Towards the end of the first half (HE) of Lyotard’s essay, he outlines the fundamental difference between the way a computer processes input and the way the human mind processes input. A computer is, at its most basic level, a binary processor. The human mind is not. We can function on data that is neither a one nor a zero. For example, if a friend tells you that he saw an animal that was similar to a horse except shorter and stockier, you could figure out that he saw a donkey. To a computer, however, it either was a horse or it was not. The computer could not handle the ‘similar to’ concept. It is this distinction between the functioning of a computer processor and that of a human consciousness that marks one of Lyotard’s major points opposing the possibility of thought’s existence outside of the body.
The human mind’s ability to recognize similarity between distinct objects or ideas and create associations opens up an infinite expanse through which one’s consciousness may traverse. One association leads to another, leads to another, and so forth ad infinitum. Lyotard invokes an analogy to the field of vision. From any given viewpoint, there is a limit to how far one can see, and that limit is the horizon. Say there is a tree at the horizon. You can reach the tree by progressing forward, but you have not reached the horizon because it has progressed as you did. The same principle applies to the field of thought. By making one association or analogy, you may be able to see how you could get to another a few steps down the line. But the vast landscape of cognitive thought is still obscured to you, and the only way to unveil it is to progress forward, pushing your horizon of thought ahead of you. In this way, Lyotard explains that human cognition not only consists of an infinite landscape of corresponding analogies but also is structured as one overarching analogy to the field of vision. “A field of thought exists in the same way that there’s a field of vision (or hearing): the mind orients itself in it just as the eye does in the field of the visible. […] [T]his analogy isn’t extrinsic, but intrinsic.” (4-5)
This being the case, a computer cannot possibly reproduce human thought. If it is unable to generate analogies, a computer cannot construct the infinite landscape of associations that makes up the field of human thought. Indeed, it cannot even conceive of the frame of reference that the human mind uses to orient itself within the landscape of its own processes.
This passage is difficult because in trying to explain the mind’s dependence on analogy, Lyotard himself invokes several analogies. This is both inevitable and (I’m sure) intentional on Lyotard’s part. It is inevitable because of precisely what Lyotard is explaining. The human mind depends on its own ability to make cognitive leaps. It is nearly impossible to describe anything relying entirely on binary statements and without invoking some sort of analogy. Saying that a horse is not a car is only slightly more useful than saying that a horse is a horse when you don’t have any idea what a horse is to begin with. Therefore, Lyotard’s use of analogies to explain our dependence on analogies is not only inevitable but also pedagogical. In explaining our dependence on analogical thinking he is simultaneously demonstrating it. This in turn reinforces the explanation.
Lyotard concludes that the very manner in which our thought processes progress is analogous to the way our bodies progress through physical time and space. Therefore to dissociate the consciousness from the body would be to dissociate the thought process from its own landscape.