Saturday, July 27, 2019

Selfless



- The 26 percent of the electorate who voted for our president, a man who last night the television comedian Steven Colbert called 'the worst man in the world', about 63 million people, apparently don't see his bad character.
- Advertising has taught people to associate consumer products with emotion, and to seek only good feeling in making their choice of politicians. The president uses ritual, telling his supporters they are weak and suffer from the attacks of an enemy hidden within, but together they will eradicate the enemy and once again be strong. The president's supporters don't care to listen to anyone but him, believing him when he says journalists are liars and his enemies, so are not aware he is one of the elites he promised to save them from.
- But the novelty of the campaign product they bought should have long ago worn off, and ritual rallies don't happen every day. Why aren't they experiencing buyer's remorse? Why don't they wake up to the president's astonishingly bad character? Why don't they wake up to his lying, bullying, sexual assaults, his cheating, his ignorance? It's true these 63 million Americans have been deceived by a con artist, their attention diverted from noticing his bad character, but must not they have had bad character themselves long before not to have woken up to him by now? Only a person with bad character can fail to notice bad behavior in others when no attempt is made to hide it, it is out in the open.
- Seems to me we've been through all this before.
- I want to look at it from another angle, that of research into artificial intelligence. And yes, we've been a little into this too.* Experts claimed, some of them, that studying how computers work will help us understand how human beings think. Other experts claimed the reverse: studying how people think will help us make smarter computers.
- And?
- Those who wanted to make computers work in ways like it was supposed we think were ignored, while those who wanted to see people in terms of a computer's logic, symbols, models predominated. The logic, symbols and model's camp failed to make much progress and ultimately were forced to admit defeat and went over to the other side. The other side used what's called an intuitive approach, in which numerous attempts were made in many different situations, and the success or failure taken into account to adapt the subsequent attempts. Success if it came did not bring with it any model of how that success was achieved: you learn to ride a bike by practice, without having a model, without being able to say what posture, leanings, pedal force was required in which circumstances. The ideas of the philosopher Hubert Dreyfus, a phenomenologist, were used to successfully teach a robot to locate its position in relation to objects it was to manipulate by the programmer taking physically hold of the robot's arm and guiding it through the motions required. Dreyfus warned the logic, symbols and models camp they wouldn't get far. He was ostracized. Most prominent among the symbols, logic and models camp was Marvin Minsky at MIT. He is said to have single-handedly been responsible for more than a decade's delay in progress in AI. In his book Society of Mind he wrote that we are made up of thousand of little minds, that is, little programs arranged in hierarchies, with the top level supervisory programs - programs like play, sleep, speak -  competing with each other for precedence. And supervising these top level programs or minds were models unconsciously acquired from authority figures in our childhood who laid down the law about when and how much to work, play, speak. These outside imposed programs also didn't always succeed in holding control, for though top level they are only a few programs to be executed among thousands.
- Who is executing all these programs?
- Programs are turned on and off by other programs.
- No one is in charge?
- No one. For Marvin Minsky the self is an illusion. A person doesn't have a self any more than a computer does. And further: emotions are faulty thoughts. Love is not something special about human beings, distinguishing life from mechanism. Love is merely a thinking that has been deprived of critical sense. Since love can be defined as a kind of thought process it is not different in kind than the thought process a computer has. If you said to Minsky, as many people did, that being a kind of thought didn't stop an emotion from also being more than a thought, to have other qualities, he missed the point, couldn't see it. If you said love often involves fear of loss, how is that fear a thought? He would reply that fear is a recognition that a thought would likely be interrupted, that tasks would not easily be completed.
- He didn't have much choice. He couldn't very well believe in the reality of emotion and have those thousands of little minds or computer programs making emotional demands on each other.
- Take away from this bit of AI history a dominant view that human beings have no self and no emotions, and let's return to our president. His supporters are bored with their presidential good feeling choice, and campaign rituals are not everyday things. But the supporters have modeled themselves on computers, or rather, been educated by popular culture to model themselves on computers. They have emotions, but emotions mean less than nothing, mean defective thinking and shouldn't be allowed to have consequence in the competition between minds going on within themselves subject also to outside demands which they themselves are only partially in control of: demands to get a job, make money, find a mate. In the course of meeting those top level demands coming from outside and all the inside ones too, thousands of them, how could anyone keep to the truth, be consistent in life, have principles, show discipline, encourage one's better feelings and restrain the worse?
- So you think the president's 63 million supporters think of themselves as fundamentally incoherent, a collection of selves competing for command and obscurely guided from without, which is to say they have no character, and couldn't care less that the president has also no character.
- Yes.
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