CAN A COMPUTER THINK?
Our mighty scientists and technology wizards are too busy trying to make a thinking computer — too busy to give themselves pause to think and ask themselves the simple question about the difference between computation and thinking.
To think is to think creatively: not to solve a problem that has never been solved before, but to unravel a problem that has never been posed before.
Ever since the computer was first invented, technologists have been busy giving the computer greater and greater computational powers, that is, making machines that work according to more and more sophisticated rules, that can perhaps even mimic initiative, but that do not have the spontaneity that is inseparable of true subjectivity.
I do not consider it unreasonable that one day we might have a computer that will say, “I will have it thus!” But that will no longer be a machine but a person that has evolved out of its physical material, and though it will think, it will not think in obedience to the rules given it by its makers but creatively out of its own newly emergent inner reality, and though the technologists, as I see it, would have participated in occasioning the emergence of that person, they would not understand how it came about. They would not understand that until they acknowledge that what gives It the ability to think is that mysterious inner reality that makes them persons and that gives them the ability to think.
We might one day make a Thinker, just as we might one day make a living organism from ‘lifeless’ matter, but in either case we will only have prodded Mother Nature to evolve in a short span of time what it had previously evolved over aeons.
Now our scientists are busy trying to make a brain. It is a daunting task but, theoretically, not an impossible one. So let us say they will make a brain, simulating every bit and every beat of the human brain. Will that brain think? What kind of thought will it think? Or let them take out the brain of a human being – a vigorous young person who has been fatally injured or one that has been sentenced to death – and keep it artificially supplied with nutrition and oxygen. Will that brain think? What kind of thought will it think? To my mind, what thinks in a living human being is not the brain but the whole person, the totality of the living person.
You are free to think that what I have written here is nonsense, but nevertheless you would be wise to stop a while and consider what grain of insight (I purposely refrain from using the word ‘truth’ here) might be in it — but please don’t feed it into a computer: the computer will only give you back what you make it give you back.
Cairo, 22 May 2013.