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Author Topic: Deities as a "function"?  (Read 4518 times)

Megatherium

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Deities as a "function"?
« on: January 08, 2013, 12:08:20 pm »
There has recently been a very interesting thread on the Asatru Lore forum regarding the nature of deities.

http://www.asatrulore.org/index.php?page=Thread&threadID=8741

I thought it may be interesting to discuss this model in a more general “pagan” environment.

As far as I understand it, (and if I’m interpreting this incorrectly, please feel free to point out my errors) the main idea is that a deity is NOT  a universal being. Instead, a deity is a local wight/spirit/kami with a particular “function”. Different deities in different locations may share certain characteristics, and it is possible for us to use the name of a deity to refer to a “type” of very powerful regional being.

To give an example, “Thor” would not be a singular being with influence throughout time and space. Instead “Thor” would be a title, a “job description”, if you will, that refers to  local wights concerned, in “Thor’s” case, with storms, thunder, rain and fertility.

Therefore, there would be “Thors” all over the world, wherever there are powerful local wights concerned with the above mentioned phenomena. In that case, my “Thor” in Western Canada would be a different being than the Northern European “Thor”, but they would share certain characteristics.


I first encountered this idea in an Heathen context, but I wonder how it would be perceived by people who practice other “pagan” traditions.
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Re: Deities as a "function"?
« Reply #1 on: January 08, 2013, 12:50:20 pm »
Quote from: Megatherium;89726
I first encountered this idea in an Heathen context, but I wonder how it would be perceived by people who practice other “pagan” traditions.

 
Ah, the ol' localization problem. With a lemony twist. ;)

That is, at some point in history, gods generally belonged to certain places--and yes, there are plenty of exceptions--and their jurisdiction was often considered to be limited to that place. So, most of the Netjeru, for example, are localized to Egypt. Heathen gods are localized to those areas. Same with Greek, Roman, Japanese, Chinese, etc. Yet we also see "copies" of many gods all over the place. Like Thor (Donar, etc). Odin, Quan Yin, and Aset/Isis are other examples.

So, if most gods are localized, there arises a problem when a worshipper prays or offers to one of these localized gods. At least from this perspective. How do you know you're reaching the person you're proverbially dialing?

Personally, I think the vast majority of gods are universal, because most of them take part in something universal. For example, Bast takes part in joy, fertility, the most destructive aspects of the sun. Some people even hold that she's immanent in sunshine. Seeing as how the sun shines for the entire Earth, I don't see why there'd be "multiple copies" of Bast running around. And let's not forget the fact that her animal is the cat, a quite ubiquitous animal. I believe she's immanent in every feline form.

Anpu takes part in death and resurrection, which we all must face some day. Thor takes part in rain and thunder, which reaches most every corner of the Earth in its due time.

Ganesh takes part in placing and removing obstacles, those things we deal with hour after hour, day after day, in a never-ending cycle.

Now, there are certain gods who are named for their function. For example, it's possible to refer to Eye of Ra Netjeret as Eye Goddesses, and in referring to them, you may "get" Bast, Sekhmet, Het-Heru, Mut, Wadjet, and several others. Eye of Ra is a job title describing the active, often destructive, aspects of the sun. Hypothetically, a powerful local being could put on this "hat" for herself if she so desired.
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Re: Deities as a "function"?
« Reply #2 on: January 08, 2013, 12:51:26 pm »
Quote from: Megatherium;89726
There has recently been a very interesting thread on the Asatru Lore forum regarding the nature of deities.

http://www.asatrulore.org/index.php?page=Thread&threadID=8741

I thought it may be interesting to discuss this model in a more general “pagan” environment.

As far as I understand it, (and if I’m interpreting this incorrectly, please feel free to point out my errors) the main idea is that a deity is NOT  a universal being. Instead, a deity is a local wight/spirit/kami with a particular “function”. Different deities in different locations may share certain characteristics, and it is possible for us to use the name of a deity to refer to a “type” of very powerful regional being.

To give an example, “Thor” would not be a singular being with influence throughout time and space. Instead “Thor” would be a title, a “job description”, if you will, that refers to  local wights concerned, in “Thor’s” case, with storms, thunder, rain and fertility.

Therefore, there would be “Thors” all over the world, wherever there are powerful local wights concerned with the above mentioned phenomena. In that case, my “Thor” in Western Canada would be a different being than the Northern European “Thor”, but they would share certain characteristics.


I first encountered this idea in an Heathen context, but I wonder how it would be perceived by people who practice other “pagan” traditions.

 
That's similar to the actual going idea of how some (most?) "pantheons" of old mesoamerican deities were conceived and how I view my gods.

They're manifestations of a single omnipresent divine source (impersonal, perhaps non-intelligent or at least simply unknowable), whose functions define their existence. Some of them, by that reasoning, are local to their native regions, and others aren't. But they are far from "wights". However, taken to its logical end, that means when the function ceases to exist, or changes significantly, then that named god ceases to exist and goes back to the source to become something else and the new "void" gets filled with the creation of a new god (or I suppose, the extension of one or more others). And in the ancient days, I'm sure this happened all the time.

But for me it falls apart with the wight analogy.

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Re: Deities as a "function"?
« Reply #3 on: January 08, 2013, 01:39:32 pm »
Quote from: Shine;89733


So, if most gods are localized, there arises a problem when a worshipper prays or offers to one of these localized gods. At least from this perspective. How do you know you're reaching the person you're proverbially dialing?


Because you're praying to them to perform that function and they do. That's the idea behind god of function not personality. Thor is by nature a thunder god function. If you're getting something else, or nothing at all, then you're probably not reaching him. Since thunder is everywhere, there's no reason for anyone to think that there isn't a thunder god in their  area. You can visibly see his function in effect, and you can pray to that.
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I am in the camp that is concerned about super intelligence," [Bill] Gates wrote. "First the machines will do a lot of jobs for us and not be super intelligent. That should be positive if we manage it well. A few decades after that though the intelligence is strong enough to be a concern. I agree with Elon Musk and some others on this and don\'t understand why some people are not concerned."

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Re: Deities as a "function"?
« Reply #4 on: January 08, 2013, 02:09:51 pm »
Quote from: Maps;89735


But for me it falls apart with the wight analogy.


Not trying to convince you, just wanted to point out that wight just means creature/being. Humans are wights, gods are wights, elves are wights. I even consider the neighborhood cats creeping under our windows at night as local wights.
The pace of progress in artificial intelligence (I’m not referring to narrow AI) is incredibly fast. [...] The risk of something seriously dangerous happening is in the five year timeframe. 10 years at most.--Elon Musk

I am in the camp that is concerned about super intelligence," [Bill] Gates wrote. "First the machines will do a lot of jobs for us and not be super intelligent. That should be positive if we manage it well. A few decades after that though the intelligence is strong enough to be a concern. I agree with Elon Musk and some others on this and don\'t understand why some people are not concerned."

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Re: Deities as a "function"?
« Reply #5 on: January 08, 2013, 04:21:03 pm »
Quote from: Shine;89733

Now, there are certain gods who are named for their function. For example, it's possible to refer to Eye of Ra Netjeret as Eye Goddesses, and in referring to them, you may "get" Bast, Sekhmet, Het-Heru, Mut, Wadjet, and several others. Eye of Ra is a job title describing the active, often destructive, aspects of the sun. Hypothetically, a powerful local being could put on this "hat" for herself if she so desired.


If I understand you correctly, (and i’m a bit thick-skulled so I may well not) I’ve been thinking of something similar. For example, perhaps there is a universal “Thor”, but he is manifest through the behaviors of local wights. In other words, perhaps the universal Thor is both immanent in, and transcendent of the multitude of local wights concerned with storms. Perhaps. Perhaps I haven’t understood you at all.

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Quote from: Maps;89735
That's similar to the actual going idea of how some (most?) "pantheons" of old mesoamerican deities were conceived and how I view my gods.

They're manifestations of a single omnipresent divine source (impersonal, perhaps non-intelligent or at least simply unknowable), whose functions define their existence. Some of them, by that reasoning, are local to their native regions, and others aren't. But they are far from "wights". However, taken to its logical end, that means when the function ceases to exist, or changes significantly, then that named god ceases to exist and goes back to the source to become something else and the new "void" gets filled with the creation of a new god (or I suppose, the extension of one or more others). And in the ancient days, I'm sure this happened all the time.

But for me it falls apart with the wight analogy.

 
If I understand you correctly (I may not, see above warning), the Gods are manifest in their functions-no need for intermediary wights, Thor IS the thunderstorm. Once again, I may well be a bit too dim to have understood you fully. Would it be rude to ask you to give me a specific example of “deity-as-function” using one of the Mesoamerican deities?
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Re: Deities as a "function"?
« Reply #6 on: January 08, 2013, 04:32:20 pm »
Quote from: Juniperberry;89743
Not trying to convince you, just wanted to point out that wight just means creature/being. Humans are wights, gods are wights, elves are wights. I even consider the neighborhood cats creeping under our windows at night as local wights.

Ah. Why not just say "being" then? :P Wight is very culture-specific, so if it's used in a conversation, I'm going to make the assumption that the conversation itself is also making those cultural assumptions. I'm also under the impression that not to many other heathens use wight in that way?
« Last Edit: January 08, 2013, 04:33:11 pm by Maps »

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Re: Deities as a "function"?
« Reply #7 on: January 08, 2013, 04:47:27 pm »
Quote from: Maps;89759
Ah. Why not just say "being" then? :P Wight is very culture-specific, so if it's used in a conversation, I'm going to make the assumption that the conversation itself is also making those cultural assumptions. I'm also under the impression that not to many other heathens use wight in that way?

That is it's culturally specific meaning:

 wight (n.) O.E. wiht "living being, creature," from P.Gmc. *wekhtiz (cf. O.S. wiht "thing, demon," Du. wicht "a little child," O.H.G. wiht "thing, creature, demon," Ger. Wicht "creature, infant," O.N. vettr "thing, creature," Swedish vätte "spirit of the earth, gnome," Goth. waihts "something"). The only apparent cognate outside Germanic is O.C.S. vešti "a thing." Not related to the Isle of Wight,which is from L. Vectis (c.150), originally Celtic, possibly meaning "place of the division."


But there has been discussion in the heathen community about finding our own terms for it. "Thing" doesn't quite hit the mark, though. :l Being implies something embodied, to me, which is why I haven't used it.
« Last Edit: January 08, 2013, 04:48:56 pm by Juniperberry »
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Re: Deities as a "function"?
« Reply #8 on: January 08, 2013, 05:13:51 pm »
Quote from: Megatherium;89758

If I understand you correctly (I may not, see above warning), the Gods are manifest in their functions-no need for intermediary wights, Thor IS the thunderstorm. Once again, I may well be a bit too dim to have understood you fully. Would it be rude to ask you to give me a specific example of “deity-as-function” using one of the Mesoamerican deities?

 
Haha, that's ok. There's a whole big book with really tiny text dedicated to this idea.

"Thor IS the thunderstorm." That is, from the worldview I'm coming from, correct. But the thunderstorm is more than the sum of its parts (as all things are) hence the 'deus ex'. That "more than" would be the god's personality--which gods very much have in that part of the world--however that component is in complete service to their existence as a being of function. (I'm of the opinion that they can switch between being personal and impersonal forces depending on which allows them to fulfill their duties better. The only other options I have to explain the existence of personality and realms of unwavering divine service is that they either lack free will, or that gods are tragic characters who are slaves to their purpose regardless of what they might otherwise want.)

I'll use my rain god as an example, Chaak, whom I am devoted to, who shares many qualities with Thor in function and personality. If we are to assume that he is every thunderstorm and hurricane, as per some lower mythology, then that's what he is. It is also said that the storm is a byproduct of his effects--that there is still more to him than simply that physical manifestation--such as the clouds being smoke from his cigar, and thunder the sound of his giant axe. All of those things can be true simultaneously, just as he can simultaneously be all storms.

Mesoamerican thought also allows for single beings to be "physically" broken into several while still retaining their identity as a single character, like several bodies being controlled by a single source. There's much written about the "four" Chaaks, the "four" Tezcatlipocas, etc. (Four is a number of great significance, though there are groups of other number as well. Mythological characters that come in pairs, like One and Seven Death, are sometimes thought to be a single entity, f'ex.) Anyways, this multiplicity allows for gods like Chaak to embody/rule over different sorts of things and display the appropriate changes in personality as well. A benevolent protector of mankind that sends rain to feed the crops surely couldn't also be the horrible god responsible for flooding villages, sending hail, destroying harvests (and delighting in it) and so on, right? Well, it is the same guy, and he'll be around so long as there is inclement weather on this planet. When (hopefully later rather than sooner) we wind up looking like Mars, Chaak as we know him will be dissolved back into that impenetrable Source, and who knows-- he might find another job as a god of dust storms. But saying that it's still "him" is disingenuous; it's obviously not him. As soon as he loses his domain and his effects, essentially "dying", whatever comes after that for his divine essence is, more or less, a moot point.

@Juniperberry: I can't use wight, I'm sorry. It just doesn't serve much use in my worldview. So close, but at the same time so far. :\

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Re: Deities as a "function"?
« Reply #9 on: January 08, 2013, 05:40:49 pm »
Quote from: Maps;89766

"Thor IS the thunderstorm." That is, from the worldview I'm coming from, correct. But the thunderstorm is more than the sum of its parts (as all things are) hence the 'deus ex'. That "more than" would be the god's personality--which gods very much have in that part of the world--however that component is in complete service to their existence as a being of function. (I'm of the opinion that they can switch between being personal and impersonal forces depending on which allows them to fulfill their duties better. The only other options I have to explain the existence of personality and realms of unwavering divine service is that they either lack free will, or that gods are tragic characters who are slaves to their purpose regardless of what they might otherwise want.)

I'll use my rain god as an example, Chaak, whom I am devoted to, who shares many qualities with Thor in function and personality. If we are to assume that he is every thunderstorm and hurricane, as per some lower mythology, then that's what he is. It is also said that the storm is a byproduct of his effects--that there is still more to him than simply that physical manifestation--such as the clouds being smoke from his cigar, and thunder the sound of his giant axe. All of those things can be true simultaneously, just as he can simultaneously be all storms.

Mesoamerican thought also allows for single beings to be "physically" broken into several while still retaining their identity as a single character, like several bodies being controlled by a single source. There's much written about the "four" Chaaks, the "four" Tezcatlipocas, etc. (Four is a number of great significance, though there are groups of other number as well. Mythological characters that come in pairs, like One and Seven Death, are sometimes thought to be a single entity, f'ex.) Anyways, this multiplicity allows for gods like Chaak to embody/rule over different sorts of things and display the appropriate changes in personality as well. A benevolent protector of mankind that sends rain to feed the crops surely couldn't also be the horrible god responsible for flooding villages, sending hail, destroying harvests (and delighting in it) and so on, right? Well, it is the same guy, and he'll be around so long as there is inclement weather on this planet. When (hopefully later rather than sooner) we wind up looking like Mars, Chaak as we know him will be dissolved back into that impenetrable Source, and who knows-- he might find another job as a god of dust storms. But saying that it's still "him" is disingenuous; it's obviously not him. As soon as he loses his domain and his effects, essentially "dying", whatever comes after that for his divine essence is, more or less, a moot point.

 
Ah, fascinating. Thanks for that post! I wish I had something more intelligent to say in response to such an interesting idea, but unfortunately, I think there will have to be a lot of mental cud chewing before I can say anything coherent in response. Perhaps you can have a laugh picturing me hurting my brain trying to imagine Chaak breaking into four and reforming while I wait for traffic lights.

Quote from: Maps;89766

Haha, that's ok. There's a whole big book with really tiny text dedicated to this idea.

 
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Re: Deities as a "function"?
« Reply #10 on: January 08, 2013, 06:00:40 pm »
Quote from: Megatherium;89769
Ah, fascinating. Thanks for that post! I wish I had something more intelligent to say in response to such an interesting idea, but unfortunately, I think there will have to be a lot of mental cud chewing before I can say anything coherent in response. Perhaps you can have a laugh picturing me hurting my brain trying to imagine Chaak breaking into four and reforming while I wait for traffic lights.

There's actually another theory out there that the mesoamerican ball game was a human enactment of this-- four players on a team, aka a single mind composed of four bodies.

And that's ok! It didn't make sense to me until I actually started applying it to my practice, then it all fell into place way more smoothly than I would have anticipated otherwise. Chaak, though, is an incredibly complex deity with many realms of influence, some awesome and literal, others murky and deep. I am learning a lot from honoring and observing him.

Quote from: Megatherium;89769
Ooooh! By chance, do happen to remember the name?
Yep, and you're in luck because it's available online for freeeee: http://publishing.cdlib.org/ucpressebooks/view?docId=ft7x0nb536
« Last Edit: January 08, 2013, 06:03:48 pm by Maps »

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Re: Deities as a "function"?
« Reply #11 on: January 08, 2013, 06:19:31 pm »
Quote
@Juniperberry: I can't use wight, I'm sorry. It just doesn't serve much use in my worldview. So close, but at the same time so far. :\


It's ok, I didn't expect you to. When I was new to heathenry I thought wight referred to some type of elf/fairy. Since Megatherium is speaking about gods as local wights (things) of function, I wanted to make sure the definition was clarified for the purpose of this thread. As I said, not trying to convince you of anything. :)
The pace of progress in artificial intelligence (I’m not referring to narrow AI) is incredibly fast. [...] The risk of something seriously dangerous happening is in the five year timeframe. 10 years at most.--Elon Musk

I am in the camp that is concerned about super intelligence," [Bill] Gates wrote. "First the machines will do a lot of jobs for us and not be super intelligent. That should be positive if we manage it well. A few decades after that though the intelligence is strong enough to be a concern. I agree with Elon Musk and some others on this and don\'t understand why some people are not concerned."

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Re: Deities as a "function"?
« Reply #12 on: January 09, 2013, 12:49:29 am »
Quote from: Maps;89773
There's actually another theory out there that the mesoamerican ball game was a human enactment of this-- four players on a team, aka a single mind composed of four bodies.

And that's ok! It didn't make sense to me until I actually started applying it to my practice, then it all fell into place way more smoothly than I would have anticipated otherwise. Chaak, though, is an incredibly complex deity with many realms of influence, some awesome and literal, others murky and deep. I am learning a lot from honoring and observing him.


Yep, and you're in luck because it's available online for freeeee: http://publishing.cdlib.org/ucpressebooks/view?docId=ft7x0nb536

 
Wow, thanks! I will from now own refer to you as Maps the Awesome.
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Re: Deities as a "function"?
« Reply #13 on: January 09, 2013, 10:32:47 am »
Quote from: Juniperberry;89740
Since thunder is everywhere, there's no reason for anyone to think that there isn't a thunder god in their  area. You can visibly see his function in effect, and you can pray to that.

If it were only a function, wouldn't that leave nothing to appeal to? It would just be electricity and noise, with no way to hear or comprehend prayers, no preference for mead over the absence of hubris or what.

And in making some room for personality, I'd point out that not all traditions have formed strictly corresponding functions. According to one Thai fairy tale, it isn't the personified storm Ramsoon with the control of thunder, really: that's just Him being clumsy with His hammer when a sea being named Makala gets bored and decides to annoy the unreasonable brute with Her lightning.

The story can be enriching and inspiring, beyond a pre-scientific explanation for why lightning precedes thunder. But it seems to portray a storm as a battle between thunder and lightning, when in some other myths thunder and lightning may be united under the function of one storm deity. Not everybody sees the same categories of function, so I have difficulty understanding how a single category of function could be everywhere present and applicable.

Unless you mean that, under stormy Thai skies you will just personally see Thor, and the wild hunt might ride during monsoon season, and to just hold respect others who would look at the same sky and see that Makala is just really really really bored... because the symbolic language that myths offer is only really communicated between people who speak it, and is otherwise a very personal language?
« Last Edit: January 09, 2013, 10:40:36 am by Faemon »
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Re: Deities as a "function"?
« Reply #14 on: January 09, 2013, 01:22:44 pm »
Quote from: triple_entendre;89905
If it were only a function, wouldn't that leave nothing to appeal to? It would just be electricity and noise, with no way to hear or comprehend prayers, no preference for mead over the absence of hubris or what.


I don't know. I've been pretty agnostic lately to the point of almost atheist. Appeal to them? We do, but things are what they are. When has death ever said, "I've heard your prayers and here's your loved one back?" It can't. It's nature is to take not to give. We flesh these things out, put masks on them, try to find reason and meaning ...and maybe that reason and meaning is the point. When has anyone prayed to Thor and had a rainstorm suddenly appear on the doppler from nowhere? There are rules, laws of nature, and we have to live by them, too. Appealing to death, love, and rain accomplishes nothing. Honoring them as physical influences that make up the tapestry of our lives at least gives us something to be amazed by, something to help us understand our own place here more. Its like my signature: trees weren't representative of some mystical god, they were honored just for what they were and what they reflected back. I don't know if Thunder loves or laughs or feels and I don't really care. Because its not the point. The point is that rain brings fertility and fertility helps me survive and its just awesome to be here and experience that instead of being nothing in the nothingness of nothing.


Quote
And in making some room for personality, I'd point out that not all traditions have formed strictly corresponding functions. According to one Thai fairy tale, it isn't the personified storm Ramsoon with the control of thunder, really: that's just Him being clumsy with His hammer when a sea being named Makala gets bored and decides to annoy the unreasonable brute with Her lightning.


I think we flesh them out and find symbolic meaning in the real world. Maybe trees represent how small we are to some when to others it represents how much we can grow. Is either invalid, untrue, or more correct? Is the tree less alive because we know scientifically how it works? I don t know what it is to be a tree. I know it can't move, can't talk, and can't grant my wishes. I know not everyone sees it the same as me, but why can't I find meaning in it just for what it is rather than as something its never shown itself to be?



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Unless you mean that, under stormy Thai skies you will just personally see Thor, and the wild hunt might ride during monsoon season, and to just hold respect others who would look at the same sky and see that Makala is just really really really bored... because the symbolic language that myths offer is only really communicated between people who speak it, and is otherwise a very personal language?

 
Well, yeah. Its not really my business how other people see the meaning in sky. Its not like we all need to get together and come up with one unifying myth that's really, really true. (I actually think that's been tried.)  If I visited Thailand I would assume their myths are accurate about thunder since they actually live there and experience those things. And if I lived there for any period of time, I'd probably experience it the same way.  It's a thunderstorm, it does what it does and I can't change its function. And the the function is the name Thor=Thunder so how would I be incorrect in calling it that? I just wouldn't communicate it well so I'd learn the local language.

I'm sorry if I sound frustrated with you, I'm not. I'm just...I don't care anymore about great gods. To me the worship of functions have a use in a spiritually abstract sense and other than that I'd prefer to deal with ancestor gods. Here's the world, we live in it, can't it be sacred even if it isn't telling me it wants pickles on Friday or how I could solve my problems at work?  It's frustrating in a way in for me personally, because I sense maybe I'm missing some piece of it, but please don't take that frustration personally.
The pace of progress in artificial intelligence (I’m not referring to narrow AI) is incredibly fast. [...] The risk of something seriously dangerous happening is in the five year timeframe. 10 years at most.--Elon Musk

I am in the camp that is concerned about super intelligence," [Bill] Gates wrote. "First the machines will do a lot of jobs for us and not be super intelligent. That should be positive if we manage it well. A few decades after that though the intelligence is strong enough to be a concern. I agree with Elon Musk and some others on this and don\'t understand why some people are not concerned."

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