Why Artificial Intelligence Isn’t Really Intelligence

As many people who study semantics and the meaning of words already know, the term oxymoron refers to a figure of speech in which two contradictory terms appear in conjunction with each other. For those who would choose to look at the matter more closely, the term artificial intelligence might indeed be seen a genuine oxymoron in the sense that what is artificial can never really be part of a genuine intelligence. That is if one is willing to look more closely at what the word intelligence really means in its broader context; one that is simply beyond the parameters of cognition, memory, and logical thought patterns.

If one looks at intelligence as a matter of having direct insight into the details and dynamics of the world in which one lives, rather than as a capacity for accurate cognition or the use of logical thinking and memory to ferret out the truth concerning various situations, then it would seem to be rather obvious that the sort of artificial apprehension of reality that is part of A.I. and all its various uses and devices is not a part of the use of one’s emotive and sensorial life that is required for this sort of immediate direct insight to take place. Indeed, the sort of analytical thought and memory that is part of A.I. often only dilutes that sort of insight.

That is to say, artificial intelligence, for all of its amazing powers will never be able to possess the sort of emotive or sensorial apprehension that is requited for moments of direct insight into the nature of things; an intelligence which is more immediate and more direct than what can be gained through the use of logical thought and memory, even as cognitively creative as those two dynamics might be at times in apprehending reality more clearly or in solving a number of our pressing problems. In addition, when A.I. enthusiasts speak of artificial intelligence possessing consciousness, it is not the consciousness born of direct insight, one that takes place beyond the domain of thoughts and words.

What we so desperately need in our current digital age is a redefinition of what intelligence means. Is it simply a matter of how to use cognitive thought and memory in order to think creatively, or does it have more to do with having direct insight into things at a place beyond thought and memory, where we can ultimately combine emotive and sensorial reactions to different elements of our world in order to see more clearly? If it is the latter, then A.I. will never be fully a part of what the word intelligence means. It will be able to bring all kinds of technologies to the world which exponentially can enrich our lives, but it will never possess genuine insight.

Albert Einstein figured out the relationship between space and time not nearly so much due to a cognitive apprehension of these things, but instead due to an intuitive realization of their dynamics. Pablo Picasso created much of his great cubist art after his immediate realization of the need to jettison the idea of the vanishing point. Niels Bohr was able to comprehend the structure of the atom and how electrons circle the nucleus due largely to his previous intuitive struggles with the nature of rational thought. And the great trumpet player Miles Davis was able to expand the world of bebop jazz into his beautiful, lyrical playing not nearly so much due to a better understanding of music theory, but largely due to his intuitive realization of what would happen if he simply lengthened the space between musical notes.

The possibility of perceiving our ourselves and our world through an intelligence which is anchored in the sort of direct insight which the above explorers of the fabric of inner space employed has always been with us. However, for this to occur, we need to recognize that the type of intelligence currently associated with A. I. and all of its resultant technologies does not fully exist at the same level that a holistic intelligence born of direct insight does; one that necessarily begins with our emotive and sensorial reactions to the world. Certainly, A.I. can provide many important new components to our world. Yet the one thing its can’t do is to exist in the midst of this same level of holistic awareness.

A Different Type of Intelligence

These past few weeks, Susan Orlean, author of the immensely popular book The Orchid Thief, has written and published a collection of essays and stories concerning how we humans interact with the animals with whom we share planet earth. In On Animals, Orlean considers a large range of creatures, from the chickens which she keeps in her back yard to the twenty-three pet tigers which one woman in New Jersey kept, and which none of her neighbors knew about until one of them escaped, to a famous whale in Iceland who actually resists human efforts to set him free. In turns both enchanting and thoughtful, the essays celebrate the meaningful connections which we have with our animal friends.

Of course, many people, when they think of Orlean remember both the book The Orchid Thief and the movie version of it, adaptation. Some may even remember one incredibly prescient scene from the film in which orchid expert John Larouche, played by Chris Cooper, explains to Orlean, played by Meryl Streep, the relationship between an insect pollinating a particular flower and large metaphysical concerns; such as because when the insect does exactly what it is drawn to doing, that is finds its soul mate flower which it pollinates, the whole world comes alive because of this sort of direct desire, and that once anyone of us finds our flower, so to speak, we can’t let anything get in our way.

This type of selective attention, often centered primarily in the sensory and emotive worlds, might on occasion move us within ourselves toward a larger intelligence which isn’t necessarily apprehended through words and thoughts, but one through which we might perceive our world more deeply and fully through the process of direct insight. Given that the Internet and our obsessive use of digital devices might be now impeding the stream of our thoughts as we habitually jump from one site in the virtual world to another; dulling our memories as we use large search engines as our brain’s external hard drive, rather than employing our own neuronal networks to look for information; and negatively affecting our attention spans as both our short and long-term memories become flooded with more information than they can effectively handle, indeed we may need to facilitate a whole new approach to what intelligence means.

That is, if we as human beings can effectively learn how to increasingly access an immediate perception born of direct insight to better comprehend our world and ourselves as the Internet and our use of digital technologies continue to adversely affect our cognitive capacities, then we might potentially be able to continue acting intelligently regardless of the effects brought about by our current digital age.

Direct insight, quite simply, is the capacity to immediately see the essence of a situation, person, idea, etc. by inhabiting a space beyond thought and memory. Some psychologists have referred to such a state as being in the zone. Others, such as noted Hungarian psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi have referred to such a place of immediate comprehension as a flow state; a place where the mind is able to make consistent connections between different areas of information and knowledge without any sort of interruptions or distractions preventing those connections from taking place.

Therefore, if one believes that the power of direct insight has a significant role to play in allowing a person to clearly apprehend their world at a place beyond the activities of thought and memory, the question would then appear to be one of how to actually facilitate such a state of mind. Consequently, certain questions related to one’s capacity for this type of insight come rapidly to the fore.

How might our emotive and sensorial lives, in lieu of our cognitive life, become focal points for this new type of intelligence? How might our thoughts impede our emotive and sensorial reactions to our immediate environment? What is the relationship between the stream of our thoughts and an intelligent apprehension of our world? How might moments of direct insight evolve from absorbing emotive or sensorial experience? And how do all these questions pertaining to an intelligence born of direct insight relate to one another?

Answers to these questions might involve emboldening both our emotive and sensorial lives in lieu of a predominately cognitive life, which means looking at the above questions and potential answers within a much larger context; at a place where the word intelligence might take on a much different meaning than that which has been formerly attributed to it.

Might it be that emotions and sensorial reactions are part of a larger intelligence which exists at a deeper level than what most neuroscientists, psychologists, learning theorists, and others had previously imagined, one which exists beyond the bounds of thought and memory? And if so, might this larger intelligence become increasingly necessary due to the effects of our current digital age on our thoughts and memories?

Lyn Lesch’s new book Toward a Holistic Intelligence: Life on the Other Side of the Digital Barrier is being published December 9, 2021 by Rowman & Littlefield.