The Human, the Spiritual and the Complex
(Thoughts About Our Love of Complexity)
I was listening to a talk show -- guests were bio-science buffs
interested in the possibility of life on other planets. What, asked
the host, are the criteria for life -- what do you look for? Both
experts said all life is characterized primarily by COMPLEXITY,
and one added that life reproduces itself, but does so imperfectly
-- doesn't produce a perfect duplicate of itself.
Why is it, I wondered, that this total simplicity, life (you,
me) should be so intimately involved in complexity, so that the
forms most associated with life are also the most complex forms.
And I had a vision of it, hard to express, but here's what I came
up with: What we call "complexity" is our description
of a form that can be greatly and continuously altered (thus having
much persistence) without losing its IDENTITY.
Persistence depends on continual change. As a shark must move
even while sleeping in order to stay alive, as the molecules in
solids must keep bouncing about randomly for the solids (tables,
chairs, rocks, toe nails) to hold their form, so all persistence
depends on change. The human body changes all its cells every 8
years, but remains distinctly this or that body (in our consideration).
Suppose I decided to be a blue cube - nothing else to my identity
than that. If I changed to a red cube or a blue sphere, in most
contexts, I wouldn't be recognizable as the same identity, for I've
changed half of what I am.
Or suppose I'm utterly random to the point where, according to
the habits of perception of those with whom I wish to associate,
I have no distinguishable identity? For example, suppose I become
one bit of a cloud or of water in a running stream: I'm too simple
at the level (or magnitude) where identities are assigned (humans
quickly grow bored with a bit of cloud or a few drops of water),
too chaotic (formless) in other ways: Where do you shake hands with
Any "chaos" is an order when viewed at some level of
magnitude (size, speed, etc.). Water is predictable and orderly
when viewed in certain ways, chaotic when viewed in other ways.
Scientists can predict some things (e.g., how fast water will flow
through a pipe), but not others (e.g., where a given droplet in
an ocean wave, mid-Pacific, will touch a California beach).
For most of us humans, an individual we know well is very predictable,
but 100 million humans is a riddle. In some contexts, it's the other
way around -- mobs or nations are more predictable than individuals.
If we think of our lives with one another as games, where it is
often important to be able to tell the players apart -- and not
hang or reward the wrong person, for example -- then we want the
units we identify (Tom, Dick or Harry or America or Christianity
or the human or canine species -- all these are identities) -- we
want these units to be complex, meaning that we want to deal with
forms that are maximally variable without loss of identity.
This is analogous to the notion of a "complex" work
of art that varies a theme greatly; yet the theme remains identifiable
as that theme. This is one way of characterizing aesthetics: a form
is considered aesthetic to the degree that it can be one thing while
being a great number of things. That's why art involves a combination
of recognition and surprise, because we think we're meeting something
alien, then recognize in it an old friend, or, conversely, we recognize
in what, at first, seems only an old friend, something strange and
Complexity is not chaos or complications. It's capability for
change without loss of identity. It's that curviness that men love
in women, for example, all those curves going their various ways
with every motion -- much change of the form without loss of the
This probably relates to the idea that aesthetics has a very fine,
high frequency compared to cruder forms of communication: The higher
the frequency, the more capability for complexity of patterns.
A rock is complicated at the molecular level (all that random
motion), but not very complex at that level (random, without the
incredibly complex organization of protein, for example) and certainly
not complex at the level where we humans perceive it. At that level,
the rock changes not at all, or if it changes, it ceases to be itself.
If it breaks in two or melts or is crushed to gravel, it ceases
to be itself. Some changes do NOT do this, but they involve life.
For example, if moss grows on it or if a human throws it, we usually
consider that it remains itself -- but life intervened to create
So here we are, simplicities, life, yet science misidentifies
us as complexities and defines us as complexity - because complexity
is dear to life. Why? BECAUSE IT PERMITS MAXIMAL CHANGE, AND THUS
PERSISTENCE, OF FORMS WITHOUT BLURRING THE IDENTITIES OF PLAYERS
AND GOALS AND, THUS, DESTROYING THE GAMES.
And thus the forms that art creates are dearest of all to life.
Biology, I suppose, is a subset of art -- or was once to those beings
who developed it (and continue to develop it?).
No wonder spiritual practices are feared (and therefore scorned)
by many: They promise separation of the simplicity from the complexity.
Those who fear this don't understand that it takes a simplicity
to have a complexity (or to create one).
This is a way to understand the strengths of the American Constitution:
The founding papas sought optimal complexity, a form of government
that could change easily, but not TOO easily. We have a very complex
government (the checks and balances). After all, change is the challenge
for a Government. A powerful, benevolent monarchy with an effective
monarch is often prosperous, but comes a cropper on the chaos of
dynastic succession: After the monarch dies, his sons and brothers
and other challengers bring war and chaos to the broken kingdom
or his idiot son takes power and wastes it. Monarchy might be an
ideal form of government if one could work out the succession so
that it went from one good king to another.
Succession -- how does one change, yet remain what one was to
a desired extent? How does one amend the constitution, change the
law, elect a president. What changes should be made simple, which
should be difficult and complex? A country can be destroyed if it
doesn't change fast enough in some cases. Of course, where complications
become a mystery, they obscure identity. A huge bureaucracy, a voluminous
tangled tax law -- they aren't confrontable to most, so aren't really
an identity, are more like a rock, persisting in solidity based
on random interior particle motion. Psychotic individuals convey
that same impression.
Complexity: That property of a form that, in the consideration
of the perceiver of that form, allows maximal change (and thus persistence)
without loss of the beholder's consideration of the form's identity.
Persistence is associated with change, and one of the changes
that occurs is change of ownership: Father lives on in one's own
bad temper or ulcers, which are really Dad's -- and perhaps really
grandfathers. Songs live on because we make them our own, give our
own lives to them. That love song is "our song", entwined
with our own experience. So it is with all art that persists --
and with all our unwanted persistences (problems).
If a form is complex, there are many perceivable components that
can be misowned. A rock has lots of atoms, but doesn't present to
our view the multiplicity of aspects that we get from a human face.
It persists, but not humanly.
All this relates to another talk-show favorite: How Artificial
Intelligence Gets Real, How Computers Get Souls -- which would be
quite an evolutionary step for what is, essentially, a very complex
sort of rock, whose moss is our ideas.
The artificial intelligence gurus have everything backwards: They
think that if you create a powerful enough computer and load it
with the right programs and data, the computer will become, because
of its computational power, data and software, an intelligence at
least comparable to human.
First, they assume that they are constructing intelligence by
systems somehow analogous to how humans learn. What they ignore
(or have learned to forget [or, to be less insistent, what they
never seem to consider as a possibility]) is that humans are bodies
operated by immortal spiritual beings who begin, not with ignorance,
but with knowing. Or rather, we begin (if something senior to time
itself can be called a beginning) as pure potential for knowing
and the unlimited ability to create spaces, energy, objects and
their persistence. And when we create, we know our creations utterly.
What we call "learning" in humans is a brief partial
recovery in the course of our prolonged process, lifetime by lifetime,
of forgetting -- this has long been the direction for both individuals
and societies. We decided to forget some things (which makes unpredictability
and games possible), and the process got out of hand. Education,
where it is at all educational, rather than indoctrinational --
where it makes us smarter, not stupider -- is a tiny upward blip
on a down-trending graph.
But we began with limitless knowing and limitless creativity,
so can forget a great deal, yet still be smarter than the smartest
machines, nor can a machine take on human intelligence without emulating
the human pattern of learning: The machine must be occupied by immortal
life, a knowingness that, however much it forgets, continues to
know more than it could possibly be taught.
Does this mean that machines will never equal or exceed human
intelligence? Not necessarily, but the process by which this may
occur is not a matter of making better computers, except incidentally,
in that it is necessary to build machines intricate enough to engage
the imaginations of their creators.
The process by which objects acquire souls is similar to what
happens with children and their dolls, men and the cars they love,
people and their beloved pets, with houses haunted by those we once
loved and with any humans who become more alive when with other
humans they love: Those things to which we grant life (that is,
in which we invest love and attention, which we treat as alive,
attribute beingness to, exchange communication with) become more
alive for us.
The intricate high-tech developments in AI are relevant as follows:
When a computer has acquired enough complexity and vocabulary and
computational skills and ability to surprise with unexpected responses,
it will begin to seem lifelike to researchers. Then researchers
will begin to treat the computer like a living creature, address
it by name, talk to it, feel affection for it -- as children do
towards their dolls.
But children, with greater faith in imagination (that is, a clearer
memory of their ability to create life), can bring the most primitive
dolls to life, not only for themselves, but for parents and friends.
Our researchers, having learned (as adults do) not to invest much
of themselves in toys or anything else, will need far more elaborate
dolls before they share their attenuated lives with them.
To the degree that computers (or dolls or dogs or cars or houses
or nations or their flags) are treated like living human beings,
they will become human and alive. (A dog or cat treated with the
respect accorded a human being and spoken to with the assumption
that communications are understood does act more human. Loved cars
have, it is said, saved lives -- stopped for no apparent reason
in time to avert collisions, for example.)
We grant life, and because our attention and life-granting are
valued by other beings, beings -- immortal spirits like ourselves
-- will eventually occupy these computers and BE them in order to
be part of the communication game. ("If you build it, they
will come.") In other words, at first the life in these machines
is the life of those who create the machines. The machines are alive
as symbiotes, as parts of their creators, much as their bodies are
alive. But eventually they have lives of their own.
All theories of artificial intelligence are superficial compared
to the tale of Pinocchio, the puppet so lifelike that he was loved,
and through this love, became a boy.
Sometimes, as I speak to you here, reader, you, too, become alive
for me. These letters on the page or screen in all their squiggly
complexity (nothing like long rows of 00000...) -- do they seem
to speak to you, as if some life not unlike your own were speaking
Some of the above concepts were inspired by the author's understanding
of the Scientology
copyright c. Dean Blehert 2002