Kant and Transhumanism

“Human beings, viewed as behaving systems, are quite simple. The apparent complexity of our behavior over time is largely a reflection of the complexity of the environment in which we find ourselves.”

-Herbert A. Simon


“Human reason, in one sphere of its cognition, is called upon to consider questions, which it cannot decline, as they are presented by its own nature, but which it cannot answer, as they transcend every faculty of the mind.”

 -Immanuel Kant

   The Critique of Pure Reason is prescient, one of those rare works outside of science fiction that had to await the march of progress before it seemed truly relevant. Maybe not the text in its entirety as it is rather repetitive, but a summary at the very least. Regardless of your stance on metaphysics It is one of the best somnambulants available, second only to some of Hegel’s lectures. Over the centuries it has only become more relevant. The book should seem much more intuitive to us now than it was in the 18th century. Succinctly stated: space, innate categories of our minds, cannot be divorced from our experience of things.  Time, space and causation are imposed upon reality by our minds, they are not formed by our experience of reality. Since the number of highlighted sections in the kindle edition drops precipitously, we can safely assume the piece become less quotable as it goes on, or very few people finish it.  The latter is more likely.  Although I find him more accessible than Heidegger, I would not call his prose lively.

“Mathematical science affords us a brilliant example, how far, independently of all experience, we may carry our a priori knowledge. It is true that the mathematician occupies himself with objects and cognitions only in so far as they can be represented by means of intuition. But this circumstance is easily overlooked, because the said intuition can itself be given a priori, and therefore is hardly to be distinguished from a mere pure conception. Deceived by such a proof of the power of reason, we can perceive no limits to the extension of our knowledge. The light dove cleaving in free flight the thin air, whose resistance it feels, might imagine that her movements would be far more free and rapid in airless space. “

-Immanuel Kant

The italics are mine. Whether you agree with his system or not, it is clear we believe we are right about most things. More disturbing, however, is we believe our mental tools, if we are even aware of them or their functions, are infallible or, even worse, complete. The ways in which we perceive reality are useful enough, although some New Agers may disagree. The ways we interpret it are undoubtedly flawed, and it is not likely the removal of cognitive biases or becoming familiar with the sensory laws of gestalt psychology will allow us to transcend the limitations of our neurology and/or environment (as Simon suggests). It is somewhat irritating to read an entire book about things, according to its author, we cannot ever hope to understand. Or so Kant thought…

“By far the greatest danger of Artificial Intelligence is that people conclude too early that they understand it.”


The potential of machines to outperform humans in what we traditionally call creative endeavors  is already apparent. By this I am not referring to mere calculating power. They exceeded us in this respect many years ago. Kant does not make allowance for other sentient beings, besides a deity, but much of what he wrote should serve as food for thought for software designers who wish to model. It is impossible to experience another person’s consciousness, to know any but our own. Even if telepathy existed and allowed us to do it, we would still have to use our own consciousness to analyze it.  Object depends upon subject, subject upon object. Consciousness itself can and will be expanded through hybridization of humans and machines and further advances in neuropsychopharmacology.

“It’s a very salutary thing to realize that the rather dull universe in which most of us spend most of our time is not the only universe there is. I think it’s healthy that people should have this experience.”

 -Aldous Huxley


One comment

  1. The idea of increasing our own subjective consciousness through the technologies that you refer to is a rather intriguing and exciting one. Perhaps AI really will be the key to developing further technologies for the augmentation of human kind and consciousness, perhaps the computer will not have the inbuilt limitations for conceiving and understanding these problems.

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