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a blog by Ann Althouse

"Thinking it might be fun to try to see how the language model performs as a Socratic conversation partner, I attempted a rough version of Plato’s Crito...."

"... in which ChatGPT plays the titular role. As you will see, ChatGPT isn’t the subtlest actor; there were some stumbling blocks in setting up the dialogue and keeping the language model in character."

Here's an excerpt from the middle of the exchange that shows you how ChatGPT keeps repeating phrases that make it clear it has no opinion and is not actually the character to whom the human has assigned an opinion:

Plato, by contrast, could create an interlocutor for Socrates and, putting whatever arguments he wanted into Crito's mouth, give the reader a fluid reading experience. 

What I was looking for when I found this little experiment was an app that could have a conversation with me when I was out walking. I wasn't looking for a companion to stave off loneliness or make me feel good about myself — e.g., Replika. I wanted someone like Socrates to engage me in philosophical conversations.

That was just me getting distracted as I tried to gain a foothold in this morning's "challenging" puzzle in The New Yorker:


The term peripatetic is a transliteration of the ancient Greek word περιπατητικός (peripatētikós), which means "of walking" or "given to walking about." The Peripatetic school, founded by Aristotle, was actually known simply as the Peripatos. Aristotle's school came to be so named because of the peripatoi ("walkways", some covered or with colonnades) of the Lyceum where the members met. The legend that the name came from Aristotle's alleged habit of walking while lecturing may have started with Hermippus of Smyrna
Unlike Plato (428/7–348/7 BC), Aristotle (384–322 BC) was not a citizen of Athens and so could not own property; he and his colleagues therefore used the grounds of the Lyceum as a gathering place, just as it had been used by earlier philosophers such as Socrates....

UPDATE: I've finished the puzzle, and — as I'd expected — "SLOW" was wrong. Spoiler alert: It was the much odder word "LOGY." And "Peripatetic professor" wasn't any particular peripatetic professor. Obviously, "Aristotle" didn't fit, and, boringly, the answer was just "VISITING SCHOLAR." This character apparently had to travel to get to his temporary position, but I'm sure he didn't walk, and I'm sure once he arrived, he got an indoor chamber within which to profess. No one does the walk-and-talk approach to teaching anymore, but they will, eventually, when that app I want springs into existence. Or will it still be "no one," since it will only be an artificial intelligence. That's just one of the philosophical questions you can talk about, once this someone/no one embeds itself in your life.

AND: Speaking of philosophy:

"[Amber] McLaughlin spoke quietly with a spiritual adviser at her side as the fatal dose of pentobarbital was injected."

"She was pronounced dead a few minutes later. 'I am sorry for what I did,' McLaughlin had said in a final written statement. 'I am a loving and caring person.'... The clemency petition cited McLaughlin’s traumatic childhood and mental health issues... [and] said that McLaughlin had received a diagnosis of gender dysphoria.... But McLaughlin’s sexual identity was 'not the main focus' of the clemency request, her lawyer, Larry Komp, said. She was originally convicted in 2006 of the murder of Beverly Guenther, 45, who had taken a restraining order.... 'McLaughlin terrorised Ms Guenther in the final years of her life but we hope her family and loved ones may finally have some peace,' [said Missouri Governor Mike Parson, who denied clemency]."

From "Amber McLaughlin: first transgender woman is executed in Missouri" (London Times).

ADDED: The London Times used the term "sexual identity," which made me think maybe in London the preference for "gender identity" has yet to take hold, but searching the Times archive, I see that "gender identity" is more common. For example, here are 2 pieces from a couple weeks ago: "The gender issue is now a religion. Fear of blaspheming keeps sensible people quiet" ("This is what happens when you legislate based on faith. And gender identity is a faith...") and "Parents lose court fight against gender lessons/Sex education is about tolerance, says judge" ("A group of parents has lost a legal challenge against the teaching of gender identity and sex to seven-year-old children in Welsh primary schools").

"Aw, twenty-three!"

"By the way, I have come upon a new piece of slang within the past two months and it has puzzled me. I just heard it from a big newsboy who had a ‘stand’ on a corner. A small boy with several papers under his arm had edged up until he was trespassing on the territory of the other. When the big boy saw the small one he went at him in a threatening manner and said: ‘Here! Here! Twenty-three! Twenty-three!’ The small boy scowled and talked under his breath, but he moved away. A few days after that I saw a street beggar approach a well-dressed man, who might have been a bookmaker or horseman, and try for the usual ‘touch’. The man looked at the beggar in cold disgust and said: ‘Aw, twenty-three!’ I could see that the beggar didn’t understand it any better than I did. I happened to meet a man who tries to ‘keep up’ on slang and I asked [about] the meaning of ‘Twenty-three!’ He said it was a signal to clear out, run, get away."

Wrote George Ade, in 1899, quoted in the Wikipedia article "23 skidoo (phrase)."

But why did 23 come to mean get out?

Some people think it originated with Dickens's novel "A Tale of Two Cities"! It has to do with the numbers given to the doomed prisoners going to the guillotine:

It sheared off heads so many, that it, and the ground it most polluted, were a rotten red. It was taken to pieces, like a toy-puzzle for a young Devil, and was put together again when the occasion wanted it. It hushed the eloquent, struck down the powerful, abolished the beautiful and good. Twenty-two friends of high public mark, twenty-one living and one dead, it had lopped the heads off, in one morning, in as many minutes....

[A woman] goes next before him—is gone.... Twenty-Two....

The murmuring of many voices, the upturning of many faces, the pressing on of many footsteps in the outskirts of the crowd, so that it swells forward in a mass, like one great heave of water, all flashes away. Twenty-Three.

"Taraneh Alidoosti, one of Iran’s most famous actors, has been detained by security forces in Tehran days after she criticised the state’s use of the death penalty against protesters...."

The Guardian reports. 

In her last Instagram post, the actor said: “His name was Mohsen Shekari. Every international organization who is watching this bloodshed and not taking action, is a disgrace to humanity.”

Shekari was executed on 8 December after being charged by an Iranian court with blocking a street in Tehran and injuring a member of the country’s security forces with a machete....

Fluent in German and English, Alidoosti has also translated books by Alice Munro and Nicole Krauss from English to Persian.

She had vowed not to leave Iran, writing: “I do not have a passport or residence anywhere except Iran. I’ll stay and look you straight in the eyes like all these normal people when I scream for my rights. I’ve inherited this courage from the women of my land, who for years have been living their lives, every day with resistance … I will stay, I will not quit, I will stand with the families of the prisoners and murdered and demand their rights. I will fight for my home, I will pay whatever it takes to stand up for my rights, and most importantly: I believe in what we are building together today.”

"A federal judge in the US has denied a request from a 19-year-old woman to allow her to watch her father’s death by injection..."

"... upholding a Missouri law that bars anyone under 21 from witnessing an execution.... 'I’m heartbroken that I won’t be able to be with my dad in his last moments... My dad is the most important person in my life. He has been there for me my whole life, even though he’s been incarcerated.'"

 From "US federal judge denies 19-year-old’s request to attend her father’s execution" (The Guardian). The father, Kevin Johnson, murdered a police officer 17 years ago.

"He looked forward, he said, to a better diet in prison, with more vegetables and fewer carbs. Life in prison will allow him..."

"... to correspond with his friends, perhaps including a pen pal whom he said he wanted to marry. He’ll have recreation time, be able to play sports and maybe even watch his favorite teams compete on TV. Opponents of capital punishment often claim that life in prison is worse than death.... Instead of putting him out of his misery, they insist, keep him alive so he’ll really suffer. Three decades of documenting daily life on death rows and inside maximum security prisons.... have taught me.... the most vicious criminals often have the best jobs, best hustles and easiest lives.... Mr. Cruz’s hopes, expectations and dreams for his own future remain realistic...."

Writes lawprof Robert Blecker, author of "The Death of Punishment: Searching for Justice Among the Worst of the Worst," in "If Not the Parkland Shooter, Who Is the Death Penalty For?" (NYT).

"I just don’t understand this"/"What do we have the death penalty for?"

Said the parents of one of the Parkland victims, when the jury spared the killer the death penalty.

From "Live Updates: Families Shocked as Jury Spares Life of the Parkland Killer/'The monster that killed them gets to live another day,' said Tony Montalto, whose daughter, Gina, was among the 17 people murdered in a Florida high school" (NYT).

In each case, the jurors found that prosecutors had proved many aggravating factors — that the crime was especially heinous and cruel, that it was committed in a cold and calculating manner, and that the gunman had created a great risk of death. But they did not unanimously find that the aggravating factors outweighed mitigating circumstances that the defense lawyers brought up at the sentencing trial.... 

Before court adjourned, Nikolas Cruz sat with his lawyers huddled around him, showing little emotion after the jury spared his life.

ADDED: The public defender, Melisa McNeill, made the argument that convinced the jury:

She described Mr. Cruz as “poisoned” by his biological mother’s heavy drinking while she was pregnant with him. That led to fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, which was misdiagnosed by experts throughout Mr. Cruz’s life, Ms. McNeill said, despite the slew of developmental problems and sometimes violent behavior he exhibited, which overwhelmed his adoptive mother.

In retelling the story of Mr. Cruz’s troubled childhood, Ms. McNeill urged jurors to consider the mitigating circumstances that she said should spare his life. Unlike the aggravating factors presented by the prosecution, which were generally factual in nature, she said, mitigating circumstances can mean different things to different people.

“Were there things about Nikolas’s life that you wish hadn’t happened?” she asked the jury. “Are there things that he didn’t get that you wish he would have gotten? Was he missing people in his life that you wish he hadn’t missed?”

If they answered yes, she said, “That’s mitigation — that’s a reason for life.”... 
And she repeatedly reminded the jurors that they did not have to impose the death penalty. To do so would be to act out of anger, she argued, and would “serve no other purpose at all, other than vengeance.”

“Grace is not a limited resource,” Ms. McNeill said. “Compassion is not a limited resource. Mercy is not a limited resource. Sentencing Nikolas Cruz to life is the right thing to do. So I now put in your hands his life.”

"Our country’s going to hell. Our country is going to hell," said Donald Trump in his 2-hour Wilkes-Barre speech.

I found a transcript. So let's see if I can find some things to quote.
Our country’s going to hell. Our country is going to hell.

What a theme! We just saw Biden speechifying from what looked like hell (what with that red light), demanding that we join him there, and now here comes Trump, with his own hell theme.

This election is a referendum on skyrocketing inflation, rampant crime, soaring murders, crushing gas prices, millions and millions of illegal aliens pouring across our border, race and gender indoctrination perverting our schools, and above all, this election is a referendum on the corruption and extremism of Joe Biden and the radical Democrat party....

Biden characterized the MAGA Republicans as extremists, and Trump is throwing the "Extremist!" accusation right back at Biden and his party.

As you know, this week, Joe Biden came to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to give the most vicious, hateful, and divisive speech ever delivered by an American president, vilifying 75 million citizens, plus another, probably, 75 to 150, if we want to be accurate about it, as threats to democracy and as enemies of the state. You’re all enemies of the state. He’s an enemy of the state, you want to know the truth.

The same rhetorical move: Biden called my people the enemy, so I call him the enemy. 

The enemy of the state is him and the group that control him, which is circling around him, “Do this, do that, Joe, you’re going to do this, Joe.” Right? I think Philadelphia was a great choice to make this speech of hatred and anger. His speech was hatred and anger. By the way, the next morning, he forgot what he said. You saw that. They asked him about, “Oh, I didn’t think I said that. Did I? I don’t know.”

Did he forget to say why Philadelphia was apt because he was hot to say that Joe forgets. 

How’d you like the red lighting behind him, like the devil?

That's making the point quickly. An he gets back to why Philly is fitting:

But Philadelphia was a great choice, because the city is being devastated under Democrat rule, devastated. Hate to tell you....

He goes on about crime in Philadelphia, then recommends voting for Dr. Oz: 

And Oz will send you the goods. Oz, send them the goods. You know what the goods are? Lots of police officers. That’s what the goods are....

Instead of trying to demonize half of the population, Biden and congressional Democrats should focus on stopping the killing and the bloodshed in Philadelphia and every other Democrat-run city in America, where record death and destruction is taking place every single day. Biden thinks making America great again is bad for our country. Do you believe it? That was in his speech. MAGA. “MAGA,” he says. “We got to stop MAGA.”....

He cries out about the raid on Mar-a-Lago, "a travesty of justice that made a mockery of America’s laws, traditions, and principles":

The Biden administration invaded the home of their chief political opponent.... On a phony pretext, getting permission from a highly political magistrate who they hand-picked late in the evening.... They rifled through the First Lady’s closet, drawers, and everything else. And even did a deep and ugly search of the room of my 16-year-old son, leaving everything they touched in far different condition than it was when they started. Can you believe it? The FBI and the Justice Department have become vicious monsters controlled by radical left scoundrels, lawyers, and the media who tell them what to do, you people right there, and when to do it. They’re trying to silence me, and more importantly, they are trying to silence you. But we will not be silenced, right?

The evil and malice of this demented persecution of you and me should be obvious to all.... We are being assaulted by the same group at the FBI and DoJ that, just a few years ago, declared no reasonable prosecutor would charge crooked Hillary Clinton after she set up a secret illegal server to hide her family’s pay-for-play schemes, crammed it full of classified information, allowed it to be plundered by foreign hackers, you know that happened. And then deleted, acid-washed, 30,000 emails. Think of that. 30,000 emails. And what else did she do? Boom, with a hammer, smashed her phone systems to smithereens after receiving the highest level of subpoena from the US Congress.... Yet now these same people, the exact same people, are sending the FBI storming through the home of their number one political rival. It’s a disgrace, a disgrace like, possibly, never before, our country’s never seen anything like it.... 

Before our very eyes, our beloved country is being taken over by the very people who turn democracies into dictatorships, and into, ultimately, ruination....

There's much much more. I'm skipping a lot. Here's the part about Mark Zuckerberg. This begins confusingly with the words "Last week" but then he's not talking about something that happened last week. He begins what is a long parenthetical and then continues with what happened last week. 

Last week, weirdo, he’s a weirdo, Mark Zuckerberg came to the White House, kissed my ass, kissed my ass. “Sir, I’d love to have dinner. Sir, I’d love to have dinner. I’d love to bring my lovely wife.” “All right, Mark. Come on in.” “Sir, you’re number one on Facebook, I’d like to congratulate you.” “Thank you very much, Mark. I appreciate it.” Weirdo Mark Zuckerberg confessed that in 2020, the FBI went to Facebook and the media and gave them the false narrative that the Hunter Biden laptop from hell was Russian disinformation, even though they knew that was not true.

Here's how to read that: "Last week — [long story] — weirdo Mark Zuckerberg confessed [etc. etc.]"

So they went and they said it was Russian disinformation. By the way, the guy that came in with that stuff just got fired. He perp walked. He was perp walked out of the FBI on Friday. But that doesn’t help us and the election of 2020, does it? That doesn’t help us....

Let me leap way ahead to his report about his body: 

It’s about a hundred degrees up here. I’m sweating like a dog, but I’ll call Dr. Oz. Dr. Oz, am I okay? Doctor, am I okay? He says, yes. He says yes. I was on his show years ago, Dr. Oz, I’m going to introduce him in a second, but I was on his show years ago and he did like an examination of me. I don’t know what the hell I did the show for. I wasn’t like even a politician at that point, but he did an examination in the word said, “He’s extremely healthy, really a very, very fine fit, man, but he should lose 20 or 25 pounds. I was so angry. I didn’t speak to him for years. Remember that? He said, “He was great, but he could lose a couple of pounds.”

He shows anger at the doctor for telling him the truth — on TV. But he takes responsibility for choosing to go on the show, and he kicks himself in public: "I don’t know what the hell I did the show for." It's relatable. Nearly every American knows they could stand to lose some weight.

Here's some good stuff about foreign leaders:

So I got to know a lot of the foreign leaders, and let me tell you, unlike our leader, they’re at the top of their game. These are like central casting. There’s nobody that could play the role in Hollywood, all of Hollywood, nobody can play the role of President Xi China. Nobody could play the role. He’s a fierce person. Putin, fierce, is smart. A lot of times I’ll say somebody’s smart and the fake news will go, “He called President Xi smart.” He rules with an iron fist 1.5 billion people. Yeah, I’d say he’s smart. Wouldn’t you say he’s smart? 

So I’m with President Xi and I got along with him very well.... I said, “President,” He’s president for life, by the way. So I call him King. I say, “King.” He said, “But I am not king.” I said, “You are to me. You’re president for life, it’s the same thing.”... 

But I said, “President, could I ask you a very simple question? Do you have a drug problem?” He looked at me like, “What’s wrong with that? No, of course not.” He goes, “No, no.” He’s like, “What the hell stupid question is that? No.” I said, “You don’t have a drug problem with 1.5 billion people?” 

His big problem is they make the drugs, they send them into our country, that’s their problem. That would’ve been their problem and he was stopping it too, but now they’re sending the fentanyl in at numbers that you wouldn’t believe. Wouldn’t believe it, pouring through that porous border at numbers you wouldn’t believe. I had them very close to stopped. He couldn’t do it. I told him he can’t do it. So, “President, President, you don’t have a drug problem? But why, but why don’t you have a drug problem?” ” We have quick trial.” I said, “What is a quick trial?” “We immediately catch the drug dealer. We give him quick trial and if he is guilty,” which I would say probably they’re batting… Would you say… Oz, would you say they’re about batting 100% or only 99%?” “If the drug dealer is guilty, he is immediately executed. So we have no drug problem in each China”... 

He wants the death penalty for drug dealers in America: 

I’ve told this, and it’s a hard thing to say, because calling for the death penalty stuff, but think of it, they kill 500 people during a lifetime.... We would solve that problem so fast and I’m calling on Republicans and Democrats immediately to institute to get to Washington and institute the death penalty for drug dealers. You will no longer have a problem....

He attacks Fetterman and expresses disgust at the sweatsuit:

Your state’s radical Democrat candidate for Senate, John Fetterman is the most dangerous Democrat. He’s the most dangerous Democrat seeking to join Congress this year in one of the most fringe far left freak shows ever to seek election for any office in any state.... He comes in with a sweatsuit on, I’ve never seen a wear a suit. A dirty, dirty, dirty sweatsuit, it’s really disgusting. I’m a clean freak. I’m a clean freak, Oz, I don’t like those dirty sweatsuits, they’re disgusting.

Fetterman made dress like a teenager getting high in his parents’ basement, but he’s a raging lunatic hell bent on springing hardened criminals out of jail in the middle of the worst crime wave in Pennsylvania history. He wants everybody out of jail, and by the way, he wants to get rid of your police. Fetterman is a defund the police Marxist who’s just pulling the wool over people’s eyes, who literally said that if he had a magic wand and could fix one thing, he would end life sentences without parole for murderers, cop killers, rapist, and other monstrous criminals, that’s what he said. He wants them to get out jail. Get out of jail. “Let’s put Trump in jail. Let’s get these murderers, let these murderers out. Put Trump in jail. That Trump is no damn good. He just works his ass off for this country.”...

Skipping ahead to the end, we're back where we began, with the country going to hell:

We’ve got a Federal Bureau of Investigation that won’t allow bad election changing facts to be presented to the public and a Department of Justice that refuses to investigate egregious acts of voting irregularities and fraud. And we have a president who is cognitively impaired and in no condition to lead our country, and everybody knows it. We are a nation that no longer has a free and fair press. Fake news is all you get and they are truly the enemy of the people. We are a nation where free speech is no longer allowed, where crime is rampant like never before, where the economy has been collapsing, where more people died of COVID in 2021 than did in 2020.... And perhaps, most importantly, we are a nation that is no longer respected or listened to around the world. We are a nation that in many ways has become a joke.... But we are not going to let this continue.... We will stand up to the radical left lunatics and the rhinos and we will fight for America like no one has ever fought before.... There is no summit we cannot reach. There is no challenge we cannot meet. There is no victory we cannot have. We will not bend. We will not break. We will not yield. We will never give in. We will never give up. We will never, ever, ever back down....

"Thinking it might be fun to try to see how the language model performs as a Socratic conversation partner, I attempted a rough version of Plato’s Crito...."

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