responsible for the translation Jürgen Große-Puppendahl
We started by building thinking machines and integrating them into our lives – without knowing what we were actually doing and where this would take us in the future. Today we are shocked to see how gigantic communication waves around the world and increasingly entire life worlds are being washed around, undermined or even washed away – together with their traditional offers of orientation and certainties and regardless of whether they are (over)vital or not. Reality is becoming more and more confusing, intransparent, meaningless for us. Its complexity is growing to an extent that obviously overtaxes our previous cognitive-emotional patterns of thought. They grap the void – an open door for populists and their conspiracy myths.
With thinking machines, our specifically human form of thinking is confronting us for the first time in history in a concrete-objective form – and in fact in an unmediated way. We find ourselves confronted with the old question in a new way: What is thinking? And: what exactly constitutes human thinking? What distinguishes human thinking from that of animals – this is something that religion, philosophy and science have been dealing with for some time. Today, however, the question is how it differs from what machines do.
This gives the question of thinking a completely new twist. The form of thinking by means of which we have been building machines so far follows a binary logic: something is either or it is not – a third is unthinkable. But that is obviously no longer enough today. We have to take a step back, look at ourselves, our actions, from the outside, so to speak, and ask ourselves with Hannah Arendt: „What do we actually do when we are active?
In order to answer this question, we have to see our human thinking as an integral part of our entire human activity. Today, we need a form of thinking that encompasses the whole of human activity. I call it kin-aesthetic thinking.
If we want to grasp the whole of being human, we are first faced with a paradox.
As human beings, we have always been, i.e. we are inseparable, part of the reality that we recognize and that we shape. In order to form a picture of ourselves, we have to perform the trick of continuously connecting two disparate worlds that do not touch each other: a physical world that can be grasped in the dimensions of space and time on the one hand and a world of language on the other. Similar to Heisenberg’s famous uncertainty principle, we can only ever grasp our human existence in one of two areas of phenomena at any given moment: either in the area we call „body“ or in the area we call „mind“; both are excluded at the same time. But body and mind „are“ not, i.e. we cannot grasp them as things like Descartes did. If we do not want to locate their unity in the transcendental, that is, beyond all possible sensory experience, then we must therefore understand „body“ and „mind“ each as a self-occuring.
In order to be able to form a concept of the self-occuring of human activity, we must therefore go deeper and ask from which sources physical or mental events are fed. Then it becomes clear that we again end up in contradictions:
Physical events are fed on the one hand by the activity of our sensory apparatus and on the other hand by our having become so, i.e. by past events to which we have no sensory access.
Mental events, on the other hand, are fed by events that do not tie in with past events, but merely point out relations that produce/establish differences, i.e. that break causal chains and set a beginning – but of which we, in turn, cannot say how they can be grasped with the senses.
We can try to go one level deeper, but in doing so we will again come across further differences:
– The physical (hides) within itself the difference between the animate and inanimate (entropic) world
– Spirituality holds / hides the difference between individual / society (communication)
Conclusion: If we want to grasp human activity as a whole, it melts away between our fingers: it contains within itself a fullness that cannot be grasped by us, as observers bound to space and time – and that will remain so forever. The whole of human existence that is taking place is hidden for us in principle in our blind spot, that we cannot see, that we don’t see that what we don’t see.
What remains for us, however, is what Kant calls a regulative or rational idea: we can think or investigate our human activity as if it turned around an „empty center“ in which space and time form an unconditional (i.e. empirically irredeemable) unity from which our activity emerges and in which it disappears again without leaving a trace. We can never have a concept of this „empty centre“. But we can grasp its movement in such a way that we are passive-active witnesses of how it spontaneously comes together as a whole.
„Empty“ does not mean the absolute nothing. Nor does it mean a gap between things. We can think and treat this center as a strange attractor that „attracts“ everything it does not contain and at the same time „disperses“ it in the form of a deterministic chaos. Although this „attractor“ is only an idea, there is nothing in reality that corresponds to it, nothing that we can point to with our finger, with words or by means of machines. But we can understand it as an indeterminate but piece-by-piece-determinable.
The idea of the empty centre as the context of our entire activity can thus serve as a guideline for a systemic construction of our concepts and our language.
By this construction we are initially empty-handed, without the usual and comfortable conceptual railings. But therein lies the challenge and the chance that the „thinking machines“ offer today: We are thrown back on ourselves. As Kant said over 200 years ago, we can ultimately orient ourselves only in thinking itself Sapere aude, have the courage to use your own mind. We must learn to think „without a railing“, as Hannah Arendt says.
Our discursive, binary mind, as it has developed over the past 10,000 years, instinctively blocks this kind of thought movement. What is needed here is the willingness to leap over one’s own shadow; a leap into a dimension that grasps more complexity. It’s as if a two-dimensional being wanted to imagine a square in the third dimension, in other words as a cube.
I can only try here to illustrate this leap as vividly as possible in short words. If you want to take a closer look at it, please refer to other texts, but especially to my – soon to be published – book.
Of central importance for understanding human activity is to see the specifically human power of imagination as the source that produces all our cognition and will in such a way that we can orientate ourselves in our reality in a coherent way – without, however, being able to say how we actually do this. By the power of imagination, I understand with Kant the activity (!) of our consciousness, with which it summarizes the unmanageable variety of sensual impressions in the form of a picture and presents an object in thought in „front of itself“ even without its presence.
Pictures are characters which – similar to tilt pictures – are double readable here and now:
– they show certain forms in the past
– and at the same time point to other possibilities that can be realized in the future.
Images therefore make deterministic chaos tangible for us in principle. We can proceed mentally as if we could „overtake chance“, as Kant says.
„Formative power“, i.e. the ability to connect one’s own having become with a possible, but still unknown, livable future, can be attributed to all living beings. They use their entropic tendency to continuously form forms that harmonize internal and external dynamics in a livable way. They do this by searching for and finding exactly those states in which a minimum demand for kinetic energy (economy of space) and a maximum number of connections (synchronization, economy of time) coincide.
Animals convert their inner images into behaviour unreflected, largely instinctively. Humans – as reflective beings – can, however, form pictures „without any (personal) interest“, solely according to the feeling of lust / unwillingness, i.e. as „beautiful“, in themselves coherent. The object – that which opposes the thought-movement – then appears – as fit for purpose, without it being possible to state a specific purpose
– and at the same time as regular, without any particular rule being able to be specified for this .
In this aesthetic form, images have the potential to combine the physical and the spiritual, because they realize a maximum number of possible connections in a minimum of space; in both phenomena, „body“ and „mind“. In emulating human existence, images can therefore function twice: They combine a) inanimate (subject to entropy) with animate nature; and b) the individual with the social side of a person.
Like a Möbius loop, the context, the „empty centre“, can then be experienced/read in two diametrically different ways at the same time, namely intransitive and transitive:
– It shows itself (intransitively) at the boundaries that form the grasping movement of our thinking and research in the world of bodies,…
– whereby these boundaries simultaneously point to other, subsequent possibilities (transitive), i.e. „increasing the number of possibilities“ (as H. von Foerster says) and pointing the direction in which things could go on.
By means of the power of imagination we can grasp the context of our being human in the form of images and construct it in language.
Exactly this, i.e. „forming“ a whole by drawing boundaries, opening up, redrawing, is what kin-aesthetic thinking does. „Kineín“ in ancient Greek means „to move“ and „aísthesis“ means „perception“. The term kin-aesthetic thinking refers to an „art“: the art of keeping perceiving and moving (the individual side) as well as experiencing and acting (the social-spiritual side) apart and of relating everything to each other at the same time – like a juggler who keeps four balls moving at the same time.
Kin-aesthetic thinking accompanies consciousness – in the form of „intuition“ – necessary, regardless of whether or not it is aware of it; it can be stimulated by felt and formed images of sensory impressions. This is comparable to the function of the fasciae of our locomotor system: It is this that makes the wholeness of a movement possible, i.e. its internal and external coherence. We easily overlook it because we are one-sidedly fixated on the „muscles“ and „bones“ of thought, on our words and concepts. Without kin-aesthetic thinking, however, human consciousness would collapse on the spot, just like society.
What is urgently needed today, however, in view of „thinking“ machines, is conscious kin-aesthetic thinking, i.e. thinking that can be stimulated by feelings and images, but cannot be triggered. It deliberately leaves forms empty, gives them no meaning, but regards them merely as indications of the direction in which things could go on.
Conscious kin-aesthetic thinking observes living beings as autopoietic systems that realize and realize their autopoiesis by rhythmizing themselves.
Living systems (and those that presuppose life are always included) constitute their unity by connecting inside and outside as well as before and after in a poly-contextural space, i.e. in a space of basically infinitely many observer perspectives. With Gregory Bateson I am speaking here of „third-order connections“. „The pattern that connects is a metapattern. It is a pattern of patterns. (…) Above I warned that we would encounter a void (…). The mind is empty; it is an un-thing.“
Rhythmic movement is, so to speak, a dancing at the edge of chaos: the pattern that makes the most efficient and effective use of the available resources (ultimately: space and time) is spontaneously established: Rhythm saves energy (no energy is wasted uselessly); and synchronizes the movements of independent entities (the classical Chinese Wu-wei: no hint between thinking and doing, acting by not acting).
In the medium of „rhythm“, systems become passive-active witnesses of the emergence of their own context or centre. Rhythm thus becomes a kind of empty mirror in which a system observes, directs and keeps itself, its own movement, flowing. The system transforms irritations, i.e. coincidences into information, i.e. into differences that mean differences. „A living organism is a third-order relational system that calculates the relations that maintain the organism as a whole“ The blind spot no longer disturbs; on the contrary, it becomes the driving force of movement.
Even animals occasionally catch a glimpse of this feeling of being whole in happy moments. Nice to observe, for example, on playing dogs. Or, as Jane Goodall reports, also in chimpanzees.
 H. Arendt (1972): Vita activa oder Vom tätigen Leben.
) „Es gibt nichts Ödes, nichts Unfruchtbares, nichts Totes in der Welt, kein Chaos, keine Verwirrung, außer einer scheinbaren; ungefähr wie sie in einem Teiche zu herrschen schiene, wenn man aus einiger Entfernung eine verworrene Bewegung und sozusagen ein Gewimmel von Fischen sähe, ohne die Fische selbst zu unterscheiden.“ Leibniz; Monadologie § 71.
 I. Kant: Was heißt: sich im Denken orientieren?
 vgl. Kant, Kritik der reinen Vernunft, § 24.
 Kant, Kritik der Urteilskraft, § 65.
 Kant, Kritik der Urteilskraft.
 G. Bateson (1982): Geist und Natur. Eine notwendige Einheit, S. 19 f.
 Das erinnert an Leibniz‘ „beste aller möglichen Welten“.
 Heinz von Foerster (1993): Wissen und Gewissen. Versuch einer Brücke, S. 121.