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“We are nothing more than machines”

Check out this book review by Christine Rosen from the June 13 issue of the Weekly Standard – go here. A few quotes to whet your interest:

“Information about contemporary research initiatives, such as the Model Cell Consortium, which has embarked on a project far more ambitious than the Human Genome Project but has received much less attention, are also given their due. The Consortium is an effort to “model the logic and behavior of ‘intelligent’ cellular systems” using the E. coli bacteria.”

Woolfson discusses dispassionately the creation of animal chimeras (two dissimilar animals bred to create a new creature) and the revival of lost species like the dodo. He suggests that, eventually, “it might be possible to re-create the elusive ancestor of all human life on Earth, a hypothetical organism known as LUCA, or the ‘least universal common ancestor’” since “the remnants of LUCA should be scattered across the genomes of all living things.” We could, he claims, bring LUCA “back to life.”

Woolfson’s optimism about our synthetic future stems, in part, from his particular understanding of the human person. He returns over and over again to the metaphor of the machine: “It seems inevitable that we will have to resign ourselves to the unpalatable fact that we are nothing more than machines,” he writes. “That this troubles us is itself a construction of our brains; one day such irrational tendencies might be removed by adjusting the relevant brain circuitry.”

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3 Responses to “We are nothing more than machines”

  1. Sometimes believers get tagged as unreasoning. Has Woolfson thought through the implications of “adjusting” brain circuitry, so that it no longer troubles us that we’re just machines?

    Last week the shop told me my broken chainsaw was not worth repairing. I brought it home, tossed it in the trash, and gave it hardly another thought. And how about our more (ahem) “intelligent” machines? Apple or Intel comes out with a chip upgrade, and the computer we once thought was great gets tossed in the can. This is what we do with our machines.

    Of course then there’s also the old problem of whether machines like us (if that’s what we are) could actually have the capacity to think rational thoughts. It’s a problem that I first read about in Miracles by C.S. Lewis. Plantinga writes about the matter in a good online article. The upshot of this is that if you come to the conclusion that we’re only machines, you’ve come to the conclusion that you don’t have the ability to come to a conclusion.

    What it demonstrates is that there must be another answer… and that some people are slow to accept the fact.

  2. I guess I’m guilty of thinking of flesh and blood as machinery. But in every case I know of machines are tools designed for a purpose. In this case I think our bodies function something like a telescope – a tool that brings discrete bits of the universe into focus for an observer that exists apart from the telescope.

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