Why a Platonic paideia is critical for soul and civilization

 

Note: paideia : training of the physical and mental faculties in such a way as to produce a broad enlightened mature outlook…(Merriam-Webster dictionary.

For the past year or so I have been wrestling with how our society and culture will unfold as artificial intelligence digs in and takes hold. I have named this the “artilect world” after the work of Hugo de Garis. My assumption is that almost everything that humans can do, machines will be able to do better and faster. That will render us, for the most part, useless.

I have also been contemplating writing fiction to make these issues more concretely felt, but reality is outpacing my imagination. Take today’s (April 21, 2017) headline about Elon Musk’s new company, Neuralink:

 https://www.wsj.com/articles/elon-musk-lays-out-plans-to-meld-brains-and-computers-1492738741

His basic idea is to use machines to enable a telepathic link, a concept transfer, that will be more efficient than speech or writing. Mr Musk calls it direct conceptual communication. I am thinking that this triad of person–machine–person melding will hasten the man-machine blending and a planetary group mind. Absorption into the “Borg”. Is this a future devoutly to be wished? No matter, something like it is inevitable.

What end will all this capability, this man-machine blend, serve? Ontological reason claims that our end is built into the universe, that the Good and the Beautiful are Real. Technical reason embodied in artificial intelligence serves the lower desires and passions, our animal nature.

But what does all this have to do with paideia? Allow me to lead you back to some ancient concepts of the soul. If we look only at Plato, for example, we are talking about a part of us that can align our real being with the fundamental creative force of all Being. But it takes educating the soul, it means turning inward and not outward. The trans-human blending of man and machine unites the “lower” parts of the soul, the outward looking toward a material universe that is not the fullest being.

What is the alternative? Take a look at some quotes from Werner Jaeger’s Paideia: referring to education in Plato’s Republic

Music trains us, more precisely than any other subject, in recognizing what is right or wrong in a beautiful work and its performance. Anyone who is properly educated in music takes it into his soul while he is still young and his spiritual growth is unconscious; and he develops an unerring accuracy in enjoying what is beautiful and what is ugly, so that when conscious reason comes later, he can welcome her like a friend. In his system of education for the guards, Plato intends that after the work of the Muses has molded them unawares into a certain intellectual pattern, philosophical teaching will later reveal to them in full consciousness the highest knowledge. (Jaeger, Paideia, p. 229)

If anyone out there feels that objective truth exists, that reality itself has spiritual values embedded in it, then you must agree it is not enough to have a telepathic link to a global database of information. That is not the highest knowledge that Plato is talking about. And besides, it takes a certain preparation of the soul to “see” this knowledge anyway.

[In] his Seventh Letter [Plato] says that the process of knowledge is the gradual and lifelong assimilation of the soul to the nature of those values which it endeavors to understand. Good cannot be understood, as a formal, logical, external notion, until we have managed to share something of its inward nature. Knowledge of good grows within us as Good itself becomes a reality taking shape in our souls. Therefore Plato holds that the best way to sharpen the eye of the mind is to train the character–a process in which the pupil unconsciously has his nature so changed by the highest spiritual forces, poetry, harmony, and rhythm, that he can grasp the nature of the supreme principle by being educated into it.

These quotes are just a taste of the perspective of paideia. A year ago I wrote of paideia as the way to freedom. And so it is. But freedom means release from the chains of our lower nature, chains that can only be broken by the process of…paideia. Assimilation to the Borg is entering a material group mind from which there is no escape.

As the artilect world approaches, let our souls assimilate with the One, the Good.

 

 

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