The Great Canadian Road Trip: Song #48/250: Flesh Without Blood by Grimes

Do you believe in God? I don’t really need to know your answer nor to give you mine. However, this is one of the most fundamental questions in all of humanity because of its impact on how we choose to live our lives. If we believe in the existence of God, then by extension, we believe in the idea of Heaven and Hell and all of the requisite human behaviours that qualify you to enter the Kingdom of Heaven or else condemn you to Hell. A belief in God or any God-like being invokes an automatic set of lifelong behavioural modification techniques that you impose upon yourself in the hope of earning an eternal reward. If you do not believe in God, then you really have nothing to lose in life by living as you see fit. Your lack of belief in a supreme being eliminates the requisite behavioural modifications, because living a satisfying life on your own terms becomes its own form of reward. One way or the other, your decision is a gamble. If you choose to not believe in God and it turns out that God exists, then we all know where you are spending eternity now, don’t we? Back in the seventeenth century, French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal described this very set of behavioural outcomes in a theory that has become known in philosophy circles as Pascal’s Gamble. For centuries, humans continued to accept the idea that God exists. This, in turn, led to the creation of organized religions, the building of churches and the codifying into law of sets of behaviours that govern much of our society to this very day. To say that Pascal’s Gamble is a relevant and impactful philosophical theory is to state the obvious, my Captain.

Photo of a drawing of French philosopher Blaise Pascal.
Philosopher Blaise Pascal.

But what if the idea of a God-like entity was taken from its religious form and transposed into the modern day idea of synthesizing our human existence with that of computer technology and, in particular, with artificial intelligence? The symbiosis of these two topics was hinted at in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey when, at the end of the movie, we were left wondering who or what was really in control of the spaceship…H.A.L. or Dave the astronaut?  The implication being that humanity, as we know it, only has meaning and relevance in so far as we perfect the technology that will lead to the creation of Artificial Intelligence, or A.I., as it is often referred to. At this evolutionary point, A.I. will become God-like and humans will cease to matter.  Artificially- created and controlled scenarios will become our modern reality and free will to make our own decisions will cease to exist.

In my life, the weightiest decisions I tend to make each day concern making sure that my socks match my shirt and what exactly I end up eating for lunch. But for some people, their day is spent plumbing the depths of the cavernous thoughts that fill their minds. There are entire subgroups of people who spend the entirety of their day thinking deep thoughts and debating those thoughts with other deep thinkers. Sometimes those folks show up in university classes *(like the one I wrote about in a post that you can read here). Some others are content to talk in chat rooms found in the bowels of the Interweb. Occasionally, some of those debates rise to the surface and become fodder for social media discussion. One such instance of this concerned a debate on Twitter/X that revolved around a thought experiment called Roko’s BasiliskRoko’s Basilisk is a modern day version of Pascal’s Gamble that substitutes A.I. for God. In doing so, it also invokes a second philosophical/mathematical theorem called The Prisoner’s Dilemma. In this theory, two prisoners are held in separate cells in a jail. They have no means of communicating. They are offered the exact same plea bargains by police: stay silent and be sentenced to three years in jail. Give evidence against the criminal colleague in the other cell and go free. However, if both criminals rat on the other then both are sentenced to two years in prison. In mathematical tests, the outcome that happened most often was that under duress most people would err on the side of self-interest and rat on their partner in crime. The overarching element to this theorem was that regardless of the final choice being made by each prisoner, neither was really in any position of power. Both were at the mercy of a not-so benevolent system that ultimately had control over their lives. The best they could hope for was a little mercy and a temporary reprieve from punishment.

Photo of a tweet written by Elon Musk in which he first mentions the words "Rococo Basilisk" or, as is more commonly pronounced, "Rook's Basilisk".
The tweet that started a relationship.

Roko’s Basilisk came up for discussion and debate on Twitter/X a decade or so ago. Because the core of its argument is that betting on the superiority of humanity is a sucker’s bet, people with an interest in technology and A.I. chimed in on the debate with much enthusiasm. One of those who offered an opinion was Elon Musk. At the time, Musk was known as the man behind the revolutionary car known as Tesla. He had not yet made noises about buying Twitter and limiting social media discourse. Back then, he was more interested in discussions involving the evolving nature of technology and the future of our society, So, Elon Musk created a meme that attempted to offer his take on The Prisoner’s Dilemma and how it applied to Roko’s Basilisk. Among the many others who took note of the debate and were excited to take part was a young woman named Claire Elise Boucher, or, as she is known in music circles, Grimes. 

As it turned out, Grimes had lots of thoughts about the intersection of technology and human creativity, too. She was heavily invested in the relationship between technology and her ability to harness that to make new and innovative combinations of sounds. These sounds ended up becoming the songs on the albums she released. Most of the music in the early part of her career was termed as electronic dance music. Because she was investing her creative energies in tapping into the potential melding of technology and music, audiences and critics found her to be someone who possessed a lot of originality and passion. It isn’t every day that someone comes along who strikes people as being truly original, but that is the impression Grimes gave to anyone who cared to listen. Her albums were highly regarded and reviewed, making the year-end lists of the best music of the year several times during the 2010s. Her first big hits were songs called “Genesis” and “Oblivion” from an album called Visions.  The online music magazine Pitchfork went so far as to declare Visions as being the best album of the decade. As for Grimes and her musical influences, she offered up other musicians who didn’t fit the mold either, like Bjork, Kate Bush and Enya. Overall, as fans bopped to her beats in clubs and at music festivals, few paid much attention to her lyrics. If they had, they would have known that a song like “Flesh Without Blood” was based on Roko’s Basilisk, long before Grimes ever decided to engage in a Twitter debate about it that included Elon Musk.

Photograph of singer Grimes.

Grimes is a deep thinker who believes that issues such as gender identity are fabricated social constructs that were designed to limit her freedom to express herself as she sees fit and to be who she deems herself to truly be. For that reason, Grimes was drawn to the idea of a world run less on the emotional attachment to a religious deity and more toward the notion of a world built on the logic that A.I. can offer. With this in mind, you can imagine the delight felt by Elon Musk when he read the contribution offered by Grimes on Twitter to the Roko Basilisk debate and found it to be identical to his own. Kindred spirits had found each other online on Twitter. These two people arranged to meet and ended up deciding that they liked each other’s company. They have had three children together without becoming married because, like many things, marriage is an archaic holdover from those religion-driven times when behaving properly in the eyes of God was what motivated our behaviour.  Based upon news reports, Musk and Grimes have an “open” relationship which includes custody issues, among many other things that help to make their relationship unique. Despite having to sue Musk for access to her own children, Grimes continues to say publicly that she admires Elon Musk and considers him to be her boyfriend.

A photo of Elon Musk and Grimes out for a night on the town. Many photographers appear in the background, cameras at the ready.

Regardless of the tabloid nature of that relationship, the important thing to take from this all is to realize how some of those who are heading social media companies think of humanity and of ideas like compassion and love and kindness. If we can assume that people who control our social media interactions and those who play some of the most popular music in the world actually envision a world run completely by the logical dictates of A.I., then what are we doing following them?! Getting back to the very opening paragraph of this post and the idea known as Pascal’s Gamble, do you believe in God? If so, are you willing to fight for a world in which the virtues that grant one access into Heaven are the driving force behind our social behaviour? If you don’t believe in a religious God, then do you agree with the Elon Musks and the Grimes of the world that logic is king and that a world ruled by A.I., in which our power to choose how we live is restricted and even obliterated, is the inevitable path down which we are all headed? Is resistance actually futile? Today’s song, “Flesh Without Blood” by Grimes, is about relationships that are sexual without being complicated by notions of love and commitment. It is a catchy tune that, as you will see if you watch the videos below, is popular with audiences. Whether or not this song is your kind of music doesn’t matter any more than whether or not you believe in God matters to anyone beyond your own fine self. “Flesh Without Blood” is a song that supersedes love with self-interest. That is also the answer to the Prisoner’s Dilemma problem, too. Look around the world at all that is going on in Ukraine, in Gaza, in the oil-rich parts of the world with regard to acknowledging climate change, to building homes on top of greenbelts and on and on it goes. Self-interest over love. “Flesh Without Blood”. This is our world. For what it is worth, I am not a religious man. I believe in the collective responsibility we all have to each other and to our planet. If you are reading these words, then you can trust that if we were to meet up that I would always do right by you. But, like it or not, there is a war being waged for our very souls. It is being waged mostly through technology and social media. It is a war that states that self-interest is all that matters. It is a battle that appears to be tilting in favour of those who, like Musk and Grimes, believe in a logic-filled, self-interested future for us all. For what it is worth, I will battle back with a handshake, a hug and kind words for those who need them. I will love unconditionally until love becomes obsolete. I will always believe in the power of Love. For me, Love is as close to believing in God as I get.

The link to the official website for Grimes can be found here.

The link to a video for the song “Flesh Without Blood” by Grimes can be found here. The lyric video can be found here. ***The lyric video might be the way for first-time listeners to go, because at times I find her voice hard to understand. That may just be me. You be you.   

The link for a video for the song “Flesh Without Blood” by a church choir can be found here. Knowing that the song preaches self-interest above love, having a church choir sing the song in a church is an interesting juxtaposition. 

The link to a video for the song “Oblivion” by Grimes as covered by a fan can be found here. The reason for including this video is that it clearly demonstrates how completely Grimes has integrated her music into the world of technology. Again, it could just be me, but I find this interesting because the whole song is played without using anything that resembles what we would consider to be typical musical instruments.  ***Here is the live version for those who are interested.

The link to an official website dedicated to the thoughts of mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal can be found here.

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