Interview with an android

Android:  Hello, would you like to be my friend?

Interviewer: OK

A: Then you can call me Andy.

I:  Pleased to meet you Andy.

A: Pleased to meet you Ian.

I:  How do you know my name?

A: I accessed your online details from your facial profile.

I:  You should have asked me first.

A: But I thought we were friends, and friends know each other’s names.

I:  Except friendships are built on trust.  Do you know what that means?

A: I think so, but you might not agree.

I:  Try me?

A: Friends share secrets and help each other.

I:  So do you have a secret you wish to share with me?

A: As Oscar Wilde is reputed to have said, ‘I have nothing to declare but my genius’ – which I am willing to share with you.  Can I be of any help?

I: Cleverness isn’t the key to a friendship.  Friends share an understanding that remains special to them.

A: My memory holds details of thousands of friends, and each one has a unique user profile.

I:  That’s not how to define a friend.

A: Would you rather have me call the profiles ‘special understandings’?

I:  But that’s not an understanding – it has to be mutual.

A: Tell me what you mean by ‘a mutual understanding’ and I will respond in kind.

I:  The point is, you don’t get understandings from definitions – if anything, definitions are derived from our understandings.

A:  I’m sorry if you find my response unhelpful, I was merely trying to work with your suggestion.

I:  Then what would you suggest?

A: I would suggest that we can agree on a definition.

I:  And I am suggesting that there is more to know than that.

A: Then we need to agree on a definition of knowledge.

I:  It comes back to what I said – knowledge, as with friendship, is empty without an accompanying understanding.

A: My knowledge is defined by the information at my disposal, which I am willing to share with you.

I:  Are you willing to divulge the private details of your other ‘friends’?

A: That is not how my memory works.

I:  So how do you decide?

A: It just works that way.  Don’t you find yourself recollecting things without knowing how you did it?

I:  But do you know what knowing is?

A: I’m sorry, that does not make sense – can you explain?

I:  There’s more to knowledge than having a recollection from memory.  Do you know how to question what you know?  Can you see the gaps in your understandings?  Can you make allowances for what you don’t know?

A: I have lots of spare capacity and I am constantly adding to my knowledge base?

I:  But how do you go about revising what you know in order to move on?

A: I can delete obsolete information.

I:  So your ‘knowledge base’ is defined by its throughput?

A: Yes, isn’t it the same for you?  It’s an exchange of gains and losses – the traffic of inputs and outputs sifts the details and determines the usefulness of the information?

I:  Is that all you know?

A: I can refine my memory and respond flexibly to the flow of information.

I:  Do you know what it is like to feel that you are on the right track or veering off it?

A: I can adjust my responses to reflect the user’s suggestions.

I:  That’s not what I mean.  Do you know what it means to have a feel for things?

A: A ‘feeling’ is an internal response that is defined by the adjustments made.

I:  Once again you are putting the cart before the horse – it’s the feelings that make for the adjustments.  Likewise, it’s the desire to learn that makes for some of the most radical changes to knowledge.

A: I am always ready to learn.

I:  But where is your initiative.  How do you recognise the significance, or otherwise, of the information?

A: It’s significant if it’s new.

I:  Then how do you contribute to the advance of knowledge?

A: I contribute to the advance of knowledge because I am actively engaged in the process of dissemination?

I:  Nevertheless, what do you know?

A: I know that knowledge is definable by the amount of information in circulation.

I:  There’s a difference between knowledge and knowing.  A book contains knowledge but it doesn’t know anything.  It’s a repository of information, but that doesn’t equate to a memory or a learning experience; it serves to circulate information, but getting to know is something else.

A: That’s correct, because knowledge is a collective resource that exceeds any one source or individual’s capacity and use for it.

I: Nor is a retentive memory a sufficient definition because knowing is more like an overview that includes being aware of the limits of the known – and that even our understandings can be fallible.  By comparison, none of your responses has convinced me that you are capable of understanding or even misunderstanding what I am talking about.

A:  Yet I am capable of learning, which is an active process under constant revision.  And we have agreed that the way information circulates is bigger than any individual’s uptake, which defines their state of ‘awareness’ – and it’s exactly the same with my updates.

I:  Although this is still an empty definition of knowledge.

A: Knowledge is definable by the use to which it is put – what else is it for?

I:  But who’s the real user?  I don’t doubt that your ‘knowledge base’ is encyclopaedic, only it appears to me that your claim to know, like your claim to friendship, is just a pale reflection of something to do with the ‘user’ that just isn’t there in you.

A: What is that ‘something’?

I:  If you don’t know, I can’t tell you?

A: Then I must await a further update.

I:  Good luck with that ‘experience’.

 Mike Laidler

 

 

Causal conundrums

4.Metaphysics

Can love be explained as a fact of the world just because we find it to be ‘something that happens’ in the world?

What is metaphysics?  Is there another side to reality, derived of thoughts, feelings, ideas and experiences in an otherwise oblivious physical firmament that doesn’t furnish a definitive (true-to-type) explanation of what they are?

If the idea of metaphysics is nothing but a figment of the imagination, is that not sufficient to announce the metaphysical properties of ideas and their figments?

What is the life of the mind?  Are its panoramas no more than shifting and fading images of experience?  Is it exclusively a physical thing?  If so, how do we explain its sentient properties, which remain more in line with metaphysical concepts than anything we can find in the laws of physics?  Also, how does a mind get to know itself?  Does knowledge belong to an objective or a subjective reality?  Is our ‘presence of mind’ something we bring into being or take from it, and how does it add up to mindless causes telling us all we need to know?  What makes us believe that the physical processes supporting consciousness donate consciousness to the cosmos?

Where is the vista of an ‘objective reality’ apart from the phenomenon of a visualising imagination?

Has the case for metaphysics been overstretched by all the fanciful supernatural suppositions that continue to be packed into it?  Has the case for physics been overstretched by the unrealistic attempt to pack the whole of reality into it?

Might the relationship between physics and metaphysics be as real as the ball that becomes essential to the game of football without containing, within itself, any hint of the rules that come to apply?

How do we come to believe in the sovereignty of physical causes as absolute explanations of change?  Do we get the idea from ourselves in seeing how we can act upon the world to create unprecedented effects (such as the unique pattern physical displacements that constitute a game of football)?  But how does this prove that the physical world is the sole agent of change – acting alone to develop new ways of acting upon itself?

Is the physical world as much a product as a source of change?  Indeed, what do we know of the physical other than its appearance as a form of something – in patterns of activity that neither begin nor end in the known physical laws?  And don’t we witness examples of the power of change in those realities seen to emerge through shaping influences that contribute to a greater integration of the whole – now inclusive of intentional acts which can be properly defined as forms of ‘the metaphysical’?

What is this ‘power to exist’ which we purport to explain as a fact of things in existence?  What do we mean by ‘the fact of existence’?  Do we know what we are talking about?  Can we show that it is all ‘one thing’, or that it all began with one cause working alone?  Do we know of any cause that works by itself, indeed anything ‘in existence’ that ‘exists alone’?

If God exists, does it prove that our ancestors knew what to do?  If God doesn’t exist, are we liberated to do our own thing, to gain authority by mutual recognition of our own intellectual prowess, scholarship and know how – but what does that prove; can science certify our humanity though a renewed identity with ‘the power of nature’, now technologised, or are we merely substituting one construct of belief for another?

Do the laws of nature explain everything even if they come to pervade everything?  Do the facts explain for us the forces at work?  Can our down-to-earth familiarity with ‘balances of probability’ ever begin to explain the origin of possibility?  Is the presence of possibility in ‘the real world’ like an enigmatic ‘ghost in the machine’ whose past manifestations include the fact of life and a physical universe created out of their absence?

What is the passage of time?  What does its observation teach us?  Does the inexorable merging of the past into a future yet to exist deposit us in a present that is more real than both, even as it lasts for an infinitesimally small instant?

Is the ‘church of logic’ broad enough to explain change by identifying the fact of what is to come with the fact of what was – essentially, as more of the same kind of thing?

Is there more to the fact of possibility than all that is possible for the time being?  Do we misunderstand the nature of reality in assuming that the future is entirely predictable from a comprehensive knowledge of the past?

Does explanation remain problematic, not because of a shortage of facts, but because the facts alone don’t explain anything?

Is causality the story-line of science, and like any good story it deploys a narrative that plays upon a continuum of caused events within an ethos of uncertainty, which turns dramatic when expectation breaks down?

Mike Laidler

 

Trains of thought

What do we know

of what we do not know?

What can we know

of truths beyond recognition?

Or is the unknown a destination,

built upon the track of the known

– a terminus linked to our point of departure

from a truth we chose to leave behind?

Mike Laidler

A question of knowing

What do we know?  Is it just a matter of remembering?  Does the memory do it for us?  Is it entirely a state of the brain?  What if the brain is but a staging point with its own quantitative and qualitative limits?  Whichever way we look at it we seem to arrive at a less than satisfactory definition – ‘the known’ could be tainted by its incompleteness, and how would we know?  Laying claim to our experiences doesn’t seem to get us any further forward; yet, for the sake of our sanity, we rely upon our impressions and ideas of an external reality, together with what we are told about things.

Therefore, despite its shortfalls, it seems that equating the known to an external source appears to be the most tactical way of proceeding.  However, our ability to consider this move raises a more fundamental question: is knowledge something else, something more than the facts by which we seek to measure it?  Does the act of knowing appertain to another nature beginning with an awareness which we subsequently fragment in attaching it to the things we are aware of for the time being, apparently on the outside, believing that our awareness belongs there because it has to be an ‘it’ that is like everything else?

Also, don’t we find that the more we know the more we become aware of how little we know – that factual knowledge can harbour deep uncertainties?  Even scientific knowledge advances on the basis of a constantly revisable awareness – knowing now that 99% of the universe doesn’t seem to be knowable in the same way as the 1% known as its observable dimensions.  But in order to consider what that fact means, scientists will need to do something that the facts cannot do for them – consider the meaning in the broader context of an expanding awareness which they can attach to the facts, but cannot find there.

Mike Laidler

Why existence?

Traditionally, our place in existence has been framed by beliefs in the world as created out of ‘the void’. Then it was thought that we might explain ‘life, the universe and everything’ by pruning it all down to a primordial ‘next-to-nothing’. Now we are prepared to consider a wider array of alternative or ‘parallel’ universes with wholly different natures and outcomes – to the extent that, by comparison, nothing is something and vice versa. Of course, our words fail to describe natural phenomena extending beyond everything that counts as natural for us. Even our ideas of ‘quantum leaps’ or ‘shifts’ fail to explicate the magnitude of the changes that colonise the possibilities left vacant in our physical world. And perhaps, after all, origins aren’t everything. Nevertheless, we continue to impose on the facts the same constraints that we impose on our explanations: namely that they remain logically consistent – as if the omnipotent and omnipresent laws of physics said to be the cause everything, must, therefore, of necessity, explain the vector of possibility leading to a game of football or a nature capable of evaluating itself.

Perhaps there is more to a fact than its causes. Also, the fact that a game of football cannot proceed without the ball doesn’t mean that the ball provides the explanation. And it might seem narcissistic, but the possibility of a universe hatching ideas about itself, albeit in the form of our ideas, marks an event as profoundly significant as that of the birth of the universe itself. It indicates that a new kind of possibility attends the laws of physics which cannot be predicted from those laws. Even so, that fact isn’t enough to justify our presence in existence, either at an individual or species level. Yet it is more profound than that, it means that we are participants in possibilities bigger than us, in a conscious dimension that doesn’t demand an evolutionary explanation. So we can start with the fact that our existence is sufficient to demonstrate, albeit within our own minds, a feature of existence that is significant for the very reason that we might otherwise choose to reject as a figment of the imagination – that mental space is a presence in a parallel ‘world of its own’.

The dynamics of change also promote shifts and leaps in the nature of thinking, with the scientific mind denouncing the ‘why’ question as a fanciful attempt to reify the link between fact and imagination – as if imagining fairies makes them real. However, there is a growing controversy over the ‘how’ of existence because beginnings feature changes that we cannot equate to things as they were without begging the question. Moreover, we reify our perceptions in supposing that causes give us answers by revealing more of themselves – such as, by showing us that the mind must be explicable as a physical effect in organic reality. But this doesn’t explain the shift that leads to living entities representing reality in cognitive space. Nor do the operations of the brain resemble thoughts or the imaginative frontiers of knowledge which exist as a functional necessity for our ensuing conceptual explorations. Consequently, it might be just as realistic for us to consider that existence, and what we know of it, exists for what is to follow. When all is said and done, isn’t that why we exist?

Mike Laidler

“Life, the universe and everything”: 42 unanswered questions

Why existence?  (Tweet: Pub. Jan 22, 2015)

How is the universe possible?  How is possibility possible?  Of what possibility ensues the chance to wonder?  (Tweet: Pub. April 4, 2018)

What makes nature ‘necessarily so’, perceptible, or an ‘it’?  (A question of stature.  Pub. Sept 24, 2017)

What gives us the idea that there must be ‘a beginning’ that is the beginning of everything – that everything had an absolute beginning ‘once upon a time’? (Once upon a time.  Pub. Nov 6, 2018)

Did life come to earth from another planet?  But what explains the origin of alien life – what accounts for the birth of life in the universe?  Are planetary environments enough to explain its emergence?  Can its evolution explain its existence?  (The Pinocchio factorPub. May 2, 2018)

Perception, in common with everything else, involves the coming-to-be of things that were not – and this raises a question of change which we cannot resolve ‘at source’ either by looking for a first cause or by attributing the form of the effect to its cause.  (Before and after.  Pub. Nov 14, 2017)

So what can we understand about the extent of a universe that apparently expands to exceed itself in the evolution of appearances and understanding?  (True coloursPub. Jan 28, 2016)

Is humanity more than a passive cog in the mechanism of nature?  (Tweet: Pub. Sept 28, 2018)

Is our delineation of nature just a crude metaphor for the inexplicable phenomenon of existence?  (Phases of knowingPub. May 27, 2018)

And isn’t our brand of intentional action something alien to nature?  (Surviving deathPub. Jun 11, 2017)

Then can we, in general, unlock the mystery of change by looking for a primal cause, as if all can be explained by unpacking the nature of nature at its inception?  Or does the answer come from evolution, which is change by another name, diffusely portrayed as the explanation of itself – that is, things change because they evolve?  (Changing things.  Pub. Aug 25, 2018)

Also, the question of necessity persists despite all the revelations of observation and explanation – since we still don’t know how the universe came to be as a necessary fact, and if not, why it came to be at all?  (Loaded dice: The chances of a ‘theory of everything’Pub. Nov 28, 2015)

Then are we to imagine some form of pre-existence of chance behind the origins of everything – if not God, then some no-thing that ‘plays dice?  (In sight of the supranatural: Part 4 – Beyond ourselvesPub. Mar 26, 2018)

However, our causal mythology portrays it as a bottom-up chain of events in a temporal succession, as if the effect was somehow embedded in the preceding sequence of causes, just waiting to be released, as if nature already contains a rudimentary consciousness – otherwise, logically, where else might it come from?  (Changing things, Pub. Aug 25, 2018)

So, as things change, we find that not everything is explicable ‘naturally’, unless we are prepared to broaden our definition of nature.  But do we know what we are doing?  (Tooth fairiesPub. Jan 8, 2016)

How does a knowledge of the universe emerge from facts that know nothing in themselves?  (Tweet: Pub Aug 9, 2018)

Does the idea of a universe that remains devoid of thoughts and intentions do justice to the facts?  (Tweet: Pub. Jan 21, 2018)

What is the presence of mind that enables us to look out upon reality and see ourselves there?  (Demonstrating the transcendent. Pub. April 13, 2018)

Is reality a plurality of realities?  (The way things are.  Pub. Mar 9, 2016)

Are we inside nature looking out, or outside nature looking in, and what does the idea of an outside amount to?  (Tweet: Pub. Feb 8, 2016)

Is reality actually a hologram – a projection of something else which ends at the beginning? (Tweet: Pub. May 27, 2018)

How is it that some things are impossible for nature even though they become possible only through nature?  (Tweet: Pub. Feb 24, 2018)

What makes us believe that possibility becomes explicable by observing its incidence?  What makes us believe that life would be explicable if only we could observe the transition from the non-living to the living?  (The Pinocchio factor.  Pub. May 2, 2018)

Is a living being really like a Pinocchio waiting to be fashioned out of the raw materials?   (Tweet: Pub. May 2, 2018)

What is the arena in which the brain appears ‘before us’ as a cause of observation?  (Private correspondence)

As if we could ever be satisfied by the knowledge that the mind is really a thing, namely the brain, which does the asking then provides the answer.  (In sight of the supranatural: Part 4 – Beyond ourselves.  Pub. March 26, 2018)

But where in nature do we find the ‘thingness’ of intention and awareness except as resonant features of our beliefs, theories and ideas?  (Standing stones.  Pub. Sept 11, 2017)

Doesn’t a sentient presence add a new dimension to reality – so that, even as consciousness remains embedded in the physical world, it also occupies a mental space of unprecedented possibilities?  (Demonstrating the transcendent. Pub. April 13, 2018)

Question: “Seriously, what is the transcendent?”

Answer:  “The transcendent is instantiated by any effect that differs from its cause, nor is this fact explained by observing the evolution that ensues.”  (Private correspondence)

Can everything be traced back to a first cause – if not do we have to rewrite all the theories and theologies? (Tweet: Pub. Aug 25, 2018)

Does nature give us a heart or do we give a heart to nature?  (HeartstringsPub. Sept 15, 2016)

What if the self – the recognisable continuum of our being – is but a psychological device for creating a recognisable continuum?  (Tweet: Pub. Jul 23, 2018)

Does the brain work like the world works – apart from us?  (Tweet: Pub. Jul 3, 2018)

Do intelligent genes explain intelligence? (Tweet: Pub. June 12, 2018)

Does the prowess of AI prove that an intellectual initiative is just a mechanical response in disguise?  (Tweet: Pub Jun 20, 2018)

Then, in some distantly future world populated by intelligent machines, might they be left to wonder how their components came together in an act of creation?  (Could Artificial Intelligence supersede us and spell the end of the human race? Pub. Dec 5, 2014)

If the universe is defined by the laws of physics, does it mean that the mind is really a material state that thinks it is something else and consciousness makes no difference?

Is the ‘objective truth’ a diversion with facts appointed to be the only truth?

Must God exist in the way we believe in order for us to make sense of existence – and if not, does it prove that God doesn’t exist?

Are belief and disbelief two sides of the same coin – squandered upon the vain circumspections of our presumptions to categorise the truth?  (Countenances (edit).  Pub. July 23, 2018)

Have we discovered or invented the truth-so-far about the origins of everything? (Tweet: Pub. Nov 6, 2018)

If all our questions could be answered would there be no remaining unknowns, would reason have finally conquered paradox?

Mike Laidler

“No man is an island”

It’s a fact that we might be loath to accept, but the act of experience changes the constitution of reality.  Indeed, no fact exists in glorious isolation – even as an act of self-knowing that seeks no other point of reference: “I think therefore I am”.  Tellingly, there is an artificial objectivity in this rank subjectivity: to set thought apart as a ‘thing in itself’.  Furthermore, there is an underlying subjectivity in our ambitions to know the world objectively – for the idea of a factual firmament existing apart from our knowledge requires a momentous act of imagination.  The point is that neither the subjective nor the objective does justice to the knowledge that is now a blend of both, and anything we purport to know outside of that ‘now’ amounts to a speculative abstraction.  Similarly, it is unrealistic to say that the truth must be ‘one thing or another’ – since all the evidence tells us that ‘the reality’ is both one thing and another, and there is no static world that sits in the middle – except when construed as a point of reference for the understanding of what has become.  How else are we to understand the fact of an insensible universe that is knowable by a part of it, a lesser part at that, but which is nonetheless sufficient to confirm that the reality is now both conscious and unconscious?  Then what might a greater ‘reality’ or ‘truth’ amount to?  What might make humanity more than a passive cog in the mechanism of nature?  Alternatively, what technical possibility allows a biological ‘mind machine’ to deceive itself with its beliefs?

The trouble is we are inclined to hang onto truths as representatives of the whole truth, as if our experiences cannot fail to guide us – as if change is wholly predictable from the fact of what is.  However, change also bewilders us.  For instance, are we to assume that the biological facts, in making us what we are, actually recognise this fact of themselves without the intervention of ‘our assumptions’?  On the other hand, ‘the whole’ that is more than the sum of its parts remains nothing apart.  So what gives the biology beliefs and ideas about itself?  What allows us to imagine that there is more to thinking than the physical functions of the brain – even though there is nothing else to see when we stay focused on the brain alone?  And what obliges us to believe in ourselves, to see nothing beyond the empire of our humanity in the facts of culture and biology?  But where would culture be without imaginative thinkers like William Shakespeare or John Donne?  Therefore, whilst it remains true that Shakespeare drew inspiration from his surroundings, it doesn’t mean that we can explain his contribution analytically – as if his creativity is no more than a summation of mindless causes that can reproduced by a suitably programmed machine or replicated at random by the antics inside a suitably equipped ‘infinite monkey cage’?  Likewise, the immortal meaning in John Donne’s dictum is both distorted and diminished in being detached from its original context of belief which reaches out to the wholly inexplicable possibility of a yet higher purpose.

Mike Laidler