This issue of Zygon contains papers on the theme From Artificial Intelligence to Human Consciousness, most of which were initially presented at the annual conference of the Science and Religion Forum in Great Britain (meeting in Canterbury), in April 1984.
What could be the most fundamental of all problems that could compete for the attention of a Science and Religion Forum? Among them, surely, must be that nexus of problems that underlie that ancient question, What is Man? The contemporary version of that notorious conundrum could probably be stated as: What exactly is the special feature of Homo sapiens that gives members of this species their distinct spiritual propensities, causing them to be, characteristically, religious animals; and what is the status of these religious notions or attitudes? A forum of scientists and religious thinkers has to return to this question repeatedly since, precisely for such a body, science and religion are not separated frames of knowledge to be maintained mutually orthogonal but are facets of truth that, somehow, must be brought to bear upon one another in reasoned, sensitive, patient discourse. We confess to being religious people. But what is religion? What is faith, wonder, worship, love? Can there be scientific answers, for we are also scientifically educated people? And, since these religious idiosyncrasies of ours manifestly arise out of our higher faculties, our conscious mind in particular, what is this phenomenon called consciousness which is so unique to human beings? Or, is consciousness indeed really so unique?
The definition of an expert system as a knowledge-based source of advice and explanation pinpoints the critical problem which confronts the would-be builders of such systems. How is the required body of knowledge to be elicited from its human possessors in a form sufficiently complete for effective organization in computer memory? This article reviews recent advances in the art of automated knowledge-extraction from expert-supplied example decisions. Computer induction, as the new approach is called, promises both important parallels to the human capacity for concept formation and also commercial exploitability.
Donald Michie is Director of Research and Advanced Study, The Turing Institute, 36 North Hanover Street, Glasgow G1 2AD, Scotland and professor emeritus of machine intelligence, University of Edinburgh.
Wonder is a root of the religious experience, and the desire to understand drives science. If wonder and understanding are fundamentally opposed, religion and science will be also. But only if wonder is limited to the contemplation of magic or mysteries is religion in principle opposed to science. The aim of science is to explain how something is possible. Understanding how something is possible need not destroy our wonder at it. Recent scientific theories of the human mind—albeit based in computer technology—increase our wonder at its richness and power.
Margaret Boden is professor of philosophy and psychology, University of Sussex, Falmer, Brighton, Sussex BN1 9QN, England.
This paper explores the suggestion that our conscious experience is embodied in, rather than interactive with, our brain activity, and that the distinctive brain correlate of conscious experience lies at the level of global functional organization. To speak of either brains or computers as thinking is categorically inept, but whether stochastic mechanisms using internal experimentation rather than rule-following to determine behavior could embody conscious agency is argued to be an open question, even in light of the Christian doctrine of man. Mechanistic brain science does nothing to discredit Christian experience in dialogue with God or the Christian hope of eternal life.
Donald M. MacKay is emeritus professor, Department of Communication and Neuroscience, University of Keele, Keele, Staffordshire ST5 5BG, England.
The Phenomenon of Intelligence as Seen by a Lay-Scientist by John H. Robertson
This paper sees intelligence as certainly not a thing which is the sole prerogative of man but rather as a category of skill, natural to all organisms, integral with their capacity for handling their environment, and increasingly well developed in the higher animals. Intelligence is seen as a natural property of living organisms at their highest levels: a characteristic of living things which is emergent in the same way as, and essentially in parallel with, perception, consciousness, and moral and spiritual sensitivities.
John H. Robertson is senior lecturer in chemistry, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT, England.
We view a human being as a mental and spiritual entity and also as having a physical nature. The essence of a person is revealed in our thinking about personal identity, quality of life. and personal responsibility. These conceptions do not fare well in a Cartesian or dualist picture of the person as there are deep problems with the idea that the mind is an inner realm. I argue that it is only as we see the thoughts, actions, and interactions of persons as necessarily involving physical entities in the world whose nature is not completely captured in scientific descriptions that we can understand our existence as mental and spiritual beings.
Grant R. Gillett is a research consultant at the Ian Ramsey Centre, St. Cross College, Oxford OX1 3LZ, England.
Quo Vadis, Systems Thought? by James E. Huchingson
Progress in general systems theory has been slow. Three recent books in the field reflect both the hopes and continuing frustrations of systems advocates. Frustrations include the widespread perception that systems theory is a kind of gnostic redemption, an abstract program to be administered by an elite cadre of experts for the sake of integrating knowledge and reorganizing society. This mechanistic understanding generates a resistance which could be countered by a more open and organic model of human systems. The ambiguity of systems thought lies ironically in its ability to embrace both of these images within its conceptual scheme.
James E. Huchingson is associate professor of philosophy and religious studies at Florida International University, Tamiami Campus, Miami, Florida 33199.
Order and Disorder: Thermodynamics, Creation, and Values by Afif I. Tannous
The December 1984 issue of Zygon is outstanding, for it covers a crucial subject and provides significant contributions by six highly qualified thinkers in science, theology, and philosophy toward bridging the gap between science and religion. Each covers the subject of thermodynamics, especially its entropy aspect, from a different perspective, and the resulting whole is striking with its insights, conclusions, and general coherence. Thanks to this outstanding intellectual endeavor, our understanding of thermodynamics, a main pillar of scientific knowledge, has been substantially enhanced in relation to basic human concerns such as order/disorder, evil/good, evolution, and creativity and values. In response to some of the authors challenging thoughts, I wish to make a few comments which may shed additional light on the subject. …
Afif I. Tannous, 6912 Oak Court, Annandale, Virginia 22003, is a social scientist, retired from U.S. government service. He is currently a member of the board of directors, International Center for Dynamics of Development, Arlington, Virginia, and also a member of the Academy of Independent Scholars, Boulder, Colorado.
The Experiment of Life edited by F. Kenneth Hare, reviewed by William H. Swatos, Jr.