Yale University Professor, author, computer scientist, acclaimed futurist, conservative intellectual and friend of the Glenn Beck program David Gelertner has a new piece out in Commentary in which he attacks the scientific establishment generally and Ray Kurzweil specifically.
Gelertner in his “The Closing of the Scientific Mind” says that scientists:
“are proud of having booted man off his throne at the center of the universe and reduced him to just one more creature—an especially annoying one—in the great intergalactic zoo. That is their right. But when scientists use this locker-room braggadocio to belittle the human viewpoint, to belittle human life and values and virtues and civilization and moral, spiritual, and religious discoveries, which is all we human beings possess or ever will, they have outrun their own empiricism. They are abusing their cultural standing. Science has become an international bully.”
Gelertner’s chief complaint is that scientists have rebelled against subjectivity, which he feels threatens “all sorts of intellectual and spiritual fields.” The challenging of subjectivity:
“originated at the intersection of artificial intelligence and philosophy of mind—in the question of what consciousness and mental states are all about, how they work, and what it would mean for a robot to have them. It has roots that stretch back to the behaviorism of the early 20th century, but the advent of computing lit the fuse of an intellectual crisis that blasted off in the 1960s and has been gaining altitude ever since.”
The fundamental tension between scientists on the so-called “mind fields” of artificial intelligence, cognitive psychology, and philosophy of mind is reflected in a major spat among scientists over Thomas Nagel’s book “Mind and Cosmos.” In the book, Nagel argues that “Darwinian evolution is insufficient to explain the emergence of consciousness—the capacity to feel or experience the world. He then offers his own ideas on consciousness, which are speculative, incomplete, tentative, and provocative—in the tradition of science and philosophy.”
Gelertner provides unique insight into the scientific community’s reaction, showing the politicization of practitioners in a field that explicitly requires objectivity:
“Nagel was immediately set on and (symbolically) beaten to death by all the leading punks, bullies, and hangers-on of the philosophical underworld. Attacking Darwin is the sin against the Holy Ghost that pious scientists are taught never to forgive. Even worse, Nagel is an atheist unwilling to express sufficient hatred of religion to satisfy other atheists. There is nothing religious about Nagel’s speculations; he believes that science has not come far enough to explain consciousness and that it must press on. He believes that Darwin is not sufficient.
The intelligentsia was so furious that it formed a lynch mob.”
Gelertner moves on to the chief “robotocist” Ray Kurzweil’s concept of “Singularity,” which he feels epitomizes the misguided direction of science. Far more than just decrying the blotting out of subjectivity, Gelertner argues that if in fact man and machine do merge as Kurzweil predicts, “Whether he knows it or not, Kurzweil believes in and longs for the death of mankind.”
Gelertner moves on to a broader discussion of what he perceives as science’s folly of “computationalism,” whereby many analogize the brain to a computer guiding a body, which Gelertner feels is wrong because computers cannot account for emotion or an individual’s mental consciousness.
This summary fails to take into account the very nuanced arguments that Gelertner puts forth, so for those interested we would urge you to read the article in full. But Gelertner’s conclusions are worth putting forth in and of themselves herein:
“The sanctity of life is what we must affirm against Kurzweilism and the nightmare of roboticism. Judaism has always preferred the celebration and sanctification of this life inthis world to eschatological promises. My guess is that 21st-century Christian thought will move back toward its father and become increasingly Judaized, less focused on death and the afterlife and more on life here today (although my Christian friends will dislike my saying so). Both religions will teach, as they always have, the love of man for man—and that, over his lifetime (as Wordsworth writes at the very end of his masterpiece, The Prelude), “the mind of man becomes/A thousand times more beautiful than the earth/On which he dwells.”
At first, roboticism was just an intellectual school. Today it is a social disease. Some young people want to be robots (I’m serious); they eagerly await electronic chips to be implanted in their brains so they will be smarter and better informed than anyone else (except for all their friends who have had the same chips implanted). Or they want to see the world through computer glasses that superimpose messages on poor naked nature. They are terrorist hostages in love with the terrorists.
All our striving for what is good and just and beautiful and sacred, for what gives meaning to human life and makes us (as Scripture says) “just a little lower than the angels,” and a little better than rats and cats, is invisible to the roboticist worldview. In the roboticist future, we will become what we believe ourselves to be: dogs with iPhones. The world needs a new subjectivist humanism now—not just scattered protests but a growing movement, a cry from the heart.”