Makoto Nakada - Rafael Capurro


Published in: Makoto Nakada and Rafael Capurro (eds.): The Quest for Information Ethics and Roboethics in East and West. Research Report on trends in information ethics and roboethics in Japan and the West. Research Group on the Information Society and International Center for Information Ethics, March 31, 2013, pp. 13-22.

MN I have prepared an extended abstract for CEPE (Computer Ethics: Philosophical Enquiry) 2013. Could you kindly look at it?

RC It is very comprehensive. Congratulations. You’ve done a lot of work trying to understand the roboethics debate in the “Far West”, to use the term in the sense coined by the French sinologist, François Jullien (Jullien 1995; Capurro 2010). This debate is based, as you write, on the subject-object dichotomy as well as on modern science’s faith in quantification:

"The important point is: the ethical and critical discussions on the autonomy of robots and artificial agents remain only at a shallow level, without taking into consideration the different meanings of autonomy as well as the differences in theoretical assumptions behind them."

Yes, this is a key issue because the question of autonomy is mostly understood from the perspective a human subject separated from the world and other people. Consequently autonomous robots are worldless isolated entities. Could robots ever be socialized? This is a speculative question! At the end of the paper you write:

“For example, we can think of these names as examples of these scholars and authors: Lucas Introna (2007), Rafael Capurro (1995), Francisco Varela (1991) and others who show a great interest in world-views beyond the subject-object dichotomy."

Thanks for quoting me. Your remark addresses an incipient intercultural dialogue between the “Far East” and the “Far West” on roboethics based on the Japanese concept of Ba (place) and the three-dimensional time of world-openness of human ‘being-here’ (Da-sein) (Heidegger 1976; Capurro and Nakada 2011). Robots know nothing about world openness – and, in particular, nothing about human existence as in-between birth and death – shared with other human beings. More than twenty years ago I held a lecture after the ‘habilitation’ or post-doctoral examination (Capurro 1990). I have the impression that nothing has basically changed since then with regard to the roboethics discussion, which was at that time a discussion on AI or artificial intelligence:

„Andererseits aber wird in reduktionistischer Weise der Mensch mit einer scheinbar von seiner Leiblichkeit und Geschichtlichkeit abtrennbaren und in einer anderen Hardware implementierten Intelligenz gleichgesetzt und dieser möglicherweise sogar untergeordnet. […]

Winograd und Flores (1986) zeigen aber, da diese Auffassung des Menschen auf einer verzerrten Idealisierung der tatsächlichen Bedingungen unseres "In-der-Welt-Seins" (Heidegger 1976) beruht. Denn wir befinden uns ursprünglich – d.h. bevor eine abstrakte Trennung zwischen einer objektiven Außenwelt und einer in sich eingekapselten Subjektivität durchgeführt werden kann – in einem unmittelbaren praktischen Umgang mit den Dingen in einer gemeinsam mit-geteilten Welt.“ (Capurro 1990)

„On the other hand, humans are understood in a reductionist way as having an intelligence that can be separated from the body and from history to be implemented in a bit of hardware to which human intelligence may be even subordinated. [...]

Winograd and Flores (1986) show that this conception of human beings is nothing but a distorted idealization of the real conditions of our being-in-the-world (Heidegger 1976). Prior to any kind of abstraction and separation between an objective external world and an isolated subjectivity takes place we are originally dealing pragmatically with things sharing a common world.”

Concerning the roboethics discussion in the “Far East” and particularly in Japan, my impression is that the debate in the “Far West” based on the subject/object dichotomy is irrelevant not only for Japanese scientists and intellectuals but also for Japanese people because the Japanese way of being is not based on this dichotomy. Robots, autonomous or not, can be more easily integrated into the Japanese BA than in the “Far West” because they are not seen as a threat by Japanese minds. The issue of an autonomous, worldless, artificially produced subjectivity and the ethical issues arising from it are imported from the “Far West” and belong, as you have analyzed several times, to Shakai or Western customs, not to Seken or Japanese traditional customs of human interplay (Nakada and Tamura 2005).

The real intercultural ethical challenge in Japan is, I think, to ponder how robots become part of Japanese interplay between Japanese minds, which differs from the interplay in the “Far West”,– particularly as it is based on the Buddhist tradition of ‘self-lessness’ or Mu – sharing a common Ba. How does such Japanese cultural identity or whoness give rise to different kinds of ethical questions from those in the “Far West” (Capurro et al. 2013)? If we are not able to see this issue then we will continue to have a dialogue of the deaf. When Japanese talk about roboethics they might just imitate or reproduce Western issues, ethics being considered as part of Shakai. In the “Far West” we will continue our academic ‘mono-logical’ or ‘mono-cultural’ disputes with a strong belief that they are universal, any differences concerning specific customs and traditions being of secondary importance.

MN Thanks a lot for your kind words. Yes, I think that this is a very important point. My paper focuses on these questions. We might get good suggestions on these problems from traditional Japanese views such as oneness, Mu and others. But at the same time, we have to find ways to modify these old concepts into newer and more practical methods and terms. By 'practical' I mean that we have to find ways to solve problems coming from our separation from the world and also from other people. So I need the co-operation with colleagues and friends like you.

RC I am happy to be able to share my thoughts with you and to learn from you. Robots are not a self or a ‘who’, but a what, although we (who?!) act as if they were selves. This is the sham that allows us (who?) to speak about robots as if they were moral agents with autonomy, responsibility, etc. This kind of discourse is fallacious and sophistic since it attempts to deal with apparently serious ethical issues while in truth dealing with an imaginary problem.

Through the free interplay with each other and with the world we humans develop various kinds of ‘identities’. I put this word in brackets because it is a metaphysical word that overlooks the difference between things and selves. Robots know nothing about the world and social interplay. They do not develop a self based on mutual esteem, indifference, fair or foul play, etc. From this perspective, the key issue of roboethics is very simple: how do we humans evaluate robots for our lives in a shared world, based on who we are, our customs or rules of fair interplay within a society as well as between societies? If we want to address seriously robo-ethical questions we have to deal with robots with regard to who we are instead of asking who they are, as if eventually robots would become like us, in which case they would no longer be robots, or, in case we were to ask what they are to do, this would be as if we were not involved with all the cultural differences that characterize human whoness. Blurring the difference between who and what no less than adopting a culturally detached view of the embeddedness of robots in the human world lead to blind alleys in the “Far West” that are then imported to the “Far East”.

MN Concering Ba, do you think that some aspects of cognition are based on Ba related to human relations or interplay if we understand Ba as pertaining to our existence as finite beings? If so, then in this regard, we human beings are different from robots, as you say. I think so, too. But, on the other hand, what the English psychologist Wilfred Bion (1897-1979) calls “beta-elements” (Bion 2013) reminds me of Kant's “Ding an sich”. If my understanding is correct, beta-elements sometimes intrude into our minds as something without meaning to be dealt with words. This is interesting.

RN Thanks for telling me about Wilfred Bion. If I understand him correctly from what I learn from you about him, he is right concerning our rejection of what is unacceptable in life. This can lead to paranoia if we are not able to accept it, each person in his or her own way. What is regarded as unacceptable? Well, life and death and the world itself, i.e. phenomena for which we cannot find a reason for their existence. Robots have no idea of this. Their cognition is therefore completely different from ours, in which case the term ‘cognition’ is used equivocally. Human cognition, as being always embedded in the world with others, is confronted with “beta-elements” that arise from what is beyond what is accepted in a rationalized world or ‘life-world’. Art and literature as well as our dreams are ways in which the unacceptable and the terrible, or to deinon, as the Greeks called it, appear in our lives and become part of our selves. If this does not happen, then we may fall into paranoia because such elements will address us all the time, but we will not know how to deal with them. We are addressed by ‘beta-elements’ for instance in the moods of fear (“Furcht”) and anxiety (“Angst”) as analyzed by Heidegger (Heidegger 1976, 140-142, 184-191; Capurro 1990a).

MN The other day I asked one of my colleagues in our university who is specialized in robotics the following question: ‘do robots experience optical illusion?’ His answer was, as I expected, 'no'. I think that this is interesting too. In our minds or in our way of being, beta-elements get together or interact and also things, mere elements of perception, get together with our experience, like optical illusion. I think that these are interesting subjects for us who are interested in differences between robots and humans.

RC Yes, you’re right. Because we experience things as this or that, our perception of what things are is never fixed once and for all, although we rely on shared views. What is ‘real’ and what is an ‘illusion’ are intertwined. If this were not the case, we would have no art, no philosophy, no scientific research and – no freedom! When we perceive things as this or that we do this within an implicit background that Heidegger calls the “hermeneutic as” that he distinguishes from the “apophantic as” in which the understanding of something is made explicit (Heidegger 1976, 158). In both cases we can experience not only illusions and also all kinds of errors, but also adopt new perspectives that challenge a fixed view of the world or ourselves. The interplay between what appears in the world-openness and what remains hidden Heidegger calls ‘a-letheia’ using the Greek term for truth in which ‘lethe’ means hiddenness and ‘a’ means the process of un-concealment (Heidegger 1976, § 44). Robots belong to the realm of what is unconcealed. It is we humans who bring them into unconcealment by making them. Since robots know nothing about ‘a-letheia’, they also cannot make any difference between ‘reality’ and ‘illusion’, or rather, they can do it only insofar as we instruct them about it by programming them.

MN I think this is important. But I wonder what happens in the case of schizophrenia where a lot of illusions don't take place. This doesn't mean that in the case of schizophrenia openness or existence related to death or life are not there. The patients are not different from us in terms of life, death or infinitude. But something changes. And also I ask myself what happens in the case of the 'rubber hand illusion' ( as the phenomenon that we feel that a 'fake rubber hand' belongs to our body although we know that this is a fake rubber hand.

RC Good questions! What happens with schizophrenia, paranoia and other so-called mental disorders is, from a phenomenological perspective, that the person is also out there or ek-sists but he (or she) is not able to perceive the Ba as Ba.. This three-dimensional time of world-openness of human ‘being-here’ is perceived as closure as described, for instance, by Paul Schreber (1842-1911) in his “Memoirs of my nervous illness” analyzed by Freud (1973/1911). Medard Boss (1903-1990), a Swiss psychiatrist and a founder of the school of ‘Daseinsanalyse’ – following the path opened by Ludwig Binswanger (1881-1966) – who wrote a book on “Foundations of Medicine and Psychology” in co-operation with Heidegger (Boss 1975), describes schizophrenia as follows:

“Das Krankhafte des schizophrenen Menschen besteht darin, daß ihnen eine Möglichkeit des Gesunden fehlt. Es mangelt ihnen in höchstem Maße jenes Versammeln-können der ihr Da-sein konstituierenden Verhaltensmöglichkeiten zu einem eigenständigen, freien Selbst-sein, dessen Offenständigkeit allem Begegnenden standzuhalten vermag. Vielmehr verfallen die schizophrenen Kranken in unterschiedlichem Ausmaß an die Verhaltensweisen der andern und an die Modi des Vorhandenseins lebloser Dinge. Ihr Da-sein wird gleichsam in das übermächtig andere Anwesende aufgesogen. Solcherweise existieren sie großenteils außer sich. Darum erfahren sie das, was sich ihnen zeigt, so oft durch äußere „Stimmen“ zugesprochen, und das, was sie tun und denken, als von andern gemacht.“ (Boss 1975, 507)

„The illness of schizophrenics consists in the fact that they lack one possibility of healthy persons, namely, they lack in the extreme the capacity to gather those possibilities of behaving constituting their being-here into an independent, free self whose openness is able to hold its ground against all it encounters. Rather, to various degrees, schizophrenics fall into modes of behaviour of others or into the modes of being of simply occurrent, lifeless beings. Their ‘being-here’, so to speak, is sucked up by the overwhelming power of what is present. In this way they exist mostly outside themselves. This is why anything that appears to them is experienced so often as external “voices” addressing them and that what they do and think is being done by others.”

Boss emphasizes that “being outside” is also the way of being of healthy persons because human consciousness and unconsciousness is not to be represented as inside a ‘psyche-capsule’ separated from the world. The difference with schizophrenic ‘being outside’ is that they are not able to gather what appears to them as belonging to an independently ‘standing’ self.

The 'rubber hand illusion' is a different matter with regard to schizophrenia insofar as the person is able to perceive it as such an illusion and also as an extension of his or her own bodily experience. This is possible because our body is originally ‘out there’ in or as the Ba in the world openness. If this were not the case, we would never be able to invent and use this technology or any other technology as what it is and so deal in different ways with the possibilities of the world openness.

MN I think that this point is crucial for roboethics issues. Do you think that where the Ba is not perceived as an open dimension this is due to the fact that some level of consciousness is broken? Some sort of meta-consciousness?

RC Yes, but in the case healthy persons this is not just a matter of consciousness, but of not seeing clearly the phenomenon of Ba or clearing or the world itself. In the case of schizophrenia it is difficult to say if this is due to organic reasons or to some kind of traumatic event or to both.

MN According to Bin Kimura (Kimura 1972), we have to think about the role of sensus communis allowing us to combine different senses. If sensus communis is combined with “Mitsein” as analyzed by Heidegger (1976) or Ludwig Binswanger, then two aspects of sensus communis, namely ‘meta senses’ and common senses might be explained.

RC We can understand by sensus communis a quality of subjects separated from the world or as the experience of ‘being here’ sharing a common world. This original sharing of the world by at the same time making a difference between what is common and what is proper to oneself or by being aware that this very difference is what is common to all of us, our sensus communis in an original meaning, is what is lacking in the ontic experience of schizophrenia as pointed out by Medard Boss. In a different way this lacking of sensus communis as lacking the common world is the problem raised by the modern separation of subject and object or between an encapsulated subject and the ‘outside world’. This similarity or parallelism between mental disorders and modern subjectivity was analyzed by Kant with regard to the difference between metaphysics and madness in the case of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1782) (Kant 1977; Capurro 1993). In the case of metaphysics, the question concerning the being of beings is stated and answered in several ways. But the very fact that the question is raised makes the big difference from madness or schizophrenia where such a question cannot arise from oneself, but rather everything imposes itself as an absolute truth without the free space of in-between or Ba.

MN Concerning the 'rubber hand illusion,' as you say, we see can know the differences and intertwinement between 'illusion' and 'to be aware of one's being. According to Bin Kimura the symptom of 'depersonalization' is characterized by the consciousness of time; the patients experience just a sequence of 'now', 'now,' 'now.'

RC Yes, this “now-time” (“Jetzt-Zeit”) or “vulgar understanding of time” (“das vulgäre Zeitverständnis”) as Heidegger calls it (Heidegger 1976, 421-426), means a levelling of the three-dimensional time of world openness in which things conceal and unconceal themselves in their being. The possibility of understanding something as something is previous to the subject-object dichotomy. It also makes possible the difference between ‘reality’ and ‘illusion.’ This amounts to the unconcealedness of concealment itself, since any illusion conceals partially or wholly.

MN Terry Winograd is very famous because he combined Heidegger's hermeneutics with artificial intelligence. But according to your explanation, he seems to have dealt only with a very limited understanding of Heidegger.

RC Yes, Terry Winograd and his co-author Fernando Flores, a former Chilean Minister under Salvador Allende, developed a kind of ‘Heidegger light' for computer scientists and managers (Winograd and Flores 1986). This was a first step toward opening their minds to phenomenology and hermeneutics. But even in this case, only a few of them understood their message (Floyd et al. 1992).

MN Our capability of understanding something as something is prior to the subject-object dichotomy because it concerns the open time-space of a shared world in which things and we ourselves conceal and reveal. Yes, I think that this is an important point. But I would like to deepen it particularly concerning the issue of the difference between our self or who we are and what things are as you together with Michael Eldred and Daniel Nagel have recently analyzed (Capurro et al. 2013).

RC In our everyday experience we deal all the time with the issue of understanding things as this or that. When we look, for instance, at the sun or the moon, they seem to be smaller than our hands or when we look at the stars, we may or may not be aware that we are looking into the universe’s past according to modern relativistic physics. This experience is also basic for understanding cultural difference or differences between individual and collective selves and the ways in which we have been collecting personal and common perspectives for understanding ourselves and the world. In this sense, the difference between ‘who’ and ‘what’ is essential because, as Medard Boss also explained, becoming a self is a question of selecting and gathering between different possibilities and also of making a difference between what we experience as a common world and what is proper to each one of us. Nietzsche’s perspectivism in the 19th century and postmodernism in the 20th century have also addressed this issue that arises in Greek philosophy and particularly with Protagoras as discussed by Platon as well as with Aristotle’s question of understanding ‘being as being’ (to on he on)

MN Oh, I see. But then we have to analyze how Nietzsche’s perspectivism and post-modernism are related to robots and roboethics. This is interesting and difficult too.

RC Nietzsche was aware that seeing something as something, or stating the question of what things and who we ourselves truly are, cannot be answered once and for all but depends on perspectives. This does not mean a pure relativism or the dissolution of truth, but the insight that the answer(s) to such question(s) can be criticized again and again. We can program some of these answers into a robot so that it looks as if the robot mirrored the true world. When we define something, we are always selecting among possibilities. “Determinatio est negatio” (‘determination is negation’) as Spinoza and then Kant and Hegel said (Melamed 2012). We can also fix rules of human behavior by programming, i.e. ‘pro-gramming’ them in a robot, and then call this fixed pre-understanding a robot morality. And we might even think that robots are or can be artificial moral selves. But this is, of course, an illusion.

MN We can fixate some of these perspectives in a robot program so that it looks AS IF the robot mirrored the world (past-present-future) and give 'similar' answers to ours. I see.

RC It is essential to state the question ‘what are robots?’ as a phenomenological question. This means that we are able to see the difference between a ‘what’ and a ‘who’ question. Otherwise we will project the what question into the way of being of humans or vice versa. In each case we will fail to see the difference between robots and humans which means that we will not be able to see robots as robots. This difference is an ontological as well as an ethical one. Only when we question the view of humans as a what and analyze beforehand who we are in or as a free interplay sharing a common world can we see the differences regarding, for instance, the human body and robot hardware, or human thought and robot’s programs, etc. The present debates mostly level this difference and conceive either humans as robot-like beings or robots as human-like beings, sometimes even as potentially ’super-human’ entities (Capurro 1995). Moreover, the difference between robots as having no self or being ‘nobody’ as different from the question concerning ‘non self’ or Mu in the Japanese tradition can and should be carefully analyzed within an intercultural roboethics that we have been trying to develop for some years. The view of robots and their use within social interplay is consequently different in the “Far West” and the “Far East”. The basis for this discussion is that we open our minds to ask not only the question ‘what are robots?’ but also the question ‘who are we?’ and most basically, Nabeshima and Kuniyoshi (2004) ‘what is the meaning of being in the “Far West” and in the “Far East”?

MN The following is part of my paper that I mentioned at the beginning of our dialogue:

“In order to overcome the narrow scope of the subject-object dichotomy, these discussions regarding the relations between human existence and modes of existence of things in this world are important. But on the other hand, we have to see various phenomena which seem to be related with different modes of existence of things. The following points are considered to be worth of thinking about at both levels, the technological and the ethical/ontological.

In other words, the relation between the subject and the object is considered to include the roles of Body image / Body schema and these tripartite relations among the subject, the object and the body, in turn, include the following phenomena. This means that the subject, if we follow the terms of the subject-object dichotomy, is not an isolated entity or phenomenon but part of these plural phenomena and in this sense the subject is in a process. And even though some roboticists and researchers have tried to build artificial intelligent agents reflecting part of these plural phenomena, the case of Nabeshima and Kuniyoshi (2004) and Murabayashi et  al. (2008) show that the ethical and critical discussions on these phenomena by roboticists, ethicists and scholars in the related fields are very rare, at least in Japan:

1) Things and tools being incorporated into bodily schema.

2) There  is a comparison of or a confusion between changes in sensation caused by actions of the self and changes with external causes.

One of the important topics in neuroscience over the past years is the mechanism of comparison of different sensory information related to sense of agency. According to the findings of neuroscience and psychiatry, the sense of agency is based on a comparison between an efferent signal from motor areas or an internal copy of an outflowing (efferent) movement-producing signal generated by the motor system and the sensory reafferences predicted as a consequence of movement (the reafferent sensory input or receiving information on sensory feedback about movement caused by motor areas).

To put this in another way, this comparison might be made between expected sensations and experiences (tickling and expectation of some sensory experiences about tickling). Or, more simply, we might say that 'the integration of efferent information with afferent information in action contexts' determines our coherent sense of agency (body image) (Tsakiris, Schutz-Bosbach and Gallagher 2007).

In this case, the sense of the agent, which is thought to be strongly associated with the 'status' of the subject or subjectivity, includes, in my view, the roles of three different kinds of subjectivity: the subject A makes motor actions (and sensory information needed for this purpose); the subject B receiving information on the changes in outer worlds and inner worlds caused by these motor actions (or motor commons); and the subject C monitors the differences or collation between these two aspects of the subject-related activities (the subject making some kinds of judgement following the 'forward model of motor control'). It’s clear that these different 'statuses' or different aspects of subjectivity can't be separated from such levels of subjective activities as 'expectancy' and 'observation,'”

I wonder how this subject C is interpreted in the frames of, as you say, today's mainstream philosophy which does not like to make differences between humans (and living beings) and machines. In my view, this subject C can't be separated from our being or existence in time and space. But I wonder at the same time about which kind of time and space we are talking in this case.

RC Your last remark is crucial. The scientific discourse you describe is typical for the levelling of ‘what’ and ‘who’ questions and blind for the phenomenological analysis of our being in the world. If robots will ever be able to see and understand beings in their being and being as being, then they will not be robots any more.

MN This is an important point. But in the case of human beings, to see and understand beings as well as to see and understand themselves seem to be unconscious in fundamental ways.

RC The difference between conscious and unconscious is not the same as the difference between (explicit) understanding and (implicit) pre-understanding. The latter is the basis of the former. When I sleep or dream I am not separated from the world, but share the world in a different way from when I am awake. Freud put this difference into the subject following the modern subject-object dichotomy.

MN. I am interested in the process of how the self-monitoring process turns into a conscious one arising from the unconscious. How do human beings differ from robots at the unconscious level? In my paper I write:

“By employing the model of Sarah-Jayne Blakemore (Blakemore 2003) we can explain the meanings of  'two modes of sensory information-flow' and 'two modes of sensory information processing' in the following way more clearly. And in doing so, we can summarize what is happening in these specific dimensions of time and space related with 'sense of agency.'

According to Blakemore (2003), the meanings of 'sense of agency' can be related to questions such as: how do we know that our own actions belong to us?; how are we able to distinguish self-generated sensory events from those that arise externally?: why do patients with delusions of control confuse self-produced and externally produced actions and sensations? In short, these questions can be reduced to a simple one: the 'self-monitoring mechanism' may work or may not work in various cases, including the cases of patients with delusions of control. One of the important points regarding 'sense of agency' and keeping conditions for the (inner and outer) environment-adaptive-set of motor actions and sensory information processing, according to Blakemore's explanation, is based on the comparison of:

a) actual process of motor commands (transmitting motor commands from the central nervous system to the efferent division of the peripheral nervous system) and actual feedback of sensory information (reafference) and

b) the predicted (or imaginative) sensory response using 'a forward dynamic model' (which makes predictions about the next state of the system and compares this with the desired state) and 'a forward output model' (which makes predictions about the sensory consequences of the movement and compares this prediction with the actual sensory consequences of a movement). These processes are considered to consist of the actual outflow of sensory motor commands, actual inner-directed flow of sensory feedback (reafference) and copy (i.e. imitation or imagination) of outflowing of sensory motor commands as well as prediction of sensor feedback coming from the outer world to the inner world.

In my view, these processes mean that our bodily existence and the outer world related to our bodily existence include the imaginative Ba (place). And therefore the specific dimensions of time and space related with 'sense of agency' mentioned above range from actual to imaginative. And this suggests that the tripartite relations among the subject, the object and the body discussed above need specific dimensions of time and place as well as combined Ba (place) of actual and imaginative information flow.”

RC I think that the cases described by Blakemore and your interpretation are very interesting because they show that in the case of humans, the bodily experiences of patients with some kind of ‘mental’ and/or ‘organic’ disorders coincide with the phenomenological analysis as provided by Medard Boss, even if the subjectivist thinking is still being used in the case of Blakemore, levelling the difference between humans and robots.

MN We have to think about what the difference in understanding and pre-understanding means in the cases of robotics and roboethics.

RC I think that pre-understanding in the case of robots means that we humans objectivize in a program part of our own pre-understanding also according to our cultures, traditions etc. so that a robot moves and acts according to this program which is a ‘pro-gram’ and not really a ‘pre-understanding.’ Robots can 'learn' but this is again due to the limits and conditions we put.

MN I'm wondering how this difference or the question about being and beings can related to the concrete problems, for example, the autonomy of robots.

RC Robots act according to specific views of the being of beings and of our understanding of being itself. Their 'autonomy' is based on such ‘pro-grams’ programmed by human pre-understanding.

MN When I refer to the subject and the object, I do this as the advocator of the subject-object dichotomy, but I want to overcome this dichotomy, using the terms based on this dichotomy. This is because, as you said, most of discussions on robots and ethics are presented using the terms coming from this dichotomy.

RC I see. This is a good tactic in order to avoid the usual polemic. The subject-object dichotomy and what is based on it is wrong as such. If it regards itself as the only true one  it becomes not only an ideology but it makes us blind for understanding ourselves as who we are and our relation to the world. This blindness leads then to an assimilation between robots and humans, i.e. to different kinds of reductionism, particularly that of conceiving the human being as some kind of machine processing representations in an encapsulated consciousness which is then transferred to the conception of a robot processing data representations input to it from the external world (Capurro 1992). As far as we are able to see such reductionism as a reductionism, we are doing first steps towards roboethics.

MN Besides what we have discussed already, I want to relate the difference between conscious and unconscious to the discussions of autopoiesis and particularly to Prigogine's self-organizing systems (Prigogine and Nicolis 1977). I wonder what 'self' means in the phenomena of self-organization.

RC ‘Self’ means in this case that the processes of nature are not produced by an 'other' or by a cause outside the organism or system. This is a different concept of self from the one we discussed before relating to the human self.

MN As you say, the difference between "outer world" and "inner world" is typical of modern subjectivism. Yes, but in some cases, this difference might be useful. For example, the symptoms of schizophrenia seem to be explained by the failure of combining the information from outer world and the information from inner world. We might find some important problems related to both robots and mental patients.

RC Yes, as we discussed before, lacking the possibility to make a difference between what appears to us and the self that selects and gathers the messages sent to it is crucial in the case of schizophrenia. But the lack of the self in the case of humans is not of the same kind as the lack of the self of robots. Schizophrenics are even in this case still in the world with others while robots are basically worldless and ‘self-less’.

MN What does pre-understanding mean in the case of philosophers and roboticists defending classical computationalism or symbolism?

RC Phenomenologists say that we humans are always embedded in the world understanding it in some way and making this understanding sometimes explicit. This is the difference explained by Heidegger in Being and Time between the “hermeneutic as” and the “apophantic as” I already mentioned. Roboticists may try to 'translate' this difference saying that what they program into the robot is some kind of “hermeneutic as” and what the robot 'says' when it is asked for something is a kind of “apophantic as”. But this is just an analogy, of course.

MN If we don't share the world with someone, it might be that talking about being and beings fails to be understood.

RC Yes, I think so too. Beings appear in the openness or Ba. As far as we know only we humans can understand beings presenting themselves in the Ba as beings.

MN I couldn't write the rest of my paper on robots today, because I am thinking about self in the case of self-organization systems and the 'autonomous' robots which can compare 'a copy of the signal (for motor actions) known as an efference copy' and 'the actual sensory feedback' from 'outside.' An efference copy is very interesting because almost no one has used this term giving any clear definition. What is a 'copy' of sensory information? Can this copy be considered to be something similar to imagination as suggested for instance by Hiroshi Tsukimoto?

RC Imagination in the case of humans is related to three-dimensional time in case we do not conceive it as a representation in consciousness (Capurro 1996). We are always imagining something, i.e. projecting ourselves into the future or letting the future come to us. The issue of copying sensory information is based, once again, on the subject-object dichotomy. Robots' bodies are not really bodies in the sense that our bodies are as extended into past-present-future. A robot's body is always in the present or “vorhanden,” simply ‘occurrent.’ It is we who program robots as if they were related to future and past. But a robot's body has no idea of past and future, even if we install a memory of the past. But this is again a metaphor because its so-called memory is only a set of present stored data. The meaning of being when we ask the question, 'what is a robot?', is computability, that is to say, that the more computable a being is, the more and the better it is. This is why, within this cast of being or within this paradigm, to put it in the usual terms of epistemology , a robot is more and better than a human.

MN When you say that "self" means that the processes of nature are not produced by 'other' or a cause outside the organism or system and that this is another concept of self than when we speak of the human self that is a social self sharing a common world, does this mean that self is not confined to human beings?

RC As far as we know, we humans are the only beings that are not only a what but also a who or that are themselves as a self in interplay with other selves and with the world they share. When we speak about self-organizing systems, no self is implied but just the fact that (living) systems organize themselves. Varela defines natural organisms as “selfless selves” (Varela 1991). We humans are self-organizing systems or “selfless selves” as well as selves. On the basis of this difference we can not only better understand who we are with regard to other living systems, but also with regard to robots as artificial selfless and worldless systems. Robots are heteropoietic systems although they look like natural autopoietic ones. We should start a new intercultural dialogue in the future about the difference between the natural and the artificial. All this is basic for roboethics and a good basis for an intercultural dialogue on robotics and roboethics between the “Far East” and the “Far West.”


We thank Dr Michael Eldred (Cologne) for his critical advice as well as for polishing our English.


Bion, Wilfred (2013). Wikipedia.

Blakemore, Sarah-Jayne (2003). Deluding the motor system. Consciousness and Cognition, 12, pp. 647-655,

Boss, Medard (1975). Grundriss der Medizin und der Psychologie. Bern: Huber.

Capurro, Rafael (2010). The Dao of the Information Society in China and the Task of Intercultural Information Ethics. Japanese translation by Makoto Nakada: Jyouhou shakai no rinri (情報社会の倫理). In Ysuaki Kawanabe (Ed.): Noizu to daialogue no kyoudoutaiTsukuba University Press, 2008, Chapter 7, pp. 219-248. Chinese translation by Junlan Liang (Chinese Academy of Social Sciences), In Social Sciences Abroad, 2011.

Capurro, Rafael (1996). Was die Sprache nicht sagen und der Begriff nicht begreifen kann. Philosophische Aspekte der Einbildungskraft. In Peter Fauser and Eva Madelung Eds.: Vorstellungen bilden. Beiträge zum imaginativen Lernen. Velber: Friedrich, pp. 41-64. 

Capurro, Rafael (1995). Leben im Informationszeitalter. Berlin: Akademie Verlag.

Capurro, Rafael (1993). Ein Grinsen ohne Katze. Von der Vergleichbarkeit zwischen ‚Künstlicher Intelligenz’ und ‚Getrennten Intelligenzen’, In Zeitschrift für philosophische Forschung, 47, pp. 93-102.

Capurro, Rafael (1992). Informatik: Von der Technokratie zur Lebenskunst. In Fachgruppe Informatik und Gesellschaft der Schweizerischen Informatiker Gesellschaft (Ed.): Publikation der Vorträge zur Gründungsversammlung der Fachgruppe Informatik und Gesellschaft der Schweizerischen Informatiker Gesellschaft, Zürich.

Capurro, Rafael (1990). Ethik und Informatik. Die Herausforderung der Informatik für die praktische Philosophie. In Informatik-Spektrum 13, pp. 311-320. 

Capurro, Rafael (1990a). Frohmütiges Denken. Aspekte der Angst bei Platon und Heidegger. In Jörg Albertz, Ed.: Aspekte der Angst in der "Therapiegesellschaft“. Wiesbaden: Freie Akademie 1990, pp. 15-57. 

Capurro, Rafael; Eldred, Michael and Nagel, Daniel (2013): Digital Whoness: Identity, Privacy and Freedom in the Cyberworld. Frankfurt am Main: Ontos.

Capurro, Rafael and Nakada, Makoto (2011). A Dialogue on Intercultural Angeletics. In Rafael Capurro and John Holgate (eds.): Messages and Messengers Angeletics as an Approach to the Phenomenology of Communication. Munich: Fink, pp. 67-84.

Floyd, Christiane; Züllighoven, Heinz; Budde, Reinhard and Keil-Slawik, Reinhard (eds.): Software Development and Reality Construction. Berlin: Springer 1992.

Freud, Sigmund (1973). Psychoanalytische Bemerkungen zu einem autobiographisch beschriebenen Fall von Paranoia (Dementia paranoides) (1911). In ibid. Studienausgabe. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer, vol. 7, pp. 133-203.

Heidegger, Martin (1976). Sein und Zeit. Tübingen: Niemeyer (13th ed.)

Introna, Lucas D. (2007).  Maintaining the reversibility of foldings: Making the ethics (politics) of information technology visible. In Ethics and Information Technology  9, 11-25.

Jullien, François (1995). Le détour et l’accès. Paris: Presses Univ. de France.

Kant, Immanuel (1977). Träume eines Geistersehers, erläutert durch Träume der Metaphysik. In ibid. Werke. Frankfurt a. Main: Suhrkamp, pp. 919-989.

Kimura, Bin (1972). Hito to hito to no aida. Tokyo.

Melamed, Yitzhak (2012). “Omnis determinatio est negatio”: Determination, negation and self-negation in Spinoza, Kant and Hegel. In Eckart Förster and Yitzhak Melamed (eds.): Spinoza and German Idealism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 175-196.

Nabeshima, Cota and Kuniyoshi, Ysuo (2004). A  Model of Adaptive Robotic Body: Imate Extension-Based on Temporal Visual-Tactile Integration. Proceedings of the 22th Annual Conference of RJS (The Robotics Society of Japan), 3B23.

Nakada, Makoto and Tamura, Takanori (2005): Japanese conceptions of privacy: An intercultural. In Ethics and Information Technology  7, 1, pp. 27-36.

Prigogine, Ilya and Nicolis, G. (1977). Self-Organization in Non-Equilibrium Systems. London: Wiley.

Tsakiris, Manos; Simone Schutz-Bosbach, Simone and  Gallagher, Shaun (2007). On agency and body-ownership: Phenomenological and neurocognitive reflections. In Consciousness and Cognition, 16 (2007), pp. 645-660.

Tsukimoto, Hiroshi (2013) Wikipedia:

Varela, Francisco (1991). Organism: A meshwork of selfless selves. In Tauber (ed.), Organism and the Origin of Self. Dordrecht: Kluwer, pp. 79-107,

Winograd, Terry and Flores, Fernando (1986). Understanding Computers and Cognition: A New Foundation for Design. New Jersey: Ablex.


Last update: May  1, 2014



Copyright © 2013 by Rafael Capurro and Makoto Nakada, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. and international copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that the authors are notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the consent of the authors.

Back to Digital Library
Homepage Research Activities
Publications Teaching Video/Audio