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deal of delusion in the form of obsolete, legacy thinking derived from a Newtonian-Cartesian model of reality which is no longer applicable, and especially in the social sciences — in economics and sociology.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,

If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things through narrow chinks of his cavern.

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.


da Vinci's Perspective: the Eye and the Pyramid of Vision

da Vinci’s Model of Perspective: the Eye and the Pyramid of Vision

Which becomes in the subject-object dichotomy of Rene Descartes’ metaphysical dualism,

Metaphysical Dualism Illustrated by Rene Descartes

Metaphysical Dualism Illustrated by Rene Descartes

Which, in turn, becomes the image of Enlightenment,

Perspectivism: The pyramid of vision

Perspectivism: The pyramid of vision

And which is represented, contrariwise, as Blake’s deranged and demented Zoa, Urizen, in his painting  “Ancient of Days”,

William Blake: Urizen -- Ancient of Days

William Blake: Urizen — 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.


19 responses to “Artificial Intelligence…. or Artificial Insanity?”

  1. LittleBigMan says :

    In “The Way Toward Health”, Seth also discusses the concept of “rigidity”, and why it is important for life on earth not to become rigid so that opportunities for consciousness to express itself in physical terms remain flexible.

    Here are a few excerpts, all of which come from page 287:

    “In actuality all of the seemingly erratic genetic variances that often crop up in human development are vital to the elasticity of the entire genetic system.

    “It would not be beneficial, for example, to try to “breed out” those seemingly unfortunate, divergent genetic traits. The physical system would become too rigid, lose the power of its natural diversity, and eventually bring a dead-end to human survival.

    “There is hardly any danger of that possibility, however, since it would be nearly impossible to perform such a task even with the most developed of technologies — and indeed, the very attempt to do so might well immediately trigger a response on the part of the whole genetic system, so that new divergences appeared with even greater frequency, as compensation. [I could not help but think of ‘autism’ when I read this part, even though I have no clue if the surge in autism cases in the developed world has anything to do with the increase in the number of vaccinations that are aimed at eliminating certain kinds of diseases/conditions, etc.]

    “There are individuals who do choose ahead of time — in one lifetime or another — to accept such a divergent genetic heritage for their own reasons — often to experience life from one of its most unique aspects, and sometimes in order to encourage the growth of other abilities that might not otherwise not occur.

    “Human consciousness normally experiences wide sweeps of rhythms, varying states of awareness, and its amazing flexibility is partially dependent upon its lack of rigidity, its own spontaneous inclinations, and its capacity for curiosity, wonder, discovery, and emotion.”

    By the way, I’m amazed that in this book, “The Way Toward Health” Seth identifies ‘thoughts’ as the single most important factor in all health related issues.

    What a wonderful quote from the Pslamist: “They that make them are like unto them.”

  2. alex jay says :

    “It is for this reason that present concepts of “intelligence” can only lead to insanity, particularly if projected into robotic devices.”

    • alex jay says :

      Reading a few of the comments (thankfully in the minority), perhaps robots might be an improvement : )

      Then again, why wait for the destruction of the species circa 2045, when were we’re doing our darndest to facilitate Gaia Sophia’s denuding of her flora and fauna in an ubiquitous onslaught from every direction imaginable.

      Worth one and half hours of your time:

  3. LittleBigMan says :

    Thank you, Alex, for posting the video. Very valuable information. Of course, it goes without saying that a great many thanks also goes to Scott for creating an outstanding forum like this so this type of information can be shared.

  4. alex jay says :

    A well presented critique on the AI issue. One or two references reminded me of Ringland – or, rather, my vague recollection on his views of systems and processes.

    However, this tidbit Mr. Purdy cites left me scratching my head (sounds like a load of gobblygook?):

    “Death is more universal than life; everyone dies but not everyone lives” – A. Sachs

    Might sound good in a Chinese cracker, but totally DUH!!! Death cannot be “more universal than life” (unless you define death as Potential not yet actualised, or a wave not yet observed and particalised) and “not everyone lives” is a total contradiction, as “everyone” by definition confers existence. Who are these “everyones” that do NOT live?

    Perhaps Mr. A. Sachs has been watching too many presidential debates of late …

    • Scott Preston says :

      I believe what A. Sachs was attempting to say is that there are no “winners” in the game of life, contrary to the commonplace views that there are “winners and losers”. Not much different, in that sense, than don Juan’s views of the matter…. that the fact of death makes all creatures equal, and only this consciousness that death is universal is true equality. Also, one only begins to live truly when one becomes conscious of this truth. It is, in other words, the cure for narcissism.

      • alex jay says :

        “I believe what A. Sachs was attempting to say is that there are no “winners” in the game of life, contrary to the commonplace views that there are ‘winners and losers’.”

        Beg to differ … but he’s not saying that at all. He is saying that death is “MORE” universal than life, which, as stated, is nonsensical and how you could interpret it as implying “true equality” is reading into whatever context of origination as charitable. In fact, life-death is interchangeable (the Eleusinian, Egyptian and countless other philosophical traditions understood the balance through their birth-death cyclical rituals – albeit with an astro-theological consciousness, magical and mythological, and arguably more rational in comprehension than anything coming out of these chaotic insane times) for it simply deals with change – not constants. As you state there are no “winners and losers”, yet the quote at issue implies – actually, it doesn’t imply; it states – death conquers life (the “MORE”). Has he heard of the “Resurrection” metaphor?

        Death might be the great equaliser in taming the ego (narcissism), but it has no power over life – its twin – unless one succumbs to a materialistic/naive realist/mental-rational delusion.

        I think you’re being too kind or you have knowledge of Mr. Sachs (not related to his namesake with Goldman, I hope) – and his opinions that transcend what I can only interpret flawed or lazy as stated literally. Whatever he meant, he said it poorly?

        • Scott Preston says :

          Well… nothing can be “more” universal. The thing about universality is…. it is or it isn’t. There’s no “partially universal” or “more or less universal”. A truth deemed “universal” has no exception. “All living beings are mortal” is a truth that has no exceptions. Even this solar system and this galaxy and this universe will die. As Jimmy put it, “no one here gets out alive”

          True equality is the realisation that death rules all, without exception. You will be squashed like a bug just as you squash a bug. Sub specie aeternitatis, as they say, your life is of no more significance (or obversely, is just as significant) as that of a worm’s. Unless you believe, of course, that the cosmos has its eye uniquely focussed on man.

          (But it doesn’t… only christians and Greeks believe that God or the gods are watching them all the time and “looking into the heart”).

          “How do you know but ev’ry Bird that cuts the airy way, Is an immense world of delight, clos’d by your senses five?” — Blake

          What? Not the worm too?

    • InfiniteWarrior says :

      Might make more sense if read as “not everyone (truly) lives”. There are all too many Ring Wraiths walking the Earth.

  5. alex jay says :

    “(But it doesn’t… only christians and Greeks believe that God or the gods are watching them all the time and “looking into the heart”).”

    You forgot the Romans … every household had its own deity watching over them — a bit like we are experiencing now with google, facebook, the NSA, TSA etc. ad infinitum and all the other Orwellian gods with acronym titles watching over us.

    Look Scott, on this rare occasion, I don’t know what you’re on about as your proving the point (e.g. you say “there’s no “partially universal” or “more or less universal”) I was making that Mr. Sachs is out of his tree when he says that “death is more [stress the ‘more’ yet again] universal than life”. And you come back by agreeing with me when you say: “Well… nothing can be “more” universal.”, yet you seem to be defending Sachs’ inane comment by stating the obvious like the inescapability of death (I prefer change) in a physical sense …. except in Kurzweil’s wet dream that is?

    As far as “true equality is the realisation that death rules all, without exception”, I would suggest that is incorrect or rather, it is only true from a materilistic perspective. You do surprise me! Have you experienced a contra-Damascene moment of late? No … Cronus (Saturn – the Grim Reaper) is still subserviant to Uranus. Death is not the ruler … only an instrument of change. And the soul is indestructable.

  6. T G says :

    Excellent post.

    “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.”

    This reminds me of Kleist’s rather unnerving essay, “On the Marionette Theatre.” There Kleist suggests that we see in the movement of the marionette an admirable purity and grace, and we admire it because we know, self-conscious and full of doubt as we are, that we have lost that grace. We have lost it as an inevitable result of our having eaten of the apple of knowledge; and the gates of Eden are therefore closed to us. One of the voices in the essay suggests that we might find our way back into Eden by fully embracing this situation — that by becoming more and more conscious of all of our thoughts and actions we might again eventually have access to the harmonious grace of the marionette. So, fulfilled, we lose our selves. Which is to say, we lose the nagging voices of self doubt by becoming fully who we are. Kleist here seems to advocate a sort of German Wu wei. He is not dissimilar from Blake, who writes of the move from Innocence to Experience and then on to a more deeply integrated and wiser (and wilder, in the best sense) form of Innocence.

    So our contemporary marionette makers, by idealising and seeking to replicate the seeming grace of the marionette are refusing to undertake the quest to fulfilment of themselves. They don’t want to become fully who they are. It’s too tricky. The grace they admire and want is brainless, mindless, and pure only as death is pure.

    Yes, the mechanistic model, by closing off the avenues to eternity, traps the marionette maker in his marionette world. And eventually the maker and the marionette become indistinguishable.

    • T G says :

      Worth pointing out that Kleist may not have fully believed in the possibilities we can read into his essay. Indeed, “On the Marionette Theatre” might be a parody of the kind of discussions that were current in Germany in the romantic period.

      I’ve just remembered a book that I read years ago, but which this “Chrysalis” post has inspired me to return to. It is “The Secret Life of Puppets” by Victoria Nelson, which explores how our desire to transcend ourselves, repressed in an age of materialism, finds an outlet in fantasy, horror and SF genres. Her book is quite profound, and argues that we are seeing a return of Platonism, and are on the cusp of a new Renaissance.

      “..when we become completely conscious of the boundaries of the worldview we have comfortably inhabited for several centuries that is also, inevitably, the moment we abandon it.” (Nelson)

      • Scott Preston says :

        Also, a great comment. I will have to get Nelson’s book.

        I just read von Kleist’s essay “On the Marionette Theatre”, and took note of the footnote at the end by Idris Parry. He got it exactly.

        According to Kleist there is no way back. Humans are now thinking animals, and the material of thought is knowledge. But knowledge, although the source of uncertainty when fragmentary.. is also the vital substance of harmony when complete. So Kleist asserts that our only hope is to go forward to total knowledge.”

        Yes indeed… that “total knowledge” is don Juan’s “coming to the totality of oneself”, and is equally Jean Gebser’s “integral consciousness”, as well as Blake’s Albion or Aurobindo’s “Supramental”. There are echoes of Nietzsche in von Kleist’s essay, and perhaps Nietzsche knew him, too. How interesting.

    • Scott Preston says :

      What a great comment!!! I’ll have to look up that essay by Kleist, and thank you very much for mentioning it and commenting on it, for I think I detect in your “marionette” what I’ve been calling “the foreign installation” (from Castaneda’s writing).

      And eventually the maker and the marionette become indistinguishable.

      Which, of course, reminded me of the quote from the Psalms that I have used frequently to draw attention to the equivalence of what is today called “narcissism” with what was formerly called “idolatry”,

      The idols of the heathen 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; neither is there any breath in their mouths. They that make them are like unto them: so is every one that trusteth in them Psalm 135:15-18)

      (I excerpted this from an essay I googled up by David Hawkes, and it looks like he comes out with both guns blazing against “idolaters”. I’ve only read the first couple of paragraphs of “Against Idealism Too”, but I’m bound to read the rest and maybe you’ll be interested too

      Thanks ever so much for the reference!

    • Scott Preston says :

      Well… here it is Heinrich von Kleist’s “On the Marionette Theatre”

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