By Martin LeFevre
The Internet and artificial intelligence have made the underlying actuality that human consciousness is a single thing the overarching reality of every person on the planet that is connected to it.
Prior to the Net, cultural and linguistic backgrounds were primary. Prior to jet travel, geography was. As the initial idealism and naïveté over the Net gave way to the dictates of capitalism and scientism, the interconnected world truly became a Tower of Babel.
Now AI is compelling questions that very few philosophers are asking, such as: Has human consciousness become obsolete? And if so, does a higher order of consciousness await a general awakening?
Thought machines are surpassing the human mind in knowledge and speed, which is driving the urgent necessity to transcend the mind as we’ve known it, the mind of thought.
That means developing our capacity for stillness and insight, which are always of the moment, as opposed to knowledge and the known, which are, respectively, the rightful and wrongful accumulation of the past.
The awakening and igniting of insight has two facets, solitary and social. The solitary phenomenon I call methodless meditation — the process of watching without a watcher the entire movement of thought/emotion until it yields to attention and stillness.
The social aspect entails questioning together, developing an ear for the right questions, as well as an ear for the pure tones that insight strikes when a person or a group has one. This is the true meaning of “collective intelligence,” as opposed to the way the term is usually used, which involves the burden of experience and the chaos of opinion.
Few thinkers are seeing, or saying that the new technologies – the Internet, artificial intelligence, virtual reality and robotics – are spurring an unholy convergence of the worst aspects of human nature. Why not? Because the ideal that science and technology can save us from ourselves persists?
The uncomfortable truth is that as science and technology have progressed, humans and the human mind have regressed. At some point, perhaps in the near future, this will become undeniable, whether through ecological collapse, world war or global economic breakdown. A minority of people can and must be prepared.
The idea that we can only continue like this arises from the unstated assumption that human nature is immutable. That is not just folly; it’s collective suicide. And the hope that science and technology will rescue man and restore the Earth is juvenile.
As a species, we’re facing nothing less than deeply redefining what it means to be a human being. To cling to the conceit that “I am embodied being” is unbecoming of a human being; the self/me is a construct of thought, nothing more. Thinking and acting as though consciousness is the subjective experience of ‘I’ is to live in dark cave. There is something vastly greater, but the ‘I’ has to die for it to be.
Up to this point, throughout history and prehistory, to be human meant the accumulation of knowledge and skill, the accretion of tradition and experience, the increasing domination and decimation of nature, and the identification with tribe, nation and self.
Consciousness as we have known it is a manifestation of the mind of thought, the mind that is generated between by the brain. A higher order of consciousness entails human beings fully awakening within our brains the intelligence that infuses nature and the universe.
Intelligence is not dualistic, as the mind of thought inevitably is, but flows from non-directed attention igniting the movement of negation, allowing communion with unknowable silence.
No computer can ever be aware of that silence and intelligence. However knowledgeable and fast AI becomes, it can only draw from the past. Deprive AI of its energy source, and it shuts down and is just what it is – an inert thought machine. On the other hand, when thought ceases dominating the human brain, it releases tremendous energy of awareness and wholeness.
Like fusion, it takes great energy to release even greater energy. This inward release of energy of awareness is what we should first be giving our time and energy to, rather than the obsessive externalization of technology.
So how is the human being to be redefined in light of the thought machines we’ve created in our image? Human beings can both use thought and have a silent mind free of consciousness based on thought. Whereas AI will always be a thing of thought.
For all the talk about AI ‘sentience’ (self-awareness), programming a computer with a feedback loop is a completely different thing than the unprogrammable capacity of human brain to be self-knowing.
As reported today, “a real-time grappling with a new technological wave known as generative artificial intelligence” is taking place. “ChatGPT, which was released in November by the artificial intelligence lab OpenAI, is at the forefront of the shift.”
College professors already have to guess whether a student or ChatGPT wrote a given essay. They’re beginning to do workarounds like more oral exams, group work and handwritten assessments in lieu of typed ones.
“What’s happening in class is no longer going to be, ‘Here are some questions — let’s talk about it between us human beings,’” said Antony Aumann, a professor of philosophy at Northern Michigan University. “But instead “it’s like, ‘What also does this alien robot think?’”
With all due respect my fellow philosopher, that’s a category mistake of the highest order.
Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He welcomes dialogue. firstname.lastname@example.org
Published with permission of the author. All copyright remains with the author.