Artificial Intelligence…. or Artificial Insanity?
After publishing yesterday’s post on the nuts and bolts of bots and borgs, I dived into Norbert Wiener’s God and Golem, Inc, a book which has sat unread on my bookshelves for a millenium or longer. Wiener is one of the fathers of Cybernetics (he coined the word), and so his views on the potential for artificial intelligence should be taken seriously. But I was very surprised at how closely Wiener’s views concurred with what I posted yesterday, as I had approached the book fully expecting to engage in a mental tussle with him.
(For those who wish to follow along with the discussion, a copy of Wiener’s short book, which dates from the early 60s, is available online. For our purposes, the important commentary on the promise and perils of the human application of cybernetics and artificial intelligence begins on page 49, Chapter V).
Wiener’s discourse on the potential perils of applied cybernetics often contain the seed germ of a potent critique of those he refers to as “gadget worshippers“, or what we’ve been referring to as techno-science. He also draws out the parallels between techno-science and magical thinking, even insinuating, as I have, that there is a kind of self-interested and self-aggrandising dishonesty and deception involved in obscuring that parallel, not to leave unmentioned a great deal of delusion in the form of obsolete, legacy thinking derived from a Newtonian-Cartesian model of reality which is no longer applicable, and especially in the social sciences — in economics and sociology.
In other words, the present model of “intelligence” itself is faulty, diminished, and deficient. This is the key point I want to raise in this post, for Wiener also shows himself highly sensitive to an understanding of intelligence that goes well beyond current reductionistic or scientistic interpretations. Those diminished, mechanistic and purely mentalistic models of intelligence I consider completely unintelligent, and as something scarcely distinguishable from insanity.
It is this that Wiener finds potentially disturbing about the misuse of cybernetics, as do I. For what is being modeled in terms of “artificial intelligence” is actually a parody and caricature of consciousness and intelligence which derives from mechanical models of the human being in the first instance. No good whatsoever can come of this.
Wiener understands this, and sees in “the gadget worshipper” a kind of idolatry. He would probably have no problem, in this regard, agreeing with the Psalmist who wrote,
Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands.
They have mouths, but they speak not: eyes have they, but they see not:
They have ears, but they hear not: noses have they, but they smell not:
They have hands, but they handle not: feet have they, but they walk not: neither speak they through their throat.
They that make them are like unto them; so is every one that trusteth in them.
“They that make them are like unto them…” This judgement underlies Wiener’s critique of the “gadget worshipper“, along with an alternative understanding of intelligence which, unfortunately, is only partially developed. Therefore, I will attempt to draw that critique out further.
“Rigidity” in thought and perception here is, for Wiener, the great sin. Against this rigidity or narrowed and frozen perspectivism, Wiener presents a more expansive, nuanced and subtle understanding of intelligence as linked to the experience and concept of homeostasis. This will be our point of embarkation in coming to a more satisfyingly holistic or integral understanding of intelligence than that understood by “the gadget worshipper”.
First, Wiener’s objection to this mental “rigidity” is the same as we find in Jean Gebser’s concept of “deficient rationality” as the narrowing of perspective perception into an inflexible, rigid point-of-view consciousness, all too typical of the bigot. Nietzsche called this type of diminished, indeed imprisoned, consciousness a “nook-and-corner” perspectivism. It is this same orientation of consciousness against which William Blake wrote,
This is the same attitude of consciousness we’ve been calling “Point-of-View-Line-of-Thought” (POVLOT) consciousness, symbolised by a supposed all-seeing eye surmounting a pyramid, once a symbol of Enlightenment, but which is become a ossified and frozen field of vision.
Which becomes in the subject-object dichotomy of Rene Descartes’ metaphysical dualism,
Which, in turn, becomes the image of Enlightenment,
And which is represented, contrariwise, as Blake’s deranged and demented Zoa, Urizen, in his painting “Ancient of Days”,
This is the shape of the Modern Mind and its notion of intelligence, which Blake nonetheless denounced as “single vision & Newton’s sleep”.
It is against this that Wiener, like many others, wants to propose a new understanding of consciousness and intelligence that is rooted in a concept derived from biology as homeostasis, rather than a rigid ‘point of view’ perspectivism which Blake, also, considered indistinguishable from insanity. And in many ways this controversy over the meaning of intelligence has long, long roots, going back to the controversy between the first philosophers, Parmenides and Heraclitus, or Being versus Becoming, the philosophers of permanence and change.
In order to fully appreciate why homeostasis is a superior understanding of intelligence over the fixed ‘point-of-view’ perspectivism, we need to quote something from the Seth material that LittleBigMan was kind enough to do in an earlier comment,
“I do not mean to imply that you necessarily deal with opposite kinds of behaviors, for there are endless variances — each unique — as consciousness expresses itself through physical sensation, and attempts to explore all of the possible realms of emotional, spiritual, biological, and mental existence.” (The Way Towards Health, p. 290)
In important ways, this is the fourfold vision in a nutshell, and provides a more satisfying and real understanding of intelligence as an integral or integrating relationship between the emotional, the spiritual, the biological and the mental components of the fourfold human. The human is not just mind and body, subject and object, but is the form of a mandala, a cross, or a crossroads. The unsettled state of the world today is a result or reflection in physical reality of the unbalanced state of the fourfold human, in this sense. The four components of the fourfold human do not function integrally and therefore harmoniously. The condition is unbalanced, which is another meaning of “insane”. Buddhism calls this unbalanced condition “dukkha”, which is suffering or malaise, and names its contrary or healthy state “equanimity”. Equanimity is the integral human in a condition of homeostasis, where each component of the fourfold human is functioning cooperatively, and in a balanced and harmonious way. This is “peace within” and is the vision of Blake’s warring Zoas reconciled.
The very word “intelligence” means, in effect, homeostasis. Inter-ligere means to draw relationships between, in this case to harmonise the emotional, the spiritual, the biological and the mental. The present concept of intelligence is deficient, and unhealthy, because it recognises only one of the factors, which is Blake’s deadly and deathly “single vision” — the mental. Intelligence, however, is only revealed in the cooperative or integral functioning of all four components of emotion, spirit, body, and mind in homeostasis.
Doctors, today, define biological death as “homeostatic failure”, and this principle of homeostatic failure as resulting in death has far broader implications than simply physiological breakdown. Homeostatic failure, in biological terms, occurs when one or more of the principle bodily systems — the metabolic, the nervous, the circulatory or the respiratory — begins to breakdown. The other systems will attempt to compensate for the breakdown by ramping up their activity to try and restore bodily equilibrium. If the weak system does not recover, the body dies.
This principle has actual application to society considered as a “body politic”, and is something Wiener, surprisingly, recognises. Society is also a fourfold structure, as described in the social philosophy, too, of the “speech-thinker” Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy and his “cross of reality”. Society is a creature of two times (past and future) as well as two spaces (inner and outer, or subject and object). Society survives by living inwards, outwards, backwards, and forwards and achieving a balance between these different directions. This equilibrium of times and spaces is homeostasis applied sociologically. Only this constitutes intelligence.
It is for this reason that present concepts of “intelligence” can only lead to insanity, particularly if projected into robotic devices. The outcome will not be as expected. It is on this account that so many artistic visions of the future of automata are dystopian and nightmarish. For the artist sees clearly that not only he or she has been left out of account in the conceptions of “intelligence”, but so have the spiritual and the biological been excluded by definition.
For that reason, artificial intelligence as presently conceived can be nothing else but artificial insanity, and this appears to be the concern, also, of the father of Cybernetics.