Artificial Intelligence photo

Our struggle to survive hasbeen a relentless drive towards self-destruction.  Sigmund Freud identified two basic human impulses:  Eros, the drive to  survive and reproduce, and Thanatos, the drive towards death and destruction.  However, dialectically speaking, these are not two separate and opposing forces, but a unity of polar opposites which grow out of the same expenditure of energies, exist in the same temporal-spatial frames of reference,  and thus areinseparable one from the other.  It is not that Eros is one thing and Thanatos another, but that they are so internally related that in and through the very process of struggling to survive, we are also creating the conditions for our destruction.  The proof of this is the ecological crises which now engulf and threaten us, and all forms of life, with extinction.  And as if that were not a sufficient harbinger of our forthcoming eradication, there are always the weapons of mass destruction, which true to their name, can bring about the massive destruction of our species very quickly.

While the terms Eros and Thanatos are used almost exclusively in relation to human life, they are simply stand ins for the more universal processes of creation and destruction.  Creation and destruction are the two moments of Becoming in which resides their unity.  Hegel was careful to elaborate this in his Logic, where he opposes Being to Not Being, and shows us how neither exists independently but rather that they come to rest in determinate becoming.  Marx, in Capital, took great pains to bring home the point that every act of production is also an act of consumption (speaking of productive consumption and consumptive production).  As Heraclitus said “nothing is but all is becoming”, and becoming, which is but another term for evolution, is just this process of simultaneous destruction and creation.  However, it must be restated that because this is a unified temporal spatial process, nothing is actually destroyed and nothing is actually created but rather that that which has been is simply carried forward in new levels or forms.  For example, all of evolution from the big bang, has been carried forward, preserved, subsumed  in new and higher levels of existence.  The dinosaurs live among us as birds, and the iron from the explosion of  stars moves through our bodies as part of our blood.   And all this because, as the basic laws of physics show us,  energy can neither be created  nor destroyed but only changed in form, and  because matter is just another form of energy. That is to say, as matter and energy are a unity of opposites with each capable of being transformed into the other…of becoming the other, there is truly neither destruction nor creation, but only reformulation and constant change occurring in, through and as a series of phase transitions.  Think of ice becoming steam.

So as we sit on the brink of our own self destruction, we must keep in mind that already arising within and out of humanity is a new existence and a new consciousness.    There is every indication that we have embarkedd upon a phase transitionin which we will no longer be human in the sense that we currently understand human.  In this phase machines will become more human, and humans will become more “machine like” in ways that will give rise to a new species in a new world.

The survival of humanity has been dependent on its ability to, as Marx put it, “appropriate” nature.  Man’s ability to appropriate nature to satisfy his need and wants is in turn, reflected in and dependent upon the development of the “tools” used for this appropriation.  If we substitute the word tools for technology we can see that there has always been a mutually determining and mutually defining relationship between nature, human nature and technology in which humans have created and employed tools to appropriate nature.  However, ever increasingly, technology is no longer passive products employed by thinking and creative humans but rather is itself becoming active producers, and parallel thinkers; they have become extensions of the minds which produced them and in turn, are producing changes in the functions of human minds.   Whereas in the past they functioned to improve human lives, they now also function for self improvement.  They have many advantages over human minds.  They are faster, they are more durable, and generally speaking, although capable of being waylaid by human viruses, they are apparently immune to rising levels of pollution and perhaps even to global warming.  As rockets sent to other planets show, they are capable of enduring extreme conditions in a way that no human being can.  They require neither food nor water, but only energy.  Eventually they may function on energy in its purest form, as solar energy.

Nor is it simply a matter of either/or…that is undialectical.  Man is more and more bringing machines into his body, and so his body is becoming increasingly machine like.  It is entirely possible that humanity will endure, not by holding back the destructive effects of global warming, but by adaptation – by becoming more machine like.  The possibility exists that humans may rid themselves of their bodies in favor of an artificial world.   As the world becomes less fit for human life, human life will have to assume a new, non “human” form, to survive.

Just as Hegel’s creator could not realize himself in nature because, according to Hegel (who did not believe in evolution out of nature but only apart from it,) nature lacks the capacity to think and reason, and so for the sake of his own self realization,  creates a new being in his own image as a natural product which posses the capacity for rational thinking and the instinct to create, so too we can say of humanity, that it is creating new beings in its own image capable of rational thought and creativity.  However, in order to do this, the ontological structure of the world as internally related and constantly changing must be first grasped by machines who are themselves internally related, rapidly changing.  The question is can machines come to understand the dialectic of the world, of which they are part?  Concomitantly as machines become increasingly faster and as the growth of knowledge begins to expand every more furiously, will machines approach the absolute limit of the speed of light?  Will its mass become so great that it will simply collapse under it, or will it itself undergo a phase transition in which, very much like Hegel’s creator reaching the point of Absolute Realization, it contains all knowledge within itself so that there is nothing outside of it, and at that point acquires self consciousness, the knowledge of itself as the beginning and end of creation?  Will it then become the Mind fully realized and fully determined, the final singularity.

As an aside I would like to mention a current theory in physics which holds that the world is a hologram, a projection created by a computer.  The laws of science, might be only the algorithms generated by this computer.  If so, then we can say that when man, nature and computers are brought into the absolute unity of absolute realization, Mind realizes itself  as machine.

  Mary Metzger is a 74 year old semi retired teacher. She did her undergraduate work at S.U.N.Y. Old Westbury and her graduate work In Dialectics under Bertell Ollman at New York University. She has taught numerous subjects, from Public Sector Labor Relations to Philosophy of Science, to many different levels of students from the very young to Ph.D. candidates, in many different institutions and countries from Afghanistan to Russia. She has been living in Russia for the past 12 years where she focuses on research in the Philosophy of Science and History of the Dialectic, and writes primarily for Countercurrents. She is the mother of three, the grandmother of five, and the great grandmother of two.


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