Thoughts about Thoughts: Journey into Machine Mind
TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 2 Dec 2019
Seeking Respite . . .
We seek respite from a relentless assault of information bombarding our senses. An onslaught of daily life trials, media, commercials, TV/radio/music, ambient noise levels, demanding response. Consciousness, conscience beg retreat.
A quiet dinner with family, a glass of sherry, hugging a child, a good novel, a deep sleep, a smile from a loved one, a halt in bombing, nutritious food, clean water, a warm fire . . . temporary escapes from the hostile world about us, endlessly mastering our minds to believe, consume, take up arms against the foe! Information tides flood our lives.
“There are tides in the affairs of man, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; omitted all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries.”
We are captive to knowing, as uncertainty thrives! There is hope in the palm of our hand: tides, solutions, problems, doubt . . . “To open or not to open, that is the question!” Phone, camera, library, alarm, calculator, games, translator – is there no end to services. Essential! Addictive!
A New Ontology . . .
A small window beckons! Habit presses!
“Habit is our second nature!” said Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274). Salvation for man, he said, is to know what he ought to believe, to know what he out to desire, and to know what he out to do.
Words from a medieval scholastic theologian, defender of the faith, counselor to mind, courier to heaven.
Words fuel mind with beliefs, desires, rules, commands, demands — order for mind! What have we become? We are I-Phone; screen, images, apps, archives, alarms, words! A new oneness! Man is machine! Machine is man! Do we need other? Machines need batteries! No worry, a rabbit will provide.
We have come far from the time Pablo Neruda (Full Powers, 1962), poetically claimed, the first word was uttered:
The word was born in the blood,
it grew in the dark body, pulsing,
and took flight with the lips and mouth.
. . . even now there is no thunder
that thunders with the iron sound
of that word, the first word uttered:
. . . perhaps it was just a whisper, a raindrop,
but its cascade still falls and falls.
Words liberated mind amidst a desperate need to know! Search, explore, label, order reality now to an inherent inclination to describe, understand, predict, control; functions of brain in context: Mind!
Poetry, music, art, creativity! It is said: “Music is what emotions sound like!” With a click, a lighted screen appears, inviting inquiry. Information torrents flow: fact, fiction, lies, deceit, betrayal; never truths, only endless representations, distancing us from the immediacy of the moment displayed.
Seduction of the senses tempts us with words, images, sounds; we cannot ignore the call! We are, in a moment, alerted to a new reality, a digital reality, a binary code of 0’s and 1’s, quantum reality, and beyond! A digital reality! At last escape from place and mind! How distant from Neruda’s poetic first word uttered! What was the human first word? “Fire?” Or “run?”
And for the digital world, was the first word: stochastic, Markovian, 0-1, quantum, algorithm? Sprach Zarathustra, Richard Strauss: a thigh bone hurled into the air. And them AI (artificial intelligence). When does “artificial” become natural? Is AI, Nietzsche’s “Overman” in thus spoke Zarathrustra (“Sprach Zarathrustra?”).
Have we forgotten animals, centaurs, chimera, cyborgs, hybrids, minotaur, robots, synths? Bionic man once raced across black and white TV screens, reminding us of endless possibilities, but never the loss or betrayal of mind. What should we make of a hand-held window to the world – past, present, future!
Existence! We are one with a glowing window in our palm, filling us with decisions. “To call or not to call!” “Google!” Certainty, uncertainty, who cares? We seek more amid tenuous habits, beliefs, hopes. We are prisoner now to habit, addiction forced upon. Take away our phone! Why live? Nietzsche claimed the last man would want only comfort and security. Tradeoffs for soul, possibility, diversity?
“What have we missed? What do we not know? What places us at risk? What offers us favor?” Information negotiation amid rapid access to knowledge, wisdom, impulse. 5G will offer faster speeds, solutions, confusion. We are machine! We withdraw for sanity! Stop! Start! Flaws, bugs, hackers!
Information is personal! “You are there!” said Walter Cronkite, venerable TV icon. Events in distant lands bring awareness, judgment, action. “You are there!” But we are not! Floods in Bangladesh! It is what it is? Killing and rape in Myanmar! Tragic! Helpless! Plastic wrapper on food! Do not purchase in future. So little choice! Share opinions on political candidates. Minions reply!
A new reality unfolds! A new human-machine nature! We are what we Goggle, what we retrieve, what we save, what we erase, what we trash, what we junk. Our servant, now waiting in the wings, for approaching times: machine-human!
Too much is asked of us! Treasured virtues no longer apply: justice, honor, courage, honesty, compassion, patience. Do virtues matter amid personal immediacy? Who said these were admirable? Ancients! Priests! Philosophers, Dictators, Prophets! Gone! Commission and omission sins! “Tell me, Aristotle, what would you do with an I-Phone.? Fun, eh? Google yourself, Ari!”
What can we do? What should we do? Conscience asks too much of us! Foes are legion!
I am only one……. but I am one!
In me are others! Many others!
Many denied me! Many hurt me!
Tests every day! Tests of nature, character, breeding, identity!
We flee from foe, return for struggle, delude ourselves! Mirror image after shower. Body apparent! Mind? What did we do before mirrors? Narcissus used a pond! Image essential. Deceit possible! How to we access mind? Ahhh, daily encounters with self and I-phone!
“Aye that’s the rub!”
Thoughts on thoughts on thoughts . . . . . .
Anthony J. Marsella, Ph.D., a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment, is a past president of Psychologists for Social Responsibility, Emeritus Professor of psychology at the University of Hawaii’s Manoa Campus in Honolulu, Hawaii, and past director of the World Health Organization Psychiatric Research Center in Honolulu. He is known internationally as a pioneer figure in the study of culture and psychopathology who challenged the ethnocentrism and racial biases of many assumptions, theories, and practices in psychology and psychiatry. In more recent years, he has been writing and lecturing on peace and social justice. He has published 21 books and more than 300 articles, tech reports, and popular commentaries. His TMS articles may be accessed HERE and he can be reached at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 2 Dec 2019.
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