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Voorkant Dreyfus 'On the Internet' Hubert L. DREYFUS
On the Internet - Second Edition
London/New York: Routledge, 2009/2, 2001/1; 127 blzn.
ISBN-13: 978 04 1577 5168

[Ik heb ooit de eerste editie van dit boek gelezen, maar werk voor deze samenvatting digitaal de tweede editie door. De tweede editie heeft flinke veranderingen ondergaan in de eerste twee hoofdstukken om het in overeenstemming te brengen met de moderne mogelijkheden van Internet. Bovendien is een geheel nieuw vijfde hoofdstuk toegevoegd. Een en ander wordt kort uitgelegd in een voorwoord bij de tweede editie.]

Dreyfus is een Amerikaans filosoof die zich vooral bezighoudt met de fenomenologie en de existentiefilosofie, stromingen in de 'continentale filosofie' (zoals ze in de VS zouden zeggen). Hij staat kritisch tegenover veel ideeën over computers, kunstmatige intelligentie en Internet. Een voorbeeld daarvan is het boek What computers (still) can't do, dat ik samengevat heb in de AI-sectie van deze website.

(1) Introduction

Internet lijkt een digitaal landschap met onbegrensde mogelijkheden. Maar onderzoek onder gebruikers laat zien dat gevoelens van isolement, eenzaamheid en depressie onder die gebruikers toenemen, omdat ze merken dat hun sociale contacten in gezin en sociale omgeving afnemen.

"The authors conclude that what is missing is people’s actual embodied presence to each other. (...) This surprising discovery shows that the Internet user’s disembodiment has profound and unexpected effects. Presumably, it affects people in ways that are different from the way most tools do because it can become the main way its users relate to the rest of the world. Given these surprises and disappointments, we would naturally like to know what are the benefits and the dangers of living our lives on-line? Only then might we hope to have a glimmer concerning what the Net can become and what we will become in the process of living through it."(3-4)

Internetfanaten en -profeten als Perry Barlow, Hans Moravec, Ray Kurzweil vinden het juist geweldig dat we in een digitale wereld de beperkingen en kwetsbaarheid van ons lichaam kunnen overstijgen.

"By our body, such visionaries seem to mean not only our physical body with its front and back, arms and legs, and ability to move around in the world, but also our moods that make things matter to us, our location in a particular context where we have to cope with real things and people, and the many ways we are exposed to disappointment and failure as well as to injury and death. In short, by embodiment they include all aspects of our finitude and vulnerability. In the rest of this book, I will understand the body in these broad terms. (...) Who wouldn’t wish to become a disembodied being who could be anywhere in the universe and make backup copies of himself to avoid injury and death? Not only Web visionaries would be delighted to be free from deformities, depression, sickness, old age, and death. "(4)

Het feit dat mensen een (kwetsbaar) lichaam hebben is door filosofen heel uiteenlopend gewaardeerd. Plato vond het een last, Nietzsche de acceptatie ervan essentieel. De vraag is wat de gevolgen zullen zijn wanneer we steeds meer tijd on line zullen doorbrengen.

"Indeed, in what follows, I hope to show that, if our body goes, and we live, for example, through avatars (virtual bodies) as in Second Life, we will largely lose our sense of relevance, our ability to acquire skills, our sense of resistant reality, our ability to make maximally meaningful commitments, and the embodied moods that give life serious meaning. If that is the trade-off, the prospect of living our lives in and through the Web may not be so attractive after all."(7)

(9) One - The Hype about Hyperlinks

[Het hoofdstuk begint met een citaat uit 2000 van Michael Dertouzos, toch ook iemand die gemakkelijk de meest fantastische voorspellingen doet over computers, Internet etc.]

"The AI Problem, as it’s called – of making machines behave close enough to how humans behave intelligently – . . . has not been solved. Moreover, there is nothing on the horizon that says, I see some light. Words like 'artificial intelligence', 'intelligent agents', 'servants' – all these hyped words we hear in the press – are restatements of the mess and the problem we’re in. We would love to have a machine that could go and search the Web, and our personal stores, knowing our preferences, and knowing what we mean when we say something. But we just don’t have anything at that level. "(9)

Dit hoofdstuk gaat over zoekdiensten en zoekmachines. Deze tweede editie is daar minder pessimistisch over dan de eerste editie was. De aard van het WWW met zijn hyperlinks waarmee alles willekeurig aan alles gekoppeld kan worden, maakt het erg moeilijk er heel specifieke informatie te vinden.

"There are no hierarchies; everything is linked to everything else on a single level, and meaning is irrelevant."(12)

"Web surfers embrace proliferating information as a contribution to a new form of life in which surprise and wonder are more important than meaning and usefulness. This approach appeals especially to those who like the idea of rejecting hierarchy and authority and who don’t have to worry about the practical problem of finding relevant information. So postmodern theorists and artists embrace hyperlinks as a way of freeing us from anonymous specialists organizing our databases and deciding for us what is relevant to what. Quantity of connections is valued above the quality of these connections."(13)

Daarom is het nodig betekenisloze mechanische operaties te verzinnen om betekenisvolle informatie te vinden. Dat gebeurde al eerder met databases en is niet anders op het WWW.

"Since the 1960s, AI researchers had been seeking to solve the problem of getting computers, which are syntactic engines sensitive only to the form or shape of their input, to behave like human beings who are sensitive to semantics or meaning. So, naturally, researchers trying to develop search techniques for the Web turned to AI for help in programming computers to find just those Web pages whose relevance would be recognized by a human being conducting a search.

In the 1960s AI researchers had been optimistic. They felt confident that they could represent the few million explicit facts about the world people knew and then use rules for finding which facts were relevant in any given situation. But in the late 1970s and early 1980s AI researchers reluctantly came to recognize that, in order to produce artificial intelligence, they would have to make explicit and organize the commonsense knowledge people share, and that was a huge task."(16-17)

Douglas Lenat probeerde zoiets met zijn CYC-programma, maar veel alledaagse kennis is heel moeilijk expliciet te maken in termen die een computer kan verwerken.

"But most of our understanding of what it’s like to be embodied is so pervasive and action-oriented that there is every reason to doubt that it could be made explicit and entered into a database in a disembodied computer."(18)

"But the number of such facts about the body that one would need to make explicit and store because they might be relevant to some request is endless. Happily, by having a body we dispense with the need to store any such facts."(19)

"The failure of AI projects such as Lenat’s should call our attention to how important our bodies are in making sense of the world. Indeed, our form of life is organized by and for beings embodied like us: creatures with bodies that have hands and feet, insides and outsides; that have to balance in a gravitational field; that move forward more easily than backwards; that get tired; that have to approach objects by traversing the intervening space, overcoming obstacles as they proceed, etc. Our embodied concerns so pervade our world that we don’t notice the way our body enables us to make sense of it."(19-20)

"If we leave our embodied commonsense understanding of the world aside, as using computers seems to force us to do, we have to do things the computer’s way and try to locate relevant information by replacing semantics with correlations between formal squiggles. So there is a whole information retrieval industry devoted to developing Web crawlers and search engines that attempt to approximate a human being’s sense of relevance by using only the statistical corrections of the meaningless symbols available to a computer."(20)

Met Larry Page en Google ontstonden er echter na het uitkomen van de eerste editie van dit boek nieuwe inzichten om op dat grote Web te zoeken, nieuwe algoritmen die juist rekening hielden met het zoekgedrag van mensen (links vanaf andere websites, klikgedrag, zoektermen etc.). Daarmee werd het mogelijk om pagina's te 'ranken' tegen de zoektermen die iemand invoert en krijgen de zoekresultaten meer betekenis voor de zoeker.

[En ineens stopt het hoofdstuk? Vreemd. Want ook in het jaar van de tweede editie, 2009, was er al wel wat af te dingen op de zoekresultaten van zoekdiensten als Google, alleen al omdat de commercie een grotere invloed begon te krijgen op de 'rankings'.]

[Desondanks is het zeker zo dat de huidige zoekdiensten redelijk goed zijn in het presenteren van zinvolle zoekresultaten voor iemand die ergens naar zoekt, zeker wanneer je het vergelijkt met wat er wat dat betreft mogelijk was tot aan de eerste editie van het boek.]

[Maar we zijn er nog lang niet. Sterker nog: er is wat achteruitgang te bespeuren de laatste twee jaar, omdat de algoritmes aangepast zijn voor doelen die eigenlijk niet relevant zijn, zoals voor commerciële doelen.]

(25) Two - How Far is Distance Learning from Education?

Van allerlei technieken - film, radio, geprogrammeerde instructiemachines - is ooit gezegd dat ze het onderwijs fundamenteel zouden veranderen. Dat is nooit gebeurd. Nu zeggen allerlei profeten en futuristen hetzelfde over Internet en WWW. Maar kan afstandsonderwijs studenten de vaardigheden leren die ze nodig hebben in hun vak en in het maatschappelijk leven? Is communicatie van gezicht tot gezicht tussen docent en student essentieel of niet?

Dreyfus beschrijft verschillende fasen in het leerproces - beginner, gevorderde, competent persoon, vakkundig / bekwaam persoon, expert, master - en trekt de volgende conclusie:

"At every stage of skill acquisition beyond the first three, involvement and mattering are essential. Like expert systems following rules and procedures, the immortal detached minds envisaged by futurists like Moravec would at best be competent. Only emotional, involved, embodied human beings can become proficient and expert. So, while they are teaching specific skills, teachers must also be incarnating and encouraging involvement. Moreover, learning through apprenticeship requires the bodily presence of masters, and picking up the style of life that we share with others in our culture requires being in the presence of our elders."(46-47)

Afstandonderwijs mist dus allerlei belangrijke zaken. Bijvoorbeeld: lichamelijke aanwezigheid van leraren en studenten. Is het voldoende wanneer die lichamelijke aanwezigheid via Internet gesuggereerd wordt?

"Indeed, in so far as we want to teach expertise and mastery in particular domains and practical wisdom in life, which we certainly want to do, we finally run up against the most important question a philosopher can ask those who believe in the educational promise of the World Wide Web: can the bodily presence required for acquiring skills in various domains and for acquiring mastery of one’s culture be delivered by means of the Internet? "(47)

"So our question becomes: how much presence can telepresence deliver?"(48)

(49) Three - Disembodied Telepresence and the Remoteness of the Real

"Artists see far ahead of their time. Thus, just after the turn of the last century, E. M. Forster envisioned and deplored an age in which people would be able to sit in their rooms all their lives, keeping in touch with the world electronically. Now we have almost arrived at this stage of our culture. We can keep up with the latest events in the universe, shop, do research, communicate with our family, friends, and colleagues, meet new people, play games, and control remote robots all without leaving our rooms. When we are engaged in such activities, our bodies seem irrelevant and our minds seem to be present wherever our interest takes us."(49)

Uiteraard zijn er voorstanders en tegenstanders van die situatie. Dreyfus gaat het analyseren.

"Given that many people now agree that, as things are going, we will soon live our lives through such a vast, invisible, interconnected infrastructure, we must surely ask: will it, indeed, make our lives better? What would be gained and what, if anything, would be lost if we were to take leave of our situated bodies in exchange for ubiquitous telepresence in cyberspace? We can break up this question into two: how does relating to the world through teletechnology affect our overall sense of reality? And what, if anything, is lost when human beings relate to each other by way of teletechnology?

To answer these questions, we will first have to explore the more general question: what is telepresence and how is it related to our everyday experience of being in the presence of things and people?"(51)

Volgt de behandeling van een aantal filosofen op dat punt. Bijvoorbeeld Descartes volgens wie we de wereld en ook ons eigen lichaam alleen maar indirect kunnen ervaren in de geest. En met name Merleau-Ponty die juist vindt dat we de wereld alleen maar kunnen ervaren via ons lichaam en dat er geen geest is zonder lichaam.

"This sense of being embedded in a world with which we are set to cope is easiest to see if we contrast our experience of the direct presence of other people with telepresence such as teleconferencing."(56)

"But even such a multi-channel approach may not be sufficient. Two roboticists at Berkeley, John Canny and Eric Paulos, criticize the attempt to break down human–human interaction into a set of context-independent communication channels such as video, audio, haptics, etc. They point out that two human beings conversing face to face depend on a subtle combination of eye movements, head motion, gesture, and posture and so interact in a much richer way than most roboticists realize. Their studies suggest that a holistic sens of embodied interaction may well be crucial to everyday human encounters, and that this intercorporiality, as Merleau-Ponty calls it, cannot be captured by adding together 3D images, stereo sound, remote robot control, and so forth."(56-57)

En daarmee is ook duidelijk dat de 'telepresence' in 'distance education' nooit het niveau kan bereiken van echt onderwijs waarin leraar en studenten samen van alles uitwisselen ten voordele van beide.

"So, any form of telelearning, whether interactive or not, must face a final challenge. Can telepresence reproduce the sense of being in the situation so that what is learned transfers to the real world? Experienced teachers and phenomenologists agree that the answer is 'no'."(65)

"So we must conclude that expertise cannot be acquired in disembodied cyberspace. Distance-learning enthusiasts notwithstanding, apprenticeship can only take place in the shared situations of the home, the hospital, the playing field, the laboratory, and the production sites of crafts. Distance-apprenticeship is an oxymoron."(67)

"Even the most gentle person–robot interaction would never be a caress, nor could one successfully use a delicately controlled and touch-sensitive robot arm to give one’s kid a hug. Whatever hugs do for people, I’m quite sure telehugs won’t do it. And any act of intimacy mediated by any sort of robot prosthesis would surely be equally grotesque, if not obscene. Even if our teletechnology goes beyond the imagination of E. M. Forster so that eventually we can use remote-controlled robotic arms and hands to touch other people, I doubt that people could get a sense of how much to trust each other even if they could stare into each other’s eyes on their respective screens, while, at the same time, using their robot arms to shake each other’s robotic hands"(68)

(72) Four - Nihilism on the Information Highway: Anonymity vs. Commitment in the Present Age

Dit hoofdstuk gaat over de massificatie van de samenleving, de vervlakking die optreedt in de maatschappelijke discussie door de totale toegankelijkheid van de publieke sfeer. Mensen als Kierkegaard en Habermas worden kort besproken.

"While Tocqueville and Mill claimed that the masses needed elite philosophical leadership, and while Habermas agrees with them that what happened around 1850 with the democratization of the public sphere by the daily press is an unfortunate decline into conformism from which the public sphere must be rescued, Kierkegaard sees the public sphere itself as a new and dangerous cultural phenomenon in which the nihilism produced by the press brings out something that was deeply wrong with the Enlightenment idea of detached reflection from the start. Thus, while Habermas is concerned to recapture the moral and political virtues of the public sphere, Kierkegaard warns that there is no way to salvage the public sphere since, unlike concrete and committed groups, it was from the start the source of levelling."(74-75)

"Kierkegaard would surely have seen in the Internet, with its Websites full of anonymous information from all over the world and its interest groups that anyone in the world can join without qualifications and where one can discuss any topic endlessly without consequences, the hi-tech synthesis of the worst features of the newspaper and the coffeehouse."(77)

"Kierkegaard thought that people were addicted to the press, and we can now add the Web, because the anonymous spectator takes no risks. The person in the aesthetic sphere keeps open all possibilities and has no fixed identity that could be threatened by disappointment, humiliation, or loss."(81)

De vraag is welke rol Internet kan spelen in het ondersteunen en aanmoedigen van onvoorwaardelijke betrokkenheid bij iets.

"Kierkegaard would surely argue that, while the Internet, like the public sphere and the press, does not prohibit unconditional commitments, in the end, it undermines them. "(87)

"So it looks like Kierkegaard may be right. The press and the Internet are the ultimate enemy of unconditional commitment, but only the unconditional commitment of what Kierkegaard calls the religious sphere of existence can save us from the nihilistic levelling launched by the Enlightenment, promoted by the press and the public sphere, and perfected in the World Wide Web."(88)

(89) Five - Virtual Embodiment: Myths of Meaning in Second Life

Dit hoofdstuk is toegevoegd in de tweede editie en handelt over de virtuele wereld Second Life die een jaar of vier geleden erg in de belangstelling stond en filosofisch gezien een interessant probleem vormt in de lijn van de rest van dit boek.

[Indertijd had iedereen het heel modieus over Second Life, de laatste paar jaar hoor je er nauwelijks meer iets over. Ook zo'n zeepbel. Dreyfus beschrijft de virtuele wereld eerst, maar ik ga dat verder niet herhalen. Hij verwijst terecht ook naar de roman Snow Crash van Neal Stephenson waarin al een 'metaverse' voorkomt die erg lijkt op wat later Second Life werd.]

De existentialistische kritiek die Dreyfus uitwerkt laat zien dat de mensen die zich in virtuele wertelden als Second Life storten moeite hebben met het accepteren van de kwetsbaarheid van het menselijk bestaan.

"Indeed, thanks to virtual worlds like Second Life, we can forget our finitude and immerse ourselves in a rich, safe metaverse. Thus we now face a clear choice between a captivating life of diversion, which existential philosophers like Pascal consider empty and inauthentic, and the authentic life they favour in which one is called to face up to the vulnerability of all one cares about and yet, at the same time, find something meaningful to which to dedicate one’s life."(97)

Is het dan misschien positief dat mensen in een virtuele wereld allerlei mogelijkheden kunnen uitproberen en zichzelf kunnen ontdekken zonder grote risico's te lopen?

"The official guide takes it to be an advantage of the virtual world that in it breakdowns are generally a lot less serious than in ours. When your second life is not going well, you can simply abandon the troublesome situation – your fickle friend, your lost love, even your avatar body and your identity. What you do has fewer consequences than it would have in the real world, thus you are free to make commitments with fewer risks."(99-100)

"But Søren Kierkegaard would argue that a life free of the possibility of grief and humiliation is also a life free of bliss and glory. "(103)

"A serious philosophical question remains. Are there any rewarding ways of life not just discouraged but impossible in virtual worlds? That is, does an at least memorably meaningful life involve any crucial elements that may well be unpro- grammable?"(105)

[Ik begrijp werkelijk niet waartom Dreyfus hier Heidegger van stal haalt om te laten zien wat er aan zo'n virtuele wereld ontbreekt. Het is een 'disembodied existence' en dat zegt in feite alles. Ervaring en communicatie zijn dan slechts mogelijk tot op een bepaald punt, een punt dat al heel gauw bereikt wordt. Een virtuele wereld is natuurlijk nooit een vervanging voor de echte wereld, is er een zwakke afschaduwing van die je gemakkelijk weer vergeet.]

"To sum up: A focal event – perhaps the most meaningful experience available to us in our otherwise secular world – requires four capacities recognized by Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty that cannot be captured in the currently accepted Cartesian model:
1 Intercorporiality, i.e. the direct bodily expression and pick up of moods,
2 that the moods picked up be shared,
3 that those involved in a focal event sense that the shared attunement is shared, and
4 that those involved sense that they have contributed to their being taken over by a power outside their control."(119)

Conclusie:

"The idea that one could lead a memorably meaningful life in the kind of metaverse we currently can envisage would be a myth. For the time being, if we want to live life at its best, we will have to embrace our embodied involvement in the risky, moody, real world."(120)

(121) Conclusion

[Deze sectie herhaalt veel uit de vorige hoofdstukken en zet nog eens de puntjes op de i. Uiteraard ontkent Dreyfus niet dat Internet bepaalde zaken mogelijk maakt, maar hij relativeert de pretenties.]

"It would be a serious mistake to think we could do without these embodied capacities – to rejoice that the World Wide Web offers us the chance to become more and more disembodied, detached, ubiquitous minds leaving our situated, vulnerable bodies behind. The increased disembodiment of information leads to difficult trade-offs."(121)

"I have been arguing that the positive claims for the value of the Internet offered by our contemporaries are mostly hype."(124)

"It should thus be clear that tools are not neutral, and that using the Net diminishes one’s involvement in the physical and social world. This, in turn, diminishes one’s sense of reality and of the meaning in one’s life. Indeed, it seems that, the more we use the Net, the more it will tend to draw us into the unreal, virtual worlds populated by those who want to flee all the ills that flesh is heir to."(137)

"In sum, as long as we continue to affirm our bodies, the Net can be useful to us if we resist its tendency to offer the worst of a series of asymmetric trade-offs: economy over intensity in education, risk-free disembodied telepresence vs risky embodied interacting, the virtual over the real in our relation to things and people, detachment and anonymity over commitment in our on-line lives, and safe experimentation offered by avatars over the bold experimentation offered by real bodies.

In short, in using the Internet,we have to remember that our culture has already fallen twice, first for the Platonic and then for the Christian temptation to try to get rid of our vulnerable bodies – an attempt that has ended in nihilism. This time around, we must resist this temptation and affirm our bodies, not in spite of their finitude and vulnerability, but because, without our bodies, as Nietzsche saw, we would literally be nothing. "(143-144)

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