The function of the Anil Seth video in part one of this series is to serve as a catalyst for thinking about feeling and about the layers of the body and self for subsequent posts. As for myself, I will relate my personal experience with the ideas of somatics in a practical way and to also bridge discontinuities in the collective mind between science and spirituality in the most generous use of those terms, which I’ll go into over time. For Thomas Hanna it begins with the mind/body problem as we’ve inherited it. Through his idea of the Soma I was able to connect all sorts of disparate notions in my own skull by way of connecting the contents inside it with vast insensible parts of my body due to injury.
With that said, there are two main points I want to draw out from the video. The first is an observation and the second is about deriving meaning from what I consider a cultural myth present somewhere in us all that has real life consequences.
The observation I made is a bit critical. Might seem small but it’s pervasive and it involves the use of the language of machines to describe processes which are somatic. The idea of the Soma combines the mind and body so they are processes of living beings, or organisms. Anything not made by humans is not a machine. So using “mechanism” includes the myth of the machine in it and carries it through the generations. It’s really a metaphor and not actually the case that anything occurring in the mind happens in a machine like way. It happens in a biological way. Seth makes the point in the beginning of the video but continues to use “mechanism” up to the end, probably out of simple habit. So, even he doesn’t stray from the language despite his arguing that we aren’t machines.
I make this point as a matter of perspective regarding ourselves. When we turn the lens at our conscious attention we are shifting perspectives, which is shaped by the language we speak when we talk about ourselves. What do we think about that? What words do we use? For Anil Seth, his day job and life passion is seeking to describe the experience of consciousness through the frame of mechanism. Another way of putting it is he is making a third person objective frame to get to the origin of the first person experience. This is the matter of perspective I want to raise and leads to the second point.
In about the third minute Seth gives his opinion on Artificial Intelligence, stating he rather doubted AI machines will ever achieve self-awareness. I agree with this, and am even bolder than that. I think it’s impossible. I think it’s technically just not feasible because consciousness is natural and isn’t simply a question of computing power or the arrangement of different parts or of calculation. This is the myth writ large over the culture that comes out of the grand Watchmaker god analogy, or the “Ghost in the Machine” extended into the present.
I think Seth is being somewhat courageous to publicly doubt this myth. I’ll be saying more on this in the next post when I comment on some of the research points having to do with perception that support or fit the somatic perspective. We have two basic perspectives of being; one goes inside consciousness and the other goes out into the world. The exchange between them is where everything happens because it operates beyond our representations of it. The nervous system from the inside looks very different from the outside. The inner view connects us to things which can’t be perceived by anything other than itself or outside the experience of the body. This is where the big mystery lives for me with my polished somatic lens to sense, emote, observe, represent, and interpret.
The implications of this doubt raised about AI will ultimately return the human view of itself to a realization that only two ways to create conscious beings remain. One is to energize your own conscious awareness and the other is to have a baby. These are the old school ways.
Thanks for reading and have a fabulous Monday.
2 thoughts on “The Ghost in the Machine pt. 2”
Mechanism is a word commonly used in the study of biology, chemistry and other sciences to mean “the steps something takes” from one state to another. I agree with you that when I think about it, it is strange to speak using a language of “machines” to explain how something works. It is a pervasive language about “how things work” which takes a stance of breaking it down into steps. But we need words that better respect the nature of living things, and the fact that a mechanistic universe is not necessarily the best way to capture the essence of our natures. I wholeheartedly agree.
This comment makes me think of all sorts of things, including the word “thing”. If you pair “thing” with “being” and you have an entirely different meaning intended and expressed. “Being” encapsulates presence and interiority, whereas “thing” describes an object, or objectifies.
As for the use or usefulness of “mechanism” in science, it’s helpful to regard it as an analogy we are all blind to using as a convenient way to communicate knowledge and discoveries. Analogies are strange. By nature they are incomplete. The machine view of the universe doesn’t really account for will, or elan vital, or lifeforce, the myths Anil Seth is trying to rub out of existence by explaining consciousness in terms of mechanism. He makes that claim by analogy with biology’s description of life. But do “how does it work” answers address “why are we here” questions? Does reducing everything to mechanisms rub out first person experiential meaning? These questions are at once personal and cultural, spiritual and religious, and practical and scientific all subject/objects worth exploring, to my mind.
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