We all, as individuals and members of societies, dedicate a lot of effort to finding ways to cope with the idea of death.
Most believers in traditional Western religions imagine resurrection in an afterlife, where they will be forever reunited with loved ones. Most believers in traditional Eastern religions and spiritual traditions think that, while an otherworldly realm beyond physical reality may eventually be attained, most people go through a long string of lives here on Earth (reincarnation).
Unlike traditional Christians, Mormons are philosophical materialists. They imagine a unified cosmos consisting only of matter, bounded by space and time, operating under natural law. Founder Joseph Smith is quoted as saying, “There is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter.” (D&C 131:7). He set Mormons apart from philosophical dualists by arguing that there is no substance other than the material world, even if matter is invisible to mortals or not yet understood.1 The Mormon cosmos is wholly natural and follows fixed laws; there is no supernatural. Without distinct natural and supernatural realms, it never made sense for Mormons to distinguish natural or scientific truth from spiritual truth. Within Mormonism, natural and spiritual truth collapse into a unified whole. Smith claimed, “Mormonism is truth; and every man who embraces it feels himself at liberty to embrace every truth” (Times and Seasons, Feb. 1840, pp. 53–5), thus suggesting he viewed science as a branch of Mormonism, and vice versa.2
In my previous post, I talked about Fred Brooks’ insights on the transcendent properties of the creative process -- particularly from his experience with software engineering. He describes the joy of the creative process this way:
- The joy of creation
- The joy of service
- The joy of seeing your creation in action
- The joy of learning
- The joy of having free and limitless creative medium
As a teenager growing up in the 1970’s who was interested in all things science and technology related while also a Mormon with strong Mormon roots, I had to come to grips with what appeared to be some basic incompatibilities between scientific truth and religious truth.
What I discovered over time is that most of the incompatibility lay not with disagreements between fundamental tenets of Mormon theology and science, but lay with disagreements between the theologies of other Christian religions and science. Albeit there are elements of Mormonism that may be problematic for the scientist, these have to do more with culture, practice, and policy than with cosmology. Indeed, as I continued to pursue my education—eventually getting a PhD in Electrical Engineering and continuing for many more years as a tenured professor at a university—I found that the theistic cosmology first espoused by Joseph Smith in the early nineteenth century, is uncannily becoming more compatible, not less, with advances in scientific knowledge.
Around the turn of the century, there were critics who felt that the Internet was being over hyped. For example, art critic Robert Hughes writing about the information highway in Digital Time (1995) claimed that “We will look back on what is now claimed ... and (wonder) how we ever psyched ourselves into believing all the bull-dust about ... fulfillment through interface and connectivity. But by then we will have some other fantasy to chase. Its approaches equally lined with entrepreneurs and flack who will be the beneficiaries.” Hughes died in 2012, so he was able to see the evolution of the worldwide web. I wonder if he had changed his mind?
My time thinking about transhumanism and religion has essentially boiled down to an exercise where I try to identify the natural methods a God would use or like to see used to fulfill a prophecy. I would say few of the prophecies fulfilled in the history of the people of God have occurred “miraculously”, but have mostly been the unfolding of a series of causes and effects of people’s decisions. As such, I believe that most of the events that will result in the paradisiacal state of the Millennium will be the result of the personal decisions and actions of billions of people.
Science fiction and real science are in a symbiotic relation with powerful feedback loops: science fiction is inspired by science, and in turn it inspires new scientific and technical developments. At times, new developments are directly inspired by the imagination of science fiction writers - for example the fictional technologies described by William Gibson, Neal Stephenson, and more recently Ernest Cline, shaped and continue to drive real developments in consumer electronics and virtual reality, a recent example being the Oculus Rift. More often, science fiction ignites with overpowering interest in science and technology the flexible and imaginative minds of the young, who then become the next generation of scientists and engineers. This has a huge social impact: as Golden Age "pulp" science fiction inspired those who developed the space program and the Internet, the best of today's science fiction will inspire the creators of tomorrow's world.
|(Gandhi Museum, Delhi, India)|
like a prairie dog, popping up--
alert, curious-- and disappearing again.
like a cherry blossom, unfolding pink and delicate in fragrance and flower;
giving way to leaf and stem, fruit and stone.
Having and raising children is a critical part of the propagation of the species. Until Immortality or other reproductive options are realized, or otherwise finally engineered, it is critical to our long term survival. Children are therefore our most important resource.
As you might be aware, we as a society are dealing with increasingly powerful personal technology; including smart phones, google glass and the like. One of the outcomes of this, which we see in the current generation, is increasing pressure for multi-tasking and other randomization while still performing additional tasks. While multi-tasking is a great skill and learning to use this ever increasing amount of technology can be a good thing, it also seems to be degrading certain skill sets in the current generation.
The feminist philosopher Donna Haraway observed that the cyborg is not just a creature of speculative fiction, but of modern social reality.1 She saw the myth of the post-human cyborg as a feminist alternative to the dualist myth of the human. In the traditional construction of a human, we imagine that the person is conceptually separable from his bodily mechanisms. This is baked into modern intuition, because we say, for example, that a human “has” a body or brain, not that a human “is” a body or brain. A cyborg is not a traditional human in that sense. It is a person inseparably welded and wired to her embodiment. A cyborg is an indivisible and indistinct union of person and mechanism, and it is impossible to locate the true boundary between woman and machine.
“Dear Kate, you and I cannot be confined within the weak list of a country's fashion: we are the makers of manners, Kate; and the liberty that follows our places stops the mouth of all find-faults.” - William Shakespeare, Henry V, Act V, Scene 2
As Henry V is wooing Katherine of France, entreating her for a kiss, she objects that it is not the fashion in France to kiss before marriage. He responds that they should not be constrained by custom, but be “the makers of manners” -- and he gets his kiss.
As a programmer, my greatest creative outlet is writing code. While searching deep inside an interconnected web of bits and logic to hunt down that perpetual last bug may seem to someone from the outside to be anything but creative, there is a unique type of creativity that is found in writing software. A new sense of awe and joy is found in the deeply felt human experience of curiosity, exploration, and creation when we see those things not as uniquely human and ephemeral but as things which can make us one with nature, the universe, each other, and God.