Thursday, September 15, 2011


For Bohm, the entire information-content of the universe is encoded in universal light, which is the background reality of everything that we experience. He sees all physical phenomena as forms of light that are to a greater or lesser degree ‘bound’ and as emerging, or ‘unfolding’ from the background of unbound light. This unbound light is the implicate order from which the explicate order of the objects of our sensory experience unfolds. Small wonder, then, that he sees the connection between intelligence and light as very profound and very close, as close, indeed as the connection between mind and matter. Just as the electron – a form of bound light – is accompanied by a field that holographically contains active information concerning all surrounding particles, so the brain is the explicate order (the 3D object) that emerges from the implicate order of the mind: the two, brain and mind, are not separate substances, but the mind is at a higher level than its physical counterpart in being implicate rather than explicate. It is for that reason that the distinction between subject and object exists and the subject can experience its brain as object

The brain considered as a mechanism works quasi-mechanically. Its business is to ensure our survival and it can try and foist all kinds of theories upon us in response to sensory experience. In the ego it has a real sucker for a clever, tied-up theory. Sensory-deprivation experiments have shown, however, that in certain circumstances where the input from the environment is reduced to virtually zero, the brain even begins to work on its own internal states and sets to work generating distorted, hallucinatory experiences in order then to impose upon them a story. The consciousness of the subjects thus manipulated is, however, in principle able to spot the subterfuge and uncover the fiction. The mind is able to catch the brain at work. This demonstrates, if any demonstration were needed, that the mind is not only distinct from the brain, but also able to stand apart from what the brain delivers to it and adopt a critical stance towards its offerings: it can in principle – though it does not always use its ability – assess, accept or reject what the brain presents to it. The conscious mind is not a slave to its brain and does not ‘arise’ from the brain, since consciousness is one and, in common with intelligence, universal.

If rational thought is pure brain-operation and strictly determined, intelligence, by contrast is at the interface between the determinate and the indeterminate in reality; it operates at the frontier between the chaotic and the ordered in nature. Though it inevitably makes use of existing, determined formalisms, intelligence must be considered as essentially indeterminate, as non-formal, extra-formal mentation. Intelligence obviously makes use of the mechanism of both left and right brain, but is beyond both. But this is no plaidoyer in favour of facile dualism. This distinction between determined, substantially mechanical brain, on the one hand – though even this is a convenient abstraction, since the complex processes of the brain, too, are chaotic – and undetermined, unpredictably creative intelligence, on the other is no throwback to the theories of Descartes, for whom all rational thought originated in the undetermined, immaterial mind and imagination in the determined, material body. The point of view presented here is not in any sense an attempt to do the sort of dualistic ontology that engaged Descartes. Indeed it is in many senses the opposite of his view.

Thought, sequential, logical, ‘rational’ thought is well explained by the operation of the mechanism of the brain, while intelligently creative imagination, as the generator of novelty originates in levels or dimensions of reality that have to be thought of by us as beyond the material. In talking of levels of reality beyond the material, we mean, of course, beyond the limited conception that we have of the material as a collection of three-dimensional objects. We do not mean some immaterial, supposedly ‘spiritual’ domain where ghosts, spirits, gods and demons live an allegedly spiritual life. Such a domain may exist; but it is not our concern.

Intelligence is the inner nature of the self-conscious mind. It is for that reason that it cannot be equated with any of the formal operations that are supposed to define what we mean by ‘rationality’ or ‘reason’. Intelligence is the ‘no-thing-ness’ at the heart of the self. It is a purely natural agency, undistorted by any cultural conditioning or formal training. It is not the brain, it is not language which programmes the brain, for these are both used by intelligence for its expression. Intelligence is above all an ‘edge-of-chaos’ phenomenon, which in its perpetual fluidity provides the locus not only for the creative re-arrangement of mental contents, but also for the creative expansion of existing formal systems. Intelligence is the agency that stands outside of all formal systems and provides the extra-systemic input required to understand the system from a standpoint above and beyond the system. When the system is re-cast and expanded, its power increases, but intelligence is then, once again, or rather, still, outside of that new system. The formal system is only mechanical insofar as its use is governed by algorithms based upon procedures that are derivable from within the system. The non-mechanical nature of intelligence is observable precisely in its ability to understand principles that are of relevance to the system but that are not derivable as theorems of the system according to axioms of the system.

Those who would entirely mechanise the intellect and try to establish the invariant features of every aspect of the mind’s functioning, miss the point of this view of the mind entirely. They are obsessed by the ego’s addiction to the thing-ideology and can think of the mind only in terms of those object-like repetitive entities that one can isolate, name and predict. Thus, for example, the mechanisers of the intellect (e.g. Margaret Boden in her The Creative Mind: Myths and Mechanisms, Routledge 2004) try to establish empirically – that is to say by inductive generalisation – the repetitive features of the creative mind. They talk in terms of ‘mechanisms’ of recombination, re-arrangement, re-configuration, and so on, as if the innovations of the human intelligence were always and only a kind of shuffling of a pack of cards and a random establishment of a new order. Clearly, inductive generalisations will always lead to this kind of mechanical theory, as the left-brain strives to force the new to take on the characteristics of the old with its little rationalising tales. Equally clearly, chaotic nature – here, in the specific form of the human intelligence – will out of its own perpetual freshness continue to generate real novelty, real indeterminate structure, real complex new order.

One must not suppose that the indeterminacy of intelligence, its ‘no-thing-ness’ makes it into a kind of ‘god-of-the-gaps’-style explanatory principle, where our ignorance is used as a cloak for smuggling in metaphysical agencies into the determined order of nature. It is quite simply empirical fact that the inner processes of nature are indeterminate, in the sense of being uncertain according to our mechanical, objectifying mode of apprehension. It is empirical fact that the determinate order arises from the indeterminate. It is quite simply empirical fact that the apparently predictable order of nature rests upon and emerges from an unpredictable substrate, the essential processes of which we can not, in principle grasp according to our mechanising thought. This is not, therefore a question of gaps in our knowledge that are shortly to be filled. This is an ‘in principle’ ignorance that is in the nature of things, and in the nature of that specific thing that is the human sensory-cognitive apparatus.

The brain, as macroscopic structure, tracks macroscopic structures in the range of its experience; but both it and they rest on a microscopic substrate in which such structure is undetectable. It is futile, given this basic fact of our constitution, to prattle in absolute terms about determinism in either brain or world. Empirical investigations rely on experience alone and we may not prejudge our experiences and pronounce certain of them permissible and others as impermissible. We simply have experiences and we have to accept them all, whether we like it or not. And one of the essential experiences of the human mind is of its indeterminate, creative activity. The ability of the human mind to generate novelty is often pronounced by the ego to be the result of a ‘search’ for new structures – as though these just lay around like objects waiting to be found. This is not really how the most creative minds of history have seen things, however. The creativity of human intelligence is not rational and much less the result of active intention on the part of an individual mind than of the reception, in a mind impatient with the inadequacies of existing ‘knowledge’, of re-constructive insight that then finds expression in formal terms. The ability of human intelligence to jump out of the box and, from that position outside, to espy possibilities for the structures inside, that would not have been detectable from inside, is an intrinsic feature of its functioning throughout history.

Take the non-Euclidian geometries of Gauss, Riemann, Lobachewski and the rest. These accomplishments were obtained by an intelligent leap of the imagination which had suggested that suppressing one of Euclid’s axioms – the least well-founded – would permit geometries of enormously greater power and subtlety. The resulting geometries discovered potential properties of space that Einstein, for example, was then able to exploit in his theories of special and general relativity. Euclidean geometry arose from following the natural inclination of the brain, but thinking inside of the 3D Euclidean box – thinking that had been regarded as without alternative for thousands of years – would never have permitted such major advances in mathematics. Moreover, these advances were not obtained simply by thrashing and crashing around randomly inside the box until some new angle was generated by accident. These developments were generated by the creative intelligence of great mathematicians, whose genius consisted in being able to view the system of orthodox geometry from a extra-systemic standpoint and from there espy its shortcomings and envisage its absorption within a higher and more complex unity, in which the previous system would appear as a limiting case of the new, greatly expanded formalism.

So here we have the essential difference between intelligence and thought. Thought is repetitive, backward-looking, rule-governed, algorithmic, mechanical and seeks only the invariant and the predictable in experience. Intelligence by contrast is innovatory, extra-systemic, non-algorithmic, non-mechanical and, since it is guided by aesthetic feeling, delights in the receptive generation of novelty, the creation of the future. The ego will always want to reduce intelligence to thought, for that is its essential nature. Intelligence, however, will always resist such despotic ambitions and blithely slip through the net of reductive ‘explanations’ cast over it by thought. Human culture will thus continue to be fuelled by a productive tension, a creative conflict between thought and intelligence. Intelligence will work critically and in dissatisfied impatience with the formal limitations of orthodoxy until a new synthesis of disparate elements is obtained. Scientific theories are always victims of the dissatisfaction of the generations following those who establish them. These successive generations find the old theories unconvincing and inadequate. They no longer satisfy. This is a question of feeling, as matters of intelligence always are. Only thought, mechanical thought, is supposedly unemotional, emotion-free; and in the computer it is truly this (though in the ego’s thought, the absence of emotion is a subterfuge). Intelligence, on the basis of its feeling-toned hunches, its curiosity and its heuristic passion for the new theory, develops new syntheses, new visions and to a certain extent ‘proves’ them. Thought will then, as a consequence have new formalisms, new algorithms, new determinate structures to operate on and from which to extract the many mechanical, predictable implications.

Rational thought is the functioning of a brain richly programmed by the creations of intelligence; intelligence itself, however, is at the growing tip of the evolving universe.

The eternal battle between old methods and new insights constitutes one of the principal motors of cultural advance. We cannot do without the rationalising ego that desires final, definitive, certain, absolute cognitive states; but equally we cannot do without the creative intelligence that constantly soars beyond the rule-governed midworld into hyperworld. There really is no point in adopting any other stance to this process than that of grateful, reverential trust. The new order does not arise by some plodding application of an algorithm. It arises, as all new order arises, spontaneously and without the control of the ego. Any desire or attempt finally to subject the indeterminate intelligence to mechanical control reveals the totalitarian ambitions of the ego and these ambitions are invariably destined to failure. This failure is nicely illustrated in the old Russian tale of the Golden Fish.

An old fisherman lived by the sea and made a poor living from his fishing. His house was dilapidated, his water-butt leaked and his wife scolded him for their modest standard of living. One day out on the waves, however, the old fisherman caught a golden fish in his net and was astonished to hear the fish address him in human speech. “Release me back into the sea,” said the fish, “and I will grant you a wish.” The fisherman thought for a while and then said, “Give me a new water-butt.” “Your wish is granted,” said the fish, “now release me.” The fish spoke with such genuine emotion and authority, that the simple, good-hearted fisherman believed it without reservation. And indeed, on returning home, the fisherman was surprised and delighted, as was his wife, to discover that a brand new water-butt now stood in place of the old leaking one. The fisherman told his wife about the encounter and about the granted wish. From this point on, the wife who was an ill-tempered, grasping control-freak, gave the old fisherman no peace until he set off again in his boat to find the fish and have more wishes granted. To cut a long story short, the fisherman went out on numerous occasions and had numerous wishes granted. Their riches and possessions increased beyond their dreams and soon they were of legendary wealth. This continued until the day when the wife, impatient with the unpredictable aspect of their good fortune and desiring to control the source of these benefits, demanded that the fish be kept in captivity in order that its wish-granting capacity should be controlled by her. The fisherman, anxious to please his shrewish wife, complied and brought the fish home, despite the latter’s piteous cries. As soon, however, as the fish was in the bowl, not only did it turn into an ordinary, banal little creature of no distinction, but also, the couple, whose riches had raised them to the pinnacle of the social hierarchy, lost everything in a flash and their lives reverted to what they had been before the golden fish had been caught: the house was wretched again, the water-butt leaked and they had hardly enough to eat.

The moral of the story is clear: the deliverances of the human intelligence are gifts, are grace: any attempt by the ego to control intelligence mechanically will result in the loss of its creativity.

Human beings are not masters of the universe; they are not even masters in their own house. The ego wants to control everything in its world, wants to throne as God over the world. Fortunately this is impossible, for such a world would be a nightmare of predictable, totalitarian mechanism. Fortunately, intelligence understands its position as the recipient of wonders that it cannot control. The collaboration of the fisherman and his wife worked well enough until she made her bid for power. As long as the ego is kept in check, as long as its collaboration with the intelligent self remains just that – a collaboration – human culture will continue to grow in wisdom and develop its degrees of freedom. If, however, the ego ever gains complete control and eradicates the creative intelligence, evolution will pass us by leaving us to wither or stagnate like the coelacanth, the horseshoe crab and many other so-called ‘living fossils’.

No comments: