Of thinking machines and the centred self

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AI & Soc (1995) 9:184-192 9 1995 Springer-Verlag London Limited A I & SOe l [ ' l~ Of Thinking Machines and the Centred Self A. Raghuramaraju Department of Philosophy, University of Hyderabad, India The field of artificial intelligence (AI) like most other fields, has its votaries and its critics. Within these terms, one also finds an ongoing debate over approaches to AI, that between human-centred and machine-centred approaches. The votaries seem to have found their enterprise on the idea of a thinking machine, a machine imitative of the human mind. The critics, who challenge the project of AI reject the reduction of the human person to its "intelligent" functions. Dreyfus and Dreyfus (1986), for instance, seek to widen the ambit of what constitutes the human to include such non-cognitive qualities as institution, judgement, emotion, etc. They seem to be thus confronting the cognitivist closures of the AI thrust, highlighted thereby its exclusions and opening up of what they consider to be the realm of the "human". It is not as though the field of AI has been a mute witness to those challenges. Indeed there have been efforts within AI to develop programs that "have the elements of a theory of heuristic (as contrasted with algorithmic) problem solving". This theory can be used "both to understand human heuristic processes and to stimulate such processes with digital computers. Intuition, insight and learning are no longer exclusive possessions of humans: any large high-speed computer can be programmed to exhibit them also" (Simon and Nowell in Vivek, 1992) 1. This almost ready made co-option of the terms of the radical critique represented in Dreyfus is due, primarily, I should think, to the ambiguity in their concept and ontological substantiating of the realm of the non-cognitive. Importantly, it illustrated that the radical critique of AI inhabits the very ground that it arraigns against. The questions: how is the non-cognitive to be postulated and constructed? These seem to be beyond the frames of Dreyfus' s critique. Even as the critics challenge the reduction of the human within the project of AI, they do not seem to explore the contents facilitating, indeed necessitating, this reduction. In this paper, I shall explore the intellectual context of facilitating this idea, as also the critique, of the thinking machine. I will argue, that this self is a self transported from the notion of the modern man. of Thinking Machines and the Centred Self 185 Following an introduction to the nature of the Cartesian self which reduces the human being to human intelligence, I shall endeavour to show how this reduction facilitates an affinity between man and machine, and a hostility between man and nature. This hostility is rooted in the disjuncture between the modern self and nature. I will discuss subsequent attempts at overcoming this disjuncture which culminates in the making of what can be termed, following Habermas (1987) the philosophical discourse of modernity. In the course of this discussion I shall try to clarify: a, How the self of modernity which attempts to dominate and subjugate nature now comes to be threatened, in turn by the machine; and b, What accounts for the alleged violence exercised by the centred self and not only on nature but also on other human beings. I will conclude by drawing certain striking similarities between the making of modernity and the discussions within AI. The Enlightenment formulated a man-centred universe, a centrality unprecedented in human history. This idea of centrality has two aspects to it: 1. What the self asserts nature to be; and 2. What it excludes from its domain. The self in the Enlightenment anthropocentrism asserts its nature as being independent from its immediate and mediated surroundings, locating itself outside history. The Cartesian self refuses to have any relation with the impirical man. To borrow a term from Alasdair MacIntyre (1985) the Enlightenment has no account of "man-as-he-happens- to-be". The Enlightenment self, therefore, is purely and exclusively a cognitive self -a self privileging its claims to centrality, certainty, universality, rationality, etc. Within the Enlightenment theories, the non-cognitive comes to be constructed as something "other", to be excluded and subjugated. Let me also clarify that the point is not about the identification of cognitivity in human beings, but to a view which determines human beings as thinking beings devoid of non-cognitive aspects. This determination easily facilitates the idea of a thinking machine. If man is exclusively rational, this rationality can be performed, perhaps more effectively and efficiently, by machines. The success or otherwise of this performance is secondary: what is important is to note the nexus between cognitivity and the idea of AI. Before discussing the relation between the cognitive and the non-cognitive realms, let me digress and clarify the ground - a plausible ground - making for the emergence of a self-centred universe. The rise of the Enlightenment self cannot be accounted for exclusively by social and economic transformations. Perhaps we may find a clue in the coincidental rise of heliocentrism and anthropocentrism - a coincidence which I think is yet to be explored in the scholarship. Thomas Kuhn (1959) has suggested that the Copernican revolution though initiated "as narrowly technical and highly mathematical revision of classical astronomy ... became one focus for the tremendous controversies in religion, philosophy, and in social theory, which, during the two centuries following the discovery of America set the tenor of the modern mind". This remark, problematised in the context of this paper allows us to juxtapose heliocentrism and anthropocentrism. As the Earth was removed from the centre of the universe and replaced by a Sun, man and his habitat were relegated to the periphery. This lost centrality of man is sought to be compensated by a thorough going anthropocentrism whereby man becomes the source and the creation of society at its institutions. The compensation seems, even if incomplete and distorted, an existential need indeed. The fall of geocentrism is the precondition for the rise of anthropocentrism. 186 A. Raghuramaraju . This centred self is at variance with nature, contributing to the tension between man and nature. Passmore (1975) amongst others, traces one of the roots of this tension to the Cartesian anthropocentrism and its dualism. He sees in Descartes a proclamation making man the master and the possessor of nature. For Passmore, this Cartesian metaphysics results in an I-It relationship. This view, while explaining the man- nature tension, however, fails to explain: a) how the human self comes to wield immense power, and exercise large scale domination on nature (seeking an answer in modern science and technology is to beg the question, as point I shall return to later); and b) how does one account for the alleged violence perpetuated by a human- centred system not just on nature but also on human beings. The answer to the first lies in the making of the philosophical discourse of modernity; and the second calls for a clarification of the series of exclusions that the modern self came to exercise. I will begin with the latter. The Cartesian self in identifying itself exclusively as cognitive self, comes close to the idea of a thinking machine and, in so doing, moves away from nature and other concrete realities. Alternatively, the Cartesian self in locating itself as distinct from nature collapses into the idea of a thinking machine. There is not only a distance postulated between the self and nature but also a disjuncture suggested between the two. The self therefore, asserts its centrality by a set of systematic exclusions. 1. The modern self excludes from the outset all that is traditional. This is clearly recognised and endorsed in Habermas' project of retrieving modernity. Hegel, according to Habermas, initiates the "communicative medium of the subjects", which even while overcoming the solipsism of the Cartesian subject does not do away with the subject. For Habermas, Hegel conceived the communicative medium within a framework of an "ethical totality along the guidelines of a popular religion in which communicat ive reason assumed the idealised form of historical communities, such as the primitive Christian community and the Greek polis". Hegel conceived the idea of the communicative medium within the context of historical communities. Since he did not want to embrace the latter he abandoned the former. Habermas endorses Hegelian rejection of the transitional domains. This restricts the universality of the discourse of modernity, and also the framework of communicative action. 2. The idea of the modem self equates morality with rationality, and further equated women with the senses, bereft of reason. This, as feminists such as Young and Okin have argued, makes the human centredness actually a male centredness. They charge Rousseau and Kant as advocating this view: Okin shows how Kant, in founding morality on rationality, excludes women as moral subjects. She writes (1989): [Kant] in most of his central works of moral philosophy.., defines the moral subjects of whom he speaks as not only human beings but also "all rational beings as such", in less noticed works from the earliest to the last he makes it clear that women are not sufficiently rational and autonomous to be the moral subjects. In an early essay, entitled "Observations on the feeling of the beautiful an sublime" he says of women that their "'Philosophy is not to reason but to senses." Okin's statement has two points: a) regarding the identification of morality with rationality, and b) the identification of women with the senses not with reason. Of Thinking Machines and the Centred Self 187 Would she be contented if the privileges of the modern self or the male sel l namely its ratmnality, objectivity, etc, are extended to women? The acceptance of this male centredness of the modern self and the inclusion of the woman as a rational subject might perhaps satisfy the terms of her criticism. However, i would still problematise the first identification of morality with rationality, especially given the nature of the latter. I would restate Okin's argument as not merely excluding woman but excluding the sensuous domain. This restatement, it must be acknowledged, may go beyond the concerns of the feminism represented in Okin. This exclusion of the sensuous domain is a telling experience of the narrow and limited nature of the modern self. 3. Habermas admits yet another exclusion which looms large in the contemporary critique of the idea of a universal history. Habermas, asked in an interview if the "conception of socialism developed in the course of anti-imperialistic and anti~ capitalistic struggles in the Third World have any bearing on the tasks of democratic socialism in the advanced capitalist world? And if (his) own analysis of advanced capitalism have any lessons for socialist forces in the Third World?" replied "3 am tempted to say no in both cases. I am aware of the fact that this is a eurocentricatty limited view. [ would rather pass the question" (1966). This admission calls for a restating, if not abandonment of the notion of enlightenment universality. ~ The foregoing discussion highlights the actual nature of the idea of human centrality, particularly its opposition both to nature and other human beings. Partha Chatterjee criticising the idea of universal history characterises this idea as an expression of "the provincialism of the European social philosophy" (1990). While agreeing in this, I would go a step further in saying that this provincial ideas is also strange to its own society and history. In other words, there is a discontinuity within and between the idea of Enlightenment and the western society. 3 As we have seen, this centrality of the modern self in identifying itself as a cognitive being, excludes large areas of reality - the traditional, the sensuous as also the Third World, etc. These exclusions lead to a radical disjuncture between the modern self and concrete realities. This accounts for the alleged hostility between man centred systems on the one hand and nature and others (nature and other human beings) on the other. The conventional formulation of man vs nature or the I-It relationship falls to capture these complexities. This is primarily due to the tendency to assume as non-problematic the contents of the idea of man in the human-centred systems. We have been discussing the nexus between the Cartesian self and the idea of a thinking machine, and, the hostility between man and nature and man and man_ This does not, however, answer the question we raised earlier, namely, how does the narrow sense of the self wield such immense power, so as to dominate and subjugate the realities it excludes? In other words, how did the provincial self become so spec- tacular and dominating? The answer, as I shall show, consists in the making of the philosophical discourse of modernity. The cognitive self, in the midst of its lured and luring privileges, its centrality, rationality, universality, etc., at once realises its emptiness and solipsism. Discontented, it constantly strives to overcome this condition. The various attempts at overcoming 188 A, Raghuramaraju solipsism of the self culminates in the making of the philosophical discourse of modernity. I shall classify the intermediate attempts to overcome solipsism as falling into three major movements, each constituting a distinct stage in the movement of ideas. 1. The attempt of the self to create its own realities (the social contract theories); 2. The attempt at resurrecting, in relation to the self, the singular senses of history, evolution, unconscious, economy (Hegel, Darwin, Freud, Marx, respectively); and 3. The attempt at transforming the realities excluded by the self against its (that is, the modern self's) own image (Modern Science and Technology and Theories of Social Change). It may be noted that each of these attempts contain within themselves significant variations and oppositions. I cannot elaborate them here, as that would call for recasting the problem in a different way. Instead, I will discuss how these seemingly opposed movements come to contribute to the making of modernity. 1. The first major attempt to salvage the Cartesian self from its solipsism was undertaken in the social contract theories. In these theories the locationless, solipsistic subject comes to be grounded in the theoretically constructed "state-of-nature". The idea of man-in-the-state-of-nature" is not an empirical idea but a postulation, a hypothesis. The self in this state is made to form a society, an artificial society, through contract (what is an expression of rationality). The civil society of the General Will, thus constructed, is not formed by the people but postulated for them. Rousseau says: Left to themselves the people always desire the good, but left to themselves, they do not always know where the good lies. The General is always right, but the judge- ment guiding it is not always well informed. It might be made to see things as they are, sometimes as they ought to appear to them (Rousseau in Talmon, 1966). The creation of the civil society or the General Will in the Social contract theories is at the cost of annihilating the particular will of the "man-in-the-state-of-nature". In other words, the particular will and the General Will do not coexist in the contract theories. The creation of the General Will is the first attempt at decentering the Cartesian self. So we have within Social contract theories the idea of the self and idea of the decentred self (the General Will), each of these posited as mutual and exclusive. This gives us a two-fold exclusion in the contract theories, viz the exclusion of a given reality by the self and the exclusion of this self by the General Will. The relation between the self and the General Will is as that of a creator and the created, respectively; and the relation between these two (self and General Will) and reality is one of hostility and insulation. The General Will, even as its annihilates the self, refuses to accept the reality which the self excluded. This opposition within the social contract theories can be formulated as an opposition between "modern" theory (consisting of the self and the General Will) and the reality of the real. 2. The Hegelian intervention complicates this relation between theory, the real and the reality. Hegel, while recognising the empty formalism of both the Cartesian self Of Thinking Machines and the Centred Self 189 and the General Will of the social contract theories, yet seeks to enrich them by providing contents to them. This he accomplishes by lifting the insulation between modem theory and the reality it (the modern self) rejected, and seeks to locate these ideas in a historical process, whereby he resurrects the sense of history as a singular, deterministic aspect to these abstract notions. Here, Hegel amplifies the limited and relational sense of history of the man in the given society and attributes it to these abstract notions, clearing the way for historical determinism. The General Will through the Hegelian intervention metamorphoses into an all-inclusive State. This State, not only decentres the self but also advocates historical determinism. This determinism excludes, or subsumes as secondary, the other aspects of man. Subsequent to the Hegelian interlude we have the theories of Darwin, Marx, and Freud, which can be seen as resurrecting the senses of evolution, economy, and unconscious respectively to these ideas. These divergent attempts at emancipating the Cartesian self from its emptiness involves a reduction, actually a double reduction. Firstly, it reduces the self into the social or biological or psychological, leaving no scope for subjectivity or for inter- subjectivity. Secondly, it reduces the self into one of the aforementioned above, presenting different reductions of the self as mutually exclusive. We can then sum up this brief discussion of 19th century theories as largely attempting to bring abstractions closer to reality - or to ally theory with reality. 3. Accordingly, we have in the obsessions with modem science and technology, and also in the theories of social change and the projects of development, an attempt to bring reality nearer to theory - either by creating new realities or transforming the given realities in conformity with the self image of these abstractions. Broadly speaking, these three stages significantly mark the making of the philosophical discourse of modernity, rendering the discourse spectacular and inaugurating the contemporary instances of violence. . Having discerned the logic of exclusion and inclusion underlying different stages in the making of the philosophical discourse of modernity, we must reflect on the striking similarities between this discourse and the discussions within AI. The idea of man in Cartesianism and the notion of intelligence in the discourse of AI are first reduced to cognitivity. Thus established the ground, they both seek to attribute albeit selectively, various non-cognitive aspects to the cognitively defined self. The exclusion denies any fundamental and ontological status to non-cognitive aspects. Further, when the non-cognitive aspects are subsequently included within the thematic of cognitive, they merely become added attributes. That is, the non cognitive aspects are not posited as constituting the human existence. This selective and peripheralising approach to the non-cognitive aspects seems to underlie the attempts at designing the machines which can display intuitive abilities, possess insights, feel pain/pleasure. In this new configuration, the non-cognitive acquires only a second order existence. It ceases to have a necessary relation but gets only a contingent status. Even this 190 A. Raghuramaraju status suffers further loss when it is not even simultaneously construed along with the cognit ive domain. Instead, they are ordered in a temporal ity that is sequential wherein it becomes cognitive then on-cognitive. Thus postulated, the on-autonomous non-cognit ive, with the thematic of cognitive, becomes vulnerable for co-options and distortions. The arguments of Dreyfus about machines being incapable of having non-cognit ive aspects, alerts the proponents of AI to come with representations of these aspects which can approximate to human beings. Recall the earlier task of this paper. We proposed to explore the factors facilitating the idea of the thinking machine. Our discussion has shown that it is the concept of centred self that facilitates this idea of a thinking machine. That is to say, the self which is attributed to the machines is the transported self of the modern man. So the debate between human centred and the machine centred approaches is one, that of an exchange of ideas between the imitator and the imitated, and the relation between them and the ordinary realities - be it the traditional, the women/feminine and the Third World - is one of conflict and hostility. Here one would naturally ask: what fol lows from the above conclusions? The answer would be: 1. The above discussion denies the possibi l i ty of looking in modern man centred systems an alternative to the machine centred systems. This might prompt us to look for alternative systems within or outside the western traditions. Indeed this discussion might alert one to construct an other which is not itself. This other as different and perhaps superior to the other postulated by the centred self (where the other is constructed to subjugate) might yet remain an other formulated to celebrate, to romanticise. However, 2. The search for alternatives to the machine-centred systems should not be confined only to the level of themes. As themes analysed in the modern thematic can lend themselves vulnerable for easy co-options. Hence the alternative needs to be both for the theme and the thematic. 3. In this context let me cite a contrasting instance from S~fikhya system of Indian philosophy. There are three gu.n~.h- sattva, rajas and tamas - in this system. S. S. Suryanarayana Sastfi in his notes to the XII k~rik~ of Igvara IQ.s.na's S~flkhyak~rk-~ clarifies, that these gu.n~ .hs are not attributes to the Substance, "but are rather themselves constitutive of the substance, i.e., Primal Nature. Hence. . . they are rendered here as 'constituents' , not as 'attr ibutes' " (Sastri, 1973). Further, amongst themselves these gu.n~h.s are closely and eternally interrelated. To quote Sastri again: Sattva (Goodness) is of the nature of pleasure; Rajas (Passion) is of the nature of pain; Tamas (Darkness) is of the nature of indifference. Sattva serves to illuminate, Rajas to actuate, and Tamas to restrain. These results follow not from individual, but cooperative activity. Thus, illumination results through Sattva, as actuated by Rajas and not restrained by Tamas. It is not Sattva alone that is active in enlightenment, but Sattva as dominating Rajas and Tamas. Similarly, the other two dominate each in turn, with corresponding variations in the result ... the original conjunction or separation of these (gun~hs) has never been perceived (Sastri 1973; 38). It is evident from the above that the gu.n~h.s are not treated as attributes but as constituting the Primal Nature. And amongst themselves, these gu.n~h.s are both of Thinking Machines and the Centred Self 191 simultaneously and eternally interrelated. In this configuration, these gu.ngh, s are not treated either as secondary or contingent. This constitutive framework from S~fikhya' s is radically different from the attributive framework of both the discourse of modernity and its modern product the field of AI. Given this, it would be interesting to explore the nature of the project of AI when it works with S~fikhya's notion of human beings. What would happen to them when made to operate with a notion of man defined as constituting cognitive/non-cognitive combine? What new strategies would the project adopt when confronted by the holistic definition of man? These are the questions that remain to be explored in greater detail. This task would constitute the substance on another paper. I have shown in the above discussion how the idea of a cognitive self facilitates the idea of a thinking machine. I have characterised this relation between man and machine as one of nexus and the relation between man and nature as that of hostility. While indicating how the idea of the centred self not only dominates nature but also human beings, I have also discussed various attempts at overcoming the distance between the self and the realities it rejected as culminating in the making of the philosophical discourse of modernity. I have in the end shown some similarities between the logic governing the making of the philosophical discourse of modernity and the debates within AI. In the end I stated a contrasting instance from Sgfikhya system of Indian philosophy where the three gu.ngh, s are shown to be constituting the Primal Nature. Reformulations of the question of At along this course might open up to a more i l luminating grasp of man-machine relationship. Notes l. Also see the responses to Professor Jum Hendler of the University of Maryland asking AI researchers about what they felt AI would have achieved in the year 2025. Here are some of the predictions: "We now have the elements of a theory of heuristic (as constrasted with algorithmic) problem solving; and we can use this theory both to understand human heuristic processes and to stimulate such processes with digital computers. Intuition, insight and learning are no longer exclusive possessions of human: any large high-speed computer can be programmed to exhibit them also." Herbert Simon and Allen Nowell - "Heuristic problem solving: the next advance in operations research". Operations Research 6. 1958. "Machines will be capable, within twenty years, of doing any work that a man can do" Hebert Simon. The shape of automation for men and management. 1965. The above passages are reproduced in the Editorial entitled "Predictions about AI". Vivek: A Quarterly Journal of Artificial Intelligence, Vol 5: 1992. 2. For an elaborate discussion on this see Thomas Pantham (1988) "On modernity, rationality and morality: Habermas and Gandhi" The Indial Journal of Social Sciences, 1:187-208. 3. I have alluded to this theme in my paper "Problematising Nationalism" (1993). Acknowledgements I am grateful to Sasheej Hedge, Alito Sequiera, Partho Benerjee, Karamjit S. Gill, B. Srinivasan and the two anonymous referees of AI & Society for their criticism and comments on this paper. The earlier draft of this paper was presented in absentia in a seminar on Human Centre Systems organised by NISTADS, Delhi. 192 A. Raghuramaraju References Chatterjee, Partha. 1990. "A Response to Taylor's Invocation of Civil society." (Chicago: working Papers and the Proceedings of the Center for Psychological studies No. 39). Dreyfus, H. and Dreyfus S. 1986. "Why Computers May Never Think Like People." (Technology Review 89 (1) 42-61). Gardner, H. 1985. 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"Problematizing Nationalism" Economic and Political Weekly. (Vol. XXVIII. Nos. 27-28, July 3-10, 1993. pp. 1433-38.) Talmon J.L. 1966. The Origins of Totalitarian Democracy. (London: Secker and Warburg). Vivek: A Quarterly Journal of Artificial Intelligence, (Bombay, Vol.5 (2) April, 1992). Wildon, A. 1984). System and Structure. (London: Tavistock Publications). Young, T.M. 1989. "Polity and Group Difference: A Critique of the Idea of Universal Citizenship." (Ethics 99 (2) 250-274.) Correspondence and offprint requests to: A. Raghuramaraju, Department of Philosophy, University of Hyderabad, Hyderabad 500 134, India.


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