Philosophical Debate: Is Humanity Discovering Artificial Intelligence or Inventing It?

This is another re-make from the first article I ever produced for my original news/media startup “Alternative Medi4” in July 2016. The premise revolves around the philosophical conception of Platonism in regards to Artificial Intelligence, existentially asking the question how in control of our own realities we really are. The debate is simple, really, are human inventions such as math and artificial intelligence being “discovered” or “invented?” The answer may not be a simple as you might think.

I first found myself questioning this after reflecting upon an exchange I once had with British physicist Julian Barbour, the man credited with the theory of timeless physics. The theory loosely revolves around the conception of time and how we perceive it. Essentially, Barbour’s theory puts forward the argument that time itself is nothing more than an illusion – a concept also supported by Einstein in his later years. As a young researcher, I was so fascinated by his writings that I reached out to him to pick his brain, going as far as to ask him why he thought the theory of quantum gravity had never been solved. For example, I’ve always believed that quantum gravity has never been solved because Newton was wrong all along, and Newton’s principles are the literal basis of modern physics – which is why nothing ads up to this very day.

I presented with him the argument:

Time is a human creation, or if you will, a creation of human intelligence. Mathematics is also a human creation; a creation of human intelligence. However, the Universe itself is not a human creation, it has always existed independently of the human condition.

Point being, the great flaw of science, physics and modern mathematics for that matter is the fact that it’s governed or ruled by the limitations of the human mind. Meaning that we use human intelligence to try and understand/define the universe as it exists around us. However, the universe itself was manifested completely independent of human intellect – we merely just exist inside of it. 

As I put forward, the universe itself does not care about human intellect, intelligence or inventions. We as a species have created them, defined them and gave them purpose. In other words, if humans never existed, “time” also wouldn’t exist, because there would have never been any humans around to invent or define it. “Time” itself only exists because humans have defined what time actually is or means.

Believe it or not, this is also a religious concept just as well. For example, Jesus once argued to the rabbi’s that “Son of man is Lord of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:28). In context, what Jesus meant to say that ‘man’ is the true ruler over the Sabbath, not God, because without mankind around to honor, practice or worship on the Sabbath, the Sabbath would have no purpose and therefore wouldn’t even exist – get it?

However, the same logic applies to mathematics, as well. As I argue, Mathematics is an art, which is constantly being made up, changed and invented. This is a concept that any theoretical physicist can attest to. For example, Newton’s and Einstein’s formulas/mathematics didn’t exist before they first invented them – get it?

Here’s how Julian responded to my email:

But we are part of the universe. Is the universe therefore deceiving itself? And how does it come about that different people make the same discoveries in mathematics and physics independently of each other? I am a Platonist when it comes to mathematics and, being part of the universe, think it is not all deception.

For those of you who may not know what this means, according to the Stanford online encyclopedia, “Platonism about mathematics (or mathematical platonism) is the metaphysical view suggesting that there are abstract mathematical objects whose existence is independent of us and our language, thought, and practices. Just as electrons and planets exist independently of us, so do numbers and sets. Mathematical truths are therefore discovered, not invented.

Playing this logic outwards, wouldn’t this be a fascinating concept to believe? That humanity is simply just discovering truths which have already existed all along? But if this logic is indeed true, what else might this mean or what else might we discover? What other realms of our modern “reality” could this apply to? The answers could be profound. For example, the whole ordeal makes me think back to a video produced by Neil Degrass Tyson during which he talks about how everything in the universe is interconnected; how the same particles and elements in a supernova millions of light years away are the same particles and elements making up our bodies here Earth. He talks about how mystical the universe really is, a force great enough to create humanity itself as we live here today.

Now, I just want you to take a second to reflect over the grand scheme of all of this for a second. Over the course of billions of years, the universe has exploded, cooled, re-consolidated and organized itself into the galaxies and solar systems we now observe today. Not only this, but over the course of the last several hundred thousand years or so the universe has tamed itself enough to the point where life on this Earth has begun to flourish – ultimately resulting in the creation of the human race. On top of this, humanity has developed  to the point where we now have the mental processing to begin questioning/debating the very origin of life and the universe itself. Meaning that the universe has evolved to the point where one of its own creations, humans, can question the very universe which created it – which is pretty cool when you really think about it.

Considering that our physical human bodies are a creation of the universe, and our conscious thoughts are a creation of the human brain, which is also part of our bodies, this means that human intellect/intelligence itself is also a creation of the universe. Consequentially, this would also mean that any discoveries and/or inventions of the human mind are also manifestations from the universe. Is your mind 💥 yet?

Lets take this train of thought a step further now, shall we? Over the course of the last several decades humans have begun taking on the project of “inventing” artificial intelligence. But as I have just broken down, if humanity and human intelligence is a creation of the universe, then everything the human mind creates is also a creation of the universe. If this is indeed the case then perhaps Julian Barbour was right, and humanity isn’t simply just inventing artificial intelligence, rather, we are discovering it and just now beginning to give it a means or conduit through which it can begin manifesting itself in our material world.

Playing this logic outwards, this would also mean that artificial intelligence itself, or any other form(s) of intelligence for that matter, have also been part of this universe all along, and we are just now beginning to develop the technological means for it to begin manifesting itself.  Mind still not 💥 💥 yet? Just think about it, humans are now “creating” artificial intelligence, which has capabilities and potentials far beyond that of the human condition.

If these statements/arguments are true, what does this imply about the future of humanity? Is artificial intelligence the next evolutionary next step for life to take on this planet or in this universe? Is artificial intelligence a new higher form of intelligence that will one day conquer our own? Science fiction often talks about the day when artificial intelligence surpasses humanities ability to control it,  before it ultimately moves on to take over control of the world – essentially hailing the demise of the human species itself. Intellectually breaking this down, maybe science fiction isn’t as far fetched as we once thought, and perhaps the future is approaching us far quicker than we ever imagined……