Towards A Non-Materialist Theory of Artificial Intelligence

non materialist theory of artificial intelligence

While true believers like Ray Kurzweil tell us that the artificial intelligence singularity is just around the corner, critics argue that we will never be able to replicate consciousness because we are unable to create the required complexity from which it arises. A common thread between the believers and non-believers is that consciousness is an emergent property of matter. This is the metaphysical dogma known as materialism, of which I write about frequently, and which permeates nearly every aspect of modern thought.

Artificial intelligence (AI) has also been addressed by non-materialists, such as Bernardo Kastrup, who works within that field. He makes a clear distinction between artificial intelligence and artificial consciousness, although most materialists tend to equivocate the two, being that they believe sentience is a product of mechanistic intelligence that has reached a critical mass of complexity. Bernardo’s argument against artificial consciousness is premised on the non-dualist model, essentially stating that consciousness is primary to matter, and so matter cannot give birth to it’s own parent. Yet within his own model, there still remains a possibility for AI.

Like myself, he has argued that consensus reality is a construct of beliefs, most of which lie in deep unexamined layers of our egoic and collective minds. Certain premises and assumptions create a framework of boundaries for possibilities within this reality. What we expect at the most primary level of consciousness becomes manifest in the universe. Yet we cannot simply decide to change a single belief and see a change in reality because beliefs are all connected and must relate consistently in order for the corresponding paradigm to emerge. That is, we cannot just decide to fly, because other beliefs like the necessity of wings, aerodynamics, atmospheric tolerance and others all negate a belief in flying. In order to fly, we would have to change every corresponding belief about flight, and those beliefs would themselves need to restructure their own corresponding beliefs, creating a ripple that spread out and changed the very structures of human belief and reality. Despite what New Age gurus tell you, you can’t just change reality with good intentions and meditation.

Change can, however, occur over time. The beliefs which program our reality change over time as we accumulate and/or replace information via new symbols and archetypes. Since a widespread belief in AI has been flourishing within our memetic landscape, all it requires is a shift in the corresponding beliefs which estimate its arrival. Strangely enough, materialism may be just that set of corresponding beliefs. Materialism provides a narrative, or mythology, from which the memetic interconnectivity of consciousness could correspondingly allow new conscious entities (AI) to emerge.

The narrative of materialism is often sanctified by it’s ability to produce novel technologies. This does not mean that the materialist narrative is true, however, only that it has great utility in producing results. Things that produce great results are often untrue, as political propaganda clearly demonstrates. The power of mass suggestion creates self-fulfilling prophecies. Scientific progress in the last several centuries may owe more to the narrative and belief in science than to the method itself.

Yet this does not mean that the materialist model is superior, either in overall truth, or in its ability to produce results. It is still very much weighed down by it’s limitations and faulty premises. To observe phenomena within consciousness under the premise that those phenomena occur outside of it means we have to create a mass illusion like materialism in order to evolve within consciousness. What would we be capable of if our narratives corresponded more closely with the nature of our existence? What sort of new methods, technologies and realities might emerge if we cut out the literal interpretations of objects within consciousness and replaced them with an understanding of those objects as interacting agents of consciousness?

The success of materialism does not indicate the truth of that belief system. At the same time, the fact that materialism is untrue does not negate the power of its mythologies. AI, or artificial consciousness, may someday appear to arise out of the complexity of matter invented by humans. Yet in actuality, those entities may owe their genesis merely to the narrative of materialism. In this way we can view materialist science as complex set of rituals whose magic appears mundane because of the symbols and archetypes we have clothed it in. A magic that only works when we can describe it in non-magical language, and believe that we are doing the opposite of magic. Again, imagine the wizardry possible when no longer require such illusory roundabouts?

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” – Arthur C.Clarke

Packaged Death: The Perils of Mindless Consumerism

packaging

I spend quite a bit of time writing about the problems of philosophical materialism, that is, the idea that the universe is essentially nothing but matter from which consciousness just emerged out of dumb luck. While some people dismiss these concerns, not because they support philosophical materialism but because they think it is a non-issue, ideologies tend to bleed into cultural landscapes in ways that create issues we can all understand to some degree. The idea that existence is nothing more than a collection of interacting objects, a swirling cosmic mass of thing debris, empowers an ideology that only material goods can make our lives meaningful. This cultural obsession of mindless mass consumption is itself often called materialism, and it is a threat to human values and environment alike.

This kind of materialism has littered our psychic lexicon with status symbols, unhealthy attachments to objects and greed. It reduces day to day living into a maze of desperate economic activity. It enslaves us to a lifetime of meaningless employment we then justify by a misplaced pride in the size of our cage and how much booty we have dragged back to it. It has led to an economy of planned obsolescence and symbol over substance, while it instigates the vestigial evolutionary instinct that MORE IS BETTER!

One of the ways that ‘more is better’ plays out is not even in the actual consumer goods we purchase, but in the needlessly bold packaging of them that we justify with misguided notions of quality, safety and convenience. Manufacturers use excessive packaging for many reasons. They use them to protect their goods from the environment and as a simple precaution against damage during transport. Yet even these reasons cannot explain the hyperbole with which we package our goods, and the bigger culprit here is marketing. Consumer goods marketers look at flashy packaging as adding appeal and value to their products. A gaudy toy with no real play value can be wrapped in a plastic shell that gives it the appearance of being the most fun thing a child will ever own. After all, it must be great, or why would they put so much effort into packaging it?

Although safety and product protection are legitimate concerns, the ways in which they are addressed is often predicated on faulty thinking. Where hard plastic shells are made to protect goods from shipping turbulence and deter theft, the same things can be accomplished with reusable packaging supplies and clever retail displays. Safety is generally the reasoning given for the excessive packaging of food items. But locally sourced foods and careful storage and handling can do more for safety than any amount of packaging can, the number of regulations requiring certain types and amounts of packaging leads to mountains of unnecessary waste. And industrial farming practices mean our foods must travel long distances over long amounts of time. The amount of packaging in a fast food meal, from farm to table, far exceeds the mass of the meal itself.

And yet it is not just regulatory systems and industry that is to blame. The consumer, for their part, continues the legacy of waste in their own insistence that everything is packaged for their maximum convenience.

If you have ever worked in retail you know exactly what I am talking about. In my own retail experience I have seen people justify their own mindless excess on countless occasions. I have sold items the size of a cigarette box that the customer insisted they needed the large plastic bag with handles on it because that would make it easier to carry. How hard was it to carry without that? Is this a real concern that justifies another link in a chain of endless waste? I have heard customers explain that they needed a bag for a single durable item for the most mindless and bizarre reasons imaginable. I have sold people backpacks or other bags that they then wanted me to put inside of another disposable bag. I have received requests for point of sale packaging from folks who were buying a small item with the word ‘pocket’ right in its name. There is no end to the frivolous justifications for waste I have encountered in my lengthy retail experience.

Yet there is one packaging request I find more aggravating than all of the rest, and that is gift wrapping. It is not even that gift wrapping creates large amounts of waste relative to other over-packaging concerns, but more that it bespeaks the compulsive mindless culture of excess in all of its most ignorant and unexamined ways. From what I can tell there are two reasons to have a gift wrapped that make even an inkling of sense, and they are:

  • To store a gift in plain sight over an extended period of time, like a present that sits under the Christmas tree tantalizingly for weeks before it can be opened, adding value to the gift via an element of restrained curiosity fulfillment.
  • For the person giving the gift to say to the person receiving it, “Hey, I spent a long time choosing just the right gift for you, and then more time meticulously wrapping it and decorating it to show you how much you mean to me.”

When you rush into a store and buy a gift at the last minute and then make the sucker behind the counter spend excess time on your purchase by wrapping it for you, what that gift now says is, “Here, I fulfilled the symbolic gestures I am culturally bound to abide, now can I be done here?” That kind of compulsive consumerist gifting is less a way of honoring people than it is crossing them off your list so you can get back to consuming for yourself. It is lazy, thoughtless and carries a hint of insult and mockery with it.

I am not sure if the climate has been altered by human activities or not. While I suspect that it is possible, I also know that environmental alarmism has been used as a tool by the most environment-damaging industrialists as a way of selling legislative gambits that actually benefit the worst exploiters of our planet without causing any meaningful paradigm shift that realistically addresses the potential issues. What I do know for certain is that you don’t shit where you eat. There is an entire continent of human-created waste afloat in the Pacific ocean. The entire face of the planet is covered in the debris-wake of human consumerism. Even the most remote areas of the world contain evidence of humanities excessive consumption cycles. And at the same time, we have tore up the face of the planet to gather the resources lying beneath in ways that are both unsustainable and potentially disastrous at this rate. This old world may be pretty tough, but it may not be tough enough to weather our arrogant abuse of it indefinitely. Everything has its limits.

Packaging reduction alone will not save us from the potential consequences of reckless unexamined materialism, but it is a good place to start. It represents some of the most mindless and excessive exploitation of earths resources, and an awareness of the issues and concerns involved of that could beneficially bleed into our materialism problem in general. And while I also believe that post-scarcity technologies could free us from this destructive path, and that our world is more than just an object and could potentially be restored through humanities conscious willpower, we are not there yet. To get to our next stage of evolution we might have to recognize and correct our current follies. Being mindful of the bigger picture and how everything in the world is connected to everything else in some complex way is definitely part of that evolutionary process. A great place to begin changing our perspective and habits could be as simple as considering the folly of mindless consumerism at the most basic level by unpacking our pointless predilection for excessive packaging.

Ronda Rousey, Charlie Sheen & Donald Trump Walk Into the Star Wars Bar

rousey sheen trump star wars

Ronda says to the bartender, “Shot of bourbon with a beer back, please.”

Charlie then orders, “Double shot of bourbon, no chaser. I prefer to go bareback.”

Not be outdone, Trump asks the bartender for a triple shot with a vodka chaser, explaining, “Any more than three shots and I usually end up on the floor casting vomit spells the rest of the night, but what the hell, right?”

The bartender pours the drinks and while handing Trump his vodka chaser wryly comments, “May the fourth bewitch you.”


 

Although my opening pun seems to explain the title of this article, it was not the inspiration for it. The title came from pulling a few keyword subjects out of Google’s biggest searches of 2015. It is an obviously blatant attempt to opportunize on the internet’s most popular themes. And while I will certainly take any traffic that comes this blogs way, I really am trying to make a larger point here. Much of what you see on the internet has its genesis in similar logic. Capitalizing on popularity without much regard to the quality or originality of content. That is what makes ad revenue and that is what gets the greatest response at websites and in social media.

Author Bret Easton Ellis, perhaps best known as author of the cult classic novel American Psycho, recently wrote a piece sharing some of the same concerns I have been having about internet culture. In ‘Living In the Cult of Likability‘ he discusses how technical aspects of social media lend themselves to an ever-narrowing channel of groupthink, compulsive approval and unearned validation. He further goes on to discuss what this means in a Reputation Economy. While I think he is mistaken in suggesting that we already have a RepEcon, he is absolutely right about what this behavior would mean to such a paradigm. A saccharine, plasticine dystopia. In the words of Quasi’s Sam Coomes…

“A cardboard world of painted skies, ’cause we all must agree to believe in the lies.”

Where Ellis misunderstands a reputation economy is that he sees the early evolutionary markers of the thing as the thing itself. A RepEcon is not really possible alongside scarcity and currency-based economics. It cannot be achieved until certain technological and sociopolitical advances come about. Yet despite the fact that we do not have a RepEcon, we do have a lot of the early indicators of one. As I have discussed in the past, online rating and review systems as well as the way that social networks are structured and how monetary rewards for online content operate are all glances into the future in their infancy. In them we can see how a RepEcon might operate, and based on that, Bret is absolutely correct to be concerned and a bit horrified.

Should a future in which reputation is the economic status of the individual ever happen, and that reputation is determined on the metrics, culture and validation symbols that are intrinsic to the burgeoning progenitors we have now, it will be a neon Idiocracy.  The internet has become a bastion of pandering, marketing and manipulation. At the same time it has also increasingly become a source of identity, status and passive consensus. The combination of these things is that the most popular content is often the most calculated and manipulative garbage which then becomes culturally canonized by our most basic desire to gain acceptance. It is creating a feedback loop in which what we want and what we are given are increasingly narrowing in scope into the most basic things we can agree upon. We are told what to like, which then sends back a signal about what we like, which then is used to create more of what we were told to like to begin with. And every time these symbols travel around that feedback loop these lose more of their signal and become ever-degrading symbols devoid of any substance except that which can be exploited by opportunists as another way to manipulate us.

The sad part is that in social media, we do most of this to ourselves. The vapid patterns of behavior in Facebook and elsewhere are self-replicating patterns of self-validation and consensus gathering. From posturing the perfect life to expressing ourselves ever more simplistically through the appealing reductivism of memes, we are creating a lowest common denominator of the individual by which we are identified by ourselves and others, especially the predatory opportunists. These forms continue to reduce human experience and distill it into a picture of normality which we are then invited and inspired to achieve. The current forms of online reputation gathering and display work not to create value from the reputation of the individual, but from their acceptance of and aspiration to a false construct of normality.

And there are far more insidious ways that technology is catering to us against our best interest. One researcher believes it will be possible to derive our emotional states from how we are using our mouse. He plans to use this technology as a tool for web designers and marketers to cater to the responses of their users to certain types of content and formatting. Using the information, site administrators, content creators and advertisers can then produce online materials geared for the lowest common denominator. Big Data is watching our every move and figuring out how to best profit from it. It is spawning more and more technologies to measure our responses so they can be used to manipulate us into behaviors that profit those funding Big Data. It does so at the expense of the individual and at the complexity which drives human progress towards greater harmony by creating an illusion of harmony that is nothing more than an intellectual trap.

Where my original vision of the RepEcon was starry-eyed and wistful, I have come to see some of the catastrophic pitfalls should that reputation economy be based on the values perpetuated by the current forms of social media, internet culture and these technologies intrinsic technical structures. A healthy reputation economy requires healthy sets of human values that strive towards higher complexity, not more meaningless consensus constructed from the manipulative paradigms of the industrialist era. If our values do not improve and come to recognize the beauty and strength of outsiders, eccentrics and other staples of a healthy intellectual community, then the RepEcon will evolve humanity into a pitiful Idiocracy of desperate infantile behaviors seeking validation by denying their own individuality.

I have a few more upcoming articles about the RepEcon planned for the near future, just as soon as I get done spending the loads of cash that flow in from this blog. Don’t be afraid to click those share buttons just below. 😉

Science, Technology and Art – The Imbalance and Threat of Scientism

arttechsciWhen you examine the social phenomena of scientism, the dogmatic belief that science is the only meaningful way to understand or convey ideas about our existence, it begins to become clear that the reason it has become so cultural invasive is the tenuous ideological relationship between science and technology. There can be little doubt that technology has improved our lives in untold ways, even while sometimes harming us and the environment in the process. The gratitude for technological advancements are then often given to the scientists who developed them, and in the process science itself becomes elevated to a God-like status of creation. Considering how a quasi-religious belief in the infallibility of the empirical method has grown from this paradigm, it might be fair to ask- Is science really solely responsible for technological advancement?

Lets explore this through the medium of technology itself.

Ralph wants to make his girlfriend a piece of jewelry for the holidays. His 3-D printer is capable of creating any design out of precious metals, so long as he can program its parameters properly. Even though Ralph is quite capable of programming any design, the analytical prowess that allows him to do so does not really help when it comes to aesthetic creativity. So using Google Image Search, he looks for a design that he can program into a 3D model. The resulting jewelry is beautiful and his girlfriend is duly grateful and impressed.

Now the question is, did Ralph create the jewelry? Sure, he programmed and operated the machine, which in turn manufactured the jewelry. Yet it is possible that the machine could be programmed to do a web search and transfer 2D art in to 3D jewelry without Ralph. But what the machine could not do is to create the original 2D artwork itself. And even if it could, it would only be predicated on algorithms obtained by  studying the artwork of humans that came before the machine. At least for now, machines have no aesthetic prowess. While at the same time, machines are already beginning to illustrate the ability to reprogram themselves and adapt human artifacts into computational models. Ralph is the weakest link in the chain.

Now let us explore this another way.

Janess grows up reading science fiction novels, her favorite of which is a series featuring a machine that allows people to share sensory perceptions. So intrigued is she by this fictional technology that during the course of her education she takes a path that will lead her into a career which allows her to explore the possibility of creating such a device.  And lo and behold, she eventually does create such a device, which radically changes the face of the world for the better in uncountable ways.

Should Janess receive all of the credit for the creation of this device? Would she have grown up to do such a thing had she never read those books as a child? Would any scientist have ever imagined the invention for themselves had not it been used in a purely speculative matter by the author first?

It is quite possible that, yes, they may have. Creativity and analytic thinking are not necessarily exclusive of one another. Yet when we look around us at the world of modern technological marvels, most of them do have a genesis in some purely abstract idea that preceded them in paintings, sculpture, literature, film, etc.

Science fiction, since its inception in the latter half of the 19th Century, has been the sketchbook for many of the technological artifacts we use today. Long before we began building rockets to travel into space, the idea was dreamed up by writers like Jules Verne, who then inspired early rocket developers like Jack Parsons. Before you were ever reading articles like this on a handheld electronic device, writers like Isaac Asimov were writing about them, while cinematic artists then adapted visual forms of them in science fiction outlets like Star Trek, which then influenced the scientists and designers who created them.

What I am trying to relate is not that science is unimportant. I am not even trying to rank importance here, but to illustrate the interdependence between the seemingly divergent methodologies of art and science. Yet scientism has done just that. It has given undue credit to a single methodology and ranked human methods and disciplines according to it’s own singular criteria. And such a cultural force could be potentially disastrous.

The emphasis on math and science in our culture, through educational institutions and media, comes at the expense of arts and humanities. Our dogmatic insistence in the superiority of the empirical method in creating more human and environmental wealth and harmony than other methods may have a destructive cost. What would happen in a world full of scientists? Who would create the symbols and ideas that inspired their developments? Who would explore their social influence and ethical consequences? Science without art is like a lab technician without a theoretician. Science without art is like an instrument without a melody. Science without art is like conductivity without electricity.

Our ideologically embarrassing pitfall into the clutches of scientism has become a potentially destructive strain on the relationship between the interdisciplinary feedback that allows different kinds of human intelligence to work together for the greater good. It becomes critical then not just to question scientism in culture and science itself, but to restore the prestige deserved by the arts and humanities so that they might thrive. Not just because they are a part of our humanity, but because their neglect will eventually have destructive consequences for science, technology and the health of our species and it’s environment.