fact

Most of my life I have spent writing factual material – books, academic papers, and occasional fact-related blog entries. Until recently my only real topic was human intelligence – the stuff that makes us specifically human, and indeed made this site possible. The main influences have been Marx and Piaget, whose combined methodologies provide what is I think perhaps the most complete form of materialism available at the moment. My own purpose has been to use the general concept of intelligence (which I take rather further than Piaget) to create a single overarching model and complete the overall picture.

This writing includes two books:

  • The History of Human Reason sets out a multi-stage model of humanity has developed on both social and psychic planes, from the most primitive levels to speculations about where we might be headed next.
  • The Birth of Reason sets out a complementary theory of how the intelligence that underpins everything that is specifically human about human beings (and other intelligent creatures) came into existence in the first place. Again it incorporates both evolutionary and individual dimensions.

In addition to the core issues, both books work through many other topics, as and when they arise. The Birth of Reason, for example, also discusses why an intelligent begin should not fear death, while The History of Human Reason includes not only a detailed account of the nature of happiness and how far the modern world is capable of delivering it but also the ultimate nature of truth and freedom. It’s all rather grand, but (I think) robust. The underlying thinking is based, in the case of The Birth of Reason, on innovative (but still orthodox) readings of Darwin and Piaget and, in the case of The History of Human Reason, Piaget and Marx.

These two books took twenty years to write – they are both quite long (about 400,000 words between them) and I had to come up with a lot of very new thinking to solve either problem. And I also have a day job, of course.

In addition to the books, this site includes a number of related papers.

Title

Summary

The implications of adaptability A central concept in my Birth of Reason is the way the idea of adaptation should distinguish between a relatively narrow and rigid adaptedness and a more open and flexible adaptability, and argues that it is adaptability (among much else)that lies at the root of intelligent proper.This paper takes the idea of adaptability and shows its impact on two key concepts within biology as a whole.Many key evolutionary concepts such as ‘fitness landscape’ or ‘environment of evolutionary adaptation’ assume that the adaptiveness of species evolves incrementally and that, on the developmental plane, that plasticity is limited to adjustments to existing patterns. A capacity for radical reconfiguration of the structure of activity within a single lifetime, or indeed within a single act, would equally radically undermine the logic of these concepts.

However, as evolution approaches intelligence (most notably in the case of human beings), this capacity to apply the same structure to indefinitely many functions or to construct the same function out of many combinations of structure, and moreover to do so in the course of each act, becomes increasingly the norm. In such conditions, the operational and developmental planes are likely to supersede evolution as the primary basis for adaptation, and many key evolutionary concepts will require substantial revision.

Does intelligent evolve? Alfred Russel Wallace, co-founder of the theory of evolution, argued that the exceptional ‘mental and moral qualities’ possessed by human beings exempt them from the normal processes of evolution. These qualities enable them to anticipate, annul, sidestep and generally defeat the normal processes of evolution.This paper examines how far current knowledge of natural intelligence (human and otherwise) supports this attractive but extremely dangerous hypothesis. It argues that:

  • the ‘objects’ in terms of which intelligence constructs its activity and its environment overcome the fundamental mutual indifference of variation and selection that powers evolution;
  • all forms of subjectivity – the internal structure of intelligence – tend to converge on a single invariant structure regardless of species, and so eliminate the possibility of variation at the most profound level of intelligence;
  • and the world intelligent beings jointly create – massively structured by culture and technology and driven by economic and political systems that bear little resemblance to any biological force – is sufficiently powerful and intentionally directed to make it a force to which evolution is subjected rather than vice versa.

In brief, evolution does not know what it is doing, and intelligence does. Taken together, these factors explain how it is possible for the logic of variation and selection to be first superseded and then subordinated to that of intelligence itself. Indeed, once the specific nature of intelligence is recognised, this model also implies that intelligence’s independence of evolution is far more radical than even Wallace realised.

The natural history of technology This paper urges that a fundamental distinction be drawn between ‘instinctive’ and ‘intelligent’ technologies. Most organic tool usage can be regarded as relatively straightforward extensions of normal processes of adaptation, broadly similar to other uses of external structures such as nests.Intelligent technology, by contrast, assumes the ability to appreciate the objective potential of things in ways that are not predefined by existing adaptive needs. In order to demonstrate this point a three-phase sequence is sketched out, with strictly instinctive and strictly intelligent levels separated by an era of ‘sensorimotor’ tools use.
AI is a lost cause This essay is designed to refute the view that a true (‘strong’) artificial intelligence could be based on computation. It is argued that the essential shortcoming of computation is its inability to deal with certain normal intelligent functions, notably insight and criticism, against which the mathematical logic of computation is compared.The reason why computation is incapable of this is that no system or artefact that is controlled mathematically can simultaneously obey the rules of mathematics (such as that the meaning of terms cannot be changed in the course of a mathematical structure’s execution) and also be capable of insight or criticism (both of which require that at least some terms change their meaning).

So although it may be true that any stable result of intelligent activity can be described mathematically, but all intelligent activity and experience consists at least partly in the production of new and unpredictable outcomes.

 

There are plenty of related entries in my blog too. Many concern economics and the current economic crisis, but there is a good deal else. The entries are categorised pretty thoroughly, so if there is any specific topic you want to follow up, you may find something interesting there too.

I’ve also contributed to a couple of Wikipedia pages, including some additions to the Piaget entry and original page for developmental systems theory (DST – the critical third arm evolutionary theory and genetics need to cover the organism as a whole). But as so often the case with Wikipedia, the  original entries appear to have been completely trashed. But here’s the original draft on DST.

Leave a Reply