6 May, 2023

Today I woke up, walked the dog, fed the dog, then walked into my office. I could tell the day would be a little bit different based on the order of things. I usually make my breakfast straight away, but in the last few months I’ve been postponing it more. Today was a postponement day. It’s two hours later and I still haven’t eaten breakfast.

Instead, I tracked down a few bits of research I had started from bed last night and early this morning. I ran a few experiments. I jotted down a few notes. The whole thing was pretty dispassionate, which is notable for me. I spend a lot of time excited by a new thing, but today my excitement was replaced with a mindset of focus and direction.

I’ve been reading research papers, but really only focusing on one. It’s not particularly long, and I want to read the whole thing manually to make sure I understand it fully. But as I’ve read it, I’ve wondered how well chatGPT could summarise it for me. And this morning I formally listed all the ways I could summarise it.

  1. There’s a website called MyAskAI.com where you can upload large documents and ask questions about it.
  2. There’s a Github project called pashpashpash/vault-ai that lets you do the same thing with your own content, on your own site, for free.
  3. There’s typeset.io that helps summarise and analyse research papers, and it also has a Chrome plugin.
  4. There’s pdfgpt.io which takes any PDF and summarises it for you.
  5. And finally there’s my own chatGPT code that I’ve been using for a product called TasteBuddy, but I was able to re-wire to summarise large amounts of text.

I got access to the chatGPT-4 API yesterday, and I wanted to see how that would affect my results. So this morning, a Saturday with nothing on my calendar, I dispassionately tested each one, and now I have results. The overall summary is that the results are good and this is going to save me a ton of time. pdfgpt.io was my favourite, and I suspect I’ll be using it a lot.

There’s nothing wrong with dispassionately doing research, of course. But I’m feeling my enthusiasm maturing from “can you even believe this?” and into something more sturdy and mature. Like burning a piece of kindling versus maintaining the embers of a healthy campfire. The first flame is exciting but weak. Burning through hard wood isn’t novel, but much more powerful. I’ve traded light for heat.

Last night I went to see Beau Is Afraid, a new movie from the studio that made Everything Everywhere All At Once. The movie is extremely long and self-indulgent. It’s not just an art house film, it’s purposely confusing and opaque. Many people will hate it. In my showing, I heard people saying “what the hell is this movie?” and at the end there was nervous laughter. We all left thinking WTF and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

Coincidentally, ten minutes before walking into the film I recorded a video for some friends where I talked about my theory of how media gets “infused with meaning.” You can listen to a song on the radio and it won’t mean much. But if your best friend were to say it’s their favourite song, you’d listen to it again with a completely different viewpoint. The song doesn’t change, but you do, and I think that’s beautiful.

I went to art school, so we spent a lot of time talking about art and the role of the audience. Through those experiences, I realised I am a hardliner when it comes to art. My standard example is to ask if a crumpled up piece of paper behind glass “deserves” to be art. Many people say no, I say yes. Art doesn’t mean “thing I personally like,” it’s closer to “an expression from an artist meant to inspire.” If I crumple up a piece of paper, it’s crumpled up paper. But as soon as I take a picture of it, send it to a friend, put it behind glass, put a plaque next to it, write an essay about the meaning of it, etc … it becomes art. It becomes infused with meaning the moment you ask for comment. That’s when it becomes art.

So watching Beau Is Afraid was quite an experience for me. It’s challenging and confusing, and I don’t think anyone in my theatre liked it. And yet … there’s value in that. The movie wasn’t “bad,” it just wasn’t what most people would choose to see. And yet the fact that I’m still thinking about the movie, and talking to you about it now, and reading analysis online, well, that’s something. In fact, it’s a lot. The movie is like a coronavirus, perfectly designed with spikes to make it attach to things. You can’t watch the movie and ignore it. It begs to be infused with meaning, whether that’s people saying “well, that’s 3 hours of my life I’ll never get back” or me writing about it here. That is impressive and inspiring. It’s the role of art, and I am glad I experienced it. I’m glad I can pass it along to you.

You probably won’t like the movie, and yet, perversely, that’s beside the point.

There is truth, and there is art. It’s possible they are opposing forces. Both vital, as foundational as fire and water, but no less at odds. When I am experiencing art, there is no objective truth, only experience and infused meaning. When I am researching as an academic, personal opinion is a distraction. I want to find what’s objectively true, to whatever degree I can.

Art is light, and research is heat. We need both.