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In this age, when science has advanced our understanding of the natural world so much, it is an important open question in the mind of Man: is there any reality to the idea of spirit? Is the material world all there is? Does life end at the grave? The thesis of this paper is that there are natural processes which produce phenomena that have usually been thought of as miraculous. None of the ideas in this paper are proven. Instead, this paper attempts to illustrate alternative methods for viewing reality which may lead to useful insights.
The experimental method for exploring the material world has produced most of the greatest achievements of modern man. Our science, our technology, and our unparalleled economic standard of living all find their source in this marvelous scientific method. Under no conceivable circumstances would anyone want to dismantle this cherished method of advancement. Any new ways of seeking truth must therefore be in accordance with reason, logic, and scientific truth.
However, just to exist, live well, replicate, grow, and win are not enough. We as human beings and as a civilization must also have values, we must have meaning. The search for these values and meaning is the source of all art and religion. This search is intrinsically human and existed before science and will continue to exist for as long as humanity exists. It is a valid and useful quest.
In fact, the need for values is an emergent property of intelligent life, just as life itself is an emergent property of chemistry and physics. We can construct a simple chart showing a progression of emergent phenomena, and if we call the ground out of which it all began God, and the ultimate destination of it all God, the chart might look like this:
Life, encompassing phenomena which exhibit both metabolism and replication
Intelligence, symbolic processing
Religion and Art
Now, the chart may be very incomplete, especially on the bottom end, as we can hardly think about phenomena that we are not yet evolved enough to experience. The fact that we are sitting here wondering about such things as values, religion, and art is precisely the proof that we place a value on such things, and that values exist, and that we believe that existence has purpose. We may not know why we believe existence has purpose, and we may not have any rational proof of such purpose, but we think about it. Very similar thinking describes our understanding of consciousness and awareness itself; that is, we can not describe awareness definitively, but we are all sure it exists. Our thinking goes along these lines:
I think, therefore I exist.
I am aware, therefore I choose values.
I have values, therefore the universe has values.
This whole concept of emergence is miraculous. Emergence is awe-inspiring. We wonder at it. Or do we worship at it? Yes, we worship as we wonder Who or what is the source of emergence, the Author of the marvelous systems and processes which ultimately produce the chains of increasing complexity we perceive around us.
We can not help but wonder what will be generated next, what will be the next levels of emergent phenomena? Some must speculate what will be the next level of creation to emerge from out of the laboratories of human intelligence. Given enough time, we will certainly construct some sorts of manufactured intelligences that will be beyond our own human levels of intelligence. Already, in some very simple areas of logic, mathematical computation, and game playing we have produced computer systems that unquestionably are more intelligent than the human brain. We do not know what directions the future evolution of these human-made intelligences will be, but we can be certain that they will be significant. Given the millions of years of circumstances that gave rise to human beings, we know that human engineered intelligent machines will not be just like humans, and will most probably not duplicate the full range of human qualities, but there will be significant and meaningful developments of artificial intelligences.
So, Robotics, the creation and evolution of man-made machines which exhibit human level capabilities in one or more ways, will not be just like existing life. But it is reasonable to believe that we will develop robotics technologies that will exhibit two of the most distinguishing characteristics of earth-born life: metabolism and replication. It is also reasonable to expect that our robotic creations will begin to exhibit further emergent properties, perhaps some similar to our own, but also perhaps some new and unexpected developments. Will humans themselves someday program into our intelligent creations certain built-in values? Or will our creations be able to generate values on their own? Even more exotic developments could take place. As simple examples or illustrations of the possibilities only, consider these. Could the evolution of our creations eventually exhibit a metabolism of values as well as replication of values? Will we become symbiotically entwined with our robotic progeny? It seems certain that we can imagine only the most rudimentary ideas about how such development will take place. But with the two-fold tools of genetic engineering and robotics, we are about to embark upon a level of revolutionary change which will dwarf all that has gone before. How will the meanings which we have constructed for ourselves adapt and survive in such an unknown environment?
Dr Frank Tipler in his book "The Physics of Immortality" hypothesizes that man-made intelligence will soon surpass human intelligence and then will continue to evolve and develop to greater and greater levels. Eventually, he hypothesizes that intelligence will fill the entire universe and will inhabit the universe as it contracts towards the final "big crunch", eventually producing an infinite number of computational cycles in an infinitely short time, and thus controlling the final stage of the big crunch and achieving an infinity of thought, consciousness and awareness that will appear to never end. This awesome entity at the limit point of the evolution of the universe he calls the Omega Point, which is a term for the ultimate product of the evolution of consciousness coined by Teilhard de Chardin, the Catholic priest and author of such works as "The Phenomenon of Man". Dr. Tipler goes on to speculate that the infinite intelligence at the Omega Point will be not only infinitely intelligent, but also infinitely wise, infinitely good, and infinitely powerful, in that it can simulate any level of complexity and produce virtual realities that for all practical purposes are real. He speculates that such an Omega Point intelligence will re-create the quantum field equations for all sentient life, including every human who ever lived, thus physically resurrecting each human into an eternal paradise at the end of time.
Now, Dr. Tipler is way-out-there and by no means in the main stream of his original chosen field of quantum physics, but he does describe mathematically his hypotheses and pose experimental or observational tests to prove the validity of his assumptions and his theories. Concerning his prediction or assumption that computers will, in the first half of the twenty-first century, completely outstrip the intelligence of humans, he is also way-out-there, but by no means all alone. There are other intelligent people who predict the same results, such as Kurzweil in his book "Spiritual Machines". But whether or not computer intelligence outstrips human intelligence in 50 years, 500 years, or 5000 years, does it change the revolutionary effects of such a happening? Whether any of Dr. Tipler's hypotheses produce any meaningful results, does it change the fact that humans can now speculate in such wild ways?
No, the real significance of Dr. Tipler's thinking is that, for the first time in human history, humans can actually formulate hypotheses and conceive of mechanisms, no matter how speculative, of achieving universal and age old human dreams such as resurrection of the dead, eternal life, eventual justice for all, and paradise. Whether Dr. Tipler's particular conceptions of the mechanisms have any validity at all is unimportant (and it would be amazing if humanity's first such feeble attempts were to be successful), but how can mankind be stopped from dreaming such dreams once he has started? The real significance is that the emergent process of life on planet earth has produced a creature who speculates upon creating with his own two hands, so to speak, a mechanism for eternal life. If mankind can dream of such an outcome, is it impossible that the processes of the physical universe that produced mankind would eventually produce a series of emergent processes which could include such marvelous outcomes? By the very act of formulating these concepts using scientific reasoning, mankind has opened the door to possibilities which are necessarily on the dim far horizons of our consciousness, of which we can see the shapes only in our dreams.
Now, whether humans have any part to play in the process of creating the actual mechanisms, can we not hypothesize that it is possible for such mechanisms to exist? Is it not conceivable that mechanisms could exist for the production of phenomena which we have always perceived as miraculous? For instance, if Resurrection has a mechanism, does that make it any less miraculous? For everything, and not just Resurrection, has a mechanism. The universe, the big bang, physics, chemistry, life, and awareness all have mechanisms; so then must soul, spirit, resurrection , and eternal life have mechanisms, if they are to exist at all. For if humans can conceive of possible such mechanisms, then is it not possible that the emergent processes of reality can actually create such mechanisms?
The point of all this is that we are midway from the original Big Bang on the way towards the Omega Point of universal, infinite intelligence. We are at the juicy inflection point of history and reality. So, maybe we don't "get it" all, or see it all, just as we don't understand our own awareness, but we see the all important turning point. And we are perhaps the first ones to do so, for we are at the point of maturity where intelligent life leaves behind its adolescence and strides for the first time into its mental adulthood. No wonder we live in a confused age; we are blinded by the light of reality staring us squarely in the face.
This turning point is analogous to a conversion experience, like Saul on the road to Damascus. In fact, the conversion experience is universal in human culture, and is an emergent experience amongst us, a sure pointer to important future values. So let us value the turning point with rapture, awe, wonder and excitement, as we are filled with the holy spirit of ecstasy to our very souls. This is an epiphany of awareness, reality, and evolution.
Because we are near the mid-point, we are at the level of patterned, self-aware science. Behind us are physics, chemistry, and life, beyond us are values, religion, art and God. The body of Christ is a holographic song, and each of us is a cell in His body, and the whole is implicit in the parts.
So, what does this mean for the certitude and faith of human individuals? Well, scientifically and positively we can each assert, "I come from a long line of survivors: against all odds, every single one of my ancestors survived and successfully reproduced, as we continually created an advancing culture. What were the odds? Who could have known or believed it possible? Who therefore dare constrain or minimize the possibilities of the future?"
And what of religion and religious values? Religion evolves naturally from out of the human cultural milieu. The cultural context is the environment out of which evolve and grow new religious ideas and memes. Religions are a natural emergent phenomenon. Religions stress quality over quantity, complexity over selfishness, and ultimately, one universal organic whole in the universe, one universal organism. All things which happen are for the best, for all things work together for the good of those that love God; it's all part of the picture, it's all necessary. We all play our part, and they also serve who only stand and wait.
Awareness of awareness of awareness, awareness is a recursive self-awareness. We all know what we mean by conscious self-awareness, but we can not define it. In the future, the same will be true of the the awareness of the reality of God, of God-consciousness. Everyone will be able to say "I know that God exists and that is true, but I can not say why or how to define Him or my consciousness of His existence." Thus, Faith is an emergent phenomenon also. We humans are the first creatures to experience God-recognition, to perceive His immanence. Later, creatures will be able to simultaneously think about and work on multiple God-recognition concepts at once, with, furthermore, full syntax, grammar and a 100,000 word dictionary of the Divine. We are like the first worm to crawl upon the face of God; surely future creatures will experience His communion in unimaginable ways.