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As all that is solid melts to air and everything holy is profaned...

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Externalities Part 2

Externalities part 2

There may be no internal contradictions, but there are some external Absolutes up against which we are bumping. They are the finite nature of geological reserves of oil, coal and natural gas, and the chemical and thermodynamic consequences of the emission of greenhouse gases and the impact on climate.

Which is as far as I had got with part 1 before hitting a 'can't save' problem so had to copy and paste to blog.

I had been speculating that Hegel's Science of Logic was an early version of an artificial intelligence program, one which resolved the problems with such projects George Dyson had explored in Darwin Amongst the Machines. Indeed, Hegel moves beyond artificial intelligence to show how, through time as history, the mechanical interaction of binary opposites (Being and Nothing, 1 and 0) can give rise to a self-aware/ self-conscious intelligence. What Dyson achieves is to show how various attempts to create artificial intelligence and artificial life can help us to realise that natural processes possess similar 'intelligence', that there is an evolutionary intelligence which operates not through design, but through countless sequences of trial and error.

I then suggested that if Debord's Spectacle rather than Marx's Capitalism was a more accurate description of social reality then it was effectively an evolutionary dead end, lacking the internal contradictions which Marx (following Hegel's logic) argued would inevitably push the system beyond its limits, thus triggering a crisis which could only be resolved by the proletariat fulfilling its historic destiny....

I also suggested that industrialisation rather than capitalism was the revolution which happened between 1750 and 1850, capitalism being a by-product of industrialisation (the opposite of Marxist theory). And I threw in a section on Alan Turing and the evolution of the Colossus computer in WW2 as a form of collective artificial intelligence.

This last example is relevant here. It was the external threat posed by Nazi Germany which pushed the British state to mobilise its resources as efficiently as possible – a necessity driven by survival.

One outcome was the rapid evolution of an artificial intelligence system in which electro-mechanical, mathematical and human resources were combined into a single system. One significant output was that Alan Turing's mathematical and theoretical model for a computer was actualised.

The nuclear bomb was another such outcome.

The challenge posed by these externalities is undisputed (even the climate change sceptics now accept its reality, even if they believe it is a natural rather than human created problem). But what should be the response? UK prime minster Gordon Brown has suggested 1000 nuclear power stations will be needed to combat greenhouse gas emissions and reduce dependency on oil. The use of genetically modified crops and other similar technical fixes is also proposed.

Yet if it was the process of industrialisation which has got us into this mess, can even more of the same get us out of it ? What we have hit are the limits of that process, limits which are external yet reveal a set of internal contradictions which the Spectacular reconfiguration of Marx's capitalism has until now homogenised. One such contradiction is between the Enlightenment belief in the perfectability of nature ( which includes traditional human societies as being in a state of nature) and the somewhat imperfect results – results which have been incredibly destructive and disruptive.

What if, to follow Dyson's line of thought, there is a 'natural' intelligence having a structural similarity to 'artificial' intelligence, and which is embedded/ embodied in the physical world? If so, then is it not possible that traditional (pre-Enlightenment) human societies, which had demonstrated their sustainable credentials by surviving within the external limits imposed by local or regional ecosystems, exhibited collective intelligence rather than the stupidity alleged by enlightened improvers? Suggesting a dialectical process – natural intelligence > enlightened intelligence > ecological intelligence.

Since enlightened / industrial intelligence emerged out of 'natural' intelligence, this would also be a process of re-integration. A synthesis. To add a science fictional or Dysonesque element, some inclusion of artificial intelligence (as itself an output of enlightened/ industrial intelligence) may be necessary to manage the constantly fluctuating electrical output of wind, wave and solar energy sources...

Could a synthesis between Hegel's Absolute and Lovelock's Gaia thus emerge?


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