The Mind of Society: Investigating and

 

Using the « Language of the Gods »

 

YVON PROVENÇAL

 

Cegep de Granby, Québec

 

 

1

 

(Received March 27, 1997; accepted April 7, 1997)

 

The « language of the gods » is conceived as a kind of language more

complex than what we associate with human tongues in the strict sense of

the term. Certain arbitrary regularities throughout the rational disciplines

appear to indicate the existence of this language. The present article

explores this new concept and applies it in an attempt to provide a logical

clarification of the notions of individual consciousness and physical reality.

KEYWORDS: language, complexity, individual consciousness, time, reality,

formalization, alterity

 

INTRODUCTION

 

In a previous article (Provençal, 1997), I proposed an epistemological

hypothesis which posits the existence of a structure much

more complex than the human brain. This structure would be comparable

to the whole set of scientific and philosophical conceptions

in contemporary human society. As a form of consciousness, it has

been described using the expression, « mind of society. » Since this

structure appears to exhibit rapid growth, I have supposed that, of all

complex structures presently known to us, the young child’s brain

provides the best analogy. Contemporary human beings would,

then, be analogous to the cells of this gigantic brain. The reader will

excuse my use of the term « god » to designate something very different

from the gods or God of the religious traditions. As a matter of

fact, I am not concerned here with religious questions but with concepts

and notions treated in an entirely rational way amenable to

modern criticism. The reader will, I hope, pardon me again for

presenting this article somewhat as if it were a work of fiction.

 

World Futures.

 

 

1998, Vol. 52, pp. 281-312 © 1998 OPA (Overseas Publishers Association) N.V.

Reprints available directly from the publisher Published by license under

 

Photocopying permitted by license only the Gordon and Breach Publishers imprint.

 

Printed in India.

 

281

282 YVON PROVENÇAL

However, it is not fiction but a real attempt at rational clarification

using a bold hypothesis that is, on the whole, credible, particularly

if we take into account all the information presently available to us.

This method, which I have called « ideometry, » consists in looking

at the ideas we have about real things rather than at the things themselves.

An ideometric survey of contemporary ideas allows us to establish

correspondences between concepts in various fields of knowledge

ranging from mathematics, physics and biology to anthropology and

social science. For example, paradoxes in ideas about the emergence

of life in the pre-biotic universe correspond to those encountered in

ideas about the emergence of human culture within the pre-human

biological world. Ideometry appears, therefore, as a formalization of

ideas. It allows us to look at existing ideas without having to

presuppose anything about the truth or reality of these conceptions.

In this way it is possible to establish striking correspondences

between the most fundamental notions or questions in the abovementioned

domains. Ideometric correspondences appear as unsuspected

regularities. Their origin is doubtlessly linked to unconscious

mechanisms in human individuals. In general, researchers in physics

or biology (for example) are too little acquainted with the fundamental

concepts of anthropology to be able to acknowledge or appraise

possible precise relations between it and their own disciplines. The

converse is also true: anthropologists generally have insufficient

knowledge of the problems and concepts in quantum physics or

molecular biology to be able to find precise relations between these

and their own fundamental problems and concepts.

The « mind of society » designates the whole range of contemporary

ideas throughout the various domains of science and, more generally,

rational thought.

2

Analogical correspondences are established by

first taking this unusual « mind » and trying to state its most prominent

 

characteristics and its changes, whether recent or to come.

 

These are then related to the mind of the young child, to what it is

 

and the way in which it develops mentally. From an ideometric point

 

of view, it makes sense to establish correspondences between the

 

history of ideas in science and epistemology, and child psychology as

 

a description of the stages of mental development. Taken globally,

 

the history of human society corresponds ideometrically to the

 

complete ontogenesis of the child from the state of conception

 

 

LANGUAGE OF THE GODS 283

through the embryonic, fetal, newborn, infant and other stages.

Within this general framework of correspondences, the main points

of connection, that is, the nodal points from which the lines of

correspondence branch out, are linked to differences in determination

relationships. This point needs clarification.

 

CORRESPONDENCE OF DETERMINATION RELATIONSHIPS

 

Physics, biology and anthropology are characterized by the concept

of

complete structure.

This takes the form, respectively, of the

atom, the biological cell and the human being. A complete structure

 

is, by definition, the constitutive unit of a whole range of reality, such

 

as this is envisaged in either of the above-mentioned disciplines.

 

Therefore, the notion of complete structure is a transdisciplinary

 

concept denoting an ideometric relation that exists throughout these

 

three domains at the same time. In this case we can speak about an

 

ideometric

 

 

sequence.

From a formal point of view, this sequence is

defined by the repetition of a relation endowed with the properties of

 

anti-equivalence.

 

 

3

In each instance, that is, at each level of complete

structure, a given substructure appears as the epistemological focus

 

for key issues in the related discipline. With the atom come the

 

atomic nucleus and the problems of physical forces and elementary

 

particles; the biological cell presents us with problems relative to

 

DNA and the genetic code; and as far as individual human beings are

 

concerned, we have the problems concerning the brain and mental

 

capacities. Each of these problems constitutes the basis of research

 

programs that are of crucial importance for the whole of contemporary

 

science. We should point out here that each one of abovementioned

 

domains exhibits a specific kind of determinism or line of

 

determination. The differences between these kinds of determination

 

appear as one of the main factors that researchers take into

 

account when they attempt to gauge the importance of a concept or

 

question for their own domain. For example, the distinction between

 

physical

 

 

4

and biological types of determination is fundamental for

the biologist investigating the emergence of the first living cell. In

 

the biologist’s view, a problem exists inasmuch as biological determinations

 

cannot be explained entirely in terms of physical ones.

 

Physics

 

Biology

 

Anthropology

 

Atom

 

Cell

 

Human being

 

 

284 WON PROVENÇAL

In ideometrical terms, this conceptual sequence can be expressed as

follows: in terms of complexity, the human brain is to the living cell

what the latter is to the atom. Here the term « complexity » must not

be understood as applying to « real systems » but, rather, to the

domain of rational conceptions and problems. The following table

illustrates this situation:

 

Complete Structure Problematical

 

Substructure

 

Nucleus

DNA

Human brain

The suspension points indicate that the sequence could, in principle,

be continued. This means that, formally speaking, nothing

prevents us from considering the possible existence of a sort of

complete structure exhibiting a higher level of complexity. I am

referring to global human society. This immediately presents itself

as the locus of an important class of problems relating to its origin,

general meaning and direction. The level associated with this new

type of complete structure will be called « meta-anthropological. »

The expression « theotic » (from the Greek

theos,

god) will also be

used to qualify terms at this level, in order to bring out the

 

supra-human level of complexity involved. The expression, « language

 

of the gods » can then be understood as follows.

 

 

 

THE « LANGUAGE OF THE GODS »

 

Corresponding to each term in the sequence « biological/

anthropological/meta-anthropological » is a type of determination,

complexification and progressive organization that happens to be

linked to a specific sort of « language ». In biology, the expression

« genetic code » designates the system that contains and uses the

information at the root of all the existing life forms. Variations in

genetic information, or changes in genomes over time, produce

LANGUAGE OF THE GODS 285

biological evolution. At the anthropological level, human languages

exhibit ideometric correspondences to the genetic code. The arbitrariness

of the linguistic sign corresponds to the arbitrary nature of

the correspondence between amino and nucleic acids. The capacity

to store and transmit information about cultural traits, whether these

are transmitted orally or in writing, corresponds to the analogous

genetic capacity for storing and transmitting genotypical and phenotypical

characters of species. The elements of the genetic code are

molecular: they comprise the four bases of nucleic acids and the

twenty amino acids recognized by the theoreticians of molecular

biology. The basic elements of human language are phonemes.

These are the relatively few sound units from which all words and

sentences are constituted. These sound units are determined by

specific organs such as the tongue, larynx, etc. Their mode of production

is essentially physiological and is linked, therefore, to biological

complexity. In this respect, phonemes are more complex units than

the basic elements of biological language, i.e. molecules. The mode of

constitution of the latter derives essentially from physical laws. In

human tongues we can recognize a kind of language which is clearly

more complex than the genetic code, inasmuch as the living cell is

more complex than the atom and biological determinations are more

complex than physical ones. Following this approach, we can establish

an ideometric sequence of language types, the terms of which represent

an increasing level of complexity. At the meta-anthropological

level, the basic unit must be more complex than a sound unit and

reflect the specific type of complexity found at the anthropological

level. The

ideas,

in the general sense of notions, concepts, theories,

questions, problems, etc., appear to constitute the appropriate type of

 

unit. Among these, a relatively small number of « fundamental ideas »

 

represent the basic elements from which scientific tfieories or philosophical

 

systems are elaborated. For example, notions like those of

 

identity, difference, time, space, subject, object, etc. may be considered

 

as the basic elements in several theories or systems. The following

 

sequence then can be considered:

 

 

 

Biological organization:

 

 

the genetic code (based on nucleic acid

 

molecules)

 

Anthropological organization:

 

 

human languages (based on the

sounds

 

emitted by the human voice, i.e., the phonemes)

286 WON PROVENCAL

 

Meta-anthropological organization:

 

 

meta-language (based on

works of

human creation).

 

 

According to this perspective, works of human creation appear as the

meta-phonemes of a meta-language, that is to say, a kind of language

more complex than any human tongue. The particular combination

of these meta-phonemes is what creates the specific meanings of this

new kind of language. Just like the arrangements of molecules in the

genetic code or of sounds in human language, the combination of

units at this new level must be

arbitrary.

The word « arbitrary » means

not determined by an underlying substratum. According to biology,

 

the rules of combination in the genetic code have been produced by

 

« chance »—in other words, they are not determined by physical laws.

 

Likewise, linguists hold that the sound combinations produced in

 

human languages are arbitrary, in the sense that they are not derived

 

from either biological or physical determinations. Finally, with respect

 

to language of a higher order of complexity, arbitrariness at the

 

meta-anthropological level signifies (and in a way that is consistent

 

ideometrically) that the meta-significant combinations of ideas are

 

not attributable to any cultural, anthropological, biological or physical

 

determinations. In each one of the three cases (i.e. the biological,

 

anthropological and meta-anthropological), there appears a

 

type of ordering which is not determined by the underlying substratum.

 

Rather, it appears to be arbitrary and, in some way, as

 

attributable to « chance. » However, at each level we are dealing with

 

a type of chance that produces order and meaning and is responsible

 

for new forms and kinds of evolution.

 

Let us suppose now that we want to understand what exactly it is

 

we mean by the new kind of language we have referred to above as

 

the « language of the gods. » First, in what way could we appreciate

 

the fact of its existence? A first step toward an understanding of this

 

language (and perhaps indeed the only one) would consist in

 

drawing an analogy with the situation of conceptual complexity that

 

precedes it in the ideometric sequence. Our situation within global

 

human society is analogous to that of neurons in the brain of a

 

young child who is on the verge of speech. The emergence of linguistic

 

meaning in the child’s brain means that a new kind of

 

regularity is transmitted and recorded by its neurons. This is not

 

equivalent to ordinary sensory perception, such as visual or tactile

 

 

LANGUAGE OF THE GODS 287

experience. The combination of certain precise impressions transmitted

through neuron networks in the child’s brain produces the

new phenomenon we call linguistic signification.

By using this analogy we can begin to understand why ideometrical

meta-signification has not been acknowledged until now.

Moreover, it helps us to grasp the idea of a new type of signification

produced by the arbitrary combination of theoretical units. From

the perspective of individual neurons in the young child’s brain, the

new regularities associated with language can only appear as an

abnormal irruption. If we consider only brain function, these arbitrary

regularities

5

are, as it were, attributable to an improbable and

even unexplainable form of chance since their genesis and development

 

lie outside the child’s brain. Likewise, ideometric regularities

 

cannot be attributable to any of the scientific (i.e., physical, biological,

 

anthropological) determinations, since they connect determinations

 

of this type, taken as conceptions produced by global human

 

society.

 

 

6

Therefore, they disclose the existence of a language operating

at a higher level than the human languages already known to

 

us. This language, which is also profoundly different from these

 

human languages, is theotic, is a « language of the gods. »

 

Just as a child learns much more about external reality and itself

 

when it acquires language in addition to the data of its senses,

 

human society should be capable of using this new type of language

 

to discover a wholly new realm of reality. It should be capable of

 

understanding itself better than it has ever been able to using the

 

existing sciences and philosophies.

 

At this point we should specify the precise meaning of the term

 

« theotic, » as well as the sense in which one has to understand the

 

expression « language of the gods. » Which « gods » are we talking

 

about here? How exactly are they related to the gods or God of

 

religious tradition? First of all, these « gods » must not be conceived

 

as absolutes. Rather, they must be seen as being as limited, at their

 

own level, as human beings, biological cells or atoms are at their

 

respective levels. Indeed they amount to a type of complete structure,

 

but one at a higher level of complexity. However, the adjective

 

« divine » (or « theotic, » if one prefers) remains a most appropriate way

 

of designating these new structures, inasmuch as we are describing

 

structures so much more complex than anything known until now

 

that even the human brain is ridiculously simple by comparison.

 

 

288 YVON PROVENÇAL

Ideometrically speaking, global human society is to the human brain

what the latter is to one of its cells. Human beings are conscious in a

way unknown to mere cells, and can do things that a cell could never

do. However, neurons with their molecular and atomic constituents

are complex to such a point that we can talk about them as containing

the beginnings of a rudimentary consciousness. Also, biological

organization can be seen as incomparably more powerful than

lifeless matter. To be convinced of this, one has only to consider the

diversity, mobility and evolutionary capacity of the numerous forms

of terrestrial life. It is admissible, therefore, to speak about an

 

infinitely

 

 

greater complexity and power when we compare the living

cell with a mere atom, or the human brain with a mere cell. Likewise,

 

a theotic structure must be seen as infinitely complex, creative and

 

powerful compared with a human being. Of course we have to accept

 

the idea that an entity can be infinite and limited at the same time.

 

This logical paradox arises from the ideometric approach: theotic

 

structures are infinite compared with human beings, yet they are

 

limited at their own level of reality.

 

Another logical paradox arises with respect to these theotic

 

structures: we have to admit that they surpass human beings yet are

 

fully human. Ideometric correspondence leads to this contradiction,

 

which is only an apparent one. Human beings and their culture

 

must be considered as being beyond the biological world and its

 

laws inasmuch as the various features of cultural creativity are not

 

determined by biological laws or principles. Nevertheless, human

 

being are fully biological creatures and, as such, must be compatible

 

with the principles of living matter. Similarly, human beings are

 

physical and material entities yet they are, in some defined way,

 

beyond matter. This is what leads us to say (and we are fully

 

consistenb\with what we have said so far) that theotic structures are

 

at one ana the same time fully human, living and material, yet

 

transcend the human and natural worlds.

 

 

1. How does Theotic Language Appear to Us?

 

We must not confuse the first stammerings of theotic language

with the sophisticated languages of contemporary human science.

The kind of language that concerns us here exists at a very different

LANGUAGE OF THE GODS 289

level and, apart from formal ideometric features, has practically

nothing in common with human languages or with the various

scientific languages or jargons (including, for example, mathematical

equations). It is now time to start identifying the shared features

with greater precision.

Linguistics and child psychology will be particularly useful in

helping us to recognize these formal features. For language at the

theotic level, such as it appears to us, corresponds to human language

as practised by a very young child. Therefore, contemporary

human society is engaged in a still naive use of this language.

Human tongues share certain common features; these include a set

of fundamental sounds called phonemes, which are the basic elements

used to form the signifying symbols we call words. The

combination of words in accordance with a limited number of

grammatical rules allows for the construction of an unlimited number

of sentences. A similar combinatory feature already exists in the

genetic code. Nucleic acid molecules gather into « codons, » which in

turn gather into more complex units such as genes. Thus, here too

we find certain fundamental constitutive elements of words that subsequently

combine to make sentences. The repetition of these characteristics

at such distinct levels of ideas is likely to be considered as

a mere ideometric fact.

We should be able to find these characteristics again at a higher

level, and in a more complex language. In this case the basic sounds

are replaced by major works of human creation, and word combinations

are replaced by arbitrary combinations of these basic works.

Examples of the latter type of combination would include certain

relations among disciplines.

It is striking that a central problem of modern linguistics consists

in understanding how a child acquires the ability to speak its mother

tongue. This question corresponds very closely to the one being

raised here: how could contemporary human society develop its

ability to speak the language at the level of complexity proper to it?

As for linguists, the problem of language acquisition by the child is

accentuated by the fact that the normal stimulus, i.e. that derived

from the parents, seems too weak to adequately account for the

phenomenon. It is the same for contemporary humanity: theotic

structures do not appear to provide a strong manifestation of their

290 YVON PROVENÇAL

language, at least not in a way that is clearly discernible or understandable

to contemporary science.

Child psychologists have established, however, that the most

precocious function of spoken language is not communication but

rather symbolization. Language is first of all useful to the child for

internalizing and representing its thoughts. It gives the child a

strategy for better structuring its thought, that is, its whole representation

of the world and of itself. Theotic language seems to

appear in the same way to humanity in the infantile stage, which

uses it first for structuring its own thought. This takes the form of

the existing scientific and philosophical ideas. I will try to show, in

what follows, how existing ideas about individual consciousness and

physical reality can be structured in order to clarify a number of

relevant ideas. I have already embarked upon this path in other

previously published papers (cf. Provençal, 1997) which show how

the key concepts in various sciences can be organized in a more

global and integrating way.

The child’s extraordinary facility to acquire the ability to speak a

language has lead some researchers (for example Geoffrey Sampson,

1980; Herbert Simon, 1981) to underscore the hierarchical nature

of languages. This means that any given human language is a

composite of parts that can develop independently of one another.

Results obtained by means of the ideometric approach suggest that

theotic language shares this same feature. Several distinct ideometric

models can be used to integrate concepts and problems in a

transdisciplinary manner.

Theotic language may be further clarified by several aspects of

language development that are covered in child psychology. The

way in which children acquire language is almost invariably the

same: parents speak to their child in a nearly normal way, although

they know that a child ofthat age cannot comprehend what they say.

The child does not understand, but tries to guess (cf. Suzanne

Borel-Maisonny, 1969; pp. 8-10) the meaning of their words. We

have to imagine a similar situation for humanity: if theotic structures

were to « speak » to it, they would be content to address it in

their own language. Undoubtedly they would not try to communicate

with human beings in the Iatters’ own tongues. To do so would

be absurd; it would be as if parents tried to communicate with their

LANGUAGE OF THE GODS 291

child’s neurons rather than with the child itself. In this sense, we

must not be surprised that the « gods » have not yet made contact

with us in a clearer manner. This is not ill will on their part!

 

2. Individual Consciousness

 

I would like at this point to illustrate how ideometry can help to

clarify certain ideas that scientists and philosophers deem difficult.

For example, the notions of individual consciousness and physical

reality produce notable conceptual and theoretical difficulties. My

strategy will be to use both of these notions in order to clarify them

reciprocally. By establishing an ideometric sequence I will disclose

an arbitrary regularity in the whole range of contemporary ideas

concerning these matters.

The notion of consciousness is known to be very difficult to define

or characterize. When looked at from the objective or materialist

standpoint, it may quite possibly be reduced to nothing at all.

However, when it is envisaged from the subjective point of view, it

often appears as the most essential thing, as that on which all

knowledge and science depend. In the view of researchers in artificial

intelligence, or of philosophers interested in this type of research,

consciousness poses the problem of knowing whether its

most essential characteristics can be reproduced in a machine. What

are these characteristics? Let us examine first the difficulties that

arise when one tries to identify them.

If one adopts an objective, scientific point of view, one can

define consciousness as referring to « mental states beginning

generally when we awake » (Searle, 1996; p. 62c). In this case,

consciousness can be considered from a point outside the conscious

being. If, on the other hand, one takes the subjectivist

stance, one will tend to say that consciousness is neither a property,

function nor process, but the « dynamic and personal organization

of psychic life » (Ey, 1974). A substantial problem arises

when one tries to link both of these points of view. Thomas Nagel

(1974, p. 1) expresses it thus: « we have at present no conception

of what an explanation of the physical nature of a mental

phenomenon would be. » This author appreciates the fact that

292 YVON PROVENÇAL

there is a « gap between subjective and objective » viewpoints

(idem, p. 11).

The notion of personal identity, which is apparently very closely

linked to that of individual consciousness, also presents us with

considerable conceptual difficulties. A number of authors have dealt

with this problem, which can be stated simply as follows: if my parents

had not met, what would be true: I would never have existed

or I could have been the child of some other parents? (cf. Hofstadter

and Dennett, 1981; p. 468). Let me summarize these authors’

questions as follows: Why am I the individual I am actually and not

someone else? Is it truly necessary that my personal identity be

single? Could I not have « clones » or true copies of myself in such a

way that my consciousness would exist in several places at the same

time, become incarnate in several distinct bodies at the same time?

The identity paradox may take the form of our « felt oneness »

through the diversity of selves we experience throughout our lives

(Rom Harré, 1987).

We could also mention the problem of qualia, which is closely

linked to the previous difficulties concerning consciousness and

personal identity. This problem may be stated thus (Searle, 1996;

p. 68bc): « how can neuronal signals of a physical, objective and

quantifiable nature cause internal, subjective and qualitative experiences? »

In brief, this is the problem we encounter when we try to

explain states of consciousness scientifically. Another closely related

problem may be expressed as follows: what is the meaning of the

fact that the redness of the red colour which I perceive cannot be

precisely communicated to another human being? (Francis Crick,

quoted by Searle, 1996; p. 68b). Let me say that these expressions

have no demonstrative value in this text; rather, I am using them

only to illustrate relevant problems.

 

Identification of the Properties of Individual Consciousness

 

The exact properties of individual consciousness have never been

stated in a way considered satisfactory by both contemporary philosophers

and scientists. The difficulties seem to be mainly of a

conceptual nature. The reality represented by consciousness can be

LANGUAGE OF THE GODS 293

considered as very close and « present » to each of us. However, when

we set out to describe and explain what it consists of, words fail us.

At this point I will try to show what the numerous existing descriptions

of individual consciousness have in common.

One of the most obvious characteristics of consciousness is what

I call its ability to

embody.

Consciousness contains a representation of

the world, and of the self within it. This characteristic is well known,

 

particularly to biologists. Richard Dawkins (1976) writes that the

 

human brain includes not only a model of the surrounding world but

 

also a model of itself; furthermore, he states that this gives rise to

 

subjective consciousness and has been very advantageous for survival

 

since the ability to simulate has thereby reached its highest level.

 

Another quite obvious characteristics of individual consciousness is

 

 

 

unity.

 

 

This is the common and global character of all of the details

that make up a conscious representation (cf. Penrose, 1989, p. 398).

 

In general, the properties of embodiment and unity are not considered

 

to be the most problematic because they may be applied to many

 

diings other than individual consciousness—for example, to books,

 

plays, films, etc. Other properties seem to be more specific to individual

 

consciousness as such, and they are of more interest to us here.

 

When looked at from the inside, consciousness appears as an « allor-

 

nothing » phenomenon, an « inner light that is either on or off »

 

(Hofstadter and Dennett, 1981; p. 9). It is said that the

 

fact

of being

conscious does not admit of degrees. From the standpoint of

 

personal identity, we could say that the fact of being myself does not

 

admit of degrees: I cannot be partly myself and partly someone else.

 

Certain descriptions contain precise aspects that may allow us

 

to formally characterize what constitutes the specificity of individual

 

consciousness. Henri Ey (1974, p. 923b) writes that personal

 

identity is linked to constancy and that this identity is « contrary to

 

an abstraction. » At first sight, this statement is paradoxical. Concepts,

 

which are known to be abstract, are generally considered to

 

be more « constant » than particular objects. Nevertheless, Ey sees

 

individual identity as being at the same time constant and contrary

 

to an abstraction.

 

This type of apparent contradiction appears systematically in

 

ideometric sequences. The successive terms simultaneously exhibit

 

a quality and the quality contrary to it, depending on whether we

 

 

294 WON PROVENÇAL

consider them with respect to the preceding or the following term

in the sequence. In the case given above, the personal identities of

individuals in their lifetimes are constant with respect to their

specific moments, which differ within one and the same self. In

their very peculiarities such personal identities are, however, the

opposite of an abstraction, especially when one compares them to

what is common to all personal subjects.

The term « private » has been used to describe the character which

makes an individual consciousness inaccessible to other individual

consciousnesses (cf. Ey, 1974; p. 923a). Strictly speaking, the word

« private » designates what is strictly personal, where the public has no

access or interest. It is clear, however, that a place or property is not

« private » in the same way as consciousness. The private character of

a place or property is a social convention, not an essential quality of

individuals in general. Some questions of particular importance for

what follows are: What exactly does this « private » character mean

when applied to individual consciousness? Can this type of character

be found also in entities other than individual consciousness? We will

see that the answer to the latter question is positive, and that the

meaning of this private character is key to our finding a way dirough

the tangle of descriptions and paradoxes surrounding consciousness.

I use the term

« uniqueness »

in a very particular sense in order to

characterize truly individual consciousness. Note that the uniqueness

 

of an individual consciousness is not equivalent to its unity. The

 

former is much more paradoxical and difficult to understand than

 

the latter. Moreover, I generally prefer to use the expression,

 

 

 

« individual for-itself, »

 

 

in place of « individual consciousness. » « Foritself

‘ has the advantage of expressly signifying consciousness as the

 

consciousness of self and the world embodying the self. Moreover, the

 

German version,

 

« fiir sich, »

signifies even more particularly the character

of being separated and apart from other individual consciousnesses.

 

It dovetails with the above-mentioned « private » character

 

peculiar to individual consciousness. However, the expression, « foritself, »

 

will be used particularly to signify the formal sense defined by

 

the ideometric approach. Thus we will formally distinguish the « individual

 

for-itself’ from the « present for-itself, » with the latter representing

 

a particular moment in an individual for-itself, that is, the

 

individual for-itself considered only in its present moment.

 

 

LANGUAGE OF THE GODS 295

The uniqueness of an individual for-itself has the following

characteristics:

– apparent irreducibility;

– de facto falsity;

– indeterminability.

The apparent irreducibility of the uniqueness of an individual

for-itself means that it appears to itself as unique and that this

appearance of uniqueness persists even when the individual meets

other people. Although he/she has no direct access to the individual

for-itself of other human beings, there are certain indirect means of

access to the interiority of others. Language is one of these.

However, only the Other enjoys truly direct access to itself in its

subjectivity. This characteristic of uniqueness is akin to what we have

described above as the private character of consciousness. However,

the word « private » has not itself this connotation of irreducibility.

De facto falsity means that, even though the uniqueness of an

individual for-itself is apparently irreducible, it is in fact false. Note

that, in human beings in general, this de facto falsity is acknowledged

by the for-itself only after a certain age. According to child

psychology, the newborn child or infant (for example) is not yet

conscious of the fact that others exist as well as itself and possess

their own interiority and a genuine individual consciousness distinct

from its own. This falsity, together with the factor of irreducibility,

accounts for some of the paradoxes of consciousness. Indeed, in line

with what we have said, we have to admit that uniqueness is one

characteristics of the individual for-itself, and that this uniqueness is

false. At first sight, this appears to be plainly contradictory. We must

understand that uniqueness is a characteristic of the individual

for-itself only as apparent uniqueness; however, by the same token,

uniqueness is an irreducible characteristic.

 

7

 

Here, the indeterminability of the uniqueness of the individual

for-itself means two things. First, nothing allows us to determine

subjectively, for a given individual, what it is that makes this individual

himself or herself rather than someone else. Second, nothing

allows us to determine subjectively why this individual exists, nor why

he/she is unique. Subjective indeterminability must not be confused

296 YVON PROVENÇAL

with indeterminability in an objective sense. From an objective

viewpoint such as that exemplified by science, several kinds of

determinism can explain, more or less adequately and completely,

what a particular individual is. Subjective indeterminability remains

intact. It has something absolute about it. For example, it is basic to

an individual’s impression of having free will.

One may wonder whether the three properties defined above

apply exclusively to the individual for-itself. Initially, it might seem

impossible to find other entities to which they would apply. Nevertheless,

others do exist; for these formal properties also apply to the

present for-itself and even to physical reality. In the latter case,

however, certain hypotheses have been made and we must take into

account the conceptions of modern science, particularly those of

quantum mechanics. At this point it becomes possible to establish

that the present for-itself/the individual for-itself/and physical reality

(in this order) constitute an ideometric sequence

8

and, consequently,

an arbitrary regularity within the entire realm of ideas.

 

 

 

3. The Present For-itself

 

My intention here is twofold. On the one hand, it is to show that

the present for-itself, that is, the consciousness of the human

individual considered essentially at the present moment, constitutes

a conceptual entity entirely distinct from the individual for-itself.

On the other hand, it is to show that this conceptual entity is

essentially endowed with the same formal properties as those

described above.

To begin with, it is easy to find authors who show that the present

for-itself is something quite distinct from the individual for-itself,

both quantitatively and qualitatively. Jean Pucelle’s book,

 

Le Temps,

 

will be useful in this regard. Pucelle writes, for example, that « the

present moment has a unique flavour, whether bitter or delicious »

(Pucelle, 1967; p. 10). He also recalls Maine de Biran’s expression,

« the privilege of the present moment ». For only the present is

directly apprehended; access to past or future time can only be

indirect. In these examples, the present moment is always more or

less associated with consciousness. Pucelle also writes that the « sense

LANGUAGE OF THE GODS 297

of the present » is part of mental health. Those who lose it live as if

in a dream. The present moment therefore seems to be conceived

as endowed with a reality superior to that of any other moment in

time. It is not only more real in the sense of being more concrete,

but also in the sense that it is ontologically fundamental. The constitutive

role of the present was acknowledged by Saint Augustine

 

(Confessions,

 

 

Books X-XI). According to him, lengths of time cannot

prevail over the identity of the present and of presence. In keeping

 

with this idea, Pucelle (1968, p. 53) describes the present moment

 

as « the generative cell of duration

 

[durée] »

or « the origin of the

action that unfolds from the self. » Only present time exists, for it

 

contains past and future times. Jean-Paul Sartre (1943) considers

 

that the present, envisaged as distinct from both the past and

 

future, is not a mere datum among others, but is part, rather, of an

 

« original synthesis » that can be likened to Temporality, the infrastructure

 

of being. In Sartre’s view, only the present is (exists) in a

 

real sense. For the past no longer exists and the future has not yet

 

come. Commenting upon J. -M. Guyau’s quotation referring to the

 

« genesis of the idea of time », Pucelle (1968, p. 54) writes that

 

« everything that counts in the moral world of fault, conversion and

 

choice partakes of the order of the instantaneous. » Thus individual

 

consciousness in the present moment is conceived differently from

 

the human individual in its duration. Only a present for-itself can

 

 

 

decide

 

 

as such, and this includes, for example, possible conversion

or the commission of a « fault ».

 

These statements are not exactly an explicit acknowledgement of

 

the difference between the present and individual structures of the

 

for-itself. Nevertheless, they show quite clearly that the present of

 

consciousness is not conceived as merely one moment among

 

others, and that the idea of a human individual is not sufficient to

 

give us that of his/her present.

 

Formal Properties of the Present For-itself

The present for-itself, like the individual for-itself, has the capacity

for embodiment and unity. It contains a representation of the

world, as well as of the self and of the self present within this world.

298 YVON PROVENÇAL

The present representation appears as a whole, uniting several

distinct elements or parts. However, these properties do not allow

us to distinguish the present for-itself from a multitude of other

things. As an example of such things, we may take a book envisaged

as an author’s reflections at a precise moment, which would, in

principle, correspond to the time of the book’s publication.

On the basis of the existing descriptions of consciousness and time,

we can see that the present for-itself has the property of uniqueness.

An individual is always conscious of only one present moment. The

above statements show that, in accordance with the ideas already

enunciated, this uniqueness is irreducible in its appearance.

Moreover this uniqueness of the present for-itself is recognized as

being false in fact. Science in principle disregards the situation of

the observer in time. Thus the present moment enjoys no special

privileges. All moments, whether past, present or future, are equal

and have exactly the same reality. When we take modern science

(and particularly the theory of relativity) into account, the situation

is even clearer than it would be if looked at only through the lens

of Newtonian theory. According to the theory of relativity, the

simultaneous character of events is relative to the position and

speed of the observer. As Penrose (1989, pp. 303-304) puts it, there

is no longer any « now » nor any flow of time. Only « space-time »

exists.

At last the uniqueness of the present for-itself must be considered

as indeterminable. We have already attributed this third formal

property to the uniqueness of the individual for-itself. In the case

of the present for-itself, this property means two more things which

correspond quite nicely to what has already been acknowledged

with respect to the individual for-itself. On the one hand, there is

nothing in the present, as subjectively apprehended, that would

allow us to determine why the present moment is this particular

moment rather than any other. On the other hand, nothing allows

us to determine, from the viewpoint of the conscious being, why

there is only one present moment. This indétermination is implicit

in the statements of authors who affirm that the present plays a

constitutive role for the past and future. If the present is constitutive,

it cannot be determined by the past. What we must understand

here is not that the contents of the present are not determined by

LANGUAGE OF THE GODS 299

past events but, rather, that the mere fact that there is a present,

and that it is at this moment instead of any other, is not determined

by the fact that there is a past.

The fact that this indétermination property has been recognized

for the individual for-itself in no way justifies its application to the

present for-itself. The same holds for the properties of apparent

irreducibility and falsity of uniqueness. The fact that they apply to the

individual for-itself does not mean that they apply to the present

for-itself. This is completely distinct from the individual for-itself. We

simply observe that die same diree formal properties apply in both

cases. This is an arbitrary conceptual regularity—in other words, one

that cannot be explained by any logical, physical or biological

determination.

4. The Conception of Physical Reality

The ideometric approach envisages physical reality as a scientific

 

conception.

 

 

I am talking not about reality as such but, rather, about

the conception that global human society has of it, thanks mainly to

 

science. One can see that the above three formal properties apply

 

equally to the conception of physical reality. However, the question

 

must be carefully stated so that this appears clearly. First, we can

 

check whether the properties of embodiment and unity apply to

 

physical reality as conceived by contemporary science. Physical

 

reality embodies a representation of itself. It is sufficient to admit

 

the existence of observers within physical reality, and physicists

 

usually acknowledge this point. The very fact that observers produce

 

physical theories about their universe makes them embodied representations

 

of diis universe. The unity of physical reality is also usually

 

acknowledged, and is already denoted in the word « universe ».

 

The totality of what we see as « real » constitutes a whole, united

 

entity.

 

According to contemporary science, the property of uniqueness

 

also applies to physical reality. This is the uniqueness defined above

 

as endowed with the properties of apparent irreducibility, falsity,

 

and indeterminability. Falsity of uniqueness will be examined after

 

the others because it poses a very particular problem. This stems

 

300 YVON PROVENÇAL

from a fact ascertained by child psychologists, namely, that the

falsity of uniqueness of the individual for-itself appears to the child

only after a certain developmental stage. The child first believes

that it is unique and does not perceive the existence of other people

as such. The same holds for contemporary human society, which is

only beginning to appreciate the fact that the uniqueness of physical

reality is in fact false. Having said this, let us move on to the

properties of irreducibility and indeterminability.

The apparent irreducibility of the uniqueness of physical reality

is generally self-evident: there is only one real universe, not two or

three. This situation corresponds entirely to that of consciousness,

at both of the previously distinguished levels. I have only one

identity, and I have only one present. In each of the three cases

outlined above, apparent uniqueness has an ontological value. In

the case of the real universe, this reality is unique and one cannot

confuse it with merely possible universes, the number of which are

manifold. In the case of the individual for-itself, uniqueness founds

the very notion of personal identity. Finally, in the case of the

present for-itself, uniqueness founds the subjective capacity to

conceive of time, that is, of the past and future constituted from the

present.

The indeterminability of uniqueness as applied to physical reality

is linked to a

hiatus irrationalis.

Hence the fact that one and only one

of all the possible universes is real, is a conceptual fact that cannot

 

be explained by mathematics or physics. This fact appears as a

 

fundamental condition of the very possibility of thinking about

 

mathematics and physics and of distinguishing between them.

 

Nothing can determine why there is

 

 

one

reality rather than none,

nor why there are not two or more of them. Once again, this

 

conceptual situation entirely corresponds to that of consciousness,

 

whether viewed as the individual for-itself or as the present for-itself.

 

Let us now consider the property of the falsity of uniqueness of

 

physical reality. This is not at all evident. The uniqueness of the

 

actual universe does not initially seem to be a mere appearance,

 

but something that is quite literally true! Contemporary physics,

 

however, is beginning to seriously consider the possibility that

 

it is only an appearance. The topic of « multiple universes » is

 

occupying a greater place in physicists’ speculations. For example,

 

 

LANGUAGE OF THE GODS 301

according to Hugh Everett’s interpretation of quantum mechanics,

several universes exist and each one is as real as any other. This interpretation

is mathematically consistent and corresponds, moreover, to

the orthodox interpretation of quantum mechanics. Although other

conceptions of multiple universes exist in today’s physics, Everett’s is

doubtlessly the most widely known and commented upon. It generates

or attends to the greatest number of conceptual difficulties,

which appear to be closely linked to the difficulties of personal

identity and consciousness in general. This situation results from the

difficulties that quantum mechanics presents with respect to this same

context. A number of authors are confident that the difficulties of

quantum theory will not be overcome until an adequate theory of

consciousness is achieved (cf. Penrose, 1989; p. 296).

5. The Sequence of For-itselves

On the basis of the foregoing, we can establish the following

ideometric sequence:

the present for-itself/the individual for-itself/the conception

of physical reality.

The three terms of this sequence have the same formal properties

previously identified in this paper. These are the apparent irreducibility,

falsity, and indeterminability of uniqueness. This sequence is

called the « sequence of for-itselves » because the conception of physical

reality can be considered as the for-itself of the global human

child-society (cf. Provençal, 1997). The ideometric characteristic of

this sequence appears, among other things, in the fact that it relates

several problematic, unclear, paradoxical or apparently contradictory

features belonging to distinct realms of ideas. The formal

features defined herein have been connected in accordance with

their three respective levels. They result from a global survey of the

ideas themselves, without any presumptions concerning the underlying

reality in itself, which is supposedly designated by terms such

as « consciousness » and « physical reality ». From this we can draw up

a corresponding sequence of questions.

302 YVON PROVENÇAL

Let us consider the following two questions:

– Why is there something rather than nothing?

– Why are things as they are rather than otherwise?

These are, of course, two well-known questions in classical metaphysics.

For reasons that remain unclear, they have had to go

without any definitive answer. Indeed, one has the impression that

there is something standing in the way of a direct answer. For

example, it appears that they cannot be treated in an experimental

manner, nor as in any logical or mathematical demonstration. The

ideometric approach, however, enables us to see that two other

pairs of questions correspond to the pair above. These new pairs

concern consciousness rather than reality itself. If we concede that

our initial two questions are associated with the third level of the

sequence, that is, the level of physical reality, they can then be stated

somewhat differently:

– Why is there one physical universe rather than none at all?

– Why is the physical universe such as it is rather than another one

of the many possible universes?

Then the corresponding questions for the individual for-itself are:

– Why do I exist as having this personal identity instead of not

existing at all?

– Why do I have this personal identity instead of one of the many

others that exist?

And, as for the present for-itself:

– Why am I in one present instead of being in no present whatsoever?

– Why am I at this particular present moment rather than at any

other moment in my individual life?

These three pairs of questions are ideometrically related. They

have similar forms and, moreover, produce conceptually similar

LANGUAGE OF THE GODS 303

effects, which may include that of theoretical nullity or uselessness.

However, by placing them side by side we can draw something

interesting, a new kind of meaning, from them.

In what follows, I will begin by clarifying something that is

normally self-evident. We normally suppose that mathematics and

natural science exist and that they exist distinctly from each other.

Now let us consider the last pair of questions above. Let us suppose

that definitive answers were found to both of these questions and

that they were effective as demonstrations. This would mean that we

would be able to logically or scientifically prove why I am now in

one present moment and why it is the precise moment in which

I find myself. This demonstration would, therefore, be valid only for

me at this particular moment. This conclusion would contradict the

hypothesis that it is a true logical demonstration, in principle valid

independently of the moment in which one is thinking about it, and

of the person who is thinking about it.

Likewise, let us consider the pair of questions concerning the

individual for-itself. Let us suppose that a scientific demonstration

were worked out for both of these questions. I would, in such

circumstances, know why I am and why I am who I am. Here again,

this would contradict the idea that this demonstration is truly

scientific, since it would be valid only for me.

The same holds for the pair of questions about physical reality.

Any logical or mathematical demonstration that could tell us why

one physical universe exists and why it must be this particular

universe, could not be a logical or mathematical demonstration.

Either this would be valid only for a particular case (a contradiction

of the universality principle of logic and mathematics), or there

would be no longer a difference between what is physical and what

is logico-mathematical (a contradiction of our initial hypothesis).

Therefore the solution to the age-old metaphysical problem consists

in showing that no demonstration capable of providing direct

answers is possible, for the simple reason that scientific and rational

thought exist. This recalls the solution to the problem of squaring

the circle, which consisted in showing that the problem as stated was

not amenable to a direct solution. The formalization and setting of

metaphysical questions in an ideometric sequence allowed us to

restate the problem in a way that emphasizes the uniqueness of

304 YVON PROVENÇAL

reality. Moreover, this allowed us to use the entire range of ideas in

order to bring out an overall meaning.

 

6. Clarifications of the Mind-Body Problem

 

Establishing a profound conceptual relation between the notions

of consciousness and physical reality may help us to clarify difficulties

in the mind-body problem. This can be stated in two complementary

expressions (cf. Penrose, 1989; p. 465):

– « How can a material object, namely, the brain, actually

 

produce

 

consciousness? »

– « How can individual consciousness, through the action of its

will, actually

influence

the (apparently physically determined)

motion of material objects? »

 

Both of these questions imply at least two distinct levels in the

 

sequence of for-itselves: that of physical reality and of individual

 

for-itself. Here the ideometric approach consists in using all of the

 

relations in this sequence to help us to understand these conceptual

 

difficulties. We will be looking mainly at the first of the above

 

questions, with the understanding that the second will be treated in

 

a similar manner. Let us look at the verb « produce, » which is used

 

in the first question. In what sense can physical reality « produce »

 

individual consciousness? If this usage poses problems, we should

 

be able to see a certain formal similarity with the situation in the

 

following pair of levels, that is, the individual for-itself and the

 

present for-itself. Does an individual for-itself « produce » a present

 

for-itself? If so, how does it do it? Of course something past, something

 

in individual life, can « produce » or « give rise to » something

 

present. However the latter would be « produced » not as something

 

 

 

present

 

 

but as something later.

Therefore it is not quite accurate

to say that the past as such « produces » the present as such. The

 

present, in its uniqueness, remains undetermined. Furthermore, we

 

usually admit that the idea of the past goes with that of the present.

 

In other words, when we think that there is something « past, » we correlatively

 

think that there is something « present. » More precisely,

 

the idea of the existence of an individual for-itself is usually

 

accompanied by that of a present for-itself. It does not mean,

 

LANGUAGE OF THE GODS 305

however, that the former « produces » (or « gives rise to ») the latter.

This observation allows us to clarify certain aspects of the mindbody

problem. Correspondingly, we can see that matter (the brain)

does not « produce » consciousness. This is true even if we concede

that the fact that matter is thought of as a concept is normally

accompanied by the fact that individual consciousness is also

thought of in this way. This conceptual situation results from the

formal ideometric relations in the sequence of for-itselves. The

notion of existing matter implies (ideometrically speaking) that of

individual consciousness, just as the idea of individual consciousness

implies that of present consciousness.

It is possible to clarify very precisely why a word like « produce »

does not possess the properties required to express what is needed

in the two preceding cases. We have to investigate the relation,

« A produces B ». In order to be adequate, this should possess

the properties of anti-equivalence (namely, anti-reflexivity, antisymmetry

and anti-transitivity

9

) because it appears to be the kind

of relation specific to an ideometric sequence. In the ideometric

 

sequence of for-itselves (or in any other ideometric sequence), two

 

successive terms are always in a relation of anti-equivalent alterity.

 

Now it is easy to see that the relation « A produces B » possesses

 

the anti-reflexivity property, but not those of anti-symmetry or

 

anti-transitivity. The same holds for relations like « A causes B » or

 

« A gives rise to B ». This formally demonstrates why statements of

 

the mind-body problem create conceptual difficulties. The words

 

used are inadequate. In this respect, the problem is profound and

 

comes up practically each time an author speaks about consciousness.

 

Let us examine a few cases in which difficulties present themselves

 

in an implicit and even surreptitious way. For example, Douglas

 

Hofstadter (1981, p. 192) defines the concept of « representational

 

system » (which supposedly encompasses systems endowed with consciousness

 

such as the human brain) as « an active, self-updating

 

collection of structures organized to « mirror » the world as it evolves. »

 

The verb « mirror » poses a problem. Hofstadter admits that the metaphor

 

of « mirror » is not rich enough to express what he wants to say. All

 

the same, he restricts himself to this term, which he places in inverted

 

commas. We can easily see that the relation « A mirrors B » (following

 

the usual meaning of the verb) is neither anti-symmetric nor antitransitive.

 

Therefore it is inadequate to express the properties of the

 

 

306 YVON PROVENÇAL

relation between physical reality and individual consciousness. This

is doubtlessly one of the reasons why the problems of artificial

intelligence are still far from being overcome.

John Searle (1980) has criticized Hofstadter’s approach, as well as

that of all the supporters of « strong artificial intelligence » (or

« strong AI »), alleging that they take no account of the

intentionality

of

consciousness in their approach. Thus the latter, according to

 

Searle, is destined to fail. However, neither Hofstadter nor most of

 

the supporters of strong AI seem to be convinced by Searle’s

 

objections, and remain unwilling to accept them (cf. Hofstadter and

 

Dennett, 1981; pp. 373-382). Neither side seems to be listening to

 

the other. The ideometric approach may help us to understand the

 

reasons for such a situation. The fact is that neither the strong AI

 

supporters nor their opponents (like Searle

 

 

et al.)

use expressions

capable of accounting for the profound difference between conceptions

 

of physical reality and individual consciousness. For example,

 

Searle (1980, p. 5) defines intentionality as follows: « that feature of

 

certain mental states by which they

 

 

are directed at or about

objects and

states of affairs in the world. Thus, beliefs, desires and intentions are

 

intentional states » (my italics). This definition is consistent with what

 

philosophers generally mean by the word « intentionality ». So the

 

difficulty is not specific to Searle’s language. Let us examine the key

 

expression used here to define intentionality: « are directed at or

 

about ». The relation « A is directed at or about B » is likely antireflexive

 

in the mind of its users, but it is undoubtedly neither

 

anti-symmetric nor anti-transitive. Other expressions are sometimes

 

used for the same purpose; take, for example, « to be oriented to ».

 

Obviously we come up against the same problem. Philosophical

 

language itself is at the origin of this problem, because it generally

 

does not succeed in expressing the specificity of the conceptual

 

features of consciousness and its relation to reality.

 

 

 

7. About a « Conversation with Einstein’s Brain »

 

At this point I would like to describe and comment upon

a thought experiment imagined by Douglas Hofstadter (1981,

pp. 430-456). This experiment, dubbed « Conversation with

LANGUAGE OF THE GODS 307

Einstein’s Brain, » attempts to imagine a big book based upon the

state of Albert Einstein’s brain at the time of his death. This book,

made in accordance with a neurologist’s instructions, would encompass

all the important data contained in Einstein’s brain « down

to the cellular level ». Hofstadter asserts that this book would thus

contain Einstein’s living mind, just as a record contains music.

When one plays a record, the music appears real, and not as a

simulacrum of the real. Likewise, this book would give all the highly

complex instructions that would enable a user to converse with

Einstein’s mind, such as it was at the time of his death. Hofstadter

imagines a conversation with the « book Einstein » beginning as

follows: « Hello, Dr. Einstein. My name is Achilles. » The book

Einstein might then answer: « Oh, hello. Have you come to visit me?

Have I died? » Thereafter, the conversation could continue with

answers in response to specific questions. This type of book could,

in principle, embody the idea of individual immortality. But what

particularly matters here is that this type of book would reproduce,

in an artificial way, the consciousness of a living individual.

We may also suppose something that Hofstadter merely implies,

namely, that the same book could contain an endless number of

distinct conversations, each beginning as if Einstein had just woken

up after his supposed death. It is possible, moreover, to believe that

if the experiment were repeated several times

ab initio,

the same

lead-in would not give rise to the same series of answers. Because of

 

statistical fluctuations of a physical nature (due to quantum probabilism

 

or chaotic indeterminism, for instance), the complex information

 

contained in a brain should be subject to unforeseeable

 

changes. The same would most likely hold for the system represented

 

by the uses of the book.

 

To what extent can one say that such a book would reproduce

 

Einstein’s consciousness? John Searle, for example, would say that

 

there is no consciousness in this book because the latter is no more

 

than a computer program. In Searle’s view, a mere computer

 

program has no intentionality. It has no mental states, nor any

 

subjectivity. However, this kind of argument is hardly convincing,

 

owing to the confusion around the notion of intentionality.

 

If we go by the properties described above, we can say that the

 

book Einstein represents Einstein’s consciousness at a precise

 

 

308 YVON PROVENÇAL

moment, a « now » in Einstein’s individual consciousness. Thus we

are dealing with a present for-itself as opposed to an individual

one. I repeat that these two entities are completely distinct from

each other. As the book Einstein represents only one moment in

Einstein’s (after) life, it does not correspond to his individual

for-itself. And since, moreover, this book can generate an endless

number of distinct conversations, each one starting at the same

initial moment (Einstein’s supposed death), we can say that it

represents one present for-itself in Einstein and that this present

for-itself generates an indefinite number of individual for-itselves.

Accordingly, this book cannot be equated with Einstein’s consciousness,

nor with that of any real individual.

Hofstadter seems to admit this inasmuch as he implies that the

book, taken exclusively on its own terms, would not be a living

consciousness. He explains that, in order for the book to be

considered as living, it would be sufficient that someone

be able

to

use it (Hofstadter, 1981; pp. 449-450). Therefore, it seems that

 

such a book would not be equivalent to an individual consciousness

 

since the latter does not normally require such a user in order to be

 

considered real.

 

According to the ideometric approach, this book constitutes a

 

present for-itself but not an individual for-itself. It is not « conscious »

 

in the strict sense of the term. A conscious human being must have

 

an individual for-itself composed of an indefinite number of present

 

for-itselves; in other words, it cannot be reduced to a single present

 

for-itself. To be more precise, a present for-itself

 

 

contributes

to

individual consciousness but is

 

 

not

a consciousness in itself.

Here it may be illuminating to draw an analogy with a different

 

conceptual situation. I am thinking of the epistemological problem

 

which consists in understanding how science can be conceived from

 

the observations, ideas and opinions of a host of particular individuals.

 

A number of philosophical problems, such as those of demarcation

 

and induction, arise in this context. What distinguishes

 

science as such from the mere opinions of one or more particular

 

people? How can we obtain a general law or principle from one

 

or more particular observations? The point to be related to the

 

previous definitions or notions is the following: an individual

 

for-itself, that is to say, a particular human individual, can

 

 

 

contribute

 

LANGUAGE OF THE GODS 309

to science but

cannot, alone, as a particular subject, constitute

science.

 

Just as a moment of Einstein’s thought does not constitute his

consciousness even though it contributes to it, the individual

Einstein does not constitute science even though he contributes

to it. The same type (ideometric) of conceptual alterity appears

in both cases, along with the same type of paradox. The book

Einstein does not constitute the individual Einstein, just as Einstein

does not, by himself, constitute science. At last we can say that the

book Einstein would not immortalize the individual Einstein. However,

Einstein immortalizes himself otherwise, i.e. through his

works, by contributing to science which represents the mind of

human society.

 

CORRESPONDENCE BETWEEN

 

EPISTEMOLÓGICA!. AND AI PROBLEMS

 

Let me clarify certain points on the basis of the preceding

discussion. Certain fundamental questions regarding artificial intelligence

correspond precisely to certain classical questions of epistemology.

Here are a few questions about artificial intelligence:

Can a machine think? What is needed in order for our present-day

computers to be considered as true thinking machines? Let us

restate these questions. Can one or more computer programs make

a machine a thinking being? If not, why?

If we now concede that a computer program (like the book

Einstein) amounts to one present for-itself but not to an individual

for-itself, the immediately preceding questions can be restated in

terms of present and individual for-itselves. Can one or more

present for-itselves constitute an individual for-itself? If not, why?

These questions correspond exactly to the following: Can the

actions (observations, opinions) of one or more particular individuals

constitute science itself? If not, why?

We know that science exists even though we do not know the

precise or complete answers to the two questions above. We are

concerned, of course, with science such as we know it today, that is,

with all of its explanatory and predictive achievements and its

theoretical deficiencies and paradoxes. This ambivalent situation

310 YVON PROVENÇAL

allows us to draw analogies that, in turn, enable us to answer the

question of artificial intelligence: yes, computer programs can

produce consciousness. By analogy with the epistemological situation,

we can even say that our present-day machines are already

« conscious, » albeit at a still rudimentary level. This is so even though

we do not know why consciousness, as an individual for-itself, can

emerge from computer programs.

 

CONCLUSION

 

To sum up, the concept of anti-equivalent alterity allows us to

rationalize a number of notions which have so far remained largely

irrational. Long ago, when the Greeks first came up against the

notion of time, they judged its irreversibility to be an irrational

feature. Plato rightly remarked that neither language nor mathematical

relations can grasp time: « Will we have the right to say, about

that which goes by without cease, first that it is this, then it is such?

Does it not go, whereas we speak about it, necessarily to become

other, slip away, be no longer itself? »

(Cratylus,

459d) This quotation

shows that not only is it time that has given rise to problems, but also

 

the identity of beings and the consciousness one has of it.

 

An arbitrary regularity, that is, one undeterminable by the usual

 

cognitive means, has been found here between the notions of

 

physical reality, individual consciousness and the present of consciousness.

 

The conception of physical reality thus appears formally

 

and deeply linked to that of consciousness. The analogy between the

 

young child and global human society leads us to consider scientific

 

ideas as a kind of consciousness at the level of global society. Thus

 

reality as it is conceived by modern physics represents the individual

 

for-itself of contemporary global society. This is a structure the

 

complexity of which is practically, though partially, distinguishable

 

only by comparison with that of the human brain. However, the

 

relations between global society and the human brain appear as

 

being amenable to formalization and are even much richer and

 

deeper than suspected. They manifest themselves as so many

 

arbitrary regularities, revealing the existence of a kind of language

 

more complex than human tongues.

 

 

LANGUAGE OF THE GODS 311

Notes

1. The author’s address is: Cégep de Granby, Département de philosophie; 50, rue

Saint-Joseph, Granby (Québec), J2G 9H7 Canada; Fax: (514) 372-6565.

2. Francis Bailly (1994) has already looked at what he has called « knowledge systems. »

Bailly thinks that certain sciences, such as physics or biology, can themselves be

seen as systems at a « higher level of understanding and conceptualization. » My

approach is similar to his at certain points (cf. Provençal, 1997; pp. 123-124).

3. The anti-equivalence properties are anti-reflexivity, anti-symmetry, and antitransitivity.

In other words, these properties are contrary to those of mathematical

equivalence. Here is an example of an anti-equivalent relation: « A is a kind of

complete structure that emerges from the arrangement or organization of

complete structures of type B. » Anti-equivalence represents

alterity,

that is, a

pronounced sense of difference. For a relation R(A,B) in general, the antiequivalence

 

properties are defined as follows:

 

anti-reflexivity: for all A, R(A,A) is false;

 

anti-symmetry: for all A and all B, if R(A, B) is true, then R(B, A) is false;

 

anti-transitivity: for all A, all B, and all C, if R(A, B) and R(B, C) are true, then

 

R(A, C) is false.

 

4. Here the expressions, « physical determination » and « physical-chemical determination »

 

are used interchangeably, since these are in fact based on physical

 

concepts or models.

 

5. F. Bailly (1991, p. 243) used the expression, « unintelligible order, » in a similar

 

sense. He cites an undeciphered text as an example of this.

 

6. The reader must not confuse an arbitrary regularity with a non-arbitrary one.

 

Arbitrary regularities in the genetic code represent something different from the

 

non-arbitrary arrangements which may be found in non-living matter, such as

 

crystals. Likewise, arbitrary regularities in human languages must not be confused

 

with non-arbitrary biological orders, such as the physiological features of the

 

human larynx. The same holds for arbitrary regularities at the meta-anthropological

 

level. These must not be confused with non-arbitrary orders such as the

 

logical or mathematical structures underlying certain scientific theories.

 

7. More exactly, the logical bipolar opposition must be considered as surpassed by

 

a logic of alterity. In this, bipolarity is replaced by anti-symmetry and antitransitivity

 

(cf. Provençal, 1997).

 

8. Indeed the present for-itself is a constitutive element of the individual for-itself

 

since it represents a unique moment in individual life. Moreover, an individual

 

for-itself, as a real being, is an element of physical reality. Finally, one can easily

 

see that the relation « A is an element of B » (as in set theory) possesses the

 

properties of anti-equivalence.

 

9. The definition of anti-equivalence properties is stated in note 3.

 

 

 

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