D. R. Khashaba

Luciano Floridi has published a highly interesting paper in The New Atlantis titled “Why Information Matters”: Central to Professor Floridi’s paper is a lucid discussion of Alan Turing’s contribution to Information science and of his famous imitation game. Over many years I have written repeatedly on the ‘Alan Turing Question’ and my first impulse on looking at Professor Floridi’s paper was to revert once more to the question of thinking machines. But as I read on I found that a wider discussion of points raised by the paper is called for.
First I have to register a reservation. Professor Floridi defines the field of his academic work as Philosophy of Information. For two decades, from 1998 when I published my first book when I was past seventy, I have been emphasizing that the failure to completely separate philosophy and science is causing grievous error on all sides. Professor Floridi’s discipline is an important and much needed new branch of science. Let us call it Information Science or Information Theory or Theory of Information Science or invent for it a new name. To call it Philosophy, I am afraid, not only magnifies and enforces the damaging confusion of science and philosophy but further consolidates the detrimental displacement of genuine philosophy by science. Indeed all the remarks and objections I shall be advancing in this paper focus on claims that this science deals with philosophical questions which no science as science can approach.
Alan Turing devised his ‘imitation game’ (‘Turing Test’) to test artificial intelligence. Let me remark marginally that intelligence in one sense of the word, the intelligence that can be tested and measured, is neither peculiar to humans nor is it what makes humans human nor again is it what is best in humans. I need not give examples of feats performed by birds and insects that humans and their present-day computers would find difficult to imitate.
In Turing’s imitation game a human being and a computer play a game in which “certain variables (are set) in a rules-based scenario that is easily implementable and controllable”. I maintain that this rules out all that is specifically human. Questions are put simultaneously to the human being and the computer. “If after a reasonable amount of time you cannot tell which is the human and which the computer, then the computer has passed the test — that is, the computer is at least as good as the human in providing answers to the questions you asked.” But what questions? Clearly the questions asked have to be limited to ones relating to, let me say, ‘informational content’. You cannot bring in emotions or ideals or principles unless you have fed the computer with the answers in advance. This is not a fault in Turing’s project. He only wanted to test artificial intelligence. But we can seriously err when we permit ourselves to speak of ‘answering philosophical questions’.
Floridi writes: “By suggesting the imitation game, Turing specified a level of abstraction for asking a complex question about the capability of computers”. The idea of ‘levels of abstraction’ is fundamental in Floridi’s approach and it is this ‘level of abstraction’ that turns a philosophical question into a scientific question by sealing off all subjectivity. When I speak of Turing;s Fallacy I mean the inadvertent infiltration of the objective into the subjective domain.
Floridi says that computer science and its technological applications “have cast new light on who we are and how we are related to the world”. I will put my view briefly since this is a subject on which I have already written often and extensively. In my view, ‘who we are’ will always be determined by the idea we form for ourselves of who we are; our relation to the world likewise will be significantly determined by our interpretation of phenomena, by the vision we form for ourselves of the world. These are strictly philosophical questions. Science can examine our physical, chemical, biological, physiological makeup, but this is not who we are. Who we are is our internal reality and what we make ourselves to be by our ideals, values, aims, principles: these are created by the mind, within the mind. Science can study their objective manifestations but not their inner reality.
Floridi goes on to say that “we are not the only smart agents able to carry out complex tasks. Our computers are often better than we are at dealing with information.” Can the information be dealt with without there being an end towards which the dealing is directed? Feed a computer with as much information as you will: without specifying the goal, the purpose to be served, the information is inert. Even for inferring the product of an arithmetical sum, you have to feed in the question to be answered. (Pardon my clumsy formulation; I confess my ignorance but am confident that what I am saying makes sense if taken in goodwill.) What Kant said of Nature, that it will not give you an answer unless you put the question to it, applies with more force to the computer. Or shall we leave our computers to determine the direction and the goal? So when he further goes on to say that “we see ourselves increasingly as informationally embodied organisms”, I can only say, that this again leaves out purposes and values. That is why I shudder when Professor Floridi so nonchalantly takes computers to be ‘agents’: this conceals serious moral and practical implications that have to be scrutinized.
Speaking of the consequences of Turing’s ‘fourth revolution’ (after Copernicus, Darwin, and Freud) Floridi says: “Turing has changed our philosophical anthropology as much as Copernicus, Darwin, and Freud.” These four are great scientists, but what effect their work has had on our view of ourselves was extraneous to their scientific agenda as might be the effect of a plague or a natural catastrophe. The assessment, evaluation, and, if necessary, correction of that effect is the business of philosophical thinking. Floridi seems to acknowledge this when he goes on to say that “philosophers now face the task of how best to understand ourselves in this new era.” But I have to insist that the only way to understand ourselves is to probe our inner reality inwardly, subjectively, not to study its objective concomitants and manifestations.
In the final section of his paper Professor Floridi draws an inventory of the benefits of Information. I wanted to pass this inventory by but could not resist making a brief rejoinder at certain points:
Floridi: “Information is, in a way, the Cinderella in the history of philosophy.”
Khashaba: Philosophy proper has nothing to do with obtaining or engendering information or objective knowledge but only and wholly with meanings and values and purposes.
F.: “Logic … today … is also if not mainly a question of information extraction …”
Kh.: Logic was always a science and a non-essential accessory of philosophy.
F.: “Ontology, the study of the nature of being, would be meaningless without informational patterns — real, virtual, necessary, possible, or even impossible.”
Kh.: Here we have the common confusion of the metaphysical notion of being or reality with the physical notion. Science is only competent to deal with physical ‘reality’ but has no access to metaphysical reality.
F.: “The philosophy of mind needs informational mental states”.
Kh.: The so-called ‘philosophy’ of mind is the worst of all impostors. There is a science of the brain and the workings of the brain and there is the pseudo-science of psychology but the mind and the psyche can only be probed subjectively and that does not yield factual knowledge (‘informatuon’) but insight into our proper inner reality. Likewise there is science of the body and of living organisms but there is no science of Life.
F.: “…the philosophy of language without communication of information is pointless. Any philosophy of the logos is a philosophy of information”.
Kh.: The ambiguity of the word logos is a trap. If we mean ‘speech’ we can say there is a science of speech; if we mean ‘reason’ this, in one sense, is the concern of philosophy.
F.: “Christian philosophy of religion is inconceivable without the informational concept of revelation.”
Kh.: I confess myself nonplussed. Are we to take “the informational concept of revelation” as a scientifically validated objective fact?!
F.: “To paraphrase Molière, Western philosophy has been speaking informationally without knowing it for twenty-five centuries.”
Kh.: How gratifying to know that Plato’s Form of the Good or ‘tokos en kalôi’ or Socrates’ ‘it is never right to return harm for harm’ is informational!
F.: Baconian-Galilean project of reading and manipulating the alphabet of the universe has begun to be fulfilled
Kh: And this, without proper philosophical understanding, will spell our doom.
To sum up: We are deluged by oceans of information. The interpretation and understanding of that information is the business not of science but of philosophy (and not Professoe Floridi’s kind of ‘philosophy’). When science completes its usurpation of the rightful role of philosophy that will be the end of humanity.
D. R. Khashaba
March 27, 2017
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D. R. Khashaba

It is commonly believed that science explains things and makes us understand things and scientists themselves strongly foster that belief. There would be no harm in that belief if it did not obliterate another notion of explanation and understanding of a radically different nature and of the highest importance for humanity.
In certain areas it comes very naturally that we speak of explaining and understanding. Primitive peoples were amazed and frightened when an eclipse of sun or moon occurred. They attributed the puzzling event to supernatural causes. Then astronomers explained how a solar or lunar eclipse happens and we have come to see that as a natural happening in the course of nature. William Harvey in the seventeenth century explained the circulation of the blood. Louis Pasteur in the nineteenth century explained microbial fermentation. These are instances where we find it natural to speak of explaining and understanding.
Let us go back to sun, moon, planets, and stars. The Babylonians and Egyptians observed the movements of the ‘heavenly bodies’ and recorded their regularities. Thales in the sixth century BC, probably making use of Babylonian records, predicted a solar eclipse. Ptolemy fashioned a model representing the movements of the sun and planets, taking the earth as the centre. Copernicus presented a more satisfactory model, taking the sun as the centre. All of these observed and represented, but none of them claimed to know why the ‘heavenly bodies\ moved as they did.
Then came Newton. Newton found a formula the application of which enables us to calculate the movements of the earth, moon, planets, and other bodies to a satisfactory degree of accuracy. Why do they move that way? Newton’s formula enables us to predict the course a body would take in its motion. But why does it do that? Newton formulated ‘laws’ of motion. We deceive ourselves if we think that those ‘laws’ explain anything. They only describe how we find things actually behave. But why do bodies move? When we move things we make an effort. Newton imagined that behind the movement of bodies there must be some kind of effort or force. He called that unknown thing gravitation but he frankly confessed he had no idea about its nature. We might say that ‘the force of gravitation’is Newton’s translation of his formula into the language of our sensuous experience.
Came Einstein. He found equations and formulas that enable us to calculate at a more satisfactory degree of accuracy. Why do bodies move that way? Einstein said the ‘cause’ is not gravity but the curvature of space. Do we know what space is in the first place? Is there objectively such a thing as space? Or is space simply the geometrical relations between things? If there were no things would there be space? Is the space curved or do the bodies cause space to curve? These questions have no answer because we are simply talking about what we do not know. Einstein’s notion of the curvature of space is Einstei’s translation of his equations into the language of human sensuous experience.
‘Gravity’, ‘force’, space’, ‘time’, are conceptual fictions which we find it useful to work with. Those who talk of ‘laws of nature that govern the universe’ are deceived by language. They picture the universe after the model of a human society governed by laws. Not that Einstein himself was so deceived, but scientists of the highest rank are taken in by such fictions. Wittgenstein’s insight is lost on them: “At the basis of the whole modern view of the world lies the illusion that the so-called laws of nature are the explanations of natural phenomena.” (Tractatus, 6.371)
I said above that Newton’s gravitation and Einstein’s space curvature are translations into the language of our own sensuous experience. When we move things we make an effort or use force. Some moderns don’t even have any use for the notion of force. Things move because the law of inertia says so. All things happen in obedience to the laws formulated by scientists, or rather by the god Science. They are so taken in by the practical utility of these laws that they have no need for any understanding beyond that. They fancy that the laws explain everything. So that we find even Bertrand Russell – who was not only exceptionally intelligent but was also highly alive to things human – saying that we have no need for the notion of ‘cause’: the laws of nature suffice. (“On the Notion of Cause”)
When we move things we apply force, but when we move ourselves, when I walk, when I raise my hand, when I take up my cup of coffee, I need no exterior explanation for these movements. This is the only inherently intelligible kind of movement. I do it because I want to, because I will it. Reductionists of course speak of muscles and chemicals and neurons. These are accompaniments of the act; they describe what happens in my body when I act; but they explain nothing. I act because I want to: that is the only kind of causation I understand and all other causation is modeled on this but is not intelligible in itself.
We read or watch Macbeth. We understamd why Macbeth killed the king. He wanted to be himself king. A forensic investigator will say that the cause of death is a dagger wound that pierced the heart. That tells us how the king died but not why. When we read a good novel we understand the characters and their actions. We perceive their motives, their ideals, their values. That is the other kind of understanding and explanation that relates to human conditions and human behaviour. That is the kind of understanding that we need as humans and for interacting with other humans.
All scientific laws describe observed regularities in nature. The enable us to calculate, to anticipate, to predict, to manipulate. This is the sum of scientific knowledge. All of our civilization (as distinct from culture) is based on such knowledge, but such knowledge does not explain anything, does not give us understanding of anything. Even in such a familiar happening as the sprouting of a plant from a seed, we can specify the elements needed – seed, soil, moisture, etc. – and describe the stages of growth up to fruition and beyond, but we are misusing the word ‘understand’ when we say we understand that process. All the processes of nature are a mystery, and if we have lost the sense of awe and amazement at the mysteries of nature, we are so much the poorer.
We human beings live our proper human life, strictly speaking, in a world of meanings, ideals, aims, values, purposes, good and bad, clear and muddled, and to live as rational beings we have constantly to examine those ideas and values and subject them to Socratic scrutiny. Objective science is no help in this. For this we need to probe our minds and that is the function of philosophy.
We may need science to provide our means of living. But only philosophy, poetry, art, creative literature give us understanding of what we should live for.
D. R. Khashaba
March 20, 2017
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D. R. Khashaba

I am tired of going back again and again to discussing the positivist or physicalist approach to mind or consciousness. My position, bluntly put, is that objective science has nothing to do with the reality or nature of mind because the whole function of science is to observe, measure, systematize, theorize the appearances of things outside us and when we say outside us we do not mean outside our body since our body is itself outside that mysterious ‘us’ which cannot be approached by objective science because it is not in its nature to be objective since it is sheer subjectivity, mind, consciousness, soul, or simply us. Tired I am of saying this and explaining what I mean by this; still when I came across Professor Adam Frank’s Aeon essay “Minding Matter” ( I could not resist the penchant for wrestling once more with the question, especially as it seems that scientists are now realizing that they have a problem. I have written these lines before looking into Professor Frank’s paper, and as is my habit I will write down what thoughts occur to me as I read.
At the very outset I have to take exception to Professor Frank’s reference to “that most ultimate of scientific questions: the nature of consciousness”. This is not and can never be a scientific question. Mind is an ultimate mystery. Neither science not philosophy can discover the nature of mind. Science must acknowledge that its business is with what-is-not-mind. Philosophy, on the other hand, while it must confess that it cannot crack the mystery of mind, has yet all the time to be probing our mind as our inner reality, because only in doing that and by doing that do we possess ourselves, define the character we elect for ourselves, and act as free, intelligent agents. Science investigates things. Philosophy investigates meanings, ideals, values, which are all non-existent realities — and I do not mean this as a paradox: this is what I have been harping on in all my books and papers. These two – science dealing with things and philosophy dealing with ideas and ideals – have to be kept completely separate.

Frank broaches another very important question when he remarks that “after more than a century of profound explorations into the subatomic world, our best theory for how matter behaves still tells us very little about what matter is”. Here is another Holy Grail search that scientists would be wise to drop. Kant told us that empirical investigation only shows how things appear to us but not what they are in themselves. Long before Kant, Plato said that when the mind deals with external things, it reaches doxa (opinion) but cannot yield knowledge of the reality of things. The province of science is the How: how things appear, how they are related to one another, how they interact. The What is in the province of philosophy, but the only What philosophy truly knows is our own inner reality; when philosophy speculates about the What of external things it produces, in Plato’s words, ‘likely tales’. Plato himself said that fundamentally all things are nothing but dunamis (activity) (Sophist). Leibniz said they are monads. Spinoza said they are modifications of the one Substance. Whitehead, when he turned to philosophy, said that reality is ultimately process and he termed things ‘event’. All these (and my own ‘Creative Eternity’) are myths that give us the aesthetic satisfaction of seeing the world as intelligible, but if we are wise we say that in truth we do not know though we are bound to go on producing ‘likely tales’ that give us the comfort of seeing the world as intelligible.
Frank aptly follows the lines I quoted above by adding: “Materialists appeal to physics to explain the mind, but in modern physics the particles that make up a brain remain, in many ways, as mysterious as consciousness itself.” But I cannot go with Professor Frank in seeing here a problem for science to pursue. Scientists will continue ‘reducing’ the brain to its physical constituents but they will never know ‘what’ these constituents are in themselves nor know what the mind is. But I know the mind, immediately and indubitably, as my inner reality: my subjective cognizance of my mind does not give me factual knowledge about my brain or the working of my brain and the scientist’s objective factual knowledge does not give her or him understanding of the mind.
Frank seems to be sounding the death knell for “materialism’s seeming finality” when he declares it to be “out of step with what we physicists know about the material world – or rather, what we don’t know”. As I see it, ‘materialism’ (perhaps ‘physicalism’ would be a better term) is not dead and should not die. Science will continue to deal with ‘stuff’ even if that stuff is reduced to a mathematical equation, the equation will still relate to what is out there. And that will be what we ‘know scientifically’. What we don’t know (as meant in Frank’s statement) is not grist for the scientific mill. When scientists busy themselves with searching for the ultimate What or the ultimate Why they are stepping into the Labyrinth Of Unanswerable Questions. (A fit title for a Borges story!)
Without claiming any knowledge of quantum mechanics or the wave function I have repeatedly argued, on grounds of pure reason, that scientific laws can never be either absolutely certain or absolutely accurate. Now Professor Frank tells us that the wave function “gives you only probabilities”. That the wave function is, in Frank’s words, “an epistemological and ontological mess” is the nemesis for scientists’ stepping into areas not lawful for them.
“For a hundred years now, physicists and philosophers have been beating the crap out of each other”, we are told. This is simply foolish of both parties. They have to acknowledge that even when they seemingly deal with the same thing, they are asking totally distinct questions.
When I encounter the phrase “everything made of (matter) – which, of course, means everything” I sense that we have a problem. I am made of cells and molecules and atoms and neurons. That is all I am made of but it is not all that I am. All that is my outside but there is also my inside, my subjectivity, my mind. In the case of a human being we can see (begging pardon of the reductionists) that this makes sense. What about other things? About other things, Kant tells us, we know the phenomena, and that is all science deals with and all science needs. What about the inside of things? Science does not need that and must not tamper with that, Philosophy speculates about that to obtain a vision that makes the world intelligible, but has no right to say that that is how the world actually is. Thales said that all things are full of gods. This is not silly. It means that for the world to be not entirely baffling to us we have to imagine that there is inner intelligence in all things. Philosophers have been clothing this vision in various myths. They only err when they, disregarding the warnings of Plato and of Kant, think that by the power of pure reason alone they can reach definitive, demonstrably true, accounts about the All. Philosophers are poets regaling us with ‘likely tales’ that give us comfort and aesthetic satisfaction. Do we ask Shakespeare to produce evidence that the happenings of The Tempest actually took place?
The mind will remain unexplained as an ultimate mystery but that does not prevent me to say that I know the reality of the mind as my proper reality just as the fact that the mystery of Being must remain unexplained does not prevent me saying that I know that I am. Those who think that by tracing the universe back to the Big Bang or the god particle or whatever they have answered the question how or why there is anything at all rather than nothing simply do not know what they are talking about.
In my view, we cannot see the world and our own being as intelligible without supposing that at the origin of all things there is intelligence and life; and I cannot see becoming, any becoming, as intelligible without supposing that at the origin of all things there is creativity; and I see intelligence and life and creativity as one thing, an eternal Act; hence I represent ultimate Reality as Creative Eternity. This is a dreamer’s vision; it has nothing to do with science and science has nothing to do with it.
Frank emphasizes the failure of materialism to explain consciousness. Can we say that his position and mine are basically in agreement? I am afraid not. Frank is rather disappointed that materialism cannot explain mind. I say this is as it should be. Mind is the interiorness of — of what? Assuredly of us and supposedly of all things. Science by its constitutional law of objectivity can only work on exteriors.
To give Kipling’s famous verse a more truthful application we may say: ‘Matter is Matter and Mind is Mind and never the twain shall meet’ in a unified theory of everything because the everything out there is not really everything.
Professor Frank concludes by quoting two insightful lines of the poet Richard Wilbur which I cannot refrain from reproducing here:
Kick at the rock, Sam Johnson, break your bones:
But cloudy, cloudy is the stuff of stones.
D, R. Khashaba
March 16, 2017
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D. R. Khashaba

Stephen Hawking has famously said that philosophy is dead. This, as I hope to show in what follows, is wrong, but Professor Hawking is not to blame. Philosophers have brought this upon their heads as they had previously brought upon themselves the indictment of Hume in the eighteenth century and exposed themselves to the scorn of Positivists like Rudolf Carnap and A. J. Ayer in the twentieth century. Philosophers won that indictment and that scorn as they won Hawking’s certificate of death by failing to absorb the insight of Socrates who told us in the clearest terms that investigation into nature and probing meanings and values and purposes constitute two totally distinct non-communicating realms. (See the ‘autobiographical’ passage in the Phaedo, 95e-102a.) Philosophers have failed to pay heed even when Kant re-affirmed the Socratic insight: at the heart of Kant’s universally misunderstood transcendental system is the dual insight that (1) pure reason can yield no objective knowledge, and that (2) empirical investigation can only develop and systematize how things appear to us. I have been harping on this in all my writings.
Back to Hawking. The famous announcement was reported in a news report by Matt Warman in The Telegraph on 17 May 2011. All quotations below are from the Telegraph report.
“Speaking to Google’s Zeitgeist Conference in Hertfordshire”, Stephen Hawking, we are told, “said that fundamental questions about the nature of the universe could not be resolved without hard data …”. Only a moron will quarrel with that, but research “about the nature of the universe” not only tells us solely about things exterior to us, but I venture to say that even regarding those external things it only weaves a mantle of theoretical interpretations around our impressions of natural things. Hawking himself has given a perceptive account of the nature of scientific theory in the first chapter of A Brief History of Time.
Further on Hawking said that
“almost all of us must sometimes wonder: Why are we here? Where do we come from? Traditionally, these are questions for philosophy, but philosophy is dead.”
To my mind the questions “Why are we here?” and “Where do we come from?” can be answered neither by science nor by philosophy. When scientists fancy that they have answered or are on the way to answering the question “Where do we come from?” they are only giving a descriptive account of how it has come about that we are here. When scientists trace the origin of the universe to the Big Bang they have only described stages of development within the given universe; the ultimate ‘where from?’ is the eternal child’s question ‘Who made God?’ The Why question is completely outside the purview of science. The Why enquires about purpose and purpose implies will and intelligence, things science has nothing to do with. When a scientist poses a Why question she or he is simply guilty of a bad use of language.
What about philosophy? The “Where do we come from?” question is outside the purview of philosophy as the Why question was outside the purview of science. When philosophers speak about the natural world or about actual things they are simply making fools of themselves as the whole history of thought amply shows.
The “Why are we here?” question is the question for philosophy, indeed it circumscribes the whole business of philosophy. Does philosophy give a true answer to this question? Decidedly No! Philosophy answers the question by creating a myth, and precisely that is the whole use and purpose of philosophy. We are thrown into the world, how or why we will never know. By creating our own purpose and values, by giving the world and all things meanings of our own creation, we make for ourselves a plane of being in which we enjoy a life of freedom and intelligence quite beyond the sphere of nature. The theories of science also are essentially such creations that confer meaning on an otherwise meaningless world.
Thus the notion that philosophy is dead is engendered by a misconception of the nature and function of philosophy. Trying to explain the failure of philosophy Hawking says: “Philosophers have not kept up with modern developments in science. Particularly physics.” Much as it is desirable to keep up with modern developments in science, that is not in any way necessary for a philosopher. Indeed it is whenever philosophers or scientists mix these two radically different activities that they make their worst blunders.
Hawking says: “Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge.” This is well and good but the discoveries of science are discoveries about the phenomenal world and the knowledge gained is, I say, essentially interpretation of our observations of phenomenal happenings. So that when Hawking goes on to say that new theories “lead us to a new and very different picture of the universe and our place in it” I would say that the scientific picture of the universe has nothing to do with the philosophical vision of the world in which we live our proper life as human beings. Science may speak of ‘our place’ in the physical universe in so far as we ourselves are physical things in the world, but our place in the meaningful world of meanings, purposes, and values is for philosophy to consider.
I refrain from commenting on what Hawking says about the latest and expected developments in physics.
D. R. Khashaba
March 13, 2917
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D. R. khashaba

Loose language leads to loose thinking and loose thinking leads to erroneous conclusions that can be highly pernicious. Philosophers from Plato to Schopenhauer have been warning us against this danger and yet we have been blithely speaking of thinking machines and talking of uncanny future possibilities. So let us pause for a while and rather than asking whether machines can think or whether machines will ever be able to think, let us consider the seemingly banal question: Do computers think? Marginally, let me remark that we will go far astray when we haughtily dismiss banal questions.
Do computers think? Computers started as simple arithmetical calculators functioning mechanically. Despite all the astounding development in complexity and speed, computers are still machines that work out (process) the outcome of inbuilt relations in a closed system. Even the computers that are still being planned will only spout out what you feed into them.
Most of the ‘thinking’ we humans do is of that nature, mechanical. Even scientific thinking, except for the rare creative insight of genius, is mostly putting one and one together. Stephen Hawking when thinking purely in terms of the concepts of physics can endorse the strictly nonsensical idea of time travel (see “Stephen Hawking’s Bad Metaphysics”); when he breaks through that closed artificial conceptual universe, he wisely warns us against the calamitous results of pollution and against the stupidity of world leaders who can easily plunge us in a nuclear holocaust.
True thinking initiates, originates, creates. We truly think only when we think creatively and then we are hardly aware of ‘doing’ any thinking. It is not our established conceptual system that is then at work but our inherent intelligence, so that we may say in a seeming paradox that we think best when we think least. This is analogous to what I have repeatedly stated in discussing free will, that we are truly free not when we deliberate but only when we act spontaneously.
To conclude: Does a computer think? Only if a computer of its own free will can say: je pense, donc je suis. So let us no more speak of thinking machines but only of computing machines.
D. R. Khashaba
March 12, 2017
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D. R. Khashaba

Thomas Nagel has published penetrating review of Daniel Dennett’s From Bacteria to Bach abs Back: The Evolution of Minds: – In what follows I do not intend to comment on either Dennett’s book (which I have not read) or on Nagel’s review (which I am just beginning to read) but am simply giving some marginal thoughts that, following my inveterate habit, I note down as I read.
The very title of Dennett’s book reveals the vicious rut positivist thinking cannot escape. “From bacteria to Bach” runs the title. Since we can trace the emergence of humans back to bacteria then Bach is complicated bacterium and nothing more. As Nagel says, “Dennett holds fast to the assumption that we are just physical objects”: that says it all, for that ‘assumption’ is just the programme of scientific inquiry. Science investigates all things, animate and inanimate, as ‘just physical objects’, and that is what enabled science to work all its wonders up to the digital revolution we are living through. If only scientists could acknowledge what Socrates knew long ago (and Kant re-affirmed more than two centuries ago), that ‘investigation into things’ only tells us about the superficies of things but not about what is inside, perhaps the raging battle of Gods and Giants (Plato, Sophist, 246a-c) would abate. It would be asking too much to expect that scientists would further acknowledge that ‘the inside’, the subjective, the nous, psuchê, phronêsis, is what is really real as Plato maintained.
I maintain, and have repeatedly asserted, that even if and when we succeed in making a living organism from matter and if and when we can make a computer that has initiative and will, we will only have prodded nature to produce in a short time what previously took millions or trillions of years to produce, but we will not even then have cracked the mysteries of Life and Mind, which are as stubborn as the mystery of Being.
At the root of the contrast between the “manifest image” and the “scientific image I see what A. N. Whitehead termed “the fallacy of misplaced concreteness”. We live, we experience our joys and sorrows, ambitions and disappointments, in a world of rainbows and smiles and tears; not even Dennett or Stephen Hawking lives in a world of electrons and quarks.
My mind boggles at “design that is not the product of intention and that does not depend on understanding.”. I readily agree that there is design in DNA and I not only agree but insist that we have no need for an outside designer _ but it is at this point that the tables are turned, for, to my mind, that can only mean that there is intelligence inside the DNA. And if Plato insists that all things are fundamentally nothing but dunamis , I say that Reality is ultimately intelligent creativity.
I also pause at: “organisms like bacteria and trees that have no comprehension at all”. What justification do we have for making such a statement? That only humans have conceptual thinking is something we can believe. But what do I know about what goes on inside any other being other than myself?
Nagel refers to ‘an illuminating metaphor’ of Dennet’s where he asserts that the manifest image that depicts the world in which we live our everyday lives is composed of a set of user-illusions,”. I suppose these useful ‘user-illusioms’ are the concepts (Plato’s forms) that the mind creates to give identity and meaning to things and events. I often term them ‘fictions’, particularly those used by scientists, because they do not represent actual things. It is the intelligence behind those illusions that is the one reality we know and know immediately and indubitably. All else is passing shadow. — But what Nagel goes on to say indicates that Dennett rather had in mind our bodies’ and nature ’s processes, which is a different thing, about which however I see no problem. I am grateful that I am not conscious of the working of my liver and kidneys. — But again, when the ‘user-illusion’ is tied to the ‘manifest image’ we are back to the “fallacy of misplaced concreteness”. The colour and the scent of the rose are not an illusion any more than the thirst-quenching water is an illusion because to the scientist it is a combination of hydrogen and oxygen.
A ‘mindless machine (can) do arithmetic perfectly”for the simple reason that the whole of arithmetic is an artificial structure created bt the human mind on the basis of the brilliant idea of the number series.
A marginal question by the way: for an illusion to be an illusion must there not be a mind that fabricates the illusion and entertains the illusion?
How language originated is a legitimate concern of science but as a philosopher what matters to me is that language gives me a meaningful world where I live a meaningful life. It would be sheer folly to deny myself the enjoyment of that life because Dennett labels it an illusion. Dennett does not commit that folly: he enjoys writing books and enjoys the celebrity those books bring him.
The “biological evolution of the human brain” may have given us conceptual reflective thinking which is the glory and the bane of human beings, but to my mind, we have a profounder intelligence evidenced in our spontaneous activity and in poetic and artistic creativity and I see no reason why that profounder intelligence may not be shared by all life or even all being. This I call a metaphysical myth, for about ultimate things we must confess that we know nothing, but mythologize we must, for in mythologizing we create for ourselves visions in which we live intelligently in intelligible worlds. Call that illusion if you will; I call it creative thinking. Further I maintain that when we acknowledge our myths to be myths, then that clears it of self-deception.
I don’t say with Nagel “if Dennett is right that we are physical objects”: of course we are physical objects, but we are other things as well. I prefer to see a human being as a unity of multiple planes of being. I explained what I mean by this in several places of my writings: what I want to affirm here is that however we might have become what we have become, what concerns me as a human being is that my mind, my thought, my feelings, my ideals are what give me character and value and worth; what concerns me as a philosopher is to assert that I find these more real than galaxies and than electrons and quarks. The reductionist standing before a bed of daisies closes his eyes to the flowers and only sees the soil.
To say that “consciousness is not part of reality in the way the brain is” is a platitude. Of course consciousness is not objective and therefore not observable or measurable; it is sheer subjectivity; and of course there is no such thing as consciousness because consciousness is not a thing; and the word ‘consciousness’ does not correspond to any entity since it is a token we use for our inner reality, hence I am prepared to call it (the word, the concept) a fiction, but that is what I call all concepts and in the first place the concepts of science; Dennett calls consciousness a user-illusion, I say it is the one reality of which we are immediately and indubitably aware. (In my writings I regularly shun the word ‘consciousness’, preferring to speak of mind or intelligence instead.)
Without intending any offence, I think that Dennett’s position can be characterized as a kind of reverse insanity. An insane person lives in a world of his own not shared by others. Dennett chooses to deny himself the world shared by all others seeing it as an illusion, though he is obliged to share in it in practice.
When we say that the concept of mind “does not capture an inner reality” that only means there is no object within us to captire and that is perfectly true. Our inner reality, as I have repeatedly asserted, is not an object; I refuse even to call it an entity; it is sheer creative intelligence or, better said, intelligent creativity. Hence I call for a revolutionary change in our terminology: what is really real does not exist precisely because it is real; all that exists is essentially transient: Plato saw all things outside the mind as passing shadow; it is the mind and the ideas of the mind that he indifferently called ousia, to on, ho estin.
What will the effect of Dennett’s book be on its readers? They will certainly continue to live according to their ‘user-illusions’ but they will tend to belittle all things of the mind, all ideals, all sentiments, all spiritual values.
There is no denying that “there is much more behind our behavioral competencies than is revealed to the first-person point of view”. I am quite happy with that. A competent physiologist would find it difficult to describe what goes on when I take a sip of coffee; this does not diminish my enjoyment. I know nothing about acoustics; that does not prevent me enjoying a Mozart concerto. And it is these, the relish of the coffee and the beauty of the music that matter to me. Here again, Whitehead’s insight regarding the ‘fallacy of misplaced concreteness’ is releant.
I would not say that the reality of subjective experience is incompatible with scientific mechanism but that it is on a plane of being not amenable to the methods of objective science. Socrates long ago saw that the investigation into things (en tois ergois) and the investigation of pure ideas (en tois logois) answer different questions and belong to different worlds (Phaedo, 95e-102a). But this is a lesson that even professional philosophers have failed to absorb.
I go completely with Nagel where he says: “The spectacular progress of the physical sciences since the seventeenth century was made possible by the exclusion of the mental from their purview.” But I have to differ when he goes on to say that “science will have to expand to accommodate facts of a kind fundamentally different from those that physics is designed to explain.” To my mind this can never be. Even if scientists achieve the dream of a ‘theory of everything’ the theory will apply only to everything physical. The things of the mind – meanings and ideals and values – can only be approached when, as Plato says, the mind by itself and in itself looks within itself. Failure to see this is what has exposed philosophy to ridicule and mockery and led brilliant scientists to talk nonsense. Science will always deal with the outside of things and philosophy with the inside, not of things, but of the mind alone.
Nagel quotes approvingly what Dennett says about the hopes we place on the development of artificial intelligence. Dennett wisely sees the real danger in that “we will over-estimate the comprehension of our latest thinking tools, prematurely ceding authority to them far beyond their competence.” This is indeed a real and imminent danger. I am glad I can end on a note of agreement with both Dennett and Nagel.
D. R. Khashaba
March 5, 2017
Posted to xnd


D. R. Khashaba

I have frequently maintained that the so-called Free Will problem is a pseudo-problem needlessly complicated by confusing free will with freedom of choice. Psychologically, Choice is always conditioned by antecedents; practically it is conditioned by circumstances. Genuine free will is only evidenced in spontaneous deeds and in creative activities. I have reiterated this a score of times, primarily in “Free Will as Creativity” (in The Sphinx and the Phoenix, 2009). I have written these lines on coming across Carl Erik Fisher’s “Against Willpower.”I will see if I have any comments to make.
The first few words of Fisher’s paper show clearly that the willpower under discussion is a species of choice. “Will I or will I not have another glass of wine?” This is a very intricate issue relating to the psychology of character and the theological problem of sin. The theological contention that we sin willfully is absurd. To say that we are free since we are free to sin is nonsense. Rather, we sin because we are not free; because, from the moment of birth, we are subjected to influences that shape and limit and control our choices. We sin because, in Spinoza’s words, we do not have adequate ideas, or as Socrates says, we are ignorant. This is Socrates’ much-maligned so-called intellectualism. I have gone into this many times in my writings and this is not the place to expand on it.
In my previous writings about free will I stressed the error of confusing free will with freedom of choice, but I did not pay much attention to the theological problem. Still I don’t think I will have much to add to what I said in the preceding paragraph. What concerns me is to emphasize that freedom is spontaneity and that spontaneity is creative. The anteecedents of a spontaneous deed or creative act condition and colour the deed or act but do not determine it. Shelley’s character, upbringing, and culture condition and colour Prometheus Unbound, but no god, given the data of every cell and neuron in Shelley’s body and brain and every trace of memory in his mind, could predict “It doth repent me: words are quick and vain: Grief for a while is blind, and so was mine. I wish no living thing to suffer pain.” Our deeds of love and valour are instances of spontaneous creativity. We are truly free when the intelligence that is our inner reality creatively outflows; not our conceptual reason but that intelligence that, to my mind, is the ground and fount of all reality and all life. I believe that our simplest acts are free and creative in the sense that they are not physically predetermined. I stretch my hand, hold the cup of coffee, put it to my mouth, take a sip and swallow. These do not proceed mechanically one from the other but flow as elements of a single act because I want to take a sip of coffe. This is true of all human activity. Even while the vilest deed is, on the moral plane, conditioned by the vile character, on the physical plane it is not causally determined (taking ‘physical’ in a wide sense to include all natural processes).
I hope it will be seen from that that when I speak of free will as creativity I am thinking of two planes: On the moral plane we are only free in our best deeds and acts, in deeds of love and valour and in poetic, philosophical, and artistic creativity. On the physical (natural) plane our acts are creative (originative) in the sense that they are not causally determined. I believe that nature never repeats itself. All natural process comes with a difference, perhaps imperceptible to our finest instruments of observation. The revolution of the earth around the sun cannot, simply cannot, be perfectly identical this year with what it was last year if only because the mass of both earth and sun has changed in the meantime and continues to change all the time.
Thus the endless fruitless controversies about the compatibility or incompatibility of free will with causal determinism rest on three errors; (1) the confusion of free will with freedom of choice; (2) the failure to distinguish between the moral plane and the metaphysical plane; (3) the error of ignoring that the processes of nature are never repetitive so that all the so-called laws of nature are essentially approximations and are always transitional.
I think I will emd this blog here (before going any further into Fisher’s paper) but will only add that I do not speak of free will as a faculty but as a metaphysical principle, consistently with my metaphysical vision where I hold that ultimate Reality is sheer intelligent creativity (which I also designate creative intelligence or Creative Eternity).
D. R. Khashaba
February 28, 2017
Poated to and