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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Animalizing

During moments of a more pure awareness, prior to any thought of translation into language, I recognize perhaps a truer, more immediate sense of my animal nature. In my relationships to other animals, I find these nonverbal states not only more readily happen, but are necessary for any exchange to take place. We may talk to animals, but in silent presence, where a different style of exchange takes place, a sense of oneself as one among many, in an enlivened, embodied world, can perhaps give us the felt experience of mutual participation in the sacredness of the world.

Vrancx,_Sebastiaan_-_Orpheus_and_the_Beasts_-_c._1595

There’s a lot of human chatter now days about the state and fate of our world, and specifically, the influence of humans on the environment – conflicts between cultures, religions, etc. We are, it seems, beginning to see and fear the harm whose cause is doubtless our own. As it is recognizably a human cause, we look to ourselves to correct course. Whether the correction needed is seen as psychological, political, internal or external, if we are the problem, and we are superior, we must be the ones to find the solution.

But, even as far as this is true, in what ways can the source of a problem become the solution? What needs to happen? It’s not like we haven’t been aware of our dilemma for thousands of years. It seems we can’t self-correct!

James Hillman reminds us to reconsider the notion that the cosmos is not a man-made affair:

JH Phil IntThe mechanistic (indirect) theory of perception so essential to modern epistemology and cosmology of course guarantees an anthropocentric universe. Only humans are conscious. Animals have less memory, less stored knowledge, less mediating reason, less subjective interiority. Have they interiority at all? And unless they have this interior subjectivity, they cannot claim consciousness. The mediating subjective factors necessary to our human definition are the very same factors required by the indirect theory of perception. Dismantle the radio signals and the code system — all the intervening variables — and we shall find we have junked as well our notion of consciousness as an interior mediating process. For it is this definition of consciousness that has maintained through centuries from Stoic philosophy and Roman law through Christian dogma and European rationalism that animals are nonsentient, irrational, unconscious, and inferior. This condemnation of their consciousness assures our human superiority, allowing us to ignore “their inarticulate wisdom, their certainty, their unhesitating achievement”

We might also ask, if we go back far enough, who were we prior to this current state of affairs of assumed human superiority? What brought us from being one among many within a world we inhabit, to being and feeling separate and distinctly apart? Is it that very distinction, and the ability to make distinctions that becomes too much of a good thing, and so, culminating into a fatal flaw? Is the fate of humanity tied to a consensual perception which now grossly separates itself from non-human animals to the point of possibly extinguishing it all? Does our power over the animals along with our self-appointed management over nature truly protect, or does it make us even more vulnerable?

I venture the idea that a cosmology with soul gives special attention to animals. I propose that any acceptable new cosmology will have to receive approval from the animal kingdom.

512px-Neufchâtel_-_Bildnis_des_Nürnberger_Schreibmeisters_Johann_Neudörffer_und_eines_Schülers

Hillman reminds us that our relationship to animals in many cultures, times and places, very much carries with it the experience of communication with the divine. Divine in this sense being both an immanent and super natural presence of invisible powers. In this sense, animals are not simply food or predators, but carriers of messages from invisible worlds to ours. Besides the more familiar biblical story of Noah, the ark, and God’s directive to save the animals, Hillman mentions the correlation between Plato’s dodecahedron, ‘…used by the creative maker for the “whole.” ‘

Following upon the geometric shapes for fire, water, air, and earth, there is a fifth, the most comprehensive figure which has, says Plato, “a pattern of animal figures thereon.”  [ 7] It reminds of another passage in Plato (Republic 589c) where he presents “the symbolic image of the soul” as a multitudinous, many-headed beast with a ring of heads tame and wild.

And here, Hillman notes Plato giving the animals their share of the cosmic power:

Let us consider this twelve-sided animal-headed image seriously indeed, although seriously does not mean literally. Rather, we may imagine this final and essential image of Plato’s cosmology — strange, unexpected, obscure as it may be — to be awarding animal-being cosmic superiority.

The vulnerability of a past prior to the introduction of technologies that increasingly separated us from other animals, we may fail to remember what drew our ancestors to both fear and envy, but also to eventually gather greater insight and reflection from the animals that share existence with us. It’s as if we humans, by separating ourselves from them, traded off our animal sensibility for an ever increasing capacity for reflective distance. And so began the long journey: negotiating territory and relationships not only with the other animals, but with the natural state of the environment. Through time and technology, we have become less willing to tolerate the inherent conditions of life on planet earth. Each so-called advancement, while giving us an edge over other creatures, left us without the necessity of getting along.

Hillman makes a crucial point that it is through relationship, and a cosmology which includes the animals, we are instructed through a direct mediation between the earthly and the divine:

The return of cosmology to the animal is not merely to invite “brute” palpable sensuousness into our thinking. The animal opens not only into the flesh of life but also toward the gods. According to fables, legends, myths, and rituals worldwide, animals impart to humans the secrets of the cosmos. They are our instructors in cosmology, that is, they mediate between the gods and humans; they have divine knowledge.

Divine knowledge, an intelligence beyond intellect and the power to rationalize, makes room for the intelligence that sees beauty, grace and the physical wonder of the other.

Although I am not proposing solutions here, enlarging the view of the long trail of human history, and seeing how language and technology influence our experience by continually exaggerating the sense of a separation from the animals, and from each other and the idea of anything outside or beyond the human realm. It cannot only be a matter of belief though, but of finding and allowing a place for the dynamics of relationship to become a vehicle for dissolving boundaries, walls, ideologies and fears that perpetuate a felt experience of separation that has plagued humanity for a very long time.

All quotes from: Hillman, James. Philosophical Intimations (Uniform Edition of the Writings of James Hillman Book 8). Spring Publications. Kindle Edition.

 

 

Blame it on Kindle

Wow, January is three-quarters over and I have not posted since Christmas! I’ll blame it on receiving a new Kindle for Christmas. I have read six or seven books since December 20 – so much for cutting down on my book bill!

The best part of Kindle is being able to buy books that the bookstores never keep in stock because apparently only myself and forty other people are interested in such topics as cosmology, meaning, identity and such:) I love the Amazon website for it’s reviews and ease of use.

Yes, life has been busy, I am working hard on my pipe band side-drumming as my husband and I are planning a trip next month to a 5-day long pipe band drumming workshop.

I have been off on a tangent which started from reading about NDE’s and has led to a most curious insight from one of the books I read. Apparently one of the current debates among scientists is whether consciousness is created by physiology, or consciousness precedes biology and therefore is the source of living organisms such as ourselves. Hmmmm……

That’s a lot to think about and certainly turns the world on its head. It would help explain how intelligence has been made manifest. I have never understood how intelligence could come from nothing, or even evolve little by little from the smallest particles of the big bang to Us. But, if there were a field of consciousness somehow entwined within the very fabric of the universe, that would at least account for the drive towards manifest consciousness such as we are an example there of.

Why would life forms become more and more complex? Why do life forms such as ourselves seek to be more and more conscious of who, what and where we are?

But what if consciousness, understood as a pre-biological thing-y-ness of the cosmos, could be understood to be the source of intelligence limited in our experience by the physiology of our brains?

This obviously doesn’t answer all the questions. The idea that the big bang comes from nothing does not make sense to me. It would seem that there needs to be something or someone, a Source, eternally existing with no beginning or no end. Is that something God, or the underlying Grand Consciousness and Intelligence of all?

It makes sense then, that our capacity to know and our ability to perceive is limited by our human equipment. So, it’s possible that true knowledge of who and where and what we are is not something we can access. One of the regular bloggers that I read seems to have lots of answers, and he may be right, but alas, I am no scientist and struggle to understand, and am certainly not in any position to affirm or refute what he or any scientist says, but I am most fascinated with cosmology.

On another note, I am coming to a greater understanding of how much we are limited and expanded through our sense of identity. The way in which we identify ourselves internally and externally can limit our perception of the world and also widen it.

I think our capacity for identity, when too narrow, hampers us from the ability to deepen our relationships to both people, things and world views and that one of the keys to freedom is to be aware of one’s ability and limitations in our experience of identity. The world seems to tempt us to over identify in all circumstances, and to see our identity as both static and literal when it really is dynamic and imaginal.

More on that later, but for now it’s back to Quantum enigma’s, Bio-centrism, NDE’s and other related reading.