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The White Mask
How well can GPT-3 make sense of psychological contexts?
When the first global lockdown was imminent, I was in transition between jobs, waiting to be relocated to Portugal, and given the exceptional situation, my start date was delayed until a few months later. This period of professional emptiness was a great opportunity to learn about various fields, including psychology and moral philosophy, and allowed me to engage in a fairly intense journey, which could sometimes encroach on my leisure time. As a way to disconnect from the residual ubiquitous thoughts induced by extensive study, compounded by social isolation, I occasionally consumed Phenibut – an anxiolytic drug invented by the Soviet Union in the 1960s, and is considered a less harmful analog to Benzodiazepines. I was often curious to explore the world of “western-anti-anxiety-drugs”, although I was unlikely to experiment with them, especially because I was concerned about withdrawal symptoms. As an alternative, Phenibut seems to replicate, to some extent, the same anxiolytic properties of Benzos, with a significantly lower risk of addiction when spacing out the doses – once a week in my case. I started at 500 milligrams before gradually increasing the dosage to 2.5 grams, and eventually found the “sweet spot” – the point at which the lowest levels of anxiety become barely noticeable. These mind-altering experiences guided me into unusual thought patterns that I reflected on, through the lens of moral psychology, and felt inspired to give birth to a fictional character.
In an almost identical parallel world, where drug use is on the rise, the United States has opted for a different approach to combat the importation of illegal substances. Consequently, a secret department was formed under the direction of Daniel, one of the DEA's most diligent and talented agents. Fifteen years ago, he lost his wife and two daughters during a confrontation between two drug cartels. Since that day, he has worked relentlessly, making him one of the most important figures in the agency. As a person, Daniel is open-minded and slightly introverted – he likes people in general, but doesn't behave like a gregarious person; he is agreeable enough to laugh at jokes he doesn't find funny; he likes order and is quite conscientious – at least, most of the material aspects of his surroundings are always tidy; his level of neuroticism is low as in most situations he is not preoccupied with uncertainty. After being promoted to his new position, he was granted complete freedom in his decisions, regardless of any moral consequences, as long as they were effective, which finally led him to introduce The White Mask.
Since increasing prison sentences seems ineffective in reducing the expansion of narco-states, Daniel has devised an alternative punishment system called The White Mask, which will be the name of a detention camp located in a cargo ship that is constantly sailing the oceans and therefore difficult to track. The project aims to first neutralize and then kidnap the cartel leaders before exiling them to The White Mask where they will be held for 90 days. During this time, sophisticated methods of torture will be applied to them, through the use of psychological violence and psychoactive substances that have been specifically designed for this purpose – how ironic. The entire experience is traumatizing enough to produce a significant change in the personality of almost every convicted criminal, who emerges altered. It is precisely because of this shift that, once they are finally repatriated to the place they were originally captured, fear takes hold of their environment, creating a strong deterrent atmosphere.
Within a few years, The White Mask became a success as the importation of prohibited substances dramatically plummeted while positioning the United States as the Western country with the lowest per capita use of “illegal” drugs. Ultimately, the project ended up being widely known and contributed to raising awareness on torture. In the meantime, a documentary was made about The White Mask, establishing Daniel as a public figure polarizing the entire nation between those who were deeply disgusted by his policy decisions and those who idolized him. However, Daniel seems confident in acting for the greater good, and because of his utilitarian motives, he is convinced that a few devastated lives are worth the millions of deaths that would result from illegal drug abuse. When facing the cameras, Daniel defends his positions in a very calm manner and uses convincing arguments. Although, at times, his voice tone can come across as cocky, leaving room for doubt regarding the nature of his intentions.
Two years have passed since I wrote The White Mask, but my political opinion about it has not matured and remains largely unresolved. Moreover, I consider that it might be more meaningful to analyze it from a psychological perspective. I find it plausible that Daniel could be associated with a literary character or a historical figure, and his author could be seen as someone driven by juvenile motives or acting out of impaired moral judgments. Inevitably, this story will end up being subject to personal interpretations that may differ according to the cultural background or personal experience of the reader. Due to this reason, I sought to obtain an advanced level of understanding of myself, through a fictional character, and in the most neutral manner. To do so, I submitted the story of The White Mask, while contextualizing the author's disposition, to GPT-3: a type of artificial intelligence – which is a natural language processing system that can understand a wide variety of contexts and return human-like answers accordingly.
Human: Why would the author have thought of a white mask?
AI: The author may have thought of a white mask because it is associated with neutrality and objectivity. A white mask can also imply that the person wearing it is hiding their true identity or intentions. In this context, the White Mask could symbolize the dispassionate and impersonal nature of Daniel's punishment system.
Human: What could be the motive for creating this story?
AI: The motive for creating this story could be to explore the psychological effects of torture, as well as to raise awareness of the issue. Additionally, the author may have wanted to create a thought-provoking tale that would make readers question their own beliefs about morality and justice.
Human: How could the Phenibut be related to Daniel?
AI: Phenibut may be related to Daniel because it is a psychoactive substance that can alter one's state of mind. Daniel may have used Phenibut in order to achieve the required level of detachment from his emotions needed to effectively carry out The White Mask program.
Human: Could Daniel be a normal person?
AI: It is possible that Daniel is a normal person, although it is also possible that he has some underlying mental health issues. For example, his level of neuroticism may be low, but this does not mean that he does not experience anxiety or stress. It is also worth noting that Daniel's actions (i.e. kidnapping and torturing people) could be seen as psychopathic, which would suggest that he is not a “normal” person.
Human: How could anxiety play a role in human morality?
AI: It is possible that anxiety could play a role in human morality by influencing the decision-making process. For example, if an individual is considering whether to steal something or not, they may be more likely to refrain from doing so if they feel anxious about the potential consequences (e.g., getting caught and punished). In other words, anxiety may lead people to make more “moral” decisions out of self-preservation.
From my Perspective
Of the suggested responses, I was surprised by how accurately some of them could match my expectations, even though their degree of relevance may be subject to the randomness of the algorithm's output. It is also interesting to observe that GPT-3 mimics the writing style depending on the input, when it could potentially be used as a basis for generating articles derived from an author. As I didn't really find the process groundbreaking in revealing hidden aspects of myself – at the moment, I might seriously reconsider this experiment in a few years with more advanced AI and attempt to provide a denser narrative.