Wednesday, May 30, 2012


If I've had a philosophical revelation in the last few years it has consisted in extending an earlier thought into a general procedure for thinking about things.  The familiar sci-fi theme of how does one recognize and communicate with an alien consciousness actually has much broader application than the tech-gnostics purport; once you begin thinking about the "big" consciousness-machine, you realize that there are innumerable little consciousness machines everywhere.

In fact, some of these consciousness-machines aren't so little at all.  Some of these machines would like to cancel Christmas:

Why bother? After all, we could raise GDP further by cancelling Christmas (though we would lose the expenditure on unwanted gifts), taking shorter vacations (though think of the impact on easyJet), and by working till we drop from exhaustion. But why would we want to? The idea that there is something called "the economy", which is separable from the welfare of society and its citizens, is silly. There isn't. What really matters is whether the holiday, and the celebration, makes us better off. That question answers itself without need of economic statistics.

This is John Kay in today's FT, commenting on the Band of England's kvetching about how too many bank holidays are fucking up their GDP numbers with things to do.  And he's right of course.  Except that he's wrong of course.  

There IS something called "the economy" which IS separable from, if dependent upon, the wealth of society and its citizens, just as their IS something called "my mind" which is separable from, if dependent upon, the machinations of my neurons.  

Once you start to look for these large scale assemblages that have taken on a life of their own, you find them everywhere.  And if you consider the question of when humans built the first "artificial" intelligence you are either going to have to pick whatever machine built the Ur-city, or perhaps the industrial-revolution/modern-Nation- State moment (aka Capitalism).  After considering the question for a while though, you realize that it is poorly posed, and that you really have no good definition of consciousness and that you are certainly not warranted in taking your own as somehow prototypical or class defining.  In fact, maybe yours is a means to an end -- how could it be an end in itself.


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