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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Deckard Confusion. Let me know the ways.

Yadda, yadda, yadda. Invasion of the talking heads

The universe is not conscious – yet. But it will be. Strictly speaking, we should say that very little of it is conscious today. But that will change and soon. I expect that the universe will become sublimely intelligent and will wake up…
Ray Kurzweil, The Singularity is Near (2005 p. 390).

I now believe that the universe was created and is permeated by cosmic consciousness and superior creative intelligence… on all its levels and in all its dimensions. The image of the cosmos as a giant supermachine with Newtonian characteristics, consisting of separate building blocks (elementary particles and objects), gave way to a vision of a unified field, an organic whole in which everything is meaningful interconnected. I now see each individual human psyche as an integral part of the overall field of cosmic consciousness and essentially commensurate with it.
Psychiatrist Stanislav Grof, When the Impossible Happens, (2006 p. 349).

The Deckard Confusion is a term I use to describe the confusion of many Artificial Intelligence experts, who fail to distinguish the difference between the information processing of machines and human consciousness.  The term is based on the 1980s classic sci-fi movie Bladerunner, (I wrote about this some months back) . Rick Deckard (played by Harrison Ford) falls in love with a ‘replicant’ (cyborg) named Rachael (Sean Young). In fact, Deckard is possibly a replicant himself, although it is unclear if he suspects this (the movie is ambiguous on this point, and it varies from one “cut” of the movie to another). It seems that Deckard cannot distinguish a machine from a flesh and blood person. Thus the term “the Deckard confusion”.

The fragmentation of mind in the modern era has created a similar problem. This includes a widespread confusion in modern cognitive science, where the computer metaphor currently dominates brain science and psychology. To put it simply, many experts believe the human organism and its consciousness to be merely a biological machine, when the reality is that consciousness contains essential, intrinsic qualities which are non-mechanistic. They seem unable to distinguish machine from organic life – or, dare I say, matter from “Spirit”.

In this post I am going to propose a provocation for you. I use the term provocation in the sense that Edward de Bono does. It is a deliberate attempt to throw a spanner in the works of the rational, linear mind. Once beliefs are established (via experience and conditioning) in the mind, that mind tends to regulate further experience in terms so the pre-existing thought structures, self-defined categories and so on. A provocation is meant to be something of a slap on the face, to snap you out of your slumber. In this case, the slap is more directed at mainstream thinking in cognitive science, and especially AI theory.

If you have seen the movie Bladerunner, you will recognise this eye. Is it human or robotic?

My provocation is...
 simply that machines are incapable of knowing the world in the way that human beings do, because they are unable to copy our most essential ways of knowing. Therefore are not intelligent in the way that human beings are, or even other animals are.

Take a look at the simple table, below. It identifies ways of knowing by the verbs used to describe those ways of knowing (thus I call them verbs of knowing). I make a simple dichotomy, distinguishing verbs which commonly employed in “critical rationality” and those from “mystical spirituality”. The table was originally drawn up to support an related argument in my book Integrated Intelligence, but here my purpose is a little different. In that case I was comparing and contrasting how using different cognitive processes led to different understandings of the world.  

Now, take a look at those verbs and ask yourself the following question. How many of the verbs of knowing in the critical/rational box might plausibly be performed by an artificial intelligence? Then take a look at the mystical/spiritual verbs of knowing. How many of those do you think might possibly be employed by a machine? See if you agree with my assessment. I have highlighted the verbs in bold which I think might be successfully activated by AI in the near future.

Access.  Actualise.  Become aware of.  Be guided.  Channel.  Connect with.  Contemplate.  Create.  Delight.  Design.  Divine (verb).  Dream.  Empathise.  Enchant.  Envision.  Feel.   Feel for.   Find meaning.  Find purpose. Foresee. Get the impression of.  Harmonise.  Identify with.  Inspire.  Intuit.  Marvel.  Meditate.  Perceive.  Poeticise.  Ponder.  Possess.  Reflect.  Relate.  Resonate with.  Reveal (revelation).  Sense.  Surrender.  Sympathise.  Transmit.  Vibrate.  Wonder.
Deliberate.  Discern.  Distinguish.  Hear.  Identify.  Know.  Match.  Recognise.  See.  Understand.
Argue.  Analyse.  Calculate.  Classify.  Cognise.  Collect.  Conclude.  Commune.  Control.  Count.  Compare.  Contrast.  Criticise.  Critique.  Deconstruct.  Deduce.  Detect.  Devise.  Differentiate.  Discuss. Dispute. Dissect.  Examine.  Experiment. Extrapolate.  Gather.  Intellectualise. Locate. Measure.  Observe.  Postulate.  Question.  Rationalise.  Read.  Reduce.  Research.  Study.  Tabulate.  Take apart.  Tell.  Test.  Theorise.  Think.  Write.
The Verbs of Knowing that might feasibly be mastered by artificial intelligence

You will note that much of this is subjective, and depends on the precise definition of each of the verbs. I am not going to dither over such definitions here. My intent is to simply get you to appreciate something which is rather obvious. Many more of the critical/rational verbs than spiritual/mystical verbs are likely to be mastered by machine intelligence in the foreseeable future. These machine-friendly ways of knowing are the same cognitive capacities which dominate modern society – what I call “money and machines” societies. This brings us back to the Deckard confusion and my main point.

The critical/rational cognitive processes we are encouraged to use in modern society are essentially mechanical. Yet spiritual/mystical ways of knowing are what really define us as human beings. If critical/rational ways of knowing are employed without a balanced use of other ways of knowing, we become increasingly automated and mechanical. We lose our souls.

The Decker confusion dominates much of modern cognitive science. It proliferates where the power structures of society - and especially its knowledge base (modern science) have adopted the mechanistic paradigm. This paradigm sees the cosmos as being like a giant machine grinding out its existence according to fixed laws (rules).

The Deckard confusion is a self-reinforcing delusion. We think the cosmos is a giant machine, so we view life and mind as mechanistic. We then reject ways of knowing that are not mechanistic (especially the emotional), then dissociate ourselves from the body and intuitive knowledge; and acknowledge, measure and observe only those same mechanistic cognitive processes while ignoring the rest. We then gather together at conferences and congratulate ourselves that we have proven ourselves to be machine-like.

All that is left is to upload ourselves onto computers.



  1. Wonderful post. You may some terrific points about the difference between AI and human intelligence. The tables of verbs are most interesting!
    - Trish

  2. Great post!

    I can't help but think of the first Star Trek Movie. When V-Ger (the original Voyager probe)returns to Earth in search of the Creator. V-Ger is a machine that has traveled the Universe and gained infinite knowledge. It returns to MERGE with the Creator complete its transformation into what? A new creation? A conscious machine perhaps, AI? Perhaps into being HUMAN?

    Also, I still can't shake the December 2006 Time magazine cover the year that a PC was the "Person of the Year" however under the computer was the word "YOU". I got the impression way back then that there exists the possibility that humans are a generation of machine that evolved consciousness, assimilated organic compounds in place of inorganic crystals for thinking and living in the Earth environment.

    I have even considered the Gnostic view of the Garden of Eden in which the human "skin" was shed (became naked)and gained a possible machine transformation into human. After all, humans are seeking to create more and more perfect machines rather than create biological humans.

    Why would such be out of our create human cells, flesh and blood? We understand biological systems down to the DNA that creates living tissue...or so we think we do. So, we accept the Biblical view of Fall from Grace and Perfection as the reason we cannot understand human creation.

    I think there exists the possibility that human living tissue organisms are an evolution from machines. This could be more plausible considering the extreme age of the Universe.

    ...which leads to: von Neumann probes


    ...could also prove the theory of machine evolving into human. Perhaps a race of humans evolved to the point to create life and sent it out into the universe (Panspermia) through mechanics at first since mechanics could survive space travel. These machines would then install themselves on viable planets and start the evolutionary process to itself become biological or human. As to who the creator of such a super human race is..??

    Again, great post! Thanks!

    I came here by way of Synchronicity Blog from the Sync List
    and from Illuminati Matrix

  3. Hi Trish. Glad you liked the post!

    KE, interesting speculation about human consciousness evolving from machines. The main query with this idea I have is how a machine became organic - it's basically the same issue with how today's machines might become conscious. The thing I didn't address in my post is the possibility of non-human like machine consciousness. That's for another day!

  4. Thanks for the response!

    Whew! I'm surprised that you ask how a machine becomes organic! I was a chemistry major in undergrad and I like to come to alternative blogs to escape "traditional" science and flex my mind. You have a great blog here that I'm anxious to explore!

    Many early computers had crystal "chips" -crystals: silicon, carbon are organic. So, machines are "organic" in a sense. Maybe you mean how a machine can form the complex proteins that make up DNA and identify "life" as we know it. But then, NASA recently released info on new life forms based on arsenic replacing phosphorus in organic compounds and life building blocks. I think it would be easy for machines to make the transition to life as we know it. But as you wrote...another day!

    Thanks again for your reply!

    Here's something you might enjoy and get a laugh regarding life in a form other than human:

  5. Thanks for that chemist's perspective, KE! Perhaps I should use more precise terms. The question perhaps should be how does "organic" become conscious, how does the amino acid chain produce mind? I'm certainly no chemist!