Digital Biology. Artist: Khyati Trehan by DeepMind on Unsplash

Sense of Coherence …

The risks of Ai and a Technology Society

Richard Schutte
11 min readFeb 12, 2023

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“The goal is nothing other than the coherence and completeness of the system not only in respect of all details, but also in respect of all physicists of all places, all times, all peoples, and all cultures”…

— Max Planck

“in order to ascertain the meaning of an intellectual conception, one should consider what practical consequences might conceivably result by necessity from the truth of that conception, and the sum of these consequences will constitute the entire meaning of the conception”…

— Charles Sanders Peirce

During a 1999 interview, English singer-songwriter and actor David Bowie provided his perspectives on the impact and future direction of the internet.

A brief excerpt follows.

Interviewer Question:

“But what is it specifically about the internet? I mean, anybody can say anything, and it all adds up to what? I mean, it seems to me that there’s nothing cohesive about it in the way that there was something cohesive about the revolution in music?”…

David Bowie:

“Absolutely! Because I think that we, at the time up until at least the mid-70s, really felt that we were still living under the … in the guise of single and absolute created Society where there were known truths and known lies, and there was no duplicity or pluralism about the things that we believed in.

That started to break down rapidly in the 70s. The idea of a duality in the way that we live. There are always two, three, four, five sides to every question. The singularity disappeared, and that, I believe, has produced such a medium as the internet, which absolutely establishes and shows us that we are living in total fragmentation. I don’t think we’ve even seen the tip of the iceberg. I think the potential of what the internet is going to do to Society, both good and bad, is unimaginable.”….

— David Bowie

The end of Singularity

In the interview, David highlights the profound impact that the internet has already had on our perception of Reality and our ability to make sense of the World.

Our capacity to bring coherence to complexity.

It was beginning to shine a spotlight on all the high-dimensional qualities of the Material World and the diversity of different perspectives and viewpoints (Semantic Mind) on any given issue.

No longer were we presented with a World of absolute binary truths — a single source of truth (a Classical World), but instead were confronted with a kaleidoscope — a multiplicity of Truths (a Quantum World Many Worlds).

It represented the collision of a Classical World of Reductionism with a Quantum World of Complexity.

An Umwelt that highlighted the subjectivity and context of each of our own unique lived experiences.

But what happens when the nexus between our Mental World of abstraction and the Material World of embodied lived experience becomes increasingly decoupled?

The New Dark Age

We have seen this impact in Modernism and Post Modernism.

In both cases, Reality was increasingly being shaped by the Primacy of Human Consciousness and a Mental Structure perspective of Reality.

In the case of Modernism, the power of abstract Reason (Cartesianism Rationalism).

In the case of Post Modernism, Phenomenology and Idealism (Kantian Utopias and Hegel’s Absolute Idealism).

“The senses deceive from time to time, and it is prudent never to trust wholly those who have deceived us even once”…

— Rene Descartes

In The New Dark Age, the limits of these perspectives were explored with a conclusion that highlighted a profound meta-crisis in Modernism and Post Modernism.

The meta crisis was a crisis of metaphysics.

Some of the foundational pillars of Western Civilisation were beginning to crumble as night fell and a New Dark Age emerged.

Cracks were beginning to appear in the Temples of Reason.

Analytical and Continental Philosophical thought that had become the bedrock of Modernity & Post Modernity in Western Civilisation — widely embraced by the established orthodoxy — had increasingly ignored possible alternative ways of viewing Reality.

One that recognised the symbiotic relationship between the Primacy of Human Consciousness & Primacy of Existence.

Doubling Down through Digital Technologies

As digital technologies appeared, instead of moving towards integration, we have doubled down on Cartesian Rationalism ( Verstand ) and utopian forms of Idealism.

Whether that was the emergence of knowledge workers that have increasingly separated their thinking from their actions in the world (unlike a farmer tending the land), Humans as software to be reprogrammed and upgraded, the anthropomorphism of computation, or the mechanisation of the human mind, or the creation of a utopian metaverse, or the retreat from a two bodied Scientific Method into a single bodied form of abstraction (i.e. Scientism) where statistical P-Value thresholds or peer reviews (forms of social census) becoming the primary arbiters of Ground Truths.

Statistics and P-Value Debate — https://youtu.be/_D8U58QLqyM

Despite a growing cognitive dissonance, a hypernormalisation and Material World consequences, the absence of any reflection has seen existing World Views fortified and reality increasingly ignored as we inch ever closer towards a Fictional Society, the Simulacrum and Hyperreality .

You can ignore reality, but you can’t ignore the consequences of ignoring reality”…

— Ayn Rand

A Sense of Coherence

Aaron Antonovsky was an Israeli American sociologist and academic whose work was focused on the relationship between stress, health and well-being.

During his period at an Israel-based medical school where he held the Chair in Medical Sociology, he developed an integrated theory of health and illness that culminated in his 1979 book Health, Stress and Coping.

The key hypothesis of Antonovsky’s theory was how specific personal dispositions make individuals more resilient to the pressures they encounter in daily life.

“We are coming to understand health not as the absence of disease, but rather as the process by which individuals maintain their sense of coherence (i.e. sense that life is comprehensible, manageable, and meaningful) and ability to function in the face of changes in themselves and their relationships with their environment”…

— Aaron Antonovsky

Antonovsky identified three components, which he claimed helped a person remain healthy and better cope by providing a “sense of coherence” about life and the challenges faced.

It combined a state of optimism and a sense of control.

His theory reflects an integrated way of how Humans navigate the complexity of reality.

A combination of Mental World abstraction — cognition & motivation — and — Material World experience — agency & meaning.

Its three components included:

  1. Comprehensibility — a cognitive (Mental World) aspect that reflects the extent to which you might perceive both internal and external stimuli as being understandable in some rational way
  2. Manageability — a behavioural (Material World) aspect that has to do with the degree to which you might feel that there are resources at your disposal
  3. Meaningfulness — a motivational (Mental World + Material World) aspect that has to do with the extent to which you feel that your life has some emotional meaning

A framework that clarified the importance of integrating our Minds and Bodies .

Ideas that have also been explored through the ongoing research of Dutch Psychologist and Researcher Bessel van der Kolk.

Artificial Intelligence (Ai) and Humanities Sense of Coherence

Despite the contested nature of the term “Artificial General Intelligence” our Modern Technological Society had widely embraced this new narrative.

Automation, Singularity and Transhumanism appear to have significant ideological appeal to parts of Modern & Post Modern Society’s elites, despite the technology's ever-present shortcomings.

Its appeal fits nicely into the notion of a Technological Society anchored in the Primacy of Human Consciousness.

Human ego and Second Nature.

Human Transcendence was the inevitable end state of Modernity and its Ideology.

Human destiny was now in our hands by embracing Reason, Computation and Technology — a Transhumanism.

“Transhumanism is the ethics and science of using things like biological and genetic engineering to transform our bodies and make us a more powerful species.”

— Dan Brown

But what if this technology can erode our Sense of Coherence (SOC) in an already increasingly complex Material World?

What if a further degradation in our SOC has profound Health and Well-being implications for Humanity, given the inherent nature of the Human Condition?

“The essence of technology is by no means anything technological”…

— Martin Heidegger

Hannah Arendt’s book The Human Condition identifies that as human powers increase through human inquiry and technology, we are less equipped to control the consequences of our actions — in other words, our human agency and political freedom may diminish.

Her insights are prescient and illuminate the risks of Ai in the context of the three components of SOC.

Comprehensibility

“In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world, the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true. …

— Hannah Arendt

Deep Learning and Machine Models, by their very nature, are based on high dimensional multi-variate optimisation.

In other words, these systems extend computation into domains of increasing complexity but, in doing so, move from “top-downsymbolic deductive machines where the inputs and transformational functions are clearly prescribed to “bottom-up” statistical inference machines where the outputs become the inputs for learning. The transformational function is embedded in a high-dimensional (complex) spatial structure.

As a result, we may only ever achieve prediction without comprehensibility.

“Explaining” machine learning reveals policy challengeshttps://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.aba9647 and The debate over understanding in AI’s large language models https://www.pnas.org/doi/10.1073/pnas.2215907120

Manageability

The application of Ai has rapidly expanded across all industries and multiple domains, from computer vision to speech recognition, internet search, and large language models.

The economics of automation and competition in a capitalist society drive its rapid adoption, and humans were increasingly expected to play a subordinate role to these machines.

The flows of capital are amoral in seeking opportunities to achieve the highest return.

“Deprived of meaningful work, men and women lose their reason for existence; they go stark, raving mad”…

— Fyodor Dostoevsky

Human agency and our capacity to feel we can respond were being challenged as the economic incentive and capacity to automate were being extended into more & more complex domains of our daily lives.

Meaning

“The genuine coherence of our ideas does not come from the reasoning that ties them together, but from the spiritual impulse that gives rise to them” …

— Nicolas Gomez Davila

“The need of reason is not inspired by the quest for truth but by the quest for meaning. And truth and meaning are not the same. The basic fallacy, taking precedence over all specific metaphysical fallacies, is to interpret meaning on the model of truth”…

— Hanna Arendt

Meaning is in Crisis.

The dominance of a World View grounded in the Primacy of Human Consciousness and the rationalism of Economics and Science.

The worship of Technology, even though the type of reasoning (Cartesianism) embraced no longer needed to have any nexus with our Material World.

A subordination of all other forms of knowledge, such as Philosophy and Theology, gave rise to an increasingly atheist materialist Modern & Post Modern Society.

A growing nihilism and materialism.

Temples of Reason have been embraced, but the Ground Motives and Primacy of Existence that formed the foundations of our search for Truth, and objective knowledge were increasingly being ignored.

“Scientific and philosophic truth have parted company”…

— Hannah Arendt

In this World, Science increasingly becomes Scientism, and Economics no longer needs to have any nexus to the real World.

Conclusion

Humans are embodied living, and conscious creatures that make meaning through our lived experiences with each other in the Material World and in a belief in the transcendent.

Yet, we continue embracing a Mental Structure form of Consciousness ( Cartesianism and Idealism) despite an ever-growing cognitive dissonance.

Ignoring the inherent nature of the Human Condition and embracing more and more technology poses risks of losing our Human agency, including an accelerated erosion in our Sense of Coherence (SOC) which can ultimately impact the Health and Well Being of Humanity.

A Hard Fork in the road had now been reached, which will shape the future direction of Humanity.

Which path will we take?

A collision between a Phenomenological World created by technical means (Hegel’s Second Nature) and the Primacy of Human Consciousness vs a Noumenon World created by the Divine & Mother Nature and the Primacy of Existence.

The friction emanating from the collision between these two Worlds is captured in this quote from French Philosopher Jacques Ellul, who wrote The Technological Society in 1954.

“The world that is being created by the accumulation of technical means is an artificial world and hence radically different from the natural world.

It destroys, eliminates, or subordinates the natural world and does not allow this world to restore itself or even to enter into a symbiotic relation with it.

The two worlds obey different imperatives, different directives, and different laws, which have nothing in common.

Just as hydroelectric installations take waterfalls and lead them into conduits, so the technical milieu absorbs the natural.

We are rapidly approaching the time when there will be no longer any natural environment at all.

When we succeed in producing artificial aurorae boreales, night will disappear and perpetual day will reign over the planet.”

― Jacques Ellul

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Richard Schutte

Innovation, Intrapreneurship, Entrepreneurship, Complexity, Leadership & Community Twitter: @complexityvoid