Acton Institute Powerblog

Human machines & the nature of man

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On Tuesday, Newsweek published an article relating how the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) allocated $65 million to develop brain implants “to link human brains with computers.” Neuro-technology has been a priority of the U.S. Military since the launch of the Neural Engineering System Design (NESD) program in January 2016. Their goal is to “[develop] an implantable system able to provide precision communication between the brain and the digital world.” In other words, the U.S. Military wants to make better people-machines. The assumption: human brains can be improved when “linked” to computers.

This assumption fundamentally misunderstands the nature of the human person.

Human beings are more than living machines that can be improved upon by smarter machines. We are valuable not merely for the goods and services we produce, but for our very existence as persons made in the image of God.

Last month, Rabbi Mitchell Rocklin, a resident research fellow at The Tikvah Fund, spoke at Acton University on the topic of Judaism and human creativity. He focused his argument primarily on the importance of Shabbat and the need for man to live within a weekly pattern of remembering his nature in relationship to the Divine.

Rocklin began by looking at the way of life in pagan antiquity. In the ancient world, life was dictated by celestial cycles and the gods each played a role in explaining why things happened. Lightning bolts were signs of Zeus’ anger; fertility indicated Aphrodite’s approval. Within this structure, the patterns of life were subject to the will of the gods and the aristocrats who served as their intermediaries.

The anthropology of the Hebrew Scripture radically reinterpreted this pattern of life. In Genesis, God created a pattern of life in seven days. For six days, God created work. On the seventh day God created rest. He did not create for six days and take a break on the seventh. He created for seven days. Within God’s good order, rest is a noun. This right understanding of Sabbath rest serves the needs of both the body and the spirit according to the nature of man.

While the Greeks defined the good life as one lived according to virtue, the people of Israel lived under the “commandedness” of God’s moral law. This is why the 4th commandment calls the children of God to “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.”(Ex. 20:8-10, ESV). The Sabbath is a day to remember one’s relationship to the Divine. As St. Augustine said: You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”

The Sabbath reorients man to look-up, bridging the gap between heaven and earth. Rocklin explained that it is this dynamic relationship between God and man that enables man to expand the horizons of things like commerce, technology, and art as he comes to better understand the Truth in God’s world. Human persons were made to be more than productivity machines; we were created for relationship. To forget the Sabbath is to forget the nature of man.

As the Newsweek article proposes: “The quest to create a real link between machines and human brains has potentially groundbreaking consequences.” The question remains to be answered whether or not those consequences will be to the betterment of mankind.

 

Cover image does not require attribution.

Hannah Silver

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