Artificial Wisdom

Turing’s imitation game confounds the difference between servile and non-servile activities. The machines that drill, weave, or run addition algorithms are doing the same sort of thing as the human beings who were tasked with the drudgery or swinging hammers, weaving, or computing sums, but a computer that beats grandmasters at chess isn’t doing what the grandmaster is doing. Deep Blue won by running n-possible outcomes ahead and picking the highest probability path while grandmasters win by abductive reasoning, taking risks, looking for strategies, playing the man, etc. The grandmaster isn’t compensating for an inability to visualize n-moves ahead either – he already knows that the overwhelming number of possible are foolish or pointless. For that matter, I’d already know not to sacrifice the queen on the third move, but if it’s a possible option the computer will faithfully spend a few nanoseconds computing its probability. Why not? So long as you can consider 107 moves per second you can waste some time with all the idiotic ones.

So far as all we care about is winning the game, chess is quasi-servile and mechanical. In this sense, Deep Blue wins. But so far as we also marvel at the shrewdness of a grandmaster and his power to abductively hit on effective paths, as opposed to stumbling on them by the brute force of considering a hundred million possible paths, Deep Blue and the grandmaster aren’t even competing.

Why value shrewdness? Because we know that actual minds face an indefinite and infinite chaos that make shrewdness and wisdom necessary to find one’s way forward. Prudence is the heart of the human virtues and is dedicated to confronting just this undefined chaos. While the brute force of computing power can do marvels in defined circumstances, prudence does not have the luxury of objects that are well-enough defined to allow us to move forward by any amount of brute force.



Larkin’s anaesthetic

If mind has no activity in anesthesia, being comatose, being asleep, etc. then how can it have activity after death? 

Divide human life on three axes: (a) eating/reproducing, or any assimilation or division that gives rise to life (b) The physical assimilation of objects and (c) the non-physical assimilation of objects. Height and width are analogous to physical life, depth to intellectual life.

It is possible for physical life to continue with sensation taken to an absolute minimum, whether from dormition, brain damage, general anesthesia, etc. So long as physical life continues (and it will continue uninterrupted on axis-a) things on axis-c have to respect the total absence of sense data. Life on the intellectual dimension must be one reflecting zero sense input.

But if axis-c survives the cessation of physical life it is no longer describable as lacking sense data any more than a straight line can be described as lacking a perpendicular but is just what it is, and nothing more (De anima III.5.) A single straight line is not the same thing as a cartesian co-ordinate system with a Y value of zero.

After death, mind is not what it is in anesthesia or sleep. Larkin’s description of death as The anaesthetic from which none come round conflates the privation of sensation with the negation of sensation, which is the same thing as confusing, say, lacking a steering wheel (which is almost always a serious problem) with not having a steering wheel (which can be said even of God).


Lucas on Gödel’s proof

Summary of the second paragraph here.

Thesis: In any formal system* there exists a proposition that (a) is not provable in a formal system and (b) we can know to be true. 

1.) Given any formal system, let proposition (P) be this formula is unprovable in the system

2.) If P is provable, a contradiction occurs.

3.) Therefore, P is known to be unprovable.

4.) If P is known to be unprovable it is known to be true.

5.) Therefore, P is (a) unprovable in a system and (b) known to be true.

*sufficient to give us arithmetic.

Fundamental and transitional explanations

Physics reduces things to conserved quantities, and so tells us how we can get an effect given a cause of the same kind, although all “cause” and “effect” mean is that the action we have now is the latest manifestation of the same action earlier.

By “action” physics means includes both actual and potential actions. Energy is one because all its modes are capable of moving an object over some distance, though capable could be either actually or potentially. In general, a quantity is conserved because we unify what it has done or is doing (its act) which what it can do (its potency). This gives us a conflicting relationship to time. On the one hand the only thing that makes the conserved quantity causal is its priority of being distinct in time; on the other hand we define the conserved quantity in a way that unites what it is as what it will do, which requires uniting all its actions in time.

Physics is a way of explaining physical actions given physical actions just as the theory of evolution is a theory of explaining life given life. Just as the problem of abiogenesis is pre-evolutionary the problem of the initiation of physical motion is pre-physical. Biology will play a role in explaining the origin of life even though it is a pre-biological question, and physics is in the same boat on the question of the origin of physical motion.

The basic axiom in play is that giving the origin of X is a hybrid problem on the border of the science of X. The borderline is marked by a moment when explanation ceases to be proper to a discourse but becomes somehow more fundamental, which is how most understand the origin of life from physics.

It’s an open question, however, whether physics is more explanatorily fundamental than biology. If the best physics can do is say that life is some happy accident of physical activity we haven’t explained life but merely defined it as an accident of a system with no structural relationship to the production of living things.


The “substance” in substance dualism and its denial

Substance dualism is meant to be a theory of thought, but how does it work as a theory of substance?

Both the theory and its critics seem to assume mind is a substance since it is a subject of properties or performs operations. Socrates, however, would be a substance for the same reason, so we get a Socrates/ mind-of-Socrates substance dualism even if we are materialists.

Or not. Assuming materialism wants to avoid a matter/emergent Socrates substance dualism, it can always just deny that Socrates or mind are substances. The only subject of properties is matter, with both Socrates and mind being accidents of these basic building blocks. Which accident is Socrates? Maybe position? Relation? Just arrange matter in the right order and you can frankenstein yourself any Socrates you want, right? So Socrates is the relation of substances arranged Socrates-wise.

Somewhere along the way, however, the definition of substance shifted. It started out as a subject of action but it came to mean any smallest part of some acting whole. Assuming we’re not speaking past each other, at some point we took it as axiomatic that the actions of wholes are nothing beyond the actions of their parts. 

It follows that an ultimate or complete analysis of things would reduce them to partless realities. But – and this is the crucial point – if analysis gives us substance it hits something ultimate. And so any analysis of physical things into substance cannot be into an extended body but only into Leibnizian monads, i.e. into substantial forms.

Materialism is in one sense right that Socrates and mind are not substances, but they’re wrong that entities with mass, charge, motion, inertia, etc. could serve as the substance of things. More exactly, matter can serve as substance only when appropriated by form, though this appropriation is probably made so as to constitute the whole that arises from the combination of the formal and material parts. And so substance, as Aristotle shows in Metaphysics Z, is first of all substantial form, then matter, then the composite of the two.


Heidegger through the problem of universals

1.) Put Heidegger’s fundamental thesis like this: metaphysics is the study of the Being of beings, not simply beings. Understand this to mean that all metaphysics has failed since its ultimate explanation of things was some version of “this being is explained by that one”. Plato explained the sense world by relating to the world of forms, Aristotle explained the physical world by relating it to thought-thinking-itself, Hegel explained the historical world by relating it to Spirit or Idea, etc.

2.) Epistemology repeats this problem by explaining objects though ideas, though this dispute cannot be insulated from metaphysics since it rests on a metaphysical distinction between object-stuff and subject-stuff, between objects of thought and the universals or forms. This repeats the same mistake of thinking that explanation relates one thing to another.

3.) Make a fresh start. When you learned numbers by looking at numbers of objects, in one sense you learned something new since the object you come to learn is different from the entities in which it is exemplified. But in another sense it is not another object since getting the idea of two from looking at a bunch of pairs doesn’t feel like changing the subject. It feels like seeing more deeply into the pairs. Insight is not seeing another object, that one sees as “the universal” which he might then choose to relate to “the particular” that he saw first in time. Insight is en-lightenment of things, or the lighting-up of objects.

4.) Being is therefore not a universal but the lighting-up of beings. For that matter, “Number” is not a universal but the lighting-up of numbers of things nor is “Man” some universal abstracted man but the light that shines within the individual persons in our experience.

5.) If we take the problem of universals as how to relate one world to another, Heidegger is answering the question in a radical way. Neither being nor understanding can consists in a relation to something. Heidegger preserves and even generalizes Nietzsche’s fundamental thesis that the world is not to be related to an unseen world of abstractions, ideas, Laws of Nature, or God.

6.) Heidegger deepens Nietzsche’s atheism. For Nietzsche, the fundamental mistake is to relate reality or the objects of thought to an unseen world, and so all unseen worlds are seen as mistaken. Heidegger makes the mistake so profound as to even allow for a sort of religion, though one of which metaphysics would be completely non-cognizant. When we stop talking about metaphysics to dance around the maypole, sacrifice a goat, walk in a torchlight procession or fall down in worship we are not simply extending our metaphysical speculations by, say, recognizing some world that was acknowledged or even denied in our theories.

7.) Onto-theology fails for the same reason the problem of universals does, not just because explanation-by-relation is wrong but because, more deeply, all discourse is radically finite. We cannot extend philosophical insight over the all possible discourse. The lighting up that makes metaphysics possible cannot be carried over to religious discourse, whether to affirm it or deny it. as Heidegger put it late in life, if he wrote a book of theology it would not mention “being” once.



Flesh in Paul

On the one hand Paul opposes flesh (σάρξ) to spirit, and in doing so he draws on a tradition stretching back to Genesis 6:3 “[God’s] spirit will not abide in man forever, for he is also flesh”. On the other hand, Paul also opposes flesh to stone, as in 2 Cor. 3:3

You show that you are a letter from Christ, delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on fleshy (σάρκινος) tablets.

Here too Paul is drawing on a tradition stretching back at least to Ezekiel 36, with its prophesy of replacing the heart of stone with a heart of flesh.

This is in line with Augustine’s argument that “flesh” means simply “human persons” in Scripture, and so flesh in its opposition to Spirit is the person divided against God, giving rise to a consequent division of persons against each other and of one person against himself (cf. Gal. 5:17). Nevertheless, even the most remote union of the person with the Father is man’s “coming to himself” (εἰς ἑαυτὸν) since the fulfillment of the covenant is in the flesh and not on stone or in writing.

2 Cor. 3 marks the place where scripture itself reveals that the “letter from Christ” is the renewal, purgation, and sanctification of man, i.e. of the flesh. The suggestion is that just as the new covenant fulfills the old, so too the sanctification of man/flesh is the fulfillment of the whole scripture.

The ingrafting and apostasy of the nations

Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, 26 and in this way all Israel will be saved.

Rom. 11: 25.

[T]hat day will not come until the apostasy (ἀποστασία) occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction.

2 Thess. 2:3

The fulness of the gentiles thus presages the great apostasy and revelation of Antichrist. Westerners are tempted to see the fulness as achieved and the apostasy setting in, but this is pretty clearly eurocentrism. The demographic consensus is that the last two hundred years have seen the largest ever increase in global Christianity alongside the falling away of Western Christianity. Bruce Shelley, for example, points out that only 10% of the 109 million persons in the Africa of 1900 were Christian, but now 47% of of their 1.2 billion persons are, with a population expected to quadruple by the end of this century.

So is the widespread apostasy of the West only the first stage of the ingrafting and falling away of the Gentiles? Will it run its course all over again in the global south? Perhaps in God’s calendar it is now AD 150 in Africa and Asia, and a small group of devout religious are experiencing massive increases of numbers while the old world grows decadent and loses its will to reproduce itself. Will we run through it all over again with a new Constantine, Gregory the Great, Charlemagne, Christendom, Scholasticism, Reformation, Enlightenment, Revolution, Liberalization, Apostasy? Could we stand to wait through all the centuries of real time that it takes to say that list?

Something like this is the closest I can get to the horror of Christ’s vision on the Mount of Olives. Only he could stand to look at our whole history and then confront the horror that, at the end of it, it will happen all over again.

Or maybe it’s just that I can’t stand the thought that the West might  be dead to the faith during the time of the African and Asian ingrafting. Since I don’t think permanent irreligion is on the menu of human options, this means confronting the possibility that all the great cathedrals will be handed over to whatever blasphemy we stumble into, though we might be converted all over again only to stumble into a more global apostasy the next time.  Either way leads to the same punctum crucis, since only God could stand to look at this and forebear from wiping out the whole sad mess.


A defense of biologism

Say Aristotle is is guilty of biologism, or of understanding being through the lens of living being. What can be said for this approach to metaphysics? What if we don’t distort existence by seeing it through life, but see it more clearly?

Thesis: Seeing all existence through life foregrounds the reality of substantial form, and it is only through substantial form that we can preserve the reality of familiar substances (men, cows, trees) and the physical parts into which we might resolve them (elements, etc.)

A body can be either living or not and so life is some kind of form, structure, or organization in a body. But death is the end of the  substance that once lived, and so life cannot be an accident. Life as life is substantial as opposed to being an a quality or position of parts or order of substances. (“Soul” is a synonym for “life”, and one can use the words interchangeably.)

Life demands something substantial that is not a complete substance. It demands substantial form, which we can understand only by seeing its likeness to accident though denying that it can be in any genus of accident.

Substantial forms are prior to a complete substance because they are the source of any complete substance, and they are prior to matter since, unlike accidental form, they are not derived from the possibility of some given complete substance (like bronze or clay or wood).

Life forces the ontological primacy of substantial form as the principle of existence. The natural world is not limited to being what one finds at the limits of physical analysis (like one visualizes atoms) but can also be the real being that one so divides up (like a horse or mass of water). This ontological primacy of substantial form is what Aristotle is trying to show in a general way in the early chapters of Metaphysics VII.


The kingdom is within you

Responding to the question of how they will recognize the Kingdom of God when it comes, Christ says

Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.

Lk. 17: 21

“Within you” can also be translated as “among you” or “in your midst”, though the last two invite confusion since our first ideas of things that are in our midst are things that we can actually describe by saying “lo, they are here!” which is exactly what Christ wants to rule out.  The kingdom of God could not be “in our midst” the way that a thief might be but in a way that a feeling of anticipation might be in our midst. So “within you” it is.

The Coptic and (some) Greek manuscripts add an additional line “if the kingdom were in heaven, the birds would be there before you; if the kingdom were in the sea, the fishes would be there before you.” The kingdom is not “here or there” because it is not simply a place. This does not mean it is necessarily disembodied: a bird might wander into a worship space before any human beings were there, but it could not enter into the worship before the humans were there – in fact, it can never wander into it at all. Still, worship and adoration are often physical and even public acts, and even find their fulfillment in being so.

Seen from this angle it is clear how the kingdom is both within us and in out midst. Worship, prayer, adoration and thanksgiving would be the paradigm.

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