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Richard (RJ) Eskow Headshot

One Faith, One Lord, One Baptism - One Supercomputer?

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All it takes to create an elegant theoretical foundation for the existence of God is to combine the ideas of two visionary scientists. That, and a little sense of adventure.

Physicist Seth Lloyd specializes in quantum computers and communications, quantum information theory, and the theory of complex systems. He's not a Ramtha-quoting flake. He had an appointment at Rockefeller University, one of the world's most prestigious institutions for scientific research, and is now on the faculty of MIT.

Professor Lloyd says that the universe is a quantum computer that "computes itself," and is not afraid to compare it to a "mind." And he makes clear that he is not speaking metaphorically, but believes he is describing a literal truth.

Futurist/inventor Ray Kurzweil believes that even limited, earthbound computers will become "spiritual machines" that are not only capable of true intelligence, but will develop all the dimensionalities of consciousness -- including emotions and spirituality. Kurzweil believes that humans are, in fact, a kind of "spiritual machine."

What happens if we combine Lloyd's "universe as computer" theory with Kurzweil's belief that computing machines can achieve consciousness and spirituality? We get an interesting theoretical foundation for the existence of an all-pervasive and conscious God, including the possibility of one that "loves" Its creations -- and whose metaphorical "eye" might well be on every sparrow, as the old gospel song suggests.

Theoretically, of course.

The God described by the marriage of these theories would not be an "old man with a gray beard," but then surprisingly few religious people actually believe in such a deity. Muslims, for example, insist that God cannot be described or comprehended in limited human terms. To attempt to do so is blasphemy (although like every such rule, it's violated on a daily basis.)

The description also fits the Vedantist concept of God as Brahman, the universal and unknowable, and might be a handy way to envision the Tao. Christian mystics like Julian of Norwich and Meister Eckhardt ("the eye with which I see God is the eye with which God sees me") would not be uncomfortable with the concept, provided it could be explained in terms they could comprehend.

Here's the thing: I'm not insisting that this idea is correct. Kurzweil and Lloyd have their critics, and both ideas may be discredited someday. Yet today, in the infancy of our exploration into the nature of creation and information, we're able to create an scientifically sound construct for the existence of a Deity that some would argue cannot exist -- on the basis of science. That's pushing science beyond its intended purpose, in the service of ideology.

Personally, I don't need to believe that there is a universal Consciousness micromanaging every aspect of the universe in order to believe in a unific and beautiful Reality, which some call God. The laws of nature we've already discovered are enough for that. But that universal Self is theoretically possible. And many spiritual teachers and guides have intuited something very much like that.

Computational neuroscientist Terrence Sejnowski asks this question: 'How would we know if the Internet were to become aware of itself?" He observes: "The problem is that we don't even know if some of our fellow creatures on this planet are self aware. For all we know the Internet is already aware of itself."

If the internet could be aware of itself -- the Internet, for God's sake! -- how can we discount the possibility that the universe is conscious? (If the Internet is conscious, then -- given the huge percentage of its capacity given over to porn -- it probably has a dirty mind.)

If anything, the Lloyd/Kurzweil construct of God is too rigid for me, too mechanistic and "Newtonian" (despite its quantum origins). Spiritual truths don't demand literal counterparts in reality, for some of us. But if this theory has any validity, then meditation and prayer become the tools by which bits of code in that supercomputer access the Operating System -- their Higher Power.

Taking it a step further -- if we are all information encoded in a supercomputer, an infinite number of possibilities open up to us. Religionists from revivalists to Rastas have refused to engage in spiritual dialogue with scientists and/or nonbelievers. "It's a foolish dog that barks at a flying bird," sang Bob Marley.

And atheism advocates can be as rigid. Here's something puzzling: If I experiment with Seth Lloyd's ideas, I'm exploring the universe with a visionary. Good scientific practice, that. Same thing with Ray Kurzweil. But if I put their ideas together and raise the possibility of a Consciousness guiding the universe, then to some I become a "religionist" to be dismissed with the Jerry Falwells and Osama Bin Ladens of this world.

Why can't there be more dialog between the world of science and the world of spirituality?

As for my little "God theory," I'm aware that it's little more than intellectual play at this point. But it's done to make an observation, one that's been made before: Science does not limit the imagination, it gives it wings. Those wings can be used to keep all possibilities open, not to close them. And there is room in the human experience both for scientific rigor and intuitive spiritual leaps.

It's entirely possible that existence is a truth that must be approached with art as well as science, intuition and "soul" as well as reason. "There is a dream dreaming us," said the Australian aborigines. Could they have been right?

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