The biggest challenge that Artificial Intelligence (AI) presents to many people is its encroachment on the human preserve of creativity. It touches the sense of ourselves as creators. We give ourselves the name Homo Sapiens, meaning Man the Knower. Also, Homo Faber, Man the Maker. But behind them all is Homo Creator, Man the Creator. We do not grant any other being in the world this status. We are created but we are also creators, something we claim to share with the gods, all other beings are mere creatures.
But there’s creating and creating and to understand the differences we turn to the ancient philosophical and metaphysical tradition of Kabbalah, which describes the process of creation.
According to Kabbalah, there are four different worlds each with its own level of creativity.
Reading from the bottom up:
This name comes from the verb ‘to do’ in Hebrew. It refers to action. I open a door and enter a room – these are actions, but I have not created anything.
This name comes from the verb ‘to form’ in Hebrew. The noun relates to pottery. Taking the clay and forming it into a pot.
This name comes from the Hebrew verb ‘to create’. It’s the verb that’s used in the first line of Genesis, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” It refers to creating something out of nothing. Similar to the way that virtual particles are said to pop in and out of existence at the quantum level.
This does not come from a verb, rather it comes from a preposition for which there is no translation in English. French has the word ‘chez’ as in ‘chez moi’ – at my place. In German it’s ‘bei’ as in ‘bei mir’ with the same meaning. Here Atziluth is the noun formed from a preposition which has the sense of being at someone’s place; in this context, the place of the gods: “Chez les dieux” in French, or “Bei den Göttern” in German. “At the gods’” would be the translation into English.
So, when we look at the process of creation, we read from the top with Atziluth, the world of archetypes and Platonic forms; the world the divine concepts; the 4-dimensional forms from which our 3D world is cast. This is the world of the gods and we have no business there. Then we step down to Beriah, the word of God that creates the world. Then to Yetzirah, how the pieces of the world fit together, how they combine and separate, forming physical reality in its ever-changing flux. Then down to the basic level of doing with Assiyah, the actions that take place in physical reality that sanctify or profane that reality.
Artificial Intelligence can operate at the level of Assiyah, doing. It can switch on or off a light, it can order milk if you’re running out. AI can also operate at the level of Yetzirah, taking the bits and pieces of the world and putting them together in different ways, like an engineer or bricoleur, scouring the Internet to write say a tourist guide to Vienna or a recipe for Sachertorte.
But can AI operate at the level of Beriah? In the Greek language, this word can be approximated by the word poesis “the activity in which a person brings something into being that did not exist before.” This is the process of making a poem or a song. Sure, a poem is a collection of pre-existing units (words) and can therefore be seen as formed (Yetzirah) in the way a potter forms clay to make a pot, or the way wood is mashed up to make paper. Sure, the words create meaning which is greater than the sum of its parts but it’s still Yetzirah. From this point of view there’s still no essential difference between this sentence and a poem. They are both created from strings of words which are in turn created from strings of letters which evolved from ancient picture writing.
What makes the difference is poesis, the process that can only happen in the world of Beriah. This was described by the German philosopher, Martin Heidegger as ‘bringing forth’. For gods this is easy. They just say the words and it is so. For humans, the nearest we get to it is in the making of a poem. A poet has a flash of inspiration which can be described as a bringing forth from the fire of lived experience. We use words like ‘magical’ to describe it because it is so beyond our everyday worlds of Assiyah (doing) and Yetzirah (forming). This is the quality that distinguishes Beriah.
And this is something that AI cannot do and may never be able to do. No matter how technically proficient an AI program may be, no matter how many poems or songs it may ingest and analyse, what is shat out or spat out lacks this quality of poesis, of true creation. So, for the moment, AI must remain as a tool and Homo Creator is safe from the predations of the machine world.
Originally published in 2600 Magazine, January 2024