Where We Are Headed

22 Oct

Often, when I read Christian revelation, I notice that something seems to be left out. They never talk about the role of technology. There are many Biblical passages that seem to describe technology, but they only suggest that it will exist. They never seem to explain why it will exist. In other words, why was the world set up so that we would eventually be able to build mills, automobiles, airplanes, rockets and computers? Did God fill the earth with metals and other elements that could be transformed into wires and microchips just because he thought a computerized Internet connected world would be a more interesting place for the drama between good and evil to play out?

When Christians, especially Jehovah’s Witnesses, describe the paradise their scriptures depict, they seem to envision a place where all of our technological achievements have been peanut buttered over.  They depict a pastoral landscape where lions literally lie down with lambs and people who once operated heavy machinery or managed accounts with Excel spreadsheets instead tend to crops with ordinary gardening tools. 

So, why did God set the world up for us to create all this technology if he really had no use for it?

I once heard a rock climber describing an artificial practice rock. It was one of the somewhat realistic rocks made of cement and chunks of stone that are found at outdoor parks. He explained that he could tell it was planned because just at the place where a handhold or foothold was needed, a handhold or a foothold just happened to be there. My strong suspicion is that the universe has a similar dynamic. It has handholds exactly where we need them to be just when we need them to be there.

Consider a real rock that was not designed to be climbed. A climber might go up twenty or thirty feet and suddenly realize that further progress is impossible. Of course, climbers also have metal pitons and chocks they can fall back on, but that actually brings me to a point I will get to shortly.  When humans first contemplated space travel, some well meaning and informed scientists said that men will never go to other planets. They calculated all the sundry forces and obstacles and the equations just did not balance. Of course, they imagined that men would be launched into space from giant cannons or something of that nature, and the physics of a cannon capable of launching a person into space simply did not work out. We now realize that with the right technological approach men can go to other planets. Men have already gone to the moon and few doubt that we will eventually send human explorers to Mars. However, this did not have to be the case.

It is possible that we would have eventually discovered that there simply are not materials or fuels on earth that can facilitate the journey and that space travel will be forever out of our reach. Humans would have been incapable of traveling into space, or even sending satellites into space, and would never have known more about the heavens than could be surmised from their terrestrial telescopes and other instruments. In that case, we would have been like the climber that scales a cliff to twenty or thirty feet and discovers that he can go no further.

Similarly, we might have discovered that it is impossible to build something that imitates a human neuron and is sufficiently small to facilitate artificial intelligence. There is no reason why the world had to be set up so that we would eventually discover the transistor or a means to miniaturize circuits via printed silicon chips. In that sense, also, we might have gotten to a certain point, such as giant awkward machines built from vacuum tubes, that could perform calculations to a certain extent but could never go much further.

I could be mistaken, but I cannot escape the notion that the universe was set up for humans to develop technology. Unlike Christian writers, I strongly suspect that technology will play a role in humanity’s future. Moreover, I suspect that it was deliberately set up this way so that we will eventually use our technology to accomplish some divine purpose.

So, what is that purpose?

If one were looking at an obviously manufactured climbing rock, one would guess correctly that the purpose was to get to the top. I am, of course, describing only the purpose of the design. The purpose of the rock is to gain practice climbing. Similarly, looking at our universe, I surmise that our purpose is to get to its more hypothetical and abstract top. In the case of the universe, I doubt that climbing practice is a significant aspect; since most of human history has been spent tilling fields and few humans are directly involved in the advancement of science and technology.

What is the “top” of the universe?

One way to approach this question would be to look at the limits of what our technology might be able to accomplish. It appears certain that people will be able to colonize the solar system. They will undoubtedly be able to move, however incrementally, out to the stars. It appears that people will be able to develop machines that are vastly more intelligent than any human. These machines will be able to contemplate algebras and algorithms that no human has ever suspected exist. All the evidence suggests that it will be possible to prolong human life indefinitely. It will certainly be possible to manufacture replacement organs so that a human body can remain forever youthful. I do not contemplate people replacing their brains with either new biological brains or alien devices that mimic brains. I strongly suspect that a human’s identity is associated with retaining their current brain…although that relationship is far from simple, as I will explain later. We probably will not replace our brains, but I suspect that we will find ways to clean them up and restore them much as one restores an old car to a seemingly new state.

That last likelihood suggests that there is a “top” that is visible to a person who makes it just over a certain false peak. I suspect that we may be overtaking that false peak as I write.

If people will be able to live indefinitely, and the universe is designed for technological advancement, then technological advancement was probably intended to accommodate humans with indefinite lifespans. Therefore, the question becomes, what will humans with indefinite lifespans do in this universe?

The universe we inhabit is actually rather monotonous. It is filled with matter that can take the form of stars and planets and even black holes. However, I suspect that these things will not be sufficient to hold the interest of people who have lived for thousands or even millions of years and may have acquired, perhaps through technological means, intelligence that far exceeds that of any contemporary human. The moon was once considered mysterious, but now it is pretty much a giant ball of dust to which we have been and have not bothered to return. No green cheese, I guess! Black holes were mysterious until we took a picture of one and it looked pretty much like we expected it to. I don’t want to minimize the mathematical mystery that black holes represent, but I suspect that one day that mystery will be worked out and anyone with an average IQ of, say, 300 will be familiar with the details.

It must be the case that the universe has far more to offer than meets the eye and that our technology is intended to take us there.

The universe has a lot of matter. It also has a lot of volume. I cannot help but suspect that all that matter and volume will play a role in what we eventually accomplish. Perhaps we are meant to restructure the universe so that the laws of physics are slightly or completely altered and we are able to transform it into something completely different. Perhaps we will find a way to eliminate entropy. In this way, we may create something more akin to the classic notion of heaven…a place that is truly perfect and eternal.

It would be a cruel joke if something like human consciousness, which I believe to be the evident manifestation of the human soul, were ephemeral. I suspect, as I have described in other writings, that the human soul is eternal and that it is possible to unite a soul that has passed on with a contemporary body. My suspicion is that a soul, as it develops, becomes something of the complement of a particular brain and that if the brain is reproduced more or less exactly, including memories, the soul will automatically reunite with it. There is some logic to this. When a person’s brain is shut down for some surgeries and they lose consciousness, they are, in many ways, like someone who has died, and yet it seems as if their original consciousness is somehow restored to them. I suspect that this is a case of a soul being temporarily dislodged and then reattaching to its host. Materialists would dismiss all of this of course, and I understand their reasoning. Since I believe, for other reasons, that the soul is substantial and continuous, their ideas have little relevance to me.

In order to fully utilize the universe in the way I have suggested, it will be essential that we be able to get out there and, in some sense of the word, surround it and rein it in. This means that faster than light travel must be possible in some sense of the concept. Whatever paradoxes, such as violations of causality, are associated with faster than light travel, they are apparently hazards rather than hard limits. A hard limit on velocity like the speed of light would be comparable to the natural cliff that cannot be scaled, and I am well past believing that we are in that kind of environment.

The top of the hill, therefore, must be complete mastery of the universe and the eventual ability to rein it in and transform it into something more to our liking and with far more possibilities. It entails the resurrection of the dead. We may discover that the universe we see is part of a much larger structure that we will also conquer and rein in. The real universe and its possibilities may be to the one we observe as the world we inhabit is to the inhabitants of Sentinel Island.

Of course, the Sentinelese may know something we don’t. I am open to that possibility too. Maybe they wonder when we will give up our technological schemes and return to the life they have seemingly perfected.

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