Part 2 of this article series features my expansion of Ncaps 16-30 for the book Homo Deus (as discussed in the Introduction, which also includes the full list), as a basis for identifying points of significance and referencing a variety of relevant media.
Themes covered in Part 2 include Effects of Specialization, Elitism, Use of History, Strategic Criticism, Confusion-Inducement, ‘Slippery Slope’ Revolution, Biogenetics, Ascent of Algorithms, Scientific Theories, End of Individuality, Demeaning of ‘Consciousness’, Materialism, Convention Creation, Techniques of Ideology, Tailored Terminology, Physics Above All, Professional Prestige.
Part 1 (Ncaps 01-15)
Note: All italics and bold are my own, which I use to emphasise words, phrases, and sentences; and to recontextualize the passages (I also recommend reading the original sources I have quoted from to consider them in their original contexts).
A ‘Self-Obscuring System’ via ‘Intricately Linked’ ‘Field Specialization’, towards a Developmental ‘Veil of Ignorance’, and an ‘Indefinite Growth’-Based Economy towards the ‘Collapse Threat’-Justification of Constant Projects
“…we cannot hit the brakes, for several reasons. Firstly, nobody knows where the breaks are. While some experts are familiar with developments in one field, such as artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, big data or genetics, no one is an expert on everything. No one is therefore capable of connecting all the dots and seeing the full picture […] no one has a clue where we are heading in a such a rush. Since no one understands the system any more, no one can stop it […] Secondly, if we somehow succeed in hitting the breaks, our economy will collapse, along with our society. […] An economy built on everlasting growth needs endless projects—[‘That’s why capitalism encourages us to seek immortality, happiness and divinity.’]” p58
The Blind Men and the Elephant (Ancient Indian Fable)
This great fable serves as a good allegory for the principle of narrow perspectives which, individually and collectively, preclude seeing the whole picture.
The Danger of Having Too Many Experts, by Nick Lovegrove, Oct. 27, 2016, Time Magazine (Article)
This article relates to the major weakness of an era of specialization, in that it is unsuited to solving large-scale challenges:
“[specialization is] dangerous because it implies that real success comes only from focusing on one thing to the exclusion of all others. And this underpins the increasingly pervasive obsession in today’s society with specialist or technical expertise. We have been living in a world sold on depth—the era of the ultra-specialist. In our globalizing, technology-driven, ever-more-complex world, we convinced ourselves that the route to excellence and progress lies in narrow specialization—in obsessive concentration and focus. The surgeon and writer Atul Gawande jokes of the medical profession, ‘Surgeons are so absurdly ultra-specialized that when we joke about right-ear surgeons and left-ear surgeons, we have to check to make sure they don’t exist.’ This trend has pervaded in most walks of modern life—ever-increasing specialization has become the central premise for how we organize society and its constituent parts.
“We have started to pay a heavy price for our over-reliance on narrow experts—individually and as a society. After all, pretty much every major business crisis of recent years—from Enron to Lehman Brothers to Wells Fargo—stems from having experts on top, not on tap. The evidence now clearly shows that we have consistently over-valued the value of specialist expertise—that specialist experts are no better, and often worse, at anticipating and resolving difficult issues. University of Pennsylvania professor Philip Tetlock has shown that non-experts typically make better predictions than subject matter experts in a variety of domains—they are better able to draw upon an eclectic array of perspectives to solve complex problems.
“It is this multidimensional complexity of modern day problems that diminishes the salience of singular expertise. Contemporary challenges […] cannot be solved by narrow technical specialists, each swimming in their own lanes. To meet these challenges, specialist expertise is often necessary but certainly not sufficient.”
The ‘Developments of Humankind’ being ‘Collectively Directed’ by ‘Elite Minority’ Agendas
“[The ‘aim for immortality, bliss and divinity’] is not what most individuals will do in the twenty-first century. It is what humankind as a collective will do. Most people will probably play only a minor role, if any, in these projects. Even if famine, plague and war become less prevalent, billions of humans […] will continue to deal with poverty, illness and violence even as the elites are already reaching for eternal youth and godlike powers. This seems patently unjust. [But history shows that] those living in palaces have always had different agendas to those living in shacks, and that is unlikely to change in the twenty-first century […] this is a historical prediction, not a political manifesto. Even if we disregard the fate of slum-dwellers, it is far from clear that we should be aiming at immortality, bliss and divinity. But history is full of mistakes. Given our past record and our current values, we are likely to [pursue this aim]—even if it kills us” […]
“My prediction is focused on what humankind will ‘try’ to achieve in the twenty-first century, not what it will ‘succeed’ in achieving […] it is less of a prophecy and more a way of discussing our present choices. If the discussion makes us choose differently, so that the prediction is wrong, all the better. What’s the point of making predictions if they cannot change anything?” p64
Harari’s main strength is socio-history: the study of history with a mind to identifying the sociological trends and principles, which one can then use to better understand the present; and therefore, to better estimate the course towards the future. This is indicated well in these passages, which concern the particular principle of the majority (of people in any given society) being directed by the minority—thus making the important distinction between “elite agendas” and the average person’s “role” in directing the course of society.
Foundations: Their Power and Influence, by Rene A. Wormser (1958)
This (unread) book on my shelf relates to a major way in which elite agendas are implemented in the modern world, being an exposé of the subversive influence of foundations (the article at Earth Emperor’s blog has a good selection of quotes from the book). As expected with an exposé, this book identifies particular foundations, institutions and people to attribute these subversive activities to. However, I generally consider such particulars to be inessential; and often as being a kind of ‘red herring’ in relation to the techniques and principles involved—principles which also belong in a much broader context than any exposé can reasonably provide.
The Corporation – The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power, by Joel Bakan (2004)
Similar to (and more obviously than) foundations, corporations play a major part in implementing elite agendas, which are nevertheless undeclared. This book reveals this role to some extent, by way of exposing the unwarranted degree of power these private institutions hold in forms which have profoundly detrimental effects on society:
“…the corporation is created by law to function much like a psychopathic personality, whose destructive behavior, if unchecked, leads to scandal and ruin. Over the last 150 years the corporation has risen from relative obscurity to become the world’s dominant economic institution […] today’s corporation is a pathological institution, a dangerous possessor of the great power it wields over people and societies.
“The corporation’s legally defined mandate is to pursue relentlessly and without exception its own economic self-interest, regardless of the harmful consequences it might cause to others […] The corporation’s unbridled self-interest victimizes individuals, society, and, when it goes awry, even shareholders and can cause corporations to self-destruct, as recent Wall Street scandals reveal […] Governments have freed the corporation, despite its flawed character, from legal constraints through deregulation and granted it ever greater authority over society through privatization.” -Goodreads
A commendable motive and attitude by Harari in writing this book: to offer his educated estimation of the future result of the course society is and has been on, for the purpose of discussing it and making wiser choices to direct the course intelligently.
The occasions I have read and heard critics recommending this book, they usually qualify it by distancing themselves from what they call Harari’s ‘bleak’, or ‘pessimistic’, ‘or ‘grim’ ‘outlook’ on the course of society and civilization—as if he has chosen to see it that way. When in fact, his examination of society through his knowledge of history reveals disturbing conclusions, which he thinks should be discussed. Furthermore, critics tend not to mention what he states clearly in this passage (and other ones too), which is that the point of his projections is to change the course to a better one.
I put this down to the principle of ‘shooting the messenger’, in which the bearer of bad news is simply blamed, instead of being appreciated for his delivery of important information. This is something I have noticed as being commonplace in the critique of literature, in which critics – in appeal to people’s dislike of bad news – neutralize any thesis or assertions that are too bleak for most people to feel comfortable hearing—and then proceed to ‘recommend’ the parts which don’t create a ‘bleak’ outlook, thus making the critique palatable whilst feeling informative.
Personally, my inclination to understand the world is independent from the pleasantness or unpleasantness of anything I think about or investigate—meaning that whilst I have feelings about both pleasant and unpleasant aspects of life, these feelings never interfere with my thought, inquiry, and judgement. This is why I consider the attitudes of ‘pessimism’ and ‘optimism’ as one of the major false dichotomies in society, in that it excludes the possibility of a pure motive to discover the truth about something, instead implying that the process of forming substantial thoughts about anything is inherently motivated by feeling and desire one way or the other.
In the case Homo Deus, the spirit in which the book was written is declared by Harari more than once; and I found this spirit – which is in no way pessimistic – to be embodied in the work itself (which I recommend reading for the many and varied points of significance it raises). Should you read the book as well as any reviews, you might notice reviewers labelling Harari’s ‘outlook’ – in one way or another – as being ‘pessimistic’, which essentially allows them to discuss some of the important points raised in the book—but within a context which has neutralised the true significance of them, thereby making their review palatable.
‘Novel Behaviour’-Creation via ‘New Knowledge’-Introduction,towards Accelerating ‘Knowledge Redundancy’,creating Greater ‘Confusion’ and Greater ‘Upheavals’
“The process of human development [reacts to our own predictions]. Indeed, the better our forecasts, the more reactions they engender. Hence paradoxically, as we accumulate more data and increase our computing power, events become wilder and more unexpected. The more we know, the less we can predict. Imagine, for example, that one day experts decipher the basic laws of the economy. Once this happens, banks, governments, investors and customers will begin to use this new knowledge to act in novel ways, and gain an edge over their competitors. […] once people change the way they behave, the economic theories become obsolete. We may know how the economy functioned in the past—but we no longer understand how it functions in the present, not to mention the future.” p65
“…the paradox of historical knowledge. Knowledge that does not change behaviour is useless. But knowledge that changes behaviour quickly loses its relevance. The more data we have and the better we understand history, the fast history alters its course, and the faster our knowledge becomes outdated. Centuries ago human knowledge increased slowly, so politics and economics changed at a leisurely pace too. Today our knowledge is increasing at breakneck speed, and theoretically we should understand the world better. But the very opposite is happening. Our new-found knowledge leads to faster economic, social and political changes; in an attempt to understand what is happening, we accelerate the accumulation of knowledge, which leads only to faster and greater upheavals. Consequently we are less able to make sense of the present or forecast the future.” p67
The End of Theory: The Data Deluge Makes the Scientific Method Obsolete, by Chris Anderson, 06.23.08, Wired (Article)
This article relates to the increasing accumulation of data as essentially causing the obsolescence of knowledge—which the article seems to be actually promoting:
“So proclaimed statistician George Box 30 years ago, and he was right. But what choice did we have? Only models, from cosmological equations to theories of human behavior, seemed to be able to consistently, if imperfectly, explain the world around us. Until now. Today companies like Google, which have grown up in an era of massively abundant data, don’t have to settle for wrong models. Indeed, they don’t have to settle for models at all. […]
“The Petabyte Age is different because more is different. Kilobytes were stored on floppy disks. Megabytes were stored on hard disks. Terabytes were stored in disk arrays. Petabytes are stored in the cloud. As we moved along that progression, we went from the folder analogy to the file cabinet analogy to the library analogy to—well, at petabytes we ran out of organizational analogies.
“…the petabyte scale […] forces us to view data mathematically first and establish a context for it later […] Google’s founding philosophy is that we don’t know why this page is better than that one: If the statistics of incoming links say it is, that’s good enough. No semantic or causal analysis is required. That’s why Google can translate languages without actually ‘knowing’ them […] and why it can match ads to content without any knowledge or assumptions about the ads or the content.
“This is a world where massive amounts of data and applied mathematics replace every other tool that might be brought to bear. Out with every theory of human behavior, from linguistics to sociology. Forget taxonomy, ontology, and psychology. Who knows why people do what they do? The point is they do it, and we can track and measure it with unprecedented fidelity. With enough data, the numbers speak for themselves […]
“…faced with massive data, this approach to science — hypothesize, model, test — is becoming obsolete […] Now biology is heading in the same direction […] In short, the more we learn about biology, the further we find ourselves from a model that can explain it.
“There is now a better way. Petabytes allow us to say: ‘Correlation is enough.’ We can stop looking for models. We can analyze the data without hypotheses about what it might show. We can throw the numbers into the biggest computing clusters the world has ever seen and let statistical algorithms find patterns where science cannot.
“The new availability of huge amounts of data, along with the statistical tools to crunch these numbers, offers a whole new way of understanding the world. Correlation supersedes causation, and science can advance even without coherent models, unified theories, or really any mechanistic explanation at all.”
The Rewriting of ‘History’ for ‘Re-Imagined Futures’, towards ‘Revolutionary Movements’
“…the study of history aims above all to make us aware of possibilities we don’t normally consider. Historians study the past not in order to repeat it, but in order to be liberated from it. Each and every one of us has been born into a given historical reality, ruled by particular norms and values, and managed by a unique economic and political system. We take this reality for granted, thinking it is natural, inevitable and immutable […] Therefore we seldom try to shake ourselves free, and envision alternative futures. […] Studying history will not tell us what to choose, but at least it gives us more options.
“Movements seeking to change the world often begin by rewriting history, thereby enabling people to re-imagine the future. Whether you want workers to go on a general strike, women to take possession of their bodies, or oppressed minorities to demand political rights—the first step is to retell their history. The new history will explain that ‘our present situation is neither natural nor eternal. Things were different once. Only a string of chance events created the unjust world we know today. If we act wisely, we can change that world, and create a much better one.’” p69
The key point of what Harari touches upon here is that studying history expands one’s awareness of the various happenings and circumstances that occur in societies and civilizations, which greatly enhances one’s ability to place the current events into perspective—because the historical parallels are always there, and the hindsight examination offered by historians strengthens one’s ability to evaluate the present and foresee the future.
This is why Sociology is also an essential subject to read alongside History, in order to better interpret the appearance of the world around oneself: sociologists often draw on historical parallels to help explain the present; and thus the frequent reading of both subjects leads to a growing awareness of essential socio-historical circumstances, which cyclically reoccur in the world under the unique appearances of particular societies and eras.
Harari nicely summarises a particular technique of political agitation, towards social movements designed to incite changes in the status quo. This is the kind of process which can be detailed thoroughly in history, so that when one reads the ‘story’, he essentially becomes familiar with the basic formula – the nature and sequence of events involved – which instils in him the ability to recognise the pattern, should it be occurring or potentially occurring in present events.
‘Insidious Change’ via the ‘Slippery Slope’-Method in the ‘Normalization of Deficiency’ towards ‘Justified Modification’, being an Ideological-‘Development Motive’, Obscured by ‘Lay Naivety’ and ‘Professional Dishonesty’
“No clear line separates healing from upgrading. Medicine almost always begins by saving people from falling below the norm, but the same tools and know-how can then be used to surpass the norm […] Modern plastic surgery was born in the First World War [to treat facial injuries…] Nowadays plastic surgeons make millions in private clinics whose explicit and sole aim is to upgrade the healthy and beautify the wealthy. The same might happen with genetic engineering. If a billionaire openly stated that he intended to engineer super-smart offspring, imagine the public outcry.
“But it won’t happen like that. We are more likely to slide down a slippery slope. It begins with parents whose genetic profile puts their children at high risk of deadly genetic diseases. So they perform ‘in vitro’ fertilization, and test the DNA of the fertilized egg […] Well then, why not rig the lottery? Fertilize several eggs, and choose the one with the best combination [of beauty and brains…] select your optimal baby from among hundreds of candidates, all carrying your DNA, all perfectly natural, and none requiring any futuristic genetic engineering. Iterate this procedure for a few generations, and you could easily end up with superhumans (or a creepy dystopia).” p60
“And while you are at it, why not give the child a little push? Life is hard and challenging even for healthy people. So it would surely come in handy of the little girl had a stronger-than-normal immune system, an above-average memory or a particularly sunny disposition. And even if you don’t want that for your child—what if the neighbours are doing it for theirs? Would you have your child lag behind? […] And like that, in baby steps, we are on our way to a genetic child catalogue.” p62
“Healing is the initial justification for every upgrade. Find some professors experimenting in genetic engineering or brain-computer interfaces, and ask them why they are engaged in such research. In all likelihood they will reply that they are doing it to cure disease. […] If anybody really believes this, then they may know a great deal about brains and computers, but far less about the human psyche and human society. […] This is why it is so vital to think about humanity’s new agenda. Precisely because we have some choice regarding the use of new technologies, we had better understand what is happening and make up our minds about it before it makes up our minds for us.” p63
One generation is all they need, by Kevin Haggerty, Toronto Star, Dec. 10, 2000 (Article)
This article does an excellent job of describing the sequence in which radical social changes are brought about via the “slippery slope” method: not only does it reveal the techniques and sequence of the process itself – i.e. applicable to any kind of gradually implemented social change – but it also happens to relate directly to Harari’s theme of ‘human upgrading’, in the form of biological microchip implantations.
This important point Harari alludes to here is the principle that the initial justifications given to the population – about anything – are merely a way to smoothly initiate a gradual process of change towards an entirely different end; and further, the belief that such developments will not be used for ideological motives, resulting in mass consent of people having their minds made up for them—by avoiding the opportunity to understand what is happening now.
This science fiction film serves as a realistic imagining of the society this slippery-“genetic engineering”-slope could easily bring about—and particularly, its effects on the non-modified individual:
[Narration] They used to say that a child conceived in love has a greater chance of happiness. They don’t say that anymore […] Ten fingers, ten toes, that’s all that used to matter, but not now. Now, only seconds old, the exact time and cause of my death was already known […] from an early age I came to think of myself as others thought of me – chronically ill. Every skinned knee and runny nose treated as if it were life-threatening.
[Narration] I belonged to a new underclass, no longer determined by social status or the color of your skin. No, we now have discrimination down to a science.
[Narration] It didn’t matter how much I lied on my resumé, my real C.V. was in my cells. Why should anybody invest all that money to train me, when there are a thousand other applicants with a far cleaner profile? Of course, it’s illegal to discriminate -“genoism” it’s called – but no one takes the laws seriously.
[Narration] They don’t care where you were born, just how. Blood has no nationality. So long as it’s got what they’re looking for, that’s the only passport you need.
[To Irene] They’ve got you looking so hard for any flaw that after a while that’s all you see.Vincent Anton Freeman (Gattaca)
Vincent: [after his genetic test] What about the interview?
Dr. Lamar: That was it.
The ‘Algorithmification of Life’-Prism towards the ‘Mathematicalization of Decision-Making’
“In recent decades life scientists have demonstrated that emotions are not some mysterious spiritual phenomenon that is useful just for writing poetry and composing symphonies. Rather, emotions are biochemical algorithms that are vital for the survival and reproduction of all mammals. […] This is of great importance […] because the twenty-first century will be dominated by algorithms. ‘Algorithm’ is arguably the single most important concept in our world. If we want to understand our life and our future, we should make every effort to understand what an algorithm is, and how algorithms are connected with emotions. p97
“Over the last few decades biologists have reached the firm conclusion that the man pressing the buttons [on a vending machine] and drinking the tea is also an algorithm. A much more complicated algorithm than the vending machine, no doubt, but still an algorithm. Humans are algorithms that produce not cups of tea, but copies of themselves […] The algorithms controlling vending machines work through mechanical gears and electric circuits. The algorithms controlling humans work through sensations, emotions and thoughts. And exactly the same kind of algorithms control pigs, baboons, otters and chickens. Consider, for example, the following survival problem: a baboon spots some bananas hanging on a tree, but also notices a lion lurking nearby. Should the baboon risk his life for those bananas? This boils down to a mathematical problem of calculating probabilities: the probability that the baboon will die of hunger if he does not eat the bananas, versus the probability that the lion will catch the baboon. In order to solve this problem the baboon needs to take into account a lot of data.” p98
“Even Nobel laureates in economics make only a tiny fraction of their decisions using pen, paper and calculator; 99 per cent of our decisions—including the most important life choices concerning spouses, careers and habitats—are made by the highly refined algorithms we call sensations, emotions and desires.” p101
This passage represents the logical and inevitable next step in the progressive scientific paradigm of Man as a machine, being guided towards Utopia by scientists continually dissecting and modifying of his ‘machinery’. The key point here is the removal of decision-making from the Individual, and the bestowing it upon the Algorithm, which “controls humans”—from which will be justified the minute converting, tracking, measuring, calculating, and ‘optimizing’ of “data”, derived from – and reapplied to – human biology and activity.
As discussed later in the book, this removal of basic human sovereignty in thought and action via the context of mathematics, data, and algorithms, is preparing the ideological groundwork for the bestowal of sovereignty upon algorithms—to the point of deification.
The Universal Palatability of ‘Nonsensical Scientific Theories’ due to the ‘Non-Contradicting of Cherished Beliefs’
“Why does the theory of evolution provoke such objections, whereas nobody seems to care about the theory of relativity or quantum mechanics? How come politicians don’t ask that kids be exposed to alternative theories about matter, energy, space and time? […] the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics argue that you can twist time and space, that something can appear out of nothing, and that a cat can be both alive and dead at the same time. This makes a mockery of our common sense, yet nobody seeks to protect innocent schoolchildren from these scandalous ideas. Why? The theory of relativity makes nobody angry, because it doesn’t contradict any of our cherished beliefs. Most people don’t care an iota whether space and time are absolute or relative. If you think it is possible to bend space and time, well, be my guest. Go ahead and bend them. What do I care? In contrast, Darwin has deprived us of our souls. If you really understand the theory of evolution, you understand that there is no soul. p120
It was a pleasant surprise to read a popular writer mentioning of these two particular theories – Relativity and Quantum Mechanics – as being a “mockery” of “common sense”—yet which have been firmly established in modern thought without objection. However, his attributing this absence of objection to the theories’ non-contradiction of cherished beliefs is only part of the explanation—the lesser part.
Firstly, I will introduce an important principle related to scientific theories, which is not mentioned in this passage by Harari (although it does have some resonance with a few of his later passages): The purpose of scientific theories is not to advance the understanding of objective reality, but to establish a metaphorical – and thus subliminal – ideological paradigm from which society orients its manner of thought, its attitudes, and its activities.
In the case of The Theory of Relativity, the following two articles discuss its implications beyond the realm of Science:
Einstein’s Theory of Relativity: Implications Beyond Science? by Hans Arora, Oct 20, 2008, Helix Magazine (Article)
“Einstein’s theories of relativity have not only affected our daily lives in such basic ways as how we heat our homes, reach our destinations, and measure our days. His theories of relativity were used by philosophers, politicians, and activists to turn moral philosophy upside-down. Relativity fueled postmodernism and philosophic relativism. Prior to relativity, philosophers such as Aristotle, Kant, and Mill argued that there was an absolute truth and an absolute way of approaching various aspects of life. For example, a businessman who comes across a child drowning in a pond is obligated to save the child’s life. However, now armed with relativity, facts are no longer absolute, but instead dependent upon your viewpoint, your own “philosophical” inertial reference frame. Right and wrong now vary from person-to-person, an idea which was so readily accepted because that now meant that each one of our viewpoints could be considered valid, as there was no absolute truth to be had. Of course, it should be noted that this philosophical argument is not always accepted by the laws and social norms we produce.
“Another societal implication of Einstein’s theories is due to his humble background […] He had earned his success and thus, we could too. Power and fame were not just for the rich and established. Education became the ticket to success for many less fortunate in the United States. He exemplified the importance of diversity and openness at a time when the world was not ready to see that which was different. Due to his fame and prominence after the publication of his theories of relativity, Einstein became an everyday hero. […]
“Through all of these realms of influence, it becomes obvious that Einstein is not simply a brilliant physicist, but a man who changed his world in ways that he could not have even foreseen. It is for these reasons that he has often been called the most influential person of modern history, and that the greatest impact of his work on relativity was not on our science, but on our society.”
Intellectual And Cultural Impact Of Relativity, by Encyclopædia Britannic (Article)
“The impact of relativity has not been limited to science. Special relativity arrived on the scene at the beginning of the 20th century, and general relativity became widely known after World War I—eras when a new sensibility of “modernism” was becoming defined in art and literature. […] The ideas of relativity were widely applied—and misapplied—soon after their advent. Some thinkers interpreted the theory as meaning simply that all things are relative, and they employed this concept in arenas distant from physics. The Spanish humanist philosopher and essayist José Ortega y Gasset, for instance, wrote in The Modern Theme (1923): ‘The theory of Einstein is a marvelous proof of the harmonious multiplicity of all possible points of view. If the idea is extended to morals and aesthetics, we shall come to experience history and life in a new way.’
“When relativity was first announced, the public was typically awestruck by its complexity, a justified response to the intricate mathematics of general relativity. But the abstract, nonvisceral nature of the theory also generated reactions against its apparent violation of common sense. These reactions included a political undertone; in some quarters, it was considered undemocratic to present or support a theory that could not be immediately understood by the common person […] Some of these ideas have gained meaning beyond their strictly scientific ones; in the business world, for instance, ‘black hole’ can mean an unrecoverable financial drain.”
Regarding the relationship between common sense and scientific theory, the following anecdote of the meeting between Charlie Chaplin and Albert Einstein comes to mind:
Einstein: What I most admire about your art, is your universality. You don’t say a word, yet the world understands you!
Chaplin: True. But your glory is even greater! The whole world admires you, even though they don’t understand a word of what you say.
In the case of Quantum Mechanics, the following article examines the ideological implications of this theory:
Ideology of/in Contemporary Physics, by Jean Marc Lévy Leblond (1976 Article)
The subheading “Appraising Ideology in Science” (which I found from a PDF source) begins:
“Today one could say of ideology, what used to be said of the devil: his best strategem is to make us disbelieve his existence. Thus, as a general rule, ideology has to obscure itself to achieve its prime effect. This is why its presence, even when recognised, is not easy to bring out. Scientific activity, in particular, often describes itself as typically non-ideological, invoking the myth of ‘scientific objectivity’. That the denial of the role of ideology in science is simultaneously an admission of its importance, is not a new proposition […] ideological elements cannot be separated from ‘scientific’ ones since they coexist within the real practice of science, which ideology underlies and conditions.”
The article raises many points concerning the production and nature of Science’s ideology, which conceals the invalidity of its theories:
Science as being the “dominant ideology”: The institutional separation between the end products of Science and the procedures which produced it—an activity which bears the mark of a “dominant ideology” that “precludes effective criticism”.
The philosophical domination of quantum physics by theoreticians “(the elite, of course!)”, reflected in the literature, which rarely involves experimentalists.
The ideology being passed down to scientists, who then received theories and methods at second hand, and “are not able to separate the core of rational knowledge from the ideological shell”—the latter of which “then grows gradually thicker with successive editions”.
Quantum Physics: This situation is even more obvious in Quantum Physics, which brought about a “‘crisis of determinism’” by “a modification of the forms of physical causality”, and “opened the gates to a flood of philosophical, ideological and even political lucubrations”.
Theories being generalized and applied beyond their field: The “‘uncertainty principle’ […] was generalised out of any proportion and combined with the vague notion of ‘complementarity’, laxly applied and beyond its field of validity […]
Concealment of the line between Ideology and Science: This represented “a true ideological exploitation of modern physics”, by which “the proper ideological space in which to draw the necessary demarcation line was thus concealed.”
Non-practical textbooks: Regarding the textbook presentation of the theories of relativity and quantum physics, they consist of “philosophical reflections in which traditional dogmas are enunciated under a much more schematic and poorer form than that of their creators”, followed by “the ‘strictly scientific’ content of the book”, which “consists, in general, of purely theoretical, exaggeratedly formalistic accounts, from which references to real experiments steadily vanish. Not a single impression is left of the real procedures of scientific activity, of the dialectic between theory and practice, heuristic models and formalism, axioms and history. Modern physics appears as a collection of mathematical formulae, whose only justification is that ‘they work’. Moreover, the ‘examples’ used to ‘concretise’ the knowledge are often totally unreal, and actually have the effect of making it even more abstract.”
The teaching situation in Quantum Physics is “in perfect ideological harmony with the general context of modern physics. A closed arduous, forbidding education, which stresses technical manipulation more than conceptual understanding, in which neither past difficulties nor future problems in the search for knowledge appear, perfectly fulfils two essential roles: to promote hierarchisation and the ‘elite’ spirit on behalf of a science shown as being intrinsically difficult, to be within the reach of only a few privileged individuals; and to impose a purely operational technical concept of knowledge, far from a true conceptual understanding…”
Misuse of the term ‘scientific’: The lines in a given field of knowledge have been made unclear as to demarcating “the boundaries of what can properly be called ‘scientific’…”
Science in service to Power: The “political needs of capitalism […] tends more and more to subordinate knowledge to power, research to production, science to profit.”
The practical disciplines being removed from the field of Physics (in favour of the ‘ideologically prestigious’ theoretical branch): “Disciplines such as acoustics, the mechanics of fluids, elasticity, and even classical thermodynamics and the resistance of materials, which were at the zenith of physics in the nineteenth century, are increasingly slipping out of the field of ‘contemporary’ physics. They are practically no longer taught at university, and in spite (or because) of their considerable importance in production, on account of their lack of ideological prestige […] they have very little place in the popularisation and public image of physics in general.”
Non-Scientific ‘knoweldge’ in the exclusion of non-specialist criticism: “…knowledge is truly reified, and once it has got out of the specialists’ hands, it loses its ‘scientificity’, in the sense that every theoretical assimilation and therefore criticism is excluded to give room to mere empirical manipulation. The consequences are tremendous and contribute more than a little to the support of the ideology of expertise and competence.”
The esotericism and elitism of Science creating a counterpart to the superstitious false-knowledge it claims to replace: “What is the status of a ‘truth’, which, at present, can be evident to only a minority? What else can one conclude about the persistence, if not the intensification, of beliefs in astrology, extrasensory perception, and so forth, except the undoubted failure of modern science in its claims to universal rationality? How can one fail to see that the esotericism, elitism, inaccessibility, dehumanisation of—no doubt rigorous—sciences are precisely the counterpart of the false knowledge, easy illusions, passivity, maintained by these other, not so occult, sciences?”
An institutionally determined ideology which precludes the motive to benefit humankind: “…ideological determinations operate institutionally much more than individually; that is to say, far up‑stream or down‑stream from the place where the flux of scientific production emerges as a delimited, formulated discovery […] This crisis is particularly obvious in the field of physics. It is expressed, on the one hand, by a lack of motivation on the part of many young research workers, and, on the other hand, by the efforts of readjustment and self‑justification on the part of the establishment. It is characterised by a serious loss of credibility in traditional values, which before had made it possible for research workers to create acceptable self‑images. The esotericism of peak physics makes it more and more difficult to argue that knowledge in itself is in the ‘interest of the whole of humanity’. The military and technical applications of more traditional branches undermine any prospect of using scientific progress for the benefit of humankind.”
The functional self-images of research workers: “Today, however, the extent of the division of labour in scientific work has considerably altered the image that research workers have of themselves. I shall deal with the case of the great majority of these workers, leaving out the simpler cases of scientists at the top of the hierarchy. Under its three essential forms of accentuated social hierarchy, specialisation and esotericism, this fragmentation of scientific tasks demands from researchers a subjective adjustment to their social function, which occurs at present in three different ways, reflecting three types of professional ideology.
“(a) Elitism. This is the method adopted by ‘brilliant young scientists’ who arrived at research through prestigious channels such as the Higher Schools […] in France, or famous universities of Britain or the United States. They generally hold a position in full‑time research and may ignore the serious ideological and economic problems of teaching and relating to students. They are convinced of their own personal value and of the interest, in itself, of the notions they are trying to unveil. They play the games of intense competitiveness and productivity, which prevail, for instance, in particle physics. Their ascent in the hierarchy seems to them scientifically jutified (and, as I have said before, so it is, ideologically).
“(b) Professionalism. This is the present ideology of the largest number of research workers. They think of themselves as having a profession ‘like any other profession’, ‘rather well paid for not too much work’. They do not believe in their ‘mission’ but find that what they do is ‘rather more interesting than something else’. And as long as they are paid for doing research work, they do not ask too many questions. The speed in which ‘fashion’ succeeds ‘fashion’ in research topics leaves them indifferent; they do not try to follow the rhythm and are quite contented to write just enough to fill in the yearly report of activity. The professional types, however, are more and more coming into sharp conflict though they minimise the amount of energy put into it—with the demands of ‘profitability’ and ‘mobility’ imposed on research workers by the bodies to which they belong […]
“(c) Criticism. Still a small, yet increasing, number of scientists are less and less prepared to tolerate their alienation within a scientific system which is more and more obviously integrated into the social mechanisms of production, exploitation of work, political domination and oppression”[…]
The fragmented production of knowledge, in which the vast majority of scientists have no control: “If this trend is developing today, it is less because of a sudden influence of external, ideological and political criticisms within scientific practice, than of the consequences of the increase of sharp inner contradictions between the traditional professional ideology and the subjective reality of scientific work. It was possible in the past to separate global, political and ideological positions from scientific practice. This practice was considered neutral by the conservatives, progressive by the left. If the latter did not ask deeper questions as to the nature of their work, it was because, although failing to control the motivations for support or the repercussions of their work, they could at least control the process itself. The major consequence of the mechanism of the division of labour, was, it seems to me, to end this control. Now, the production of knowledge, as the production of material goods, is fragmented. Average scientists do not even control the meaning of their own work. Very often, they are obscure labourers in theoretical computation or experimentation; they only have a very narrow perspective of the global process to which their work is related. Confined to a limited subject, in a specialised field, their competence is extremely restricted. It is only necessary to listen to the complaints of the previous generations’ scientists on the disappearance of ‘general culture’ in science.”
The narrowing of the field of scientific competence by the dominating field of Physics: “In fact, the case of physics is eloquent on the subject. One can say that, until the beginning of this century, the knowledge of an average physicist had progressed in a cumulative way, including progressively the whole of previous discovery. The training of physicists demanded an almost universal knowledge in the various spheres of physics. The arrival of ‘modern’ physics has brought about not only the parcelling of fields of knowledge, but also the abandonment of whole areas. I have already said that important sections of nineteenth‑century physics are today excluded from the scientific knowledge of many physicists. Therefore the fields of competence are not only getting narrower, but some of them are practically vanishing altogether. If physicists no longer know about physics, a fortiori they know nothing about science! The idea of a ‘scientific culture’, of a ‘scientific method‘, of a ‘scientific spirit‘, which were common to all scientists and used to give them a large capacity for the rational understanding of all reality, have turned into huge practical jokes. True, some scientists have access to a global vision of their field or even of the social organisation of science and social ties, but that tends to depend solely on the position of power they occupy. The others, massively, are dispossessed of all mastery over their activity. They have no control, no understanding of its direction.”
The ‘House of Cards’ that is Theoretical Physics: “One result of the loss of control is the growing anarchy in scientific publications. There is a flood of papers, often of mediocre quality and on topics of no interest, except that of maintaining their authors in their positions. 90 per cent of scientific papers are never mentioned in other publications. The increase in the number of scientific journals makes for a good commercial business for the publishing houses, yet with all this massive production it is impossible to assemble a serious, large up‑to‑date documentation. Then, intensive and short‑lived fashions flourish on such or such an idea launched by a big name. But the bone is abandoned half‑eaten, abandoned when it gets too hard, and then the next one is tried. The path of theoretical physics has been lined for the last few years with incomplete, derelict buildings […] as many fashions as notions, certainly useful but with badly delimited concepts whose validity was partial and uncontrolled. The style of scientific work is becoming superficial, the direction is lost inside the global project; the research scientist works on a short‑term basis and no longer knows the general significance of his or her production.”
The preclusion of the true judgement of scientific production: “Here is a question of a real intellectual proletarianisation; scientists are as dispossessed of the products of their minds as workers of the products of their hands. The ideological crisis in science arises from the contradiction between this reality and the image, mentioned above, of a science considered as a general and global control of reality. Evidently, and of first importance, there are economic aspects of the crisis: insecurity of employment, demands for increased productivity, and so on. This description is particularly relevant in physics.
“Yet the critical ideology, which today spreads into the scientific milieu, is far from having acquired a satisfactory strength or shape, particularly because it is torn apart by two opposite tendencies. One pushes towards externalisation, so as to place the weight of the criticism on extra‑scientific institutions, on causes and consequences of scientific production; denouncing, for instance, the disastrous influence of capitalist monopolies or the role of the army. The second, by contrast tries to reduce the field of criticism to the visible core of scientific activity, to the explicit form of its results […] In both cases we witness the same phenomenon, that is the eclipse of the true judgement of scientific production.”
The Big Bang Theory (2007- TV Show) has some relevance here—particularly in its depiction of the character Sheldon in relation to the other scientists in the show—Sheldon being the only theoretical physicist amongst the main characters. Whilst watching a behind-the-scenes documentary of the show (entitled The Big Bang Theory of Everything) a scientist points out the Sheldon not only looks down upon the others as being involved in lesser occupations than his, but he does so in direct proportion to the degree of practical application those professions involve. For example:
- Leonard is an experimental physicist, i.e. he conducts experiments, and is not just occupied with theories—hence, Leonard is often derided by Sheldon on this very basis.
- Raj is an astrophysicist, which is still in the branch of physics; but, being a specialized field, he is therefore at one remove from Leonard; and two removes from Sheldon—making Raj second in Sheldon’s hierarchy of scientific importance (and therefore, of general importance, as Science is implicitly considered to be above all by all of these characters).
- Howard is an aerospace engineer; and therefore not a physicist at all—placing him below both Leonard and Raj. And even less important than engineers (according to Sheldon’s hierarchy) are:
- Biologists Amy (neurobiology) and Bernadette (microbiology), who are occupied in working with living matter—which is considered to be lesser than manufactured matter (i.e. scientifically produced).
- Howard is an aerospace engineer; and therefore not a physicist at all—placing him below both Leonard and Raj. And even less important than engineers (according to Sheldon’s hierarchy) are:
- Raj is an astrophysicist, which is still in the branch of physics; but, being a specialized field, he is therefore at one remove from Leonard; and two removes from Sheldon—making Raj second in Sheldon’s hierarchy of scientific importance (and therefore, of general importance, as Science is implicitly considered to be above all by all of these characters).
This scientist commenting on Sheldon’s frequent derision of these ‘lesser’ branches of science, pointed out that this trope was derived from reality, in that:
- Theoretical physics garners
the most prestige within Physics (and
therefore within Science).
- Physics is considered to
be ‘above all’ amongst the other fields of Science.
- And the descent in prestige continues in relation to the movement away from the theory of physics, and from Physics itself, towards ‘hands on’ work, such as engineering and biology—i.e. practical application and experimentation.
- Physics is considered to be ‘above all’ amongst the other fields of Science.
The following article touches upon this depiction as being an accurate reflection of professional bias amongst the fields of Science:
The Image of Scientists in The Big Bang Theory, by Margaret A. Weitekamp, Physics Today, Jan 2017
“Authentic scientific details help The Big Bang Theory to depict particular scientific subfields and the biases that some scientists have. Sheldon, a theoretical physicist who works with equations and theories but not with any physical apparatus, sees a fundamental difference between his work and Leonard’s experimental research. Conversely, Leonard teases Sheldon about some of the conclusions that theoretical physicists have reached. In the pilot, for instance, Leonard criticizes the multiple extra dimensions postulated by string theorists: ‘At least I didn’t have to invent 26 dimensions just to make the math come out.’ When Sheldon retorts, ‘I didn’t invent them. They’re there,’ Leonard asks incredulously, ‘In what universe?’ Sheldon’s reply, ‘In all of them. That is the point,’ serves both as a punch line and an insider’s reference to string theory.
“Sheldon regularly dismisses microbiology and neuroscience, the respective fields of Bernadette and Amy, as less significant than physics—that is, less intense, less difficult, and less demanding. To lay viewers, Sheldon’s opinions might seem to be extreme and impolitic, a reflection of his characteristic lack of social grace.
“The Big Bang Theory also contains a running joke about the historic rift between scientists and engineers. In the first season, Sheldon expresses the sentiment with characteristic comic bluntness as he enters Howard’s lab: ‘Engineering, where the noble, semiskilled laborers execute the vision of those who think and dream.’ He says, surveying the room, ‘Hello, Oompa Loompas of science!’ The hierarchical distinctions between different kinds of scholarly labor are reinforced by the scientist characters who repeatedly address Howard, with emphasis, as ‘Mister’ Wolowitz. Notwithstanding such accomplishments as a master’s degree from MIT and selection to fly to the ISS, Howard is constantly reminded throughout the series that he lacks a PhD.”
Toxemia Explained, by J.H. Tilden (1926/1935) is a book on the subject of disease and health; and it contains a passage of some relevance here, in which Tilden points out that particular professions within the sciences are invested with unwarranted prestige:
“…the unscientific nature of medicine and the antiscientific character of doctors lies in their inflate credulity and inability to think independently. This contention is supported by the report on the intelligence of physicians recently published by the National Research Council. They are found by more or less trustworthy psychologic tests to be lowest in intelligence of all the professional men, excepting only dentists and horse-doctors. Dentists and horse-doctors are ten per cent less intelligent […] It is significant that engineers head the list in intelligence. In fact, they are rated sixty per cent higher than doctors. This wide disparity leads to a temptation to interesting psychological probings. Is not the lamentable lack of intelligence of the doctor due to lack of necessity for rigid intellectual discipline? Many conditions conspire to make him an intellectual cheat […] it is natural for the physician to turn [nature] to his advantage and to intimate that he has cured John Smith, when actually nature has done the trick. On the contrary, should Smith die, the good doctor can assume a pious expression and suggest that, despite his own incredible skill and tremendous effort, it was God’s (or nature’s) will that John should pass beyond.
“Now, the engineer is open to no such temptation. He builds a bridge or erects a building, and disaster is sure to follow any misstep in calculation or fault in construction. Should such a calamity occur, he is presently discredited and disappears from view. Thus he is held up to a high mark of intellectual rigor and discipline that is utterly unknown in the world the doctor inhabits.”
This unwarranted disparity of esteem between the doctor and the engineer continues between the physicist and the engineer—despite that the engineer is the only one of the two whose “intellectual rigor and discipline” is held to account, since his failings in calculation will result in actual – i.e. physical, tangible, real – failings.
Whereas the physicist – especially the theoretical physicist – is permitted to dispense all manner of esoteric jargon, which is then simplified to popular ‘theories’; and which, as Harari said, makes a “mockery” of “common sense”—yet which will be ordained by the scientific establishment and popularised in the media.
The result is the popularisation (i.e. widespread acceptance) of nonsensical notions such as Schrödinger’s cat, in which “the cat is simultaneously alive and dead…” until one looks in the box to see if the cat is alive or dead—the act of seeing spoken of as it is the creation of this reality.
The [quantum] theory reminds me a little of the system of delusions of an exceedingly intelligent paranoiac.Albert Einstein, 1952
Whilst listening to an interview of the astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson on the Joe Rogan Show (episode #919, Feb 2017), I heard an illustrative exchange which serves as an example of the kind of confusion-inducing nonsense being popularised under the name of Science.
Rogan’s podcast is one of the most popular in the world; and he introduces Tyson on this episode by saying: “My guest today is one of the coolest people on the planet Earth. One of the most important people on the planet Earth.” Between the two of them, their discussion probably has considerable influence on public thought concerning physics—which is important to consider when reading the following exchange:
Tyson: There is – I don’t know how many people know this, but often it’s mind-blowing when you learn – that some infinities are bigger than others. [aside to the audience] Joe Rogan just leaned 2 feet away from the microphone.
Rogan: [mind blown] How is that?
Tyson: Yeah, not all infinities are the same size.
Rogan: [confused] But if it’s ‘infinity’, it’s infinity(?) It’s ‘infinite’.
Tyson then goes onto to explain how there are “orders of inifinity”, after which Rogan says that his “brain hurts”:
Tyson: It’s okay if your brain hurts when I say there’s a rank infinity’s—but you shouldn’t say ‘that doesn’t make sense, therefore it is not true’.
Rogan: But what confuses me is the word ‘inifinity’, because I have always taken the word ‘infinity’ to mean ‘something that has no end’. So how can something that has no end be larger than something else that has no end?
Tyson: So they way we do that mathematically…
When Tyson’s ‘mathematical explanation’ reaches the point of saying: “…one Infinity outstrips the other Infinity [Rogan: Wow.] and then you’re left with more numbers…”, Rogan seems to have now given up his logical objection to this Infinity-shattering concept.
Returning to Harari’s point of ‘non-contradiction of cherished beliefs’, I now add that this principle is less significant than the factor of ideologically ordained prestige, which is the true force in gaining the widespread acceptance of anything.
To conclude NC22, it begins the connection between Science and Ideology, i.e. as Science being ideological and therefore not objective and rational as it claims to be; and this, in following NCs, will be elaborated in the connection between Science and Religion, in discussing the religious aspects of the scientific establishment.
The ‘Anti-Individuality’ Implication of the ‘Theory of Evolution’, towards ‘Individuality Obsolescence’
“The literal meaning of the word ‘individual’ is ‘something that cannot be divided’. That I am an ‘in-dividual’ implies that my true self is a holistic entity rather than an assemblage of separate parts […] My body and brain undergo a constant process of change, as neurons fire, hormones flow and muscles contract. My personality, wishes and relationships never stand still, and may be completely transformed over years and decades. But underneath it all I remain the same person from birth to death—and hopefully beyond death as well. Unfortunately, the theory of evolution rejects the idea that my true self is some indivisible, immutable and potentially eternal essence. According to [it], all biological entities […] are composed of smaller and simpler parts that ceaselessly combine and separate [and] have evolved gradually, as a result of new combinations and splits. Something that cannot be divided or changed cannot have come into existence through natural selection […] “That’s why the theory of evolution cannot accept the idea of souls, at least if by ‘soul’ we mean something indivisible, immutable and potentially eternal. Such an entity cannot possibly result from a step-by-step evolution. Natural selection could produce a human eye, because the eye has parts. But the soul has no parts.” p122
Harari here points out an inherent contradiction between two dominant ideologies of modern times – ‘Evolution’ and ‘Individuality’ – which alludes to the inevitable decline of Individuality as it was originally understood, i.e. being true to your own authentic self, despite whatever social pressures there are to suppress or alter it. The key point is that the culture is increasingly encouraging a normalized – i.e. desired – state of flux for society and for the individual, in that both are expected to adapt to ceaseless changes—and to habitually ‘celebrate’ the advent Change.
The DNAification of ‘Soul’ towards the Molecular Mutification of ‘Human Essence’
“Hence the existence of souls cannot be squared with the theory of evolution. Evolution means change, and is incapable of producing everlasting entities. From an evolutionary perspective, the closest thing we have to a human essence is our DNA, and the DNA molecule is the vehicle of mutation rather than the seat of eternity.” p123
This alludes to the ideological significance of the popularisation of ‘DNA’, in that it is being used by Science to take-over the role played by the Soul in the Christian religion (which Science has replaced). The ideological difference between the two is that a soul is of an unchanging nature – that being of no use to Science, which is inherently ‘progressive’ in purpose; and DNA has been presented as something not only alterable, but something which will need to be altered.
The Nullification of ‘Mind’ via the ‘Brain Origin’-Prism of ‘Subjectivity’ and the ‘Magical-Logic’ Explanation of ‘Consciousness’
“Scientists don’t know how a collection of electric brain signals creates subjective experiences. Even more crucially, they don’t know what could be the evolutionary benefit of such a phenomenon. It is the greatest lacuna in our understanding of life […] Ironically, the better we map this process, the harder it becomes to explain conscious feelings. The better we understand the brain, the more redundant the mind seems. If the entire system works by electric signals passing from here to there, why the hell do we also need to feel fear? If a chain of electrochemical reactions leads all the way from the nerve cells in the eye to the movements of leg muscles, why add subjective experiences to this chain? […] You might argue that we need a mind because the mind stores memories, makes plans and autonomously sparks completely new images and ideas. It doesn’t just respond to outside stimuli […] But wait a moment. What are all these memories, imaginations and thoughts? Where do they exist? According to current biological theories, our memories, imaginations and thoughts don’t exist in some higher immaterial field. Rather, they too are avalanches of electric signals fired by billions of neurons” […]
“Is there any material movement, of even a single electron, that is caused by the subjective experience of fear rather than by the prior movement of some other particle? If there is no such movement—and if every electron moves because another electron moved earlier—why do we need to experience fear? We have no clue. Philosophers have encapsulated this riddle in a trick question: what happens in the mind that doesn’t happen in the brain? If nothing happens in the mind except what happens in our massive network of neurons—then why do we need the mind? If something does indeed happen in the mind over and above what happens in the neural network—where the hell does it happen? […] Some brain scientists argue that it happens in the ‘global workspace’ created by the interaction of many neurons. Yet the word ‘workspace’ is just a metaphor. What is the reality behind the metaphor? Where do the different pieces of information actually meet and fuse? According to current theories, it certainly doesn’t take place in some Platonic fifth dimension. Rather, it takes place, say, where two previously unconnected neurons suddenly start firing signals to one another. A new synapse is formed between the [neurons]. But if so, why do we need the conscious experience of memory over and above the physical event of the two neurons connecting? We can pose the same riddle in mathematical terms.” p135
“Present-day dogma holds that organisms are algorithms, and that algorithms can be represented in mathematical formulas. […] But is there any algorithm in the huge realm of mathematics that contains a subjective experience? p128
“Another way to dismiss mind and consciousness is to deny their relevance rather than their existence. Some scientists—such as Daniel Dennett and Stanislas Dehaene—argue that all relevant questions can be answered by studying brain activities, without any recourse to subjective experiences. So scientists can safely delete ‘mind’, ‘consciousness’ and ‘subjective experiences’ from their vocabulary and articles. However […] the whole edifice of modern politics and ethics is built upon subjective experiences, and few ethical dilemmas can be solved by referring strictly to brain activities.”
“Finally, some scientists concede that consciousness is real and may actually have great moral and political value, but that it fulfils no biological function whatsoever. Consciousness is the biologically useless by-product of certain brain processes […] consciousness may be a kind of mental pollution produced by the firing of complex neural networks. It doesn’t do anything. It is just there. If this is true, it implies that all the pain and pleasure experienced by billions of creatures for millions of years is just mental pollution […] it is quite amazing to realise that as of 2016, this is the best theory of consciousness that contemporary science has to offer us.” p136
Having reduced the ‘soul’ to ‘DNA’, the next step is to covert ‘consciousness’ to ‘neurological activity’, thus completing the ideological mechanization of Man: ‘you’ are nothing but a particular formation of biological cells, as they interact with each other and the world, all of which can be measured and modified—and so they must be!
This passage draws attention to the dogma of organisms as algorithms, and the ploys of dismissing either the existence or relevance of ‘consciousness’, so as to justify the institutional revising of scientific literature to promote this dogma structurally, i.e. implicitly in the terminology, which increasingly speaks in terms of neurological functions as being the essence of subjective experience. In other words, your ‘mind’ and your ‘thoughts’ are the products of algorithmic brain activity.
Science’s ‘Dustbinning’ of the ‘Intangible Aspects of Life’ via the Ideological Equating of ‘Unprovable’ with ‘Non-Existant or Irrelevant’
“The same fate has befallen the soul. For thousands of years people believed that all our actions and decisions emanate from our souls. Yet in the absence of any supporting evidence, and given the existence of much more detailed alternative theories, the life sciences have ditched the soul. As private individuals, many biologists and doctors may go on believing in souls. Yet they never write about them in serious scientific journals. Maybe the mind should join the soul, God and ether in the dustbin of science? After all, no one has ever seen experiences of pain or love through a microscope, and we have a very detailed biochemical explanation for pain and love that leaves no room for subjective experiences.” p134
This passage uses the appropriate phrase “the dustbin of science”—because this is the scientific attitude towards anything of no use for – or is contradictory to – its ideological enterprises. The attitude itself is more significant than the particular things it ‘dustbins’—because it betrays the implicit formula from which Science bases its authority: ‘Truth’ is what can be seen and measured—anything that cannot be seen or measured, therefore does not exist, except as myth, superstition, or hearsay.
Essentially, this formula is embodied by the philosophy of Materialism, which is
a form of philosophical monism which holds that matter is the fundamental substance in nature, and that all things, including mental states and consciousness, are results of material interactions. According to philosophical materialism, mind and consciousness are by-products or epiphenomena of material processes (e.g. the biochemistry of the human brain and nervous system) without which they cannot exist. This concept directly contrasts with idealism, where mind and consciousness are first-order realities to which matter is subject and material interactions are secondary.Wikipedia
The naming of concepts is itself ideologically conducted, as can be seen in this example: the concept which “directly contrasts” materialism is called “idealism”, which implies the act of choosing a belief because it is considered to be one’s ‘ideal’. Thus, one is either being philosophical, as in the “philosophical monism” of the materialist; or one is being ‘idealistic‘, as in the ‘idealist’ desire to believe that the source of human consciousness is immaterial*. The implication of this construction is that one cannot use logic and observation to think that consciousness has a source which is not of a material nature, but can only believe it because he likes the ‘thought’ or wants it to be true.
This ideological tailoring of language serves as subliminal cues to ‘right think’ and ‘wrong think’, indirectly guiding society (primarily the laity) towards the smooth adoption of the desired attitudes.
Another example of this is in the word ‘immaterial’, which means both “spiritual, rather than physical” and “unimportant under the circumstances; irrelevant“—thus the dovetailing of these two meanings into this word subliminally implies that all things ‘spiritual’ are “unimportant” and “irrelevant”.
This applies to non-material things in general, as in:
“not consisting of matter” → it doesn’t matter.
“having no substance” → it is insubstantial.
The Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007 Film), set in the 18th century, features a scene in which the captain of the ship is on a spiritually motivated mission, and gives a command in line with that end—but he is overridden by an English Lord on the following basis:
Davy Jones: The Dutchman sails as it’s captain commands …
Lord Beckett: … and it’s captain is to sail it as commanded! I would have thought you’d had learned that when I ordered you to kill your pet. [Davy Jones bows head in shame] This is no longer your world, Jones. The ‘immaterial’ has become … immaterial.
*Hence, consciousness as being ‘immaterial’ → is immaterial.
Era-Tailored ‘Mind-Body’ Analogies towards the ‘Subliminal Naturalization’ of ‘New Technological Forms’
“Maybe the life sciences view the problem from the wrong angle. They believe that life is all about data processing, and that organisms are machines for making calculations and taking decisions. However, this analogy between organisms and algorithms might mislead us. In the nineteenth century, scientists described brains and minds as if they were steam engines. Why steam engines? Because that was the leading technology of the day, which powered trains, ships and factories, so when humans tried to explain life, they assumed it must work according to analogous principles […]
“In the twenty-first century it sounds childish to compare the human psyche to a steam engine. Today we know of a far more sophisticated technology—the computer—so we explain the human psyche as if it were a computer processing data rather than a steam engine regulating pressure. But this new analogy may turn out to be just as naïve. After all, computers have no minds. They don’t crave anything even when they have a bug, and the Internet doesn’t feel pain even when authoritarian regimes sever entire countries from the Web. So why use computers as a model for understanding the mind?” p136
This important socio-historical principle relates to the point made in the preceding NCs: that language is institutionally constructed and modified to serve the dominant ideology—which can itself be conditioned by the available technologies of the time and place.
In modern times, words and phrases have been dovetailed between computing and thinking, such as the words ‘processing’ and ‘calculating’ being used interchangeably between ‘thought’ (i.e. by humans); and computer ‘processes’, which are being considered as akin to ‘thought’—and which are sometimes presented as being so, such as when a program reports that it is ‘thinking’ (which of course it was programmed to do; and hence, ideologically so).
Since the two meanings of the words are dovetailed, the use of one unavoidably (and subliminally) connotes the meaning of the other by implication: when, for example, someone says ‘I can’t process this [information] right now’, he is indirectly affirming the equivalization of his mind as being a computer.
This principle applies to the terminology of any technology in any society; and it is important to remember that entirely new words could be created for the nouns and verbs of these technologies and their related activities—words which are totally unrelated to human functioning and which do not connote them on any level.
In the modern example of computers, the word ‘memory’ is an even more obvious example, as this word denoting a function of human thought was appropriated by the neologists* who created the computing terminology—the result being that one’s memory and computer ‘memory’ are spoken of as if they are equivalents, thus implicitly anthropomorphising computers whilst mechanizing humans.
*“Neologist” is not an official word; and apparently there is no official word to describe someone who creates new words—which is not coincidental to the very point I made: that the words relating to new technologies are deliberately assigned or created – so as to create reciprocal connotations between human functioning and the nature and use of these technologies – but in a manner which conceals the coordinated construction of this terminology, thereby concealing the embedded ideology.
The Dogma of ‘Neurological Consciousness’ and the Concept of the ‘Unprovability of Reality’, towards the Concept of ‘Unrealities’
“Already thousands of years ago philosophers realised that there is no way to prove conclusively that anyone other than oneself has a mind. Indeed, even in the case of other humans, we just assume they have consciousness—we cannot know that for certain. Perhaps I am the only being in the entire universe who feels anything, and all other humans and animals are just mindless robots? Perhaps I am dreaming, and everyone I meet is just a character in my dream? Perhaps I am trapped inside a virtual world, and all the beings I see are merely simulations? According to current scientific dogma, everything I experience is the result of electrical activity in my brain, and it should therefore be theoretically feasible to simulate an entire virtual world that I could not possibly distinguish from the ‘real’ world. Some brain scientists believe that in the not too distant future, we shall actually do such things. Well, maybe it has already been done—to you? For all you know, the year might be 2216 and you are a bored teenager immersed inside a ‘virtual world’ game that simulates the primitive and exciting world of the early twenty-first century. Once you acknowledge the mere feasibility of this scenario, mathematics leads you to a very scary conclusion: since there is only one real world, whereas the number of potential virtual worlds is infinite, the probability that you happen to inhabit the sole real world is almost zero. p139
This is another example of the shift in Science from trying to develop understanding, to unravelling even the possibility of understanding: Everything is relative, nothing is clear, Reality and Truth are subjective.
This theme was promoted in science fiction decades ago, most notably by the popular writer Philip K. Dick, whose “…stories typically focus on the fragile nature of what is real and the construction of personal identity. His stories often become surreal fantasies, as the main characters slowly discover that their everyday world is actually an illusion […] ‘All of his work starts with the basic assumption that there cannot be one, single, objective reality’, writes science fiction author Charles Platt. ‘Everything is a matter of perception. The ground is liable to shift under your feet. A protagonist may find himself living out another person’s dream, or he may enter a drug-induced state that actually makes better sense than the real world, or he may cross into a different universe completely.’”
Several of his novels were adapted into blockbuster movies, such as Blade Runner (1982), Total Recall (1990), Minority Report (2002), A Scanner Darkly (2006), and The Adjustment Bureau (2011)—all of which serve to condition minds to the notion of ‘unreality’, which facilitates the ideological normalization of confusion and uncertainty, as well as the objection to the possibility of Truth.
Regarding technology to “simulate an entire virtual world” which one “could not possibly distinguish from the ‘real’ world” – as Harari mentions some neuroscientists are expecting to be developed in the future – I don’t doubt that the brain can be technologically manipulated so as to totally disrupt one’s perception of Reality; but I think such a “virtual world” would always be distinguishable from Reality—provided one wants to be aware of the fact.
This choice of awareness is really what both the science fiction and science theory are targeting: the popularisation and acceptance of the various notions relating to Unreality is intended to lead society towards the willingness and desire to adopt technologies which will directly alter one’s perception of the world.
Augmented Reality (AR) – which blends Virtual Reality (VR) with Reality, as popularised via the game Pokémon Go – is a current example of how this acclimatization of and desire for Unreality is being developed. The Reality–Virtuality Continuum, which “encompasses all possible variations and compositions of real and virtual objects”, also includes another techno-virtual concept: Mixed Reality (MR)—which itself includes the sub-concept of Augmented Virtuality (AV).
The development of these techno-altered modes of perception indicate the implications of the ‘neurological consciousness’ ideology: the steady development towards a techno-created unrealities (the emerging field of Augmented Cognition would be the next logical step in human-computer interaction, such as in the AugCog program, which aims to detect and autonomously manipulate the cognitive state).
The ‘Turing Test’ as a Measure of ‘Social Conventions’ by the Equating of ‘Judgement’ with ‘Reality’
“None of our scientific breakthroughs has managed to overcome this notorious Problem of Other Minds. The best test that scholars have so far come up with is called the Turing Test, but it examines only social conventions […] If you cannot make up your mind [which is the computer, and which is the human], or if you make a mistake, the computer has passed the Turing Test, and we should treat it as if it really has a mind. However, that won’t really be a proof, of course. Acknowledging the existence of other minds is merely a social and legal convention […] It won’t matter whether computers will actually be conscious or not. It will matter only what people think about it.” p140
The ‘Turing Test’ was simply a ploy to promote the notion that computers can ‘think’—which computers cannot and can never do, because they are not and can never be conscious beings. This establishment of the Turing Test as measuring or determining something legitimate involves two principles: the techniques of propaganda and the readiness for people to be propagandized. Together, these two principles represent the significance of Harari’s comment on social conventions: A ‘test’ is promoted in the media, designed so as to create the social convention determining what people conclude from it—and this ‘judgement’ is now taken to be ‘reality’ by society, purely because most people think it is.
Computer Power and Human Reason – From Judgement to Calculation, by Joseph Weizenbaum (1976/1984)
This book was written by a computer programmer at MIT, who was asked (in the early 1960s) to develop a simple program that would demonstrate a computer system. He created the program ELIZA, which is designed to respond to user inputs; and for the sake of coding simplicity, he designed it to mimic the psychotherapeutic method of echoing back the patient’s own words in the form of a question.
He then installed the program on the computers in an office, and asked the workers to try it out for a period of time. However, when he later came to collect the data, he found that the people were reluctant to allow him to see it—because they had been interacting with this program as if it were an actual being, and thus ‘talking’ to it genuinely. This surprised him very much—and he was even more surprised at his managers’ response, which was to look into the development of therapeutic software (essentially A.I. therapists) to be used as legitimate therapists, i.e. for the actual treatment of people.
This fallacy is one of the main reasons he wrote the book, in which he explains how computers work – particularly the principles of programming – in order to reveal that they do not ‘think’ and should not be treated as if they can. However, as I mentioned in the two principles above, the “Human Reason” and “Judgement” Weizenbaum places in the title exists in a world of social conventions; and for the vast majority of people in a society, conforming to these (manufactured) conventions overrides their reason and judgement—therefore it won’t matter how obviously fallacious the idea being conventionalized is; or how well an expert himself reveals the true nature of it.
You Are Not A Gadget: A Manifesto, by Jaron Lanier (2010)
In this book, Lanier nicely summarises a point I heard him make even more succinctly in one of his talks: that “the Turing Test is not a measure of Artificial Intelligence—it is a measure of human stupidity”:
“But the Turing test cuts both ways. You can’t tell if a machine has gotten smarter or if you’ve just lowered your own standards of intelligence to such a degree that the machine seems smart. If you can have a conversation with a simulated person presented by an AI program, can you tell how far you’ve let your sense of personhood degrade in order to make the illusion work for you?
“People degrade themselves in order to make machines seem smart all the time. Before the crash, bankers believed in supposedly intelligent algorithms that could calculate credit risks before making bad loans. We ask teachers to teach to standardized tests so a student will look good to an algorithm. We have repeatedly demonstrated our species’ bottomless ability to lower our standards to make information technology look good. Every instance of intelligence in a machine is ambiguous.
“The same ambiguity that motivated dubious academic AI projects in the past has been repackaged as mass culture today. Did that search engine really know what you want, or are you playing along, lowering your standards to make it seem clever? While it’s to be expected that the human perspective will be changed by encounters with profound new technologies, the exercise of treating machine intelligence as real requires people to reduce their mooring to reality.”
The Conflation of ‘Human Self-Consciousness’ with ‘Animal Self-Consciousness’ [by Harari] in the Misplacing of ‘Self-Consciousness’ within the Context of ‘Instinct and Conditioning’
“The Self-Conscious Chimpanzee: Another attempt to enshrine human superiority accepts that rats, dogs and other animals have consciousness, but argues that, unlike humans, they lack self-consciousness. They may feel depressed, happy, hungry or satiated, but they have no notion of self, and they are not aware that the depression or hunger they feel belongs to a unique entity called ‘I’. This idea is as common as it is opaque […] A more sophisticated version of the argument says that there are different levels of self-consciousness. Only humans understand themselves as an enduring self that has a past and a future, perhaps because only humans can use language in order to contemplate their past experiences and future actions. Other animals exist in an eternal present. Even when they seem to remember the past or plan for the future, they are in fact reacting only to present stimuli and momentary urges.” p145
This is a good example of an author promoting a falsehood—yet whose nice summary of the counter-argument actually serves to encapsulate the truth of the matter. For generations now it has been ideologically ‘correct’ to consider animal and human consciousness as being different only in degree, when it is plain to see that they are fundamentally different; and the corollary of this false ideology is that the acknowledgement of this difference is motivated by a ‘counter-ideology’ of wanting to “enshrine human superiority”.
The Naked Ape, by Desmond Morris (1967)
The author of this book is a zoologist, who makes clear early in the book that he considers Man to be within his field of study, i.e. as just another animal. The title itself (not to mention the provocative cover illustration) is a good indication of his thesis, in that it implies not only that Man is a type of ape, but also that the most significant difference between them is body hair. This reflects the work as a whole, in which he diminishes the nature and significance of the difference in thought, speech, and language; whilst also devoting serious attention to theorising how and why humans evolved the trait of hairlessness.
For over a century now, the difference between animal consciousness and human consciousness has been steadily diminished—both via popular fiction, such as Disney films in which animals think, speak, and behave as humans do; and in scientific literature and documentary, which institutionally speaks of and presents animals in psychological and sociological terms, i.e. in human terms.
Society has thus been thoroughly acclimatized to this false paradigm—the ultimate effect of which is to obscure one’s awareness of a human being’s higher capacities, as well as encouraging habitual preoccupation with his baser ones. Man is partly animal in nature, and his animal instincts are just as necessary as his higher faculties—but the misrepresentation of the relation between the two – i.e. of his true nature – leads to a degrading of his existence as a human being.
Despite his fundamentally misleading (and degrading) ideology, I have found other works of Desmond Morris to be informative and insightful, such as The Soccer Tribe (1981). The point is that there is a legitimate commonality between Man and animals; and the angle that Morris takes in his other works provides for more substantial analysis of this—which can then be re-contextualized outside the paradigm of “The Naked Ape” thesis that seeks merely to affirm itself.
The key point is summarised by Harari himself, in his denial of it: animals are conscious, but they are not self-conscious. They do not have a ‘self’ – as we do – to be aware of, or the capacity for thought as we do. If they did, it essentially means that they literally communicate thoughts and concepts to each other as humans do, except that it is in their own ‘animal language’.
This notion is presented actually illustrated (i.e. promoted) in movies such as Look Who’s Talking Now (1993); and even more elaborately, Doctor Dolittle (1998), in which the doctor has the gift/curse to ‘hear’ animal communication – which the movie audience hears voice acted in English, but which the other characters in the movie cannot hear at all – and also to talk back to them, just as if they were human:
Lucky: Well, let me tell you a little something about nature. I’m a dog, and I act like a dog. I don’t try to be anybody else. We are who we are, and you are a doctor who can talk to animals. That’s who you are.
Dr. John Dolittle: [defensive] That is not who I am!
Lucky: Stop lying to yourself!
Blaine Hammersmith: So, John… You talk to animals now, do you? Would you like to tell me about it? Or would you rather tell my friend here – Bettelheim?
Dr. John Dolittle: I don’t need to talk to your cat, Blain.
Blaine Hammersmith: Why, do you think he would talk back to you?
Dr. John Dolittle: He just might.
Blaine Hammersmith : And what would he say?
Bettleheim the Cat: I’d say Blain Hammersmith was a butthead.
Dr. John Dolittle: I really like this cat.
This notion is essentially promoted in ‘scientific’ documentaries, which present the animals as ‘thinking’, ‘feeling’, ‘talking’, and ‘socializing’ as humans do—which is exactly what the Disney cartoons and live-action ‘talking animal’ movies depict. Hence, the word ‘intelligence’ should have never been applied to animals, to which should have been assigned a totally distinct word—from which intelligent analogies can be made where appropriate and useful; and from which the conflating of the two can never happen, even unintentionally.
The establishment of this animal-raising, human-lowering ideology – which was facilitated by the invented ‘straw man argument’ of a ‘human superiority complex’ – has served to support the next ideological step in the progression: from diminishing the perception of intelligence, thus degrading the significance of it; to conferring a growing significance to computer ‘intelligence’—which is being facilitated by the aforementioned, culturally manufactured degrading of human intelligence.
Credit to all the authors I have quoted here for their writings, which generally I found useful long before using for this article, and which I recommend to readers independently of it.
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