I feel now that I have been misleading you when I coined the expression Automatic Subconscious Procedures, because this may have triggered in your mind associations with computers.
There are many similarities between the computer and the human brain, but there are also significant differences, the first of which is meaning.
As far as similarities go, both use language and the computer language is being built as we speak (literally). I am not as familiar as I would like to be with machine code, but I understand its potential and its limitations.
What are the limitations? The speed of computers nowadays is vastly superior to that of humans (consider chess: We’re losing at chess now!), but there is no meaning to it.
Did anybody ask the computer that beat Kasparov “So, how do you feel about your victory?”
You cannot ask a program like Deep Blue for an answer. There would be no reply, unless you program it for this situation, unless you’re programming a simulation in which a human poses the question (in the form of dialogue) about the subject’s feelings. Then Deep Blue says: Define “feelings”.
So things are a bit more complicated with humans; computers are still our creation, very much so.
Back to Automatic Subconscious Procedures. Because ASPs are embedded in the real world, they start off as meaningful dialogues which have become largely subconscious as a result of our desire to speed up our interactions, but whose meaning (or lack thereof) becomes immediately apparent when their progress is arrested by reality.
Perhaps the best way to illustrate this with an example would be to think about the computer game simulations we now have at our disposal. Computer simulations lack meaning by definition.
There is very little meaning in whatever’s the next step in a simulation because you or someone like you (i.e., the programmer) know what’s supposed to be the next step.
By contrast, we don’t know what’s the next step in the real world.
I suppose this accounts for the shock delivered by modern physics in the field of quantum dynamics: We don’t really know where one particle is actually positioned, because it’s a wave.
Meaning has yet to be created by a computer. It is generated only as far as a simulation (for which somebody writes down the rules).
On the other hand, in the real world accidents happen.
Let’s say that you’re in the Real world and you run in your head an Automatic Subconscious Procedure (which could be mistaken for a computer Simulation) where you have to clean your room.
You wake up in the morning and you think “I’ve got to sort out some things” and you run the simulation in your head “Okay, I’m going to pick up that and that”, you plan several steps ahead (we call this simulation “planning”). How far ahead are you going to plan? 30 minutes? 10 minutes? I don’t know, I guess you start picking up stuff expecting you’ll be done in x minutes. It depends on the person.
Now, let’s see what is different if you press “Activate procedure for cleaning” in a computer Simulation.
- First of all, you can “save”, which is ridiculous, right? You can go back in time.
- The second problem is that some programmer wrote the rules for what’s supposed to happen in the “cleaning” scenario; you might have to start by defining who you are (your character’s name). Let’s call our character “Hank”; let’s move Hank around by clicking on some points in this space which you’re going to clean.
Even when we consider the case of using the latest motion sensor technologies, whereby you would actually move around in a simulated space and pick up things, this simulated space has to be designed, somebody has to create this space, so it’s going to be governed by rules which you can easily figure out as another human.
Of course, you can introduce accident-like occurrences in a Simulation, but these too have to be programmed.
Therefore, the computer is not equipped to answer for that which is not programmed.
We don’t have an answer about meaning from a computer. We can give it a meaning and it can be bounced back to us in the form of dialogues, but these are different from the Reality in which we are operating on a day-to-day basis.
Our reality (as far as we know) is not programmed in a definite, human-mind-graspable way.
It doesn’t have the kind of macroscopic structure we are used to; we operate on a macroscopic level where we notice wolves and buildings, the Sky and the Moon, but we don’t notice electrons and photons (even though we can see their effects).
Moreover, we operate on a scale where the impact between two Sun-sized masses located I-don’t-know-how-many-light-years away from us does not really affect us as more than an interesting blip seen with the telescope.
We cannot easily imagine the very small and the very big, because we need to operate in the world of wolves and buildings, Sky and Moon.
However, our minds could penetrate the laws governing these movements of the stuff in the Sky (the very big) and of the very small (the electron): Somebody developed the mathematics for this.
Somebody wrote down some rules and we have discovered that for some (very small) parts of the universe the rule is different from what is considered rational (logically necessary) in our world, namely that the universe has to give you a final answer about where exactly something is located.
Maybe we have something similar when we cannot answer definitively the question: “Why are we here?”
With the computer, we can answer this question very easily: “I’m here because a human made me”.
With the human, it is much more difficult: “What made me is the Sky and the Earth” (as far as we know). The small stuff that blew in all directions from one dot.
How many billions of years ago? Remember the different scales.
13.798 ± 0.037 billion years ago plus one second, there was a lot of matter in the universe flying away from one point, and now, billions of years later, we look back to this time and we think we can assign some equations to describe what actually happened.
What did we discover in these equations? We discover that as soon as we go into waves, as soon as we go into frequencies (Hertz), as soon as we go into the theory that reality is a wave [or membrane, more recently], not a thing or a particle, at that moment our understanding breaks down and then it’s built up automatically [by our brains] in the wave form.
We are talking about the number of cyclical waves, patterns (which we can detect, or not).
The sound that is reaching you right now (if it’s reaching you at all) consists of ripples in the air, caused by the little vibrations in a certain frequency range that allow your ears to pick up the sounds as an S, followed by an aʊ, followed by an N, followed by a D, followed again by an S.
The vocal chords vibrate in my throat and the various articulatory parts allow the proper sounds to escape my mouth in such a way as to move the air particles around me in a manner that would be recognisable when they are produced by the vibrations from a small piece of metal in your room that would switch into motion the particles of air around you to re-create the SaʊNDS.
[Tip of the hat to my UNE phonetics & phonology (and Australian Aboriginal languages) teacher, Nick Reid. Not all was lost on me.]
And it’s waves, on both sides.
How about on their way, as they’re encoded now into a computer file? It’s probably different from the real thing.
How is it written in machine code? Normally we don’t understand enough of the machine code that is being used, but we still know enough to say that it’s an extraordinary tool in helping us to visualise how the universe around us actually operates, how we can reach other, how we can hear each other, how it is possible that the connections in my neural network(s) can be mirrored up to a certain extent by putting into motion air particles, called “waves of sound” which should trigger similar firings of neurones in somebody else’s brain.
How is this possible? Waves, right? That’s how we communicate.
The computer is there to help, but the meaning is still given by the dialogue that the human mind has with another human mind. Or with the computer. Or with the self. Or with the truth.
What we need is to get our language straight, back to basic meanings and to remember what it means to be human. A computer simulation is nice, but it’s pushing away into the background too much of the human right now.
A computer simulation is bad when we’re growing accustomed to mindless-ness, when we think that everything around us is an Automatic Subconscious Procedure. Some of it is not.
When our wilful ignorance of an aspect of reality affects other people, then it becomes immoral (and we’re now coming around to morality, after philosophy and religion).
The morality of human behaviour involves becoming conscious of those Automatic Subconscious Procedures which may make reality worse for other people (or ourselves).
Don’t give bad vibes, don’t send out bad waves, right?
This means that you are acting immoral whenever you’re closing yourself into a world where you cannot see Nature anymore, to the point that Nature is unrecognisable when it comes back to us (see “climate change”).
Our way of living, our Automatic Subconscious Patterns are being carried out at the expense of the natural world, the Earth that sustains us. We cannot forget that we were generated, that everything started off billions of years ago to allow us to reach this point here.
Morality means becoming conscious of the suffering caused by our actions when we refuse dialogue with other persons.
When we refuse to have a dialogue with the people whom we’re drowning: “global warming”, “coastal flooding”, “more intense weather events”.
If this doesn’t flash a light, then you’ve got to start reading (tip of the hat to George Monbiot, one of the few persons whose blog I follow weekly with great interest.)
Where will these hit the worst? Among the poor.
Similarly, but in a more consciously criminal way, in Cambodia people are still scarred physically (and psychologically) by bombs dropped decades ago by other humans who simply refused to have a dialogue with these people, with these generations of children born nowadays that are still dealing with minefields.
Of course there are people that are bad in an absolute sense of the word (Holocaust, genocide, Hitler kind of person) and these are people we must stand up against to protect those who suffer, but we must not forget that even when we are not consciously doing bad things, we may be sending out bad waves to other people through our actions when they’re Automatic Subconscious Procedures.
We show ignorance when we think it’s more rational to invest more money into building weapons and into deploying weapons, into burning more of the oil in the ground when the weather around us has gone completely unstable.
It shows a wilful malice towards the underprivileged people, towards the planet’s extremely rich-yet-vulnerable diversity of life, towards the indigenous people everywhere who now have only one alternative:
Join us or drown.
So that’s morality: The dialogues we need to become conscious of.