The Human Machine > by Levin A. Diatschenko

eleven's picture
| | | | | | | | | | | | | |



   Imagine a robot that has a limited number of responses. If you say hello to it, the robot automatically reacts with: “Hi, how are you today?” If you keep greeting the robot, the repeated response would get annoying and it would not take long for you to recognise it as a machine. But say the creator programs it so that at every third time someone greets the robot, it changes its response to a second sentence: “Fine day, isn’t it?” In this case you would take longer to catch on it was a robot, but not much longer.

   Now picture a robot with hundreds of programmed responses to a wide range of everyday interactions, so that it might take a whole year of interacting with it before it repeats itself. Even then, humans repeat themselves a lot too. Imagine that over that year, mistaking complexity for consciousness, you confided in the robot. You argued with it, tried to convince it of your political views. It responded each time according to its pre-recorded programming. How long would it take before you cottoned on that it was a machine?


   It is not uncommon to refer to the human body as a machine. But of course, people have ‘internal’ thoughts and feelings and because of this we are thought of as conscious. We even have political and religious views and if somebody denounces them we get ‘hurt’. This is an interesting occurrence: we react emotionally when others insult our beliefs. We feel the urge to defend our beliefs.

   This is because we ‘identify’ with the belief and therefore feel it is us who are being attacked. That is, we identify with beliefs because we have no identity of our own; like machines. As such, we ‘borrow’ a belief for which to use as a surrogate identity. It is this phenomenon of getting emotional that we usually associate with sentience. But this same phenomenon actually proves our lack of free will. We respond automatically – an emotional exchange is something like a pinball machine. 


   The study of Artificial Intelligence, or A.I., allows another approach to the subject. British computer scientist Alan Turing (died 1954) thought that the human brain must be a machine – and that as such we should be able to emulate brains with computers. Therefore, he reasoned, computers can be intelligent. He invented what is known as the Turing Test, which became the bar for testing artificial intelligence. No computer has passed it yet.

   However, as Jeff Hawkins with his associates of Numenta Inc. (Donna Dubinsky and Dileep George), have noticed, most computers are not modelled on the human brain. After studying the brain and finding it naturally hierarchical in its recording, organizing and contextualizing of information, Hawkins and his associates came up with the invention of the Hierarchical Temporal Memory (or HTM). From the Numenta Inc. website, we find this explanation: --


“Hierarchical Temporal Memory (HTM) is a technology that replicates the structural and algorithmic properties of the neocortex. HTM therefore offers the promise of building machines that approach or exceed human level performance for many cognitive tasks.”

   The HTM is a memory system that doesn’t just perform a function, but can learn from the past, infer causes and make predictions. This sounds frighteningly promising.

   But what would it mean if a machine could consistently beat the Turing test?


Alan Turing

   I would like to reverse Turing’s reasoning: the human brain is a machine; therefore we can emulate brains with computers; therefore, what we previously considered to be intelligent is in fact a machine. The idea here is that rather than man creating artificial intelligence, I propose that man is artificial intelligence.

   In Mary Shelley’s fiction, Dr. Frankenstein created a dangerous automation that reacted to external stimuli with little rumination. Upon discovering this, the townspeople reacted dangerously to it with little rumination.

   Later, I will show that this idea is not new.                       


   What we call the evolution of ideas shows evidence in itself of the absence of evolution in humans. This is because a distinction between the ideas and their carriers becomes apparent. How many of us actually understand Einstein’s general theory of relativity? What percentage of the population, I wonder. Most of us know the catch phrases associated with it, sayings like ‘everything is relative.’ Einstein himself saw this when referring to the genius Jan Smuts. In a recent article of The Beacon, Ivan Kovacs says:


“Albert Einstein who, after reading Smuts’ Holism and Evolution, wrote that two mental constructs will direct human thinking in the next (now present) millennium, his own mental construct of relativity and Smuts’ holism. He further remarked that Smuts was ‘one of only eleven men in the world’ who conceptually understood his Theory of Relativity.”


Jan Smuts

    Similarly, how many people are really familiar with Charles Darwin’s theories? Many people faultily sum it up with, “We evolved from apes.”

   What people do know well is what ideas are up-to-date. We know what we are supposed to believe these days, and what terminology to use.

   In Islam, there is an old metaphor of the donkey. A donkey is a beast that can carry many books on its back but it cannot use them. It cannot read, let alone understand the information. The masses of humanity are not unlike the donkey. The belief that there has been increased development is based on the development of the ideas, rather than their carriers. Instead of change, we have generally remained constant as receivers—not necessarily users—of information. Here is an extract from the science fiction book Venus Plus X, by Theodore Sturgeon:


“He remembered a thing he had read somewhere: was it Ruth Benedict? Something about no item of man’s language, or religion, or social organization, being carried in his germ cell. In other words you take a baby, any colour, any country, and plank it down anywhere else, and it would grow up to be like the people of the new country. And then there was that article he saw containing the same idea, but extending it throughout the entire course of human history; take an Egyptian baby of the time of Cheops, and plank it down in modern Oslo, and it would grow up to be a Norwegian, able to learn Morse code and maybe even have a prejudice against Swedes. What all this amounted to was that the most careful study by the most unbiased observers of the entire course of human history had been unable to unearth a single example of human evolution. The fact that humanity had come up out of the caves and finally built an elaborate series of civilizations was beside the point; say it took them thirty thousand years to do it; it was a fair bet that a clutch of modern babies, reared just far enough to be able to find their own food and then cast into the wilderness, might well take just as long to build things up again.” (Pages 33, 34.)


   Ouspensky the Russian occultist had trouble with this idea when his teacher Gurdjieff presented it to him at the beginning of the First World War. In Ouspensky’s book, In Search of The Miraculous, he relates the conversation: --


   ‘ “For a man of Western culture,” I said, “it is of course difficult to believe and to accept the idea that an ignorant fakir, a naïve monk, or a yogi who has retired from life may be on the way to evolution while an educated European, armed with ‘exact knowledge’ and all the latest methods of investigation, has no chance whatever and is moving in a circle from which there is no escape.”

   ‘ “Yes, that is because people believe in progress and culture,” said G. “There is no progress whatever. Everything is just the same as it was thousands, and tens of thousands, of years ago. The outward form changes. The essence does not change. Man remains just the same. ‘Civilized’ and ‘cultured’ people live with exactly the same interests as the most ignorant savages. Modern civilization is based on violence and slavery and fine words. But all these fine words about ‘progress’ and ‘civilization’ are merely words.”’


   Most people I’ve discussed this idea with agree with to an extent, but not all the way. More especially, they would not go as far as to believe it applies to them. In fact, everybody you ask will no doubt say they are individuals. It would be most individual to admit you are not.

   But the conviction of occultists like Gurdjieff is that for the most part humans have very little free will. His proposition is that the vast majority, educated or not, are controlled almost exclusively by external influences, and therefore could be called machines.

   Alice A. Bailey, an English occultist around the same time, in her Esoteric Psychology Volume 2. gives us five definitions of the human personality, to be considered sequential. The first one runs: --


A personality is a separated human being. We could perhaps say equally well a separative human being. This is the poorest and most loosely used definition; it applies to common usage and regards each human being as a person. This definition is consequently not true. Many people are simply animals with vague higher impulses, which remain simply impulses. There are those also who are primarily nothing more or less than mediums. This term here is used to apply to all those types of persons who go blindly and impotently upon their way, swayed by their lower dense desire nature, of which the physical body is only the expression or medium. They are influenced by the mass consciousness, mass ideas, and mass reactions, and therefore find themselves quite incapable of being anything definitely self-initiated, but are standardised by mass complexes. They are, therefore, mediums with mass ideas; they are swept by urges which are imposed upon them by teachers and demagogues, and are receptive—without any thought or reasoning—to every school of thought (spiritual, occult, political, religious, and philosophical). May I repeat they are simply mediums; they are receptive to ideas which are not their own or self-achieved.”


   Gurdjieff agrees with the above, but puts it in another way:


“Man has no individuality. He has no single, big I. Man is divided into a multiplicity of small I’s.

   “And each separate small I is able to call itself by the name of the Whole, to act in the name of the Whole, to agree or disagree, to give promises, to make decisions, with which another I or the whole will have to deal. This explains why people so often make decisions and so seldom carry them out. A man decides to get up early beginning from the following day. One I, or a group of I’s, decide this. But getting up is the business of another I who entirely disagrees with the decision and may even know absolutely nothing about it. Of course the man will again go on sleeping in the morning and in the evening he will again decide to get up early. In some cases this may assume very unpleasant consequences for a man. A small accidental I may promise something, not to itself, but to someone else at a certain moment simply out of vanity or for amusement. Then it disappears, but the man, that is, the Whole, has to meet them. People’s lives often consist of paying off the promissory notes of small accidental I’s.”


   This admittedly seems too black and white. But as said, Alice A. Bailey listed five stages all up of a human personality, from automation to master. As they proceed, union of the various parts of the man would be achieved. Eventually, union of personality and soul would come about, thus constituting an intelligent being. Think of the word individual as something like indivisible.

   It is interesting, in this light, that the word yoga is usually translated as ‘union.’ It directly comes from yuj, in Sanskrit, which means ‘yoke,’ as in the yoke that holds bullocks together when ploughing fields.   

   But until (and unless) such union happens, man is (as AAB said) but a negative medium for external forces. Gurdjieff states it plainly: in order to do, first you have to be. In Ouspensky’s book, Gurdjieff’s followers asked him things like, ‘How do we stop war?’ Constantly, he returned to the point that we have to get rid of the illusion that we are able to do anything. “Things just happen,” he said. That is, they happen through us. “Nobody does anything.”

   But he did allow for the possibility of evolution. “Everything in the world,” he said, “from solar systems to man, and from man to atom, either rises or descends, either evolves or degenerates, either develops or decays. But nothing evolves mechanically. Only degeneration and destruction proceeds mechanically. That which cannot evolve consciously—degenerates. Help from outside is possible only in so far as it is valued and accepted, even if it is only by feeling in the beginning.”

   Consider all of this in the light of Climate Change and the constant presence of wars in our or any other time. Consider Jerusalem as a knot of misunderstood forces in which anyone who enters into its vicinity become unconscious tools of such forces. Consider, too, how many times revolutionaries have become the monsters they intended to overthrow. ‘We cannot do anything,’ insists Gurdjieff. The idea is not preposterous.


   Still, the idea that we are forms of artificial intelligence feels incomplete. It is difficult to shake the belief that we are genuinely alive. This could be true (I believe it!) and perhaps it is the general definition of life that is the problem.

   Itzhak Bentov (died May 25, 1979) the Czech born scientist and inventor (known for his holographic model of the universe) speaks for a lesser-known definition of life, which includes even minerals. From Stalking The Wild Pendulum: --


   “We may at first have trouble trying to visualise a rock or an atom as a living thing because we associate consciousness with life. But this notion is just a human limitation; a rock may also have difficulty in understanding human consciousness. At present we restrict the term ‘living beings’ to beings that can reproduce. This, I believe, is quite arbitrary. We seem to project our own behaviour onto other systems, by saying that starting from the atom and going to larger aggregates there is no ‘life,’ and then suddenly, when the aggregates of atoms have reached a certain stage of organization, ‘life’ appears, because we can recognise our own behaviour in it. My basic premise is that consciousness resides in matter; put another way, all mass (matter) contains consciousness (or life) to a greater or lesser extent. It may be refined or primitive.”


   His view is not unique. The Theosophist  H.P. Blavatsky said as much many years earlier in her The Secret Doctrine: --


   “Not only the chemical compounds are the same, but the same infinitesimal invisible Lives compose the atoms of the bodies of the mountain and the daisy, of man and the ant, of the elephant and of the tree which shelters it from the sun. Each particle—whether you call it organic or inorganic—is a Life.”


   Alice A. Bailey devoted her book The Consciousness of The Atom to studying this theory. She wrote: “In looking over one scientific book last week it was discouraging to find the author pointing out that the atom of the chemist, of the physicist, of the mathematician, and of the metaphysician were four totally different things. That is another reason why it is not possible to be dogmatic in dealing with these questions.”

   Proceeding, she gives us Thomas Edison’s view on the issue: --


“[…] I want to point out what Edison is reported by an interviewer as having said in Harper’s Magazine for February 1890, and which is enlarged upon in the Scientific American for October 1920. In the earlier instance he is quoted as follows: --

    “‘I do not believe that matter is inert, acted upon by an outside force. To me it seems that every atom is possessed by a certain amount of primitive intelligence. Look at the thousands of ways in which atoms of hydrogen combine with those of other elements, forming the most diverse substances. Do you mean to say that they do this without intelligence? Atoms in harmonious and useful relation assume beautiful or interesting shapes and colours, or give forth a pleasant perfume, as if expressing their satisfaction … gathered together in certain forms, the atoms constitute animals of the lowest order. Finally they combine in man, who represents the total intelligence of all the atoms.’


   Finally, I would like to include a section from Dr Annie Besant’s book A Study In Consciousness, where she shows us the experiments of Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose, pioneer of the investigation of radio and microwave optics, plant scientist, and who is considered one of the fathers of radio science.

   She begins:


‘Professor Jagadesh Chandra Bose, M.A., DSC., of Calcutta, has definitely proved that so-called “inorganic matter” is responsive to stimulus, and that the response is identical from metals, vegetables, animals and—so far as experiment can be made—man.

   ‘He arranged apparatus to measure the stimulus applied, and to show in curves, traced on a revolving cylinder, the response from the body receiving the stimulus. He then compared the curves obtained in tin and in other metals with those obtained from muscle, and found that the curves from tin were identical with those from muscle, and that other metals gave curves of like nature but varied in the period of recovery.



(a) Series of electric responses to successive mechanical stimuli at intervals of half a minute, in tin. (b) Mechanical responses in muscle.


‘Tetanus, both complete and incomplete, due to repeated shocks, was caused and similar results accrued, in mineral as in muscle.

   ‘Fatigue was shown by metals least of all by tin. Chemical reagents, such as drugs, produced similar results on metals with those known to result with animals—exciting, depressing, and deadly. (By deadly is meant resulting in the destruction of the power of response.)

   ‘A poison will kill metal, inducing a condition of immobility, so that no response is obtainable. If the poisoned metal be taken in time, an antidote may save its life.



Effects analogous to (a) incomplete and (b) complete tetanus in tin, (a’) incomplete and (b’) complete tetanus in muscle.


(a) Normal response. (b) Effect of poison. (c) Revival by antidote.


   ‘A stimulant will increase response, and as large and small doses of a rig have been found to kill and stimulate respectively, so have they been found to act on metals. “Among such phenomena,” asks Professor Bose, “how can we draw a line of demarcation and say: ‘Here the physical process ends, and there the physiological begins’? No such barrier exists.”’

  (These details are taken from a paper given by Professor Bose at the Royal Institute, May 10th, 1901, entitled “The response of Inorganic Matter to Stimulus”)


   The proposal of this article is that humans are of a quality of intelligence – or awareness – that might as well be artificial. No matter how complex, there is little free will involved. We are possessed by involuntary daydreams and physical sloth, driven by emotional reactions, mindless gossip and fear. However, there is real life there, as there is with any form of matter. This gives us the implied potential and hope.

   It would be natural to think that education – or increased knowledge – is what is needed to bring about real consciousness and free will. But this is an illusion, remembering the analogy of the donkey. The task is to create a stable point of consciousness, a permanent ‘I,’ which does not fall asleep in daydreams or emotional concerns every few seconds.

   Ouspensky relates how Gurdjieff saw the issue: “ ‘There are,’ he said, ‘two lines along which man’s development proceeds, the line of knowledge and the line of being. In right evolution the line of knowledge and the line of being develop simultaneously, parallel to, and helping one another.’” And further: --


   “ ‘People understand what ‘knowledge’ means. And they understand the possibility of different levels of knowledge. They understand that knowledge may be lesser or greater, that is to say, of one quality or of another quality. But they do not understand this in relation to ‘being.’ ‘Being’ for them, means simply ‘existence’ to which is opposed just ‘non-existence.’ They do not understand that being or existence may be of very different levels and categories.”


  To illustrate the point he gives the following example:


   “ ‘[…] In Western culture it is considered that a man may possess great knowledge, for example he may be an able scientist, make discoveries, advance science, and at the same time he may be, and has the right to be, a petty, egoistic, cavilling, mean, envious, vain, naïve, and absent-minded man. It seems to be considered here that a professor must always forget his umbrella everywhere.’”


   To return to the idea of most of us being donkeys, here is a quote from Wikipedia in relation to the word yoga: “Outside India, the term yoga is typically associated with Hatha Yoga and its asanas (postures) or as a form of exercise.    


   There are many systems of union, or of ‘increasing one’s being’. Given old word associations, it is important to distinguish between the word yoga with its different usages, and what it originally signified. It is not merely stretching exercises, and it includes more than the one type of yoga called Hatha, whose emphasis is the development of the physical body. Gurdjieff called striving toward union ‘the work’, or The Fourth Way. Bailey called it either yoga or practical occultism. The Golden Dawn called it magic. Religious mystics called it prayer or worship. We might here define it as taking the ‘artificial’ out of ‘artificial intelligence’. 

   If we cannot ‘do’ anything externally, maybe we can strive for the opposite. That is—stop letting external influences do things through us. Consider vows of silence and fasts. Consider ‘turning the other cheek’. Consider how Buddha stopped everything and sat under a tree.

   William Burroughs called humans ‘The Soft Machine.’ In his novel Junky he describes one of the many times he tried to kick his heroine addiction. The more he holds out against the junk craving, the more time he spends in bars, drinking; the less of a junky he is, the more of a drunk he becomes. Soon he is such a sloppy drunk, always getting into trouble, that his friend Ike says, “You’re drinking, Bill. You’re drinking and getting crazy. You look terrible. You look terrible in your face. Better you should go back to stuff [junk] than drink like this. ”

   It is as if in trying to evict one demon from the front door, another inches its way in the back door. Burroughs was an empty house, and nature hates a void. He – and all the rest of us -- could do nothing significant so long as the void existed. (The void represents the absence of consciousness.)

   Now reflect on the Russian Revolution. Think of William Burroughs as Russia. Heroin is the Tsar, and alcohol is the Bolsheviks. One external (and harmful) influence swapped for another. In an attempt to ‘do’ something, the same result occurred. Whether communism works or not is completely beside the point. If there is no free will psychologically, there could never be any politically. This would explain the occurrence of new governments eventually resembling the old ones.  

   Alice A. Bailey had the interesting idea that humans themselves are ‘atoms’ in the greater life we call planet Earth (humans constituting the brain). It should be noted that almost all occult traditions – including all those mentioned above – have advocated group work as preferred to solitary work. When considering this, coupled with Bailey’s idea of a macrocosmic being, we can imagine a group of people constituting the ‘point of consciousness’ or the permanent ‘I’ in the planet. This would imply that as ‘being’ increases, ‘doing’ becomes correspondingly more possible—and also less harmful.

   It is interesting, then, that issues (and groups) relating to Climate Change call more for working on ourselves instead of others, and for the ‘stopping of doing’ (for example, resisting convenience in regard to the technologies that burn fossil fuels). The same applies to war. The same again applies to the Economy: the argument there is whether to leave it alone as a rising and falling ‘automation’ that controls us without intelligence (the free market system)—or not.


      automated ecomomy




References. (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy) Turing.

Hierarchical Temporal Memory Concepts, Theory, and Terminology, Jeff Hawkins and Dileep George, Numenta Inc. 2006 (from

The Beacon, October-December Issue, 2009. Jan Smuts And The Concept of Holism, by Ivan Kovacs.

Theodore Sturgeon, Venus Plus X, 1960, (pp. 33-34)

Ouspensky, In Search of The Miraculous, 1949 (pp. 51, 59-60, 65. 70.)

Alice A. Bailey, Esoteric Psychology Volume 2. (page 264.)

Alice A. Bailey, The Consciousness of The Atom, 1922, (pp. 36, 38, 39.)

Itzhak Bentov, Stalking The Wild Pendulum. 1977. (Page 78.)

Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Sectret Doctrine I. 5th adyar edition.    (page 304.)

Annie Besant, A Study In Consciousness, 1907, (pp. 109-112.)   quoting a paper by Professor Bose at the Royal Institute, May 10th, 1901, entitled The response of Inorganic Matter to Stimulus

William Burroughs, Soft Machine, 1961, (the title.)

William Burroughs, Junky, 1953 (page 128.)