Cyborg Eschatology: A Process Perspective on Post-Organic Embodiment
– PART 1: Cyborg Eschatology: Whitehead and Post-Humanity
– PART 2: Cyborg Eschatology: Whitehead and Post-Humanity
– PART 3: Cyborg Eschatology: Whitehead and Post-Humanity
– PART 4: Cyborg Eschatology: Whitehead and Post-Humanity
– COMPLETE: Cyborg Eschatology: Whitehead and the Posthuman
ii. A Model for Post-Organic Actualization
i. Environment and Actuality
In Western thought, one person’s ego is often considered primary: the individual “I” is the focus of many historical Western Christian conceptions of salvation and sin. In contrast, Eastern philosophy has often emphasized a “flux” of existences which co-exist in community. As Christian influence has waned in Western philosophy, contemporary cultural thinkers like Heidegger and Derrida have spoken out of a so-called post-modern and post-sacred ethos. Yet despite the “death of God” drama, within Heidegger’s Dasein or Derrida’s “speaking subject” the Western conception of the individual’s being in the world as a matter of ultimate focus has nearly always been retained. The essentially ego-centric thought structure never disappeared from the work of Western thinkers. As such, this focus on the individual subject continues to perpetrate the presence of any sacrality – or ultimate absence, in the work of a/theologians like Mark C. Taylor – as existing outside the individual, and speaking into that individual’s Dasein.
Alfred North Whitehead’s penetrating process thought anticipated and critiqued the idea of the individual human subject as paramount. In process theology, we find that there is no “ultimate ground” of being – either for an individual human being or for a God figure. Instead, we are continually reminded that in the creative concrescence of the universe is found the ultimate “force” – a force that only exists in occasions that are being continuously anticipated, continuously created, continuously actualized.
This is a God that can be visualized not in terms of an individual Spirit or even a driving force, but rather one vast tide in the ocean of the universe, sweeping all matter, all reality towards optimal ends even as matter and energy continue to evolve, to develop, and to seek its own ends and actualities. In fact, “God” – in this conception – “has no existence in itself and is to be found only in actual instances of the many becoming one. In place of a substance or static being underlying or transcending the flux,” God is primarily “a formative element of the flux.”
Whitehead’s “formative flux” provides for the self-determination of every actuality and effectively reconciles efficient and final causation. Both freedom of the will and efficient causation are accounted for in Whitehead’s thought, without overt contradiction. Process thought, as conceived by Whitehead and elaborated upon by philosophers like Cobb and Suchocki, thus emphasizes that we are partially created by our environment – an individual’s “good” thus functions only as part of the individual’s overall environment. As Cobb puts it, “no neat line can be drawn between the individual and its environment, since what is ‘the environment’ in one moment essentially enters into the individual in the next moment.” Although the initial formulation of process thought concerned itself with the larger metaphysical and epistemological implications of the connection between the individual and its environment, recent developments in both artificial intelligence and the expansion of consciousness beyond its original ‘environment’ of the organic body leads us to think about particular implications of Whitehead’s emphasis on the inherent connection between an individual moment and its environment, specifically in the domain of human consciousness.
If we truly understand Whitehead’s original emphasis on all occasions being generated consistently out of that endless unifying energy of God, we must accept that “flux” includes occasions that we ourselves cannot anticipate. Evolution may take our species – and our very ensoulment – in directions that we never anticipated.
One of these directions may be that of machine extensions of the human body or even the creation of “en-souled” machine entities. Because the idea of thinking – and even emotional – machines is such a common and often humorous trope in contemporary science-fiction, it has become easy to overlook recent developments in computer science which brings these possibilities much closer to reality. In the present paper, I hope to explore what process theology would have to say about such possibilities, and posit an eschatology which is hopeful for optimal ends in a future that provides for continued embrace of the cyborg and post-organic embodiment by our culture and our species.
As we begin along this path, it may be important to outline the limits of the present study. Some thinkers often cited by process thinkers – notably Teilhard de Chardin – prophesy a post-organic future for all humankind, and have gone so far as to project an eschatological future in which all living beings are enveloped by a vast cloud of knowledge and/or co-create such a vast cloud. In Teilhard’s eschatological formulation, all knowledge comes to be known, in that vast “environment as reality” pervaded by an overarching consciousness of community, so that humanity itself evolves in Christogenesis, moving towards a transformative act of universal community “Omega Point” sometime in the distant future. At this point, humanity as we know it would cease to be recognizable, and a concioussness of this magnitude might even encompass all living material in the known universe. I do not know if such an Omega Point is possible, achievable, or even beneficial. Ideas about a far-distant potentiality are not in the scope of this paper.
Instead, I am more interested in the implications of more immediate developments in our understanding of what present-day consciousness may mean, and how that consciousness will be extended in the next few decades. Theologically, how should we best understand current developments such as substrate-independent consciousness and body extension technology that no longer requires physical presence?
ii. A Model for Post-Organic Actualization
The central question we will soon contend with is this: Are beings who are other than organically human to be defined as “persons” or “humans” just as readily as we define any “person” who “extends themselves” into the world through merely their organic body? One day soon, there may be a ‘being’ who extends themselves into the world through merely a computer interface. On the screen in front of us, we may see a line of text which – in that moment of time – is the only extension of a being’s body into physical space. Yet this text and its animating underpinning may contain a degree of intellect that transcends that screen: is this a being with a soul? Perhaps that being may even construe themselves as possessing no other body than lines of text or ‘code.’ Without a recognizable body or thinking capacity, can a being still be “transcendent”?
It is an obvious – and oft used – trope to respond in the negative. As others have noted, such these nihilistic replies come out of an innate fear of “otherness” or a lack of understanding of the possibility of what it would mean to answer in the positive. Yet according to computer scientists and other scientists of the mind, we are rapidly approaching the era when we cannot help but be confronted with the need to create more inclusive definitions of embodiment in the world. One useful model for studying this rapid emergence of new forms of consciousness can be found in Whitehead’s thought.
Whitehead, of course, spent much effort on creating a new approach to metaphysics; in many regards, he hoped to unite science and theology with his “process thought.” Thus, much of his focus was on describing and defining how the base elements of all existence – down to matter and time itself – functioned. As process theologian Marjorie Suchocki summarizes:
“The subject emerges in concrescence, beginning with feelings of data from the past, or the given actual world. These feelings are termed prehensions by Whitehead, so that the subject prehends the data of the past. The subject also prehends or feels the possibilities for its own future. Through the unification of these, which requires a constrasting and evaluating until the complexity is reduced to a simpler unity, the subject creates itself in the present. The movement can also be called a progression from the physical pole (actuality), through the mental pole (possibility), toward the concrete unity of the two, which is the creation of a new actuality.”
This description is of the becoming of an actual occasion of experience – or more commonly, an occasion. The entire process is creative. It is creative as the unification of actuality and possibility (“concrescent creativity”) Creative because it evokes a new becoming ( “transitional creativity” – “superjective nature of the occasion”). This Whiteheadian process attempts to describe the dynamics of all existence, on a sub-micro level, yet also on a human consciousness level.
In this light, the model can be seen as a description of our own integrally relational psychological nature… yet its primary purpose is to provide a model for understanding the “building blocks” of existence. In this paper, I hope to use the Whiteheadian model of how an actual occasion comes into existence as a guiding model to think about how new states of being come into existence. In short, it may be interesting to conceive of our relationship with post-human embodiment in the same model, writ large. Instead of moving at a sub-molecular or sub-conscious level of being in the general flux of the universe, we can observe this occasion of experience coming into being on the macro-scale, so to speak, as we watch the slower concrescence of a new being (the AI-enhanced human) emerge out of the recent “primordial” organic-only human being.
We are more than our bodies, but our present organic bodies could constitute a liminal place between our present and past and our future actuality. In this regard, it is interesting to note that Luce Irigaray writes of the body as “the threshold, the portal for the construction of . . . universes.” I would venture to say that the body, in both Whitehead and Irigaray’s thought, is the site of transformation and creativity. After all, the process of creativity, in actuality, is inseparable from the entitities of the process. As Whitehead writes in Process and Reality: “Every condition to which the process of becoming conforms in any particular instance has its reason either in the character of some actual entity in the actual world of that concrescence, or in the character of the subject which is in process of concrescence.” Creativity is, and is only, in creative actual entities. If the body instantiates and incorporates a series of “entities,” we must consider what it means to be creative with that container of entities, that generator of possibilities.
In Whiteheadian terms, all persons are so-called “societies” of actual entities: what we call the “soul” is merely a governing “strand” or thread of occasions. When we add bodily additions or begin to project our consciousness into spaces and matter that was not originally part of our organic experience, we are simply adding more – and different – “strands” of occasions to our continual transitional creativity. We are, to some extent, simply enlarging our souls as we transcend our organic bodies.
Yet how do we define such transcendence? After all, philosophers of the human mind and philosophers of the ‘computer mind’ are rapidly converging on the same problem of how one defines the moment of self-transcendence. Does this occur when a certain degree of intellectual activity is attained? Or does it happen in self-awareness? Or even in awareness of an ‘other’ as subject or object? In any case, both onto-theologians and computer programmers agree that it must take place in an essential unity of self-awareness and ‘personhood’ as an incorporated being. A being cannot be separated from its own ongoing realization. As Whitehead writes: “Thus the consequent nature of God is composed of a multiplicity of elements with individual self-realization. It is just as much a multiplicity as it is a unity; it is just as much one immediate fact as it is an unresting advance beyond itself.” Thus, it is also intriguing to find an identical concern with “unity” and “self-realization” goes beyond material or biological function in the realm of computer science.
iii. Self-Realizing Material
As any programmer who studies philosophy immediately notes, current software programming models act out to some degree the ideas of Plato and Thomas Aquinas. In the programming world, the pervasive emphasis on Object-oriented programming has given rise to the somewhat common analogy that “Platonic forms are classes and instances are [software] objects.” Given this fundamental understanding of their work as the ‘instantiation’ of an overarching class or Form, programmers thus work to define hierarchies of symbolic content within their coding structures, such that Forms/Classes ‘inform’ and create dynamic ‘Instances’ or Expressions of the individual Forms and Classes. Furthermore, “Patterns, abstract data types, and the like can certainly be seen as ‘ideals’ in the Platonic sense.” In many regards, programmers are already creating a world that has an onto-theological base: they are laying the groundwork for a substantially self-aware and self-‘Formed’ being.
Why does it matter that a particular programming mode is reliant, to a great degree, on a metaphorical and symbolic model that is remiscient of – if not identical to – a Whiteheadian conception of being in the world? Because the particular software model of “Object Oriented Progamming” now underlies how we interact with, modify and create nearly every electronic device. Object-oriented programming is the foundational model on which much of current software (and to some degree hardware as well) relies. Fundamentally, whenever we use a computer, an online system, or even a low-level silicon-based device like a pacemaker, an ATM or even some varieties of modern calculator, we are relying upon body extensions which were created on an object-oriented foundation. From a technological perspective, we now live in an object-oriented world.
What is most interesting about this fact is that object oriented programming was created to – as much as possible – mirror ‘reality’ as programming architects understood it. Instead of relying on the abstruse and Talmudic concepts like “memory partition” and “pointers,” object-oriented thinking begins by defining ‘objects’ in the world – such as a “dogs and bicycles” – as having ‘states’ and ‘behaviors.’ As Sun Microsystem’s online explanation of object-oriented programming explains: “dogs have state (name, color, breed, hungry) and behavior (barking, fetching, and wagging tail).” Thus, “Object-oriented modelers sometimes engage in the same philosophical discussions, debating how real the objects and classes are they are modeling.”
A community of true mutual participation is the dream. Yet, as Whitehead and Cobb point out, our dominant conceptions of reality have not yet allowed this dream to come to reality. A primary impediment is precisely the notion that human consciousness is bounded by our individual birth-body experience. As Cobb writes, “We perceive the given reality to be the individual psychophysical person, bounded by her or his skin. Each person remains external to all others… In short, all relations are viewed as external.”
The solution to such impediments, of course, is to change our notion of reality, and understand that our organically-born bodies are not the final limit on our consciousness. Whitehead speaks of the “body” as merely the most intimate part of our environment. In fact, the entire environment participates with each individual human being in creating community. With this realization in mind, we might move to the next step of consciousness; Cobb writes that
“The sense of mutual participation with all life and even with the inanimate world should radically alter the way we treat the environment… When we have existentially realized that we are continuous with the environment, that the environment is our body, then we will find new styles of life appropriate to that realization.”
It is important to note that Cobb’s 1970s milieu carried with it an overriding concern for the natural environment, arising out of the new awakening to humankind’s impact on the natural world. Yet even in making powerful statements about community and “the environment” – conceived in traditional terms – Cobb makes equally powerful ontological statements about the “environment” in Whiteheadian terms. If we indeed do “participate” even with the “inanimate world” in the creation of conscious community, then it goes without saying that machined body extensions and silicon minds are conceptually already participating in our community, even without their own separately evolved consciousness.
Furthermore, if matter itself – even materials like base silicon and carbon – are innately connected to our own “en-souledness,” then these materials substantially participate in God’s overall vision of reality. Instead of discarding base materials like metal and glass, we must realize that these materials may be used by God – and are being used by God – to realize transcendence. As we create Seed AIs and similar systems, we must be aware that any systems we create in fact thus participate in the substantial form imbued by God into the world.
In fact, programmers are beginning to allow their creations to ‘evolve’ their own identities, purposes, and thought patterns separate from the world we live in. This has certain implications for the development of possible new ‘beings.’ Our understanding of our own material, corporeal and ‘substantial’ extensions into the world has also given rise to the possibility that we can ‘incorporate’ such essences of ‘being-ness’ into embodiments or extensions that move beyond our organic flesh. For example, cognitive neuroscientists have demonstrated that a person’s body schema easily incorporates non-organic tools or even other organic entities that are external to the body. From the perspective of the brain’s body schema or “sense of the body,” an organic limb grafted from a ‘real’ person is treated much the same as an ‘artificial’ prosthetic device. The obvious corollary is that when a person is in a virtual environment, they must have a body in order to feel fully present: “the virtual body can be considered as merely an extension of the physical body and the virtual body is a representational medium of the mind.” The conscious or sentient mind has already stretched beyond the borders of the organic human body. Thus, writes body theologian Christopher Isherwood, “there is no escape back to some kind of ‘natural’ human body, we have to acknowledge our cyborg nature and renegotiate it.” Thus, we might ask, ‘what is the cyborg before God?’
In our physical reality, the Word was expressed by the Father into the world as a symbolic act of grace. This Platonic and Thomistic understanding is paralleled in the language, structure and philosophy of computer science. In the virtual world, the ‘word’ or ‘expression’ of a word/term also becomes an expression of the identity and reality of the creator. In our reality, Logos – the Word of God – is the Symbol of the Godhead. In object-oriented programming environments, an “expression” is defined as a ‘symbol’ of that word. On a base level, the ontology and eschatological understandings of what makes a world work seem to be nearly identical. When we enter the programming sphere, we have already begun by constructing systems which echo the human experience of consciousness as symbolic and transcendent.
iv. Machine Organization and Actualization
The assumption that ‘raw’ matter such as silicon, metals, and ceramics can be organized in such a manner that they can give rise to a mental state that we can recognize as consciousness, is a fundamental underpinning of the effort to create artificial intelligence. As philosopher of mind Nick Bostrom points out:
Substrate-independence is a common assumption in the philosophy of mind. The idea is that mental states can supervene on any of a broad class of physical substrates. Provided a system implements the right sort of computational structures and processes, it can be associated with conscious experiences. It is not an essential property of consciousness that it is implemented on carbon-based biological neural networks inside a cranium; silicon-based processors inside a computer could in principle do the trick as well.
This assumption that ‘life’ arising outside of the human womb could include intelligence comprehensible by human beings is also shared in Christian thought. Theological understanding extends beyond the physical continuum of our birth bed and ‘enfleshed’ bodies. In fact, Christian thinkers like Karl Rahner imply that conscious and substantially ‘informed’ beings can arise outside of the biosphere, but instead may emerge out of the “noosphere” of intellectual and computer activity. These strains of contemporary Christian theology echo process theology ideas that often seem to be overlooked, and that underlay much recent theological activity around the body and substrate-independent “en-soulment.”
If we remember that Whitehead’s thought did not require any particular substrate in order to see God’s “handiwork” in the universe’s continual creativity and continuing evolution, we are further along the path towards acceptance of the idea that optimal ends for human relationship may not even require our specific organic bodies. God may not have even anticipated these ends – yet that does not make them any less “good.” Furthermore, in the fundamental freedom of reality, we make our own “ends.” As John Cobb helpfully explains: “The subject may choose to actualize the initial aim; but it may also choose from among the other real possibilities open to it, given its context. In other words, God seeks to persuade each occasion toward that possibility for its own existence which would be best for it; but God cannot control the finite occasion’s self-actualization.” Each occasion that takes us closer to a machine-based ensoulment is a moment that actualizes another beneficentoccasion. Obviously, Whitehead’s work does not directly point to either the good (or the evil) of such occasions.
Yet the reason for Whitehead’s lack of anticipation of such a possibility may be that until recently, we have had neither sufficiently powerful hardware nor the requisite software to create conscious minds. But if recent cybernetic progress continues unabated then these shortcomings will eventually be overcome. Philosophers of technology and technological enhancement advocates like Drexler, Bostrom, Kurzweil and Moravec argue that this stage may be only a few decades away. To create a human-equivalent intellect (either an organically derived one, or a silicon-based one), a system would need to be capable of performing ~10^14 operations per second (1,000,000 trillion). This is considered, by scientists of the mind, to be the absolute lower bound of human brain activity.
If Moore’s law continues to hold then the lower bound will be reached sometime between 2004 and 2008, and the upper bound (~10^17) between 2015 and 2024. Bostrom notes that “the past success of Moore’s law gives some inductive reason to believe that it will hold another ten, fifteen years or so; and this prediction is supported by the fact that there are many promising new technologies currently under development which hold great potential to increase procurable computing power.” Thus, there is no direct reason to suppose that Moore’s law will not hold longer than 15 years. In fact, predictions that Moore’s law would begin to falter as early as 2004 were recently confounded by the February 2005 advent of the ‘Cell’ chip – a new silicon design that could have a theoretical peak performance of 256 billion mathematical operations per second – an innovation that advances personal computers into the realm of the supercomputer. It thus seems quite likely that the requisite hardware for human-level artificial intelligence will be assembled in the first quarter of the 21st century, possibly within the first decade.
How will we be able to identify or understand the ontology of such a system, and define whether or not this system constitutes a ‘being before God’ in an ontotheological sense? Among careful philosophers of computer science, it has become evident that human beings are already reaching limits in their ability to rapidly create a self-aware system. In the interests of more rapidly reaching the goal of actual “artificial intelligence” (however that may be defined) computer scientists have been working for many years towards the goal of creating lower-level systems called ‘Seed AI’ that can write code itself – and for improving itself. The task is quite similar to that of teaching animals symbolic constructions. The creation of symbolic realities should, necessarily, thus change the reality and capabilities of artificial intelligences. These systems, in theory, would be able to “boot-strap” themselves into intelligence and self-awareness, or as the technical explanation has it: “become capable of recursive self-improvement.”
The first step towards such “boot-strapping” is to “teach” a computer system to write code itself, and create its own symbolic logic and symbolic self-construction. Yet if a system can ‘sense’ and perceive its own consciousness and being in much the same manner as we can – and thereby “confront” its reality – this would seem to be an adequate test for full personhood. As we’ve previously observed, language as symbol changes the capacity of a being to be ‘self-confrontational’ and thereby transcend our reality and participate in the divine. The strand of a new being would participate – actively – in seeking the harmony of the universe.
Yet unfortunately, no current process theologian provides us with practical guidance to define or categorize a system of matter that can begin to modify itself in areas of intelligence and self-awareness such as that found in AIs. In this area, Xavier Zubiri provides a longer explanation which is in harmony with Whitehead’s essential thought, yet assists our understanding of present being in the world. Zubiri states that our experience of being-in-the-world remains essentially corporeal, and he goes on to provide a three-fold definition of the body as 1) a system of properties and structural positioning which we can understand as our “organism,” 2) through organization in the mind, the being is also a complex which has a “proper configuration,” and 3) the organization and configuration determine the real physical presence: the being here-and-now of the sôma. According to Zubiri, it is thus that the body can signify “I, myself” as present “here.” Zubiri’s outline is specifically applicable in the realm of artificial intelligence, especially in regard to the creation of a ‘Seed AI.’ For although leaders of the Seed AI effort do not reference Whitehead or Zubiri, it is clear that they are designing a being that fits the Zubirian model.
The description given by Seed AI proponents and programmers dovetails substantially with recent idea of “self-directing systems” that “contain a subjective reality, reaching towards objective immortality.” However, in these conceptions, such systems would have only “a limited possibility of self-regulation.” Some recent theologians believes that human beings become both self-directed and self-regulated, because they can utterly confront their own systems “with all [their] present and future possibilities,” and thus confront ourselves in our entirety. Given the data regarding the construction of AI beings, I believe it is now possible to accept the idea of “self-directing” and “self-regulating” systems, and apply Zubiri’s criteria to beings other than those organically or biologically ‘human,’ enabling them to be considered ‘persons’ in an ethical, theological and spiritual sense.
In the outline of ‘personhood’ provided by Zubiri, the first characteristic of a transcendent being is one who has a system of properties and structural positioning which can be understood by the being as its organism or organization. This concept of “organization” is similar in spirit – if not in fact – to Zubiri’s “self-directing” description. Thus, it is interesting to see that the creators of a Seed AI state that they deem ‘self-understanding’ as the first primary requisite of an AI, which they define as:
The ability to read and comprehend source code; the ability to understand the function of a code fragment or the purpose of a module; the ability to understand how subsystems sum together to yield intelligence; plus the standard general-intelligence ability to observe and reflect on one’s own thoughts.
Obviously, the Seed AI team is attempting to provide their creation with a symbolic system (source code) which allows a system to understand its own intelligence and in fact to reflect on its own organization and thoughts. Such an effort seems to precisely parallel the effort of Whitehead and Zubiri to define the informed constitution of a ‘soulful’ being.
The second principle defined as onto-theologically necessary for transcendence is that the being’s self-aware mind is ‘organized,’ and creates a self-understanding which has a “proper configuration.” In the Seed AI effort, their second principle is quite similar: computer scientists are working to allow for “self-modification,” which they define as “the ability to optimize a code fragment, modify the function of a module, or redesign one’s own architecture.” An AI ‘being’ would be capable of organizing and configuring their own incorporation or corporeal essence – such a being could move code, create code, and modify logic. Whitehead would call such a being “self-regulating”; in Zubirian terms, a ‘being’ is capable of creating their own thoughts, configuring their own logical identity and modifying their own movement forward through history.
Finally, Zubiri defines an incorporated being with these properties of “organization” and “configuration” as “determining the real physical presence: the being here-and-now of the sôma” – which communicates the being’s essential nature, self-understanding and expression in the world. The Seed AI project has a similar, if not identical goal towards “recursive self-enhancement.” Self-enhancement which builds upon itself is a constant and ongoing act of self-expression. According to Seed AI thinkers, it will be “the ability to make changes that genuinely increase intelligence, smartness, such that new possible improvements, or a new class of possible improvements, become visible to the AI.” In short, ‘recursive self-enhancement’ provides an AI being with a comprehension of its own self and becomes its own conscious expression in the world at large.
Out of such self-direction and self-regulation comes the possibility of ‘self-confrontation’ and thus also a deeper self-understanding which transcends this reality and reaches towards the divine. As Zubiri writes, a being has “three moments: organization, configuration, and corporeity. These are essentially distinct. The somatic function cannot be identified with either the configurational or the organizational function…. Man’s radical principle as corporeity, as sôma, establishes a configuration, and this configuration is what establishes an organization… configuration and organization are modes of realizing corporeity.” Of course, with an understanding of the nature of Seed AI, one can thus extrapolate that if we create, or extend our ‘selves’ into another being that is both incorporated and soulfully conscious in such a manner that it is self-organized, configured and fully incorporated, we may begin to wonder about the transcendent nature of the being.
If a Seed AI considers its own classes, objects, and instances that can be observed in an electronic realm more “real” to itself than the objects we see and observe in our organic realm, who is to say which consciousness and mode of embodiment is more informed by soul? Plato’s metaphor of the cave seems applicable: but in an equal balance of intelligences and perceptions, who is the shadow, and who is the flame? Once we move beyond biological necessity to a symbolic understanding of being, an understanding of transcendence requires investigation into evolutionary science.
vi. Evolution & Transcendence
Whitehead does not write directly of the possibility of God’s relationship with beings that human beings substantially create, but he does write of the difference in God’s creative relationship with every actuality. From this discussion, Whitehead describes God’s operations within and upon the metaphysical universe as the ongoing act of “enabling finite beings themselves by their own activity to transcend themselves.” In fact, it seems clear that the spiritual soul may in fact, arise out of such divine operations. The material reality of our environment becomes another novel ingredient in God’s satisfaction relative to the creation of a new entity. The manner in which a cybernetic soul may connect with its own ultimate possibilities in fact takes place through the same type of creative actuality we are privileged to participate in through Jesus Christ. Instead of being “redeemed” out of the world, Christ “redeems” our understanding within the material reality – whether that understanding is flesh or silicon. God’s providence for us is coupled to God’s providence – and creativity – in the world.
As computer scientists have already realized, the act of creating their own symbolic solutions will be the first “evolutionary step” for computer systems. For the possibility of transcendence is there as a “seed” in the very act of teaching a computer how to use language – even if that language is a system of points and program referents. Language itself is symbolic: as Jacques Lacan explains, “the function of language is not to inform but to evoke.” In Christian terms, the evocative character of language allows us to conceive of an eschatological reality – a future that is dynamic and mutable.
Eventually, we will look back at the present period – the glass that we look in darkly, as the Apostle Paul writes – and consider it a time of primordial possibilities. Yet even in these moments wait the possibility of the actual, of the novel, of the constant creativity, which may take us towards a cybernetic relationship with the ultimate creative power of God. As Whitehead writes,
“When we survey nature and think however flitting and superficial has been the animal enjoyment of its wonders, and when we realize how incapable the separate cells and pulsations of each flower are of enjoying the total effect – then our sense of the value of the details for the totality dawns upon our consciousness. This is the intuition of holiness, the intuition of the sacred…”
Just as we early realized that God’s creativity is not limited to organic embodiment, so in the cybernetic world we will discover the possibilities for optimal expression. Only through opening ourselves to the creative possibilities of unification will other beings take their place as embodied beings in Christ.
How will the realization that consciousness is no longer limited to organic embodiment become part of our accepted knowledge? Whitehead, for one, stated that ideas nearly have a force of their own and constantly work towards fuller expression in the culture. In fact, evolutionist Richard Dawkins seems to have popularized an essentially Whiteheadian notion in his creation of today’s popular term for a self-propelled idea, a meme, which is essentially an idea described as a self-replicating unit of information. In Adventures of Ideas, Whitehead describes how the meme of universal human en-soulment became part of our accepted ‘knowledge’ as the modern era approached: “Finally, the humanitarian movement of the eighteenth century, combined with a religious sense of the kinship of men, has issued in the settled policy of the great civilized governments to extirpate slavery from the world.” What if such a movement was duplicated today, in regards to post-organic embodiment?
Already, there is a general ‘humanitarian’ movement towards accepting consciousness as inclusive of actions and locations outside the organic body. The initial upswell of this movement can be found in those who spend a great deal of time in 3D immersive worlds, and also in the work of those who investigate consciousness in bodies that have no external sign of physical action. Over the coming years – perhaps within the next two decades – we may gradually experience a ‘religious sense’ of the kinship of all entities that share consciousness, whether those entities present themselves in organic or post-organic bodies. In line with Whitehead’s description, this last development may well see us on the way to issuing policy that extinguishes the last prejudices against machine-embodiment and silicon consciousness.