Intelligence and Spirit
18 Oct 2014

Intelligence and Spirit

Reza Negarestani

This is a passage from my forthcoming work, Intelligence and Spirit. Written in the tradition of ethics of self-cultivation, particularly Seneca’s Epistulae morales, Intelligence and Spirit is an essay on the philosophical foundations of artificial general intelligence and the advent of social intelligence. It is developed through the works of Kant, Hegel, Marx, Pierce, Brandom and Sellars and emphasizes the significance of social intelligence as humanity’s summum bonum. Building on the social moral philosophy of New Confucianism specifically the late works of Mou Zongsan, the final sections focus on a synthetic integration between rationalism and social emancipation oriented toward a collective project of self-cultivation out of which a self-apprehending intelligence can be realized. A more condensed description would be the ethics of intelligence:

“Approximately one billion years ago, the first rudimentary forms of neuronal information processing began to develop, over five hundred million years ago, during the Cambrian period, the evolution of a more complex nervous system combined with advanced visual tracking systems set off the perception catastrophe leading to the organization of the nervous system as an “organ of alienation” capable of generating a designated mental discontinuity. Through this highly regulated mental discontinuity, the organism became able to differentiate regions of space, optimally distinguishing itself from its food and predators. By simultaneously gaining traction on the spatiotemporal continuity of the organism–in reality, a rupture in the continuity of space-time–and the spatio-temporal connectivity, the nervous system enabled the organism to recognize things other than itself, orienting it toward the problem of exploring and making sense of its environment.

With the beginning of neurulation and cephalization processes in the vertebrates, basic computational barriers such as control of combinatorial explosion, construction of models of choice, predictive calculations, simulation of movement and proactive adaptation at the level of the organism were one by one overcome. Eventually the neotenous brain brought the complexity of the nervous system to a new stage. Marked by maximal functional entrenchment, the magnitude of evolutionary diversification–in this case, the addition of extensive structural change–significantly diminished. Maximization of functional entrenchment and reduction in structural diversification of the neotenous brain yet did not constrain the amplification of cognitive processes, but rather forced them (particularly abstraction and simulation) to a new functional vista which is that of the social domain. The development of social cognitive technologies such as tool-use and language solved two of the most significant problems of computation, namely, qualitative compression and stabilization of information necessary for the communal establishment of knowledge and further augmentation and coordination of understanding and action. Qualitative organization and stabilization of information through the formation of concepts as communal components of knowledge transformed the cognitive possibility of knowledge into a social reality, and thus facilitated the acquisition and exploitation of higher levels of cognition otherwise inaccessible from a purely bio-evolutionary standpoint.

However, only less than five hundred years ago, we noticed that we are not living at the center of the universe, slightly more than three hundred years ago we discovered that the fabric of the universe obeys and is held together by physical laws. Only a century and a half ago, we learned we are not children of God and began to investigate its implications–even though to this date, still the religious view on the origin of species is widespread and is vehemently defended. However, just more than a century ago we began to “open up a new continent, that of History, to scientific knowledge”, realizing that not only history can be navigated as a continent of knowledge but also it is an integrating field in which all other forms of knowledge, theoretical and practical, can be fused and reinforce one another. What Louis Althusser hails as Marx’s monumental discovery in the history of human knowledge marks a new stage in the evolution of intelligence, which is that of social intelligence. It is a form of intelligence that liberates new demands and opportunities of ‘what to think’ and ‘what to do’ by sufficiently linking epistemic mediation and socio-political intervention, consolidating both as a functional organization necessary for the social realization of augmented cognition. By theoretically and practically engaging with the question of what it means to have a history, what it means to reorient, reconstitute and repurpose that history through the social’s present normative attitudes toward the past and the future, social intelligence turns into a force for which cognition registers as social re-engineering of the existing reality.

It is the possibility of fusion and implementation of all knowledge within the integrating field of history–spanning from the primitive forms of Spirit to its advanced social forms–that augurs a new form of intelligence for which knowledge must be translated into socio-historical intervention, and intervention as re-engineering the socio-historical reality must deepen the exploration of history, that is the recognition of the past and the integration toward the future.

The discovery of history as a new continent of knowledge where techno-scientific advancement, economy, politics, ethics and social struggle can integrate and reinforce one another is in effect the deepening of the reality of history both in terms of its recollective-retrospective and integrative-prospective dimensions. But deepening of the reality of history is nothing but repurposing and reconstituting it through understanding and intervention. The knowledge of history as a science, as trivial as it may sound, is a hegemonic impulse for on the one hand opening up the recollective-integrative dimensions of history and its social evolution to understanding in the broadest possible sense, and on the other hand intervening with the progression and reality of history by socially implementing this amplifying understanding with no swerve or falter. Failing this we can say that we are not creatures endowed with history and that, more gravely, we are still the denizens of benighted ages where history is a domain as opaque as the inaccessible sky whose ineffability is a source for oppression from the heavens and romanticism or mysticism on earth.

In other words, the knowledge of history as a science is essentially a self-reinforcing tendency toward having a history. But what does it mean to have a history other than reorienting and repurposing it toward future ends unseen by the past whose recognition should never be an impediment but merely a way to liberate the present from its past commitments, either by collectively revising or abandoning them. It is for this reason that Marx’s discovery transforms the pursuit of understanding and intervention, scientific knowledge and social implementation through history into a project where social emancipation and evolution of intelligence entangle, entering into an Odyssean dynamic of reinforcement and mutual diversification. Even though intelligence is natural, short of reorienting, repurposing and reengineering its natural history, it ceases to be intelligent. Yet it remains highly improbable that a robust conception of intelligence can reorient itself toward emancipation without looking into its natural history and working out its exigencies. But an intelligence that does not unfold its own demands which inevitably lead to re-engineering and revising its natural constitution, its multiple realization, is even more implausible. The history of intelligence commandeers its natural history by the history of its obligations and demands, for the history of intelligence is the history of reconstitutions of the natural constitution. The reconstitution of natural history does not violate natural laws but adapts them to new regimes of designed purposes.

Marx’s discovery only over a century ago toward the realization of social intelligence emphasizes the work to be done. Yet more importantly it signifies the truth of our age, that we are merely living in the pre-history of social intelligence. Those who moan and are bored with the pace at which intelligence in general and the self-expediting project of social intelligence in particular are evolving, should look elsewhere either in God or in opiate. The recognition of the hegemony of social intelligence is a collective and common task whose fulfillment is the only true drive toward freedom, both as purposive social freedom and the liberation of a self-apprehending intelligence. The ultimate task of humanity should be to make something better than itself, for what is better than us cultivates itself through our pursuit for the better. Liberate that which liberates itself from you, for anything else is the perpetuation of slavery.

The hegemony of the ultimate task by itself is the expansion of real alternatives and materializes as the maximization of freedom. It is the liberation of intelligence as the principle of summum bonum. It is against the reeking mist of other homebrewed philosophies and social prescriptions (the ardor for the ordinary, resignation, indetermination, anti-logos, neo-luddism, communitarian loacalism, liberal freedom, …) that the hegemony of social intelligence ought to be safeguarded. What is exactly an alternative to social intelligence if not veneration of cognitive turpitude and social vices.”

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