Sunday, May 9, 2010

Why People, Or Superintelligences, Need Others

I just finished writing my final essay for my philosophy class this semester, and realized how some of the points I brought up might be used as reasons for a Superintelligence capable of wiping out humanity and existing by itself might keep us around.

Here's the essay in full, what do you think?:

Aside from the practical reasons, mutual protection, cooperation in gathering food, reproduction, one sometimes wonders why we need other people in our lives. In Being and Nothingness Jean-Paul Sartre states that feelings such as shame, pride, etc, are due to being looked at and objectified by another. He also states that this objectification gives one density of presence. Essentially, one needs attention from someone else. But they also want control, power, when you look at me I become an object; but when I look at you, you become an object. You can take my possibilities from me, and I can do the same, you are the Other and I can subvert you. Of course, we may be entangled with others so much that other people form a large part of our identities. Even Nietzsche hinted at knowing this in his essay on the signs of high and low culture, though he had a slightly different reason for why we would need other people.
Sartre puts a lot of emphasis on “the Look” that another person gives to you. He even refers to the Look as a ‘fall’ in the pseudo-religious sense, as in a loss of innocence. The world seems to drain into the other and reduces oneself to just another object like everything else in the world to that other person. This takes away most of the possibilities available to the person being looked at, it is a loss of control. Once he arrives your possibilities are threatened by his possibilities. However the Look also gives the looked at density of presence, he feels validated. “The Other’s look confers spatiality upon me. To apprehend oneself as looked-at is to apprehend oneself as a spatializing-spatialized.”(1). And of course, you can take away the other’s possibilities just as easily as he can take away yours, which might give you a sense of control over the situation and the other, which Sartre believes is what the lover seeks. The lover wants control over how the beloved looks at him, using his own object-state to manipulate how she sees him. However, the lover also doesn’t want to “compromise the freedom of the other” as it wouldn’t be as satisfying. But most of the time a person is trying to control another, even the masochist who desires to be treated as an object is just using the dominatrix who he wants to be used by.
There is another possibility for why we need to have others in our lives, the concept of Martin Heidegger’s that we are all entangled with “the They”. You see, in everyday being with others “Da-sein stands in subservience to the others.”(2) Da-sein, loosely translated, means being-there or there-being, Heidegger used it to mean one’s personal presence, their being in the world. Being in the world we have associational relationships with various objects that exist in the world, including other people. But other people have different perspectives than one person does and your Da-sein can be easily lost in the inauthentic Da-sein of the they. The public world surrounding oneself dissolves one’s Da-sein into that of the others, disburdening individual Da-sein in its everydayness. One becomes entangled in the they and in fact falls towards the they, fleeing from self-awareness and all that painful inner worldly thinking. Actually that last sentence, and how it is stated in the book, might actually be in the wrong tense, it seems to suggest that the fall into the they hasn’t happened yet. Also the terminology suggests that “falling prey” is a bad thing when Heidegger specifically states not to place value judgments on entanglement of Da-sein. While we can’t say whether or not being entangled in the collective Da-seins of the world is a good thing it does help people get along with their day to day lives.
Friedrich Nietzsche actually had a good reason for someone to break away from the others, though he didn’t use the same terminology. He viewed tight societies as super-organisms of a sort, and he noticed that many individuals who were weakened in one organ compensated by making other organs stronger, for example a blind man had better hearing and could see deeper inwardly. To him those individuals who were less bound represented a “wound” in society that helped it to advance. In terms of functionality in society “the stronger natures retain the type, but the weaker ones help to advance it.”(3) He then goes on to divide people into “bound spirits” and “free spirits”; free spirits are strong, but also weak, especially in their actions as they have too many motives and are therefore uncertain and awkward. The bound spirit on the other hand has tradition on his side and does not need to explain his actions, allowing him to be very strong and assertive in action. A genius, a true genius not the generic IQ>150 kind of genius, would be a free spirit who can also assert himself as effectively as a bound spirit, without needing to appeal to the bound spirits. But to unlock the true potential of a genius might require one to break free from the bindings of society, in the same way that a prisoner might be inspired to develop skills related to escaping. So we need other people and specifically the tightly bound societies they form in order to create true Free Spirits, who are necessary to prevent humanity from stagnating. In addition those Free Spirits might lead to something that transcends humanity, the Ubermensch, of course that might not be a good thing, but they’ll still need normal Mensch for the same reason as the genius.
So, in effect we have two reasons why people need other people, Sartre’s “look” and both Heidegger and Nietzsche’s concepts of multiple people interacting as one person and distinction of those who break away. Although the feeling of validation given by the look and the everyday convenience of the they probably matter more to the average person than the motivating pressure of society to produce genius. But everyone wants control, control provides security, it provides stability and prevents any unexpected complications in your life and/or plans. There is no denying that other people can be a hindrance, but they can also be advantageous, if you can manipulate them properly. Plus there is the sense of satisfaction you get when you’ve made the other into just another object in the world. So the main reason why we need others is still because we want to use them. But really you can’t accept just one of those explanations on its own, they’re all entangled with one another, just like we are as individuals within the they.

1. Sartre, Jean-Paul. (1956). Being and Nothingness. Philosophical Library, Inc. Page 266.
2. Heidegger, Martin. (1953) Being and Time. State University of New York (1996 reprinting). Page 118 and 199.
3. Nietzsche, Friedrich. (1878). Translated by Marion Faber (1984). University of Nebraska Press. Page 138