Everyone has their “big question”. For some it is around the next, best technological innovation. For others, it is about advances in the human condition.
For me, the “big question” is around how will our biology and technology merge. I remember fondly my days at Bell Labs where over lunch we would argue the subtler points of human consciousness. “At what point”, we asked each other, “once we added technology to our bodies, would our individual humanity be too weak to maintain our soul? Do you think science will be able to create a soul one day (I came down on the side of yes – it was a distinct possibility)? Did we need a certain “critical mass” to maintain our personalities?”
The answers remain as elusive today as they were over a decade ago. But at least more people are asking the same questions today whereas a decade ago it was rarely the subject of polite conversation. And if you ever suggested that science can create souls well that usually resulted in some deeply uncomfortable conversations.
Today, people are more opened minded and I have more freedom to chat about this stuff with more people that ever before. I can challenge the belief that some have that there is a man vs machine confrontation coming (I don’t BTW). Others believe that our ability to create technology will outstrip our ability to introduce safeguards preventing the technology from running amok. Still others imagine a matrix-like world where we are all just the result of some massive software program and we only think we have free will (but if one thinks one is free – does it matter if you are not).
Ah – such philosophical quandaries. I long for Spinoza’s simple view of everything. He maintained that anything and everything was eventually knowable (yeah – the Church was not happy about that idea since it put a crimp in their monopoly in the business of knowing God). Plus Spinoza understood God as follows; all matter is divisible but once you hit “matter rock bottom” so to speak, that indivisible thing Spinoza called “Substance” (a.k.a. God).
It’s a simple world view that is eminently satisfying until one realizes that it does not account for the leaps of brilliance only the human heart can take. Or the flashes of insight that allow someone to create a masterpiece no machine has yet been able to duplicate. Nor does it explain the power of love to transform and the essential element of hope to sustain the human spirit.
Today, science has put forth many more questions than it actually answered over the last 50 years. Maybe, just maybe, the human spirit needs mystery just as much as it needs hope. Maybe the final mystery is that we need mystery to sustain the spirit. The more I ponder this mystery the more puzzled I become.
Ah – the exquisite agony of it all. No software program could ever fathom that …at least I don’t think so.