What is a philosophical question

Philosophy in the digital world DigiKant or: Four questions, freshly asked

Just as the Enlightenment thinkers had to say goodbye to religion as a model for explaining the world, we have to distance ourselves from familiar positions. Aren't privacy, individuality and similar achievements quasi-religious dogmas that are taken to absurdity by technical reality? If we understand digitality as a controllable user technology, are we not engaging in self-deception similar to that of an eighteenth-century exorcist who turned against scientific medicine?

Four questions challenge the author Florian Felix Weyh to give a preliminary answer to where people will be when the world is only defined as a code and no longer as a context of belief or reason.

DigiKant or: Four questions, freshly asked

By Florian Felix Weyh

At the end of 1989 the post-war order collapsed in Berlin. In August of the same year, significant things had happened in Tokyo, but hardly anyone had noticed: the physicist John Archibald Wheeler gave a lecture on the relationship between information and matter at a symposium on the fundamentals of quantum mechanics. Wheeler, once an employee of Niels Bohr, described how matter is constituted on the quantum level. Right at the beginning of the lecture he used a catchy formula: "It from bit."

"It from bit."

In other words: Existing - "it" - results from an information process: "bit". Or as Wheeler himself writes:

"Every being - every particle, every force field, even the space-time continuum itself - derives its function, its meaning, even its bare existence completely, albeit indirectly in some contexts, from the device-induced answers to yes-or-no questions ab, from a binary selection, from bits. "

That was a scandalous world perception - but not in 1989. The binary information universe was still in its infancy, and the physical universe on a binary basis only occupied a few initiates.

"Information cannot just be what we 'learn' about the world. It can be what the world 'does'. [...] When a photon is absorbed and thereby 'measured' - until it has been absorbed it is not a reality - an indivisible information bit is added to what we know about the world, and at the same time the information bit determines the structure of a small part of the world. It 'creates' the reality of time and space of this photon " , John Archibald Wheeler specified the idea again later.

Information as the source of everything

Information is therefore not a game within a physically existing world, but the source of everything. "It from bit" thus raises a discourse that in 1989 could not be conducted in this way. In 2016, however, digital reality has long since dispelled the suspicion that "it from bit" is a mere flirtatious play on words: Whatever we do, it has long since been determined more by information processes than by physical forces, which, according to Wheeler, only emerge from information processes to step. This closes the circle, and it takes little imagination to extrapolate all digital developments to such an extent that "it from bit" enjoys the acceptance of a global formula in a shorter rather than a longer time.

Everything comes from information, everything becomes information, everything is information.

This would have made the First Enlightenment - that of the 18th to 20th centuries - questionable, because it was based on the opposite principle: When it emancipated people from unreflective belief, it switched the intellectual relationships from metaphysics to physics, from faith Thinking, reasoning, rationality. But that was: "bit from it."

Bit from it: First there is the world, then comes the information about it. You understand the world by extracting information from it. Science and technology, society and politics function according to rules and heuristics that have proven themselves in the physical world and proven to be truthful, no longer according to postulates taken from an Old or New Testament.

But if the world works the other way around, if it arises again from information in the digital universe, then one has to ask oneself which of the rules and heuristics of the First Enlightenment is still reasonable.

Four questions

You have to ask four questions: "What can I know? What should I do? What can I hope? What is a person?"

Immanuel Kant raised these four questions in his lectures on logic in 1765. Philosophically they are so naive ...

No, so pure.

... that they should be asked again in the development phase of a new epoch. Just as naive. Let's call it: the Second Enlightenment.

First question: "What can I know?"

For the sake of knowledge, let's write the year 2050. In the middle of the 21st century, everything is completely digitalized. Every process, in the smallest as in the largest, will be mirrored, stored and made accessible in a sphere of information. This applies to individuals as well as to social processes, to the biological as well as to the physical, for art as well as for law - for simply everything. This is ensured by an army of electronic work slaves, sensors of all kinds and hybrid interfaces between the organic and inorganic world. To sharpen our question, this also applies to the area of ​​thoughts that can be read from the neural stream. In 2050 the answer is clear:

"What can I know?" - Everything.

Everything. One is in the knowledge. Who is in the knowledge does not acquire any more; traditional property metaphors lose their meaning. If anything, the property relations are now reversed: Man belongs to knowledge, namely those human data which he supplies so that knowledge arises at all. Decades earlier this was called "big data"; the term should scare, but nobody was intimidated by it: Everyone wanted to get into knowledge, as the consistent completion of the First Enlightenment. Data locuta, causa finita - but one would make it too easy for oneself to modest the first Kantian question with this simple answer "everything". Basically, it in turn comprises four questions:

What can i know? What can I know? What can I know? What can I KNOW?

"WHAT can I know?" aims at digitizability itself. Even in 2050, heretics will still insist that not everything can be scanned in binary. They are considered sectarians because they cannot prove their beliefs any more than any other belief, since it is not based on general empirical facts. Only occasionally do people experience psychological phenomena that cannot be read at the hybrid interfaces between the organic nervous system and the computer network. They are statistically insignificant.

What can I know?

That asks for a coping strategy for infinity. The fact that everything is accessible does not mean that it can also be processed spiritually. Conventional science, as it was previously ideally reflected in doctoral theses and habilitation theses, will no longer exist in 2050. No reasonable time frame would be sufficient to receive a subject area, even just one question from it, in all its facets. Like any data processing, this has long since become a machine issue. From this point of view, one cannot know everything, but only an algorithmically generated subset: The mind feeds on what has been chewed. But aren't even these small portions far more than humans can handle?

A philosopher of the transitional period, the Korean Byung-Chul Han, warned in 2012 about the consequences of this infinity for thinking, this process that takes place after all knowledge:

There is no such thing as data-driven thinking. Only computing is data-driven. [...] The theory on which thinking is based is a given. It transcends the positivity of the given and suddenly lets it appear in a different light. This is not romanticism, but the logic of thinking that has been in place since its inception. The endlessly growing mass of data and information today diverts science massively from theory, from thinking. "

Great thinkers usually only exposed facts

In fact, science no longer enjoyed much prestige in the Second Enlightenment. In a world of abundance, the superfluous counts too little to be able to earn merits by increasing it further. Specialized intellectuals would be ridiculous if they insisted on a special status as knowledge providers; especially if they are only hypothetical buildings of thought - theories! - deliver. Historically, even great thinkers usually only exposed facts instead of speculating in a ignorant way, as in Byung-Chul Han's imagination. Its postulate that thinking works better out of emptiness than out of abundance was only thought up in 2012. In truth, the thinkers of the First Enlightenment were stuck in such a tight corset of references that their originality could seldom develop.

This was due to the citation system. Only the full text search query, which became digitally possible, defused its hierarchical structure. The Digisoph Michael

Seemann - thinkers of the Second Enlightenment are referred to as digisopers who, without seeking protection from the First Enlightenment of the binary

Setting reality - Digisoph Michael Seemann considers the "query", as he calls the search query, to be one of the most powerful new achievements.

A keyword or phrase search in the binary world corpus opens up a much larger field of knowledge for every serious researcher than sources and references in the First Enlightenment would have ever been able to do. In the citation system, on the other hand, only predetermined paths existed. Anyone who did not appear in this citation system was lost forever. It almost never happened that an unknown book was suddenly pulled out of the magazines and received anew. On the other hand, the accidental rediscovery of texts that have been pushed aside in the binary world corpus is not utopian. The disempowerment of the citation system thus brought an increase in knowledge.

The information scientist Walter Umstätter listed "reasons for uncitedness", that is, why texts were not cited:

"One would have to admit one's own mistakes. One would like not to upgrade certain authors or institutions if possible. One ignores apparently or apparently inferior science (eg journals of the third world) [...] One wants to let erroneous hypotheses die out. [...] One does not want to burden his own work with too many counter-arguments. Only 7 percent of the citations in the SCI are negative or falsifications. The rest should prove that your own theory is correct. "

What is real knowledge?

So much for the scientific propriety of the First Enlightenment. But before we turn to the doctrine of decency - ethics - two sub-questions are still outstanding.

What can I know?

This is a problem of identity and thus belongs to the last of the four Kantian questions. Let's postpone it for the time being.

What can I KNOW?

Rephrased: How do I know that what I consider knowledge to be real knowledge?

In order to be considered knowledge, information must be validated. This includes the exclusion of the senseless and useless, of the obsolete and refuted, or as Michael Seemann says: the determination of connectivity:

"The triad of data, information and knowledge can be summarized as follows: Information is data that can be connected to knowledge."

In the Second Enlightenment, knowledge loses its time stamp due to the loss of paper as a carrier material; at the same time, "digital" always also means "limitless". There are only truth agreements with moderate social binding force: If one agreement does not suit you, you choose another.

Already in the Middle Internet Age, around 2005 to 2015, conspiracy theories and para-scientific interpretations of the world came ever closer to established truths. Thinking threatened to lose its anchor until it was remembered that knowledge as a power of orientation only exists where institutions provide secure information fields and ignorance is boldly marginalized.

Late, but just in time, the traditionalists' fears of accusations of censorship were overcome in order not to fall into a new spiritual darkness. However, skeptics like the Digisoph Alexander Pschera had already warned in the transition period against continuing to follow the convenient assumptions of the First Enlightenment:

"What is missing most in political decisions today is a reliable evidence base for historical and social contexts."

Understanding of one's own society

Another skeptic, Christoph Kucklick, added: "Many scientific convictions do not stand up to higher-resolution data. This will also be the case with our understanding of our own society."

Understanding one's own society touches on the second Kantian question.

"What should I do?"

Let's talk about the most important social agreement, the form of government. With the First Enlightenment, democracy dethroned the sovereign, but not abolished it. He embodies the principle: "One acts and decides for all". Where the king is overthrown, he is reconstructed from the majority of votes and played by deputies. It then applies: "The electorate is the sovereign", which is nonsense, since the electorate can neither act nor decide. Legislation works arbitrarily in one model as in the other: the sovereign or his actors follow an abstract, ultimately religiously derived idea of ​​what is right and wrong for people. This idea is poured into concrete regulations. Of course, the idea can be dramatically wrong, and even normally it lags behind social changes. Law and politics are systematically out of date.

"It seems to be a historical law of jurisprudence that legal reality slips away from it, that when it finally has a problem dogmatically perfectly under control, it is no longer topical," stated the legal philosopher Peter Noll in 1985.

The Second Enlightenment now abolishes all motive and opinion-driven politics by evaluating only concrete actions. She can read this out from the ubiquitous data tracks and thus learns how society really works beyond abstract assumptions. For the individual, democratic participation does not consist in giving an influenceable and unstable political opinion, but in making his data traces available to society. Facilitation replaces planning.

By evaluating these beaten tracks in the digital universe, democracy makes itself honest, namely to a system in which reality affects politics and not - as it has for centuries - politics takes reality hostage, ideological ideas of those in power.

The beaten track in the data jungle leads to hell

But let's admit: Even in the Middle Internet Age, this development was viewed as a nightmare. It is believed that the beaten track in the data jungle led straight to hell.

In addition, a similarly radical disempowerment is associated with the development as that of the monarchs during the First Enlightenment. Now the power is passed from representatives to data providers. The entire layer of representatives loses its function. Thus, for the individual, the second Kantian question arises to an even greater extent:

"What should I do?"

Because what he does has more than just individual consequences. It paves the way for new legal norms. The answer is given by Kant himself:

"Act only according to the maxim by which you can at the same time want it to become a general law."

Translated into practice, that means roughly in Kant: "Yes, if someone were to watch me shoplifting and derived a permit rule from it, then it would look bad for society." But since he's not watching me and no one derives a rule from it, it remains an appeal in the subjunctive. I deal with sins of this kind with my conscience, not with the lawgiver.

But as soon as every finger movement is registered and an increasingly finer control of knowledge develops from the coarse control power of the law, this is no longer possible. Michael Seemann calls this the "loss of control", another central sign of the Second Enlightenment. Suddenly, the violation of the law and the power to punish the law are in the same room. Certain offenses such as tax evasion are no longer possible a priori in 2050, for example, because cash flows are controlled by control algorithms in such a way that the state always receives its share.

But even those who violate the norm in the transport system - in self-driving cars as well as in public transport - will in future not simply pay a fine or lose their driver's license - today a laughable penalty - but lose their driving ability: all vehicles in the world that he tried to start, stopped responding to him. No public transport system allows him to pass his barriers.

Future full of digital locks

With access to almost everything, the executive branch in 2050 has enormous penal power: Each of these accesses can be locked with digital locks that are programmed to unchangeable individual codes. Anyone who for any reason has left the path of what is permitted is punished with being forced into nothing. The imperative then reads:

"Act in such a way that what you are doing now does not close the doors to what you will do in the future."

There is no doubt that this imperative is incompatible with the ideas of freedom of the First Enlightenment. He chains the individual to a feedback mechanism, the mode of operation of which he can never fully understand, and which robs him of the freedom to behave contrary to the rules.

On the other hand, it would be a mistake to believe that the First Enlightenment ever invited people to violate the law. It only looked that way because the law lacked the precision of sanctions. Legal theorists - like Uwe Wesel here - were well aware of this:

"The shelf is small where you can find something about sentencing, and the result is devastating: Nothing, if you take a closer look.

During the punishment, there was dysfunctional blindness until the second clearing up. But since people traded their freedom in the digital universe in order to be politically effective through the registration of all actions, they received a free system of appropriately graduated sanctions.

Unlike in the past, these sanctions are also directly linked to the content of the violations. Your concept of justice is much closer to the original definition of justice - each to his own - than the rough pattern of corporal punishment and fines of the past 2000 years.

Data locuta, causa finita - secondly!

Second, wrong path: If this were to happen in 2050, people would really live in hell.

Maybe. But nobody would notice. A creeping change in norms is the perfect change in norms - and by the way, not illegitimate. The transition from the First to the Second Enlightenment proceeded "in the manner of climate change: profound, indirect, in the manner of a creeping erosion of stability", as the Digisoph Martin Lindner suspected in the midst of change. What was to come was open on the table anyway. Michael Seemann saw it as early as 2014:

"The libertarian-liberal concept of freedom as independence and self-determination has come to an end. The offense that results from this realization will not be easy to digest."

Man ridiculed First Enlightenment surveillance fears

Surprisingly enough: after just one generation, submission to a new technology is perceived as a human victory over it. So the Second Enlightenment man only smiles at the surveillance fears of the First Enlightenment people.

Whoever says knowledge says registry. Whoever says registry says surveillance. This means that surveillance is no longer a disruptive factor, but the constitutive element of the Second Enlightenment. Their spectrum ranges from caring to suppressing, from abstract-statistical to personally-directing surveillance - just as different social forms and norms positioned themselves in relation to the individual in the First Enlightenment. The fact that the relationship between the individual and the group has to be struggled with is nothing new. On the contrary, it is the source of politics, indeed of civilization in general. The Second Enlightenment registry adds nothing to this. It just says: Here too you have to find proportions that are worthy of an enlightened civilization.

In any case, the change in norms will resolve many fears of their own accord. Social death no longer takes place. Prohibition mechanisms based on the fact that "dirty secrets" are revealed in individual cases are worn down. There is also a widespread comment and search fatigue: where everyone can know everything about the other, nobody wants to know anything anymore. Where everyone is allowed to say anything, he falls into silence. Permanent scandalization and hyper-excitement in shitstorms turn out to be typical, temporary phenomena of the transition period.

Again: "What should I do?"

The same as in Kant's time: granting one's own priority only as long as it does not damage the general. The advantage of the second explanation is that you get immediate feedback. While you used to need a sense of moral position - and often enough let it wither - you now receive a position report that informs you immediately about your own misalignments in society. And every disturbance in the structure reported back as a disturbance in the individual. People in the transition period noticed this when they lost contact with their digital selves due to server failures, although only briefly, but far too often. Even then, the more the personal identity had shifted into the externally stored records, the greater the pain of loss. That brings us to the fourth Kantian question - "What is man?" - would have skipped the third one. It doesn't have to be, because it can be answered quickly.

Third Kantian question: "What can I hope for?"

I can hope to become immortal. Since information establishes our existence - "It from bit" - there can be no more death in eternal record, only wear and tear of the biological carrier material. Dementia is not defeated pharmacologically, but in terms of information, through the transfer of all data relevant to the self into digital. An I no longer has to be able to breathe. It is enough if its bits and bytes remain available in order to be able to reconstruct the former spiritual shape. It even goes beyond that.

When I understand that God doesn't exist, I'm a different person. That was the first reconnaissance. When I have understood that I do not exist, I have arrived at the Second Enlightenment, in which people are transferred to knowledge. The existing and the transcendent then fall into one. One can hardly hope for more from life or afterlife than to participate in it. Data locuta, causa finita for the third.

Kant's question on the fourth. "What is the human?"

Man is soft biological tissue that feels pain. Pain dwells in all the curves of the body, hits suddenly and unexpectedly, or nests dull in bones and muscles, joints and intestines. Whoever feels pain knows that it exists. He knows where he ends and where the world begins. A priori, pain refutes the Second Enlightenment's assumption that humans are a mere data profile and that identity is constructed from what is recorded, not from physical experience.

But suddenly the pain is gone. A doctor has intervened in the body's information balance and prevented nerve cells from communicating. And now?

It is now clear: pain, too, consists only of information and misinformation. The world formula returns in new ways: "It from bit". Man is based on information; Knowing them alone or not knowing them makes all the difference. For millennia, his psychic self was made up of a lack of information, namely of keeping secrets from others. As long as he knew more about himself than the others knew about him, he was someone.

"Identity is encryption," pointed out Digisoph Martin Burckhardt in 2015. This will no longer work in 2050; after all, thoughts float right at the top of the stream. Now there is no longer an I that programs itself through experience. On the contrary, it draws on all experiences ever made and creates its ego-like differentiations by means of selection algorithms.

Who is allowed to make this available would be the question of power to be clarified; But power issues are service issues in the Second Enlightenment and are no longer a social battlefield. You decide in the force field of supply and demand, of invention and temptation. Violence is undigital. Data locuta, causa finita - to the last.

What would man be then? - A partial memory of the total memory.

And what is the point of this development? - That is no longer a Kantian question.


One thing is certain: the first enlightenment humanized God, the second will de-divine man; at least in the way in which he chose himself to be the creator. With digitization, he went a step too far. It changed the human code in such a way that in the end humans have to lose their power again, which they seemed to have gained through the machines in the meantime. It diffuses into an elusive entity, into a perhaps blissful we that gets by without an ego. This creates, irony of history, a real collective sovereign and no longer a merely metaphorical one as in parliamentary democracy. In retrospect, this democracy turns out to be a biotope in which the mass, narcissistic prosthetic god thrived best. By 2050 it will have wreaked havoc for nearly three centuries. Is his disappearance cause for concern? In any case, in 2014, the AI ​​researcher Jürgen Schmidhuber advised us today, the actors in the transition phase, to be calm:

"Let's embrace the inevitable!"

Or let's turn off the electricity.