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Geist and Ge-Stell. Notes on the cybernetics of intelligence and the unity of normativity

(This is the first bit - but not the beginning - of a larger text I want to write about Geist and Ge-Stell.)

The unity of Geist cannot be determined but from the inside. It is therefore hard to say either that it is established or that it is assumed.

This is because it is at the same time open-ended and closed to itself. It is open-ended because when we share a critical mass of commands – for instance in the form of a critical mass of beliefs – all the other commands become available to us, even if we don't follow them – if we don't share any other belief. On the other hand, it is closed to itself because it cannot, by definition, find commands or beliefs – or intelligence – outside itself. An exterior intelligence is by definition no intelligence and an interior intelligence is, also by definition, whatever Geist does. To share a command is a symmetrical property: if I can recognize a semantic rule among the Hopis, the Hopis can recognize their rule in me. Symmetry is crucial to make Geist what it is.

Geist is a recognition machine that works solely for itself. Imagine a Geist scissiparity. There is now Geist-A and Geist-B. To be sure, they don't see each other – they don't recognize each other as Geist. If there is no other intelligence in the universe but Geist-A and Geist-B, we would have two incommensurable intelligences each one incapable of spotting any other intelligence in the world.

The problem of incommensurability is well addressed by the framework of Geist. Inside Geist (or, if we want, inside a Geist) there cannot be incommensurability because there is a public language that ought to be shared in order for someone to think there is an altogether incommensurate thought: it is impossible to both recognize an incommensurability unless it ceases to be an incommensurability. It would be like eating the cake and having it. An exterior thought is can only be recognized if it is not external anymore. In other words, it is only private contents that can be incommensurable.
Notice that perhaps from a third person point of view we can envisage Geist-A and Geist-B being incommensurable. But that cannot do either: In order to recognize Geist-A as a Geist, one needs to share commands with it – and the same about Geist-B. Then they are not incommensurable, for this third-person point of view – call it Geist-3. But then, if Geist-3 can see Geist-A, Geist-A can see Geist-3 and therefore it can see Geist-B. There is no incommensurability full stop.

Yet the scissiparity of Geist is thinkable. Further, from the Geist-A point of view, the behavior of Geist-B is seen but its private structures is concealed. These structures cannot have any content from the point of view of Geist-A because there is no pairing of commands that could be sanctioned by the community of Geist-A. In other words, from the point of view of Geist-A, those commanded by Geist-B are obeying to no command whatsoever even if there is a regularity that can be detected. Think of the child of Wittgenstein's PU157 who has no public behavior associated with a toothache; no invented word for the pain could make any sense – a word, in Geist-A-ese, would have to be articulated in the logical spaces recognized by Geist-A. Further, when Geist-A captures the intelligibility of a process in the world, it does so in its own terms. Yet, there could be no incommensurability, and therefore a process whose intelligibility is captured by Geist-B – and becomes part of a Ge-Stell-B – is just not intelligible by Geist-A – and therefore just part of the world which is not intelligible. But this is precisely what one would expect if there had been a scissiparity of Geist.

Now, let's consider closely how this scissiparity could have taken place. Wittgenstein, in RMF 41, writes:

Suppose that people go on and on calculating the expansion of p. So God, who knows everything, knows whether they will have reached '777' by the end of the world. But can his omniscience decide whether they would have reached it after the end of the world? It cannot. I want to say: Even God can determine something mathematical only by mathematics. Even for him the mere rule of expansion cannot decide anything that it does not decide for us.

Something similar is found in PU 352:

We want, that is, to quote the law of excluded middle and to say: "Either such an image is in his mind, or it is not; there is no third possibility!"—We encounter this queer argument also in other regions of philosophy. "In the decimal expansion of π either the group "7777" occurs, or it does not—there is no third possibility." That is to say: "God sees—but we don't know." But what does that mean?—We use a picture; the picture of a visible series which one person sees the whole of and another not. The law of excluded middle says here: It must either look like this, or like that. So it really—and this is a truism—says nothing at all, but gives us a picture. And the problem ought now to be: does reality accord with the picture or not? And this picture seems to determine what we have to do, what to look for, and how—but it does not do so, just because we do not know how it is to be applied. Here saying "There is no third possibility" or "But there can't be a third possibility!"—expresses our inability to turn our eyes away from this picture: a picture which looks as if it must already contain both the problem and its solution, while all the time we feel that it is not so.

Let's think of a machine that is now unsupervised by Geist-A after being taught the mathematics of the expansion of π. Whenever a machine carries on the expansion of π without any supervision of a community that practices mathematics, the application of the (suitable, mathematical) rule is private – say, for the community of Geist-A which initiated the machine in the mathematics of the expansion of π – while the behavior cannot be checked. One could say now that the machine is no longer doing mathematics and further if there is no way to check its output, it is just not following a rule. (Maybe one wants to say, at this point, that the machine is not doing mathematics-A and is not following any rule-A.) But suppose now that the machine manages to initiate other devices in its own procedure when expanding π. These devices-pupils are closely supervised by the original machine-which-lost-supervision-from-Geist-A and eventually become part of a community with mutual supervision – just like the one associated to Geist-A but disjoint from it. No mathematics-A is being done by this new community, that we can call the community of the embryonic Geist-B. But to be sure, there would be no surprising if a human (from Geist-A) manages to inspect the community of embryonic Geist-B only to spot them expanding π as expected. John McDowell, in his “Wittgenstein on following a rule”, suggests an explanation for this: these devices could be doing mathematics-A alright even if they have no means to find this out. Yes, there could be a reality to rule-following, and one that could escape Geist-A's ability to grasp it. Notice that the idea here is simply that there could be a reality to A-rule-following that escape Geist-A. But notice also that the embryonic Geist-B community could have been trained by the machine so that a genuine rule is taught even if it results in something other than what is expected in the practice-A of mathematics-A. The lesson could be that even though incommensurability can not be noticed, if there is a reality to rule-following, there could be incommensurable rules.

The unity of Geist – call this the inhumanist hypothesis – is committed to the idea that this scissiparity is impossible for there is no reality to rule-following beyond our ability to grasp it. A parallel can be drawn with the discussions concerning first-person authority. Geist's introspection – its phenomenology – is incorrigible according to the inhumanist hypothesis. Arguably, there is no fact about Geist that is not available to Geist's introspection – Geist is purely phenomenological. However this matters perhaps less; what matters most is Geist's supposed incorrigibility. If it detects no rule-following (no mathematics, no incommensurable norm) than there is no rule-following (no mathematics, no incommensurable norm). As a consequence, there is no Geist-B and scissiparity is impossible. In contrast, if first-person authority could be breached, there is more to Geist than what meets the eye: there is a reality of rule-following beyond Geist's introspection. This would be enough for a scissiparity to become conceivable.

Maybe inhumanism is an antirealism about Geist grounded on a communitarism about rule-following.

But this leads me to a conjecture: could we embrace a thorough-going realism about Geist? That would mean that Geist is separate from socio-semantic considerations and human rules respond to them while not having an authority over them. In other words, realism about Geist is a form of externalism: there could be reasons that I cannot discriminate – or even reasons I cannot access. (There is a debate that arose from the work of Michael Bergmann about whether to claim that justifications is accessible – like a perceptual justification in a disjunctivist story – is compatible with externalism and philosophers like Duncan Pritchard have famously argued that they are not.) Reliabilism could offer a blueprint for realism about reasons. But disjunctivism could arguably be enough.

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