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I.Q……..How Do You Do?

by on August 9, 2015
  1.                                       I. Q. …… How Do You Do?

                                                     by Marco M. Pardi

“Intellect is invisible to the person who hasn’t any.” Arthur Schopenhauer, Essays

Deep in the mist of my youth I decided the distinction between smart and intelligent.  Smart: Able to quickly grasp and use what is. Intelligent: Able to ponder what is and develop what could be.  Smart people are described as clever; intelligent people are described as thoughtful.  Smart is usually associated with brain, intellect with mind. I also noticed that smart people are generally admired and rewarded; intelligent people are viewed, like spiders that can dart in any direction, with grudging suspicion.  How many people turn away as they say to themselves, “Why didn’t I think of that?”

I have known many smart people.  But of these, I felt only a few were intelligent.  I also found that if I asked a smart person “Why did you do that” or “Why did you think that” I was more likely to get a conversation truncating answer or an “I don’t know, I just did.” The same questions asked of an intelligent person opened the thinking domain for almost unlimited perusal, even threatening a descent into frank reductio ad absurdum.

Some would wonder how this applies, if at all, to concepts of other than human animal intelligence.  Obviously, that is a large topic best presented on its own.  Suffice it to say anyone doubting such un-coached intelligence need only look – really look, at the play behavior of non-human animals, whether sea, land, or air. When we include in that behavior play with objects provided for them they more than satisfy my criterion of pondering what is and developing what could be.    

In recent years there is growing discussion of artificial intelligence and “the singularity”.  It is hard to say whether the general population is reacting to entertainment themes such as the Terminator series or whether the Terminator series, and its spin-offs arose from the growing awareness and fears in the population.  And, as so often happens when the general public gets a whiff of something, terms get misused.  The term specific to computer based intelligence is Technological Singularity; it refers to the development of “strong artificial intelligence” beyond humanity’s ability to comprehend its reasons for doing what it does or its calculations in doing so.  Ironically, it is only the most recent expression of an affliction which already characterizes most of humanity’s current relationship to science – the emergence of scientism as a belief system in science for those who value it but cannot understand it.

Apparently unseen in the anticipation, even fear of computer development of superintelligence, recursive self-improvement, is a fundamental flaw in reasoning: the failure to integrate new realizations pertaining to two centuries old paradoxes.  In 1967 the materialist writer Arthur Koestler published The Ghost in The Machine, a title penned by Oxford philosopher Gilbert Ryle, in which he confronted Cartesian dualism by asserting the purely material relationship of mind to brain and ushering in the popular love affair with Carl Sagan, equally a materialist.  Unfortunately, many people do not bother to read before forming their opinions, or their fears.

Thus, Koestler and his followers may have been unaware that the Newtonian clockwork universe had been overthrown as early as the 1920’s by the exponential growth in the understanding of quantum mechanics.  This same development opened new perspectives on Free Will versus Determinism.

Further, the explosive growth of demonstrable data documenting functional mind during prolonged periods of non-functioning brain, arising from almost countless volumes documenting veridical experiences during newly available medical procedures supports the position that mind is fundamentally independent of brain.  Turning off a radio only turns off the instrument delivering the broadcast, it does not turn off the broadcast. Turning off the brain does not turn off the mind.

The first use of “singularity” in the context of technological development is attributed to John von Neumann (nee Janos von Neumann – Budapest, then Johann von Neumann – Gottingen, then John von Neumann – Princeton) in 1958. As a “pure” mathematician, he was an ardent disciple of David Hilbert.  But Hilbert’s assertions, including mathematical decidability, had already been questioned in the 1920’s by Alan Turing, another pure mathematician.  Yet Turing’s motivation was in large part driven by his conviction that his prematurely deceased first love, Christopher Morcom, a mathematics student one year ahead of Alan, was somehow communicating with him from beyond the grave, inspiring his tunneling into the increasingly closed world of pure mathematics.  Seeking to reconcile this feeling with the universe as viewed at the time, Alan drew upon Arthur Eddington’s The Nature of the Physical World and the writings of the neo-Hegelian Idealist philosopher John M. E. McTaggart, Trinity College, Cambridge.

Much as Alan had labored on the development of a model of natural existence, an “automatic typewriter” in which human intervention would play no part,  he was drawn back into the question of mind – which he called spirit, existing independently of the machinery of brain, exercising will independent of “the configurations” of such machinery. In a private letter to Christopher’s mother he went so far as to assert that “We have a will which is able to determine the actions of the atoms probably in a small portion of the brain, or possibly all over it. The rest of the body acts so as to amplify this. There is now the question which must be answered as to how the action of the other atoms of the universe are regulated.  Probably by the same law and simply by the remote effects of spirit but since they have no amplifying apparatus they seem to be regulated by pure chance. The apparent non-predestination of physics is almost a combination of chances……Then, as regards the actual connection between spirit and body I consider that the body by reason of being  a living body can ‘attract’ and hold a ‘spirit’, whilst the body is alive and awake the two are firmly connected….when the body dies the ‘mechanism’ holding the spirit is gone and the spirit finds a new body sooner or later perhaps immediately.” (Alan’s grammar was famously Byzantine)

In his 1950 paper, “Computing Machinery and Intelligence”, Turing proposed a test to determine if a human could accurately discern which of two remote respondents to questions was human and which was computer.  It was in his revision of his initial question that he named the test The Imitation Game, which became the title of a recent film about his cracking of the Nazi Enigma Code.  Though conceding that “thinking” is difficult to define, throughout this paper and his many defenses of it he argued against all assertions that machines can not think.  Unanswered in this exchange was his earlier paradox over the nature of “spirit” and its ability to alter the “configuration” of the brain – recursive self-improvement, a problem he tried to neatly address in the (unrealized) configuration of his automatic typewriter.

Because people commonly fail to pursue depth analysis of topics before reaching conclusions we have inherited tag lines such as “artificial intelligence” and all the sensationalist spin-offs that follow.  Even respected scientists got into the game; in 1997 Frank Tipler, a physicist and mathematician at Princeton published The Physics of Immortality, proposing that humans could be scanned into microchips and seeded throughout deep space. After working through his dense and imaginative math, I was gratified to see reviews concurring with my impression that he was only the latest to formulate Man as machine, totally reducible to binary code.

Equally, because there are still pre-20th Century thinkers who see mind as solely a function of brain (just as there are still some who deny Man’s role in climate change) we acquire fears of the construction of an electronic brain replete with a mind far beyond our comprehension.  But what of those people who have literally zero idea of what transpires between their automobile ignition key and their wheels?  Do they fear the CPU at the heart of this hurtling steel box will decide driving along pavement is unsatisfying and should be abandoned in favor of plunging through a guard rail to fly out over a scenic overlook?  Or, “But Officer, my car did not like the looks of that pedestrian!”

I will continue to resist getting a Smart Phone not because I fear competition but because I abhor wasteful duplication. But I am far less concerned about intelligent machines than I am about unintelligent politicians, people who can unleash “smart bombs” and enact utterly destructive social policies based on fantasies developed out of centuries of mistranslated texts taken out of their temporal and geographical contexts.

Just as some look to the night skies in hopes of seeing the arrival of superior intelligences to save us from ourselves, I have occasional thoughts that computer based superintelligence might not be all a bad thing.

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17 Comments
  1. It’s been about 48 hours since I first read this, and I’m wondering where I fit into your scheme of things. To me, there is smart, intelligent, and intellectual. I thoroughly agree with your assessment of the first two, but take the process one step further.

    I like to think I am intelligent (please don’t tell me if I’m not), but I am in no way intellectual. It is not in my nature to study or express any truth or idea in depth. My mother once told me I was too smart for my own good, whatever that means.

    One of my favorite books is “The Ship Who Sang” (Anne McCaffrey, 1961), which tells the tale of a person whose body is useless, but their brain has been implanted into a spacecraft. It’s almost the antithesis of AI as we understand it, and I recommend it highly to any who enjoy science fiction.

    My irony here is your definition of “the singularity”, as it matches so nearly people’s definition of “God’s will”. To accept that will without understanding how or why these things occur is the very definition of faith. As you say, “the emergence of scientism as a belief system”. If I misunderstand here, please feel free to clarify the matter.

    A full and proper response to this offering would be almost as long as the posting itself. Please know it has given me much to think about. I’ll try to be intelligent enough to understand it, and you keep being the intellectual who give me the chance to do so.

  2. Thank you, Rose. I most certainly have always counted you among the intelligent, and being “an intellectual” follows. And I must say that my encounters with you, and the few others, share a common denominator: a certain sadness that your life will be largely lonely.

    Your insight into the apparent (to some) connection of “God” to the singularity is profoundly at the heart of mysticism, at the heart of Enllghtenment as an experience of fully sensing without necessarily knowing the details of what one senses. Of course, minds far below yours personify this experience and externalize it as an object of worship – in the same way that these people sense what they think is science and elevate it to something to be believed beyond understanding.

    I have not read the book you cite, but it reminded me of one of my favorites: The Man Who Lived in Inner Space.

    I so enjoy our interaction, and look forward to your developed thoughts. Marco

  3. I’d pretty much have to agree with you on that one. Having watched, in part at least, the Republican debate, I’d come closer to calling it self-congratulatory introduction to the already determined pecking order of candidates. Some of them need to remember that a pat on the shoulder is only inches away from a knife in the back.

    It was somewhat like standing outside the monkey cage at the zoo; watching as the lesser monkeys clean those higher in the order, while others scream and throw feces. It would be humorous if one was able to forget that some of the excrement invariably gets flung on the audience.

    I am not political. I am not (despite what their fundraisers seem to think) a proper Democrat; but I would die, be damned, and go to hell before I called myself a Republican. Despite this, I do care what happens to this country, and to the world. I do what I can to make it better. More than six years into this political backbiting that our government has become; I’ve all but given up hope.

    Do people remember that a largely Republican legislature effectively shut down the government a few years ago for strictly political reasons? It was like a bunch of bullies in a playground; and now they want us to let them take over the school?! What happens next? There’s been just enough progress made in this last full year to upset conservative religious Republicans and Democrats alike. I was surprised by the results of the last Presidential election; I fear I will not be surprised again. Rose

    • I’ve never self described as a Democrat or Republican; even Independent seems to be side stepping the issue. But thinking of my daughter and grandchildren, and all the other life on this planet, I dread and fight against the ignorance, stupidity, and downright greed of people in power. The part of me that used to say those I care about can make it through, and life can adjust has gone silent as I consider the stakes have gotten exponentially higher with far less margin, if any, for negotiation and change.

  4. “Turning off a radio only turns off the instrument delivering the broadcast, it does not turn off the broadcast. Turning off the brain does not turn off the mind.”
    This is so succinctly and beautifully put, I will have to quote you someday Marco !!
    And by the way, I am also resisting Smart Phone frenzy !
    I just do not like to be `found ` anywhere anytime 🙂 (beside the seemingly ensuing possible addiction ! )
    Here in Japan people call my kind of mobile Galapagos !! implying not much evolution 🙂 .
    But Hey ! here I am , `The last of the Mohicans` 😀

    • Thank you, Lory. I’ve been looking for new material on your blogs but haven’t found any. I guess, in Japan, you are something of an anachronism. That’s wonderful.

      • Yes, Marco, unfortunately I have not written a Blog post in months . I have not been able to focus my `brains ` (quite scattered at the moment 😦 ) enough to write anything at all.
        Just as a very brief update, we are still in `troubled waters` at the moment, so at times I completely `abstain` from FB, Blogs, and PC in general.
        But it is good to see you have kept blogging wonderfully 🙂
        I am sure `I`ll be back` one day !!

      • Thank uou, Lory. I think of you very often and, as always, wish I could be of help. To borrow Alan Turing’s concept of immaterial influence on the material, my thoughts are in support of you. Marco

      • Thank you Marco ! for some unfathomable reasons, I do feel better than the first awful months…. I am sure your thoughts are definitely helping !! I soooo believe in immaterial influence 🙂

  5. Mark Dohle permalink

    Isn’t the brain emotional and not rational? For instance, without thought we can still be conscious. I would think that if my mind where wiped cleaned, and I mean totally gone, I would still be conscious, I would just not be Mark anymore. If all emotions were missing from my brain/mind then self awareness, at least as organic forms experience it, would be non-existent, wouldn’t it.

    There is plenty of ‘experiences’ out there that point to ‘more’, yet those who do not believe, will not look into it. Not a surprise, since I know that I tend to do the same thing. It is difficult for me to give a fair hearing to those I disagree with. Knowing this helps me to be more attentive to listening before I come back with some sort of answer, though not always successful.. If we don’t listen to others, which I believe is common, how conscious are we anyway? Just different loops of compulsive thoughts and reactions. I believe that we are sleep walking more than is realized.

    I am looking forward to experiencing some sort of conversation with an AI. I have tried on the internet, but the results are underwhelming. Again, emotions, slang, intuitive leaps seem to something AI’s can’t do….at least at this time. Can AI have an unconscious, since that is where we get most of our ‘stuff’.

    I am rambling my friend, we are opposite LOL. I do think smart cars will be an improvement, but it may take time for me to be comfortable in a car that can drive itself ;-). Thinks for scrambling my brain, need that from time to time…..though scrambled is my normal way of being.

    • Thank you, Mark. You stimulate my mind, even if my brain didn’t feel it. Indeed, your question about consciousness bugs a lot of researchers. In fact, there is no consensus on the origins or “location” of consciousness, even on what it is. It appears the brain is an instrument that facilitates expressions of consciousness, as a piano facilitates the expression of music. But I know of no neuroscience that describes the brain as emotional. What’s more, “the brain” is a term which betrays our desire for compartmentalized convenience; every micron of every nerve fiber throughout the body is part of the vast net web of the brain. We only look at the 3 lb knob of it in the head and assume everything happens there.

      If you are curious, you may want to read accounts of behavioral/mood/preference changes in organ recipients which match those of their (unknown to them) donors. These do suggest an as yet unknown connection of the physical (brain) to the non-physical (mind) but far more needs to be done to clarify this. Marco

  6. Here is a video that too agrees ” computer based superintelligence might not be all a bad thing.” The video states we should all be science fiction writers in our minds. Marco definitely fits that bill. Again another thought provoking article. Thank you.

    • Thank you, Mary. You are far more resourceful than the average human, and I’m wondering what exactly that means but I am certain it is something good.

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