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Location: California

I love paper. Books printed on acid-free paper and bound in cloth turn me on. I'm crazy about bookmarks, and I buy too many stickers. I could spend hours in the build-your-own-greeting card section of my neighborhood craft store. My favorite thing to eat is bread, and my second favorite is fruit. (Mm, pineapple.) I read too much and too fast, and I watch too many food shows (two ways of looking at gluttony). Gloomy, rainy weather calms me and so I can't wait to move out of California, which will happen, sadly, too many years from now to count. I'm vegan, though I haven't managed to eliminate honey from my diet yet. I practice yoga; it's the only way I can keep fit. I have a better life than I ever imagined I would (or deserve to) have, but I do my best to enjoy it rather than feel guilty about it. That's my daily struggle -- and also to be thoughtful and observant and honest with myself.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

From Robots to God

Robots fascinate me -- from the lowly, like the Roomba vacuum that whirs around your house sucking dirt off the carpet and knows not to fall down stairs or ram incessantly against the leg of the table in the middle of your room, to the humanoid ones that you see in science fiction movies like Artificial Intelligence or the organic, animal-looking ones in The Matrix. I think a lot about them, about what exactly they are, things or persons; I imagine conversations with them; I try to figure out how standing face to face with a self-aware machine will change my idea of who I am.

Friday nights I watch a SciFi channel show called Battlestar Galactica. In it humans are at war with machines, called cylons, whom they have created and who have rebelled against them. These cylons have learned to simulate the human body, down to its flesh and blood, so that some of them appear no different from humans. But the most interesting thing about them is that they believe in God. In gods, rather; the mythology of Battlestar Galactica is very close to the Greek. The cylons believe it is their divine mission to destroy humans because humans are such flawed creatures; humans kill each other out of greed and envy and are driven so powerfully by their instincts and most primitive desires.

The cylons’ religiosity puzzles me. They are supposed to be more rational than humans. So how can they be so compelled by the idea of God, how can they believe that they are God’s children? Why do they even need to believe that? I always thought that for a purely rational mind belief in God is unnecessary. A purely rational mind understands, and is at peace with, its place in the physical universe.

I’ve gone very abruptly a few years ago from being extremely religious to being a very confused but very determined agnostic. All I know for sure is that I don’t know. I work very hard to accept that my life has no greater meaning than the one I give it by my actions in my physical life, by what my body and my mind can do together. I wonder if this can ever cease to be hard work, if it will ever come naturally to me. It seems not. It seems that self-aware minds will always yearn, even despite themselves, after the divine.


Blogger Jonathan K. Cohen said...

I may be wrong, but I thought the Roomba required a kind of electronic barrier or "gate" to prevent it going somewhere unwished, e.g., stairs.

As for your point about religiosity, even Aristotle, the great rationalist, posited the existence of God, even if God was coextensive with Mind thinking the Forms at the highest level of actuality, and not personified. More tangibly, in the Metaphysics, Aristotle speaks of man's capacity for wonder, and this may be a firmer base for acknowledgment of a power outside the self.

January 27, 2006  
Blogger Jonathan K. Cohen said...

The original Battlestar Galactica was scripted to include a great many unfocused references to Earth's past. ("Adama," "Iblis," and so forth.)

The name "Cylon" comes from the name of a Greek (circa 620 B.C., I think) who attempted to lead a rebellion in Athens, trying to seize power and become a dictator. He was starved out during a siege of the Acropolis. He and his followers ("Cylons") were seemingly granted amnesty as a reward for surrender, but were slaughtered immediately after they did so.

How the writers got from there to the robots, I don't know.

January 28, 2006  

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