In his book, Deep Thinking, https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/31934455-deep-thinking?from_search=true,
the former Chess Grandmaster Gary Kasparov (defeated by IBM’s “Deep Blue”), argues that the combination of even low quality human intelligence, adequate computers and excellent human-machine integration strategy can outperform human geniuses aided by exquisitely powerful machines and a poor interface strategy. His argument is that using machines to augment human thought allows human thought to grow in capacity, which will allow our species to continue to physically and intellectually flourish. It is a compelling argument, but it misses something vital, which looks sometimes like this:
This mid-winter aspen grove is one individual, covering a half hectare of land at Big Bar Lake. She has multiple stems, all reading the weather and barometric pressure, recording it and responding to it. They communicate with each other underground. They carry the chemical communication trails of many thousands of insects and a wide array of peculiar diseases, each with their own networks.
They house birds, insects, owls, hawks, moose, deer and bears, and shelter water. All in all, they form a kind of data collection and storage device, although one that translates poorly to autonomous human minds. Even if you have Celtic heritage, the chances of proposing an intellectual problem to an aspen grove and receiving an intellectual answer are slight. It’s not going to play chess with you.
The Rhine, In Its Celtic Middle Flow
Still, the aspen is a complex environment, especially when you consider that it is just one of thousands of individuals like this, many smaller but many considerably larger, in just one small corner of the Cariboo Plateau, with deep connections to hundreds of other species, animal, vegetable and fungal. There’s a lot of information being gathered, transferred and physically encoded, and it is, despite intellectual appearances, all available to humans.
Aspens in Drought
In response to Kasparov’s proposed human-machine partnership — an extended mind, an Out Mind, so to speak — it is equally legitimate to propose a planet as an Out Mind.
It would be one read in quite different terms than Kasparov’s chess-playing machines, and it would likely solve entirely different problems in entirely different ways, but it would solve them and profoundly extend the reach of human intelligence and profoundly impact human well-being. The results would have to be uniquely measured, but that’s no issue. Humans have the capacity to do just that. This Earth Mind remains there: incredibly complex, incredibly networked, and with profound built-in human interfaces. Our bodies understand this stuff deeply. In fact, so do our minds, which operate in terms set by the planet as well. Here is that aspen grove in the summer.
The communication that is going to happen here is a bodily language, expressed physically. It is to be found in the Earth’s own patterns and substances, as interpreted by human bodies and their needs, and not by human minds set within abstracted cognitive environments. But, despair not. If the goal of Kasparov’s mind-centred strategy is, ultimately, for human bodies to survive, the goal of using the earth and its connections to extend human thought is ultimately to develop and nurture human minds (and to do so by caring for human bodies as legitimate extensions into the Earth.) Foregoing the kind of thinking we could experience when we worked along with the planet would be foolish, especially if all it left us with was AI searches of databases used to augment human thought in profound cognitive environments. Why not use them here?
Why on Earth are we separating our minds and bodies from the Earth they are built to read? (I have some thoughts on that, but that’s a conversation for next week.)