In Engelsberg Ideas, folklorist Adrienne Mayor has a new piece discussing the Greek myth of Talos as the original version of the “A.I. dilemma,” expanding on ideas from here 2018 book Gods and Robots. Artificial intelligence is all the rage this year thanks to the rapid emergence of A.I.-powered chatbots and image generators. I’ve always had a little bit of a problem with the effort to find in the story of Talos a precedent for robotics and A.I., mostly because the idea of Talos as a robot probably wasn’t original to the myth and likely developed gradually and incidentally.
There were, of course, ancient myths are were explicitly about androids and robots, such as the Chinese story of Yen Shih and his artificial human, which dates back at least to the fourth century BCE. I do not disagree with the concept that the ancients thought about robots. I disagree, though, with the idea that Talos was originally or primarily conceptualized as a robot in the modern sense.
Two centuries ago, the clergyman and antiquary John Bathurst Deane published The Worship of the Serpent (1830), which attempted to explain the entirety of non-Abrahamic religions worldwide as a unified, prehistoric serpent cult descended from the first idolaters, who worshiped the Serpent from the Garden of Eden, i.e. Satan. To make the claim, Deane took an exceedingly common motif—serpents, after all, can be found everywhere and appear regularly in myths and art as a result—and abstracted from it a unified faith that didn’t exist.
The Jerusalem Post ran a story this week claiming that the Bible giant Goliath’s skull is located under the land occupied by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre because its biblical name, Golgotha, sort of sounds like “Goliath of Gath.” The Post did not clearly explain to readers that its article was a near-verbatim copy of a 2017 tabloid story from Britain’s Daily Star, itself recycling Evangelical chatter from the early 2000s, nor did the Post disclose that the “author” of their story, “Walla! Tourism,” had apparently produced the piece to draw Christian tourists to Israel.
Over on Substack, I reviewed the three-hour conversation between Michael Shermer of Skeptic magazine and controversial Canadian academic Jordan B. Peterson. You can read my thoughts here.
The following was cross-posted in my Substack newsletter.
This week, I am experimenting with a newsletter format, featuring a longer piece of writing divided into shorter articles rather than separate posts. In this issue, we’ll look at the Today show’s promotion of the curse of the pharaohs, a new article about ancient Greek mythology’s connection to the Bronze Age, and we’ll review a historical piece by a famous writer linking American mounds to Atlantis.
Ancient Origins ran a piece recently arguing that indigenous oral traditions from North America are related to the biblical Tower of Babel story. The author seems to have lifted his understanding of the parallel myths from the Tower of Babel’s Wikipedia page, but even so, it is at least mildly interesting to review what are indeed parallel stories in order to understand where author Mark-Andrew Carpenter went wrong. The short version is that he heavily discounted the influence of the Bible on post-Contact America and among the missionaries who recorded—and revised—Native stories.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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