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Monk Cosmas
St. John of Shanghai Monastery

Can the demons read our minds? Do they know what we are thinking? Do they know what we are feeling?

Okay, those are trick questions. The Fathers say that the demons do not read our minds and cannot peer into our hearts. What they do, instead, is to throw all sorts of provocations and temptations our way and watch for our reactions. Sort of trial and error, you might say. Then when they see us react to some particular kind of temptation, they toss more of it in our direction. If we react to the temptation of food, they send us more thoughts about delicious meals and snacks. If we respond to images of wealth, we get more images of money and luxury. If we show a weakness about sex, we receive more provocations of the same sort.

That means that our part in spiritual warfare consists primarily in not reacting, so that we don’t give them information that they can use against us.

Now let’s take a look at something completely different, “sponsored content” on social media on the internet.

What happens when you click “like” or “dislike” on a company’s ad or on a paid post about some political or social issue? Hmm… suddenly you start getting more of the same from that company or organization, and you also begin to see similar things from other companies or organizations. What is working behind the scenes is what computer people call an algorithm.

These algorithms seem to keep track of everything we do online and pass information from one program to another. I have even had the experience of looking up a book on the web site of the local public library, only to have amazon try to sell me the same book less than a minute later.

Can these algorithms read our minds? Do they know what we are thinking? Do they know what we are feeling?

You might laugh at this point. Algorithms act pretty much like artificial intelligence demons, don’t they? Let’s not indulge in paranoia and suppose that software engineers deliberately made them resemble demons, but we Orthodox Christians are fortunate. We can treat these provocations in the same way as we treat any other provocations. We can use the same wisdom and self-control when we are online as in other parts of our lives, and not give away information to algorithms that we would deny to demons.

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