Why calls for ethical technology are missing something crucial
A wise and beautiful piece, thank you. McGilchrist’s framing of matter as a phase of consciousness is stunning. In the transcendent/transformational encounter, the experience of the universe’s natural values becomes clear - the good, the true, the beautiful, all qualities far greater than, and preceding, humanity. Nothing we’ve made up, or decided on. Innate to life. Thus the vital importance of the encounter. Looking forward to your timely book!
Excellent piece, Ali!
Fully on board with all the points you make - many of which I include in my own 'forthcoming' book - and it inspires me to be more explicit about the importance of adopting idealism as the accepted cultural metaphysics - as a core part of conceiving how me might transform.
I really like the idea of physicalism being the generator function of the generator functions. It's a wonderfully succinct systems-expression of a very important idea.
Your fish-farm theme is also very nice - except that when you got to the third episode, I was expecting something about a more visceral, personal response (upper left quadrant) - based on an understanding of the interconnectedness of all things and a different motivation by the fish farmer: one inspired by "flourishing" rather than "finance". (I use the phrase "From Finance to Flourishing" to sum up the paradigm change we need if we are to truly change our civilizational system.).
Instead, you provide a systems response (lower left (right?) quadrant) - legislation that takes a more 'flourishing' position by encouraging the protection of the commons. That's equally valid, I guess, but I think it's important to emphasise that we each, as individuals, have to transform, rather than simply expecting and waiting for others to 'change the system' (in ways of which we approve) so that we are incentivised to do the right thing.
But it's still a nice happy ending to the apparently insurmountable multi-polar trap dilemma.
Finally, I have to comment on the video where you chatted with Bernado Kastrup. I've listened to him a lot, and read some books - but that video re-blew my mind! Archetypes, causality, synchronicity, complexity and fractal reality: it took my understanding (and respect) for Analytic Idealism to a whole new level.
All good stuff, Ali!
The fish farm operator looked at the lake. Everything was fine, the water was clean, the yield was sustainable, he could earn enough money to provide for his family. Then he discovered that the filter could be switched off unnoticed in order to save costs.
Immediately he gathered the other operators of the fish farms to show them the mistake. Since there was no authority to control everything, they themselves were the group that ensured healthy management. They changed the design so that no more abuse was possible. Although no one thought of taking advantage of this financial benefit, it was better to eliminate possible mistakes from the beginning. For all of them it was the most normal thing in the world to act this way. They would also support each other at any time if one of them had problems. After all, what else could they do?
This is an attempt to describe all 4 quadrants (according to Wilber), how living and working together could look like.
Hi Alex, I enjoyed this piece! I feel very aligned with your ideas. Kastrup is also one of my favorites - although I had already arrived at the idealist perspective years ago. But he has done a fantastic job articulating it. The problem I have with your piece is the same problem I have with my own ideas particularly in my book How Soon Is Now: yes if everyone suddenly jumped to the idealistic worldview we might be able to transform everything, deal with AI and the ecological / geopolitical mega-crisis, but that is obviously not gonna happen!
So what can we do?
I think the AI disruption could be an opportunity for a mass awakening... according to Goldman Sachs, 300 million jobs might be lost to AI. This is actually devastating to many white collar jobs in finance, law, journalism, programming etc. That is a lot of cognitive surplus that could be reapplied. But someone or some group has to define a new paradigm and program... we see in nascent forms, in fragments... degrowth plus gnosis I suppose is what we need!
Thanks for the thought provoking piece!
I have tried to envision a scenario where a smaller
And who stops whom from purchasing their second car. Second home. And who tells/incentivizes a “poorer” person or nation to use/generate less power, concrete, any new now affordable consumer good. Yea yea that stuff won’t bring you happiness says the owner of the same stuff. Putting any genie convenience pleasure back in the bottle is a philosophical nightmare. Living the “better life” (and eating more fish) and getting rich ( oh wait feeding my children) is a tale as old as time.
Tech and AI alone will not save us or destroy us but it might help us do it more efficiently. The earth will survive and reset. Humans maybe not. Pass the salmon. Wild caught please
I don't think Vervaeke gets Descartes right in that quote. In the Meditations, Descartes does in fact (temporarily) doubt mathematics. The ground to certainty is rather the experience of self-awareness: "I think, therefore I am." What was revolutionary about Descartes' understanding of mathematics was that he realised mathematical reasoning did not have to be based on images or the senses. He thereby broke with the traditional Euclidean or geometrical approach to mathematics. More broadly, Descartes' innovation brought about a shift in thinking about representation, from resemblance to isomorphism between symbolic systems; and it is this shift which sets us along the path to AI (AI doesn't need the senses or an imagination to model the world it is reasoning about).
With respect to the broader thesis of this essay: it reads to me like a disguised critique of capitalism. Which is great! But you don't need to invoke panpsychism to make that case. Your allegory about the fish farm makes the point that the drive for constant growth, profit, efficiency etc is ultimately alienating. It makes it harder and harder for us to establish resonant relationships with nature and other people. But you can establish this sociologically. You don't need metaphysics. The existential risk of AI is a synecdoche for the existential risk of capitalism more broadly, as a system which couldn't care less about human beings except as resources to be exploited. There are indeed metaphysical questions raised in the current discussion about AI (Yudkowsky writes about it as if it were a Kantian "thing in itself"); but to coin a phrase, capitalism doesn't care about your metaphysics.
Wonderful piece that gives me a lot of hope. Our theories of consciousness have a profound influence on not just tech, but medicine too.
Bravo. Joins important dots for me. I loved the final fish farm example. Yes, it invokes a quantity based solution, but a quantity based solution that comes from the perspective of quality. Simple, workable and pragmatic.
Profound. Well written and thought provoking. The weaving of the perspectives was exquisite.
"But if we’re going to have a conversation around building our technology so that it values life, we need to start at the deepest levels of what we believe life to be...That means exploring not just what we value, but how we value."
Love the piece, and how you finish so eloquently - as an extension of your point about our lacking a cultural baseline to explain consciousness, I see so many parallels with your essay with today's challenges within the psychedelics movement
Phenomenal and thoughtful piece, thank you!
What are the values in ancient communities and (the origin of?) religions that we have lost in the times of enlightment and after?
There is an important role for those who know and recognize these qualities in using and expressing it, because of it's utter relevance for society right now!
Thank you Alexander for sharing your insights!
Wonderful essay thank you. I suddenly felt understood. That you explained to me beautifully the path I am on when I struggle to explain it to myself. Ha ha. Excellent!
Hi Alexander, great piece indeed.
I relate so very much to your standpoint of us being stories driven apes.
And, in the end, is stories what matter most.
We’ll behave and decide how to engineer AI in a certain way (and not another) because we engage with the world thanks to certain (and not other) underlying stories that we tell ourselves and our children.
You have opened up my mind with your “story” in the sense that there are even more deeper questions that matter much more to our society’s “storytelling”; not others than our survival.
We are star monkeys, learning how to use tech. Social media is training wheels for what we need next and AI can and will be used in many ways. deep web deep time...
This was a fantastic post. I loved your insights. I'm curious about part of your conclusion though. The fish farmer who values the commons and the community as much as his own life is a good reference toward recognizing the quality of lives lived rather than the quantity of things produced or bought. However wouldnt it require that all people value their neighbors equally to themselves? How do you maintain this given that one cant live the experience of his neighbor or vice versa. Without trying to invoking the stereotypes of politics, this mantra has seemed to end up in the forms of communism hasnt it? If I'm mistaken in understanding you, I'd love to hear your thoughts about it. Thanks again for the post.