Archive for category Reflections

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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Shower Questions

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.” So says Ralphy E. But I say publishing consistency is the bugbear of creators, adored by advertisers and algorithms and subscribers. Also, how did the semi-helpful trickster sprite become a tribal warrior opponent of first-level wilderness adventurers? Seems like a strange journey, and one made even stranger by how few bother to ask the question.

The One Thing I Know

Four and a half years ago, I was thinking about someone I loved very deeply, who was suffering terrible pain that I felt I couldn’t do anything to ease. And I was thinking about my own pain, past and present. I was thinking of losses I had experienced, and some of my darkest moments of doubt and despair. And I was thinking about many others I knew or had known, who struggled. And some who lost the struggle. Not knowing what else to do with my thoughts and my feelings, I wrote a letter to everyone in the world.

I keep meeting new people who need this message. I keep discovering I need to hear it again myself. So here it is, in the hopes that it reaches one more person who needs it.

I’m doing fine, by the way. But life is pretty rough sometimes, isn’t it?

Look. I know you are stressed. I know you are anxious.

You think things are spinning out of control. Or maybe you think things are permanently stuck and will never change. Or maybe even both.

You are staying above water for now, but you see swells on the horizon that you know will eventually break over your head, and you don’t know how you’ll survive it this time. You don’t recall how you survived it last time.

Maybe you’ve lost your purpose. Or never had one. Or have a very clear mission in life that you understand is impossible.

Everything you thought was certain has turned to sand. Everything you thought would get better has gotten worse. People you expected would always be there are now gone, or soon will be.

You wonder about your worth, your value, your contribution, your impact. Or you regret the impact of your past actions or words. You’ve done things that can never be undone no matter how much you wish otherwise, or you just lack the courage to do the things you know you really should.

Your opportunity will never come. It’s slipping away. It’s long, long gone.

Your happiest moments only touch a part of you, while another hidden you experiences them as if through thick glass.

You just don’t know what to do or who to be or where to turn.

I get that.

You are loved.

I won’t say that none of the rest of it matters, but a part of me believes that, in the face of this one truth, the rest matters less.

You are loved.

I believe you are loved by your Creator. I know you are loved by other people who know you. If I know you even a little, I either love you already or am working on learning to love you. (Please be patient.) Many others are, too.

And even if you no longer know what matters, or know that nothing matters any more, or darkly suspect that nothing has ever mattered, this does matter.

You are loved. Even if you can only find one person who loves you, that is huge. It is immense, and powerful, and real. Even if you don’t know who it is that loves you, I guarantee that there is someone.

Your connection to someone else matters to them. Let it matter to you.

Together, you and they can get through this. Together, we can get through this. I mean it.

You are loved.

I have been there, and Love has pulled me through. You can do this. We can do this. Because you are loved.

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I Don’t Hate the Super Bowl, But It’s Not Great

That headline was intentionally constructed to increase clicks, by the way. I’m playing a dumb game with my blog post titles right now, so if I come off as a bit more inflammatory than you’d expect, that’s probably why. However, it is true that I’m not super excited by the super bowl. But I’m not trying to tell you that your enjoyment of it is somehow bad or wrong. Far from it! And no, I’m not making yet another dumb sarcastic “Go sportsball!” type post that is so common this time of year every year on Twitter.

In fact, I think football is a very entertaining sport. I played it for most of my high school years, and a bit in elementary school as well. I grew up in the household of lifelong Eagles fans (insert obvious joke here), and never thought my parents’ season tickets were a waste of money for them. I saw how much fun they got from going to games for years and years. And when the Eagles themselves won recently, I loved it!

But most years, I only halfway pay attention to the super bowl, even if I watched some NFL games leading up to it. So you could say I’m kinda neutral on professional football in general. I can take it or leave it. When I do watch it, I have fun, but I often don’t bother. (Ice hockey, on the other hand, is a different matter altogether…)

Thinking about this got me wondering how much of a minority I’m in, here. I mean, I know that on the global stage the American obsession with the super bowl annually irks lots of people who think football is played without using your hands on a “pitch”. But here in the U.S., what percentage of people, like myself, didn’t watch even the half-time show?

As it turns out, about 42%. Or rather one can say that about 58% of TVs were tuned to the game. (Increasingly I wonder how much TV ratings diverge from actual percentages of homes engaged in something as more and more turn to other methods of consuming video content.)

Anyway, this is interesting and also not that surprising. And it’s a smaller number than it once was in years past. In fact, total viewership of the annual championship has been down for a few years, now. It peaked in 2017 at 172 million total viewers, and in years since has faded below 150 million. Still, that’s the majority of America. But here’s my real question:

How many cultural “touchstones” do we still have today? Is the Super Bowl one of the last ones standing? And will it, too, some day be something a majority of Americans do not experience?

And I have a follow-up question:

Is that a good thing, a bad thing, or just a meaningless bit of trivia good for blogs and think pieces but not much else?

I honestly don’t know. I have an instinct that immediately offers me answers to these two questions, but I don’t know that I trust my gut on this one.


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