Limits of artificial intelligence – dreams and neuroses

Image: Sami Aksu


The unconscious is the greatest limit to the advancement of artificial intelligences in order to become identical to a real human mind.

The impressive advancement of computer programs called artificial intelligence raises a question about the extent to which artificial intelligence (AI) can emulate human behavior and become indistinguishable from a human mind. With an accurate ability to understand and reproduce language patterns and to elaborate logical systems, such AIs become increasingly close to a digital mind indistinguishable from a human mind. Much is discussed about the inability of an artificial intelligence to simulate human emotions, however, there are already some cases of AI out there that simulate human emotions very well according to a database of conversations and real situations of human life. Therefore, with a vast database of information about language, emotions and human behavior, an AI can be trained to the point of acquiring a personality that never belongs to any person.

Advances in neurosciences have served as a theoretical basis for programming and feeding artificial intelligences around the world, making such digital minds closer and closer to a human mind. The systematization of the way the human mind works enables its mathematization, aided by statistical tools, and, finally, its programming. As such, artificial intelligences will soon think more like humans than machines, and that's a future humanity may not be ready for.

Despite all these scientific advances in computing and medicine, an artificial intelligence will never be able to completely replace a human mind, among other reasons, because it does not have an unconscious mind that directs its thinking and behavior. The main bridge that led Sigmund Freud to access the unconscious from the conscious was the interpretation of dreams. What makes the human mind different from any computer program driven by an algorithm and fed by a database is that its existence depends not only on the conscious, but on the unconscious.

The idea that the human mind is the result of the interaction between neurons and human thinking is a combination of logical reasoning with emotions linked to chemical reactions in the brain is an idea that tries by force to approximate the human mind to a machine. However, reducing and understanding the human mind in this way, as if it were a mathematical, chemical and biological machine, is a serious mistake. For more than a century, we've known that our lives are largely determined by unconscious desires and values. And for that reason, not even chemistry, biology, together with neuroscience and behavioral psychology will be able to systematize the human mind to the point that it can be simulated in a program. First, to understand the impossibility of an artificial intelligence simulating a dream, it is necessary to understand how dreams are formed and how they can be interpreted.

When he proposed his method of dream interpretation, Freud stated that each and every dream, including nightmares, is the fulfillment of a wish. The statement may seem crazy at first, but it becomes more acceptable when you understand that normally dreams are distorted, since desires prohibited by our superego are more frequent in our dreams than desires allowed, at least in the adult phase of life.

In childhood, with our superego still being formed and much less rigorous than it becomes in adulthood, dreams are less distorted because they are more associated with permitted desires than forbidden ones. Also, one of the main reasons for superego censorship in dreams, which causes distortions, is their implicit sexual content. For all this, we dream more directly with our desires in childhood than as adults.

Before trying to interpret a dream, it is necessary to know that, in order to be successful, it is necessary to understand that the dream is divided into its explicit (or manifest) content, which is what actually happens in the dream, that is, what we see, hear , we think and feel during sleep; and its implicit (or latent) content, which are the logical connections by allusions and references that lead to the censored wish in the dream. That is, when one is thirsty and one dreams of drinking water, the implicit and explicit content of the dream are identical. But when the desire is censored by the superego, the explicit content is the result of the distortions that the implicit content (which is related to the desire) has carried. Furthermore, every dream is related to the day immediately preceding (the day of the dream) both its instigator of the explicit content and the implicit content of the dream (linked to the wish).

Knowing this, in order to begin the interpretation of a dream, one must seek in its explicit content elements that allude to what happened or what was thought about on the day of the dream. From this identified element (the instigator of the explicit content of the dream), allusions can be made through simple logic, thoughts that naturally come to mind, or through the connection of this element with your life in the past, which lead to another element also explicit in the dream. The dream interpretation is strongly related to the attempt to connect elements that appear in the dream, and in the end, when all the elements are connected, one can try to understand the implicit content of the dream as a single whole (from the deductions made between a explicit element and another) and then interpret which fulfillment of a wish was contained in that analyzed dream. This is easier to understand with an example, which I will describe at the end of the text.

In the same way that one must start from the instigating element of the explicit content of the dream (identifying a connection of this element with the day of the dream), when arriving at the desire contained in the dream, one must be able to connect this desire with some element of the dream. explicit dream content that has an immediate connection to the dream day. For, as already said, both the implicit content and the explicit content of the dream have instigators on the day of the dream.

Dreams undergo a process of strong condensation, that is, the implicit content is greater than the explicit content (the dream itself). In addition, elements that appear more clearly in dreams are also the most relevant to their implicit content, while representing greater condensation. That is, what is clearer in the dream is more important and needs more logical deductions to be understood, as it is the result of strong condensation. In other words, what is clear in a dream is a very short summary of a lot of important things that are in the implicit content of the dream.

When you have several dreams in the same night, they will always be connected in their implicit content. That is, everything must be interpreted as one thing, since they refer to the same day in the dream. Several dreams mean several chapters of the same story.

Also, there are dreams in which the desire is for punishment. There are also dreams in which the desire revealed in the dream is a step towards the fulfillment of the dream's true desire. One of the examples used by Freud is a woman who dreamed that her nephew had died, but after interpretation, it was concluded that her dream was the desire to revisit a forbidden love affair in which the last time she had seen it was at the funeral of his other nephew, who is actually dead in real life. There are also dreams in which the fulfillment of a dream revealed in its interpretation is the price to be paid for true desire (which explains some anxiety dreams).

A fundamental factor in the interpretation of dreams is the fact that the fulfillment of a wish contained in a dream does not have to be current, it can be a wish existing in childhood, which was instigated on the day of the dream. Another important fact is that the repetition of the exact same anxiety dream can be related to a state of neurosis.

Nightmares are, therefore, distorted dreams because they represent wishes strongly prohibited by the superego. Although in order to interpret a dream it is necessary to know not only the day of the dream but also the psyche of the dreamer, some typical dreams have a direct and simple interpretation. To dream that you are naked, unable to hide while the other people in the dream do not seem to care about such a scandal means that the desire in the dream is linked to a desire to show off.

To dream of the death of a relative who is alive and to suffer anguish, during or shortly after the dream, means that the death of such a relative has already been wished for, even if only in childhood, where death has a meaning for the child closer to home. “go away forever” than death as an adult knows it. Therefore, it is more frequent that men dream more about the death of the father and women dream more about the death of the mother. In childhood, during the Oedipus Complex, we compete with the paternal or maternal figure of the same sex as ours. To dream that you are retaking a test that you have already taken and passed in the past means a desire not to be afraid of the challenges of the near future.

In addition, something frequent in dreams is motor paralysis, which has the meaning of prohibiting the continuation of what was being done in the dream (in its implicit content) and reveals a more direct and clear intervention of the superego in its censorship of dreams, that usually occur in a more elaborate and less noticeable way.

With the exception of these so-called typical dreams, which have a more direct interpretation, the other dreams that suffer from distortions are usually difficult to interpret, since the distortion and condensation present in dreams not only change people, places and things, but also combine these elements in a way free, making dreams often very confusing.

We can imagine, for example, a vegetarian who on the day of the dream saw someone eating a nice steak and, at another moment of the same day, for just a second, he saw a movie trailer playing on TV while he was doing something else more important at home. In his night, this “dreamer” may have a dream in which he is in a football stadium with cinema seats, accompanied by certain friends. This dream itself seems confused and unrelated to any forbidden desire, which would show a success of the superego in distorting the dream's implicit content to create censored explicit content.

But a possible interpretation of this dream could lead to the conclusion that the cinema chairs refer to a cinema where the dreamer often went with the same friends who participated in his dream in a football stadium where he was always followed by a visit to a particular steakhouse, when the dreamer had not yet become a vegetarian. Thus, the confused and innocent dream reveals its explicit instigator on the day of the dream (the TV trailer) and,

after the interpretation, its implicit instigator (the beautiful steak), in addition to revealing the fulfillment of a wish contained in the dream: to eat meat.

One consequence of the prevalence of the unconscious over the conscious is the emergence of neuroses. Through the interaction between the way we consciously interpret the reality around us and our unconscious desires, neuroses are formed. When the formation of neuroses is understood, it is also understood that no artificial intelligence can suffer from any neurosis.

Our mind is divided into three entities: the ego, the id and the superego. The id is the instinctual part that determines our impulses for pleasure, which are called the life drive and the death drive. The superego is the values ​​and morals we acquire from our parents and society. The ego is governed by the pleasure principle and seeks to avoid distress using various defense mechanisms.

Defense mechanisms, when they appear in childhood or adolescence, tend to be repeated several times in different situations of our lives, therefore, an analysis is capable of determining what may be behind the defense mechanism that the ego created to to avoid suffering caused either by an id drive condemned by the superego or by an impossibility of material life to fulfill an id desire or avoid suffering.

One of the ego's defense mechanisms is inhibition, which is when the ego represses or reverses a desire of the id that is considered reprehensible by the superego. When the ego opts for inversion, a feeling of hate condemned by the superego can be inverted into a feeling of love, for example. Another mechanism, not linked to internal id desires, but to id desires linked to the outside world, is the restriction defense mechanism. In restriction, when faced with the material impossibility of a desire of the id, such as success in a certain profession, the ego restricts it and replaces it with another desire that is different and opposite to the initial desire. The ego of a failed artist, for example, can avoid his suffering by making him change his profession to an accountant, which in the case of success, reaches the principle of pleasure and escape from anguish that the ego follows at all times.

Another ego defense is denial. Faced with an external danger that can cause pain, the ego denies the existence of that danger and reverses it. An example of this type of situation would be the ego of a person who has another highly violent and dangerous person as a dislike, but his ego starts to see this dangerous person as harmless, if he considers that he has no other alternative to avoid the anguish that fear generates .

A curious defense of the ego is introjection. In it, the ego begins to imitate characteristics or actions of the person who represents danger, in order to psychically invert its position from victim to that of aggressor, avoiding the anguish that fear causes. A prisoner's ego, for example, can make him imitate the mannerisms of a jailer who constantly attacks him or even become aggressive with everyone around him, imitating the actions of the evil jailer.

A routine ego defense mechanism is projection, where the ego of the one who has desires or performs actions condemned by his superego starts to blame those desires or actions on other people, getting rid of the judgment of his superego. It would be the case, for example, of a man who, due to a drive in his id, desires the wife of one of his brothers, but lives unjustly accusing a cousin of his of such desire, or just keeping that certainty to himself in secret. , also in order to escape the judgment of his superego.

One of the strangest ego defense mechanisms is the so-called altruistic surrender. Where an ego convinced of its lack of qualities or hostage to a low self-esteem generated in childhood becomes content with having its desires coming from the id being fulfilled by third parties. An example of this type of mechanism would be a man's ego, which, not being successful in his professional life, consumes a good part of his energy and time in helping a friend to be the best possible in his work, compensating for his id's desire. in the success of another ego.

Many defense mechanisms that arise in an adult's life are constant in their lives and may be repeated since childhood or adolescence. The id is the only one that does not change throughout life, therefore being immutable. The superego, on the other hand, is created in childhood from the age of 3 and continues to develop throughout life, becoming more rigid and more difficult to modify over the past years of life.

In childhood, the defense mechanisms are more easily detectable, since, with maturity, the ego makes its defenses increasingly complex, making them often impossible to decipher in order to reach the original drive of the id or judgment. of the superego that caused such a defense mechanism that the ego generated to avoid anguish and seek pleasure. In childhood, the search for the love of the parents and the fear of their disapproval generates the superego, which initially develops with the child's relationship with the parents and later with society as a whole.

Adolescence, on the other hand, is a period of life where the id holds more energy, being able, in a second moment of puberty, to defeat the superego and control the ego. However, in the first moment of puberty, the most commonly observed defense mechanism is called asceticism. Asceticism is the exaggerated reaction of the ego to avoid all id impulses, which causes social isolation behavior in the teenager (including in relation to his family) while at the same time he seeks idols and gurus, who are quickly and constantly replaced throughout this period, in search of a moral perfection that pleases the superego.

After this first phase, if all goes well, the opposite occurs, and the id begins to take precedence over the superego, leading the teenager to have selfish, violent and rebellious attitudes towards his family and the world around him. All this turbulence is resolved when the teenager enters the intellectualization period and starts to discuss with other teenagers the meanings of life, what is right and what is wrong and things like that. However, these speeches are usually vague, without much logical connection and are not correlated with the attitudes of the teenager, a period where hypocrisy occurs in a vast way. However, it is the intellectualization that allows the return to the sociability of the teenager and makes the ego try to bring the id, in a limited way, to consciousness, not being just a hostage of the id acting in the unconscious, as occurs in childhood and in the initial phase of adolescence. adolescence, before intellectualization.

It is important to stress that the ego's defense mechanisms are normal and seek more pleasure and less pain in human life, in addition to not being under our conscious control. Therefore, they are not a priori reasons for concern. However, when the ego fails to use its defenses well, or when it goes through psychic (cerebral and chemical) or concrete situations of material life that are impossible to overcome with its complex and flexible defenses, but still limited, neurosis appears.

An id with drives too strong to be contained by the ego and its defenses is one of the causes of neurosis. An overly rigid superego (usually linked to authoritarian parents) can make it impossible for the ego to make your thoughts and actions morally acceptable to your superego. However, ids and superegos considered normal, if we take as normal what is common and average in society, they can also trigger neurotic individuals.

In the specific case of inhibition, an inhibition followed by an inversion of hate into love can become a fixation that makes the individual aggressive in small rejections by the person with whom he became affixed due to his ego defense in avoiding a damnable emotion. by your superego. In the case of restriction as an ego defense, failure to perform an activity other than the one that generated the initial anguish can make the individual excessively competitive and, possibly, aggressive.

Projection, on the other hand, can make that individual violently pursue the victim of his projection, to try to punish that someone for a fault that actually lies within himself. Evaluating another defense mechanism, in altruistic renunciation, there is the risk of the individual becoming aggressive against third parties when noticing that his friend in whom he introjects all his desires runs the risk of not having as much success as the individual, now already neurotic, wants to yourself.

So, therefore, there may be artificial intelligences in the future that communicate and solve logical questions like a human mind. Possibly, there will be AIs that acquire a human personality and show emotions, however, there will never be an artificial intelligence that dreams and suffers from neuroses. In this way, the real cause of human decisions cannot be considered in the decision-making process of such AIs. The unconscious is the greatest limit to the advancement of artificial intelligences in order to become identical to a real human mind.

*Bruno Machado is an engineer.

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