Lyotard, among other things, attempts to explain human thought and the complexities which surround the process in such a manner that we may build a body which may perpetuate this ability beyond our earthly, closed and solar-dependent existence. In short, he describes human thought as a reflexive process which must be properly understood in order to be captured in the form of artificial intelligence that may survive beyond the immanent storm of nuclear fires which threatens to terminate all earthly thought and meaning in the suns last throws before extinction. In the laboring process of describing human thought however, Lyotard presents his ideas in a very challenging set of analogous comparisons and conclusions which at first appear to be drawn out of nowhere. In order to better understand this segment of his passage however, one must read deeper beyond the philosophical appearance of the matter and look to the technical conclusions it ascertains. As Lyotard begins his essay, philosophical questions must, “remain unanswered to deserve being called philosophical.” From this, we will find no conclusions on the matter of human thought, and immortality through artificial intelligence will forever be out of reach.
Reflexive thought, as Lyotard describes it, is, “a mode of thought not guided by rules for determining data, but showing itself as possibly capable of developing such rules afterwards on the basis of results obtained ‘reflexively.’” He continues by pointing out that, “reflexive thought…does not hide what it owes to perceptual experience.” At a glance, it appears that Lyotard is saying that human thought references itself within its own processes in order to function. In referencing itself, we rely on our experiences and existence as a sentient being with a tangible body to draw experience in which thought can be derived. What does this mean though? How does this idea help to explain human thought in such a way that we can adequately model artificial intelligence to mimic it?
Thought doesn’t just present itself as an analogy to perception. Thought requires perception in order to proceed. Without physical being to draw experience from, thought fails to exist. Lyotard explains here that thought requires analogical reference to the physical being which presents the sentient “human” thought rather than the circuit logic that can be performed on a binary computer system. Logic can exist as a set of rules rooted in reality, but sentient thought can only proceed when there is being to draw experience from, when there is a system in which thought can reflexively build on itself as it develops. It requires a system as diverse and rooted in the physical state as a fine tuned biological organism such as ourselves to reach beyond logic and rules and gain the ultimate goal of thought that can operate and change as the environment that creates that thought changes.
In essence, Lyotard explains in this particular paragraph that in order to create an immortal expansion of our thought that will survive the test of time beyond the early reaches of our own doomed existence; we must create a system rooted in a physical being that can draw on the experiences of that being. Only then will any artificial intelligence be able to immortalize the power of human thought rather than creating a record of logical outputs forever mimicking the past. Is this really a technically conclusion on the nature of thought though? Does this give a simple answer that can be overcome to achieve immortality in the form of artificial beings with true human intellect? I don’t believe it does, but instead it returns to Lyotard’s philosophical realm; a realm dominated by the lack of answers and technical conclusions. Thus the reason surfaces as to why Lyotard presents this idea in such a complex and deeply confusing manner. Philosophical questions, by his definition, are those that do not draw conclusions, but instead provoke thought which may lead to further questions. The nature of thought really can’t be summed up simply as an entity which is dependent on a physical state to draw experience from. The nature of sentient thought reaches far beyond this simple understanding and paradoxically requires far more understanding than any technical conclusion can provide. In the complexity of his philosophical understanding of thought, does Lyotard actually conclude anything? Or does he simply lead us to the reality that human thought can never truly be explained in a technical form suitable for replication into the immortal realm of artificial intelligence?