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Do you remember HAL? HAL the computer with a monotonous voice? HAL the guy with the funky door tricks? HAL the all-seeing evil red eye?

HAL is representative of one of the most corrosive of our false dichotomies: mind VS feeling. {This has a very “classical” take, but let me try to go trendy philosophy-for-daily-life like}.

What i mean is that HAL is popular because it reaffirms this bedtime-tale people tell themselves, that their “minds” are separate from the rest of their beings.

They think that ideas do not depend on who they are or what they experience. Like, they believe 2+3 equals 5 regardless of whether they are starving or belly-full. Not only that, they believe their thoughts have no correlation with their desires and passions and metabolism and so on.

The funny thing about this idea is that it leads to that most foolish of pipe dreams, this notion of perfectibility of thought. This naiveté basically states that ideas are destined to be a complete, isolated, self-sufficient system, that works perfectly and forever. If some system is not yet there, it’s just for lack of proper development, and sooner or later everything will have a proper scientific (or ethical, or philosophical) explanation.

The most shallow browsing of history of science will show that every “island of certainty” is no more than a purely methodological choice to ignore discrepancies in order to further development of specific tools.

Perfectibility of thought, by it’s turn, leads to the stance (and it is nothing beyond than a political stance, retrograde at that) that ideas can be either right or wrong.

But this clear-cut evaluation of ideas can only be maintained in restricted spaces where the rules are enforced strictly. For example, in a school exam. In life things are messy. 1 apple is not equal to 1 apple — you want the prettiest one, and there is always one more pretty than the other. 2+3 can be whatever you like if you go to the principal’s office and give her the fuck of her life. Shit, you can even make 2+3 be whatever inside the rules of Mathematics, if you use cheats like complex numbers or limits or whatever.

This right VS wrong fling (as if we were not already too far away from good sense) leads to the prejudice that one can either act with OR without reason. That “using your head” will inevitably lead you to take one only action.

Heads actually evolved to allow animals to be creative. Using the head is bound to produce the opposite effects, that is, make behaviour varied and not certain. Again, there are circumstances where one path is vastly more advantageous than the obvious alternatives, but not only this is the exception, even on those exceptions we never have a guarantee that there are hidden options even more advantageous than the prefered one.

Finally, to my utter and complete despair, this long line of nonsense leads us to what i’m calling “The HAL Dilemma”. To go with the dichotomy theme we could present it as reason VS emotion, as affection VS ideas. But the real issue is that HAL was a being composed solely of thought, and that being so it was functional from a purely physical standpoint but that he was denied contact with this (much chanted, but never defined or understood) realm of humanity, of feeling, of having respect for another life, and so on.

And even if AI research has shown by now that the idea of making “thinking machines” like HAL is just crap, not only impossible but also unuseful and uninteresting, still this idea of the calculating soulless intelligence subsists. Is it an excuse for all the times we have been fucked up by more intelligent people? We want to believe that when we were not smart enough we nevertheless were still “more valuable” for “having a soul”? Is that as stupid as it sounds to me?

If it is not bad enough that believing “calculation” to be soulless makes us worse calculators, it also makes us worse feelers. Our emotional dealings are hindered by this stupid taboo against having feelings for specific purposes. We stop negotiating our desires to pretend our feelings have no calculation with them, and we end up just as much feeling as before but with very diminished ability to negotiate. And the end result is that we feel less, for we end feeling bad.

HAL is a powerful metaphor, but it is a bad question. Bad questions have no good answers. Feelings and ideas are all brain-activity, there is no chasm between the two. There is a continuum there, it is obvious.

“Can we now, as a culture, please move on?”

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