Book Reviews -- By: Matthew S. DeMoss
BSac 170:677 (January-March 2013) p. 107
By The Faculty of Dallas Theological Seminary
The Mind and the Machine: What It Means to Be Human and Why It Matters. By Matthew Dickerson. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2011. xxvi + 230 pp. $19.99.
Dickerson is professor of computer science and environmental studies at Middlebury College, Middlebury, Vermont. In this book he defends a dualistic view of humanity, that humans are “spiritual as well as bodily beings” (p. xi). He is responding particularly to Raymond Kurzweil (The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology [New York: Penguin, 2005]), who predicts that the rapid pace of technological change will result in a transformation of human life. Kurzweil said, “If humans are complex computers, then maybe we can get rid of our current biological mind (and body) altogether” (p. xii). “The biological intelligence we now associate with human intelligence will be indistinguishably merged with computer intelligence. Our future will transcend biology” (ibid.). In short, the world in which “human consciousness is reducible to the bits and bytes that make up computer code and data” will become a reality (p. xiii).
Such a view, Dickerson argues, has “dramatic implications to our understanding of what it means to be human. Proponents of the view that humans are complex computers have argued [that] to reject it . . . is to hamper scientific progress. To view the human as somehow spiritual is like imagining a ghost pushing buttons in a machine. It is superstitious and unscientific. It prevents us from discovering, understanding, and ultimately making use of the real mechanisms of the computational human brain that controls our actions and determines who we are” (ibid.) On the other hand, opponents of this view “warn of the dangers of treating humans as though they were machines. They warn that it is dehumanizing and destructive to try to program, control, or tinker with them through conditioning, drugs, or genetic manipulation, as we might tinker with a car, computer, or DVD player” (pp. xiii–xiv). Dickerson states his thesis clearly: “The basic argument of this book is that a physicalist worldview of what it means to be a human person—a philosophy that says humans are complex computing machines (perhaps with random number generators)—denies the importance not only of creativity and heroism, but also of healthy ecology and (most surprisingly) of reason and science” (p. xxvi).
In the first part of the book, “Implications of a Human Machine,” the author examines the effects of physicalism on human creativity and heroism, human ecological viewpoint and practice, and hu...
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