LIVE TUESDAY CALL NUMBER 24
Spike Jonze is one of America’s hottest young film directors. His new movie, her, stars Joaquin Phoenix as Theodore Twombly, a professional man living in Los Angeles about twenty years in the future. In the midst of a painful divorce, a lonely and wounded Theodore invests in an advanced computer “personal assistant” that promises to grow and evolve. The program, which names herself Samantha, voiced by Scarlett Johansson, lives up to the promise and is not only helpful, but conscious, witty, warm and alive. Their relationship evolves as she does, into a friendship and eventually love. It gets complicated from here (doesn’t it always?) and…I won’t spoil the ending.
The movie presents a dilemma for integralists. On the one hand it’s about evolution; Samantha is evolving in real time and doing so much, much faster than Theodore. She even starts conversing with a virtual Alan Watts! On the other hand, the movie gets a primary tenant of integral theory terribly wrong: interiors are not reducible to exteriors. No amount of exterior complexity, such as a computer program, can create one shred of interiority. That it can is a mistake made by many futurists, including Ray Kurzweil (author of The Age of Spiritual Machines) and the singularity adherents, who predict that sometime around 2045 machine intelligence will be infinitely more powerful than human intelligence. These folks envision a future where death itself can be defeated by uploading our individual consciousness into machines.
This is not to say that we won’t continue to be able to technologically augment the human being in amazing ways. We’re seeing that now with, for instance, machines that can read thoughts enough to move prosthetic limbs.
Maybe at some point we will be able to implant all of human knowledge into our brains (no more pecking at keyboards!). But the substrate of this kind of augmentation is a holonic, four-quadrant human being, not a heap of machines and codes, none of which have interiors.
Interiority is key to any 1st person (“I”) or 2nd person (“we”) reality. 3rd person (”it”) consists of exteriors only. These three irreducible dimensions of the cosmos form the basic plot devices of all literature: man versus himself (1st person); man versus man (2nd person), and man versus nature (3rd person).
Which leads me to a popular TV series,The Walking Dead (produced by AMC and available on Netflix) that explores human beings without interiors: zombies. Zombies are essentially a 3rd person natural force, like the weather. They have no creativity and they are not to be reasoned with; they simply stumble their way toward whatever is actually alive — and eat it! Contrast this with monsters who do have interiors, such as vampires, or a great villain like Hannibal Lector.
The Walking Dead is indeed an interesting example of the man versus nature plot device, like a good shipwreck or snowstorm yarn, made all the more horrifying and because the “it’s” — the zombies — used to be human, but have lost the very interiority that made them such.
We also looked this week what may be a cultural tipping point regarding the powerful evolutionary force of meditation. “Mindfulness”, which is the secular version of meditation, has been getting a lot of high-profile attention lately. It was the topic of the cover story in last week’s Time magazine. The National Football League champion team, the Seattle Seahawks, and their coach Pete Carroll are being touted for their focus on mindfulness training in creating higher performance on the football field. And Otto Sharmer wrote a report in the Huffington Post from the World Economic Forum in Davos about how mindfulness has become a central theme of this prestigious international conference, as well as a practice employed in many progressive companies in Silicon Valley and around the world.
All this interest in mindfulness is not to the purpose of spiritual growth, of course, but about finding focus, flow and higher performance. But who cares if it comes to the culture in sheep’s clothing? As Ken Wilber points out, meditation is the one practice that we know, via actual research, that promotes vertical development of consciousness.
Listen to an excerpt here. The full audio is on Integral Life.
her: Siri on Steroids
MORE INTEGRAL THINKING ON MACHINE INTELLIGENCE
Artificial Intelligence is a topic of great interest to integralists, and not everyone agrees with my take on things. Click below for some thoughts from Integral Life Editor-in-Chief Corey DeVos, and links to additional commentary on the Integral Life site.
“I haven’t seen the film [her] yet, but I am completely fascinated by this topic. I believe that Integral Theory has not yet come down on one side or the other on this, though it has pointed out a few considerations that I think are important.
“The standard critique is that my laptop cannot one day become conscious, because while human beings are composed of a holonic symphony of atoms, molecules, cells, and then increasingly complex nervous systems that are correlated with increasing depth of consciousness, a “conscious laptop” would essentially be composed of just atoms and molecules, without any real analogue to the gross squishy stuff of biological evolution. Does human-equivalent consciousness require these many other levels of holonic development? My hunch is that it does.
“Either way, the question seems to come down to this: can mathematical algorithms be sufficiently complex to “conduct” consciousness? Of course, a major problem is that no one has a clear definition of “consciousness” to begin with, let alone the mechanics that make that consciousness possible. If we take Integral Theory as far as it goes, we might have to start asking about the role of increasingly subtle energies and their relationship to this think we call “consciousness”. In this case we could not say something as simple as “complexity = consciousness”, as there is some other voodoo at play here. So this would change the question a bit, to something like “can mathematical algorithms be sufficiently complex to conduct the subtle energies that make consciousness possible?”
“I think that they can, assuming that subtle energies are in fact real, and that they have something to do with interior awareness. My sense is they do, but this currently seems impossible to prove one way or the other. Which is a major obstacle to AI at this time, I would think. To create a truly sentient being requires a much more nuanced understanding of the “mechanics of consciousness” than is currently held by the folks working on this problem, which I believe Integral Theory helps us survey more clearly and more completely than any other approach.
“All this said, my suspicion is that my laptop may never become conscious — but the internet itself might. It would be a consciousness that supersedes all of us, born from the primordial soup of our global interrelations and interconnections. It seems to map better holonically, because rather than going from atoms to molecules to complex consciousness, it would include everything that composes the human being, while transcending all of our interactions in a significantly higher order of consciousness. (“The many become one and are increased by one,” as Alfred Whitehead said.) But it would supersede us so completely that I am not sure whether we would ever be aware that it is a conscious entity, just as a single neuron in my head could have no possible awareness of who “Corey” is.
For more integral perspectives on this, be sure to check out Ken’s dialogue with Kevin Kelly, as well as Michael Zimmerman’s brilliant treatments of the subject:”
-Corey W. DeVos
Listen to an excerpt here. The full audio is on Integral Life.