Sunday 23 July 2023

Exploring the Dark with AI

One of the consequences of a changing landscape of technology is that everyone is in the dark. What we need to do when everyone is in the dark is talk to those people who are most familiar with the dark to show us around their uncertainties. This is when interdisciplinary engagement can be most powerful and productive. 

In 1968 Arthur Koestler organised a symposium at Alpbach, Austria which gave rise to a book of essays by the leading scientists of the day. The book is called "Beyond Reductionism: New perspectives in the life sciences". The attendance list included: Ludwig von Bertalanffy, Jerome Bruner, Viktor Frankl, Friedrich Hayek, Jean Piaget, Conrad Waddington and Paul Weiss. (The gender bias is unfortunately a sign of the time)

If we were to create a similar meeting, who would we invite? Who has been shining lights into the darkness for some time, who might show us a way forwards? Whose conversations might benefit from deeper interdisciplinary connection? I think my list would include (in no particular order): Isabelle Stengers (philosophy), Mark Solms (neurobiology), Maxine Sheets-Johnstone (dance, philosophy), Peter Rowlands (physics), Antonio Damasio (psychology), Karen Barad (physics), John Torday (evolutionary biology), Sabine Hossenfelder (physics), Louis Kauffman (Mathematics), Katherine Hayles (cybernetics), Lee Smolin (Physics), Elizabet Sahtouris (evolutionary biology), Rupert Wegerif (education), Mariana Mazzucato (economics).

Most of those people won't see this message - but I think we should do something like this. Academia today is much changed from the world of 1968. Today we don't seem to believe in the dark much - everything is brightly lit with learning outcomes and assessment criteria and universities as businesses. Dark things happening - disease, war - put us into oscillation which is more dangerous than the initial triggers. 

Holistic thinking is, I suspect, much less easy today than it was in 1968. I have been talking to friends about the difficulty of getting young people involved in the Alternative Natural Philosophy Association ( Only those with well-established careers can afford to do think holistically, or people hiding under the radar. Everyone else seems to just need to survive. But none of us will survive if we don't encourage holism among the young and discourage the managerial nonsense that has become education. 

We all begin in the dark. Showing each other around is an important thing to do. 

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