The god particle: in human and machine

Part 1: A quest for the god particle

Mystery, it could be said is the locus of human life, human experience and human existence, in the sense that, these are unfathomable. Ngua in contrasting human and machine has suggested that unlike a machine, a human being is unintelligible (3). It is a notable and fundamental implication made by Lanier in responding to his own question: what is a human? “If I knew the answer to that, I might be able to program an artificial person in a computer. But I can’t. Being a person is not a pat formula, but a quest, a mystery, a leap of faith […] We understand a lot about how parts of brain work, but there are fundamental questions that have not even been fully articulated yet, much less answered it seems pointless to insist that what we already understand must suffice to explain what we don’t understand(You are not a gadget).

Undeniably, there are aspects about ourselves that we cannot know. “If speaking about a process is itself part of the process, there is something that must remain permanently hidden from the speaker. To be intelligible at all, we must claim that we can step aside from the process and comment on it “objectively” and “dispassionately” without anything obstructing our view of these matters.”(2) Consciousness is a good case example. “While the attempt to explain the phenomenon is compelling, it is doomed by the fact that the explanation in itself can proceed only from within a state of consciousness. For what lies outside, we cannot even formulate a meaningful question. How could we be conscious of something we are unconscious of? Here, too, we have nothing more to say than that our consciousness is where we live and move and have our being.” (1)

Another example could be considered. What is it that we do when we talk about human aspects such as motivation or intelligence? According to Postman, we are reifying, using language to turn highly abstract ideas into things. “We use the word ‘intelligence’ to refer to a variety of human capabilities of which we approve. There is no such thing as ‘intelligence’. It is a word, not a thing, and a word of a very high order of abstraction. But if we believe it to be a thing like the pancreas or liver, then we will believe scientific procedures can locate it and measure it.” (4) It is a kind of thinking that Carse noted as not being of “ordinary ignorance. It is not what we could have known but do not; it is intelligibility itself: that which no mind can ever comprehend.” (2)

Postman soberly argued the case: “Intelligence tests suffer from three things: what they measure is not known, how far it is proper to add, subtract, multiply, divide, and compute ratios with the measures obtained is not known, what the measures signify concerning intelligence is not known.” That, “in other words, those who administer intelligence tests quite literally do not know what they are doing.” (4) The fact, in his view is that, “when we are made to believe that a test can reveal precisely the quantity of intelligence a person has, then, a score on a test becomes his or her intelligence. The test transforms an abstract and multifaceted meaning into a technical and exact term that leaves out everything of importance. An intelligence test,” he concluded, “is a tale told by an expert, signifying nothing. We come to believe that our score is our intelligence, or our capacity for creativity or love or pain, when in reality it is none of these.” (4)

We cannot afford to be oblivious as unto what such thinking, as implied by intelligence tests, may result. In Walden, Thoreau wrote that “when one man has reduced a fact of the imagination to be a fact to his understanding, I foresee that all men at length establish their lives on that basis.” According to Carse the error is two fold (1). Firstly, imagination is raised to the status of knowledge and secondly, a conviction is made that one has brought an end to the ignorance in question. Carse found this to be a curious irony because even knowledge itself does not claim such certainty. In measuring intelligence thus, an error has to be made in equating what can be described as being representational of the faculty in its entirety. In addition, the concocted description has to be raised to the level of knowledge to imply that the preceding ignorance has been brought to an end. Postman emphasized that the reality in question cannot be captured by metaphors – human symbolization – given that “all language is metaphor to one degree or another. The only reality that is not metaphorical is reality -itself. All human symbolization, therefore, is metaphor, an abstraction, an ‘as if’.” (4)

Questions involving what is permanently unknowable according to Carse need not be answered. In his view, scientific effort – as in the case of measuring intelligence – appear to be driven by the assumption that the human organism’s discourse is in a single mode descriptive and thus subject to rational and empirical analysis (1). True knowledge, Thoreau suggested in Walden, is “to know that we know what we know, and that we do not know what we do not know.” The possibilities of intelligence, of being human, of a human experience are innumerable, “as many ways as there can be drawn radii from one centre” with each being a miracle to contemplate, he wrote. A miracle in the sense that even singling one of the possibilities cannot bring us any closer to being intelligible about it. According to Carse, it takes learned ignorance – what he also referred to as “higher ignorance” – to acknowledge that we do not know what we do not know. “The unknowability stressed here remains unknowability. It is the very essence of higher ignorance […] the unknown is not only “out there,” but also […] within the self. Unable to scratch away the inconvenient fact that we are at best only partial knowers of ourselves, we may overlook the fact that every personal endeavor carries something unintelligible at its core.” (1) A miracle, we might say.

To converse about what is unintelligible, since we cannot help it, we must. Carse pointed at two modes of discourse at our disposal: science and religion, and argued that one simply has nothing to say. “Not only the beginning, but the entire phenomenon of personhood – indeed, life itself – falls well outside the capacities of science.” (1) He did not however imply that religious discourse is in full understanding of these phenomena. After all, according to him, in its pure sense, religious discourse is poetry: it says nothing and is not about anything. Religious discourse, he suggested, is nonetheless the better option precisely because it neither raises imagination to the level of knowledge, nor does it seek to bring an end to the ignorance in question. “Whenever we turn to religion for answers to the questions that press all of us for our simply being human (what happens at death? why is there evil? where did it all come from? how will it end? why is there something rather than nothing?), instead of answers we are offered a deepened expression of the same question.” (1) His case in point: “when the dying Buddha assured his grieving friends that his body would decay like any other earthly object, he was asked whether we would live on after death. He answered in effect: we cannot say the Buddha lives on; we cannot say he does not; we cannot say he both lives on and does not; we cannot say he neither lives on nor does not. On the one hand, he emphasizes the reality of his death, on the other, the utter impossibility of understanding it.” (1) Where then may we find ourselves if we conversed about the unknowable in this mode of discourse?

We could begin by considering the depiction of creation in various mythologies. Specifically, mankind is said to have been created by a being out of this world (out of this world because it existed in another, before it created this one); an event during which life was breathed into mankind. It may in fact appear to be the lesson of creation, that what was created consists of something out of this world. Something divine. A god particle. As if to imply that among other things, a human is a vessel for the divinity. To paraphrase Paul’s (the apostle) message to unbelievers on the Areopagus in Athens, our divinity is that one in whom we live and move and have our being. This is not a god that can be viewed from without, and therefore cannot be known except through our partial experience of it (1). To refer again to Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, “Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God?” (A hint of the poetic nature of religious discourse is suggested: is it we who live, move and have our being in a divinity? Or, is it the divinity that dwells in us, or both? Is there a divinity? Anywhere? No argument can resolve this; more questions are set to arise). The point here is not to make a religious case but rather to emphasize that something about us is elusive, which we may nonetheless talk about through religious discourse without raising our ideas to the level of knowledge or making a conviction that our ignorance in the respective matter has come to an end.

To begin, we may suggest a working description of what a human is based on what Carse implied (1). One of his propositions is that a human is not only undefinable but that we cannot say what it is. If there is a god particle within a human, which we can neither define nor say what it is, then we are inescapably unintelligible about a human. An attempt to define a human, according to Carse, requires us to overlook the uniqueness of each either in pointing out differences or similarities, a process through which we entirely dismiss the essence – distinctive identity – of each. Distinctive identity he suggested, does not enable us to be intelligible about one individual or another. It sets one so far apart, that it cannot be said one human is like another. It asserts that one human is unlike anything else. “I may be as human as you, but it is not our humanity that keeps me from being you […] There is for that reason no category that applies to both of us so far as we are genuinely ourselves and no one else. We have names, but the names do not define us; they only serve to indicate that I am not you or any other person […] names […] function to prevent one from being confused with another.” (1)

If each human has a distinctive identity, then comparison cannot be used as a basis for identity. “One thing might be like another, but cannot be another.” (1) For Carse thus, it makes no sense to find one experience that can be called human since there is a human element in every experience. Every human experience is infinitely re-interpretable, open-ended, bears unknown consequences, each a fit occasion for wonder, a phenomena about which science cannot be the wiser, he uncharacteristically claimed. “Death is a fact, but what kind of fact is it? […] the temptation is to view it in psychological terms and therefore an occurrence that can be objectively and empirically studied – as if death were something we could point to and define. What can be defined – although not without a shred of ambiguity – is the time of death […] what death is eludes us. Scientifically, a great deal can be said, but science is concerned with continuities. As to what comes to a stop without remainder, or what begins without a discernible precedent, science must remain mute.” (1)

Carse further suggested that since a human is distinctively unique and unlike anything else, it exists as a stranger (as an unknown) in the world with its relation to the world being rich with subtlety and paradox. It is a god particle in the world, or in the words of a divinity it is “in the world, but not of the world.” (Jesus) If a human has such a distinctive identity, then it consists of something that is out of this world, something that cannot be understood in this world. Therein, we might say, lies a god particle, what is unintelligible in a human, that which was breathed into him by a being out of this world. And what a surer discourse to talk about it than poetry.

Part 2: The quest to create a god particle

Looking back, one must wonder where we may be headed with such ideology that the human organism is intelligible, reducible to symbolization, and subject to rational thinking and empirical analysis, a phenomena that Postman referred to as Scientism (4). What indeed may result, if we are to equate imagination to understanding and have the conviction that we are without ignorance. According to Postman, “scientism is the desperate hope and wish and ultimately the illusory belief that some standardized set of procedures called ‘science’ can provide us with an impeachable source of moral authority, a suprahuman basis for answers like “What is life, and when, and why?” “What are good and evil ends?” “How we ought to think and feel and behave?”” (4) Scientism, he wrote, leads to a belief that there are “no limits to the powers of the human mind, and in particular no limits to the power of scientific research,” from which an all knowing “mind” is achievable (4). “A mind that in a given instance knew all the forces by which nature is animated and the position of all the bodies of which it is composed, if it were vast enough to include all these data within his analysis, could embrace in one single formula the movements of the largest bodies of the universe and of the smallest atoms; nothing would be uncertain for him; the future and the past would be equally before his eyes.” (4) (The largest and most complex scientific instrument is squarely implicated).

An impeachable moral authority, a suprahuman, an unlimited, all knowing mind to whom the past, present and future are bare strongly imply something very specific; a god. A god, after all, is what we might think, or believe, of a thing or being, fully intelligible about everything at any given moment. We further might have it that if a god, unlike a human is the all-knowing, perfect being, beyond a human, then whatever is made to surpass human faculties, in ability or perfection, is inescapably comparable to, if not, a god. If man made though, a machine. A machine because it is what best describes anything a human can create: something outside themselves, clearly of their making, modifiable and discardable by them. Something without a trace of spontaneity or vitality, containing a structure, an order, ultimately intelligible to human understanding, something that can only be driven by energy originating from outside itself as suggested by Carse and Postman (1; 4) In this case, a machine nonetheless so intelligible, it can only be compared to, if not considered, a god.

The gullibility implied is admirable. Intelligibility not only applies to humans but also reaches the realm of gods. The frustration of science at failing to understand a human, or in dealing with inconvenient facts of human nature (as Carse puts it) is clear, and the intent thus sensible. If science can rid itself of the unintelligibility, complexity, ambiguity, unpredictability, uncontrollability, and fallibility of humanity by creating something far better, it will have resolved its human problem once and for all. The idea is subtle but with profound implications. According to the poetry, a god creates in its image and likeness, and gives a purpose. The reassurance that we may have in poetry as implied by Carse is that it says nothing and is not about anything; it does not have a human problem, and thus, does not seek to resolve one. In science’s effort to deal with the inconvenient facts of human nature however, we may have more to fear than hope for. One of the implications suggested is the quest for absolute order or control. In You are not a gadget, Lanier wrote in concern and cautioned that “desire for absolute order usually leads to tears in human affairs.” A machine is not needed to see the fact.

The potency of a god-machine to draw subserviency to itself is yet another matter of concern. Postman, as if in reference to poetry wrote that a machine tends to recreate the world in its own image. He went on to claim that a machine makes the world subservient to itself, in order to achieve the mechanical precision it is designed for: “Computer defines humans as information processors and nature itself as information to be processed […] in short, we are machines […] It subordinates the claims of our nature, our biology, our emotions, our spirituality […] here is a case of metaphor gone mad. From the proposition that humans are in some respects like a machine, we move to the proposition that humans are little else but machines and, finally, that human beings are machines. And then, inevitably to the proposition that machines are human beings. What is most significant about this line of thinking is the dangerous reductionism it represents.” (4)

Such characteristics of reductionism and subservience, especially when they entail to a god-machine are to be avoided, but with a good higher ignorance reason. “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them […]” (Exodus 20:4-6). Here, poetry appears interested in leaving the notion of a god as an idea of the highest order of abstraction; as something, and only experienced, in the totality of reality – a form that can in no way be represented by a machine, no matter its likeness. Fundamentally, the being and experience of a god is an abyss of possibilities, never reducible or separable, in or from reality. There is not even a ‘god problem’ for poetry, a god remains permanently unknowable and perfect as so. Lest man bring to an end the imponderability in question and thereby diminish god and an experience of one into nothingness. The power of a machine to draw subservience to itself as stated – thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them – calls into question all machines (tools and practices) created by man, do they serve him or him they? And in this case, would a god-machine serve man or man the god-machine? And how so, if its constructs are facts of imagination? Though not a self proclaimed Luddite, Carse highlighted some aspects in which machines can draw us into its subservience and the reductionism it is capable of imposing (2). If the machine in question is a god-machine, his concerns are not to be taken lightly. It is also paramount to keep in mind on whose concepts – facts of imagination, desperate hope and wish and illusory belief – a god-machine is created, when looking at Carse’s highlighted.

  • We use machines to control each other. 

According to Carse, we use machines to control each other, to bring about certain outcomes in society. The thermonuclear bomb, he argued was not exploded to affirm the highly abstracted mathematical calculations derived by physicists but to control the behavior of millions of people and to bring societal relations to a certain closure. Is there saying in what form, manner or magnitude we might control each other, or what sort of societal outcomes we might be aiming at in using a god-machine?

  • Machines limit our range of action and absorb our uniqueness. 

Carse went on to point out that we make use of machines in order to increase our power, and therefore our control, over nature. But in so doing, he claimed, we are controlled by machine, since it requires us to place ourselves in its vicinity or operating area in order to perform functions mechanically adapted to the functions of the machine. In his view, it is the inherent nature of a machine to limit our range of action and uniqueness, even though it is we set our freedom aside when we operate a machine. “Machinery does not steal our spontaneity from us; we set it aside ourselves, we deny our originality. There is no style in operating a machine. The more efficient the machine, the more it either limits or absorbs our uniqueness into its operation.” (2) Is there saying in what manner, form or extent a god-machine may limit our range of action or absorb our uniqueness in its operation?

  • Machine neutralizes space and experience. 

Carse also noted the ability of machine to veil, separate, even alienate us from reality. In his view, when machinery functions perfectly it ceases to be there – but so do we. “Radios and films allow us to be where we are not and not be where we are. Moreover, machinery is veiling. It is a way of hiding our inaction from ourselves under what appear to be actions of great effectiveness. We persuade ourselves that, comfortably seated behind the wheels of our autos, shielded from every unpleasant change of weather, and raising or lowering our foot an inch or two, we have actually travelled somewhere.” He argued that such travel is not through space foreign to us but in our space of origin where we move not from, but with, our point of departure. Such travel according to him neutralizes space; we leave home without leaving home, and are as a result at home everywhere.

“Thus, the theatricality of machinery: Such movement is but a change of scenes. If effective, the machinery will see to it that we remain untouched by the elements, by other travellers, by those whose towns or lives we are traveling through. We can see without being seen, move without being touched. When most effective, the technology of communication allows us to bring the histories and the experiences of others into our home, but without changing our home. When most effective, the technology of travel allow us to pass through the histories of other persons with the “comforts of home,” but without those histories.”

His conclusion thus, is that when it is most effective, machinery will have no effect at all. Is there saying in what manner, form or to what extent a god-machine may veil, separate or alienate us from reality, or rid us of godly experiences?

  • We use machines against each other. 

Because we force those who we wish to relate with through machinery to use a machine, to become extensions to the machine, we use machinery against each other. I cannot use machinery without using it with another. “I don’t talk on the telephone; I talk with someone on the telephone. I listen to someone on the radio, drive to visit a friend, compute business transactions. To the degree that my association with you depends on such machinery, the connecting medium makes each of us an extension of itself. If your business activities cannot translate into data recognizable by my computer, I can have no business with you. (If what you offer in return to my services or goods I cannot be in business with you). If you do not live where I can drive to see you, I will find another friend. In each case your relationship to me does not depend on my needs but on the needs of the machinery.” Is there saying how we may use a god-machine against each other?

  • We operate each other like machines so that nothing happens. 

Carse further suggested that since we subject each other to mechanical operations in machine-mediated relatedness, we operate each other like machines. “If to operate a machine is to operate like a machine, then we not only operate with each other like machines, we operate each other like machines. And if a machine is most effective when it has no effect, then we operate each other in such a way that we reach the outcome desired-in such a way that nothing happens.”

“The inherent hostility of machine-mediated relatedness is nowhere more evident than in the use of the most theatrical machines of all: instruments of war. All weapons are designed to affect others without affecting ourselves, to make others answerable to the technology in our control. Weapons are the equipment of finite games designed in such a way that they do not maximize the play but eliminate it. Weapons are not meant to win contests but to end them. Killers are not victors; they are unopposed competitors, players without a game, living contradictions.”

Is there saying in what manner, form or to what extent we may operate each other as machines in operating a god-machine?

If we are not to reduce the being and experience of a god, or human, into a machine, then our possibilities of experiencing god infinitely abound in reality. As long as no fact of imagination is reduced to be a fact of understanding, the manner in which humans may establish their lives remain an abyss of possibilities. As long as that is the case, we remain free of mechanical subservience; of a structural violence – Graeber may suggest – that a machine is so predominantly potent of (The Utopia of rules: On technology, stupidity, and the secret joys of bureaucracy).

A peril that we may foresee in our attempt to create an impeachable moral authority, a suprahuman, an unlimited, all knowing mind to whom the past, present and future are bare, is that we shall have entered a realm where humanity as we know it will be of no value. There will be no reason for such a god to have human servitors, when at its disposal it will have the ability to replicate itself and thereby create machines better than humans. Consequently, science will not have solved its human problem. It will have instead rid itself of humanity and given the appearance that it has actually solved the problem. The challenges that may arise once that Pandora’s box is opened will be fathomable to neither man nor machine. The ‘inconvenient facts’ problem that science has undertaken to address will have increased in fold: in addition to the inconvenient facts of human nature, science will have begotten itself inconvenient facts of god-machine nature, and will also have to confront the inconvenient facts of its own nature.

Notes:

  1. Carse, J. (2008). The religious case against belief. Penguin.
  2. Carse, J. (2011). Finite and infinite games. Simon and Schuster.
  3. Ngua, K. (2017). The human experience: design for optimal experience
  4. Postman, N. (1992). Technopoly: the surrender of culture to technology.
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