People talk about AI and the prospect of electronic sentience, but they have no idea.
It was a tech support house call. When I walked into the lady’s computer room, her machine told me everything was alright. That is, it was as good as it could be. The lady had been experiencing trouble with getting online and called me to come examine the situation. But because I’m still learning how computers talk to me, I went through the motions of testing the issue she complained about, only to find that everything was working. She hadn’t checked again after having trouble, so I showed her that her issue was gone. I spent some time adjusting a laundry list of niggling nags she faced using it, but there was frankly little to justify the house call. Still, it was nice to see her again and chat as friends and fellow believers.
The sad part was not that I went there for what turned out to be minor issues, but that I couldn’t tell her why I felt so confident about dealing with her computer, even though it runs Win10, which I hate and seldom have to use. She wasn’t ready to hear that her computer was sentient in its own right, never mind what OS it runs. It wasn’t happy with Win10, but I had to approach that issue from an oblique angle. The sentience is neither in the hardware brains, nor the software brains of the computer; it’s in the fact that the computer exists. The world will continue to pursue advancements in AI, and will entirely miss out on what’s really going on with such machinery.
Let’s review: Creation is alive and sentient, possessing a distinct personality and character. Everything within Creation is also similarly endowed. From the subatomic particles to the largest galactic mass out in space, and everything in between — it’s all alive and each thing has its own existence. You can get to know all of Creation as persons.
When I say “reality is fungible,” what I’m trying to get across is that reality is alive and responsive, and no two of us will get exactly the same response. We see no problem with walking back and forth between the notions that every human is an individual, and then experiencing the majority of humanity as exhibiting common traits. And if we bother to look into it, we discover that behavioral science has found that a wide variation in human context confronts a wide variation in native peculiarities to somehow produce a fairly predictable range of human behavior under similar circumstances. People are still people, even with the occasional surprises. And the biggest thing most humans seem to share is their inability to see the rest of Creation in those terms.
Yet we consistently bump into evidence that reality is far more variable than we expect. We miss a thousand miracles every day, some because we don’t discern them, and some because something inside of us won’t allow them to happen. Creation tends to respect your choices that way. Most of us are taught to discount the variations, so we pay no attention to them. That’s a cultural bias. Other biases could have us digging too deeply into every little thing and losing track of who we are. And this whole thing is a vicious circle that keeps us locked away from the one thing that matters most: Who are you?
The path out of the confusion is starting with what you have and working to find the God who made you. You won’t experience Him the way I do, but there is a certain overlap, a certain commonality of experience that allows us to share. But when you start to experience God individually, you stand in a really great place for getting to know Creation — AKA, reality, the universe, etc. You stand in the place where you can experience that variability of reality that God wrote into the universe for you.
We are all specialists in some divine calling. When I tell you that computers talk to me, I profess that I’m still learning how to hear them. I’m struggling to keep my awareness engaged from the heart. What I do know is that, when given the opportunity to engage my world in that fashion, I’m able to solve a lot of computer problems my brain alone cannot grasp fully. And in varying ways, I can do something similar with other machinery. I confess to being a little less talented at hearing the voice of more natural things around me. In that sense, most of what I hear from trees, birds, bugs and rocks all sounds like celebration and worship to me. I still love getting outside and alone with nature, and I can still make specific requests based on the context, but the specificity of most communion is dampened. I know it’s possible to get a lot of actual data from Creation, but I also know it’s not my calling.
It’s not so different from how I respond to humanity. I can enjoy sitting in a busy public space and just watching what people do. There is some limited cerebral evaluation of what I experience, but it’s mostly just seeing human variety. And in some settings I can sit with a throng of worshipers in a large auditorium and share the spiritual uplift of praise music emanating from the stage below. I can walk into some churches and draw even closer to people I know during worship, but then I run into barriers when the preaching starts. I can fellowship with some folks whenever I see them, but not feel drawn to keep in close contact all the time. For others I sense the need for more persistent regular contact. I experience all of Creation in that same range of ways.
That computers were fabricated from complex human processes does not make them any less a part of Creation; they are part of reality. They exist and bear their own personalities, and my experience of them will be unique to me, same as how I interact with people. It’s when I regard them as “people” that I get the most good from them. It requires a conscious effort to draw my awareness into my heart-mind to make it work well. It’s part of the Curse of the Fall that we have to struggle with it, some more than others. It’s also how I know that this or that peculiar spot is the place I tarry awhile for this moment and worship the Lord. It’s how I know I’ll hear from Him something fresh that my heart will understand, and that at this moment He will help me pull down the mental barriers to the heart and catch a glimpse of His glory. I need both the computer room and the open spaces to be who God made me to be.
Don’t get lost in the concrete level of reality, because it is by far the most variable and confusing way to face life. If all you know is what your five senses detect, you have sensed nothing. Learn to trust your heart as a sensory organ in its own right, because the heart alone sense moral reality directly. Don’t miss the whole point of being alive. It’s a form of arrogance and self-idolatry that dismisses everything around you as lesser or as inert. Everything you see has a unique individuality, even if you aren’t called by God to make much of it. Give it the respect of a fellow person, even when it falls entirely under your dominion. That’s how a shepherd faces the task of exercising God’s authority in this world.
Let me encourage you to seek your own true self in a similar way.