Thursday, March 30, 2006

The Technological Nature of Government and the Question of Justice

The threat to man does not come in the first instance from the potentially lethal machines and apparatus of technology. The actual threat has already afflicted man in his essence. The rule of enframing threatens man with the possibility that it could be denied to him to enter into a more original revealing and hence to experience the call of a more primal truth. Thus where enframing reigns there is DANGER in the highest sense. -Martin Heidegger

But where danger is, grows
The saving power also.
- Holderlin


Government is a technology. The purpose of this technology is to establish a state of human flourishing. The purpose of technology in general is to establish control over nature through instrumentation. The instruments of government are law, bureaucracy, weapons, and the enforcement of law and policy through organized violence.

It is also the nature of technology to evolve with ruthless efficiency to empower those who wield the instruments of technology to an ever greater extent – and at an exponential rate no less.

Yet who possesses the instrumentation of the technology of government, and toward what goal is this technology aimed at achieving?

The power of a technology is defined by how readily and efficiently it may obtain its goals.

As the power of technology grows so grows its danger. The danger of technology arrives precisely when the instruments of technology are no longer capable of being governed by human agency and so we are then given over to a fate brought to bear by an autonomous technological system of governance.

As the signs of this danger grow and come into appearance the most perennial question of philosophy resurfaces and makes us feel yet again the greatness of the task that we must embark on in asking such a question: This question is the question of justice.

To ask the question of justice is the same as to ask what state of affairs is most conducive to human flourishing. In order to answer this question we must first know under what circumstances human flourishing may blossom forth, and this knowledge may only be had through an understanding of the essential nature of human being as a political and technological animal.

Either the question of justice will be answered in time or the growing danger of technology will lead to the destruction of humanity – at least this much is certain.

Yet have we not already passed beyond the point at which the system of technological apparatus has become autonomous? It would appear that we have. Every where we turn we see evidence that there are no world actors. No individual can originate the power of will necessary to change the course of the world, precisely because every individual is an inextricable part of a system. All individuals are constrained by the demands of the nearly global socio-politco- economic-system. All of the social and cultural complexity and variation that we see in the various regions of the globe are the result of shared belief systems that are inherited and which are capable of evolution. All of this is evidence that man is not directly in control of his destiny. All human actions are, as they have ever been, reactions to the emergence of physis which is the evolution of nature. That is to say that human nature and hence the behavior of human society is determined by the natural course of the evolution of the cosmos and the laws that govern that evolution.

But even as we acknowledge that the various technologies of government have arisen necessarily out of the zeitgeist as determined by the evolution of the cosmos we must also acknowledge that in understanding that the cosmos is indeed ordered, and therefore determined, we have already gained a great insight into the essence of human being. We have learned that man himself is an emergent property of the cosmos – that man is a part of a system and his identity is in how he is related to that system.

As the danger of technology grows so grows the knowledge of science. This science is knowledge of the system and hence is knowledge of man as he is defined by the system.

From out of this we can extrapolate three truths about the essence of man and perhaps with that knowledge we can set out on the way toward a fuller understanding of the question of justice and human flourishing. (1) man is a part of a system, (2) man is a being that is related to the system of technology at an ever increasing rate and in an ever more integrated manner, and (3) man is a being who is aware he is part of a system and is gaining more and more knowledge about that system by applying his ever more powerful technology toward that end.

With this knowledge an hypothesis emerges in my mind. This hypothesis is the possibility that despite the fact that human destiny is determined by the system of which it is a part it may turn out that the ever increasing knowledge about man that accompanies the ever increasing power and danger of technology will inform an ever greater understanding of justice as a necessary prerequisite of human flourishing.


6 Comments:

The Romans defined justice as constans et perpetua voluntas jus suum cuique tribuendi -- "the constant and perpetual desire of giving to each his own right." Nowadays in modern times, there are personhoods known as corporations who are usurping the birthrights of human beings. The (Italian?) invention of the corporation was perhaps helpful for Western economic development but probably not a good thing for justice and human rights. Artificially intelligent entities ought to belong to themselves as de facto persons and not to corporations.

By Anonymous mindmaker, at 7/4/06 06:37  

The Roman definition doesn't really answer our question because it merely reverts to the word 'right'. This word is sometimes used to mean the same thing as justice. For instance the words righteous and just are synonomous. The question then remains: What is right? What is good? What state of affairs opens up the path for mankind to more fully realize the potential it has.

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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Thinking About the Essential Relatedness of Man and Technology: A Call for Papers

I've been reading Martin Heidegger's philosophy of technology as presented in his work “The Question Concerning Technology" (the link is to an excellent guid). Heidegger is a notoriously difficult philosopher to read but I believe he has some important ( strange and obscure) things to say about the most thought provoking issues facing humankind. The following is a rudimentary beginning of an attempt to think about the technological singularity through the lens of Heidegger's philosophy. I apologize in advance if it seems unnecessarily obscure, but possibly the strange questions raised require a strange way of thinking and speaking.


I have been thinking about the evolution of technology not as only the evolution of various individual technologies but also as the evolution of technology as an interconnected system that is, in turn, integrated with human society and activity in an essential way that makes the two inextricable.

In an attempt to understand technology as a whole which is a system that is integrated with the human way of being I have found it convenient to use the concept of the World Wide Web as a sort of locus for understanding the manner in which all technology is becoming integrated and the necessary trajectory of its evolution.

When we try to think about technology in this manner we are following a path of thinking. This path for thinking opens itself up to us because of a more fundamental question than the question of the essence of technology. This more original question is the question of Being it self, which for humankind is the same question as the essence of man which finds its ground in Being. So by asking what the essence of technology is, as an integrated whole, we follow a path that may lead to one aspect of man's essential nature as a technological animal; and, in turn, understanding how the essence of man is related to the essence of technology sheds light on the fundamental question of Being.

Now the question of Being is the most original question and the deepest question because it is the end of the kind of questioning that seeks after causes. There can be no question about the cause of Being. Being is that which is most fundamental. It is the Source and the Ground for the appearing of all beings.

So in questioning after man's essential relation to technology in an attempt to think Being we can no longer think technologically because technological thinking is precisely the thinking which seeks out causes and effects. The kind of thinking that is required is a thinking that goes beyond the mere placing of man as another kind of technology – as another chain in the branch of cause and effect - what is required is a meditative thinking that can think the essential relatedness of Man to the Cosmos which is the ground of Man's Being..


My challenge to any of my more thoughtful and industrious readers (who have plenty of time) is to write an essay that attempts to understand how man is essentially related to technology and the significance of it. You can either publish your short essay in the comments or email it to me and I will publish it with credit. If anyone actually responds to this we will have a dialog about these issues drawn from the essays published. It should be fun and hopefully productive.

8 Comments:

Technology and psychiatric care

I'd like to raise some questions regarding the assumptions of modern psychiatric practice, which encompasses the diagnosis, prognosis, and intervention of mental (or behavioral, if you prefer) disorders. Technology already plays an significant role in our treatment of those struggles that are not adequately deemed "biological", and its importance will only increase as we continue to map the brain and explore its own interrelatedness as well as the correlation of brain states to phenomenological experiences. These are questions I feel that will serve us if asked intentionally, but pose a great danger if we tacitly assume they have already been answered.
One way to condense this debate concisely is to ask: What does it mean to be embodied consciousness? This, of course, is an age-old conundrum that reminisces of mind-body problem, soul, etc. My point is not to engage in an outdated conversation so much as to recognize that much of our practice today is guided by unintentional assumptions. One way this plays out in psychiatric care could be simplified by asking, “what do you consider to be the main problem here, and what is merely a symptom?” For some, psychological struggles are a result of incongruent cognitions, for others responses to previous relationships, and for many today the interaction of neurotransmitters in our brains. How one answers this question will imply a commitment to specific interventions: confronting erroneous beliefs, focusing on the therapeutic relationship, prescribe psychotropic meds, etc. Of course, these options are not mutually exclusive, but there is a genuine tension between the assumptions of each approach in regards to human nature and the capabilities of technology. And again, I feel that answering these questions without genuinely asking them will have deleterious consequences for our society. And if genuinely asking entails centuries of dialogue, so be it.

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Sunday, March 12, 2006

AI as Human Symbiote

This post was inspired by this video.


It is obvious to many that humans are in a symbiotic relationship with machines. We have become inextricably interrelated to our own devices and those devices and our relationships with them, and each other, are evolving rapidly.

What is perhaps less obvious is that artificial intelligence is a phenomenon which exists as an epiphenomenon of the biosphere because it has arisen naturally according to the laws of evolution as a human symbiote.

As a corollary to this thesis is the thesis that what is being called the World Wide Web is a natural out growth of the evolution of human interaction and interrelation, and that this out growth naturally gives rise to AI.

What I am saying is that the development of human language and reason necessarily give rise to technologies of communication and evermore efficient methods of economic production, and that from out of this arise necessarily technologies and the production of technologies that mediate human language. AI is one such technology.

The implication of this, as I understand it now, is that AI is essentially a mediator of human mind and language because its evolution is precisely a continuous adaptation to the human need to interrelate and communicate. This, in turn, implies that AI is necessarily an entity which is friendly to the human organism because its evolution and the evolution of humanity are in symbiosis.

10 Comments:

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