Saturday, December 09, 2017

WHAT IS INTELLIGENCE?


WHAT IS INTELLIGENCE?

D. R. Khashaba

AI and IT experts speak glibly of intelligent machines and of robots that will replace humans. Be that as it may, but let us at least think a little about the words we use.

It is a corruption of language to speak of a machine as intelligent. I know that our scientists and experts have their definitions, their technically refined definitions, but all of those definitions specify external marks that cannot reveal the essence of what we are speaking about. And the more sophisticated and intricate the definitions are, the more distant they are from the true nature, the inner nature, of the thing defined.

The understanding of a thing, I will not say comes from, but is none other than the light that shines from the self-evidence of what we are speakingabout. Understanding is a live experience. You understand when you have no need for any definition or explanation or proof.

I repeat: it is a corruption of language to speak of a machine as intelligent because the first mark of intelligence is spontaneity, and I find ‘spontaneity’ here more telling than ‘autonomy’. Our intelligence is spontaneity; our free will is spontaneity.

When I speak of intelligence in a human being or in any sensate being, I am not referring to the intelligence of an Einstein or of an Alan Turing, but of the intelligence of my granddaughter’s cats, each of which has a marked character and temper and caprices of her own and does what she does because — because of no because, but just that it suits her.

Lessing, if my memory serves me right, said “ Kein Mensch muss müssen”. In four little words he put his finger on the holy of holies of humanity, or rather of all life. Had Descartes had a pet cat he would not have committed the idiocy of saying that animals are automata.

The essence of life is intelligence and spontaneity, All ltfe is intelligent in a sense of intelligence that AI and IT experts and all the geniuses of physics and astrophysics and robot builders cannot comprehend because they seek intelligence where there is no intelligence. Where there is no life there no intelligence can be.

Dear Reader, I write in anger. Where there is anger there will be error. But if all my statements are proven to be riddled with contradiction I will still aver that in my error there is more truth that is in all the works of all Laplaces and all Turings put together.

D. R. Khashaba

December 9, 2017

Posted to https://philosophia937.wordpress.com xnd http://khashaba.blogspot.com

Friday, December 08, 2017

LIMITS OF SCIENCE


LIMITS OF SCIENCE

D. R. Khashaba

The title of Martin Rees’ paper came to me like a pleasant surprise. https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/12/limits-of-science/547649/ Throughout two decades in book after book and essay after essay I have been trying to drive home that philosophers and scientists should have learnt long ago from Plato and Kant — a simple lesson teaching that the very objectivity of science makes questions about the inner reality of things lie beyond yhe competence of science. I am writing this having read no more than the headlines of Rees’ paper which I will now proceed to read and see if I have any comment to make or anything to add but I conjecture that Rees’ position will not be as radical as Plato’s or Kant’s.

Rees starts by quoting a statement of Einstein’s that I have repeatedly cited. As I see it, the comprehensibility of the universe suggests that mind (intelligence) is an aspect of ultimate reality. But that does not make that ultimate reality accessible to the objective approach of science. The objectivity of science limits it, as Kant said, to dealing with things as they show themselves in human experience, that is, to dealing with phenomena.

I do not want to repeat yet once more my insistence (following Socrates) on keeping science and philosophy unmixed since science and philosophy deal with radically distinct questions. (See “Stephen Hawking’s Bad Metaphysics”.)

Regrettably my conjecture proved true. There is not much congruity between Rees’ approach and mine. To obtain “the enlightenment that scientists seek” scientists must learn to ask the questions that science cannot answer. Wisdom is not the fruit of much learning, especially not scientific learning.

I resist a temptation to take up once more the distinction between knowledge and understanding. But let this suffice for now.

D. R. Khashaba

December 8, 32017

Posted to https://philosophia937.wordpress.com xnd http://khashaba.blogspot.com

Thursday, December 07, 2017

GOD MUSES


GOD MUSES

D. R. Khashaba

WARNING: Dear Reader, these are black thoughts oozed in a black hour on a black day. You will be well advised not to read any further.

God sat musing.

When I created life — well, I didn’t really create life. Life is an original dimension of my being, which I shaped in myriads of shapes, from the tiger to the butterfly, from the lizard to the hippopotamus, that was good, All life has intrinsic value. When life feeds on life, that is a normal consequence of the principle of transience ruling all finite existence. Thus far all was good. But then I made my worst error. I created human beings. Humans, not content with their intrinsic value as living beings, created for themselves their own secondary values, aims, purposes. When these secondary values clashed within one individual human being, or when the values in certain human beings clashed with the values in other human beings, there arose misery, frustration, dejection … there arose greed … there arose anger and hate. All of this overshadowed the original worth of life in human beings. Many times I have thought of uprooting this grave error by destroying the human race totally. But then I saw maybe a single human being, one woman or one man that did not sully the intrinsic worth of life in them … at one time a Socrates here, at another time a Gautama there, at yet another time a simple woman who gave her life to save another life, and I changed my mind. But the evil generated by the human race has 0verflown all measure. I’d better deceive myself no longer. The human experiment has turned sour. I must finish off this vile weed. I must not let anything weaken my resolve this yime. What remains is to decide the means. At one time I had almost decided … by a sight alteration in the speed of the Earth’s revolution to send the polluted planet hurtling towards the Sun to be totally consumed. But this would end all life on Earth. True, I have shaped modes of life on other planets. But what wrong has the sleek scorpion or the nimble squirrel done to deserve this end? No. I will let the human race finish itself off. The simple combination of greed and stupidity with which hum\ns are brimful is sufficient to lead them to their inevitable end. In the process humans will have wreaked grave damage to the originally well-balanced environment of the Earth. This is a price that has to be paid. And the damage will be remedied when the cumulatively pernicious influence of humans has been removed. That’s it! Leave them to the poisonous mix of greed and stupidity and they will soon end themselves.

D. R. Khashaba

December 7, 2017

Posted to https://philosophia937.wordpress.com xnd http://khashaba.blogspot.com

Friday, December 01, 2017

IDEALISTS AND MATERIALISTS


IDEALISTS AND MATERIALISTS

D. R. Khashaba

It seems that humans are divided into two fundamental classes more radically distinct than the gender division of male and female. After all we know that there are males with a high ingredient of femininity and females with a high ingredient of masculinity. But among Idealists and Materialists there is no sharing and no common ground.

Plato twice asserts and underlines this distinction. In the Sophist we read: “What we shall see is something like a Battle of Gods and Giants going on between them over their quarrel about reality. … One party is trying to drag everything down to earth out of heaven and the unseen, literally grasping rocks and trees in their hands; for they lay hold upon every stock and stone and strenuously affirm that real existence belongs only to that which can be handled and offers resistance to the touch. They define reality as the same thing as body, and as soon as one of the opposite party asserts that anything without a body is real, they are utterly contemptuous and will not listen to another word.” ( Sophist, 246a-c). And in the Crito Socrates, having asserted with no less emphasis his conviction that “'we ought not to retaliate or render evil for evil to anyone”, goes on to say, “this opinion has never been held, and never will be held, by any considerable number of persons; and those who are agreed and those who are not agreed upon this point have no common ground, and can only despise one another when they see how widely they differ” (Crito, 49c-d, tr. Jowett).

Socrates was speaking of moral ‘idealism’ but we can apply what he says, word for word, to ‘metaphysical reality’, to what different persons mean by reality, to what is real and what is not real, which is what I am concerned with in this essay. This is a battle that has been raging between the two camps from Plato and Aristotle, through Bishop Berkeley and Dr. Johnson, to the present day.

First I have to confess that I am semantically at a disadvantage. It is so common and so natural to speak of what can be touched and held in one’s hand as real that it would be unrealistic to ask people to reverse this usage. What I can and do ask for is that in philosophical discussions we should keep in mind that the metaphysician’s (Plato’s say) ‘reality’ has nothing to do with the commonsense usage of the term. When I wrote my first book, Let Us Philosophize, I hesitated long between ‘Reality’ and ‘Being’ for designating what is ultimately real. I have repeatedly said that my electing ‘Reality’ was foolish or at least unfortunate. But I don’t think electing ‘Being’ instead would have made much of a difference. I have lately found Berdyaev using the term ‘Spirit’ for what is ultimately real. For a while I said to myself I wish I had hit on that, but once again I don’t think that choice would have made any difference.

Thus once again, hoping against hope, I will try to clarify what I mean by what is real and what I, chiefly in common with Plato, mean by saying that the things we encounter in the world around us are – in the technical meta[hysical sense of the term – not real.

We know that the things around us, from Dr. Johnson’s rock to Kim Jong-un’s nuclear missiles at no moment of time have a constantly stable being. Heraclitus knew that all things are constantly changing and that the sun that came up this morning is not the same sun that came up yesterday. Heraclitus affirmed this despite the fact that the state of knowledge at his time seemed to belie him. The mountains at least seemed fixed and firm. Now our scientists know that the particles that constitute the Himslayas know no rest, that the sun today is one day nearer its final extinction, that the farthest galaxies vie with our oceans in their ceaseless commotion. Modern science taught us that this red rose is not in itself red and that the colour I see is the joint product of a complex operation involving rays of light, the physiology of my eyes, and the faery dances of neurons in my brain. Scientists were so taken by their discoveries that they, and not any Idealists, denied the ‘reality’ of the red colour. It was left for A. N. Whitehead to call this denial the Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness.

In their search for what is ultimately real scientists went farther and farther away from the ‘commonsense real’. They sought the final constituent(s) of things, in other words, they continued the quest of Thales and Anaximenes. For a time the atom was triumphantly hailed as the answer, but then the ‘indivisible atom’ proved to be neither indivisible nor final. The old naïve materialism represented by Dr. Johnson’s solid rock was no longer viable. (The word is now used as a convenient blanket term for physicalism, scientism, empiricism, etc.) The search continued till we reached at one end Quantum Mechanics which nobody understands and at the other end the Big Bang characterized as a singularity which is a euphemism for absurdity.

But far more important than all of this is the following consideration: Supposing we reached a final objective thing, and quite apart from the question about the origin of that thing, we face the question: what supports that thing, what gives it its credentials for being?

Confessedly, the Idealist has no answer to that question any more than the scientist, but there is a difference. The Platonist would say: We do not know of a single thing in the natural world whose being and whose character may not be subjected to doubt. Our own subjective being is the one thing whose self-evidence, immediate presence, and present immediacy are beyond all doubt. This of course is what Descartes affirms in his unfortunate formulation, je pense, donc je suis. This Is the thought behind Kant’s noumenon set against all the phenomena of the natural world. Shelley with the prophetic insight of a philosophical poet condenses it all in one line: “Nought is but that which feels itself to be” (Hellas).

But Platonism does not stop there. What is the worth of all the world, of all we encounter in it and all we do in it as against the delight of understanding, the peace of loyalty, the bliss of generosity? What gift has the world to compare with the joy of intelligent contemplation?

To remove a widespread misunderstanding: neither Plato nor Berkeley nor any sane Idealist denied or doubted the actuality of the world around us. But which is more worthy of being held more real and more valuable: the hard world outside us or our mind and the verities of the mind within us? Socrates said it in a few words: The best thing for a human being is to discourse of virtue every day.

D. R. Khashaba

December 1, 2917

Posted to https://philosophia937.wordpress.com xnd http://khashaba.blogspot.com

Saturday, November 25, 2017

METAPHYSICS


METAPHYSICS

THE CREATIVE ART OF WRESTLING WITH UNANSWERABLE QUESTIONS

D. R. Khashaba

The name of the gracious goddess Philosophia has been handled so insipidly and for so long that it has come to mean all things and nothing. Take one example: experts in the techniques of Artificial Intelligence have been calling their science ‘philosophy’! So to keep close to what philosophy meant for, say, Plato, I will speak of ‘metaphysics’ even though this term (which neither Plato nor Aristotle knew) has not escaped mutilation and defamation.

Rather than asking “What is metaphysics?” I will ask “Who is a metaphysician?” and rather than advancing towards an answer through rational discussion I will at once bluntly and audaciously give an oracular answer that I will defend by unfolding, amplifying, and elucidating the oracular pronouncement in what follows.

Here is the oracle: A metaphysician is an intelligent soul who throughout her life is irked by unanswerable questions.

In the morning of human life – be it the life of the human race or of an individual human being – the mind is troubled by endless questions about the phenomena of nature and of life. In time the intelligent mind discovers that there are on the one hand answerable questions, even if the answers do not come readily or easily, and there are on the other hand questions that are unanswerable, not only that they are hard to crack or that they call for preparations or conditions that are not within our reach, but that they are in their nature unanswerable. Answers to the answerable questions accumulated over time: they are the pith and core of our present-day science and technology. The computer I am working on now owes a debt to the first man or woman who struck two stones together to make fire,

Let me take leave of generalities for a while and move on to particulars. At the birth of Western philosophy in Greece (the profound cultures of China and India deserve special treatment in a separate essay) Thales, Anaximenes, Democritus – to pick some names at random – busying themselves with the stuff and the order of the cosmos, were laying the foundations of modern physics and modern astronomy. Stephen Hawking will tell you that he and his colleagues are still working on questions posed by those early Greek thinkers. On the other hand, Heraclitus was not concerned with the stuff of the world but with the soul that is too deep to fathom. Yes, Heraclitus as a genuine metaphysician was concerned with the soul, despite our materialist, positivist, empiricist scientists, and I mean scientists, for our professors of philosophy who have splintered philosophy into diverse specialized disciplines – whether they research the mind of a fly or the ‘intelligence’ of robots – are scientists doing perhaps very good scientific work but not philosophy — for them the soul is not unfathomed or unfathomable but an empty word without any meaning whatever.

Plato was concerned with moral values, a concern he inherited from Socrates, but he was also concerned with the question of ultimate reality and with the nature and provenance of knowledge. He had no answer to any of these queations. For the nature of knowledge he gave us the principle of Forms; for the provenance of knowledge he gave us the myth of reminiscence; for the problem of ultimate reality he gave us the allegory of the Form of the Good. Why could he not answer the questions that engaged his mind throughout his life? These are unanswerable questions because Reality, Intelligence, Life, Goodness are ultimate mysteries and will always remain closed secrets to us.

Now comes the sensible question: Since these are mysteries that will always remain forbidden ground for us and since all questions relating to them must remain unanswerable, why bother about them? Let us listen to the oracle once more: “A metaphysician is an intelligent soul who throughout her life is irked by unanswerable questions.” Since the mysteries of Being, Life, Mind, Goodness are what gives us being, life, mind, and goodness, to remain alive and to remain truly human we must never lose touch with those mysteries. An intelligent soul cannot but be irked by those mysteries and being troubled by questions relating to them. And since the questions are truly unanswerable, then it is only in myth and parable that we voice what insight we are given to glimpse into them. And this applies not only to the metaphysician, but to the poet, the artist, the lover — to whomever is blessed with sensing the reality of those life-giving mysteries.

In modern times, especially in the present day, the practical successes of science and technology have seduced us to focus our attention on exteriors — on the outer world and our own outer physical being. Scientists and philosophers-turned-scientists have led us not only to forget our inner reality but to completely deny that inner reality. I am convinced that the crises and turmoils of our world today are not separated from this loss of insight into our inner reality and loss of touch with the unspeakable metaphysical mysteries..

Let metaphysicians not be dismayed when their prophetic visions are mocked by the scientists and their league on the ground that those visions are not supported by facts: let them call on Kant for aid and let them tell scientists that their vaunted ‘facts’ are no more than interpretations of empty phenomena and that it is the metaphysicians and poets and artists who are in touch with the nounena of their unfathomable souls.

D. R. Khashaba

November 25, 2917

Posted to https://philosophia937.wordpress.com xnd http://khashaba.blogspot.com

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

A CONFESSIONAL


A CONFESSIONAL

D. R. Khashaba

An email from a dear philosopher-friend set me thinking, but every new line I went through evoked in my mind a question or more than one question. Of one, only one, thing I was certapn: that I had no answer to any of those questions. It occurred to me to put everything aside for a while to reflect.

I am ninety. Leaving aside my early childhood and leaving aside a not inconsiderable stretch of time when my circumstances were inimical to philosophical thinking, I can say that throughout my life I have been philosophizing, and what have I to show for all that? While writing these lines another thought occurred to me. For some time, especially since my ninetieth birthday a few weeks ago, I have been thinking of how best to make use of the days I still have to live. The thought that has just occurred to me is to start a confessional: daily (as far as possible) to devote some time to reflect, write down my reflections, and if they make up a book or booklet, then I should collect these reflections in book form and make it available with the rest of my books. But let not the reader expect anything exciting — the life I want to register in this confessional is the life of my thought, not –of my emotions or passions or happenings (except incidentally) that give autobiographical writings their relish.

Let me go back to the reflections I started with. What have I to show for my lifelong philosophizing? The one thing that I can affirm confidently, is that what we normally refer to as higher values – moral, aesthetic, intellectual – are what makes life worthwhile. All else is vanity of vanities. Perhaps it was such a thought that made Gautama the Buddha shun his luxurious palace life and wander with his followers preaching his insight; and it must have been this thought that made Tolstoy in his late years give up his wealth and choose to live a simple peasant life.

So this is the one thing I can affirm with confidence. Do I owe that to philosophy? Not wholly and not in the first place. The first seeds of my moral stance were planted at home in my early childhood. I had the great fortune of growing up in a loving family. Next I had the fortune of coming at an early age to come across Plato’s works and to admire Socrates. Hence I can say that philosophy consolidated my attachment to moral ideals, But at this point I would not be honest if I let my words give the impression that I live up to my ideals. In my life there were many negative influences. Hence I must make it plain that in saying that in my philosophy the one certain thing is that moral, aesthetic, and intellectual ideals are what gives life meaning and worth, I am speaking of my philosophical position and not of my person or my way of life.

In the message of my philosopher-friend that I mentioned at the beginning my friend more than once speaks of God. Now I have to state that if my attachment to philosophy consolidated the moral values I gained in my childhood, it had the contrary effect on my religious beliefs, primarily on any belief in God. I started questioning the Church teachings when I was about fourteen. First to drop was faith in the tales of the Old Testament. Next certain aspects of orthodox Christian morality were questioned. With my earliest tamperings with metaphysical thinking I came to see that any belief in a transcendent Creator is philosophically bankrupt. For a time I believed and asserted confidently that ultimate Reality must be intelligent and good. Further on my philosophical reflections convinced me that pure reason or purely theoretical thinking cannot answer any of our ultimate questionings. Yet though I no longer assert the intelligence and goodness as true of the actual world, yet I still hold that as the metaphysical vision in which I find satisfaction.

I accept Kant’s position: empirical science can only deal with the way things appear to us but cannot tell us about the ultimate nature of things. Pure reason too cannot tell us about the ultimate nature of things. Pure reason can only reflect on what Kant calls the Ideals of Reason. But Kant. to my mind, was inconsistent. He juggled with the Ideals of pure reason to ‘prove’ the existence of God and the immortality of the human soul.

I cannot attach any distinct meaning to the word God, unless we equate God with ultimate Reality. But again I say that neither empirical science nor metaphysical thinking can tell us about ultimate Reality.

Yet I do not throw metaphysical thinking overboard. I maintain that the Ideals of Pure Reason and the moral and aesthetic values give us a world of our own creation that enriches our life. I maintain that the idea of ultimate Reality, though we have no right to make it apply to the actual world, yet it gives our life coherence and value. In other words I maintain that as poets and artists dream and by their dreams enrich our life, so a Plato, a Spinoza, a Santayana, dream and by dreaming give us an ideal world we live in for a while just as we live in the worlds of Mozart, of Shakespeare, of Goethe.

Dear Reader, I said above that this would be the first of a series of such reflections. I already doubt that I will be able to keep that promise. And yet, who knows?

D. R. Khashaba

November 8, 2017

Posted to https://philosophia937.wordpress.com xnd http://khashaba.blogspot.com

TOPICS: MORAL VALUES, METAPHYSICS, GOD

Sunday, November 05, 2017

AI versus HUMANS


AI versus Humans

D. R. Khashaba

The Independent reports that “Stephen Hawking warns artificial intelligence 'may replace humans altogether.'” To my mind this is not what we should worry about nor should we worry about the related question if or when will ‘thinnking machines’ surpass humans in intelligence. Neither of these issues should be what we have to worry about and prepare for.

To begin with, we have to be clear as to what we mean by AI. We already have computers that make in seconds calculations that it takes Stephen Hawking hours to make. On the other hand, bees, birds, and many non-human animals make problem-solving feats that dazzle us. It is not that kind of ‘thinking’ in which we should take pride and which gives us our distinctive character as humans.

I said there are computers that beat Stephen Hawking in a specific kind of problem-solving but – and this is a most important but – it is Stephen Hawking that puts the question to the computer. The computer may even seem to do something on its own that keeps Hawking wondering how it was done, but the computer, having done its miracle, does not keep wondering how it did it. So this is one element among others that gives us our distinctive human character.

Then, we have values, even when they are corrupt and vicious values: we do something not because the total configuration of the physical world at that moment necessitares it but – another stupendous but – we want to do it, we will it.

The age of the ‘thinking machine’ is already with us. The questions we have to think about and prepare for are: (1) Who is to set the aims and ask the questions for which we seek answers? (2) What are the values we care for and want to preserve?

Unfortunately, while the world leaders and thinkers are busy planning and devising more and more destructive missiles and missiles to intercept missiles and while world leaders and thinkers instead of thinking about how to make a more sane and more just organization of the human family are only thinking about power grabbing and territory annexation and the next financial crisis

Nothing short of a revolution in human thinking and in the global world organization will save us from a robot-governed world whose sole aim and purpose is to reach the highest rate of production and consumption even if that involves numerous pockets of poverty, famine, and disease while elsewhere surplus food is destroyed and the pharmaceutical industry makes huge profits.

D. R. Khashaba

November 5, 2017

Posted to https://philosophia937.wordpress.com xnd http://khashaba.blogspot.com