International Society for Philosophers

International Society for Philosophers

Wisdom begins with wonder

PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS                   ISSN 2043-0728


Issue number 116 11th April 2006


I. 'Will to Power in the Eternal Recurrence' by Omar Khan

II. 'The Dweller in the Region' by Ovidiu Gherghe

III. 'Plato's Answer to Alan Turing's Question' by D.R. Khashaba



Omar Khan from the University of Peshawar, Pakistan recently completed his Masters thesis, 'Nietzsche: On Overcoming Nihilism', coming top of his year and earning a Gold medal. His essay on Nietzsche's will to power and eternal occurrence is specially written for this issue.

Pathways student Ovidiu Gherghe writes about the fascinating interface between poetry and philosophy, with reference to the American philosopher William James, raising the question of what it takes to make a philosophy truly edifying.

D.R. Khashaba offers a controversial take on the famous Turing Test, questioning its ability to capture what it is that is essential to being a conscious subject. It is not thinking in the sense defined by AI research but subjectivity or possession of a point of view which is the true 'locus of reality and value'.

Geoffrey Klempner



     Man doth not yield himself to the angels, nor unto death
     utterly, save only through the weakness of his feeble will.
Joseph Glanvill

Of the drives natural to man, the most fundamental and primary drive according to Nietzsche is a will to rule, to overcome -- the Will To Power. In the doctrine of will to power, Nietzsche's philosophy matures fully and the earlier dichotomy of Dionysian and Apollonian[1] which had a Hegelian dialectical flavor to it, becomes absorbed into the Will to power and thus becomes one, just as all other drives do. The Will to power becomes a vehicle for the revaluation of decadent values, which for him were the result of two thousand years of slave morality. The Dionysian energy becomes merely a material for will to power which is the most important drive in nature. Thus Nietzsche says:

     This world is the will to power -- and nothing besides! And
     you yourselves are also this will to power -- and nothing

Nietzsche's will to power, unlike Schopenhauer's Will, cannot be fully defined, since it cannot be known directly but rather through its manifestations. This Will to power is what rules the world and its historical behavior; it is the will to power which governs an individual's actions in this world. So fundamental is this Will to power that life could not be even possible without it. Both life and Will to power presuppose each other. Nietzsche has, as appears clearly, inherited the concept of becoming from Heraclitus for whom the concept of being smells of stagnation. Everything is a becoming. Everything is in flux. Will to power in itself is for Nietzsche nothing but becoming. This nature of becoming implies that all values too needs new valuations. Thus the revaluation of values too is a function and manifestation of this will to power. Everything that lives is an expression of will to power. The living beings must discharge their energy and even if it remains suppressed it will seek an outlet, and this energy is released in the form of power, whether in the form of art and music or architecture, or even war. Thus life is nothing but will to power for Nietzsche:

     A living thing seeks above all to vent its strength -- life
     itself is will to power. [3]

This will to power of life is not the Darwinian self preservation of species since, 'self preservation is only one of the indirect and most frequent consequences of it. '[4]

I argue that in spite of the fact that Nietzsche's will to power has some destructive aspect to it, it is moving towards creativity. Similar to Freud's concepts of Eros and Thanatos, will to power too must destroy to create, for in the process of becoming everything is constantly being destroyed and created anew. What it will destroy is decadent and degenerated values with the 'Revaluation of values' and will replace them with more noble and healthy values. The example of a carpenter cutting down a tree to shape it into a chair should serve a good illustration of how will to power has to be both destructive and constructive to create what is grand and noble and the apparent destruction and construction is only manifestations of this will to power eternally becoming. The most accurate portrayal of will to power is the drive to create. The desire to be at our best creativity is an important component of this will to power.

For Nietzsche humans are always trying to impose their superiority and will upon each other in one way or the other. Whether the person is physically harming another person, or giving him presents, or praising him or claiming to be in love with someone, the psychological and underlying desire remains the same; to inflict one's will on them. This implies that human beings are basically egoistic by nature and not altruistic as Christianity takes them to be. In fact, Nietzsche accuses Christian concept of bringing inferior ranks of people on equal footing with the superior ranks of people as a hidden Will to power, as he says:

     the will to equality is the will to power[5]

The Nietzschean will to power should not be confused with Schopenhauer's 'Will' even though it has many qualities in it which are present in the Schopenhauerian will. Schopenhauer's will is not concerned with power directly the way Nietzsche sees it, and is unintelligently striving as a blind force. Ideas and representations are the outward manifestations of this blind Will, whereas the Will itself is the inner nature and essence of the universe. This 'Will' according to Schopenhauer can never be fully satisfied. It takes many different forms such as lusts, desires and cravings. When one desire is satisfied, it gives rise to another ad infinitum. Therefore it gives rise to all the pains and suffering and the burden of satisfying unrelenting desires. These ideas therefore lead Schopenhauer to a life denying attitude. For him 'instinct urges men to procreation, which brings into existence a new occasion for suffering and death; that is why shame is associated with the sexual act. '[6] Thus instincts are bad and lead towards suffering and a good man's 'Will turns away from life and denies his own nature.'[7]

Nietzsche's will to power, on the contrary, is a life affirming attitude. In this, the creatures affirm their instincts to acquire power and dominance. On pains and sufferings one's back is not shown but rather these are embraced as a necessary part of life. For Nietzsche, lasting pleasure and satisfaction come about as a result of being able to live according to one's instincts or authenticity and to exert will to power and not by running away from one's own nature. Nietzsche in his new valuation has defined Christian 'good' and 'evil' in the light of the will to power. Thus he says:

     What is good -- All that heightens the feeling of power,
     the will to power, power itself, in man. What is bad? --
     All that proceeds from weakness. ?' Again: 'What is
     happiness? -- The feeling that power increases -- that a
     resistance is overcome.[8]

Nietzsche's Will is in a perpetual becoming, a monster of energies gushing constantly. It is therefore his idea of eternal recurrence which gives this constant becoming of will to power a stability. The idea of everything recurring forever has two aspects, one cosmological and the other a psychological aspect. The cosmological aspect is very much debatable as far as its reality is concerned. But then this is the case with every metaphysical theory. Nietzsche no doubt believed the eternal return of each and every thing and every state of the universe to be actually happening. Even now as I am typing these alphabets in this particular moment while this little sparrow is sitting in the window, this will again happen in the future, as again I shall be typing the same words, while the same sparrow will be sitting in this window. This will happen again and again forever. For Nietzsche there is an infinite time while the events in this world are finite. This means that in an infinite time the finite events are bound to recur again and again eternally. The world therefore is a never ending process of coming to be and passing away. In his Will To Power Nietzsche explains:

     If the world may be thought of as a certain definite
     quantity of force and as a certain definite number of
     centers of force -- and every other representation remains
     indefinite and therefore useless -- it follows that, in the
     great dice game of existence, it must pass through a
     calculable number of combinations. In infinite time, every
     possible combination would at some time or another be
     realized; more: it would be realized an infinite number of
     times. And since between every combination and its next
     recurrence all other possible combinations would have to
     take place, and each of these combinations conditions the
     entire sequence of combinations in the same series, a
     circular movement of absolutely identical series is thus
     demonstrated: the world as a circular movement that has
     already repeated itself infinitely often and plays its game
     in infinitum.[9]

This theory when taken in its cosmological aspect, as it seems to me, is very much like the 'Big bang' theory, which so far is the most reliable explanation for the origin of our universe. According to the 'big bang' theory the universe was once extremely dense and compact. Then an explosion occurred and the universe started expanding and cooling. Whether the universe will keep expanding forever or will return to its own original state to self annihilation is dependent on its density, that is to say, the concentration of mass in the universe. If the universe is very dense, then the force of gravity will eventually overcome the expansion and will start pulling the matter in the universe back together. But if the universe is less dense, in that case it will keep expanding forever. Cosmologists are still trying to find out how dense the universe is.

What interests me here is the denser side of the universe. If the universe is dense enough -- which is probable -- then the universe will stop expanding one day, and will withdraw into the same initial compact form as it once was. In my view it is quite apparent that Nietzsche thought of the Eternal Recurrence in the same way as the modern theory of big bang suggests the origin of universe. If we look at the big bang theory from the position of Nietzsche's Eternal Recurrence, the universe being limited has stopped expanding due to gravity and is going back to its initial state, the initial state again will result in a big bang and again the universe will expand in the same manner as it did innumerable times before. Thus this contraction and expansion of our universe continues eternally. When Nietzsche says: 'And are not all things closely bound together in such wise that This Moment draweth all coming things after it? CONSEQUENTLY -- itself also?'[10], he is pointing towards the necessity of things to become and pass away in a certain fixed sequence, that is to say, B will always be followed by A, and C will always follow B. In a nutshell, nihilism will come again and again, Zarathustra will again teach Superman and again the small and the great will come together, and so on. Thus this contracting and expanding of the universe follows, in the Nietzschean sense, a strict mathematical equilibrium and the manner in which things and their events are arranged will repeat themselves ad infinitum.

The second aspect of the theory of eternal recurrence is the psychological aspect. The psychological aspect of this theory, as I see it, suggests a test of the strength of will, and as such I shall consider it. Whether cosmologically it proves true or not is out of the scope of this discussion. What is of greater importance to me is the psychological effects it can produce in the individual in particular and the society in general in the face of nihilism. Thus this theory in its psychological interpretation acts as a hypothetical and diagnostic tool. Magnus confirms my view by interpreting Eternal Recurrence as a psychological tool, but only partly[11]. He primarily takes this theory as an affirmative attitude towards life -- a 'yea! to life'. I will rather have both the cosmological and psychological interpretations as two sides of the same coin, and argue that Nietzsche actually did believe the Recurrence of events eternally as he explains in his Will To Power where he has developed this theory quite systematically on the basis of law of conservation of energy:

     The law of the conservation of energy demands eternal

The effects of eternal recurrence are dramatic since each moment in itself bears eternity within itself. The eternal recurrence overcomes any dualism and the Christian otherworldliness, as it places on each and every moment the burden of eternity. Life is terrible and tragic; life is beautiful and life is ugly too; there is much that is great in life but equally so, that which is base and despicable. The superior man, the free spirit affirms life as it is and has the strength of will to want every moment of his life -- regardless of its beauty or ugliness -- to repeat itself as it is, eternally to its minutest details. This is what Nietzsche calls amor fati:

     My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati:
     that one wants nothing to be other than it is, not in the
     future, not in the past, not in all eternity. Not merely to
     endure that which happens of necessity, still less to
     dissemble it -- all idealism is untruthfulness in the face
     of necessity -- but to love it...[13]

What Nietzsche wants us to do is to affirm life as it is just as the Greeks did in the tragic period. But Nietzsche has gone a step farther by asking us to desire for this life to repeat eternally. But eternity? -- and that too without a change? Certainly only those who are strong in their will, 'free spirits', those who embraced even nihilism -- unlike those who being passive nihilists fell prey to it -- can affirm life in such fashion. Besides the eternal recurrence stamps eternity on every moment in this world where we humans dwell, as opposed to the Judeo Christian and platonic emphasis on the 'other world', and in such eternal recurrence the question of nihilism or beliefs themselves lose meaning. The stage of nihilism is no more a permanent situation but rather a moment in the eternity of return. One accepts the return of life eternally, and does not demand any other life, neither better nor worse.

But this requires superhuman courage, and this courage one achieves when he becomes a 'Free spirit', and denounces the slave morality, for such a morality, Nietzsche contends is the spirit of gravity and attracts the greatness of spirit downwards. By the spirit of gravity Nietzsche means the rational spirit of Socratism or Platonism, the spirit that has mastered the world in various Platonisms for the people[14]. The Dionysian Will to power along with the doctrine of Eternal Recurrence becomes objectified and embodied in a perfect manner in Nietzsche's Ubermench or 'Superman', whose arrival Zarathustra proclaims to his followers.

When Nietzsche asks us to become what we are, he wants us to reconcile with our instincts and our nature. Of the instincts and drives as I said above, he recognizes the 'Will to Power' to be the most important drive in which both the Dionysian and Apollonian drives become one. This will to power has its most spiritual manifestation in art and philosophy and Nietzsche wants the 'philosophers of the future', those who are 'beyond good and evil' to make road for the revaluation of the traditional values. And will to power is justified by his theory of eternal recurrence in which every event repeats itself indefinitely. This is at first glance a very sinister state of affairs and Nietzsche's Zarathustra also shudders to speak of it in Thus Spake Zarathustra, in the chapter The vision and Enigma. Nietzsche, as is proved from his posthumously published notes, believes in the eternal recurrence as a tenable concept.

The eternal recurrence has been all along greatly criticized by many philosophers as far as its cosmological aspect is concerned and has been termed a fatalistic approach towards life. But Nietzschean fatalism is very much like the fatalism of Spinoza. Spinoza achieves freedom in a very different way, i.e., by becoming aware of the fact that one is part of a whole, in which one plays his particular role. Same is Nietzschean amor fati with respect of a constant 'becoming' and one being part of it. Embracing life in spite of its terribleness like the tragic Greek heroes is what Nietzsche's fatalism means. It is will to power itself which needs eternal recurrence. This theory is however still debatable and can be criticized in many ways. For example, Iqbal calls it a worse fatalism and criticizes it by terming it a 'rigid kind of mechanism, based not on an ascertained fact but only on a working hypothesis of science'.[15] We may or we may not like the fatalistic and mechanistic view of life. But what if the whole universe and human affairs are really mechanistic? The debate continues.


Nietzsche's Works

1) Nietzsche, Friedrich, 1990: Beyond Good and Evil, Trans: R. J. Hollingdale, 1st
Edition, Penguin Classic Books, New York and London.

2) ________, 1992: Ecce Homo, Trans: R. J. Hollingdale, Penguin Classics, New York.

3) ________, 1997: Thus Spake Zarathustra, Trans: Thomas Common,  Wordsworth Classics, Great Britain.  4) ________, 1985: Twilight of the Idols and The Antichrist Trans: R. J. Hollingdale,  Viking Penguin Inc. , New York.  5) ________, 1968: The Will to Power, Ed & Trans:Walter Kaufmann, Vintage Books, New York.

Secondary Works

1) Iqbal, Muhammad Allama, 1989: Reconstruction Of Religious Thought In Islam,  Iqbal Academy Pakistan and Institute Of Islamic Culture, Lahore.

2) Lampert, Laurence, 1986: An Interpretation of Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Yale University Press, New Haven and London.

3) Magnus, Bernd, 1986: Nietzsche as Affirmative Thinker. Ed: Yirmiyahu Yovel,  Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, Dordrecht. .

4) Russell, Bertrand, 1999: History of Western Philosophy, 2nd edition, Routledge,  England.


1. Nietzsche, Friedrich: Birth of Tragedy, 1872 2. Nietzsche, Friedrich: The Will to power, Ed & Trans:Walter Kaufmann, Vintage Books, New York, 1968, p. 550 3. Nietzsche, Friedrich: Beyond Good and Evil, Trans: R. J. Hollingdale, 1st Edition, Penguin classic books, New York and London, 1990, p. 44 4. Ibid.
5. Nietzsche, 1968, p. 277 6. Russell, Bertrand: History of western Philosophy, 2nd edition, Routledge, England, 1999 p. 724 7. Ibid. p. 725 8. Nietzsche, Friedrich: The Antichrist, in Twilight of the Idols and The Antichrist, Trans: R. J. Hollingdale,  Viking Penguin Inc. , New York, 1985, p. 127 9. Nietzsche, 1968, . , p. 549 10. Nietzsche, Friedrich: Thus Spake Zarathustra, Trans: Thomas Common, Wordsworth Classics, Great Britain, 1997, p. 154 11. Magnus, Bernd: 'Nietzsche and the end of philosophy', in Nietzsche as Affirmative thinker. Ed: Yirmiyahu Yovel, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, Dordrecht 1986. p. 53 12. Nietzsche, 1968, p. 547 13. Nietzsche, Friedrich: Ecce Homo, Trans: R. J. Hollingdale, Penguin Classics, New York, 1992, p. 37 14. Lampert, Laurence: An Interpretation of Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1986, p. 162 15. Iqbal, Muhammad Allama: Reconstruction Of Religious Thought In Islam, Iqbal Academy Pakistan and Institute Of Islamic Culture, Lahore, 1989, p. 92

(c) Omar Khan 2006




     'Since the genius of the wheel was accident,
     The always-almost that hadn't,
     A minor agony rehearsed as fun
     While the lights came up and dark replaced the sun,
     Seeming to complete them going round all day,
     Paying to be turned that way.'[1]


Going to an amusement park and riding on the Ferris wheel may reveal little in regards to yearning issues of human existence. It may simply be viewed as an act of leisure with limited conceptual grasp, an event of pure pleasure with no serious weight attached to it. A poet may strike a page, or two, of his perspective, by bringing our focus to a cliche we were not previously aware of; in a moment of flash we understand a certain personal meaning the way it was intended by the author. This may even stand as a moment of significant revelation, which may turn out to represent either a new way of assessing a particular life aspect, or a philosophical perspective that gives inspiration where none existed. The meaning of a poem is always altered by the reader with his own preconceptions. Who better at explicating the arrangement between the poet and himself? Philosophy does not have to be diametrically opposed to poesis as it is with the case in traditional philosophy.

As the poet and philosopher may stand on different pedestals, the best way to understand a particular dilemma is to attempt an investigation into their own display of personal expression. Since this article will focus on specific elements of the philosophy of William James and a poem by Wyatt Prunty titled The Ferris Wheel (see Footnotes below), the best source for proper assessment and interpretation will have to be a subjective one. If the poet gets to tell us somehow in another language what the meaning of his poem is, then the philosopher can attempt to extract and expand it towards different vistas -- vistas which were not originally foreseen. Where the poet cannot help -- because he remains an unbounded seeker, the philosopher may emerge as 'the dweller in the region', attempting to stabilize, to find conceptual things the mind can hold on to. For James, there seems to be not such major violation if one 'feels all needs by turns' as long as the visitor is distinguished from the dweller. To James, the visitor 'will take nothing as an equivalent for life but the fullness of living itself' which in theory falls a little short for the dweller, yet they seem to coexist relatively in the pragmatic interpretation.

The character in the poem The Ferris Wheel by Prunty may look 'ahead for something in the fields/To stabilize the wheel' -- a staunch feeling to grasp the concreteness one takes for granted when motion is not amplified so quickly and unexpectedly. Yet, the poet begins explaining his work by a reference to symbols of an era gone by. For Prunty the Ferris wheel is just a memory of the mechanical accomplishments of the nineteenth century -- or at least one of the least functional constructs. He sees railroads, bridges and steamships, or rather he imagines a time when history experienced them in their moments of glory. The author in this case brings to the forefront his perspective that 'we are an equipmental bunch, for whom the question seems to be will versus worth.'

In The Sentiment of Rationality[2], it appears that William James took a philosophical journey to find a point of stability also. Whether he ends up succeeding or not is irrelevant to this writing. What matters the most is that he attempted to understand better the underlying principles that make a philosophy positive and worthwhile, an attempt to clarify and understand.

     'When enjoying plenary freedom either in the way of motion
     or of thought, we are in an anaesthetic state in which we
     might say with Walt Whitman, if we cared to say anything
     about ourselves at such times, 'I am sufficient as I am.'
     This feeling of the sufficiency of the present moment, of
     its absoluteness, -- this absence of all need to explain
     it, account for it, or justify it, -- is what I call the
     Sentiment of Rationality.'[3]

For James, the anaesthetic represents a dual stillness and if carefully interpreted it reveals itself not as a moment of pleasurable discovery, but more as a point in time and space that the thinker must avoid for not to fall in its powerful abyss of possible uncertainty. The poet may talk of 'zero-G' but the philosopher calls it uncertainty. James wit is just as lethal as that of the poet, if not more so. At the same time his acclaimed Principles of Psychology were getting world coverage, the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago (1893) displayed the largest 'pleasure wheel' to date built by an engineer named George W. Gale Ferris. After that it became known and passed down to our generation simply as -- 'the Ferris wheel.'


In the introspection section where the poet is asked to comment on his own creation, Prunty talks about his poem and shows an impeccable fascination with grand mechanical achievements of the Industrial Revolution. The Ferris wheel stands apart from the others by existing 'in small terms as an amusement.' For him, there is a deeper problem here as a result of a contrast between 'innocent associations' and 'angular experience.' I suggest that the same problem reveals itself in parallel by following William James's trail in the Sentiment of Rationality. Both, the poem and the essay will eventually succeed in revealing to us an unclear state of mind -- although they will eventually fall short in solving any particular problem.

Reading Prunty's The Ferris Wheel too quickly may leave unnoticed another hidden perspective: the character in the poem changes places from a mere observer to an elusive participant, although he never becomes active per se. He first delights in the circular motion and breathes in the color and the beauty of the crowd below, 'a holiday of shirts... so beautiful, he thought, looking down now.' As the outskirt motion seems to increase its speed, the inward reel seems to close its aperture, mysteriously allowing for a moment that reveals itself at the center of both Prunty's poem and James' essay. The rider is -- according to the author -- 'a spoilsport, a drag, a retarded yea, a long sigh in the fun... out of the market.' Perhaps James would embrace this visiting spirit, perhaps he would let out a chuckle were he alive today, followed by a quick lecture about classification and reminding us that the visitor can co-merge philosophically as a 'dweller in the region.'[4]

The particular conceptual focus becomes the experience itself. Without it, the rider in the poem would not have been able to internally grasp this. Would anyone know what zero gravity feels like before-hand? Without a resembling memory of sorts? The connection the poet seems to try can eventually miss the audience. Let us assume that we experienced a dream where falling was the main theme. The poet could relate the Ferris wheel zero-gravity to the dream of falling, but is that an accurate representation? If so, then the sentiment needs explication. This discovery reveals a sort of spark of internal beauty, an interweaving of language and ideas which eventually either becomes apparent to the receiver or else the meaning temporarily cannot be grasped. As outward physical motion of the Ferris wheel increased and psychological internal ones decreased, the culmination point eventually becoming the elusive 'zero-G'. Here the poet can help James in his task to envision the experience in a clearer (and much more detailed than the naked eye) nuance, but, he is of no help when trying to get a hold of his fleeting instances he craves so much. James does not proceed to cut off the poetic vision and eliminate it. Instead, he attempts to merge his language and can even assist the poet by slicing out the moment in itself, and committing his own philosophical magic. His style may be different, but his center point is similar. Take for example the following:

     'The more multiple then are the instances, the more
     flowingly does his mind rove from fact to fact. The
     phenomenal transitions are no real transitions; each item
     is the same old friend with a slightly altered dress.'[5]

This observation by James is absorbed and freeze-framed in Prunty's poem. The participant eventually becoming himself one who loses his spatial and gravitational perspectives with 'no one prospect by which to "stabilize" understanding.' The resemblance to the Sentiment of Rationality in James' writings is brought forward, as the physical and psychological forces grind against each other. This gravitational center point with its dynamic effects is the focus for both Prunty and James.


'No locomotive or steamship could match the Ferris wheel at joining ergs with idleness. Imagine all that steel bolted together and going round and round to nowhere.'[6]

The Ferris wheel eventually reveals its binary aspect: aside from being 'spectacularly useless' and fun, according to the poet himself 'there is one real service the Ferris wheel performs, and that is anxiety.' Beneath the fun lies a 'minor agony' and Prunty identifies the etymological origins of the word agony as 'the word for contest or struggle for victory, but here the contest is small, and there is no victory.'[7] Agony represents an internal struggle, a natural force upon the individual. The wheel's spinning accentuates it and exposes it, becoming energy in itself. Prunty never gets to explore another aspect of this experience that may lead to an emotional and perceptional shift. He never attempts to lead the culmination of anxiety into a state where fear changes back into enjoyment as it naturally would happen on a Ferris ride. That would require an internal act of blind faith, such as simple faith in the structure's working in itself. That faith is never a conscious act made rationally by the individual, rather an instinctive jump into a state of trustworthiness, an emotional triggering.

In The Sentiment of Rationality William James also reveals the principle of faith but only after he analyzes two 'passions of thinking': the passion for simplicity and that of distinguishing. The first is a mental 'labor-saving' according to James, while the second is 'an impulse to get acquainted with the parts.' James also talks of 'distress in thought' which may bring shades of the wheel's anxiety, but not towards a purposeless effort; instead he focuses towards one that can bring stability, security and a firm conceptual grasp. The poet leaves the reader following a perspective of departure from the center and 'standing off, he felt the wheel's mild dread'. Here the anxiety returns for those riders who discover the wheel's main function as only a distraction. According to Prunty they are 'experiencing a starker sense of freedom than they wanted.' The only certainty left after the ride is only its circular motion and the memories of strong human emotions such as fear, anxiety and distress replaced by a moment of faith. The introspective investigation of a philosopher -- such as James -- is careful to avoid the poetical central essence and attempts to guide the reader towards that place that Prunty is not so much concerned with. James wants more from the poetic moment and moves towards positing a 'practical requirement' for a rational philosophy: 'It must, in a general way at least, banish uncertainty from the future.'[8] But to do so require a heroic act of thinking and accepting a 'feeling of rationality in its practical aspect.' According to James:

'If thought is not to stand forever pointing at the universe in wonder, if its movement is to be diverted from the issueless channel of purely theoretic contemplation, let us ask what conception of the universe will awaken active impulses capable of effecting this diversion.'[9]


Following the two diversions discussed so far, one poetic in its realization that Prunty's The Ferris Wheel leaves the reader a bit disappointed in its empty happiness, and the second one being philosophical in that it considers purely theoretic contemplation also a distraction. For James this distraction is dangerous simply because it leads the mind in a Ferris spin-like. He goes on to say that for a 'philosophy to succeed on a universal scale it must define the future congruously with our spontaneous powers.' If M represents the entire world minus the reactions of the thinker upon it, then M+x represents the maximum possible philosophical propositions. This can be viewed as a blunt attempt by James to drift the focus upon the subjectivity of the individual and escape the wheel's idleness. He discovers that it is impossible for one to live without some degree of faith, not necessarily projected in God, as he claims it 'is synonymous with working hypothesis.' If all that seems to be discovered at the end of this journey is only a subjective approach to philosophic investigations, then the varieties of human experience can be philosophically investigated further in hopes of better understanding.

     'The subjectivist in morals, when his moral feelings are at
     war with the facts about him, is always free to seek harmony
     by toning down the sensitiveness of the feeling. Being mere
     data, neither good nor evil in themselves, he may pervert
     them or lull them to sleep by any means at his command.
     Truckling, compromise, time-serving, capitulations of
     conscience, are conventionally opprobrious names for what,
     if successfully carried out, would be on his principles by
     far the easiest and most praiseworthy mode of bringing
     about that harmony between inner and outer relation which
     is all that he means by good.'[10]

Arriving at a self who accepts an internal struggle as part of being in itself is what I admire most in James' philosophical perspective. Where the poet reveals a nervous reaction, the philosopher -- in this case -- attempted to revive the individual from falling into the abyss of the center. Perhaps it was a place so familiar to James that he understood the importance of arriving at the power of faith, even if that faith may not lead one to a predetermined understanding of God. What is even more amazing is that this faith does not even have to be in relation to a god.


1. Wyatt Prunty 'Introspections: American Poets on One of Their Own Poems' Robert Pack and Jay Parini, ed. (Middlebury Press, 1996) p 217

     'The Ferris Wheel' by Wyatt Prunty

     The rounding steeps and jostles were one thing,
     And he held tight with so much circling.
     The pancaked earth came magnifying up,
     Then shrank, as climbing backward to the top
     He looked ahead for something in the fields
     To stabilize the wheel.
     Sometimes it stopped. The chairs rocked back and forth,
     As couples holding hands got off
     And other climbed into the empty chairs;
     Then they were turning, singles, pairs,
     Rising, falling, through everything they saw,
     Whatever thing they saw.
     Below -- the crowds, a holiday of shirts,
     Straw hats, balloons, and brightly colored skirts,
     So beautiful, he thought, looking down now,
     While the stubborn wheel ground on, as to allow
     Some stark monotony within,
     For those festooned along the rim.
     The engine, axle, spokes, and gears were rigged
     So at the top the chairs danced tipsy jigs,
     A teetering both balanced and extreme,
     'Oh no,' the couples cried, laughing, 'Stop!' they screamed
     Over the rounding down they rode along,
     Centrifugal and holding on.
     And he held too, thinking maybe happiness
     Was simply going on, kept up unless
     The wheel slowed or stopped for good. Otherwise,
     There were the voices, expectant of surprise;
     Funny to hear, he thought, their cries, always late,
     Each time the wheel would hesitate,
     Since the genius of the wheel was accident,
     The always-almost that hadn't,
     A minor agony rehearsed as fun
     While the lights came up and dark replaced the sun,
     Seeming to complete their going round all day,
     Paying to be turned that way.
     Later, standing off, he felt the wheel's mild dread,
     Going as though it lapped the miles ahead
     And rolled them up into the cloudless black,
     While those who rode accelerated back
     And up into the night's steep zero-G
     That proved them free.

2. William James, The Sentiment of Rationality in The Writings of William James, John J. McDermott, ed. (University of Chicago Press, 1977) p 317 3. Ibid. p 318 4. The 'dweller in the region' is William James expression. p 321 5. Ibid, p 319 6. Wyatt Prunty Introspections: American Poets on One of Their Own Poems Robert Pack and Jay Parini, ed. (Middlebury Press, 1996) p 220 7. Ibid, p 221 8. William James, The Sentiment of Rationality in The Writings of William James, John J. McDermott, ed. (University of Chicago Press, 1977) p 326 9. Ibid, p 324 10. Ibid, p 342

(c) Ovidiu Gherghe 2006




In October 1950 the philosophical quarterly Mind published a paper by A. M Turing under the title 'Computing Machinery and Intelligence'. The first sentence of that paper read, 'I propose to consider the question, "Can machines think?"'.[1] Six years later the paper was reprinted in an anthology, The World of Mathematics, edited by James Newman, under the title 'Can a Machine Think?' Ever since there has been a torrent of publications around that question and it has given rise to what is known as the Artificial Intelligence project. Now, fifty years after that epochal reprint, Mark Halpern has published a judicious study of the whole issue[2]. Halpern blasts the claims of Artificial enthusiasts and questions their right to pose as descendents of Alan Turing. To Mark Halpern I owe the incitement to offer the following thoughts.

For reasons that will become evident in the course of this paper, my treatment of the question is tangential to the Turing Test and to the questions it bred and the discussions it incited. I will readily concede it is not inconceivable that we may make a thinking entity or even an entity that loves and hates and composes symphonies and creates original poetry. My contention is that even after conceding that, there would remain questions that we have to be clear about.

Turing, having said it would be absurd to decide the question by examining how the terms 'machine' and 'think' are commonly used, proposes that the question be decided by an experiment which he calls the Imitation Game but which has come to be known as the Turing Test. The idea of the test is simple: to set questions to a computer and a human being, both hidden from the questioner. If the questioner is unable to decide which answers issue from the computer and which from the human being, we conclude that the computer was thinking.

Turing expected computers to earn the description 'thinking machines' not on the basis of problem-solving capabilities but on the basis of demonstrating the capacity for answering questions in a human-like manner. That, as far as it goes, is sensible. We today have computers that perform in seconds mathematical operations that would take a team of mathematicians much longer to perform; this in itself does not bring those computers any nearer to being human-like. And yet Turing's sensible proviso does not remedy the error inbuilt in the very idea of the test. In proposing to decide the question on the basis of objectively observable criteria, we remove all consideration of subjectivity and thus empty the question of all philosophical significance.

As often happens with questions that look simple, the question 'Can a machine think?' is not a single question but is a conglomeration that can be separated into numerous questions which might receive different answers. To think clearly we need to separate these different questions.

In what sense can the Turing Test determine whether a computer is thinking? The answer to this question of course depends in the first place on how we define 'thinking'. But I do not intend to pursue the question in that direction. I think it is not unreasonable to say that however we define 'thinking' it will be possible sooner or later to programme a computer so that it will 'think' in the sense of the elected definition. But this would leave open what I regard as the more important question: Can the Turing Test determine whether a computer has subjectivity?

Again, whether or not we find the Turing Test providing a criterion for subjectivity, we would yet be left with a still more important question: What is subjectivity? For supposing we can devise a computer of such complexity as to have its (her?, his?) own whims and moods and initiative, that 'computer' would be in the same position as a cloned human being -- its subjectivity would be an 'emergent' reality not reducible to either the hardware or the software that went to the making of the computer-person. (I use the term 'emergent' hesitantly since it has been loaded with interpretations I cannot accept.)

What I am concerned to emphasize is that regardless of the process by which a person comes to be a person, it is the subjectivity of the person that is the locus of reality and value.

Approaching the question from a different angle, if or when neuroscientists succeed in completely mapping and artificially reproducing all the workings of a human brain (never mind the untechnicality of my language; I make no pretence to scientific knowledge; this does not vitiate my position), I would still maintain that the achieved autonomy and subjectivity would be creative in a double sense: (1) it would be an instance of the creativity of all process in nature ('natural process' would be needlessly ambiguous), bringing into being a reality that was not there before, an original reality; (2) the 'emergent' entity would fulfil itself, assert its reality, in creative activity, in thoughts and deeds that bring into being what was not there before.

Marginally: supposing we made a fully functional brain of an intelligence equal to that of an Einstein, the being to which that brain pertains would not have human feelings, human emotions, human desires, unless it were integrated with a body of flesh and blood with the same hormones and enzymes and what not as anyone of us. But this is neither here nor there, for there is nothing to prevent there being 'persons' constituted differently from us that would experience feelings and emotions other than those experienced by us.

From the start and throughout Turing's paper it is evident that he has no doubt as to what the answer should be. The test was obviously not devised to help us find an answer to the general question 'Can machines think?' but to calibrate particular computers to decide which one or ones come up to the specified standard of thinking. And yet Turing's answer to his own question comes as frustratingly anticlimactic:

     'The original question, 'Can machines think?' I believe to
     be too meaningless to deserve discussion. Nevertheless I
     believe that at the end of the century the use of words and
     general educated opinion will have altered so much that one
     will be able to speak of machines thinking without
     expecting to be contradicted.'

If the question is reduced to one of determining the conventional usage of words, it becomes of little philosophical importance. Halpern points to a 'glaring contradiction in Turing's position' since at the beginning of his paper he held that to seek an answer to the question 'in a statistical survey such as a Gallup poll' would be absurd.

Halpern quotes psychologist Epstein as saying that 'the sentient computer is inevitable.' Clearly Epstein understands sentience in behaviourist terms. With the advance of technology we can have computers that imitate human responses and human behaviour with more and more sophistication. But the question for a philosopher does not turn round what computers can or cannot do but round what computers do or do not experience.

Moreover, factually, by the criterion of returning original responses, as Mark Halpern remarks, 'no computer, however sophisticated, has come anywhere near real thinking.'

Lucretius's tumbling atoms do not remain tumbling atoms: they become Goethe and Heine and Shakespeare and Wordsworth. The question philosophy should answer is this: Which has the better claim to the title 'real', the dust that was Goethe or the living fire that even today sings,

     Alles Vergangliche
     Ist nur ein Gleichnis;
     Das Unzulangliche,
     Hier wird's Ereignis;
     Das Unbeschreibliche,
     Hier ist es gethan;
     Das Ewig-Weibliche
     Zieht uns hinan -- ?[3]

Plato had an answer to that question. I think it is the one answer that makes sense of human life.


1. Alan Turing's paper is accessible at: http:--- and numerous other online sources.

2. Mark Halpern, 'The Trouble with the Turing Test', The New Atlantis, Number 11, Winter 2006, pp. 42-63, available online at: http:--- and a more detailed version can be found on his website,

3. The closing lines of Faust, Part Two.

(c) D.R. Khashaba 2006


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© Geoffrey Klempner 2002–2020