richard_foreman's picture
Playwright & Director; Founder, The Ontological-Hysteric Theater
"Seduced (And "Abandoned"?) . . ."Thinkingness" (The Art of That )

1) Perhaps the question (a question being a problem) is really a false problem? Obviously machines calculate, "write" poems, organize vast amounts of material, etc.
2) Is any of this "thinking?" (Do I think? But what do I really do when I think I'm thinking?)
3) One answer—I experience (anguish)—a "hole" in my "inherited," smoothly proceeding discourse (inner or outer).

So—different possibilities?

I fall into that "hole"—i.e.—either I am so baffled I stop thinking, or I come up from its emptiness with an idea or solution (in my case, work of art) that obtains a so-called desired result—i.e.—others (some others) react in some fashion. Not very interesting, really. And is this what "result oriented" machines do? That's what I think—baffled, and obsessed. (And are machines ever baffled? Do they ever "stop thinking" when thinking?) I know when I edit film, my Final-Cut software can crash when the machine gets somehow overloaded, but this crash doesn't create a hole (in the machine) with the resultant possibility of an emptiness that "feeds" (when I "crash" something may enter my dim, non-focused consciousness, and I may go in a new different direction). This is part of my thinking that I don't think a machine can do (am I wrong? I have no vast knowledge of machines). I am stupid, so I flail about, and hit something sometimes—deep and wonderful? One chance in a hundred—maybe?

Ok. I experience a "hole" that I'm conditioned to believe should be filled (with the already known, usually). I maintain that to fill it is to die a little bit. Better—what I can do is build a shrine around it that makes the hole ever more "resonant" while still "empty." (I suggest this is how the serious artist may work—plus who else?) But that "building" around the hole is not creative thinking—it's what can be done in place of creative thinking—though it does make something "to think about." But the hole is the point—the evocation and amplification of "mystery"—which echoes the "big mystery" that I "think" real "thinking" is about (does that confine me in the tight box of "being an artist?"—i.e. irresponsible?).

Ok—machines can "sort of" think with ever greater degrees of power and complexity, spinning wider and wider webs, but the web is never a single hole. Machines think?—A tautology. They do facilitate my living and functioning in society. Obviously one kind of thinking—but not the mysterious going in circles on circles producing the sparks of friction that are "the essence" (dare I say that?).

Part Two

I'm worried—can I answer the question—What do you think of machines that think? Worried, yes—but machines can't worry (can they?) Ok—to worry meaning the inability to think of anything else, unable to get off the very spot of worry. Result—blackout! Draw a blank. But in that blank (see Part One—where has that disappeared?)—I go off on a possibly productive (but to what end and must there be one?) tangent. Can a machine go off on a tangent? Would that be thinking?

What we normally call thinking is obsessively "goal oriented." But is there a kind of goal serving no purpose—and can only a human brain latch onto such a perverse idea? Which could lead—who knows where?  Ok—obvious by now—why did I have to go in circles to make the perhaps obvious point that to my mind think machines that think are the contemporary Trojan Horse. Everyone (me included) wants the many sweets they offer, while those very sweets do mold us in their image, thereby smothering (I would maintain) the blankness of deep creativity inside each of us. And why did I have to go in circles to get here where I am offering an opinion—worth not nearly as much as the rhythm of my circling . . . a Hole. Yes, I am caught in a trap of my own making—just like everyone. But not like machines that think! The trap they are in. Well, they cannot "know."