A few notes on reading Malabou’s Morphing Intelligence: From IQ Measurement to Artificial Brains

Some disjointed and not yet fully formed notes from the reading we have been doing of Catherine Malabou’s Morphing Intelligence: From IQ Measurement to Artificial Brains as part of the group discussions we hold with Femke Herregraven on her CrD trajectory.

The notes are not fully formed and this is not meant to be a book review but more of a brief highlight of some points that either jumped at me or are part of recurring themes in my own research.

A side note before I get into some proper quotes and observations: A lot of my issues with this book is how it glosses over or entirely omits what I would consider “outliers”. The framework is entirely normative (in terms of definitions of intelligence as well as the types of cultural artefacts that are examined). There is no single accounting for neuroatypical expressions of intelligence, for example. There isn’t even a footnote regarding how neuroatypical processing of information or even perception could be incorporated into these theories of intelligence. The “artificial intelligences” that would arise from the theories and ideas explored in this book would result in a merely bureaucratic output of information and data. Even when the book gets into the murky waters of “creativity”, it doesn’t account for non typical or non normative forms of perception.

Foreword from the translator:

Following Malabou’s brave countenancing of the dramatic exchanges between natural and artificial intelligence

I immediately retreat into a shell every time the word “natural” is mentioned without qualifiers. Natural vs artificial intelligence! when human intelligence itself is a cultural construct measured through cultural artefacts

Wary of any invocation of nature, “naturalisation” and essentialism.

Malabou- the beginning:

the space between biological and symbolic life. This kind of intermediary, articulating biology and history, fact and meaning, bare life and existence, is difficult to locate. Usually the binary terms of the articulation are held to be separate, if not independent, philosophically and are areas of specific research whose methods and core concepts do not engage with each other. Biological life supposedly consists of a set of obscure data that resists consciousness and acts as the inevitable dead end that thought runs up against in the demand for freedom. These demands are unfurled in an “other” life, one that allows itself to be shaped, chosen, and oriented and that seems to elude the determinism of biological life by taking it in a “way” that is simultaneously direction and meaning. The general term “symbolic life” thus refers to all those dimensions of life that cannot be reduced to . . . life.

the binary returns! essentialist conception of life. While this book has some very interesting and thought provoking ideas, it also constantly runs its head against a liberal wall. Invocations of freedom, etc… Elsewhere I made a point about this idea that equates freedom to an absence of obstacles (looking at the current Dutch government here).

Speculative: what happens if there are other forms of life (alien?) that we are not capable of recognising as such

the brain as “cognitive architecture”: interesting to explore vis a vis conceptions of territoriality and spacial occupation (file under: knowledge and settler mentality). if the brain is “cognitive architecture”, what does this mean for “epistemic design” (a discipline that I am not intimately familiar with but would be worth unpacking in regards to my current explorations around “Designing Exclusion” or the belief that exclusion comes as a result of design choices).

The simulacrum via Malabou (page xvii of the introduction):

It is no longer possible to determine relations between biological and symbolic life without considering the third type of life, which is the simulation of life. Replicating the architecture and functional principles of the living brain, the Blue Brain project, based in Lausanne, Switzerland, has undertaken the creation of a synthetic brain. How, then, should we situate artificial life in relation to biological and symbolic life? Is it an intruder, ever foreign and heterogeneous to them both, existing only as a threatening replica? Or is it, rather, the necessary intermediary that enables their dialectical interrelation?

AI itself as simulacrum? later on, Malabou (page 150)

Today AI, robotics, and artificial life are working together on the development of machines that are designed to appear natural. Yet these cybernetic copies reveal that they are not mere simulacra. And in this lies the difficulty.

Today, by simulating the human brain, AI is inventing new forms of intelligence that no longer draw on the human. These new forms of intelligence derive their power from automatic creation. Music, painting, literature, games . . . their creativity is boundless. In order to confront the reduction of human genius to a series of algorithms that will no longer have anything to do with such genius, we, then, must be creative otherwise. And there is absolutely no point in looking for reassurance in the claim that entire fields of human inventiveness elude their cybernetic copies.

Bringing back these points I made in my first lecture of the Kaleidoscope series:

thinking of Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition, particularly “simulacra as the avenue by which an accepted ideal or “privileged position” could be “challenged and overturned” and simulacra as “those systems in which different relates to different by means of difference itself”. Especially in terms of class issues surrounding counterfeit goods, how if the simulacra is “too good”, it shatters the class signifier through which “different relates to different” (ie rich signaling their wealth to fellow rich). But, on the other hand, if the simulacrum can only be detected at microscopic level, how much of a simulacrum is it (at least in terms of delivering the class signifier its meant to deliver)? ie if the copy cannot be detected with the naked eye, if it looks authentic and serves the function for which it was created, then what is real?

Deleuze: “The simulacrum is not just a copy, but that which overturns all copies by also overturning the models”


“Does this not mean that simulacra provide the means of challenging both the notion of the copy and that of the model?”

More notes on simulacrum and how it relates to class.

Malabou (page 6)

Although Bergson occasionally uses the adjective “intellectual” to describe intelligence, it is most commonly associated with intuition and in this case refers to the intimacy between the intellect and life. Ultimately, for Bergson, it is thus once again the intellect— the originary space of this intimacy— that gets the better of intelligence.

Intelligence = intuition = intellect. Need to untangle this conceptual mess.

The beginning of the quantifications project in regards to IQ (Page 18) or the genealogy of Enlightenment’s obsession with metrics (see: capitalism requires metrics to keep track of accumulation)

The experimental psychology of intelligence originally had an entirely different objective. Alfred Binet, director of the laboratory of physiological psychology at the École Pratique des Hautes Études in Paris from 1895, developed a scientific method of psychometry involving a set of questions that produced marks on a scale of intelligence in order to describe the level of development reached by a child at a given age. The scales developed by Binet and his colleague Simon were not intended to discriminate but rather to help students who were struggling

I really have troubles letting go of this statement: The scales (…) were not intended to discriminate but rather to help students who were struggling. While this statement is factually true (and well documented), I struggle with the way it hand waves structural issues around both racism and classism in French society at the time (and how scientists designing a test -or anything for that matter, at the time, could not be oblivious to said issues and the potential use of the tools they developed).

Hilarious on page 23: when you discover the privilege of inherited wealth but attribute it to “intelligence”

Examining lists of famous people (“probands”) in the fields of law, politics, science, art, and sport, Galton studied their families and counted how many of them had family members famous enough to warrant an obituary in The Times (London). He then claimed that there were more eminent individuals among these related families than in the whole of the population and that the number of eminent family members decreased from the first to the second degree of kinship and from the second to the third. . In Memories of My Life, he declared “there is no escape from the conclusion that nature prevails enormously over nurture when the differences of nurture do not exceed what is commonly found among persons of the same rank of society and in the same country.”

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