Wednesday, May 22, 2013



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.


Blogger tim candler said...

So good to have you back writing for Let Us Philosophize.

12:52 PM  
Blogger Charles Camilleri said...

Yes it is nice to see you back

3:13 AM  
Blogger fremowolf said...

(130530) : What is thinking ?

Heidegger said of his first official pupil, Karl Loewith, when Loewith was a famous professor of philosophy already : "He cannot think !"

What did Heidegger mean by this ? He meant that thinking is a sort of awareness of one's own situation as a free thinking being in the world. For Heidegger thinking was a sort of "illuminating" the environment, shedding light on it by paying attention to it. Thus he used the image of a clearing ("lichtung") in a dense wood. By thinking we create a clearing in the dense wood of an otherwise dark reality. Our brain is shining a (Platonic) light on the world around. So far this seems to be what neither animals nor robots can do. They have no inner image of the wider and the invisible reality.

What is "invisible reality" ? F.i. we do not see the future nor the past, and neither do we see the laws of nature with our physical eyes. But we see them with our "inner" oder "spiritual" eyes of our imagination (creating images). And we live and think and act to a large degree in these imaginary world of invisible realities.

Thus when Heidegger said of Loewith "he doesn't think" he was saying "he keeps reality at bay by analyzing it. He doesn't make us wonder what the world is all about, he doesn't make us feel strange nor at home in the world."

This is a comment on "thinking is not problem-solving" in the way mathematicians and engineers and strategists etc. are solving problems.

9:45 AM  
Blogger tim candler said...

I'm inclined to the idea that we are not the only creatures that create images. How we do it I have no clue. Have to suspect sometimes that it's a property of living things, rather than a purely human capacity. In which case, I am tempted to think a blue green algae is less like Loewith than he is like Heidegger. But maybe I am wrong, and cats don't dream.

12:20 PM  
Blogger fremowolf said...

We cannot ignore content. Surely cats and dogs dream and thus "see images". But as somebody who has worked on image processing robots I know that it needs quite a lot of memory to process images. Thus insects will not do it, while cats and dogs and other higher animals can.

Humans can go far beyond that. They can design (!) images of the past and the future and of theories and of mythical worlds full of gods and strange monsters etc.. Thus our human world is very much more complex and richer than that of cats and dogs.

Our human problem is to tell apart those images that represent something real and meaningful from those images that represent only wild fancies without much value.

But images can be of symbolic truth and by this of much value, even if not in the everyday sense "real". This would be consistent with Platonic "mythical truth" as with that of (f.i.) C.G.Jung and religious symbols.

7:28 AM  
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