You Think What You Are

My latest at Eclectica:

DaVinci's The Vitruvian Man (c. 1485)

We think that we think with our prefrontal lobes, our so-called conscious mind. But it ain’t so. We think with our entire body. That’s why the idea that Artificial Intelligence or computers could replace us is absurd. Unless we made a computer out of material and in a form identical to the flesh-and-blood ones we already have—in which case it would be human—AI can never replace us….

About Thomas J. Hubschman

Thomas J. Hubschman is the author of Look at Me Now, My Bess, Song of the Mockingbird, Billy Boy, Father Walther’s Temptation, The Jew’s Wife & Other Stories and three science fiction novels. His work has appeared in New York Press, The Antigonish Review, Eclectica, The Blue Moon Review and many other publications. Two of his short stories were broadcast on the BBC World Service.

Posted on October 20, 2018, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Luella Gardiner

    Very refreshing to see an expressed point of view that acknowledges and even celebrates the essence of what distinguishes us from other species and non-sentient entities.

    • I am a little surprised that you see something I hadn’t even though about when I wrote the article. My first reaction is to deny there is anything specific to humans about the way we experience things. Other animals and plants have different physiologies from us, so they would experience their own versions of “thought” differently, I suppose, but I would think mammals must do so in a roughly common way.

      The idea is that we think with our entire body, so to the extent anything has a “body,” even if it has no legs or lives in the darkest reaches of the ocean or takes its nutrients out of the air, it experiences what it experiences with its entire self, cognition included.

  2. Tom, you are exploring a topic I have thought about since I was a graduate student and first began to think about what psychologists call “the mind-body problem”.

    And so the following thoughts are by no means certainties but questions in response to some of the things you have written here, and I would be most interested in your own assessments.

    You say that Time is a human construct, that without living organisms it does not exist. In support of this, you say that stars & rocks don’t experience time. But for time to be real, why is it necessary for stars & rocks to be able to experience it? There are all sorts of things which we assume exist that we ourselves cannot experience. Yes, our understanding of time is anthropomorphic, as is everything else. Even, as you suggest, those things which we consider “objective.” Our knowledge of anything can take place only within the capacities of human abilities. But I can’t see that it follows that just because we can’t experience something that it doesn’t exist. Am I missing something you are saying?

    In relation to robots and other systems based on AI, I agree wholeheartedly that they are not, and can never replace a real human. And I totally agree that there is something heartbreaking about convincing people that they are being served and cared for by a fellow human, when in truth it is an AI system. I even get annoyed at telephone answering systems that are set up to sound like real people.

    But what scares me about AI is not that they could replace us, but that they could destroy us.
    We are already aware that trash is destroying the land, air, and sea environments we need to survive and could lead to our extinction. We are already using AI to make our weapons more effective. Could we not, either deliberately or accidentally create robots, etc. that set out to eliminate us all?

    On this cheerful note, I do look forward to any further thoughts you may have on this subject.

  3. Thanks, Terry, for your thoughtful comments. I’m flattered to have my musings taken seriously by a professional like yourself.

    Time: My idea is that time is not even an indirectly “objective” reality that we experience as a model in our brains as we do light, sound, etc. It’s one more step removed and is entirely a construct of our brains, useful for catching trains or estimating the age of the universe but bearing no other reality or existence beyond our gray matter. (Of course I’m talking about time in the ordinary sense of the word; I suspect physicists mean something different when they insert it into their formulas, but I can’t speak to that.) Time is the perception of a relationship of motion between two objects. But it’s a construct, like sight, i.e. a model, only as I say it’s one more step removed from “the thing itself” (if there were such a “thing in itself”, and I say there ain’t).

    This is hard to find words for, not just because of my own limited abilities but because all thinking and language is based on practical experience and that doesn’t involve understanding this sort of thing beyond practicality.

    It doesn’t matter that we don’t really see or hear anything “as it is” but only a model constructed by our brain out of photons and waves. Realizing this, had we been able to, would have had no value for our evolutionary process, anymore than it does for a moose or a rhododendron. And the ability to do abstract thinking is limited anyway by the scope and limits of our human brains.

    We deal with this sort of thing all the time — I mean models or constructs that we come up with because they are useful without being “real” and never give them a second thought. Consider common nouns. Only the individual exists in our experience, the individual car or face, but to represent that reality in language we would have to use nothing but proper nouns. Any child on seeing a car identical to the one her father drives will point and say, “Daddy’s car!” We have to learn to pretend that there is commonality or identification of objects, at least for some purposes. And it works…until it doesn’t.

    How do I know this? I don’t. I “see” it. It dawned on me when I was a teenager, i.e. that time does not exist, and the idea has been developing in me ever since. You could say I “imagine” it. But that’s just another way of saying I “see” it, in my mind, imagining cold rocks in space with no sentient being there to apprehend them.

    “Race” is another construct that takes on the force of a reality. There is no significant difference among members of the human species. But we in America grow up taking for granted that there is: “black” and “white.” And then it might as well be a biological fact.

    AI: I recently got an iPad. You can give it voice commands and it responds in the sex and national accent of your choice. You can say, “Play me the second Brandenburg concerto conducted by George Szell.” She (I chose female, Australian) does so or tells you she has provided a list from the Internet to choose from.

    But I’m not used to giving commands to strangers. I’m uneasy having someone in to clean once a month. I get nervous being waited on in restaurants. I say thank you too much for fear of not saying it enough. Besides, I started to realize that giving a command even to a computer that responds in a human voice changes me in a way I don’t like. So, I started saying thank you to it (her). I feel silly doing so, but better than if I didn’t do so. She responds with a cheerful, “You’re welcome!” or “Sure!” And I feel happy for her cheerful acknowledgement. So, I especially fear AI because I would be one of those people who become attached to their robot, perhaps seriously so.

  4. The fact that everything we experience is filtered through our human capabilities, and that we can never experience anything in a totally “objective” way dawned on you as a teenager. It didn’t occur to me until as a graduate student I was taking a philosophy course including Kant, who basically says this.

    At the same time, I realized that we have no way of knowing whether anything we are experiencing has any reality. There is no way can prove that it’s not a dream. Science does the next best thing and insists that scientific research should be replicated. This not only is meant to be a safeguard against conscious fraud, but against mistakes in observation.

    But as Kant argued, we still have simply to assume that we aren’t each living in a dream, and that any one of us might wake up and find out that “reality” was merely a dream.

    Well, that would be one solution to what looks like a very scary world to be living in these days!

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