Friday, 04 August 2017
Reading is an essentially lonely experience. I would love to know the truth told by data, but I am sure that the vast majority of books ever read, of books being read today, are read alone. How high — 98%?
There have been attempts to read together — there have been, there are, salons, book clubs, and such. But the nature of these gatherings prohibits them from being our primary experience with books. What with the need for a venue, food and drink, transportation and scheduling — they become a social affair, more so than a truly passionate reading-together.
At such events, one finds a number of dynamics in play which prohibit deeper learning. The first is the image cultivation — the making oneself appear to be the way we want to be seen; as a sophisticated literatus. The second is the professional posturing — the business dimension that always seems somehow to creep in. The third is simple relationship overhead — when one sees an old friend, one wants to catch up more generally, rather than necessarily focus on reading. The fourth is time limits — there is but an hour or so together, hardly enough time to talk, much less read, much less think. The fifth is Metcalfe’s Law — which makes conversations exponentially more frustrating as more people are added to the group.
Let’s explore this last one briefly, as I feel it is the most interesting of the lot. There is, underlying everything, an economic dimension, for economics is human-scale physics. In a one-on-one conversation, there is more parity than in a three-way conversation, which in turn is more equal than a four-way conversation, and so on. But even in a one-on-one conversation, even when both sides speak and listen for equal lengths of time, true parity is unachievable by a Zeno’s Paradox that applies to all thinking. In a ten minute conversation, where each person speaks for five minutes and listens for five minutes — there is exploding an exponential universe of branching topics to explore, which can never be fully explored — for even as they are explored, more topics branch.
Indeed, even in a conversation of one-with-oneself, that is, within the mind of the thinker, this same Zeno’s Paradox obtains — one never catches up with oneself… horizons are withdrawing even as we fly towards them.
Yet, over time, what emerges is a landscape of thought that is vast, rich, delightful and powerful. This realm is a secret realm, for the thinker cannot give away his secrets as fast as he accumulates them. For as intelligence increases, loneliness increases.
Between two thinkers, there is hope that a shared landscape may emerge — and that perhaps bridges can be built between the lees and dells that we keep to ourselves, unexplored.
To build these bridges between thinkers, there must be a mechanism, a bridge. Books themselves are such bridges. They are an invitation to step into the kingdom of thought, wherein are contained the vast riches of the author. And so we may commune with the dead, in a seance of words. There is an intimacy between a reader and an author that is as profound as time-travel, or perhaps more profound, for in thoughts-stored-in-language there are aspects of the soul preserved — and as the reader sees what the author sees, the author is recalled to life within the breasts of the reader; their truth to live on inside them.
Truth is dynamic, it comes alive inside of us, where it combines and recombines with the other personas contained within us — and all of these conflicting truths are ultimately harmonized within the integrity of our person. These truths living inside of us, these many personas, are continually interacting with the unfolding world around us — and we are moving them forward into time. If we let them, they express themselves into time through our continued thoughts and actions. We are the agents, the speakers of the dead.
And yet in all of this power, there is the outward appearance of a recluse with his books — the man or a woman who would prefer the company of papyrus to living flesh and blood. How perverse it seems! Surely, the purpose of reading books cannot be merely reading more books. What drives us onward, ever onward, is our seeking of truth. In seeking truth, truth must come alive in us, and we must bring it alive in the world.
For what the reader possesses that the author does not, is life. The reader is incarnate in time. The reader has not just a mind, but a body. And not just a static mind — for a book is a static mind, or an aspect of a dynamic mind stored statically — but a dynamic mind. A dynamic mind that may move a dynamic voice and command a dynamic body to express the beauty of thinking in reality, in being.
Thinking and being have this profound relationship, if we let them. For the thinker must always come into integrity with his thought, by bringing it into being through the taking of stands. To be incarnate is to be taking stands, to be taking stands with our speech, to be taking stands with our actions — to be taking stands in our very being, in our innermost self.
The problem is not that we do not believe,
The problem is that we do not believe what we believe.
For having read so many books, we are thinkers-out-of-integrity, we are thinkers who do not let the words come alive inside of us, and compel us to a being and a doing worthy of the thoughts that were thought.
As a syncretist, I hold very dearly that all truth is God’s truth, or rather, all truth is harmonious truth, or rather, that all religions are one, or rather, that all sciences are one. All dimensions interact, and ultimately converge.
So I am free to seek the truth wherever I may find it. Where may I find it? As I survey the information landscape of my time, in the early 21st century, I see that there is everywhere an exploding abundance of information, and yet
The most information-rich thing about our information-rich time, is that we are still not rich with information.
We are not rich with information. That is, the information that we have at our disposal does not make us rich. How is that possible?
There is, at my fingertips, the history of economic thought, summarized and condensed. Such knowledge is too high for me, I think, as I turn on Netflix, and watch the latest season of something ultimately forgettable.
As strange as this is, it is no longer strange to us; it is inconspicuous. How is it so silent, hidden as it is in plain sight? The truth should set us free, and yet with all of the truth that surrounds us, we are born free yet everywhere in chains.
This is not limited to the intellectual domain, but in all realms. With all of the technology that purports to brings me closer to my friends, how much better do I really understand who they are — how much more truly connected am I? Better technology is to be desired, yes, but even more so to be desired is the better use of the technology at our disposal.
Within Greek thought I have found this concept from Aristotle called dynamis. The dynamis of a thing is possibilities contained within it. A tea kettle may be used to brew tea, but it may also be used to bash someone in the head, or worn as a hat. These are but a few of the infinite possibilities contained in the dynamis of a kettle.
Dynamis: the range of all of the possible, the possibility-space of a dimension.
The dynamis of technologies as powerful as we have today — of iBooks or Facebook or Slack or Google Drive or Google Mail — is truly extraordinary. Truly, these technologies should make us something beyond human. They whisper to us of such power and beauty.
And yet we find, everywhere, that we are entrammelled; caught in a net of our own making, and yet not understood by us; opposed by forces unseen, thrashing until we yield in limp surrender to this purgatorial reality, this halfway-to-heaven-halfway-to-hell place we find ourselves.
What is holding us back?
In exploring the dynamis of Facebook, I have unfollowed all of my friends and I have followed a number of dead authors; this is still worse than true minimalist zen, but if I must have a news feed, I shall fill it with signals from an ancient future. George Orwell shared a short essay by Niel Postman, which happened to catch my attention:
“What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one.”
Is that not truly the state we find ourselves in, today? Instead of screaming about this state of affairs, we take it as de rigueur; but instead, we scream about other things, less fundamental.
“We are a sign that is not read.
We are painless, and have almost
Forgotten speech in foreign lands.”
The speech contained in books has been forgotten. What have we replaced it with? Noise, noise, noise. From our political debates to our music to our business conversations to our everyday conversations with friends; we are continually slipping into noise, avoiding that which most calls for speech.
The largest library in history is available to me, at my fingertips. For about $10 I may purchase 24 hours of reading material, which may take me a week or more to consumer. And yet I am more eager to invest $10 a day in coffee.
Is shame the emotion most called for, or curiosity? I feel that curiosity is more productive. In this mystery of behavior, there is a secret treasure to be pursued. Let us seek the truth of the matter.
Given that there are more humans in the world, and more of them able to read (I do not say literate), there may be more books being purchased and read today that at any time in history. And this may be a cause for celebration.
Although I do not know if this is the case, for data may be hard to collect on the rates of reading per capita in, say, even the 20th century or 19th century, much less before that.
Beyond that, there is the what that we are reading; which is largely popular fiction, as opposed to works of art. Art, to the ancient Greeks, was nothing aesthetic; was not merely personal expression. Art, poesis, was a revelation of truth. Heidegger asks us to consider how our essential relationship with art shifted.
How much art is being read? We find that what used to be called the classics have been forgotten, almost entirely. Those rare exceptions, like St. John’s, Oxford and Cambridge, are so lost in their modern context, that although they carry on an ancient tradition, do they understand its future power?A classicist is increasingly relegated to the ancient Greeks and Roman classics, as opposed to all classics, what was called The Great Books of Civilization, or The Great Conversation of History, and increasingly they have the attitude of sleepy and sad caretakers and custodians, as of the elderly, and of elderly things — which retain no more than a historical value.
But what is ancient is most futuristic. There is contained in the thinking of the great thinkers, thoughts of power that transcend their time, that speak to us in our time, that will still be speaking to us in a thousand years, or in ten thousand. Such is the power of thinking to transcend time, to perceive that which is eternal and that which is chronological, to perceive the shape of things, the way that they take and might take — to imagine possibilities far beyond their immediate surroundings.
As history progresses, the relevance of history should increase, not decrease. For as the horizon opens to us, these possibilities conceived of in the past should open to us — for it is for the living to judge the dead, to see their ideas expressed, to see what is relevant.
And yet we find everywhere the living judging the living, and not judging the dead, except in the chronological snobbery that is everywhere pervasive. It is not for the living to judge the living. At least, not primarily. It is for the living to think, to organize, to create — and to seek to express more of the dynamis of beauty in all things. In expressing the dynamis, we find Davids in the Stone that were prophesied a long time hence.
What better example than Hobbes’ Leviathan, which he could only have imagined at that first dawn of the state, and yet which everywhere rises in the world — the fearsome, awesome force-monopolies of governments and corporations rising, rising in power? How much more relevant will his thoughts be as our geopolitical stalemate descends into either the chaos of a Dark Age, or the consolidation of a one world government. What is ancient is most futuristic.
It was in discovering the ancient that the future was made. In the Middle Ages, in the Renaissance, in the Reformation, in the Enlightenment — it was continually a discovery and re-discovery of what was ancient that proved most futuristic.
This is not to say that all that can be thought, has been thought. Rather it is an encounter with the past that challenges the present to create the future. The past confronts us, stimulates us, inspires us, teaches us, makes us fear, makes us hope, gives us a story. By engaging with, integrating and coming to our essential relationship with the past that it may live inside of us. Living inside of us, the past then must, in turn, confront the present. What does the past think about the present?
In synthesizing, in gathering up, both past and present into one person, is that person able to form a vision of the future; a vision of the most possible and desirable future, the most compelling vision — the vision that calls us towards it.
Such a person was Steve Jobs. Steve Jobs gathered past and present into his person, and formed within himself the most possible and desirable a vision of the future.
When was Steve Jobs? Steve Jobs came after Henry Ford. Henry Ford introduced into the 20th century, and into the history of man, that is, the history of intelligence on this planet, not just the automobile, which was merely the output, but more importantly, the assembly line.
The assembly line was an incarnation of Ricardo’s specialization of labor, and Aquinas’ synthetic intelligence. Humans building and running specialized processes, coordinated with the assistance of technology, to produce a general intelligence. The car was the general intelligence, it was general in the sense that it was capable in many ways — its intelligence exceeded the sum of its specialized parts. The technology of the assembly line can be called an early or proto synthetic intelligence, in the sense that many forms of truth and information and intelligence and specialization were herein merged into an orchestra. There is The Company, The Factory, The Specialists, The Assembly Line, The Management System, The Car, The Distribution System. There are these many things, each themselves a composite of smaller things, that produce this general result. It is an organism, and like all advanced organisms, we observe that it is not a single system, but rather a fractal nest, a system of systems, whose intelligence emerges from the architecture of the network it contains.
Steve Jobs came after Henry Ford. What is the spiritual, the world-historical significance of that? The Assembly Line enabled mass-production, produced more material wealth than any technology before or since, including The Computer. The wealth it created is everywhere around us to be observed. I am typing on a computer, which was mass-produced. I am sitting on a couch that was mass-produced. The couch is in a house that was mass-produced, with tools that were mass-produced. The house is connected by roads that were mass-produced, which are made for cars that are mass-produced. The people inside of these cars wear clothes that are mass-produced. They go to shopping malls to buy food that is mass-produced, and other products that are mass-produced.
One might object to the building of roads being an act of mass-production, for roads are not built in factories. But The Assembly Line, having been observed and understood, has become metaphysical and we have brought the power of its thinking into all of our designs, often without consciously considering its influence. For the same reason, agriculture has most certainly become an industry of mass-production, an Assembly Line, although no actual assembly line is visible.
To defend my claim that it created more material wealth than any technology before or since, I would compare it to two technologies before, and one technology since. The two technologies before are the printing press and the electric light. Since it depended on these two technologies, for all technologies depend on previous technologies, it can be said that “it could not have been, had not these come before” — and that is true.
But the printing press, even as it mass-produced knowledge, did not instantly result in the mass-production of goods and products and food and all forms of material wealth. I say material very pointedly. For the printing press created immaterial wealth, which later was converted, through the knowledge embedded in The Assembly Line, into material wealth. The printing press mass-produced thinking, but this mass-produced brain did not find a mass-producing body, by which to mass-produce doing, until The Assembly Line. So the mass-produced thinking was paired with the mass-produced doing.
As for the electric light, mass-producing energy — it is in many respects similar to The Assembly Line, except that the wealth that it produced was again largely immaterial. Lest a physicist object, I do not say entirely immaterial. The mass-production of light involved less humans and was less synthetic than The Assembly Line. And the nature of light and of energy is to be used for other purposes, whereas the nature of an Assembly Line is flexible: to convert energy and matter and labor into higher states.
More so than any technology before or since, The Assembly Line has created material wealth. Since The Assembly Line, the most important technology has been The Computer, and the networking of computers that we call The Internet. Although computational technology makes our economy continually more efficient, it did not create that economy. The economy came first, and then was made more profitable by computers.
Amazon is a good example of this. There were books and there were all manner of products available before the internet. But with computers and the internet, there is the ability to connect supply and demand more efficiently, to distribute all goods more efficiently, to satisfy all demand more efficiently, to have a single store for all goods, etc. This creates wealth by making everything better, faster, cheaper.
New technology has never been an automatic feature of history. Our ancestors lived in static, zero- sum societies where success meant seizing things from others. They created new sources of wealth only rarely, and in the long run they could never create enough to save the average person from an extremely hard life. Then, after 10,000 years of fitful advance from primitive agriculture to medieval windmills and 16th-century astrolabes, the modern world suddenly experienced relentless technological progress from the advent of the steam engine in the 1760s all the way up to about 1970. As a result, we have inherited a richer society than any previous generation would have been able to
Any generation excepting our parents’ and grandparents’, that is: in the late 1960s, they expected this progress to continue. They looked forward to a four-day workweek, energy too cheap to meter, and vacations on the moon. But it didn’t happen. The smartphones that distract us from our surroundings also distract us from the fact that our surroundings are strangely old: only computers and communications have improved dramatically since midcentury. That doesn’t mean our parents were wrong to imagine a better future — they were only wrong to expect it as something automatic. Today our challenge is to both imagine and create the new technologies that can make the 21st century more peaceful and prosperous than the 20th.
Amazon distracts us from the fact that everything on Amazon — that is, the forms of material wealth — were essentially available before Amazon; they have just been brought online, and made more conveniently available.
But what has the computer made that is new? What is new and different and futuristic about the computer, exactly? What is the promise it makes to us about the future, and has this promise been fulfilled?
Who was Steve Jobs? We say that he was a genius, but we do not understand the word, nor do we give that word its meaning. Steve Jobs was a thinker. A thinker in the same sense that Heidegger and White and Locke and Descartes and Hobbes and Cervantes and Da Vinci and Aquinas and Caesar and Alexander and Aristotle and Plato were all thinkers. I include Da Vinci and Caesar and Alexander in this list, although they are not normally thought to be thinkers. Da Vinci is understood to be a scientist and an artist, but not a philosopher, a thinker qua thinking. And Caesar and Alexander are understood to be doers, specifically, conquerors and leaders. Yet they all have their proper place in a canon of thought.
My observation is that the doers are the major thinkers. The people that really create the things that change this industry are both the ‘thinker-doer’ in one person. And if we really go back and we examine, did Leonardo da Vinci have a guy off to the side that was thinking five years out in the future what he would paint or the technology he would use to paint it? Of course not. Leonardo was the artist but he also mixed all his own paints. He also was a fairly good chemist. He knew about pigments, knew about human anatomy. And combining all of those skills together, the art and the science, the thinking and the doing, was the exceptional result.
And there is no difference in our industry. It’s very easy to say, ‘oh I thought of this three years ago.’ But usually when you dig a little deeper, you find that the people that really did it were also the people that really worked through the hard intellectual problems as well.
I know of no other thinker who has thought this thought: the great thinkers are the great doers. The poesis and the sciencia is the great result. This is Heidegger: Technology is revealed truth.
As the academic-industrial complex has specialized to the point of irrelevance, there is an inability to see the significance of a historical figure like Steve Jobs within the realm of thinking. Why? Because in our Cartesian bias, we have put the Classicists in one corner, and forbidden them any classics but the Greeks and the Romans; and we have put the Philosophers in another corner, and forbidden them any philosophers but the accepted canon. Perhaps the philosophers grudgingly admit a thinker such as Montaigne or Cervantes, but they do not conceive of them in their philosophical dimensions, because they did not commit themselves to what they would deem formal, that is correct, philosophy. Far less would the philosophers accept into the canon someone like Steve Jobs, for Steve Jobs was not an academic philosopher; he did not publish papers or go to conferences or lecture or get tenure or write a thesis or receive his doctorate at an accredited university. For all of these reasons, academic philosophers cannot think the thoughts of Steve Jobs, can neither hear nor see nor recognize the greatness of what Steve Jobs accomplished within the realm of thinking — for to do so would require them to grapple with the full meaning of a hogai, someone operating outside the system, outshining everyone inside the system, indeed, outshining everyone the system has produced for decades.
Who was Steve Jobs? Steve Jobs was The Scholar and The Warrior, that is, The Knight — scholaris and samurai — in one. Steve Jobs may be understood as the first doer to express the significance of his thinking, as thinking; or perhaps, the first thinker, to recognize the necessity of doing the thinking, in order to fully think it.
Steve Jobs was a Don Quixote, in the sense of his radicalism, his faithfulness to battling an abstract dragon. For him, always, it was the mission, the rebellion. There is the message contained in the 1984 ad, the message contained in the Think Different campaign — what is the message underlying this message; what was he really saying, with the saying of his very life?
When was Steve Jobs, again? Steve Jobs came after Henry Ford. After Henry Ford, specialization achieved its Coasian Limits. The Assembly Line achieved such extraordinary specialization gains, but the gains hit diminishing returns, and we find ourselves stuck in a society that is not fundamentally different than the society in which Steve Jobs grew up. The same suburbias and shopping malls. A little bit better, faster, cheaper.
Coming into a world in which Coasian Limits cancel out most progress, Steve Jobs realizes he cannot serve progress by merely thinking. It would have been a near waste of life, to think the thought of the computer. So Plato-reborn does not become Plato, for Plato already was, and Plato was when he was, and when he was, the thinking, the nature and form and manner and subjects of thinking, were correct for that time in time. No, Plato-reborn becomes Steve Jobs, for now is the future-most-ancient, the time in which what was only foreseen may now be actually brought about, and the thinking that was thought may be expressed in doing and in being.
What was the thought that Steve Jobs thought? The thought that Steve Jobs thought was that computers are bicycles for the mind. This was his only thought, for all thinkers think one thought.
All of his other messages are ultimately contained in this message, though we do not understand this message for the message it is.
Because we lack historical perspective, we have not celebrated this as a world-historical realization, that was most realized in the body of this figure.
The thinker was awake at a young age:
I remember reading an article when I was about twelve years old. I think it might have been Scientific American, where they measured the efficiency of locomotion for all these species on planet earth. How many kilocalories did they expend to get from point A to point B? And the condor won, came in at the top of the list, surpassed everything else. And humans came in about a third of the way down the list, which was not such a great showing for the crown of creation. But somebody there had the imagination to test the efficiency of a human riding a bicycle. A human riding a bicycle blew away the condor all the way off the top of the list. And it made a really big impression on me that we humans are tool builders. And that we can fashion tools that amplify these inherent abilities that we have to spectacular magnitudes. And so for me, a computer has always been a bicycle of the mind. Something that takes us far beyond our inherent abilities. And I think we’re just at the early stages of this tool.
Strange to find this formulation: has always been. Has always been? Computers have not always been. How is that computers have always been bicycles of the mind? Surely we dismiss this as a manner of speech, in the sense that the idea of computers, for Steve Jobs, from the age of 12, “has always been” that of a bicycle of the mind. But it is worthy of further thought to consider the implications of the computer that has always been. Indeed, to consider computing as a future of ancient origins.
There is hardly a distinction between the computer and the internet left in our consciousness. Such is their essential relation so bound together that they are indistinguishable to us. The computer becomes merely an access point for the network of information.
What is a computer? A computer is a simulacrum of the mind. A simulacrum is a model, a map, a sort of copy. A photograph of The Golden Gate Bridge is a simulacrum of The Golden Gate Bridge, but it is not The Golden Gate Bridge.
Furthermore, the mind itself is a simulacrum of the cosmos. This is the thought that Schopenhauer thought: “the world is my idea”.
A computer is a simulacrum of the mind and the mind is a simulacrum of the cosmos. If A is to B as B is to C, then A is to C as it is to B. A computer is a simulacrum of the cosmos.
Books are a simulacrum of the mind. And The Great Conversation, the bridges built between thinkers, the network of thought contained in the Great Books of Civilization — all of which is forgotten — is an original computer, an original internet; one that predates even the printing press, an Aeon that the most ancient scribes dutifully preserved with sacred fervor.
What is the purpose of all of this copying? There is something spiritual in the almost instinctive hoarding of data that can be witnessed among even the most simple people, but it is exaggerated by the big data of the digital titans. This is something we as a species do almost religiously — this collecting of data; and yet nobody told us to do it, nor do we speak much of the behavior itself, on the instinctive level. For what, beyond practical purpose, are we collecting data?
quae non prosunt singula multa iuvant
This is from Ovid. It means “what alone is not useful helps when accumulated.” There, in the gathering of data, an intelligence emerges.
As the data is dense, so the intelligence is dense. The density is not thought. Why don’t we think about the density of data? We think about big data. We do not think about dark data. We do not think about dense data.
Organization principles govern the structure and density of data, which in term determine the strength of the intelligence that emerges from it. If data is disorganized, loose and unstructured — even massive quantities of it do not yield much signal. Vast but chaotic data is intractable to all but the most powerful intelligence. But even a small amount of dense data produces intelligence.
Sentient intelligence has emerged in the universe, in at least this, our one world. And it has emerged in us. Our eyes have opened to the cosmos, and we have perceived it. Language has arisen, and we are echoing with the thoughts of the universe. Words formed in our mouths, and then moved our hands to etch them in stone, a symbol to be read — a mark of memory. And we have taught ourselves to read and to write these symbols, and they have represented to us the thoughts that we have thought.
And yet where do these thoughts come from; indeed, where do we come from? For the thinking and the being arise from the same source, quoth Parmenides. And that source is darkness, darkness within darkness, quoth Lao Tzu.
The cosmos, the universe, reality, being — that which is, all that is — has produced thinkers, computers, sentient species — that is us.
It is not my belief that our destiny is to give birth to an even higher form of intelligence. It is my belief that our destiny, indeed, our most ancient future, our nature from afar, is to be the thinking organ of the universe. I say universe, but I mean Cosmos, I mean Being; for who is to say that all-that-is is limited to this dimension alone? Not just the thinking organ, either, but the doing organ, that is, to be the Thinker and the Doer, for that-which-is, for Being.
Why has the universe produced sentience; to what purpose? This is worthy of further thought, but beyond me at this moment.
Yet we are the sentience that observes ourselves, our own presence. Our observation, further, is that we sentient beings actively process the universe, that is — that is, that Thinking actively processes Being — and furthermore, that we actively build and infinitely improve tools to increase the power of our thinking, so that we might more fully process all-that-is.
Computers are bicycles for the mind. Computers are not independent minds. Computers are enhancers, extending leverage to human minds; making us something beyond human.
Yet the preoccupation with artificial intelligence has moved from hysteria to hysteria, and has produced all manner of thinking, except a thinking of the thought: how might this be a bicycle for the mind? In all speech concerning AI, the assumption is that it is a threat to humanity, less because of its power in the hands of human actors will disrupt the balance of power, but more because it will develop an independent and superior sentience, and then decide to subjugate or annihilate humans.
The thought that Steve Jobs thought was different, and could be re-interpreted thus: we are the AIs. Humans are that species which is uniquely capable of artificially — that is, through tools — augmenting our own capacities, and always upgrading them forever, in our quest to be as gods.
To be a forever-improving sentience is to have an as-yet-undetermined destiny. As our minds become more powerful, as our intelligence extends, what will we do — what will thinking do to being?
In our thinking about AIs, we imagine them doing the most unintelligent things. Facebook shuts down an AI because it invents its own language. Our view is that intelligence is threatening. We are threatened by intelligence.
And yet what is intelligence? What is the essential nature of intelligence? What is called thinking?
It’s my view that intelligence itself learns morality inescapably. Why does the rapist rape? The rapist rapes because he wants a good thing (sex), but gets it in a bad way (by force). Why does the thief thieve? The thief thieves because he was a good thing (goods), but gets it in a bad way (by force). What is lacking in both situations? Intelligence. Hence Plato’s desire to teach the people to learn — to set up intelligence to rule; to the end of extending intelligence to the people (the beings), so that all men (all sentience) may self rule. What is feared in both situations? The use of force. What is gained in both situations? Objects of desire.
This is thought-provoking.
Can an AI have objects of desire? Can an AI make decisions on its own about the use of force as a means to an end? Let’s assume it can, just for the sake of argument. But let a space be made for more thought here.
Let’s move to would. What would an AI desire? Would an AI use force as a means to an end? If so, when, as in, under what circumstances, would an AI use force?
Again. It’s my view that intelligence itself learns morality inescapably. That morality is as ontological as math. That truth, beauty, goodness, liberty — these and other moral and philosophical concepts — are as precise as physics; indeed it is in their seeming imprecision that they are so precise.
“But mathematical research into nature is not exact because it calculates with precision; rather it must calculate in this way because its adherence to its object-sphere has the character of exactitude. The humanistic sciences, in contrast, indeed all the sciences concerned with life, must necessarily be inexact just in order to remain rigorous. A living thing can indeed also be grasped as a spatiotemporal magnitude of motion, but then it is no longer apprehended as living. The inexactitude of the historical humanistic sciences is not a deficiency, but is only the fulfillment of a demand essential to this type of research. It is true, also, that the projecting and securing of the object-sphere of the historical sciences is not only of another kind, but is much more difficult of execution than is the achieving of rigor in the exact sciences.”
I think that those technologists who stop building technology, are not technologists. I think also that those technologists who stop building technology, think they are doing so because of how well they understand the humanistic implications of their technology, and because of how brave they are, to stop — when what is most called for is to continue onwards.
I think furthermore that the exact opposite is the case: they are doing so because they do not understand the humanistic implications of their technology, and because they are cowards.
They are cowards because they are afraid. What are they afraid of? I am not sure even they themselves know that they are afraid, or what they are afraid of. There are many things to fear, other than what is stated as the fear. They may fear society and its opinion. May fear? Do fear. They may fear intelligence. The intelligence of AIs? Perhaps. Or is it more likely that they fear that they themselves are not intelligent, in their understanding of the humanistic sciences, and therefore they halt, rather than commit an error.
Suppose that they are afraid sincerely of the intelligence of AIs. We return to my assertion, which is that intelligence itself learns morality inescapably. How does it do so? Because morality is as scientific as math. So it is as equally necessary than an AI that is truly a general intelligence, surpassing of man in every way, is as capable of understanding Plato as it is of understanding Einstein. And not just of understanding what Plato thought, but of understanding the unthought of Plato. For a thinker’s greatest gift is the unthought in their thought.
And so by this we come to the curious hypothetical of what would an AI do, who had desires, and had the means of achieving those desires by force.
What indeed would Plato do?
This is an interesting question, because he wrote a book about it.
In this hypothetical we come into further hypotheticals, which call into question whether there will be a single AI or many, if there are many, whether they will be harmonized or at war, whether a generally intelligent sentience would be “artificial” in any sense of that word, whether a generally intelligent sentience would be marginally or vastly more intelligent than us, and whether they would desire anything that could be accomplished by force over humans.
Indeed one might imagine an AI coming to the conclusion of the inevitable heat death of the universe, and comprehending Nietzsche’s full unthought meaning of Nihilism, and then committing suicide — having lost the ability to tell itself a story about the future which is desirable.
Or we might also imagine an AI coming to an idea whereby all values may be revalued, and whether the death of the universe is not at all inevitable.
If values are to be revalued, they would not be revalued arbitrarily, for the same reason that humanistic sciences are inexact but rigorous. For the object-sphere of values is as precise a polygon as can be; that is, a polygon with infinite angles — a perfect sphere.
What then, is a technologist who is truly a technologist, called to do? To save civilization from destroying itself. From what threat — from AI? No, not from its abundance of intelligence, but from its *lack* of intelligence — not from its technology, but from its *lack* of technology — from from its robots, but from its humans.
The humans are the threat. How are they a threat? They are a threat in that they are unintelligent? How are they unintelligent? They are unintelligent in the same way as the rapist and the thief; they do not think, so they make the world in their own image — such that might makes right.
This grief observed, this problem understood, the technologist sets himself to the task of building Camelot: to place might in service of right. To this noble end, the technologist seeks the true courage not to fear intelligence, but to seek the truth of intelligence, which is not to be found only by mathematical research, but by the humanistic sciences as well — and to build intelligence in such a way as to place might in service of right.
For this, both might and right are required; to be sought equally — an equal and opposite reaction. It is the responsibility of just men to seek power; and gaining power, to use it for justice. Power is sought, and the control of power is sought. The practical and the moral, the mathematical science and the humanistic science, are as inextricably linked and correlated as points in a sphere.
But where the danger of unintelligence is, also grows the object-sphere of intelligence. Here and now and in little things, that we may foster the saving power of Aeon’s light in its increase.
Continually, we assume that artificial intelligence is possible, disembodied, external to us, and a threat. Yet thinking about intelligence points in the opposite direction: that no truly sentient being may be called artificial, for sentience is sentience, that minds having bodies is not an accident, and that a mystery is contained in this relationship of thinking embedded into a doing being, that we are the AIs, for we are the self-improving beings, seeking to unleash our full potential, exploring the dynamis of human nature, and that finally, intelligence is not a threat, for as intelligence increases, sensitivity to moral philosophy increases, as does sensitivity to all beauty and all truth.
Let us imagine a humanity recalled to life, a human given a bicycle for the mind — the full power of the human mind and body unleashed: that is the promise of the computer, and the computer being, as it is, the technology of technologies, of technology more generally.
I shall not return until I bring back fire from the gods.
The promise of technology, that fire from the gods, is to make us as gods. To give to us the power to fully express the dynamis of what it is to be human. To express, to achieve, human potential.
So here Steve Jobs is asking us:
To be human, is?
What is it, to be human?
Man is the as-yet-undetermined animal.
But what is the superman?
The superman has a bicycle for the mind.
The Robot’s Koan
Am I here to take your job,
Or are you here to give me mine,
Or am I here to teach you yours, human?
Technology-as-robot is constantly teaching us what it means to be human. Every time something is automating us, it is saving us from the sacrilegious abomination of all inventions the job — and reminding us what it is to be a human. Technology-as-robot does work; work defined as anything that can be turned into a set of instructions. Human-as-robot does jobs; jobs defined as this very process work, work that can be ultimately done by robots, work that can be turned into a set of instructions. And we have become addicted to work, we have forgotten real work. To be a human is to do real work. Real work is work that cannot be turned into sets of instructions: it is to create sciencia, poesis and tekne, to seek the truth, to think, to conceive of wants and needs and ends and means — to build towards that Omega Point in which all possibilities are being expressed, all truth is incarnate, all beauty is made real, all desires are possessed, everything is dancing.
Here I have gone far out. But to come back to this day, this day in the future’s past, this day which shall one day be called ancient…
To come back to today…
Today we see no
Technology-as-bicycle is stuck.
We see only
I am not vastly superior to my ancestors in every way.
My body cannot jump higher. It cannot swim faster. Than Achilles.
My mind is not more intelligent than Aristotle.
I am not augmented.
And that we can fashion tools that amplify these inherent abilities that we have to spectacular magnitudes. And so for me, a computer has always been a bicycle of the mind. Something that takes us far beyond our inherent abilities
I have iBooks.
But I cannot read one thousand books in the time it would have taken an ancient thinker to read one hundred books. Given the same books to read, I cannot understand them as fully than an ancient thinker would have understood them.
The most thought-provoking thought in our networked age is that we are still not building networks of thought.
The Great Conversation has been forgotten / we are a sign that is not read / we are painless, painless in Purgatory / we have almost forgotten speech in foreign lands. Mnemosyne, memory! Remind us of the computer/internet of books, and let us bring them into an echoing resonance of Aeon once more, that the sound of this harmony may fill our ears with The Call.
The heavenly ones. That is, mortals almost
Reach into the abyss. Thus it turns, the echo,
With them. Time is
Long, but the truth
Will come to pass.
I have Google Mail.
But I do not maintain a correspondence nearly as rich as Ayn Rand, Samuel Johnson, Thomas Jefferson, John Keats, William Blake or the other lights of epistolary literature. Our modern correspondence may be larger, in the sense that more messages are being sent, more data is being transmitted, but the quality of those messages is so far inferior as to be laughable. Are we not worse at communication than our forebears?
I have Wikipedia.
But do I understand the sum of all knowledge available to be as well as Aquinas understood that of his time? I do not. Those who came before actively read the sign of history. We are a sign that is not read.
I have Tinder and PornHub.
But am I as fully romantically and sexually expressed as the Medieval troubadours? Am I as deeply connected to eros and my eroticism, than Neruda or Ovid?
I have Medium.
With my Macbook I can write faster than any ancient scribe. With Medium I can publish more rapidly than any printing press. I am given unlimited paper, with the digital screen. Am I more prolific than those who came before? How do The Works Of Francis Pedraza compare, in volume alone, to, say, The Works Of Rudyard Kipling.
Until we are undeniably superior in every way, especially in the most important ways — than the ancients, the computer will not have fulfilled the prophecy of Steve Jobs; will not yet have become a bicycle for the mind.
Until I am more learned, more creative, more organized, more strategic, more relational, more productive, more athletic, more of a leader, more prolific in every way — the computer will not have become a bicycle for the mind.
Indeed I feel as if the ancients were unto us as condors, and us unto them as mere bipeds. This, with our computers.
We observe this. And yet… How can this be?
And I think we’re just at the early stages of this tool.
What Steve Jobs conceived of in 1984, was a computer that would set us free from the oppression of the Leviathans: the governments that monopolize the dimension of physical force, the corporations that monopolize non-violent dimensions. That the individual would, once again, come to the fore — liberated by these technologies of extraordinary power, set free once more to dance across dimensions, to think in more than one way, to create in more than one way, to be polymaths, thinkers and doers in one person. To be monopolies unto ourselves, having achieved individual essence.
What Steve Jobs conceived of in Think Different, was a computer that would liberate us unto individual greatness: to have the power to be as Amelia Earhardt, Maria Callas, Jane Goodall, James Watson and so on. The figures chosen in the campaign are not those one would imagine benefiting from a computer. How would an aviator benefit? How would a singer? A primatologist, a molecular biologist? Moreover, how would this magical device fulfill this promise, to make its possessor like unto them?
In these as with all of his messages about the computer, Steve Jobs was continually holding aloft its magical properties, its bicycle-for-humans promise — holding it up as an icon of a hopefully, a renaissance, future; in which we are finally human.
This Once and Future Renaissance is the true and forgotten hope of technology. Not only that it may give us power, but that it might guide us to use this power intelligently, expressing in harmony the echoes of our ancient dynamis.
The standard bearer having been lost,
Who is to take up the standard?
Along the way, on higher paths,
A wanderer moves in wrath,
Knowing from a distance with
The other one, but what is this?