In his essay, Can Thought go on without a Body, Lyotard attempts to explain the complexities of thought and the difficulty in creating an artificial intelligence that can think like humans do. In one paragraph Lyotard attempts to explain how we perceive things, the limits of language and how writing does not stop where the words do.
“In any serious discussion of analogy it’s this experience that is meant, this blur, this uncertainty, this faith in the inexhaustibility of the perceivable, and not just a mode of transfer of the data onto an inscription-surface not originally its own.” (Lyotard 17)
In this long sentence Lyotard is explaining how the mind perceives things. The mind accounts for more than what is just on the surface. It fills in blanks and draws conclusions based on past experiences and ties them all together when analyzing what we are seeing. Put more simply our minds to not act simply like video cameras that transfer data onto a tape, but instead our minds interpret and analyze details, create new thoughts and fill in blanks. Lyotard believes that this process is extremely complex and is a major barrier to creating a human artificial intelligence. Lyotard then goes on to apply this idea to writing as well.
“Similarly, writing plunges into the field of phrases moving forward by means of adumbrations, groping towards what it ‘means’ and never unaware, when it stops…beyond the writing that has stopped, an infinity of words, phrases and meaning in a latent state, held in abeyance, with as many things ‘to be said’ as at the beginning” (Lyotard 17)
Here Lyotard further emphasizes the complexities of language. He states that the writing itself is only the beginning of what is being expressed. It only begins to sketch the picture, a picture that can have an infinite number of interpretations and ideas spawn from it. The words themselves have much more potential than what is explicitly stated. These complexities of language are what make creating an artificial intelligence so difficult.
“Real ‘analogy’ requires a thinking or representing machine to be in its data just as the eye is in the visual field or writing is in language. It isn’t enough for these machines to simulate the results of vision or of writing fairly well. It’s a matter of…’giving body’ to the artificial thought of which they are capable.” (Lyotard 17)
Here Lyotard attempts to summarize his points as related to creating a thinking machine. When Lyotard mentions analogy he means it in the sense of “resemblance of relations or attributes forming a ground of reasoning” (
Lyotard’s essay is essentially a philosophical essay about why intelligence and thought should be preserved beyond the existence of humans and what types of technological hurdles we need to overcome in order to achieve this. In this paragraph Lyotard attempts to explain why simple things such as language and perception are much more complicated than they appear on the surface. Not only will this artificial intelligence have to record video and understand writing, it will have to be able to analyze, interpret and draw parallels to them.
Answering why Lyotard uses difficult language is much more difficult task. I believe that Lyotard uses this difficult language for two reasons. First, because he wants to emphasize the complexities of language to better emphasize his point that language is an extremely complex thing for an artificial intelligence to master. The essay forces you to spend a lot of time analyzing and thinking about what is being said. This helps the reader understand what Lyotard is saying about writing being more than just the words on the paper. Second, because he wants you to spend more time reading the paragraph and therefore more time thinking about the ideas expressed in it. By using difficult language the reader spends more time trying to understand it and as a result walks away with a better understanding of what is being expressed.
Lyotard, Jean-Francois. “Can Thought Go on without a Body?”