The Mind of Society: Investigating and
Using the « Language of the Gods »
Cegep de Granby, Québec
(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,
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.
1998, Vol. 52, pp. 281-312 © 1998 OPA (Overseas Publishers Association) N.V.
Reprints available directly from the publisher Published by license under
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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,
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
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
From a formal point of view, this sequence is
defined by the repetition of a relation endowed with the properties of
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
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.
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
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
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
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:
the genetic code (based on nucleic acid
human languages (based on the
emitted by the human voice, i.e., the phonemes)
286 WON PROVENCAL
meta-language (based on
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
« 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
– apparent irreducibility;
– de facto falsity;
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.
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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 »
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
4. The Conception of Physical Reality
The ideometric approach envisages physical reality as a scientific
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
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
The indeterminability of uniqueness as applied to physical reality
is linked to a
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
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
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
– 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
– « How can individual consciousness, through the action of its
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
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
) 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
individual consciousness but is
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
LANGUAGE OF THE GODS 309
to science but
cannot, alone, as a particular subject, constitute
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
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.
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? »
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.
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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
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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vol. 5, no. 3.
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