The Brain, the Mind, Intelligence And Existence

Computers and human brains were in the news this past week.  Watson, an IBM supercomputer defeated two TV game champions on Jeopardy:  Computer Wins on Jeopardy!: Trivial It’s Not.  Leaving us to ask, what will they think up next?

At least for humans, the only interesting part of the game show was that there were humans in the game – for Jeopardy  being played by three super computers would seem an unlikely winner in audience rating wars.  (Not being a TV viewer myself, I read about Watson, but didn’t see it on the tube).

While Watson may have been a show stopper, it represents the huge advances in artificial intelligence which have been made in recent years.  Computers are becoming more adept at interacting with their human inventors.  The pace at which changes and improvements in computing are taking place continue to increase at an exponential rate – even the rate of change is advancing exponentially. 

 All this has led Raymond Kurzweil to predict:   2045: The Year Man Becomes Immortal.  The amazing speed at which changes are taking place in computing defies our ability to predict what will the near future hold –  will it be the singularity?  (The “singularity” is  “The moment when technological change becomes so rapid and profound, it represents a rupture in the fabric of human history.”)  Will computer intelligence so outstrip human intelligence that the computers will take over all manners of human thinking and begin solving problems on their own and creating a better world (or at least a world based solely in knowledge, logic, mathematics and intelligence)?  The TIME magazine article looks not only at how computers might take over creation, but how human intelligence might become one with artificial intelligence allowing humans to become immortal on and through the internet, and also how some people are beginning to believe  aging and death itself can be overcome by science (those 900 year old personages of Genesis might not be so unbelievable after all!).  

It gives me so much to think about that I don’t know what to think.  The exponential advances in computing technology are real enough, but the singularity may be more a religious belief than scientific fact or possibility.  (see my The Singularity is Near Gnosticism).  What will be, we cannot yet know, but it seems quite possible to me that the human mind will not be transferable to a digital format, since the connection between the mind and an organic brain may  be inseparable.  Computers may advance to levels not yet imagined, but they will emerge from previous generations of computers which will limit their advancement and make them always reliant on the past, on what programmed them, on what is, because they are pushed from behind not pulled by and toward the not yet existing future.  Unless of course the anthropic principle is at work, or God.

The other article that caught my attention was in the March 2011 Discover Magazine, “The Unlocked Mind” or “Back from the Brink”, which dealt with experiments and medical advances in dealing with severely brain injured patients, some who are considered to be in a vegetative state.  Medical science has shown that some of these patients have some ability to respond to questions – there is someone still there in certain cases.  While Kurzweil and company are seeking ways to escape the mind’s bond to the brain, neuroscientists are working hard to try to reconnect the mind to the brain in these brain damaged patients.  Both are working on the limits of the mind, of being human, and neither like those limits much. 

The work of the neuroscientists also left me not knowing what to think of patients in a vegetative state.  When is the time to admit that nothing more can be done for them?   When do we move from trusting medical science to keep hope alive to trusting in the hope which is God?     Is our fear of letting them go based in a fear of mortality because we do not believe there is anything beyond this world?   Is that what drives Kurzweil to seek immortality on the Internet?   

Ultimately, a question about what it means to be human is whether the human being is really nothing more than an organic computer which can be replaced in the world by human invention – artificial intelligence.   Or perhaps is the human inventiveness which creates a new form of intelligence the greatest sign that human intelligence must have a creator as well?

If there is more to being human than just a mind, if there is a connection to the eternal God – the soul, if existence is not coterminous with intelligence, then maybe the Kurzweils of the world are looking in the wrong direction and they need to look inwardly into the human heart as Orthodox Christian tradition would have it to find eternal life, that life which is not limited by injury or aging or even by death itself.

Christmas (2004)

Sermon notes from the Feast of the Nativity of Christ (2004)

In the beginning God said: “Let there be light.”

God speaks (His Word) and the visible (Light) comes into existence.

God’s spoken Word can be seen, allows us to see, makes sight possible.

Even before anything else existed, even before anything was to be seen, God speaks light into existence.    The Light of God existed before there was anything to shine on – to be seen.   Even before anyone else was there to see, God’s light existed, and the ability to see pre-existed before any humans were there to see.

And today as we celebrate Christmas, we celebrate the feast of the Word of God becoming flesh – that is how John in his Gospel describes the birth of Christ.

Again God’s spoken Word, just like in the beginning, at creation,  is made to be seen, is Light.

God’s Word is that which is to be seen, allows us to see, makes sight possible

God’s Word allows us to see and know God, and makes visible that which before was before invisible.   For in Christmas we  begin to see that God is Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Christmas is more than the sentimental story of a baby being born into poverty.

It is symbolically the same story of God saying “Let there be light”

It is in reality the story of the Word becoming visible, incarnate, physical, flesh.

It is God speaking the Word into visible existence, or the visible itself  into existence.

Our God does not put us either into non-existence or into darkness.

God is the giver of life and light, of light and existence, not of darkness or non-existence.

God spoke into the non-existence and said “Let there be light” and the Word became flesh.  God speaks us into being, and overcomes the darkness, and gives us the light which knows no end.

God speaks at the beginning of creation and light comes into existence, but that isn’t enough for God, for not only does He will light into existence, He wills that His Word, His Light become flesh. The spiritual, life itself becomes increasingly incarnate and manifest, light becoming increasingly physical and human. Jesus Christ is the light of evening, the Light of the World, He is both Light and Life, and we see in Him God’s plan, will, and intention. 

God’s Word evolves from Light, to life, to human flesh. And in this we understand, the Light of God is not opposed to being human, but is its intention and destiny: God’s will and plan. God’s Word is not opposed to the flesh, but becomes incarnate – the Word becoming the flesh, and the flesh revealing the Word.

Christ is who and what God intended and intends for each of us to be.

God took on human nature – became enfleshed, incarnate so that humanity could be again united to God.    Light became flesh so that God would always be visible to us. 

The Word becomes flesh so that we might be able to see God not just with the eyes of our hearts but with the eyes of our flesh. So that we can once again see what God spoke from the beginning – the Light He called into being before there was any sun or stars. In Christ we can see that Light once again.

This is why the greeting “Christ is born!” contains such a powerful message.   We are affirming our conviction that God has indeed entered the world, entered the darkness in order to give us light and life.

One small aside – today we also remember the Magi who came to see the newborn Christ child.  These wise men use the physical light (the star) in order to search for and find the Spiritual light, which God spoke into existence on the first day of creation.

Our Only Possessions: Our Virtues

“Do I posses the house in which I live?  No, it is only on loan to me from God while I remain in that place.  Do I possess the clothes I wear?  No, they are on loan to me until I wear them out, or until I give them away to someone in greater need.  Do I possess this body that you see before you?  No, it was lent to me by God when I was born and he will take it back when I die.  Do I possess the mind that is composing the words that I speak?  No, that too was lent by God at my birth and will go when I die.  So do I possess anything?  Yes, I possess the virtues which during my life have grown and flourished within my soul.  Inasmuch as I have grown in love, I possess love.  Inasmuch as I have grown in faith, I possess faith.  Inasmuch as I have grown in gentleness, I possess gentleness.  These things are immortal; they are divine gifts which God will not take away, because he wants heaven itself to be filled with virtue.  And, of course, I possess my soul, in which these virtues have their roots.”  (St John Chrysostom,  On Living Simply, pg 29)

Cause and Effect?

(The meanderings of a twisted mind pondering the meaning of cause and effect, or is it effect which gives meaning to cause, or effect which causes meaning?)

Not out of nothing, came I into existence,

But not for nothing?

Nothing is certain.

For all to exist as is, requires all that is to exist.

I is not the cause of I,

Existence is.

Effect give meaning to cause?

Is cause in need of effect to give ‘Is’

what is it’s meaning?

What effect has meaning, if cause does not?

Can meaningless Cause cause to exist 

What gives it meaning?

Is ‘Is’ in need of ‘I’ because I gives meaning to ‘Is’?

What Is is The One Who Is’s.

The ‘I’ Effect reflects as image what ‘Is’ is:

The source not of nothing but of being, cause, meaning.

Atheism: Ideal, Idyllic or Ideology? (2)

This is the 3rd blog in a series, the first blog is entitled Atheism: Luminous or Delusion?    The blog preceding this one is Atheism: Ideal, Idyllic or Ideology?  (1).  David Bentley Hart in his book ATHEIST DELUSIONS: THE CHRISTIAN REVOLUTION AND ITS FASHIONABLE ENEMIES offers a rebuttal to some of the common attacks on religion offered by “the new Atheists.”   Below are a few quotes from Hart regarding the philosophical assumptions which atheists make.  The atheists want others to believe that atheism is based in scientific fact, but Hart says their unproven assumptions are neither based in experience nor in logical deductions and so must be debunked as somehow representing a scientifically proven reality.

“There is, after all, nothing inherently reasonable in the conviction that all of reality is simply an accidental confluence of physical causes, without any transcendent source or end.  Materialism is not a fact of experience or a deduction of logic; it is a metaphysical prejudice, nothing more, and one that is arguably more irrational than almost any other. … The question of existence does not concern how it is that the present arrangement of the world came about, from causes already internal to the world, but how it is that anything (including any cause) can exist at all. ”    (p 103)

The Big Bang

Hart places the greater question of the existence of anything as at the heart of the debate between atheistic materialists and those who believe in God as the creator of all things.  What he contends that materialism cannot do is explain why anything exists.  That is a legitimate question which humans are capable of posing, but materialists cannot answer the question because they are limited in their answers to empirical reality – they must search for answers “from causes already internal to the world.”  Hart’s point is that this in itself is a belief not based in logic or experience but in a “metaphysical prejudice” – they say it is so, cannot prove it, but then act as if it is the unquestionable truth of the universe.

Hart’s insistence is that without some basis for beliefs in a transcendent truth, everything really is reduced to opinion, even if an educated one.  Every opinion can simply be refuted by anyone who disagrees with the opinion.  Thus a civic morality will not emerge from a completely atheistic society – they may imitate the moral precepts of the religious societies they reject, but they will not be able to sustain a morality because they cannot lay claim to any ethical truth above personal opinion, democratic rule by the majority, or the tyranny of those in power.

“A culture could remain quite contentedly Christian in all its convictions and still achieve space travel.  The mass manufacture of nerve toxins and nuclear weaponry, court-mandated sterilizations, lobotomies, the miscegenation of human and porcine  genetic materials, experimentation on prison populations, clinical studies of untreated syphilis in poor black men, and so on: all of this required the scientific mind to move outside or ‘beyond’ Christian superstitions regarding the soul and the image of God within it.” (p 232)

Crematorium at Dachau

Hart’s contention is that precisely as societies have freed themselves from religious constraint have we witnessed the growth of mass murders, ethnic cleansing, racial extermination, on a level that no religious society was ever capable of doing.  Watch the UTube video on the Japanese Unit 731 during WW II.  Their emperor, thought of as a god, was trained in biological science, and it is to science that he turns to conduct some of the worst cases of mass human torture and murder under the guise of science ever conceived.  Some claim more people have been killed in the name of religion than for any other reason, but it was science in the 20th Century that enabled the killing of more people than ever had been previously possible.   More Christians were known to have been killed under the Fascists and Communists than were killed in the first 300 years of Christian history – a time period in which the Church was outlawed by the Roman Empire and persecuted.  Rome lacked the scientific means to kill the Christians on a massive scale.

In the end, Hart waxes philosophical about what happens to human beings when scientific progress makes life easier and enables homo sapiens to have more leisure time and not to have to worry about the difficulties of life which used to cause people to turn to religion and gods for help:

 “… perhaps that is simply what happens when human beings are liberated from want and worry, and we should therefore gratefully embrace the triviality of a world that revolves around television, shopping, and the Internet as a kind of blessedness that our ancestors, oppressed by miseries we can scarcely now imagine, never even hoped to enjoy in this world. … When the aspiring ape ceases to think himself a fallen angel, perhaps he will inevitably resign himself to being an ape, and then become contented with his lot, and ultimately even rejoice that the universe demands little more from him than an ape’s contentment.” (p 230)

Some of us cannot imagine what difference it makes whether we can calculate let alone use in math the concept of “the square root of negative one” nor are we impressed that it helps solve certain algebraic formulae.    Some of us are hostile to let alone cannot believe in the existence of a God, nor can we see any purpose served by such an imaginary being.  The fact that our imaginations do not permit us to appreciate  certain concepts does not mean the concepts themselves are unreal or unimportant.  One of the greatest evolutionary gifts to humans is the ability to think and to know abstractly – this has made possible an understanding of the universe which goes beyond what we can normally perceive or experience.  Or as Hart contends perhaps we really will cease to aspire for things beyond our human limits and will settle for an ape’s contentment in life.

Next:  Atheism: Ideal, Idyllic or Ideology?  (3)

Love what does not exist

As I was listening to NPR Weekend Edition while doing a little time on my elliptical machine, I heard the story “Simone Weil Brought to Life in New Oratorio”.  One quote from Simone Weil stuck with me:

“Nothing that exists is absolutely worthy of love.  So we must love what does not exist.”

Her comment brought to mind a couple of thoughts:

  • 1) Love is an action not a reaction. We chose to love from our free will, and if we want to live in a world of love, we have to consciously and energetically chose love over our emotional reaction to people, events and things around us. Nothing may be absolutely worthy of love, we should love anyway.
  • 2) Her comment seems eminently true to me from the point of view that I have never found anything in this world which I feel so attached to that I live for it, or which has become for me a reason to live. I have felt mostly out of place in this world, a sojourner, restless, and unattached, but also homeless, bored, unable to find that which interests or excites me. It seems to me many people fill their lives with “entertainment” and then come to enjoy being entertained. I have never found anything in this world which captivates me, and no “entertainment” or pleasure satisfying. I am consequently not a very good friend. In this void in my life, God has been my constant companion, the God of the gaps as it were. My only true friend is invisible to some and non-existent to others. But He has been everything to me.
  • 3) I disagree with her that nothing is worthy of love. I think it all is worthy of love, but the world is not always lovely or loveable. It is arrogant to think the world does not deserve my love. I am unworthy of the world, as St. Paul put it, “the foremost of sinners.”
  • 4) Love what does not exist. St. Basil the Great said something to the effect, “if I say I exist, then I must say God does not exist, for existence then is word which describes the created.” Love what does not exist, means to aspire beyond all human limitations, to seek out God, who does not exist but who is existence and in whom we exist.
  • 5) We also are to love what doesn’t exist in order to bring it into existence – peace and happiness come to mind. Just because we do not experience the blessedness of life or life as blessed, does not mean blessedness does not or cannot exist, or that we should not pursue them. We should think about things which are good, true, pure, just, commendable, excellent and lovely, and then love them and make them exist in the lives of the people around us.