Humanist Discussion Group

Humanist Archives: Jan. 29, 2022, 4:02 a.m. Humanist 35.499 - Man a Machine . . . and AI

              Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 35, No. 499.
        Department of Digital Humanities, University of Cologne
                      Hosted by DH-Cologne
                Submit to:

        Date: 2022-01-28 16:59:33+00:00
        From: Mcgann, Jerome (jjm2f) <>
        Subject: Re: Man a Machine . . . and AI

Has anyone tried to calculate/estimate the quantity of information exchange
processed by an individual person in an hour of waking activity (and perhaps an
hour of sleep)?  As to that, has anyone  produced a description of the
individual’s information storage and processing capacities?

John Unsworth has cited as a general point of departure this:

And it is indeed typical of the approach to the question in that it takes the
brain as the model of human computational functions.  But our memory and
processors are distributed across the entire body.  I’ve been made acutely aware
of this recently because I had a bad fall that wrecked the muscles and tendons
and rotator cuff in my right shoulder.   A month into what will be a long
regimen of PT has introduced me to the multiple computers that operate all of
the damaged equipment, each of which is now having to be rebooted on a daily
basis.  It’s not JUST the brain that is contributing to the machinery of our
information storage and exchanges.  Is he brain actually “smarter” than the
hand, or the eye, or the ear?

Nothing so true as not to trust your senses,
And yet, what are your other evidences?

I set this personal event in the context of the distributed computational
network of human communication and get a sober view of AI.  By no means a
dismissive view.  But the distributed network of any AI computational model,
actual or conceivable, seems so minimal as to be all but without any statistical
or quantum relevance.

Why?  Because unlike “natural” processes, the hardware of AI as currently
designed has no access to its own quantum “histories”.  A reply from an AI
visionary might be (has been?) that when AI software is designed to interoperate
directly (seamlessly?) with an individual’s biochemical system, that limitation
will be overcome.  Does anyone here know if such proposals have been advanced
and perhaps also disputed?  (I know that the poet Christian Bok has been working
on creating  what he calls a “living text” (biochemically coded).  No one, not
even himself, has been happy with the results yet.

Here is a salient passage from La Mettrie, an early proponent of AI.

Experience and observation should therefore be our only guides here. Both are to
be found throughout the records of the physicians who were philosophers, and not
in the works of the philosophers who were not physicians. The former have
traveled through and illuminated the labyrinth of man; they alone have laid bare
those springs [of life] hidden under the external integument which conceals so
many wonders from our eyes. They alone, tranquilly contemplating our soul, have
surprised it, a thousand times, both in its wretchedness and in its glory, and
they have no more despised it in the first estate, than they have admired it in
the second. Thus, to repeat, only the physicians have a right to speak on this

“The physicians” avatars are AI programmers.  And so looming ahead of La
Mettrie’s vision is the dark truth: that person will inevitably be in the
position of Victor Frankenstein, with both Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde looming,
because, in the natural order, “experience and observation” are more informed
than any conception/interpretation.

Realizing that seems to me important as we try to design and build digital tools
for investigating and sustaining human exchange in both natural and artificial
worlds, including language exchange.

Jerry McGann

Unsubscribe at:
List posts to:
List info and archives at at:
Listmember interface at:
Subscribe at: