I forward this from the philosophy mailing list, as it goes to the
heart of the same discussions of the cybernetic worldview that we are
trying to have in PCP.
Date: Mon, 06 Nov 2000 22:58:15 +0100
From: remi sussan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Re: philosophy: Philosophy: "One Half Of A Manifesto"
> Found this at Edge...
> Pretty interesting thing to read, even though he goes crazy at the end of
> "One Half Of A Manifesto" by Jaron Lanier
> These are the points of "cybernetic totalism" that he criticizes:
Yes, I read this text some time ago, and my feelings toward it are
ambiguous. Some of the ideas developed here have been largely exposed
by Lanier those last years, especially his rant against artificial
intelligence and intelligent agents ("intelligent agents work by making
Lanier is a really interesting man (this may not appear in this post,
but I'm a fan :) but some of his criticism seem to me too crude.
roughly, I have the impression that he confuses a global paradigm
(cybernetics) and a particular ideology using this paradigm. in an other
> 1) That cybernetic patterns of information provide the ultimate and best way
> to understand reality.
> 2) That people are no more than cybernetic patterns.
THIS, IMHO , is the paradigm. I find personally difficult, today, to
think outside the cybernetic paradigm in a meaningful way. Not that it
is the "ultimate truth", but it certainly the "state of the art" of any
discourse about reality and especially consciousness. I personally never
saw a critic of cybernetics using the same level of rigor than the
cybernetic thinkers themselves. But there is a difference between the
"cybernetic paradigm" and the "darwinian paradigm" (which are roughly
the same), and some hasty, crude and naive interpretations. I think
Lanier is in fact criticizing one of these crude interpretations, but in
the same move, he rejects the whole paradigm, throwing, so to say, the
baby with the water of his bath.
I think it would be better to, oppose, "subtle cybernetics" (Bateson,
Varela, Atlan...) against naive cybernetics , the main example being for
instance dawkinsian memetics,which Lanier criticizes beautifully.
> 3) That subjective experience either doesn't exist, or is unimportant
> because it is some sort of ambient or peripheral effect.
Of course, the cybernetic paradigm doesn't imply necessarily that: for
instance Varela, Thomson and Baush wrote a whole book using cybernetics
as a possible continuation of buddhist philosophy and Husserlian
phenomenology, putting the personal experience in the center of any
valuable philosophy of consciousness. An other example is Bateson
unfinished masterpiece, "Angels fear" which outlines an "epistemology of
the sacred", or Henri Atlan's "enlightenment to enlightenment".
> 4) That what Darwin described in biology, or something like it, is in fact
> also the singular, superior description of all creativity and culture.
What is true for cybernetics is true for darwinism. One can have a crude
or subtle interpretation of darwinism. Accepting darwinism as a worthy
paradigm for all kinds of evolution doesn't mean that we must accept all
the simplest versions of darwinism.
> 5) That qualitative as well as quantitative aspects of information systems
> will be accelerated by Moore's Law.
I certainly agree with that. there is nothing more irritating, when you
try to discuss artificial intelligence, to hear that its feasibility is
dependent of the Moore law, as if better processor, better RAM and
better hard disks were sufficient to reproduce consciousness. But again,
this is not an argument against A.I. per se . Only a critic of their
more naive aficionados.
> 6) That biology and physics will merge with computer science (becoming
> biotechnology and nanotechnology), resulting in life and the physical
> universe becoming mercurial; achieving the supposed nature of computer
> software. Furthermore, all of this will happen very soon! Since computers
> are improving so quickly, they will overwhelm all the other cybernetic
> processes, like people, and will fundamentally change the nature of what's
> going on in the familiar neighborhood of Earth at some moment when a new
> "criticality" is achieved- maybe in about the year 2020. To be a human after
> that moment will be either impossible or something very different than we
> now can know.
There is certainly a mythic component in this vision, and the similarity
between this technological singularity and Terence McKenna eschaton for
instance, speaks for itself. Erik Davis wrote a lot of interesting pages
about it in Techgnosis. BUT again, this mythical aspect doesn't impair
that the merging of computer science, biology and physics have really
solid basis which cannot be easily dismissed because they are mythic. In
other words, that's not because Icarus was a myth that airplanes cannot
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