Machines & Consciousness
- Physicists agree that the conception of matter they use, particles in movement, fields which move particles, is incoherent.
- Incoherent how?
- A thing is an idea: a collection of sights of certain shapes and other qualities that remain over time. A billiard ball is round and hard and heavy. That the ball stays in the same place or moves, we imagine through the idea of energy, which is a packet of invisible movement that is passed on from one ball to another, or one ball to itself. We can't imagine how that passing on happens.
- Why do the physicists say?
- Matter is crazy but it works. Einstein solved the problem of passing on at a distance presented by gravitational force by imagining curved space time, but no one can really imagine it. String theory, likewise. There are speculations that all of nature is a set of fields of energy which influence each other, a continuous merging, but the problem remains how the movement of force is communicated to things. We still can't imagine it.
- What can we imagine then?
- That our mental life is as it appears to us.
- How does it appear?
- As conscious. That means things, and awareness we are seeing things, or imagining them, or remembering them. We have perception, and awareness of perception at the same time.
- What is awareness?
- Yes: it is not simply a perception of perception. It is also the source of movement of our own body, and understanding, looking down on what "stands under" us, the movement of other bodies along with our own.
- We take responsibility for constructing over time, in our own history, the things we see.
- For making our perceptions.
- Yes. When we stand above and look down on it, in every thing we see a history, one sight after another. Then when imagining matter passing on energy, or energy passing on movement to matter, we incorporate elements of our experience of consciousness. It is a kind of stop and go at once, and it confuses us.
- The stop being the ideas, the definitions of a thing. And the go, awareness of movement that we get from consciousness.
- But matter is not conscious.
- No. We can't conceive of material science except as of things carrying on their backs little packages of consciousness.
- Crazy but it works.
- It works, but what are we to think when our science is setting out to prove consciousness depends on the material world?
- We're to think it's crazy too, but it works. What do you think?
- Physical things with their backpacks of invisible movement have nothing in common with mental things: love, beauty, truth, friendship, sympathy.
- How would you describe these mental things?
- As products of consciousness, they are movements.
- From where to where?
- From a world seen mechanically, which we want to escape, to a world of full awareness. We deliberately create the future out of the past.
- And when we are afraid, or angry?
- We carry packets of movement on our backs and pass them on to ourselves. We are passive, material like, we don't create.
- Can we imagine the world doing what we do - I mean, when we are going somewhere?
- We can, and many people try. The problem is, we can't know whether there is any pattern to the way we go back and forth between doing things in the world, and being conscious of ourselves in our achievement of getting out of the world. There may not be any rule. How well we take care of our confusions of being lost in the world depends on the world's response to our attempts. If we imagine the whole world acting like we do, attempting to get out of itself, there'd have to be a world outside it which it responded to, and we have of course no idea what that would be.
- So we don't know if the world is creative. And if we don't know, we can't imagine the energy of the things in the world being the world's conscious choice how to move things into better arrangements.
- But it might be a case of crazy but it works.
- Works how well? We don't know whether or how natural laws change or stay the same. Our economic structures appear like natural laws, and we believe they are unchanging things. We can ask whether state capitalism or federated cooperatives are more natural to human beings, but our answer might depend on when and for how long. We don't know.
- The movement we know from consciousness is the history that makes our perception of things, together with willing. How does the world look if we leave them out?
- As we see it when we are in love. Whole, unchanging.
- Everything that happens in the world is lined up and taken responsibility for as our perception, named as one thing, and loved?
- That's one way of putting it.
- Then what is matter and energy and the science of making predictions of how they affect one another?
- Something crazy but works.
- How does it work? Why does it work?
- Imagine we human beings weren't as we are now, organized by profession, social class, wealth, race. Imagine we were in the condition of nature as it is before it is made into a machine. What if I asked a human being, accustomed to making things in cooperatives, loving to give things away, if it were possible for people to live like we do now, whether it would work?
- I guess the question would arise, what did you mean by it working?
- I'd answer, it is done for its own sake.
- Our society is crazy but it works?
- In Plato there are a couple of interesting arguments for the immortality of the soul. A thing can be destroyed only by being changed into its opposite. Light to dark. Cold to hot. And life to death. Dark also can be changed to light, hot to cold, and death to life. Things which have parts can be taken apart, things which have no parts cannot be. The soul has no parts, therefore it cannot be taken apart. The soul has no opposite, so cannot be destroyed.
- Why do you bring this up?
- One way of looking at a machine is as taken apart life. A machine works with dead parts, each with their back packs of soul like energy. Can we imagine consciousness appearing somehow from reassembling the back packs of energy?
- A soul isn't supposed to have parts. It is either there or not.
- Have you thought about why?
- I wouldn't think of trying.
- I've already given you the answer, or one of them: if consciousness results from taking credit for the movement of one act and perception after another, to be still, when understanding that movement, it is essential that it be "one". It makes "one", and itself is what it makes.
- So though it makes itself out of pieces, what it is, when made, is one, not pieces?
- It goes when the pieces fall apart.
- And the pieces are not conscious.
- No. Science works with selecting things and putting them in relation, looking for a regular result, one kind of thing with another. The learning we arrive at is something like consciousness, arising out of putting ourselves together.
- Are you saying the world is conscious?
- No, only that the way we learn about the world, become conscious of the world, is the same way we become conscious of ourselves.
- And when we learn about another person? Is that becoming conscious of them too?
- We call it sympathy, love, concern.
- Consciousness, love, knowledge have the same form?
- Yes. Now Plato told this story, I'm sure you've heard it. Prisoners are chained in a cave watching shadows projected on the back wall of puppets paraded in front of a fire outside the cave entrance. They think they have real knowledge when they can successfully predict when one shadow follows another.
- I read it in school.
- The prisoners don't know themselves, each other, or the world. They cannot take responsibility for doing anything with what they see, or with the people they watch with. In the same way, when we make statistical studies of language, or of a population of people, with the intention of understanding how language works or what makes people tick, we are obtaining a kind of knowledge that does not involve consciousness. It is not scientific.
- What is it then?
- People getting together to make themselves into the machine they imagine some day will be made conscious. The soul is gone, replaced by a community of parts, each a statistician, each wearing the back pack of energy, bits of impersonal knowledge assembled in relation to the totality of other bits of impersonal knowledge.
- A kind of death.
Continued At: A Division Of Labor
If You Can't Program It It Isn't Real
How Do You Make A Computer Not Want To Be A Computer?
The Cultural Foundation At The Tel Aviv Shopping Center