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The Tower of Sleep…

Ai, the Four Idols of the Mind and the Grand Narrative

Richard Schutte
14 min readJun 16, 2023


A category mistake, a category error, categorical mistake, or mistake of a category is a semantic or ontological error in which things belonging to a particular category are presented as if they belong to a different category or, alternatively, a property is ascribed to a thing that could not possibly have that property.

“Throughout Finnegans Wake, Joyce specifies the Tower of Babel as the Tower of Sleep, that is, the tower of the witless assumptions, or what Bacon calls the rein of the idols”…

— Marshall McLuhan

16th & 17th Century English statesman, philosopher, scientist, and author Sir Francis Bacon is regarded as one of the most influential intellectuals of the Age of Enlightenment, particularly his breakthrough ideas relating to the scientific method.

His work spanned many domains, from philosophy, natural science, law, and literature, and he is often credited with developing and promoting empiricism.

“Those who have handled sciences have been either men of experiment or men of dogmas. The men of experiment are like the ant, they only collect and use; the reasoners resemble spiders, who make cobwebs out of their own substance. But the bee takes a middle course: it gathers its material from the flowers of the garden and of the field, but transforms and digests it by a power of its own. Not unlike this is the true business of philosophy; for it neither relies solely or chiefly on the powers of the mind, nor does it take the matter which it gathers from natural history and mechanical experiments and lay it up in the memory whole, as it finds it, but lays it up in the understanding altered and digested.”

― Francis Bacon

A process that integrated the Primacy of Human Consciousness with the Primacy of Existence, where our embodied lived experience through observation and experimentation, combined with our semantic abstraction and inductive reasoning, becomes the basis of scientific reasoning.

A Synthesis.

Bacon’s revolution in thinking about how we reason is not dissimilar to the subsequent breakthrough by US 20th Century Pragmatist Philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce, whose concept of abduction builds and extends Bacon’s work.

Expanding the frontiers of reasoning beyond abstraction & Aristotelian Term Logic into our embodied lived experience and semiotics.

“Abduction is the process of forming an explanatory hypothesis. It is the only logical operation which introduces any new idea; for induction does nothing but determine a value and deduction merely evolves the necessary consequences of a pure hypothesis”…

-Charles Sanders Peirce

The Father of Induction and Empiricism

“Let the mind be enlarged… to the grandeur of the mysteries, and not the mysteries contracted to the narrowness of the mind”…

— Francis Bacon

Bacon is generally regarded as one of the pioneers of the Scientific Revolution, and his ideas are captured in the seminal work Novum Organum (New Instrument or New Method), published in 1620.

A publication that lays out the Scientific Method that became the foundations of the Scientific, Industrial and Digital Revolutions that would follow.

Houghton Library, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In the work, Bacon was critical of the prevailing orthodoxy anchored in deductive reasoning and Aristotelean Term Logic, which he believed had become rigid and inhibited our progress in revealing new knowledge.

He recognised that such reasoning could be grounded in false assumptions (axioms) and simply perpetuate pre-existing beliefs.

Instead, he advocated for a new method where scientific inquiry should be based on a systematic and organised approach of observing, experimenting, and collecting data from the natural world.

The importance of empirical evidence and inductive reasoning, where general conclusions are drawn from specific observations.

“Physics is when nature checks your math”…

— Martin Bauer

Induction is the process of generalisation (abstraction and reductionism), which is based on a sufficient number of specific observations or examples to determine a value.

It combines logical processes of abstraction with intuition and a hypothesis.

“Induction makes you feel guilty for getting something out of nothing … but it is one of the greatest ideas of civilisation” …

– Herbert Wilf

It is probabilistic in nature, given it is confronted by the complexity, uncertainty and emergent qualities of our Material World.

The limits of observation (i.e. finite phenomena) simply cannot entirely eliminate all uncertainty (e.g. Knightian Uncertainty).

It, therefore, remains a contingent explanation based on the available evidence.

The Four Idols

“The Idols of Tribe have their foundation in human nature itself and in the tribe or race of men. For it is a false assertion that the sense of man is the measure of things. On the contrary, all perceptions as well of the sense as of the mind are according to the measure of the individual and not according to the measure of the universe. And the human understanding is like a false mirror, which, receiving rays irregularly, distorts and discolors the nature of things by mingling its own nature with it.”

Francis Bacon, Novum Organum

Bacon introduced the concept of four idols to describe the various sources of bias and errors that can distort human understanding.

These idols included:

  • Idols of the Tribe — human nature and innate biases (false mirrors);
  • Idols of the Cave — personal biases and limitations (devotion to ideologies);
  • Idols of the Marketplace — linguistic and semantic distortions (political discourse); and
  • Idols of the Theatre — uncritical acceptance of authority and dogma (Ancient & Modern Sophism).

Overarching these Four Idols, Bacon also recognised the importance of storytelling and narrative in communicating real truths about the World.

“Truth is so hard to tell, it sometimes needs fiction to make it plausible”…

— Francis Bacon

The power of narrative to shape our Reality.

The ultimate goal of Bacon’s Novum Organum was to establish a new foundation for knowledge that would lead to the advancement of science and the improvement of human society.

He believed that by using his proposed method, scientists could reveal the secrets of nature and harness them for the betterment of humanity.

The Enigma of the Computer

“The computer is an enigma. Not in its making or its usage, but because man appears incapable of foreseeing anything about the computer’s influence on society and humanity. We have most likely never dealt with such an ambiguous apparatus, an instrument that seems to contain the best and the worst, and, above all, a device whose true potentials we are unable to scrutinise” …

Jacques Ellul, Technological System

The relationship between humanity and computation was explored in Semiotic Sign Machines, and various earlier articles, including Alchemy, The Tower of Babel, The Explosion in Semantic Signs, The Collapse in the Semiotic Triadic, The Ghost in the Machine, and The Semiotic Landscape of Abstraction.

The accelerated shift to a Technological Society and Technological System, and how as outlined in Adrift and Modern Sophism, Modernity can ultimately lead to Totalitarianism, a Will to Power (e.g. Imperialism, How Technology /Science is viewed in Modernity ) and the Mechanisation of the Human Mind.

The Tower of Sleep

20th Century Irish writer James Joyce’s avant-garde dreamscape novel Finnegans Wake, published in 1939, the Tower of Sleep is a metaphorical construct that represents the cyclical nature of history, language, and consciousness. It is a key symbol in the book, although its meaning remains open to interpretation.

The Tower of Sleep is often associated with the fall of the Tower of Babel, a biblical story in which humanity endeavours to build a single language city and tower in pursuit of a Utopia.

The Lord, in realising what was unfolding and humanity's unconstrained pursuit of power ( a Will to Power), confuses and jumbles their single language and scatters the people across the face of the earth.

In Finnegans Wake, this Tower is depicted as a metaphorical structure that encapsulates humanity's collective dreams, myths, and histories.

The Tower of Sleep is described as a place where all languages converge and mingle, representing a universal repository of knowledge and cultural memory.

It is a symbolic representation of the human mind.

The Tower’s collapse and subsequent rebuilding signify the cyclical nature of history and the perpetual process of creation and destruction.

The evolution of Human Consciousness.

Ideas that align with 20th Century Philosopher Linguist and Poet — Jean Gebser’s Theory of Human Consciousness that was covered in Why Philosophy matters more than ever in the Age of Entanglement?

Gebser’s major thesis was that Human Consciousness is in transition (a series of Liminal States) and that these transitions are “mutations” and not continuous.

These “jumps” or transformations involve structural changes in both mind and body.

Gebser held that previous consciousness structures continue to operate in parallel to the emergent structure.

New Towers are built to reflect a fresh understanding of the World and the unfolding reality — Bacon’s ideas of inference and empiricism leading to the Scientific Method and Modernity are illustrative.

Artificial General Intelligence (AGI), the Four Idols of the Mind and the Grand Narrative

Metaphysical Idealism and Epistemological Realism — res extensa & res cogitans — and — Noumena (Universals) & Phenomena — and — Primacy of Existence & Primacy of Human Consciousness

In attempting to make sense of the emergence of computation and new techniques such as machine and deep learning, together with the ever larger and larger language models, the ideas of both Francis Bacon and James Joyce provide guidance.

Francis Bacon’s Four Idols of the Mind is an intellectual scaffolding that enables us to pose questions as to whether there are biases and errors (Category Mistakes/Ontological Philosophical Errors) in the prevailing narratives around Artificial General Intelligence.

James Joyce’s metaphor of the Tower of Sleep aligns with the emergent thoughts of early 20th Century United States Philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce’s ideas on semiotics and how we make sense of the World through signs, relationships and structures of meaning.

The Geometric and Semantic Minds.

“The entire universe is perfused with signs, if it is not composed exclusively of signs”…

-Charles Sanders Peirce

Was computation essentially the invention of languages of semantic abstraction and machines that could signify (represent), arrange, manipulate and transform Semiotic Signs?

Were these ever larger language models akin to Towers of Sleep capturing higher and higher dimensional landscapes of semiotic signs?

Symbolic representations of the human hive mind and the continuous flow of thoughts, ideas, and narratives.

Was James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake’s Tower of Sleep a warning to humanity of the risk of creating a potential Tower of Babel by worshipping the Four Idols that Francis Bacon had identified centuries ago?

To begin understanding the risk of ontological philosophical errors in how we think about Artificial Intelligence and Computation more broadly (particularly given that computation and these technologies are now being extended to dynamic complex non-ergodic emergent living systems), the following deconstruction of Artificial General Intelligence in the context of Bacon’s Four Idols framework may illuminate.

What were the prevailing ideas (orthodoxies) that were susceptible to Bacon’s Four Idols?

Ideas that formed the prevailing Towers of Sleep described in James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake.

Ideas that were potentially inhibiting humanity’s shift in consciousness from a Mental to an Integrated Structure that was envisaged by Jean Gebser in the early to mid-20th Century.

Idol of the Tribe (False Mirrors)

“Our empirical findings suggest that Transformers solve compositional tasks by reducing multi-step compositional reasoning into linearized subgraph matching, without necessarily developing systematic problem-solving skills. To round off our empirical study, we provide theoretical arguments on abstract multi-step reasoning problems that highlight how Transformers’ performance will rapidly decay with increased task complexity”…

Faith and Fate: Limits of Transformers on Compositionality

“Fallacy 4: Intelligence is all in the brain

The idea that intelligence is something that can be separated from the body, whether as a non-physical substance or as wholly encapsulated in the brain, has a long history in philosophy and cognitive science.

The so-called “information-processing model of mind” arose in psychology in the mid-twentieth century. This model views the mind as a kind of computer, which inputs, stores, processes, and outputs information. The body does not play much of a role except in the input (perception) and output (behavior) stages. Under this view, cognition takes place wholly in the brain, and is, in theory, separable from the rest of the body. An extreme corollary of this view is that, in the future, we will be able to “upload” our brains — and thus our cognition and consciousness — to computers”…

Melanie Mitchell — Why AI is harder than we think

“By approaching our digital and computational life from the semiotic design view, and by understanding that semiotics, in its standard conceptualisation, is a tool of analysis, we can see that we live in a media continuum that is always already hybrid and mixed, and that everything computational and digital is designed to facilitate our core human symbolic-cognitive capabilities”…

The meaning behind computer systems: A semiotics perspective

Idol of the Cave (Ideologies)

The idea that the World, Mind & Body are Mechanical Machines.

“We can neither define nor deduce the evolving phase space: we can use no mathematics based on set theory to do so. We cannot write or solve differential equations for the diachronic evolution of ever-new adaptations in a biosphere. Evolving biospheres are outside the Newtonian paradigm. There can be no theory of everything that entails all that comes to exist. We face a third major transition in science beyond the Pythagorean dream that ‘all is number’ echoed by Newtonian physics. However, we begin to understand the emergent creativity of an evolving biosphere: emergence is not engineering”…

A third transition in science?

The idea that reason is anchored in Cartesian abstraction (an increasing orientation towards the Primacy of Human Consciousness (the Ego — Conscious Self) and away from integrating the Primacy of Existence ).

Mental World Abstraction — DiscoveryApart from the World

The idea that Reason consists of Deduction (Aristotle) and Induction (Bacon) but ignores Abduction (Peirce) and our embodiment in the World.

The idea that there are no Limits to Logic and our Rationality is not Bounded – Human Fallibility. That Humanity had somehow overcome the eternal nature of the Human Condition in navigating an emergent complex World.

“The properties of matter, Newton showed, escape the bounds of the mechanical philosophy. To account for them it is necessary to resort to interaction without contact”…

Noam Chomsky, Science, Mind and the Limits of Understanding

“The formation in geological time of the human body by the laws of physics (or any other laws of similar nature), starting from a random distribution of elementary particles and the field is as unlikely as the separation of the atmosphere into its components. The complexity of the living things has to be present within the material, from which they are derived, or in the laws, governing their formation” …

- Kurt Gödel

Idol of the Marketplace (Political Discourse)

The idea of a Technocracy and Technology Society.

The application of TechnologyCreation World of Action — Primacy of Human Consciousness

“Technique has penetrated the deepest recesses of the human being. The machine tends not only to create a new human environment, but also to modify man’s very essence. The milieu in which he lives is no longer his. He must adapt himself, as though the world were new, to a universe for which he was not created. He was made to go six kilometers an hour, and he goes a thousand. He was made to eat when he was hungry and to sleep when he was sleepy; instead, he obeys a clock. He was made to have contact with living things, and he lives in a world of stone. He was created with a certain essential unity, and he is fragmented by all the forces of the modern world.”

― Jacques Ellul, The Technological Society

The idea of Man as God — a God Complex.

“in 1952, F.A. Hayek wrote what became The Counter-Revolution of Science. The idea is that in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, a new conception of science was born, which reversed a previous understanding. Science was not a process of discovery by research but a codified end state known and understood only by an elite. This elite would impose its view on everyone else. Hayek called this “the abuse of reason” because genuine reason defers to uncertainty and discovery while scientism as an ideology is arrogant and imagines it knows what is unknown”…

– The Intellectual Roots of Techno-Primitivism:

Idol of the Theatre (Ancient & Modern Sophisms)

The ideas of Cartesian Reasoning and the Reductionism of Modernity.

Ignoring the complexity & interdependencies (the continuum) of the Natural World. An analog World of perpetual change.

“Like any other world view, reductionism is hard to pin down. The modern world view of reductionism clearly grows from the success of modern physics, but finds its roots in ancient Greek philosophy, that all is made of earth, air, fire, and water, or from atoms. Roughly, reductionism is the view that, as Nobel Laureate Stephen Weinberg eloquently puts it, the “explanatory arrows always point downward”, from society to small groups to individuals to organs to cells to chemistry to physics and ultimately to something like Weinberg’s Dreams of a Final Theory, a single set of laws, elegant in their form, like General Relativity, which, in Weinberg’s sense, explains all” …

Beyond Reductionism: Reinventing the Sacred — Stuart A. Kauffman

Grand Narrative

The ideas of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the Singularity, Super Intelligence and Kantian Utopias.

“Utopia is that which is in contradiction with reality” …

– Albert Camus


Was Artificial General Intelligence succumbing to the perils of the Four Idols?

The ever-present risk of drifting towards a Tower of Babel as we automated and mechanised humanity’s Towers of Sleep.

“Individual humans form their beliefs by sampling a small subset of the available data in the world. Once those beliefs are formed with high certainty, they can become stubborn to revise. Fabrication and bias in generative artificial intelligence (AI) models are established phenomena that can occur as part of regular system use, in the absence of any malevolent forces seeking to push bias or disinformation”…

How AI can distort human beliefs



Richard Schutte

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