As I was reading the comment section to “Our Anthropomorphic Bias” I was struck by the persistence shown by Sascha Vongehr in referring to humans as robots in 4 of the 5 comments he made in a discussion with Gerhard Adam. A couple of days later the puzzle was answered – Sascha submitted Robots Finally Awake in which he elaborated on the proposition that organisms are robots. (I did check the calendar to see if it was April Fools Day.) He had used Gerhard as a sounding board, and with no adverse reaction, felt secure enough to proceed with an article.
When I say that the idea was elaborated, that’s being a little too kind, as no evidence was given for this startling news, it was simply stated as a fact that scarcely needed explanation. “I am a robot, made from self-assembled nanotechnology called “biology”. I cannot find anything that could prove to me that I am not a robot;...”
Well, there we have it, case closed! How is it that more of us have not had this incredibly illuminating yet simple insight?
There’s a few reasons actually.
The first is that the glib line about self-assembled nanotechnology is no more than Richard Dawkins’ nonsensical “lumbering robots” re-written for a new generation of suckers. Instead of genes constructing organisms, now it seems it’s nano-particles. How cool is that? Of course the nano-particle construction engineer idea is false for the same reason that the designer genes idea was false – organisms are a product of cellular activity interacting with the environment.
There’s a further connection between the “organisms are robots” idea and the selfish gene hypothesis. Just as allegedly selfish genes can explain everything in biological theory but cannot be proven, so the “organisms are robots” idea can be made to fit any situation but cannot be proven. When challenged, you simply add another layer of complexity, as here – “Am I different? I am not. I am just faster and have a larger repertoire of actions.”
In short, organisms as robots are like selfish genes; no more than an idea in some person’s head.
This urge to find something concrete and discrete at the basis of life, this craving for a rock to cling to, this adherence to an illusion of solidity is no more than a thrashing around by the timid and insecure. Which makes Robots Finally Awake even more astounding, as it was Sascha in his lucid period who wrote an article titled The World Is Not Woven From Real Stuff, a perfectly reasonable argument that I developed further in Quantum Reflections. Yet here he is fixated on the idea that he is something totally solid - a “machine”. (His word, not mine.)
It’s interesting that in the comment section of Robots, when Gerhard finally began to put pressure on the concept, there was a quick change in emphasis. The “self-assembled nanotechnology called biology” disappeared, to be replaced by a “robot builder called nature.” Still not a scrap of evidence given for organisms as robots, but at least there seems to be a recognition that organisms are the product of cellular activity and environment, if that’s what’s intended by “nature”. Which is one small step toward reality, but this will be a journey of a thousand steps.