Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Singularity (Precision in Thought)

The other night I prayed with my mind flying in a thousand directions at once, so loud (and yet too muffled to distinguish a single thought.) They say you can't think a thought unless it's tied to a word. I used to wonder how one can even measure that, to what extent one has thought a thought if you aren't actually even sure you've thought it. (My daughter talks mostly about kittens and hairbows and love, so it's quite possible that it's true.)

I know that my mind went from noise to a sentence, and that God had understood my prayer long before it made it to that point. He showed me a picture -did my eyes see it, or was it in my mind? How can you tell without waving your hands before your eyes? It was beautiful. I spoke to my dad a few days later, and as casually as one can mention such an unusual thing, I threw it into the conversation, as if it were an afterthought. He paused. He told me he had seen the same thing.

There's a guy named Ray Kurzweil who wrote a book called The Singularity is Near. He believes that within some 30 years, machines will become human. (Others view The Singularity as the moment in time when humans become machines; that if we eat our peas and map out the human genome and stream our consciences* onto microchips for safe-keeping, we'll live forever.) Kurzweil sells that side of the coin to an extent, but his forte is the theory that technology is advancing at such an amazing rate that the only gap left to fill is that which exists between us and them: the capacity to create, to weigh arguments, to joke, to have emotions, to distinguish right from wrong.

He doesn't say that the difference between a human and a robot is a soul, because his religious beliefs do not allow him the word. And because he substitutes the term soul with intelligence or self-awareness, he either has thoughts he does not think at all, or he has thoughts that are too hazy to recognize**.

I wonder what he would make of 1 Corinthians 2, or of Romans 8:14-27. There is a joy in having thoughts that are beyond your understanding set before you in print; you gasp at both their familiarity and their strangeness***.

I wish that C.S. Lewis were able to attend the Singularity Summit. I wish that he could set up a booth under a banner with the simple statement "You don't have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body." I would love to hear a conversation between him and Kurzweil - even if I didn't have the vocabulary to understand it.


*I feel like this entire post is a clumsy religion/sci-fi version of Inception. Look at those passages, if you haven't yet. They're within a line of thought that's entirely different from what I've written about, and yet it stands: God has a mind and a Spirit, and they are distinct from each other. The Spirit helps us understand God's mind, and raises within us prayers that are ours but are not necessarily thoughts that we understand. But he also says we have the mind of Christ, and pursues this in a different direction in 1 Corinthians 14:14. And he writes about the inherent knowledge that this life isn't what we were intended for; there is much more in 1 Corinthians 15. But my point in all of this is simply to say that to see it written out in black and white -that if something about your very existence feels like a sham, if you know that a hope to live forever as you are is no hope at all- is nothing less than to see the unknowable tied down in words. A mystery is given form, and we are left marvelling at both how obvious it is and how perfectly beyond our grasp it remains.

**Like that a girl with severe autism or a boy with Down's Syndrome might not pass the Turing Test, but they bear the image of God; therein lies a dignity that cannot be added to or denied.

***Or is it consciousnesses? Ironic to not know which word to use.


Bethany said...

I thought immediately of Romans 8:26. A few months back when I was struggling so with the sadness surrounding my sister, I found myself praying a prayer of thanks most audibly... most recognizably. Thanks that God knew my heart & the other noise of my spirit... the words I could not say because there were too many. Feelings & words & thoughts & pictures I recognized but could not collaborate into cohesiveness. Thanks that I did not need to give words to my prayers. God knew them anyway. And I could rest in that. And thank him for that.

socstud said...

I assume you've read the latest from Time then? Der Speigel has an interesting interview with a prof from Yale about this concept and the recent Jeopardy appearance of Watson, the latest computer that is "smarter" than...well a human.

socstud said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
socstud said...

Forgot the link, didn't post right first time. We'll try again.


Laurie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rolli said...

C.S. Lewis does comment on it! At least a bit, anyway, in the third book of the Silent Planet trilogy, "That Hideous Strength." All three books are very interesting presentations of theology (or, more so, human habits and relationship with God) primarily through conversations. The first two are a bit like an outer space "Gulliver's Travels" theology, only with a lot more fun story (sorry Mr. Swift). The third is by far the most sci-fi and most novel-ish, but has the most AMAZING point which involves, you guessed it: Souls and well...to me, another other major point would be something called, "The Subtle Twisting." There's a lot more too them, but that's why they are novels and this is ...not...not yet, at least ^_~

OH you should READ all three in order it if you haven't!!! Those, and "The Great Divorce." (!!!!!!!!!)

The Goodfellas said...

I did, yeah. Saw the Watson interview a day after I posted this, laughed at the timing. I liked his rather dull insistence (answer after answer) that his machine could only function according to whatever algorithm it was given. The clay/potter idea is interesting as applied to this. How can a machine be smarter than its maker? Even if it can do better at Jeopardy, could it ever build something that could beat it? If not, it is laughably less than a human.
i read "the great divorce" and was so incredibly disappointed. it's like he set up an interesting backdrop to make his points by, but the backdrop itself was so repellent to me that i couldn't enjoy the book at all. i wish he had just written it in essay form and tossed away the fiction. (the screwtape letters, on the other hand, i -adored.- not the whole book, maybe, but every misstep is covered when he hits his stride in the end. i don't know that writing gets much more beautiful than that.)
you know who could give me that conversation i want to hear? ravi zacarias. ;) i can't think of a good title, though. "the futurist and the ______: kurzweil talks with lewis."

The Goodfellas said...

ps. am dying to read that trilogy now - "that hideous strength" is a great title.

The Goodfellas said...

and bethany!!!- just, yes. maybe that's what is meant by "do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. and the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." to know that you are understood, even if you don't understand...you are right. we can rest in that, and we can thank him for that. <3

rolli said...

Crazy, we love love love it! While it makes perfect sense to me that you wouldn't like the fiction, to us it was such a beautiful metaphor for the magnitude of heaven, a way of describing the weight of a TRUEness otherwise beyond our comprehension....which it actually IS beyond our comprehension (why he made it a "middle ground" that doesn't really exist).

But I babble--and am very VERY curious as to what you will think of the Space Trilogy, since those backdrops are neither solely metaphor (like the Great Divorce), nor literal, but...something in between: fairly imaginative sci-fi built to remind the reader of a theology that is being worked out (the best I can do).