• Artificial Intelligence & the Absurd Part II

Artificial Intelligence & the Absurd Part II

How the Absurd Comes into the World: September 2023

We will continue our discussion about the topic introduced in my previous essay:  

How does the absurd come into the world?

It came about rather by chance. For some time now, I have been thinking about the very topical so-called "artificial intelligence" (AI) in general and, in particular, its influence and possibilities in relation to the arts. Apparently, there could be revolutionary developments in this field. I have a confession to make: the more I try to penetrate and advance into this new field, the more often I get the impression that I don't really understand anything and can no longer reconcile anything with my previous knowledge.

This knowledge, or more precisely my personal location, always resulted from three certainties:

  • I understand the world (and its events) in which I live and by which I am surrounded;
  • and I feel equal to the necessities and challenges, which come to me from this world of mine;
  • and furthermore, I find meaning and a good purpose in everything.

This stability falters as soon as I try to orient myself in what is commonly called artificial intelligence.

Getting to the bottom of this uncertainty, I found that the terminology in the AI debate, which I had hitherto clearly understood from other disciplines, primarily philosophy, could not be recognised in the new connections and apparent logics. In short: I lost myself and my thinking into formless chaos, into confusion. And it was precisely at this point, the point of linguistic confusion, that I encountered the phenomenon of the absurd, the inconsistent, the origin of which I will write about later.

If terminology is no longer used in the context for which it was once clarified and applied in order to communicate, something fundamental disintegrates: the possibility of intelligible communication within communities and societies.

It used to be considered a non-negotiable must that every scientific discipline had to present plausible definitions of the terms it used. But this is no longer the case in the AI debate. There, concepts are simply applied, especially from philosophy and the natural sciences, in order to supposedly introduce something new and revolutionary, without first clarifying what is meant by "thinking" or "intelligence" from the perspective of AI, for example? This is dishonest and should therefore be rejected scientifically. Why don't we talk about machine intelligence? That would be a first step towards honesty.


A review of the development of the term "thinking" and the efforts to explain and understand it leads back at least to the pre-Socratics Parmenides of Elea (born about 540 B.C.), from whose teachings I would like to give only a very brief excerpt here, because his philosophy is not easy to understand:

"The highest thinking, if it succeeds, recognises itself as what it is... Thinking must then experience as the utmost that mystery whose true meaning remains hidden from men: the same is thinking and being."

(from Diels, Hermann. "Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker", Hamburg 1957)

AS you can see it is not so easy to achieve clarity about what thinking is, since I already need my thinking for this. I cannot put myself at a distance from what I wish to understand.

With this, I would like to give a brief indication of how cautiously wanting to understand has to be done. It is hardly suitable for headlines.

In order to make progress here, the philosophers in ancient Greece developed three levels of forms of thinking:

  • Dianoia = the doctrine of thinking as a form of perception
  • Episteme = the teaching of knowledge, e.g. knowledge of the world of ideas (Plato)
  • Doxa = teaching about the formation of opinion and the possibility of deception.

This is by no means enough. It begins the never-ending effort and struggle to have an understanding of what thinking is. Among them, for example, the epochal error of René Descartes (1596 - 1650) "I think, therefore I am!" (cogito ergo sum) (from "Meditationes de Prima Philosophia", written in Latin in 1641).

His mistake or rather the correction here: I exist as a subject and therefore thinking has a chance. It took a very long time before his error in thinking was cleared up. In view of the AI debate, I doubt whether it has really disappeared from people's minds.

Descartes himself must have soon been beset by doubts about his proposition, for he later clarified it more precisely: "Now I had observed that in the proposition: I think, therefore I am, only this gives at all the certainty of telling the truth, that I clearly see that in order to think one must be."

(Descartes, Philosophical Writings, Felix Meiner Verlag Hamburg, 1996)

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770 - 1831) and his "Phenomenology of Spirit" should also be mentioned here. A true heavyweight of philosophy, whose understanding has been and is still being struggled over again and again: it is about the problem of the relationship between consciousness, self-consciousness and reason!

One of the many important Hegel scholars was the philosopher Wilhelm Seeberger, born in Lucerne in 1914, who died at the age of 108 and wrote a standard work in 1968 entitled "Human Intelligence as a Problem of Development".

Obviously, for Seeberger, human intelligence does not appear as something fixed, but as something that is always developing and moving. In addition to the efforts of important thinkers over the centuries, one should perhaps take a look at this clear standard work by Seeberger before talking about intelligence, as is currently done very superficially. Namely, under the question, "Can machines think?"

He teaches in it:

"It is probably one of the strangest peculiarities of our time, which suffers from a multitude of unresolved contradictions, that in it, which is to such a great extent science-believing and science-obsessed, despite the importance that must be attached to human intelligence as the conditio sine qua non (fundamental condition) of all scientific activity, one hardly ever seriously deals with the question of what this intelligence actually is and what the preconditions of its factual efficiency consist of. This fact, which at first glance seems paradoxical, can be explained quite coherently; It is an inevitable consequence of the fact that the science of the human mind, which was still held in high esteem in antiquity, the Middle Ages and also at the beginning of the modern era and which reached its systematic formation in the philosophy of Hegel, in the course of the last hundred years, it has fallen victim to a neglect unparalleled in the history of science, and today, no longer cultivated and hardly handed down, it finds itself in a state that cannot be described as anything other than deplorable. This state of affairs, which is decidedly at odds with the importance of this branch of philosophical science in general, but above all with regard to the particular circumstances of our time, is in turn causally connected with the disempowerment of systematic philosophy and metaphysics, which can be easily explained in terms of intellectual history and is also partly due to political reasons. This seemed to be finally sealed by the triumph of utilitarian rationalism, positivism, materialism and objectivism, which was one-sidedly oriented towards the requirements of the natural sciences. In view of the course that the development of intellectual history has taken since the last century under the inexorable compulsion of the law of dialectics, and which hinders the progress of human culture just as much as it accelerates the process of civilisation, it is not surprising that the spirit and with it intelligence in general are nowadays, and that the vast majority of our contemporaries take the mind, like intelligence, for granted, so much so that anyone who knows how to read and write thinks that he alone has the power of the mind. This opinion, which is as superficial as it is erroneous, is given additional impetus by the circumstance that what is commonly called thinking is usually carried out purely habitually and thus without the actual intervention of consciousness, so that it does not seem to be bound to any particular prerequisite. This in turn has the consequence that it is generally assumed, even among highly educated people that every mentally healthy person is not only able to think innately, but also thinks innately in the right way. The fact that all, but especially the higher functions of the human mind, to which the latter also belong those of theoretical intelligence, are complex processes and that they, like the individual mental power, are also bound to very specific, not readily given preconditions. In our time, alienated from the culture of the spirit, this is apparently no longer considered at all, and so, regardless of whether they are lower or higher functions of the spirit, they are usually carried out in a similarly unbiased and subjectively similarly unconscious way as the elementary bodily functions. "

Source: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 1968

The Extraction of the Stone of Madness by Hieronymus Bosch (1450 - 1516) Oil on wood, 35 x 48cm, Museo national del Prado, Madrid

The Extraction of the Stone of Madness by Hieronymus Bosch (1450 - 1516) Oil on wood, 35 x 48cm, Museo national del Prado, Madrid

The Dutch painter lived and worked during the transition from the Middle Ages to modern times. A new way of thinking began and, to this end, people recalled the culture of antiquity after about 1000 ad and built the NEW on its foundations. The Future needs origins. And what are we doing? Artificial intelligence?


For the arts, avant-garde proclamations are being made that a completely new kind of CREATIVITY can be opened up through AI. Again I come across conceptually incorrect phrases. How does one correctly use the meaning of "creative" in general and then in AI research in particular?

I would like to derive the adjective "creative" from the history of concepts, because it is not only used in the arts, but also, for example, in economics: a company is looking for a manager with creative qualities... idea-spouting... etc. But in the wrong sense. The meaning of creative is derived from the Latin noun "creator", which in simple terms means a creator god who created the world and the cosmos. So: a god-like manager? That would be nice.

The word creative, referring to artistic creation, was first used by the philosopher, theologian, mathematician and physicist Nicholas of Cusa, also known as "Cusanus" (1401 - 1464), who was at the transition from the Middle Ages to modern times. He is known for his "De docta ignorantia" (On learned ignorance. My question, is that absurd?). He made a distinction between the macrocosm and the microcosm. A Platonic distinction that sees the world as a whole and the world in miniature. Just as God created the world as a whole, as creator, as creator of the whole, man as artist should now also create this world in miniature, in the form of a work of art. And in doing so, mankind realises his/her likeness to God, because the only thing we believe we know about God is that He/She is the Creator. And if man is his/her image, then he/she too must be a creator. To be creatively active is analogous to God's action: just as God makes the world on a large scale, so as an artist we must make the world on a small scale. This analogy was originally understood as "creative". And so, from tradition, the word creative also makes sense. Today, when someone says she is creative, she hardly has the intention that she is doing something analogous here, something like God accomplished with the act of creation. Originally, such a way of using this word would make sense because it would allow one to explain very clearly that here the artist is the one who makes an analogue to the original act of founding the world and thus realises an analogue to divine action as an artist. It would be much simpler to say that an artist as craftsman produces. However, since production is a material-sounding economic term, it sounds much fancier to say "she is creatively active". Here, too, it would be worth considering whether the word creative, art has something to do with creativity, means something quite different. This confusion of terms shows that we can no longer comprehend original concepts of art. Therein also lies the danger of “machine thinking”, that we do not start from the original foundations of thinking and lose them.

In terms of conceptual history, the ancient Greek word "poiesis" in its meaning of self-creative action would be the correct way of speaking. A poeticised art would still fit well, or even poetic sciences, which were dreamt of in the Romantic period (approx. between 1795 and 1840). However, to look for a "poetic manager" is probably not possible, although this designation would be correct.

I would like to deepen the view of the self-creative in mankind, because it can say so much about mankind in her spiritual personality.

First of all, a question: Where do people get the will and the strength to want to be creative entirely out of themselves? That is precisely what we do not know, because despite all science and the most modern research, it is still not possible to understand how a piece of matter must be prepared so that a being that is conscious of itself can move this matter out of itself, as every human being does with her body. What happens there is the actual secret of life. From this, the metaphysical question of the principle of being and the purpose of the world develops again and again.

On this premise, independent thought can be regarded as a specific achievement of intelligence, the source of which we do not know. The source of Artificial Intelligence, on the other hand, we know to be a machine-made human achievement crammed with mathematics.

I could go on for a long time with series of examples on how a debate about AI and also chat-GPT is conducted with terms that these disciplines have never developed from within themselves or have shamelessly adopted from other disciplines, in order to clarify why I have considerable difficulties understanding publications about AI and chat-GPT. To me, most of it seems to be characterised by empty words and is therefore false and extremely dangerous, comparable to a kind of false coinage. All in all, this development stems solely from people's purely rational thinking. Again and again, a negative finger is pointed at the irrational element of thinking, which also exists, as something that is the deficient dwindling stage of the rational and therefore useless and wrong. But that is not true at all! The basis of all arts is irrationality, the non-logical! From this, people developed far more significant cultural achievements than from the element of rationality.

The seemingly impossible detachment from the primacy of purely rational thought and action has to do, among other things, with the deep rooting of European culture in the Latin language. Latin is a language of logic and rationality.

Since the collapse of ancient culture around 500 AD, the Latin language remained in the former Roman Empire for over 1200 years and shaped the entire thinking of the so-called "Latin Middle Ages". It was not until the middle of the 17th century, with the beginning of the flourishing of the natural sciences, that a new way of thinking began to emerge from individual European cultures, from which the idea of "progress" then emerged.

The sciences, first and foremost the natural sciences, sought scientific progress rich in knowledge, which always had to be human progress at the same time! Exactly this measure and goal was lost with the industrialisation in the middle of the 19th century until today. The sciences became independent. Talk of the "ivory tower" made the rounds. In the end, it is primarily purpose and utility that determine social events in the form of a world that is almost exclusively dictated by economic thinking and action. This also provides the background for AI.

To escape these constraints, we have to wrest the irrational back from the rational. For the irrational is capable of breaking down the rational that has become too dominant and thus making the external world transparent again. That is why the question of the absurd is so important to me, the answer to which I will pursue in the next essay.

The Lawyer by Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1526 - 1593), 1566, oil on canvas, 71.5 x 58.5cm, Swedish National Museum Stockholm

The Lawyer by Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1526 - 1593), 1566, oil on canvas, 71.5 x 58.5cm, Swedish National Museum Stockholm

After Bosch, the Milanese Arcimboldo created paintings that seemed equally absurd and opened up a new way of thinking for the modern era that had begun.

Finally, I would like to recall the important anthropologist, zoologist and biologist Adolf Portmann (1897 - 1982), who taught at the University of Basel, who included the problem of spiritual inwardness, the self-designing creative centre of mankind in his research. In his work "Biology and Spirit" he writes: "Research knows that on its way it will encounter the phenomena of the spiritual - it also knows that its means of research itself belongs to this uncanny reality called spiritual." (Herder Library, B. 137, p. 17)

Portmann points out that the spirit of mankind has its origin in the cosmic spirit, whose self-representation is the universe and which continues its own evolution in man. The breakthrough of the purely rational to a new world view should lead us there and thus into a realm that will always remain inaccessible to machine intelligence.

Finally, a reading tip: Hannah Arendt "Vom Leben des Geistes"; Volume 1; DAS DENKEN, Munich: Piper Verlag, 1979