What are undecidable questions? How is this question connected to the freedom of choice?

in #proofofbrainlast year (edited)

"Will computers one day be more intelligent than people?",

was Heinz von Förster once asked in an interview. He laughed: "Well, yes, for the only reason they will become dumber and dumber."

Laughing at this kind of question may be the best response.

This is a long text. So take your time and hopefully enjoy. If it's too long, split it into parts :)

What is the difference between facts and fiction?

From what he implied and I interpret from his writings and talks he spoke about the choices people make. When you choose to think that a trivial machine outwits you (a choice to become willingly dumber) and you accept its ability to predict your future it most likely will fulfill the prophecies being made. Not because of its smartness but because you will follow the notion that the behavior of organisms ("non trivial machines", as HvF called them) can be accurately predicted. While that may be the case on the surface, you'll never know the "why".

People believing in the predicability of people is a choice, not so much a fact, I suggest. How it becomes a matter of fact? Through language, through continuity in spreading the same messages over and over.

Another answer could be: "I am more complex and therefore more intelligent than the machine". It contains an insult, doesn't it? And if one feels insulted by this comparison, one may give this answer.

Using the term "trivial" also may cause objections, for what we think to know about todays "quantum computers" gives the impression that we are going to deal with very impressive and super fast complex computings. But in comparison to living organisms you cannot just brush the organisms non triviality away. It's still a given.

I ask: Could it be that we started to trivialize ourselves and non trivialize machines?

Did it also happen that you thought: "Oh, well, the why isn't really that important!"? It happened to me.

Undecidable questions

For how I think myself, you cannot make this comparison and it is therefore an improper question. One could ask "Is a 3d-printer more intelligent than a cat or a microwave more than an ant?" You may answer: "But the printer and the microwave is way more trivial than a quantum computer!"

There is no more of this or that, its "OTHER". Otherness is a great term, it emphasises the difference between the entities. To equalize entities is an effort to reduce them into something one wants to handle in a predictable and certain (not uncertain) way.

But wait! It's actually not a real effort, for it can be easily done. Just by thinking!

What happens in thinking is that you ask yourself, for example, whether you are a part of the universe and, by acting in it, change it at the same time. Or whether you are the observer of the universe, as if through a peephole. To answer this question lightly is to give a decisive answer to an undecidable question. One thus decides, although it is not possible to know, whether one is observing or participating. So your answer only ever tells you who you think you are, it tells you a lot about yourself, but nothing about the universe.

You make a choice, don't you?

And there is nothing wrong with that. Having a choice is not something you need to subvert. But where I and you and the others want to suppress, trump, erase the choice we have made, that is where the conflict arises.

I let Heinz answer:

"But we are under no compulsion, not even under that of logic, when we decide on in principle undecidable questions. There is no external necessity that forces us to answer such questions one way or another. We are free! The
compliment to necessity is not chance, it is choice! We can choose who we wish to become when we have decided on an in principle undecidable question. That is the good news, as American journalists would say, now comes the bad news.

With this freedom of choice we are now responsible for the choice we make. For some, this freedom of choice is a gift from heaven. For others such responsibility is an unbearable burden. How can one escape it? How can one avoid it? How can one pass it on to somebody else?"


Since conflict is rarely welcomed (to our shame), the idea of bringing an infallible machine to bear is quite tempting, isn't it? The machine decides for us, which means we don't have to take responsibility for a predicted outcome.

Will this stop you to ask for a (human) response?

Who do we ask? If things turn out to be not to our taste and wishes, will we then blame the machine? For example, will the machine say, "I take responsibility for my prediction and its error rate." Sounds ridiculous, doesn't it?

Influencing factors in biology

When I say that orthodox medicine cannot really know all the factors influencing the occurrence of disease (internal diseases or "infections") and therefore cannot claim to determine a disease absolutely, just as it cannot determine a treatment absolutely, people reply that a certain amount of knowledge about influencing factors is already sufficient to make diagnoses and initiate treatments. Yes, true.

How many influencing factors have actually been taken into account and how many have not? The second question can no longer be answered because not all influencing factors are known. And if you know some of them, how much are they considered?

If, in addition to the examination of the blood and other standardised measuring procedures, one were to include anamnesis attempts to do and ask the patient about his or her life circumstances, stress factors, beneficial and helpful personal efforts, own assessments and convictions, and if one were to further examine, for example, the water he or she drinks, the food he or she ingests and other substances with which he or she comes into contact, one would be confronted with such an expansion of influencing factors that ultimately the diagnosis would take an infinitely long time.

But this is how one could think about the whole thing, because then the following happens:

In order to arrive at the most reliable materially as well as psychologically significant results possible, such diagnostics would indeed be indicated, one would be able to assume.

But what would happen?

A person within such a diagnostic procedure would nevertheless continue to live his life, work, eat, sleep, be exposed to the seasonal as well as climatic conditions of his environment, etc.

In other words, his body as well as his mind would be subject to both external and internal changes. Since life means constant change and not standstill. His blood from last week can already deliver completely different results today. It always depends on what and with what you measure; also, where you set the cutoff and time frame. And what convictions both the measurer and the measured have.

The moment you say "Now!"

If a person were to undergo all available measurements and tests continuously over an indefinite period of time, how would one be able to interpret the results at all, since each measurement lies a little further back in time and, if constantly repeated, can be both the same and different in the present. So, you would constantly run after yourself, without being able to catch the "real" state of you. So you make a choice, don't you?

So it seems only reasonable to decide at some point what to do with a measurement result. One simply makes a cut, which means: no matter how the further measurements would turn out, one decides to say "now!"

Some of those who are pronounced to be dead live longer, others who are healthy die sooner.

In a statistical anonymity, things seem predictable, but in an individual personality they are often not. Statistics worry and reassure us in equal measure. But in relation to myself, in the self-referential existence that I lead, no one will ultimately be able to give an answer as to why exactly I became ill or died. All answers are merely an attempt to explain an event to one's own satisfaction.

Scientific experiments, besides their great strength, also have a great weakness, which is to be found in the very procedure that is used by scientists.

The scientific principle is that an experiment must be replicable, that is, it must produce the same results under the same conditions.

If this cannot be achieved, the experiment is missing or the results fall below a value that cannot be taken into account statistically. Thus, for example, subjects in a scientific experiment who show completely different results from the other subjects are excluded from the experiment, at least that is how I understood it when I dealt with the matter.

If you are dealing with living organisms (peoples, animals, plants), instead of machines, you have to exclude unpredictable and surprising results simply because they are not reliable in order to be statistically significant. If one were to find predominantly very different reactions in an experiment, it would not be scientifically useful.

So, what you have to do is to brush unpredictabilities aside and make it so that it appears predictable. The trick is to dismiss exceptions as non important and to stop the experiment once it satisfies the desired outcome.

This can be called "constructivism", you decide upon which reality you choose.

Human desire is always involved, is it not?

The question comes to my mind: How would one have to look at it if, from a selection of thousands of test persons, a small percentage that is not statistically counted were extended to millions of test persons? Would "individual cases" then still be insignificant? And in order to be truly accurate, would one have to conduct not in principle never-ending but continuously ongoing experiments to find out whether changes can be read from the numbers and the tested subjects who show one result before and another result afterwards?

I assume that just as many changes and deviations would occur because changes in external and internal circumstances already prevail in people's lives.

We don't have a laboratory situation in the study of organic life.

Except, we make it so. For we want it so.

For me, this is the key point that prevents me from being too impressed by "the latest scientific findings".

Here, the wishes, consciously or unconsciously introduced into every scientific experiment, no matter how clean, is something we cannot dismiss.

But the fact that completed research and its applications are now continuously circulating, medicines are having an effect, average values are experienced as significant and effective: could it not be said that this is sufficient to accept both diagnostics and treatment as successful? Yes, one could.

But how much of this has a material and factual influence and how high the proportion of what a person believes helps or harms them is present, no one knows.

Because the individual often doesn't even "know" it himself. In other words: he does not precisely and concretely carry his mental convictions in front of him like an encyclopaedia. Thus man is a very contradictory being, believing one thing today and something else tomorrow.

But (!), what the individual does know if he feels well or unwell in a given situation. You can't tell a person "you are unwell" (sick, disabled etc.) when this person feels well and vice versa.

Man is nevertheless a highly impressionable being. In the field of the many, he adopts habits, rules and beliefs that seem to make sense to him on a conscious level; if only for the very reason that it makes sense to the many around him. Despite the fact that it may not make sense on a different level.

Group pressure never shall be underestimated. Single voices therefore may appear as a threat to the many.

The attempts to measure and foresee human behavior has a long tradition.

The predictability of human behavior is treated as if it could be measured, influenced and foreseen with high accuracy. While this may appear so when experiments have been conducted - in a lab environment - in the non lab world nobody will know all the currents which determine human conditions, behavior, convictions and thoughts (out of the given context - so: a context is also presented, is it not?). Except, the human decides the world shall be treated as if it was a lab. Something, we experience right now, don't we?

I see the wish as the father of the efforts to influence what is called "our lives". Be it on a material, biological or on a mental and psychological level: the fascination and the desire to come up with predictions, seems to be a field of great interest as well as concern.

Science itself considers the observed and the observer as something we shall not exclude from our thinking.

There are many very interesting findings in the scientific realm which have fallen to the side during the actual currents.

As Rupert Sheldrake says, science could be so much more fun if not the dogmas would stick to it. The institutions of the church were and are accused of this. Philosophy can be fun, theology, religion, all of it is highly interesting, inspiring and worth to investigate.

Heinz von Förster once put it this way:

"I consider the whole idea of objectivity to be a stumbling-block, a foot-trap, a semantic trick to confuse the speakers and the listeners and the whole discussion, right from the start. For objectivity, after all, as far as I understand Helmholtz's formulation, requires the locus observandi. There the observer must strip off all his personal characteristics and must see quite objectively - locus observandi! - see it as it is. And this assumption already contains fearful errors. For when the ¨observer strips off all his characteristics, namely language - Greek, Latin, Turkic, whatever - when he puts away his cultural glasses and is thus blind and mute, then he cannot be an observer, and he cannot narrate anything at all. The preconditions of his narration are taken away. To ascend to the locus observandi means: put aside all your personal qualities, including seeing, including speaking, including culture, including nursery, and now report something to us. Well, what is he supposed to report? He can't do that."

Some people might reject it: So we can only refer to the numbers, to the statistics, to the pure quantities of our observations. But who has ever read a scientific paper that does without any additional written language? Without an introduction and a conclusion or a summary? If we were given only the "pure numbers" about observed events, what would we do with them without linguistic references?

The use of scientific sources is, in my opinion, an extension of what the average person can do today. He has learned that quoting seems to be a matter in which one might be taken more for granted by the other person. At the same time, however, the opponent also uses the same means in the debate. And so science and science - as always - stands opposite each other.

Again, von Förster:
"Sometimes the question arises: Tell me, you are talking about facts, aren't you? ... . And then I say, where does the word come from? From (latin) facere, from making. So a fact is a made affair, an invented affair. And then what is the difference with fiction?
It comes from fingere, which also means to build, to construct. So what is the difference between a fiction and a fact? When I report a fact, I am invited to doubt it. But when I speak of a fiction: the doubt never arises."

Most interesting, isn't it?

I am invited to doubt facts presented to me, am I not? Especially in science, you might say, you're dealing with the never-ending story, an ongoing thing of constant doubt, of the creation and refutation of theories.

The longer a theory sticks to what is called "established" the harder it is to refute. That does not mean, it shall be untouched.

The perhaps agitated question: "Yes, but, how am I supposed to be able to rely on anything at all if I have to doubt science myself?" Good question, isn't it?

Doubting science means doubting oneself.

Who or what is man supposed to rely on, if not himself?

Because science, it is only a part of human existence. It is not, as is often said or thought, the best of all available methods for obtaining the purest and most infallible decision-making aids. It can't give you the truth of the matter.

"There is a murderer. I submit that it is unknowable whether he is or was insane. The only thing we know is what I say, what you say, or what the expert says he is. And what I say, what you say, and what the expert says about his sanity or insanity is my, is your, and is the expert’s responsibility. Again, the point here is not the question “Who’s right and who’s wrong?” This is an in principle undecidable question. The point here is freedom; freedom of choice."

Now, the last thing I want to bring in:

Von Förster said "We can choose who we wish to become when we have decided on an in principle undecidable question".

We can choose who we want to become when we have decided on a question that is in principle undecidable.

I observe that this is understood by my fellow world members in a thoroughly different way than by me. Sexual orientation, for example, which one is supposed to be able to choose quite easily nowadays and which is simply presented as tolerable by the rest of the world, all that seems to me to be somehow not quite coherent. For me, it seems to lack a whole cultural structure, the aspects of philosophical, spiritual and religious influences, it looks for me more like a superficial kind of fashion without depth.

I ask myself what seems inconsistent about it. Is it the addition that is missing here? That this might not be a decidable matter, but an undecidable one?

Can you decide about your gender?

What do you think, is this a matter that is undecidable in principle? I have problems with people demanding that I take it easy. It would be as if someone said: "Be spontaneous!" and I suddenly lost all spontaneity because of this demand. The more freedom of choice is demanded in this matter, the more it becomes a shoppingtour, an issue of legal occasions, the less spontaneous and tolerant it seems to me to thrive.

So it would be easier for me personally to take something actually undecidable for me situationally, without being poked directly with my nose at an issue, or worse: having my nose forcefully dipped into it.

Finally, two extremely interesting videos.

The first video commented on in parts by Margaret Mead, an anthropologist who had the beautiful idea of moving away from the isolation of the nuclear family and seeking out extended families for themselves insofar as they are not formed by blood ties (in needed numbers). At the end of the 1960s, this seemed possible. But instead of minimising isolation, we merely outsourced things.

The family of choice, it seems, is not up for grabs because, on the other hand, the economic and other interests of public and private day-care centres have overtaken this concept. We have to have experts and academically trained people everywhere now, don't we? We are told to "protect the children from the family influences that are considered destructive, uneducated and dangerous". But why families became destructive in the first place? And are they really so damaging as presented in this pathological speech?

In any case, it seems to me that isolation has not decreased but increased.

The second video is all about Meads work and life. I found it most interesting to watch. Enjoy, if you take the chance to watch it yourself.

What are the consequences of all this in ethics and aesthetics?
The Ethical Imperative: Act always so as to increase the number of choices.
The Aesthetical Imperative: If you desire to see, learn how to act.

Thank you for reading so far. Have a superb life. And as many choices you can obtain.

All quotations are from Heinz von Förster. Sources:



I think computers are already "smarter" than people but only in very specific things. Until robotics are dramatically improved i don't think we need to worry about them taking over for a long time.

I agree.
The term "smart" and "intelligent" is a misleading one. Computers are input and output machines, able to be fed with high amounts of data and processing them real quick through calculation (quantities), and then putting them out to the human user. A human is an organism and cannot be "fed" data, he takes up information and interprets them.

I don't think we ever have to worry about it, for the comparison made between a fleshy organic entity and a hardware mechanical and electronically produced device need not to deserve so much meaning. It's interesting to think about it but to make it an oracle or a cult, is, in my eyes, an overestimation.

Where it becomes questionable is, when people believe in an infallibility of computational predictions, in particular human behavior.

Wow thats a super tall post you have written. And yes we really have so many questions which are un-answered for a long period of time