Russell and Duenes

Archive for April 2012

Computers Will Never Have Minds

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I was listening to a talk by Dr. Ravi Zacharias this morning, and he was recounting an anecdote where renowned Russian chess player, Gary Kasparov, expressed his fear of playing a computer at chess. Kasparov feared to play the machine because he worried that defeat might strip him of some part of his human dignity. To this sentiment, Yale computer science professor,David Gelernter, gave a response for the ages (You can read Gelernter’s whole piece in Time Magazine), which I thought worthy of quoting here in full.

But when you think about it carefully, the idea that Deep Blue has a mind is absurd. How can an object that wants nothing, fears nothing, enjoys nothing, needs nothing and cares about nothing have a mind? It can win at chess, but not because it wants to. It isn’t happy when it wins or sad when it loses. What are its apres-match plans if it beats Kasparov? Is it hoping to take Deep Pink out for a night on the town? It doesn’t care about chess or anything else. It plays the game for the same reason a calculator adds or a toaster toasts: because it is a machine designed for that purpose.

Computers as we know them will never have minds. No matter what amazing feats they perform, inside they will always be the same absolute zero …

One of the biggest obstacles has been technologists’ naivete about the character of human thought, their tendency to confuse thinking with analytical problem solving. They forget that when you look out the window and let your mind wander, or fall asleep and dream, you are also thinking. They tend to overlook something that such mind-obsessed poets as Wordsworth and Coleridge understood two centuries ago: that thought is largely a process of stringing memories together, and that memories are often linked by emotion. No computer can achieve artificial thought without achieving artificial emotion too …

It is conceivable that one day, computers will be better than humans at nearly everything. I can imagine that a person might someday have a computer for a best friend. That will be sad–like having a dog for your best friend but even sadder.

Computers might one day be capable of expressing themselves in vivid prose or fluent poetry, but unfortunately they will still be computers and have nothing to say. The gap between human and surrogate is permanent and will never be closed. Machines will continue to make life easier, healthier, richer and more puzzling. And human beings will continue to care, ultimately, about the same things they always have: about themselves, about one another and, many of them, about God. On those terms, machines have never made a difference. And they never will.


HT: for the quote, Shadow Council


Written by Michael Duenes

April 28, 2012 at 4:04 pm

Posted in Duenes, Philosophy

Ross Douthat and Will Saletan Back and Forth

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New York Times columnist and Christian, Ross Douthat, and Slate columnist and non-Christian, Will Saletan, have a wonderful 5-part dialogue about matters Christian here. This dialogue is the kind of conversation that has substance, and of which our world could use a whole lot more. It’s the best I’ve read since Christopher Hitchens and Douglas Wilson squared off several years ago.


Written by Michael Duenes

April 23, 2012 at 8:02 pm

Posted in Duenes, Theology

Are the Gospel Accounts “Legend?”

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I don’t generally look to C.S. Lewis for my beliefs about the reliability of the New Testament, but because he is a literary scholar, I believe his thoughts on whether the New Testament gospel accounts are authentic, or merely “legend,” are worth considering. Lewis writes,

Now, as a literary historian, I am perfectly convinced that whatever else the Gospels are, they are not legends. I have read a great deal of legend and I am quite clear that they are not the same sort of thing. They are not artistic enough to be legends. From an imaginative point of view, they are clumsy, they don’t work up to things properly. Most of the life of Jesus is totally unknown to us, as is the life of anyone else who lived at that time, and no people building up a legend would allow that to be so. Apart from bits of the Platonic dialogues, there are no conversations that I know of in ancient literature like the Fourth Gospel. There is nothing, even in modern literature, until about a hundred years ago when the realistic novel came into existence. In the story of the woman taken in adultery, we are told Christ bent down and scribbled in the dust with His finger. Nothing came of this. No one has ever based any doctrine on it. And the art of inventing little irrelevant details to make an imaginary scene more convincing is a purely modern art. Surely the only explanation of this passage is that the thing really happened. The author put it in simply because he had seen it. (God in the Dock, “What Are We To Make of Jesus Christ?”)


Written by Michael Duenes

April 22, 2012 at 1:56 pm

The Mourner’s Kaddish

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When I lived in Los Angeles, I studied Hebrew and sometimes attended a Messianic Jewish Synagogue. One of the liturgical elements in the traditional synagogue service is the recitation from their prayer book (the Siddur) of what’s called “The Mourner’s Kaddish.” Though it is recited, as the name suggests, for those who mourn, it does not have the therapeutic theme that one would expect of such a prayer. Rather, in the face of great suffering and grief, the Jews offer to God this prayer:

Glorified and hallowed be the great name of God throughout the world which He created according to His will. May His kingdom of peace be established speedily in our time, unto us and unto the entire household of Israel. Amen. May His great name be praised throughout all eternity. Extolled and glorified, honored and adored, ever be the name of the Holy One, praised be He. Yea, He is beyond the praises and hymns of glory which mortals offer to Him throughout the world. Amen. May our Heavenly Father grant peace and life abundant to us and to all Israel. Amen. May He who ordains the harmony of the universe, bestow His peace upon us and upon the whole house of Israel. Amen.

The commentary notes in my Siddur say of the Mourner’s Kaddish, “The vision of the Kingdom of God triumphant, mitigates the grief of bereavement. And it is the highest test of a person’s faith, to praise God despite his sorrow. It is reminiscent of the faith of Job who cried out, in the fact of his pain: Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.” Indeed, it reminds one of the prophet Habakkuk’s words of confidence in God:

Though the fig tree should not blossom,
    nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
    and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
    and there be no herd in the stalls,
18  yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
     I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
19 God, the Lord, is my strength;
     he makes my feet like the deer’s;
    he makes me tread on my high places. (3:17-19)


Written by Michael Duenes

April 22, 2012 at 1:21 pm

Posted in Duenes, Reflections

Adam and Eve After the Pill

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Written by Michael Duenes

April 21, 2012 at 10:37 am