The Deckard Confusion


The universe is not conscious – yet. But it will be. Strictly speaking, we should say that very little of it is conscious today. But that will change and soon. I expect that the universe will become sublimely intelligent and will wake up…

Ray Kurzweil, The Singularity is Near (2005 p. 390).

I now believe that the universe was created and is permeated by cosmic consciousness and superior creative intelligence… on all its levels and in all its dimensions. The image of the cosmos as a giant supermachine with Newtonian characteristics, consisting of separate building blocks (elementary particles and objects), gave way to a vision of a unified field, an organic whole in which everything is meaningful interconnected. I now see each individual human psyche as an integral part of the overall field of cosmic consciousness and essentially commensurate with it.

Psychiatrist Stanislav Grof, When the Impossible Happens, (2006 p. 349).

The Deckard Confusion is a term I use to describe the confusion of many Artificial Intelligence experts, who fail to distinguish the difference between the information processing of machines and human consciousness.  The term is based on the 1980s classic sci-fi movie Bladerunner,. Rick Deckard (played by Harrison Ford) falls in love with a ‘replicant’ (cyborg) named Rachael (Sean Young). In fact, Deckard is possibly a replicant himself, although it is unclear if he suspects this (the movie is ambiguous on this point, and it varies from one “cut” of the movie to another). It seems that Deckard cannot distinguish a machine from a flesh and blood person. Thus the term, “the Deckard confusion”.

The fragmentation of mind in the modern era has created a similar problem. This includes a widespread confusion in modern cognitive science, where the computer metaphor currently dominates brain science and psychology. To put it simply, many experts believe the human organism and its consciousness to be merely a biological machine, when the possibility is that consciousness contains essential, intrinsic qualities which are non-mechanistic. They seem unable to distinguish machine from organic life – or, dare I say, matter from “Spirit”.

In this short article I am going to propose a provocation for you. I use the term ‘provocation’ in the sense that Edward de Bono does. It is a deliberate attempt to throw a spanner in the works of the rational, linear mind. Once beliefs are established (via experience and conditioning) in the mind, that mind tends to regulate further experience in terms so the pre-existing thought structures, self-defined categories and so on. A provocation is meant to be something of a slap on the face, to snap you out of your slumber. In this case, the slap is more directed at mainstream thinking in cognitive science, and especially AI theory.

If you have seen the movie Bladerunner, you will recognise this eye. Is it human or robotic?

My provocation is… simply that machines are incapable of knowing the world in the way that human beings do, because they are unable to copy our most essential ways of knowing. Therefore, they are not ‘intelligent’ in the way that human beings are, or even other animals are.

Take a look at the simple table, below. It identifies ways of knowing by the verbs used to describe those mental processes (thus I call them verbs of knowing). I make a simple dichotomy, distinguishing verbs which are commonly employed in “critical rationality” and those from “mystical spirituality”. The table was originally drawn up to support a related argument in my book Integrated Intelligence, but here my purpose is a little different. In that previous instance I was comparing and contrasting how using different cognitive processes leads to different understandings of the world.

Now, take a look at the following verbs and ask yourself the following question. How many of the ‘verbs of knowing’ in the critical/rational box might plausibly be performed by an artificial intelligence? Then take a look at the mystical/spiritual ‘verbs of knowing’. How many of those do you think might possibly be employed by a machine? See if you agree with my assessment. I have highlighted the verbs in bold which I think might be successfully activated by AI in the near future.



Access.  Actualise.  Become aware of.  Be guided.  Channel.  Connect with.  Contemplate.  Create.  Delight.  Design.  Divine (verb).  Dream.  Empathise.  Enchant.  Envision.  Feel.   Feel for.   Find meaning.  Find purpose. Foresee. Get the impression of.  Harmonise.  Identify with.  Inspire.  Intuit.  Marvel.  Meditate.  Perceive.  Poeticise.  Ponder.  Possess.  Reflect.  Relate.  Resonate with.  Reveal (revelation).  Sense.  Surrender.  Sympathise.  Transmit.  Vibrate.  Wonder.

Neutral Deliberate.  Discern.  Distinguish.  Hear.  Identify.  Know.  Match.  Recognise.  See.




Argue.  Analyse.  Calculate.  Classify.  Cognise.  Collect.  Conclude.  Commune.  Control.  Count.  Compare.  Contrast.  Criticise.  Critique.  Deconstruct.  Deduce.  Detect.  Devise.  Differentiate.  Discuss. Dispute. Dissect.  Examine.  Experiment. Extrapolate.  Gather.  Intellectualise. Locate. Measure.  Observe.  Postulate.  Question.  Rationalise.  Read.  Reduce.  Research.  Study.  Tabulate.  Take apart.  Tell.  Test.  Theorise.  Think.  Write.

The Verbs of Knowing that might feasibly be mastered by artificial intelligence

You will note that much of this is subjective, and depends on the precise definition of each of the verbs. I am not going to dither over such definitions here. My intent is to simply to get you to appreciate something which is rather obvious. Many more of the critical/rational verbs are likely to be mastered by machine intelligence in the foreseeable future, as opposed to the mystical/spiritual. Most notably, these machine-friendly ways of knowing are the same cognitive capacities which dominate modern science and education. This brings us back to the Deckard confusion and my main point.

The critical/rational cognitive processes we are encouraged to use in modern society are essentially mechanical. Yet spiritual/mystical ways of knowing are what really define us as human beings. If critical/rational ways of knowing are employed without a balanced use of other ways of knowing, we become increasingly automated and mechanical. We lose our souls.

The Deckard confusion dominates much of modern cognitive science and education, and in turn it has come to define much of our cognitive experience in modern societies. The Deckard confusion proliferates where the power structures of society – and especially its knowledge base (modern science) have adopted the mechanistic paradigm. This paradigm sees the cosmos as being like a giant machine grinding out its existence according to fixed laws (rules).

The Deckard confusion is a self-reinforcing delusion. We think the cosmos is a giant machine, so we view life and mind as mechanistic. We reject ways of knowing that are not mechanistic (especially the intuitive and emotional), then dissociate ourselves from the body and intuitive knowledge. We acknowledge, measure and observe only those same mechanistic cognitive processes while ignoring the rest. We then gather together at academic conferences and congratulate ourselves that we have proven ourselves to be machine-like.

All that is left is to upload ourselves onto computers. Certain transhumanists like Ray Kurzweil are all too keen to do that.

Like I said, we are confused.




Marcus Anthony
Marcus Anthony
Marcus T Anthony, PhD, is Director of MindFutures, China. Marcus specializes in the futures of consciousness and intelligence, and has lectured and spoken in many countries in the Asia-Pacific region. He has also written and lectured much about China, and is fluent in Mandarin Chinese. The author of ten books and fifty academic publications about the future, he is also currently Assistant Professor of Futures Studies, Bryant University, Zhuhai, China. His website is, and he can be contacted at

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