Intelligence and Creativity

Joseph at Rationalizing the Universe explores the modern formulation, rooted in Goedel’s Theorem of logical incompleteness, of living with uncertainty. The following discussion ensued:


Brian

You point out correctly that Goedel’s theorem is restricted to a fairly narrow problem: proving that a proof system is “correct” – i.e. – that its axioms and operations are consistent. In other words, we can’t take a set of axioms and apply the operations to disprove any other axiom.

This seems to lead to the conclusion that we can’t trust our proofs of anything, which means that there are no guarantees that our expectations will be met. Unfortunately, expectations are undermined by many other problems, among them determination of initial conditions, noise and adaptation. The last is the special bete noir of sociology, as people will often violate social norms in order to assuage primitive drives.

At this point in my life, I am actually not at all troubled by these problems. Satisfaction is not found in knowing the truth, it is found in realizing creative possibilities. If we could use mathematics to optimize the outcome of social and economic systems, we would have no choices left. Life would become terribly boring. So what is interesting to me is to apply understanding of the world to imagine new possibilities. Mathematics is a useful tool in that process, particularly when dealing with dumb matter.

This brings me back to the beginning of the post: you state that “mathematics is the unspoken language of nature.” If there is anything that Goedel’s theorem disproves, it is precisely that statement. Mathematics is a tool, just as poetry and music are tools. At times, both of the latter have transported my mind to unseen vistas; mathematics has never had that effect.


Joseph

You raise a very interesting point; if we could optimise everything then would we take all of the joy out of being…. you may well be right. I know I get a lot of my satisfaction from the quest to know more. Although I disagree that Godel’s theorems disprove my original statement in this sense; language is essentially about describing things. That is why you can have different languages but they are easily translatable…. bread/pan/brot etc…. we all know what they mean because they all describe the same thing. In exactly the same way, mathematics describes things that actually exist; that isn’t to say nature is mathematics at all – mathematics is the language of nature but it is just as human in its construction as the spoken word. But is matter not matter because a human invented the label? Matter is matter.

To be, these theorems don’t break down all of our proofs; but what they do show is a vital point about logic. One which I think is going to become and increasingly big issue as the quest to understand and build artificial intelligence increases – can we every build a mind as intelligent as a humans when a human can know the answer to a non-programmable result? We hope so! Or rather I do – I do appreciate it’s not for everyone


Brian

I appreciate your enthusiasm, but I must caution that the mathematical analogies in classical physics cannot be extended in the same way to the quantum realm. Richard Feynman warned us that there is no coherent philosophy of quantum mechanics – it is just a mathematical formulation that produces accurate predictions. Ascribing physical analogies to the elements of the formulation has always caused confusion. An extreme example was found in the procedure of renormalization, in which observable physical properties such as mass and charge are produced as the finite ratio of divergent integrals.

Regarding human and digital intelligence: one of the desirable characteristics of digital electronics is its determinism. The behavior of transistor gates is rigidly predictable, as is the timing of clock signals that controls that propagation of signals through logic arrays. This makes the technology a powerful tool to us in implementing our intentions.

But true creativity does not arise from personal control, which only makes me loom bigger in the horizon of others’ lives, threatening (as the internet troll or Facebook post-oholic) to erase their sense of self. Rather, creativity in its deepest sense arises in relation, in the consensual intermingling of my uniqueness with the uniqueness of others.

Is that “intelligence?” Perhaps not – the concept itself is difficult to define, and I believe that it arises as a synthesis of more primitive mental capacities, just as consciousness does. But I doubt very much that Artificial Intelligence is capable of manifestations of creativity, because fundamentally it has no desires. It is a made thing, not a thing that has evolved out of a struggle, spanning billions of years, for realization. Our creativity arises out of factors over which we have no control: meeting a spouse-to-be, witnessing an accident, or suffering a debilitating disease. We have complex and subtle biochemical feedback systems which evolved to recognize and adjust to the opportunities and imperatives of living. We are a long way from being able to recreate that subtlety in digital form, and without those signals, meaningful relation cannot evolve, and thus creativity is still-born.

On Poverty and Riches

Just taking the long view (I mean – the long, long, long view), I consider the time-scale of the cosmos and the saga of biological evolution and we have the precious experience of living in this 10,000 year period in which our intelligence and the natural resources stored up from the past are available for us to do really deep work on our personalities. Simply to be alive in this time is such an incredible gift – to be able to play at being a creator, each in our own limited way.

Even if only to be able to plant a field, or tend a herd, or write a blog. Even if only to be the voice that reminds “There are still problems to be solved” in a way that motivates others to seek for solutions. Not to place fault, but to exhort greatness in others – to guide them into the only form of self-creation that opens to God.

Yes, the window is closing, as it was prophesied in Revelation. No, it’s not the fault of any single individual, and if we collectively had been more considerate of the forms of life that occupied the planet before us, maybe it wouldn’t be so traumatic. But that’s not under my control, so the question I constantly confront myself with is: what am I doing with my opportunity? Am I offering my creative capacities in the service of Life, or do I expect Life to serve me? Because when I finally lose my grip on this body, it is Life and Love that awaits to embrace me with the eternal embrace, if only I know how to receive it.

The Struggle for Truth

When I was last asked to speak at my employer’s all-hands meeting, it was in a context of crisis in our relationship with our biggest customer. The tone of internal discussions was denigrating, focusing on their manipulative contract negotiations and technical indecision.

I had been privy to two experiences, however, that gave me a different perspective on the matter. The first occurred during a site visit to the Netherlands. The other three representatives got smashed each night, which is a way of maintaining a coherent gestalt. My approach was rather to walk gently among our hosts. When we went to look at the machine that they were upgrading, I crouched down to look at the cable route, wondering how in the heck they would be moved to replace a critical component. The mechanical designer, who had projected some hostility regarding the project, stepped behind me, and I suddenly understood that a wing nut on a retaining bar, if loosened, would allow me to bend the cables out of the way. I turned around to find him looking approvingly at me.

The second experience occurred during a reciprocal visit to our facility. We produce electronics that can fail catastrophically, and the customer works in the health care industry. The lead engineer asked specifically whether we had tested the logic that prevented this failure mode, emphasizing that “in no circumstances can we have a fire in the operating theater.” He was assured that we had manually tested the fault logic, forcing the failure mode and verifying that power was shut down.

Four months after deploying the solution, our electronics caught fire in the operating room. The assurances offered to our customer were simply a lie.

It was in part to counter-act the mounting hostility that I offered this perspective:

As engineers, we come in every day to wrestle against the laws of nature to help our customers do things that most people think are impossible. In that struggle, fighting against our competition is far less rewarding that fighting against nature for our customers. When we fight for our customers, we enter into their dreams. They offer us their insights and understanding, and help us to make our products better.

Our customer understood that fundamental difference in me. Even though my role was limited to creation of software that integrated with their user interface, I was the first person they contacted whenever a problem came up. They knew that I wouldn’t pull out the contract or demand irrefutable proof that the problem was in our equipment. I would sit down and try to emulate their scenario so that we could evaluate the problem on our end. In turn, they would get a rapid assessment of likelihood that would help them to focus efforts on their end.

This attitude was emphasized by a comment made by the lead engineer in a discussion of welfare policy. He said,

If somebody wants to go fishing every day, I would rather that he just didn’t come in to work. I’d be happy to see him paid to fish, if that meant that I wouldn’t have to fix the problems in his work.

This is the experience of all creative people: in the end, everything that we do is a new form of truth. Creating that truth means living in truth, and the more people that are embraced in that circle, the greater are the challenges we can overcome. That trust can only be sustained when the team members take pride and find satisfaction in the work that they do. Conversely, when falsehood enters that circle, the creative process is corrupted by indecision and mistrust. Everyone runs around checking and double-checking the facts, and defending themselves against blame.

In over thirty years as a professional, the factor that most commonly creates mistrust is when a party representing the market seizes control of creative decision making. Because they do not contribute to the creative process, ultimately they can only justify tyrannical authority by attacking the work of the creative team. Because they don’t understand the creative process, the tyrant’s attacks are arbitrary and often false. As the team fragments, more and more control is asserted, with individuals promoted and demoted largely based upon personal loyalty rather than actual creative capability. Worse, those in the creative team that decry the loss of team cohesion are pushed aside, because to recognize the validity of their perspective is to undermine the power of the tyrant.

The shift that is necessary to resolve this philosophical conundrum was proposed ten years ago out at everdeepening.org. I offered these definitions:

Power is the ability to make reality conform to our intention.

Will is a measure of our ability to sustain an engagement with reality.

Strength is power over the self.

Authority is awarded by constituents when power is validated by expressions of love.

In any situation, a resort to lies degrades power, because lies are against reality. To lie is also to flee from reality, which is a failure of will. To the sophisticated observer, then, it is a sign of personal weakness. As a violation of both self-love and as an attack on the creative team, lies undermine authority. When that trust is lost, the creative team loses its faith that accomplishment will receive satisfactory rewards. Their motivation undermined, the only way that the tyrant can maintain control, then, is to run around telling people what to do.

From these, it follows that in engineering organizations the role of senior management is in securing the cohesion of the creative team. That means giving credit where credit is due. If the team fails, nature will let them know. To the degree that success is achieved, it is the role of marketing and sales to target opportunities that will produce sustaining revenues.

The difficulty of sustaining this organizational cohesion is so daunting that anyone achieving such success will find that people flock to their defense when they are threatened. To people who care only about creating new truth, such a loss would be a tragedy without parallel.

Truth in Creation

Reconciling science and spirituality is a fool’s quest. The peace-maker is confronted with antagonistic camps both convinced that they are in possession of truth. Telling the two camps that they are half-right means that both of them try to shout you down.

Scientists base their claim to inerrancy on their method of discovery. They argue that to understand the world, we must first describe it. Analysis of our records may reveal patterns of experience: for example, certain types of “clouds” may bring “rain”; other types of clouds do not. The scientist codifies those conjectures as falsifiable statements. For example, “strato-cumulus clouds do not bring rain.”

Now these conjectures are important to societies because predicting rainfall is essential to agriculture. Bad predictions are not just a philosophical matter: if grain is planted at the wrong time, the community may suffer, or even perish. Thus the sophisticated scientist receives social approval and perhaps power. This enables them to attract followers to aid them in extending the reach and accuracy of their predictions.

Scientists tend to forget that creative connection. Society does not reward scientists for discovering the truth. It rewards them because possession of understanding enables truth to be created. The community is grateful not because it understands clouds, but due to the increase in the overall yield of their crops.

When scientists argue, society can determine the truth of their claims only by running experiments. In a wise culture, sudden change is not often pursued. Rather, most grain will be planted according to established methods, and each scientist will be granted a portion to manage according to his theory.

Now comes the real difficulty: let’s suppose that one scientist plants his grain in rich soil, and the other plants in sand. Obviously, the yield will be affected by those differences. To prevent these other factors from confounding comparison of their results, scientists attempt to control carefully the initial conditions. Ideally, they would be granted alternate rows in the field.

But there’s another condition that is necessary to the success of science. Let’s suppose that the genetic code of plants was unstable. While the example is ludicrous, imagine that seeds taken from corn might sprout as apples in the next generation, and then as thistle. Or worse – what if the corn turned into thistles mid-way through growth?

The scientist might say “Well, that’s not what happens,” and go happily on his way. But the problem is that this is exactly how people develop. Parents do not produce duplicates, we learn from experience, and we change our view of the world as we age.

In part for this reason, scientists have come to distrust the evidence of their senses. The variability of human sensation means that two observers may see different colors, hear different pitches, and judge weight differently. These discrepancies become critical when scientific theories move beyond simple correlations to precise mathematical prediction of timing and effect (such as became possible with Newton’s theory of gravitation).

Furthermore, our bodies are composed of smaller elements, and obviously our senses cannot penetrate the mechanisms of their own operation. Understanding of those mechanisms enables us to design sensors with finer and more reliable operation than the human senses. Scientific instruments are far more accurate than the human senses.

The advocate of religion considers all of this activity, and while often grateful for the bounty that science makes possible, observes that it has absolutely no impact on human behavior. Worse, science amplifies the destructive capacity of predators. Because it is far easier to break and wound than it is to create and heal, science makes antisocial behavior far more deadly. The great wars of the twentieth century are proof of this thesis. In our time, we can see the effect of tyrannies that wage war on their populations in the developing world.

This is amplified by personal experiences that beset people that the scientist would consider to be “undisciplined” in their thinking, or perhaps just weak of mind. The scientist has tools for organizing his thoughts: logic, dispassion, and rigorous terminology. This makes him often immune to the experience of the scullery maid on the estate of the nobility. This was characterized for me by an Englishman who offered that servants were told “for their own protection” to turn to the wall when a great lord passed.

I had a related experience during my post-doctoral research, being invited to a meeting with a new employee. I found myself wondering “Why am I here? This has nothing to do with me.” The fellow suddenly turned to me, a look of wonder on his face, and my supervisor broke up the meeting. As he left, my peer said “Gee, thanks.” I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about, having never met someone that was capable of turning my mind. Having “grown up” somewhat now, I refuse to dance with women under the influence of alcohol because they fall into me and can’t get out.

It is in their need for protection of their personality that the “weak-minded” turn to religion. They lean on the strength of the great spiritual avatars that emanate a protective love. Being told by a scientist that they are delusional is a complete contradiction of their experience of life, and in many cases attacks the basis for trust in the relationships that they depend upon for survival. Is it at all unusual that some among the faithful see science as a tool of the devil?

So let’s return to the original problem: how do we reconcile science and spirituality? The scientist finds power in controlling the parts of reality that lack personality. The religious leader finds power in preventing conflict among the population that does the actual work. In both cases, the society benefits not because the truth is known, but because new and creative possibilities are revealed.

Am I the only one that perceives mutually supportive endeavors? Without love, science destroys more then it creates. Without knowledge, religion cannot protect us from the harsh realities of nature.

The scientist allows us to make objects that would never be found in nature. The religious leader builds communities that work in harmony. In combination, they enable us to create a world that we can all live with. Why don’t we stop arguing and get on with it?