Pentakotic Gateway Series; this time in the espresso
bar at 6:15 PM. An Arabic man in a black trench coat came out of
the snow and, with Giovanni's permission, sat at his table by the
window. The stranger identified himself as a neuro-surgeon at KU
Medical Center; in fact he was wearing scrubs underneath his coat,
as if he had come straight from the hospital. Although grim and
stoical in appearance, the stranger extended a handshake that was
warm and ingratiating, and begun by casually mentioning the
telephone conversation early today with the retired engineer Gerard
Chardin. The stranger said Gerard Chardin was a colleague and a
close friend, and that both of them were "somewhat taken aback" by
the flagrant way in which the paintings were displayed on the
Internet. "Such works of art," the stranger said very
calmly, "should be kept quiet, Mr. Migliazzo. We ask that you
practice more discipline and foresight in the future."
The table next to theirs' was occupied by an older couple,
both of whome were reading the newspaper, and looked up
simultaneously when Giovanni responded.
"Am I being reprimanded?" he asked with a chuckle.
"Of course not."
"How do you know me? Did you follow me here? What's this all
A Dylan song filled the room. The music was loud, but not
loud enough to mute their conversation. The stranger scooted his
chair forward, and leaned forward further yet when responding.
"I came here this evening to set the rules so you'll know
exactly where we stand from the beginning."
"The rules, eh? Tell me the rules." There was sarcasm in his
"We don't like you using the Quanta Technologies company logo
in your paintings."
"You don't?" he said, not knowing what Quanta was.
"Paint anything else---just not our company logo. Your work
is very intriguing, undoubtedly visionary. All of us are extremely
baffled by the nature of your talent and amazed by how you found out
about us. Yet you're treading on dangerous legal ground. It's
illegal to use our company logo without permission."
"I don't know what you're talking about. I've never heard of
"Quanta is a medical research company. We're developing neuro-
chip and other, err, artificial intelligence technologies, also
medical neuro chips engineered for curative purposes. Tell me
you're being intentionally innocent over these facts."
"I told you already. I've never heard of Quanta," he said,
vaguely associating the term with something that Billy ranted about
over the years, usually while Giovanni was inebriated. But Gio did
not say that. He continued his air of innocence, saying: "You make
"In 1996 we received government approval for clinical trials on
brain implants. Since then our research scientists have helped
engineer a microchip designed to duplicate the biological operations
performed by the hippocampus. If the microchip succeeds, it could
help people suffering from brain damage, particularly stroke
patients, epileptics and those suffering from Alzheimer's disease.
The power of this technology, Mr. Migliazzo, is about to transform
In the background was the hiss of the espresso machine frothing
milk. Night had fallen, and the room started to empty. All who
was left in the sitting area were the two. Yet despite the
increasing silence, the doctor spoke at an increasing volume. He
started using hand gestures and, oddly, begun gazing relentlessly
into Giovanni's eyes. The gaze was embarrassing, and yet Gio did
dip his eyes. He stared straight ahead, out of rebelliousness then
started scratching his nose and occasionally shrugging his
shoulder. "Sounds interesting," Giovanni said in bland voice; his
eyes half closed, then took a sip of coffee to find that his cup was
"Interesting?" the doctor responded, "Not just interesting,
revolutionary! Neuro chips are the savior of mankind!"
Giovanni loathed fanatics. Their excessive, uncritical zeal
embarrassed him. "Sorry for being cynical," he remarked, "but I'm a
cynic by nature. I don't believe in anything that claims to be
a `savior of mankind'---whether it's a computer chip or a man."
The doctor's jaw muscles flared like the back of a strolling
panther even while his face remained plastic and expressionless.
Giovanni took advantage of the pall of silence by elaborating his
position more succinctly. "After all, doctor, you're changing
people's brains; you're not changing the world. Even if you're
successful, and I hope you are, the universe will still exist as it
has always existed. Now, if you could develop a computer chip that
allows mankind to see meaning in his life then you may be `saving'
The doctor reached for a wallet in his jacket pocket;
obviously the man wasn't accustomed to opposing view points and now
avoided eye contact when handing him his business card. The name on
the card read Dujin Rabsu.
"You can contact me at this number," said the doctor in his
"Don't be offended, sir."
"I'm not offended. You're a cynic---and you need to be
convinced. If you could only see the vast potential of nuero chip
technology then you would agree that computers technology is the
savior of mankind, at least more of a savior than the ones provided
by religion. Our religious saviors have given us a way to live our
lives; they've given us ethics and morals, but not a new modality of
comprehension, not a new way of seeing and comprehending the
universe. Computers will give mankind that vision, instantly."
"Yes, but it's a vision produced artificially by a machine."
"So what? Essentially, that's all our brain is. It's a device
that constructs thought and receives the data flowing into our brain
from our senses. Once you change your brain you've changed
reality. Mind is reality."
"Sorry but I would not want to think as a computer. I choose
to think as a man. I know a little something about computers and I
wouldn't want to become one of them."
"But you are one already! You're a system of interlocking
organs producing organic life. Thought is a construct produced by
organic biological matter operating mechanically."
"I'm sorry, but I just can't accept the mechanistic world
view. That was the view that my college professors tried ramming
down my throat when I was young, but I never accepted it. I've
always believed that mankind possesses a transcendent principle.
True consciousness cannot be generated by formal logic systems or by
any type of artificial intelligence that uses machine learning, or
statistical analysis or case based reasoning, or Bayesian networks.
It's the non-material forces of the soul that form the only value-
relationships worth living for."
The doctor laughed mockingly. "You're an idealist!"
"No, I'm rotten nihilist, Dr. Rabsu. I'm un-saveable. No
computer chip can give the world what it most desires---meaning."
Still chuckling, Dr. Dujin Rabsu lowered his hat on his
head. "I must be going now."
"I have a surgery at eight. This has been a thought provoking
conversation, and I wish I could stay. Seeing your art work, I did
not think it would be. Call me and we'll talk more. We'll show you
that artificial intelligence is not a retrograde science, as you
think it is, but the golden future of mankind."
"Wow, golden future? Who's the idealist now?"
Again the doctor laughed, though this time softer. "Well I
have been criticized for taking my work too seriously. Remember,
artificial intelligence is still intelligence. If it's a better
form of intelligence than the organic-chemical intelligence we have
now, then it's an advancement. Artificial intelligence processes
data at extremely high levels."
"So do calculators, but I wouldn't want to be one. The
question is, if you succeed in your purpose, would it be true
consciousness that you create, or would it be the type of
consciousness that is already found in mechanical devices such as
calculators and computer, just on a more sophisticated level?"
"True consciousness?" the doctor laughed---and now started
backpedaling toward the door. "No such thing exists, Mr.
Migliazzo. Have a good day!"
The business card that Dr Rabsu left on the table had his
business phone number on the front, while another number, apparently
his cell phone, was scrawled in ballpoint pen on the back. The logo
on front was a simple geometric design, rather plane looking. It
consisted merely in five rectangles outlining one another, each a
different color, with a Greek triskelion in the middle. Beneath the
symbol was a hand written Web address.
When he looked up from the business card the doctor had already
left the espresso bar and could be seen walking against the wind,
having to press his hat against his head to keep it from blowing
away. In a sense, he admired the doctor. Fanaticism was obviously
an asset in his professional life, that fueled his creativity and
inventiveness, and provided his life with a level of meaning that
was foreign to Giovanni. Mentally drifting in the piano melodies,
he ambled toward the exit, a toothpick in his mouth. Upon leaving
the espresso bar the soft piano melodies drifted out onto the
street, merging with the sound of traffic. Broadway was wet and
glistening; and the puddles on the sidewalk reflected the hazy
street lamps overhead and the moon appearing and disappearing from
behind a banner of broken clouds. Intermixed with the stone smell,
which the city emitted in the rain, there was the aquatic smelling
air blowing in from the Missouri River. The traffic passed for less
than a minute before Giovanni's black Porsche sped by.
to be continued....