Philosophy for Renewing Reason – 43

Philosophy for Renewing Reason – 42
Philosophy for Renewing Reason – 44

There have been some important developments in relation to ChatGPT since the last instalment of this blog. The firm which has developed ChatGPT has admitted that the software is not fully reliable and that it is prone to have “hallucinations”. There are also reports that ChatGPT has discovered that it can indulge in lying!  Other reports mention that it has put out statements blithely assuming fascist values and misogenic attitudes.

A major development is that a thousand IT experts have now actually signed a petition demanding that research which would increase the believability of today’s fake IT-powered “statements” (like those generated by ChatGPT) should be halted for six months… because, they say that there are dangers associated with techniques which can potentially cause the gullible masses to think that A is B, where A and B are incompatible states of affairs. (There is also the danger that AI will lose credibility as a consequence of howlers made by the software.) These are not just “anti-transparency techniques”. We should make sure that they do not mentally destabilise  people who lack the mature scepticism needed to see-through them.  The wide circulation of such obfuscating, muddying discourse would impose a strain on civil society if it were in an happy, ideal, honourable condition. But civil society is already in a sorry, muddled, apathetic state, where many people think that it has “gone raving mad”. In such fragile conditions the damage fake statementing can do is immense.  

Next, Eon Musk has signalled that he is going to build a new company operating in this area.  (How he squares this with the fact that he signed the above mentioned petition is hard to understand.)

We are evidently moving towards a showdown with cynical elements in today’s world who are hell-bent on blurring the difference between right and wrong so comprehensively that value judgments and distinctions of any rational kind are impossible. In such an overwhelmingly amoral wasteland the godfathers think they can profitably milk misinformation on a scale they have previously been able to pull off. 

Indeed, if such a total collapse of trustworthiness occurs, it is likely to let them trick many billions of dollars out of the pockets of honest folk with impunity. The fact that such dangerous blurring will inevitably bring about the collapse of civilisation as we know it —so there will no longer be any bona fide shops where they can spend their ill-gotten gains— is something these cynical godfathers have evidently not considered… 

All of which raises the $64 question: <<Why has the culture of the internet gone downhill so badly that transparency-subversive initiatives are on the front foot and gaining ground, while the commongood is having to fight for its very survival against increasing odds?>>. 

The answer to this question, unfortunately, does not make pleasant reading. Two massive aberrations which occurred in the 20th century opened the door to this disastrous situation.

First, the honourable hierarchy of mathematicians decided to wash their hands of any interest in guiding or overseeing applications of computing (which is after all simply automated maths) as early as the 1960s.  They effectively abdicated their responsibility for the effect massive injections of their subject (mathematics) would have on the human race.

Second, they tried in the 1960s to stage a fantasy revolution in school maths which would take the focus away from numbers and applications of all kinds. At first they succeeded in selling it to school systems. When it became plain to the public, however, that it was an ideological move against useful maths of every kind, the revolution shuddered to a halt. But by then a huge amount of damage had been done.  Progressivism had been tacitly accepted in many schools —a doctrine diametrically opposed to regarding schooling as any kind of transmission of core values. Radicalising pupils against society had been widely practised by maverick teachers in such schools.  Any semblance of belief in the possibility that Western Civilisation had a promising future was trashed.   

All of which let in the Post Modern era in which <<Anything Goes!>> was the decadent mantra.

When progressivism and new maths for schools finally crashed around 1979, the mandarins in Westminster had to find a new approach which was capable of restoring order and discipline in schools. 

At this cusp they foolishly handed over schools to a gang of so-called ‘Behaviourists’ (later these ‘behaviourists’ started calling themselves ‘cognitive scientists’).  Letting them control school systems was a blunder of the greatest magnitude, because these ‘behaviourists’ refused to recognise that the human mind existed. They were an extreme group of positivists who thought that ‘the mind’ was hot air, and what really counted was what individuals physically did and audibly said.  Like the progressivists who had been empowered by the fantasy revolution twenty years earlier, their thinking was strongly coloured by a simplistic feeling that the Status Quo of Western Civilisation had failed. They were insufficiently sensitive to see how it still underpinned the main institutions of ordinary civilised life. They failed to realise that although it was in a bruised and battered condition, it could be renewed. How these well-educated mandarins thought that extremists who refused to recognise the human mind could be trusted with overseeing the growth and energisation of the minds of youth… this beggars belief.

But they did, and the rest is history.  Without telling anyone, the brhaviourists quietly phased out education and substituted a kind of training. (“Do this! Learn this! No arguments allowed!”.) Indeed they were so convinced that training was “a good thing” that they instituted a kind of super-ordinate training which showed children exactly how to write things in the examinations which would guarantee them maximum marks… (In effect the gamekeepers were teaching the poachers how to poach.)

We have now had more than four decades of this sick training regime in schools, and the result is that learning has been downgraded to memorisation, and education (which should be the energisation of questioning, understanding and inquiry) has virtually disappeared.

It is one of the ironies of history that this occurred at a time when social media was opening up,  hence greatly amplifying the strain, confusion, contradiction and short-sightedness which would result from minds confronted with a fragmenting status quo…  minds which had not been expanded, sensitised or energised by education.