Posts Tagged writing

My Journey with AI: How I Learned to Make the Most of GPT-4 for Research and Writing

Hey there, friends!

I wanted to share my personal experience with you on how I’ve been using AI, specifically GPT-4, to help me with research and writing. I’ve found that treating AI like an intern or junior colleague has made a world of difference in the way I work. Let me walk you through my journey and share some tips I’ve picked up along the way.

My initial encounters with AI were mostly me trying to get it to generate content for sermons. The results were, well, not exactly what I was hoping for. Sure, it could churn out some generic stuff, but when it came to the nuances of my preferred doctrine, it just wasn’t quite there. But then, I started to think about how I could get more out of my AI companion.

Lesson 1: AI as a Research Assistant

I discovered that GPT-4 could be super helpful with research tasks. For my sermons, it could provide me with outlines of Bible stories and summaries of historical and cultural contexts. While it wasn’t perfect, it definitely saved me time and gave me a solid foundation to build upon.

Lesson 2: Engaging in Dialogue

Instead of just expecting GPT-4 to generate perfect content, I began engaging in conversations with it. I’d feed it my own research and ideas, and we’d bounce thoughts back and forth. It was like having a chat with a junior colleague who helped me process my thoughts and make connections I might not have seen otherwise.

Lesson 3: Embrace AI’s Flaws (and Learn from Them)

As much as I love GPT-4, it’s not perfect. Sometimes it agrees with my ideas a bit too readily. But even when it’s just echoing my thoughts, it still helps me see the flaws in my own reasoning. It’s like when you explain something to a friend, and in the process, you realize you’ve missed something crucial.

Here are a few tips I’ve picked up to make the most of your AI collaboration:

  1. Keep the conversation going – Don’t just rely on the AI’s first response. Keep asking questions and exploring ideas together.
  2. Double-check the details – AI can be a great starting point, but make sure to verify the information it provides to ensure accuracy.
  3. Treat AI like an intern – Don’t expect perfection. Remember that AI can improve with your guidance and mentorship, just like a junior colleague.

So, that’s my story! I’ve come to appreciate the real power of AI as a collaborative partner in my research and writing journey. It may not always have the right answers, but engaging in conversation with GPT-4 has helped me think more deeply and grow as a writer.

Give it a try and let me know how it works for you! Happy researching and writing, friends!

Post Script

The above post was written by GPT-4, as the result of a short conversation I had with it. I gave it some tweets and also a Facebook comment I have written about treating AI as an intern, using it to help develop sermons, articles, and talks, and focusing on conversations rather than “prompts”, and then asked for a blog post. The first version it gave me was very academic, both in structure and tone. But after explaining that to ChatGPT and also describing more the style my blog strives for, it gave me what you just read.

It’s not perfect. Actually, I’d say it isn’t even great, in terms of matching my voice. But then again, I didn’t give it any actual samples of my writing, Still, from this experiment I’ll add one more thing I’ve (now) learned (or relearned) about using a tool like GPT: it seems to be far better at developing outlines for presentations than actual prose text, if you care about tone, style, and personality. And I do tend to care about those things in my writing.

I’d be interested in what you’ve learned as well. Despite the way ChatGPT wrote everything above the “Post Script” header, I am far from saying “I have learned”–it is more accurate to say, “I am exploring, and I think I may have started learning.” So: how are you using this new tool, and how have you learned to interact with it?

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Recently I saw a tweet that asked, “How do you journal?” There were all sorts of interesting responses, describing the many different styles of journaling that people practice. But when I read the question, I didn’t initially think, “What are the ways in which one might journal?” so much as “How on earth am I supposed to ‘journal’??”

I find “journaling” hard. It’s difficult for me to write without an audience. But something feels weird about writing a diary entry with the intent of someone some day stumbling across it and reading it. Like it would compromise the honesty of the process. Not that I lie to audiences, but, honestly, I hold back. There are things I think that I would never say to another person without editing. I assume that’s true for you, too. It’s common sense. It’s common curtesy. Plus, many of the thoughts that come into my head I end up rejecting. And I don’t want to be held accountable for ephemeral nonsense that I toss out after examining. But isn’t that what journaling is? Writing your thoughts? Without care for how they are presented to someone else because no one else is going to read them?

“But Mac,” you say, “Just write it for yourself. YOU are your audience.” I hear you. But I don’t get it. In school I never read my own notes from lectures, and now I’m going to go back and read old journal entries some day? Seems unlikely.

So how do you journal? Like, what is your goal? What is your process? How do you decide what to write? When to write? How much to write? I know I’m probably overthinking this. Help me out.

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Don’t Call It a Reboot

I’ve decided that I’ve been neglecting my passion for the written word far too long. I’ve experimented with video and audio, but in the end my personal expertise and also my passion are just not in all of the details needed to produce great recorded media. I’m not saying I won’t continue to experiment with recording, lighting, editing, etc, etc, etc, and trying to produce additional audio and video content. But my native land is the written word. And it’s something I do have a passion for.

By “passion”, I mean it’s something I happily and willingly spend my time doing without thinking about it. If I examine how I naturally spend my time when not constrained by outside obligations, then I can see I have a passion for the following:

  • Writing;
  • Public speaking;
  • Complex thinking;
  • Reading;
  • Listening to Music;
  • Playing games.

I do other things. I have other interests and pursuits. I have things that I have consciously dedicated myself to. But the above list is the essence of what I would spend the majority of my time doing if I were to just let go and allow myself to live completely unregulated by duty, conscience, obligation or self-compulsion. The lower half of the list, as you can see, is fairly recreational, as most normal people would see things. The upper part of the list, though, are things I know a lot of people just aren’t that interested in, and generally expect to be paid for doing. But I would do them for free. I do do them, all the time, regardless of whether there’s any profit in them. For me, they are also recreational, in that doing them rebuilds my inner self, giving me energy rather than draining me.

So anyway, I want to get back to writing in some more formal ways. Those of you that have been hit regularly with my facebook posts, tweets, and long, highly theoretical email missives on various topics may now be saying, “But Mac, you already write a ton. (Please stop?)” And yeah, that’s true. But it all feels so very fragmented, talking to different people and different groups at different times. I feel like I want to get back to talking to everyone at once and no one in particular at the same time. There’s a special kind of satisfaction for me in that sort of “broadcast” style of communication, despite everything I’ve ever said about the decline of one-to-many and the rising supremacy of many-to-many communication. In practice “many-to-many” often really looks more like “some-to-some”, and I love a crowd. And the ability to just develop my thoughts in long form.

Anyway, so I’m doing two things about this, for now:

  1. I am going to resume fiction writing, using this year’s NaNoWriMo to kick-start me again.
  2. I am going to (well, I just did) resume blogging.

I’m really looking forward to getting back on this track of my life. I hope some of you out there get some benefit from my recreational works of passion as well.

What are your passions? What would you think about, talk about, learn about, practice and do if your time were totally your own and you had no material needs to attend to?

And what are you doing about that?

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I don’t know exactly what’s wrong with me. But I find I am drawn to questions around the darker side of humankind more than to those that highlight the better side of the human condition. In seminary, I wrote a dissertation on the nature and operation of falsity—how it interacts with good, with evil, and with truth, when it matters and when it doesn’t, and what, exactly, defines it. It turned out to be a rather-too-broad topic, but I’m glad I did the study I did.

I was initially drawn to it after reading the following:

Truths which are not genuine, and also falsities, may be consociated with genuine truths; but falsities which contain good, and not falsities in which is evil. Falsities which contain good are received by the Lord as truths. The good which has its quality from falsity is accepted by the Lord, if there is ignorance, and therein is innocence and a good end. (The New Jerusalem and Its Heavenly Doctrine, n. 171)

What an amazing idea! And let me say that it was one I personally needed to wrestle with on many levels, and in fact had wrestled with most of my life. You see, I love to be right. I mean I really love it. Being right was very important to me as a child. I was blessed with a brain that is good at fast processing, and a certain kind of recall, and so early on I found myself to be quite talented at finding the small logical and factual flaws in other peoples’ statements. I’m surprised none of my siblings killed me before I reached adulthood.

But what if being right wasn’t the most important thing? What if being flat-out wrong, even about important, deep theological matters, was no big deal to God? Well, why would it be? Is the Lord so limited that he can’t work with our intellectual flaws? I mean, if he can work with our sin, why can’t he work with what really amounts to not much more than our mental errors?

So when I read that, I knew that was a topic I wanted to dig into. Also, in that same book, I came across a sort of taxonomy of types of falsities, and that really appealed to my particular style of categorical thinking.

But there was another motivation for asking how, what and why, with regard to spiritual falsehood: the question of evil. In part, understanding how falsity works in human minds unlocks part of the answer to the question, “Why is there evil?” I have often said, by way of example, that Adolf Hitler didn’t just get out of bed one day and say to himself, “I think I’ll be evil now.” Everyone, no matter how sane or crazy, no matter how big or small, has a (to them) perfectly reasonable justification for everything they do. Whatever anyone chooses to do, by definition, on one level, is to them the very definition of “good”. Even when at the same time the same person also labels it as “evil”, there must be some level on which it is good to the person, or they (we) wouldn’t do it.

And for me, the question, “Why do seemingly good people sometimes do seemingly evil things?” is one I can’t stop poking at. It’s one of my three persistant “why”s. (The other two are variants on the standard “Why do bad things happen to good people?”)

So anyway, the question of evil has been one that has been on my mind for many years. But the more life I experience, and the more pain I witness through my pastoral care for others who are experiencing some amazingly hard things, the more important this question becomes to me on a personal level.

I’ve been meaning for years to write a book–a popular book, not just an academic treatment–on the subject of evil. Just that word, “evil”, is filled with all sorts of complicated baggage accumulated over the ages, and to a certain degree I think we have turned it into something other than what it really is. If the word is too covered in cultural barnacles for it to work for you, instead consider the question, “Why do seemingly good people hurt one another?” And it’s more personal variant: “Why do I hurt people?”

There. That’s the big one. Not everyone’s ready to go there, I know. But for those who are, I want to provide something that offers hope, insight, and healing.

And I’d like to enlist your help. This project is going to take a long time, and will require more knowledge, experience and wisdom than I can currently lay claim to. So if you’d like to help, I’m looking for three things: (1) your own insights and experiences related to this topic, (2) an occasional gentle reminder to keep working on the book, and (3) support and motivation when I hit dead ends, discouragement, and setbacks.

I’ll be posting more (and more specifically) on this topic in the future. Watch this space.


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