Richard Jacobs: Hello, this is Richard Jacobs with the future tech and future tech health podcast. I have Robert K. Logan. He’s a professor at Meredith department of physics at the University of Toronto. He’s got quite an extensive background and we’re going to be talking about the recent work, the extended mind, the emergence of language, human mind and culture, and also what is information propagating organization and the biosphere, etc. So, Robert, thank you for coming. How are you doing?
Robert K Logan: Doing fine.
Richard Jacobs: If you would tell me a little bit about your background. Where your research and work and teaching and everything has taken you?
Robert K Logan: I got my undergraduate and Ph.D. at MIT, a bachelor in 61 Ph.D. in 65. It’s been two years. The University of Illinois postdoc came to Toronto in 67. I’ve been there ever since. At first, I focused totally on theoretical physics elementary particles. And I did that basically from 63 to 1982 a while I was teaching at the University of Toronto, I started a course in 1971 called the poetry of physics, which caught the attention of Marshall McLuhan. Marshall McLuhan asked to meet me. And we developed a collaboration beginning in 1974.
I worked with Marshall from 1974 to his passing in 1980. After his passing, I transferred out of physics and focus totally on media ecology, media studies and the impact of technology. My last physics paper was published in 1982. The first work recruiting I worked on was something we call the alphabet mother of invention in which we argued that five developments in Western culture, which were interrelated developed between 2000 BC and 500 BC. In 2000 BC Mesopotamia codified law came into being. The next move was the development of the alphabet, which took place around 1500 BC and was developed in the Sinai desert by the copper miners. They’re called the Ken EITs. The Ken EITs are talked about in the Bible. They are the people that were led by Jeff Moses leaves Egypt and comes to live with Jethro as related in the Bible. And Moses goes up to Mount Sinai and comes down with the law, the tablets were written by the finger of God as is described in the Bible. And so there is a third element codified the law in Mesopotamia, the alphabet in the Sinai, monotheism in Israel. The fourth element was abstract science and the fifth was deductive logic. Both of them occurred in ancient Greece around 500 BC. So while these five ideas are not causally connected, they created an environment that promoted their mutual development. And that was the idea we developed in our article called alphabet mother of invention. McLuhan passed away while we were working on this. And I had to publish a book by myself and I called it the alphabet effect. And it was published in 1984. From there I went on to develop an idea called the sixth language. The six languages are speech, writing, math, science, computing, and the internet. And here’s how the developed spoken language is what made us human. Spoken language is a difference between humankind and nonhuman animals. The next development was writing, which took place in Mesopotamia. Around 3000 BC and led to codify in 2,500 BC. So the first language is speech, the second language is writing. The third language is math, writing and mathematical notation emerge at exactly the same point in time.
Richard Jacobs: When did writing in mathematical notation occur by the way, can you restate that? Like, what approximate time period did that start happening?
Robert K Logan: That happened around 3000 BC in Mesopotamia.
Richard Jacobs: Okay. Very cool. Alright, please go ahead.
Robert K Logan: The place, it’s called Babylon Sunrises. It’s the area between the tigers in Euphrates River in prison day Iraq. So with written language there developed codified law, now with written language and enough medical notation there emerged before the fourth language, which is science. Science is a language and abstract science begins around 500 BC in ancient Greece. There are some forms of science before the ancient Greeks but the ancient Greeks were the first to have abstract science in which they develop laws. So language one speech, language, two writing, language three math, language four science. The fifth language, it didn’t occur until 1944, 45 with computing. Computing is the fifth language and the sixth language is the internet. And there is the various syntax of the internet language, the most important one being the worldwide web.
Richard Jacobs: Quick question here, why would you call computers and internet languages? What defines the language in your estimation?
Robert K Logan: Because they have a syntax and a semantics. The syntax of science is the scientific method and the semantics of science are the various laws that are developed, various propositions.
Richard Jacobs: And then when you’re in programming and computers programming, they literally call different languages. They call them languages, turbo, Pascal C, et cetera. So yeah, it makes sense.
Robert K Logan: Well, computing itself is a language and it’s semantic is the various programming languages and the various programs that are written in those programming languages. That’s the semantics and the syntax is the logic curve. The zero in the one, all our computing is done with zero and one. Finally, the internet has a protocol for connecting computers all over the world. That’s its syntax or grammar and the semantics are all the various things that one can do on the internet. Like Google, Facebook, Instagram, Tinder, email. That’s the idea behind the six languages.
Richard Jacobs: What does that tell you about a seventh? What do you imagine that might be? Any artificial intelligence?
Robert K Logan: Well, artificial intelligence is another semantic element of computing.
Richard Jacobs: Okay. I didn’t know maybe as a standalone, the nature of the intelligence itself, I’ve heard AI are actually starting to communicate with each other in their own language is the new making one that no one else can understand. So I thought maybe that they would be the manifestation of their own language, just like humans have been. That’s why I bring it up.
Robert K Logan: When I say speech is a language, I’m talking about all the different spoken languages. It’s a super-category. But within that category, that’s French, English, Swahili, and Spanish. There are different kinds of languages.
Richard Jacobs: Okay. Well, very good, I follow. So the AI is not it is, I mean again you’ve studied the emergence and the development of these six languages. What do you think the seventh might be? Will there be a seventh or is that it?
Robert K Logan: I’m often asked that question. Sometimes I answer by saying social media is the seventh language. I could also answer that question by saying artificial intelligence as a seventh language, it just depends on how you want to organize the various activities that take place with the computing and internet. The smartphone is another language in the sense that it completely changes the way in which we interact with each other. So each language change the environment in which people interact with each other. Spoken language was the beginning of human interactions and socialization. Writing allowed history to be made, philosophy to be made. Mathematics allowed counting. Each of the languages produced different effects. Science created the ability to systematize knowledge. That was the fourth language. The fifth language is computing, computing allowed organization of data and information. And the internet comes along as a sixth language and it allows the people to network the information they create with their computers. Smartphone in a certain sense could be part of the seventh language because it allows the mobility of computing and the internet. So you’re not tied down to a particular location.
Richard Jacobs: What have been the big consequences of you identifying these languages? Like what has it done to your thinking and your outlook and where is it taking you?
Robert K Logan: Well, it took me to talk about what is the nature of information, which is another book that I wrote. And since we’re doing a review of my work. I might as well explain what is information? Propagating organization in the biosphere and the symbolic sphere, the tectosphere, and the economic sphere. So people think of information as a thing because the word information is a noun. But in fact, information is a process. It’s a process of informing someone or some person, some beings, some human or some living thing and animal. So information is a noun describing a process. Only living things deal with information. Information is what keeps them alive, allows them to metabolize energy in order to carry out their metabolism.
People talk about information in a black hole, discusses information, but they’re talking about our information about what’s going on. There is no information in a black hole because there’s no living thing. Only living things have information because only living things can be informed. Information is that which informs a living organism. So bacteria have information, amoeba have information, trees have information, all animals have information, all plants have information. The whole fun guy has information. And the one species which has the most sophisticated amount of information is humankind.
Richard Jacobs: Okay, so what are some of the nuances of what you will learn there?
Robert K Logan: Well, let’s talk about artificial intelligence for example, which seems to be a hot topic. There’s something known as the singularity. Singularity is the idea that a computer will be able to program the next generation of computers with a higher level of intelligence than the computer that programmed it. And then that computer will program the next computer. And so on until when arrives a computer that is more intelligent than humankind. This is an idea promoted by a number of computer scientists. And I believe that this is a ridiculous idea because what makes human intelligence is not just having information but having a desire to know, having a desire to understand. Computers have no desires. They’re not conscious. There is nothing that motivates them. So intelligence, human intelligence is more than just collecting data or information. It’s also about trying to understand things and to understand things then you have to be motivated. And there’s nothing to motivate a computer because it has no values. It just doesn’t give a damn. Whereas humans care, computers don’t care. So I believe that the notion of singularity is an idea that has no bit no basis. It’s a pipe dream.
Richard Jacob: What useful comes from your understanding of information in your opinion, how has this been useful to you?
Robert K Logan: Ethical consequences of using artificial intelligence must arrest with the programmer. We cannot just use artificial intelligence and allow it to make decisions. We have to have control of the process. So, technology should benefit the user of that technology. But that’s not always the case. So we have developed the technology of the automobile, which makes use of fossil fuel. And it was a great ride while I said turns out getting us efficiently from one place to another. But in the process, we’re poisoning the planet and now we are arriving at a situation where the technology, the automobile and the other technologies that make use of fossil fuels are making human life on the planet questionable. So one cannot find the use of technology without understanding its impacts and people don’t understand what the artificial intelligence is because they assume that they put more emphasis on the intelligent part of artificial intelligence and forget about the fact that it’s artificial.
Richard Jacobs: Okay.
Robert K Logan: I don’t want artificial love. I want real love. I don’t want artificial intelligence. I want real intelligence. And real intelligence arises out of emotion. People without emotions don’t have intelligence because they don’t care.
Richard Jacobs: Well very good. Well, Bob, we’re just about at a time. But I mean I can hear that you’ve thought about many of these things for years and years and years. So what are some references for listeners? They really need to read some of your books to get into your material. What’s the best way to find more information about language information?
Robert K Logan: Well, we’ve talked about several of my books. Extended Mind, What is Information? Understanding New Media, which describes the impact of the digital media that we’re working within today’s environment. I would suggest those books, the book called, what is information describes the relationship between the various languages I’ve just discussed. It also spends a good deal of time talking about the nature of education.
Richard Jacobs: Okay, well, very good. Well, Robert, I appreciate you coming on the podcast and it’s just a lot to absorb, but thank you so much for being here.
Robert K Logan: Well, thank you for giving me the opportunity to discuss my ideas.