Sentience and Sensibility

Thank you Barbara, for the invitation to guest blog on the topic of AI and consciousness on her site Me, My Magnificent Self, I am grateful. For anyone reading here, please visit Barbara’s website too. She included some very nice thoughts about my blog, and you will also find some other posts on the AI and consciousness topic.

Here we go!

Consciousness

Before entertaining any ideas about artificially intelligent machines becoming conscious, first we should consider what we mean by both consciousness and intelligence. For our existing ideas about what it means to be conscious to be considered, and how, if at all, intelligence differs from consciousness, some attempt at definition and distinction between the two might be helpful.

Firstly, I claim no expertise, either in AI or neurological sciences. All I have, like many of us, is experience and reflection on our most primary human condition of being.

The word, “conscious” is relatively new in its usage to the English language. Its roots:

late 16th century (in the sense ‘being aware of wrongdoing’): from Latin conscius ‘knowing with others or in oneself’ (from conscire ‘be privy to’) + -ous.

And the usage of the word, “consciousness” doesn’t appear until 100 years later. In any conversation about consciousness, we might keep in mind that the current societal consensus often propagated by modern science, and other powerful voices in the culture, making claims that consciousness is an effect caused by brain function, is itself an idea made possible through consciousness. True or not, I see no reason to make dogmatic claims, when by necessity, all-knowing, awareness, sentience, identity and agency come through states of being more or less conscious.

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J2thawiki at English Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)%5D

Artificial Intelligence

When attempting to use language to qualify, define and determine the existence of whether there could be the making of a conscious mind within technological devices designed by a human mind, the understanding of the nature of language itself comes to the fore. We might first ask, what is meant by Artificial Intelligence?

ar·ti·fi·cial in·tel·li·gence
ˌärdəˈfiSHəl inˈteləjəns/
noun
  1. the theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages.

Artificial intelligence seems like an attempt to recreate the human mind in a human world. Although the creation of AI devices can be justified as ways of making human life better (easier, more secure, safer), the goal of creating an artificial mind can also be seen as a deep underlying desire to:

  • Be the creator, prove that the human mind can be recreated or simulated
  • Reduce the human mind to that of mere mathematics, reasoning and logic sans feeling and emotion
  • Surpass the potential of the human mind by creating something better; more superior (less emotion?)

But I don’t think there’s any comparison between human and non-human beings. It’s a category mistake to think so. So, what then is the difference?

As much as we have found ways to replicate and simulate bodily senses, parts and functions, useful as the technology is, these replications are not, and never will be made of the same stuff; derived by organic means and processes; a bio genesis . Although the language we frequently use to talk about human functioning has recently incorporated metaphors that come from the making and design of computers, we are fooled by metaphors at our own risk.

We’re not “wired,” or “programmed,” with a mind that can be reduced to mathematical computations and algorithms. And although there are theories, we still have no idea how consciousness, brain and many bodily systems actually work. Yes, we know enough to do some pretty complex surgeries, kill bacteria with chemicals, and measure all bodily systems that can be measured, but none of these organic structures have been biologically recreated from anything other than existing organic tissue.

BB-ASCII-art-screenshot-zebra

Dead things/Live things

Humans have developed elaborate ways to classify things. A mind that uses language to translate reality into concepts, ideas, patterns, mathematical formulas and calculations becomes almost too good at these feats. Too good, in that we humans so easily mistake what is translated into language as the totality of reality. To function in ordinary day-to-day life, we must do this! But, we needn’t be fooled by the technology of language any more than any other technology. No matter how clear we use language, we are never able to put into words all that the world, or any given moment, place or thing is. The use of language, by its very nature, requires abstracting, separation, joining, inclusion and exclusion. Language can only ever approximate reality.

Many of the primary distinctions that we make through language, do though, become deeply ingrained and assumed in our perceptions of the world. Categorizing things into either dead or living is just one example. But this primary metaphor of the nature of life might be the first philosophical and ontological mistake we make. For we know not of what lies beyond the limits and perceptions of our mind/body experience. We can, and do, however get glimpses into a much greater expanse of mind through the variety of experiences we have. It’s also quite probable that we have yet to scratch the surface of human potential through the expansion of conscious experience.

Because I am much more inclined to want to further the potential of our organic experience, including that of an expansion of mind and its potential of non-locality, I see AI, and much of its current use, as a distraction away from the much more interesting landscape of the untapped potential of mind.

AI, while in many ways providing lots of material benefits to our existence, keeps the emphasis on material existence. Much of its current use is unfortunately aimed at commercial enterprise, entertainment and furthering the isolation of each of us, by eliminating the necessity of humans. If we are essentially One, by the nature of a primary, inherent mind that permeates the whole of reality – the realization of such, and the furthering of our potential as individuals understood as an expression of the One – will need to be valued and attended to.

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Threshing with threshing flails

The human experience is a whole body phenomena that incorporates its environment and relationships into its awareness and perceptions. AI, even with the development of software programs that try to replicate any particular organic intelligence, will always be at the mercy of human design. If that limitation were ever to be overcome without human intervention, we might wonder about AI consciousness. Human intelligence does not rely on a set of programs using if/then, algorithmic computations stored away in some memory drive inside the brain. It’s much more complicated than that (See below for resources).

We moderns are brain-centric. We identify the brain with a large chunk of who and how we are, often at the expense of the totality of the body. Our perceptions are chunky, incomplete, and we often fail to see continuity because we mistake our limited perceptions for something called reality. My plea here? Let’s not turn our attention away from our amazing human potential by trying to replicate a simplistic version of a perfected and immortal self that will never be more than a current reflection of what and who we are now.

And finally:

The computer can beat the human at chess, but does it care?

https://www.wired.com/story/tech-metaphors-are-holding-back-brain-research/

https://www.thecut.com/2016/06/outfielder-problem.html

http://bigthink.com/re-envision-toyota-blog/the-electronic-brain-your-mind-vs-a-computer

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The Edge of the Universe

“Western reality has no prerogative or supremacy over other brands. It may be the present operating system for modernity on Earth, but its roots are no more rooted, its arising no more fundamental or absolute. No one species’s or planet’s deposition has primogeniture or is endorsed by the universe. The same claims are made implicitly by the spider and the mouse.”

In Richard Grossinger’s book, Dark Pool of Light, Volume One, he offers the above statement as a generous invitation to consider the broader nature of what we call reality. What seems increasingly important to me is to encourage and facilitate the awareness of just how provisional, and yet, universal are some aspects of our human experience. We live in amazing times. The shape of the world, its cultures and people, seems not nearly so distant anymore. We are at the threshold, perhaps, of realizing a global community.

Therefore, all cultural views and distinctions are being questioned, continually ripped apart by people who were once their very advocates and true believers. For some, this is truly devastating, threatening deeply held beliefs and traditions. We want to belong and we need meaning, even if it comes down to a fatalistic acceptance of meaninglessness or stricter adherence to fundamental religions. For others, a vision of unity brings hope that the human race may one day live cooperatively in peace and harmony between themselves and all that inhabits planet earth. I think we live in mystery, an outcome, or teleology only tempts us to leave the mystery.

The myths we live by might, and do, change. Every prior culture has eventually lost favor with succeeding generations. In the bigger picture of time, our culture in the west, post-modern, Judeo-Christian, like older paradigms, will unfold into something else. The push towards change has its own momentum, bigger than any culture or individual. Even in abundance, the drive to explore and reinvent ourselves remains. Yes, some individuals settle into comfortable beliefs that makes sense to them. But in the bigger picture of time, all cultures and paradigms drop out of favor, unfolding into something else. This doesn’t nullify particular aspects of cultures past and present, but incorporates them to more accurately reflect what was previously hidden.

Myths are not adopted necessarily because we prefer one version of the story over another. Myths that influence us at all, cannot reach us as myth, but as truth. When something resonates strongly with us, its irresistible pull helps us understand ourselves and the world we find ourselves in. Convinced of the certainty of what we believe, either by a historical perspective, teleology, or a charmed feeling of the experience it provides for us, we become storied, immersed as characters, even as our story conflicts with the stories of others. As they do for us, we become characters in a plot sometimes known only to ourselves.

So, does recognition and understanding of how myth works in us change anything? Can we see the implications of the story we find ourselves in and opt out? Yes, I think so, but can we ever be without myth? Is there a hard and objective reality, that when intellectually accepted as truth, replaces myth? What about science?

The structure of part of a DNA double helix

Science, perhaps more than ever, is an expression of a modern myth that seeks moving beyond and living without myth. It may be true that we are reaching a place we’ve never been before and that our rejection of myth in favor of reality may want something from us. But if so, can we ever leave behind the subjective states restricting us from objective experience? The next unfolding may not be about dispelling the mythological way of apprehending the world, but seeing how myth itself is an unfolding of the universe. Carefully, of course.

“The moment you let go of your habit addiction, you explode in all directions.”

Addiction to habit, yes, bringing us both the blessing of familiarity for survival and social skill, along with the curse of self-destructive beliefs that bring us pain and confusion, both which lock us into a mytheme that eventually outlives its purpose. We see this on both the personal and collective level.

And so, it may be the case, that by placing faith in science and technology, we fail to recognize its curse of personal and environmental destruction because of how blessed we are through the benefits received. Perhaps the force of the myth itself satisfies –  promising, and to some extent delivering, both health and wealth, along with a belief that we’re relieved from superstition and the bullying nature of the old guard of patriarchal structures.

I like to imagine that we live at the edge of the universe, unfolding a little more each day, both personally and collectively. The tension between the individual and the collective may be the springboard of revolution. We can look back on thousands of years of wounding through collective agreements, conventions and authority, and hunger for individual expression. But as the fullness of my individuality is experienced, I feel a desire to extend the boundaries of myself outward into the tribe.

When the need to distinguish self from other ceases to tempt us into positioning our relationships in terms of power, alienation and annihilation ceases to have a hold on us. Perhaps then we’ll be able to experience ourselves anew as “beings” in relation at all times, to everyone and everything, and without the fear or threat of losing ourselves to authoritarian figures or “foreigners.”

“Our identity crisis— a crisis of possession —has progressed in the last hundred years into a crisis of meaning and a moral and spiritual crisis as well. We do not know who we are or if in fact we are. We cannot escape the Voudoun “who” has turned us into animated corpses. Every day we fear that we could be supplanted unaware by automatons because we experience how the global capitalist imperative has already turned us into something like automatons: desire machines without souls—workaholic, funaholic slaves.”

It’s not desire that destroys soul, but desire missing its aim of seeking to know others; to distinguish self from other in relationship by risking vulnerability and acknowledging a need for the other. Our attraction to machines, automation and technology bypasses the need for relationship. What we don’t get from each other we can get from automated devices, which increasingly invites us to treat ourselves and others as automatons.

All quotes : Grossinger, Richard (2012-08-21). Dark Pool of Light, Volume One: The Neuroscience, Evolution, and Ontology of Consciousness: 1 (Reality and Consciousness). North Atlantic Books. Kindle Edition.