2013-02-24 – Human beings seem to like to imagine living without a body.
It’s like everyone had a body like Stephen Hawking, wracked by disease, nothing but a drag. Hawking has made much of his mind. He has transcended his body, in a way. And this is what many other humans would like to do.
The high-tech version of this vision is artificial intelligence. Hawking makes use of many tools of technology but, for the AI visionaries, this is small potatoes. AI aficionados see an eventual transfer of human consciousness from this body of flesh to some sort of super computer. This is the struggle of computer science. To expand the capabilities of computers to supersede our own abilities, so that one day the machine can be a vessel of our soul.
They’ve made progress. Computers can manipulate many types of data far better than humans. Computers can translate one human language into another, though this capability if far from perfect. And the translations are mechanical, so that the computer doesn’t need to understand a sentence in order to translate it. Computers can beat humans at chess and can play Jeopardy.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t spend much time each day doing any of these things.
What I do spend time doing will be hard for a computer ever to do. I spend a fair amount of time putting food on the table. I spend a fair amount of time thinking about sex. I spend a fair amount of time socializing. (Don’t scoff. I may be shy. But I socialize in my own nerdy way.)
A computer may be able to simulate these things, but never do them. Because they all derive from the needs of my body. Without a body, the needs go away. Without a body, the human-computer combination will have nothing to do but play chess and crunch numbers.
Before the advent of computers, humans wished their bodies away by aspiring to become angels—and they still do. The questions about this existence are the same: what would we do as angels with eternal life?
The ancient rabbis said that we would study Torah. But take a look at the Torah. It embodies a Code that is thoroughly . . . well . . . embodied. It talks about love and hate, sex, adultery, parents and children, sin, and salvation. None of that is relevant to angels without bodies. Other religious traditions talk about angels singing the praise of God . . . eternally . . . for ever . . . and ever . . . halleluyah.
I guess you have to do something, if you don’t have a body.
I, for one, like my body. Sure, I could lose a few pounds. But that’s not the point. I like thinking, too. But almost all my thoughts are driven by the fact that I have a body.
The wish to live without a body is really a wish to avoid death. Who would have thought religion to have so much in common with computer science?
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