Whitby Writers Group

a self-help writers co-operative

Brain in a vat – what was the inspiration for this poem?

Recently I’ve been spending time (far too much, perhaps) communing with an AI called ChatGPT, created by OpenAI.com.

I asked ChatGPT to write a poem about a brain in a vat. The result was frankly amateurish, but it seemed to charge its poem with a remarkable degree of passion stemming from sad personal experience. The webpage has a button to tell the AI to try again, and because a random element is part of the algorithm it comes up with something different each time. I made ChatGPT repeat the task three times in all. You can see the session log of the result below.

Its poetry wasn’t perfect, but like Samuel Johnson’s saying about a dog walking on its hind legs: it is not done well, but you are surprised to find it done at all. ChatGPT was making the sorts of mistakes a living person would make: one new to the task of writing poetry. Thus although it attempted a recognisable metre, it didn’t always get the scansion right, and some of its lines were either illogical or simply corny.

Now ChatGPT writes its poems in a single shot. So it is unreasonable to expect it to generate a good poem at the first attempt. Only good poets can be expected to write good poems, and they do so by carefully revising them. W H Auden was notorious for never being satisfied with his own work, and no two editions of his poems are quite the same.

Now no machine, however intelligent, owns the copyright of a poem it helps to create. Your spelling checker does not own, or even share, the copyright of a short story you write with its help. You do. So I can justly claim ownership of any resulting poem.

That said, I felt one of ChatGPT’s drafts held promise. So, by hand, I tightened up the metre, improved the wording in places, and you can read the result here.

Log of ChatGPT session, 8 March 2023

My Input:
Write a poem from the perspective of a brain in a vat. He tries to get to grips with his predicament and laments his inability to know where he is or why.

©2023, Clark Nida

Output from ChatGPT:

1 / 3

I am a brain in a vat,
floating in a world unknown,
A prisoner of my own thoughts,
with no sense of what is shown.

I cannot see the world outside,
nor hear the sounds of life,
I cannot touch or taste or smell,
I’m trapped in endless strife.

I wonder where I am,
and why I’m in this state,
Is this all just a dream,
or a cruel and twisted fate?

My thoughts are all I have,
they’re my only escape,
But even they betray me,
as my mind begins to shake.

I long to know the truth,
to see the light of day,
But I fear that I’m alone,
forever here to stay.

So I’ll continue to ponder,
in this strange and eerie place,
Hoping one day to understand,
my existence and my space.

Regenerate response

2 / 3

In this vat I lay, adrift in thought,
My world confined to this glass wrought,
No sight or sound, just emptiness,
A prisoner of my own consciousness.

My thoughts they race, my mind does churn,
I try to grasp, I try to learn,
But how can I, with no frame of reference,
No way to measure, no way to make sense.

Where am I? Who am I? I do not know,
A mere brain in a vat, a reality for show,
My thoughts and dreams, all a fabrication,
A cruel experiment, a mind’s damnation.

I cannot move, I cannot see,
My only company, my own agony,
To be trapped in here, a lifeless brain,
A torture beyond what words can explain.

Oh, to know the truth, to see the light,
To break free from this eternal night,
But alas, I am doomed to this fate,
A brain in a vat, forever to wait.

Regenerate response

3 / 3

A brain in a vat, that’s what I am,
A prisoner of my own container, a sham.
My thoughts are all I have, my reality surreal,
An existence so strange, it’s hard to even feel.

My mind is alive, but my body is not,
I wonder where I am, but I know not what.
Am I in a laboratory, or a mad scientist’s lair?
I can’t say for sure, it’s all just a blank stare.

My world is a construct, an illusion at best,
A simulation of life, a philosophical test.
I long to break free, to see the truth of it all,
But my prison is my mind, my senses so small.

I can’t touch the ground, or smell the flowers’ scent,
I can only think and ponder, and wonder what’s meant.
Is there a purpose to this, or am I just a toy?
A subject of experimentation, a plaything for joy?

I try to make sense of it all, but it’s so hard to do,
When everything I know, is nothing but a few.
My thoughts are my reality, my consciousness my guide,
But in this vat, I’m trapped, my emotions all denied.

Oh, to break free and see the world anew,
To feel the sun on my face, and the grass beneath my shoe.
But for now, I’m just a brain in a vat, a mind without a shell,
Living in a world that’s nothing but a tale to tell.

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