Science and advanced technology appear to have brought us to the pinnacle of the Biblical mandate to subdue the world (Genesis 1:28). Not only has man conquered the world of outer space, he is achieving domination in the inner space of the nucleus. He is unravelling the mysteries of genetic codes and engineering new life forms.
The computer and the technology of robotics and artificial intelligence stand at the frontier of man’s efforts to master his world. A computer is capable of doing calculations that exceed the capacity of any single mind. Robots are increasingly replacing workers who perform repetitive tasks. What are the limits of these developments? Could a computer or robot replace the human mind?
Human intelligence is not the ability to follow instructions, which can also be done by a robot. What is the essence of the human being? Who is the real you?
Some say that man is like a machine, a body that can perform certain functions. In times past, a person could consider his own body as an integral part of himself. But scientific progress has changed this concept of personality. Today, a man can live with another person’s heart beating in his breast. If he is asked, “Who are YOU?” he cannot point to his heart, because it is someone else’s.
Let us imagine what it would be like to undergo a brain transplant. A person might be suffering from an incurable disease in his body, but still have a healthy brain. The donor, on the other hand, would have suffered irreparable brain damage, but otherwise have a perfectly sound body. So the brain is removed from the sick body and placed in the healthy one. Who is the new man? We have an old brain with all its memories, personality traits and behavior patterns, but it has a brand new body. The old body might have been old and sick, while the new one may be young and full of energy. Let us ask this man to point to himself. Will he point to his body, or will he point to his head? Probably the latter.
Computer technology allows one to perform a memory transfer, taking the information in one computer system and transferring it to another. What if this were done to the human brain? Let us envision a memory transfer. Assume that we have a person with an incurable disease, and neither his body nor his brain can be salvaged. We clone a new body for this individual, brain and all. This new body has a blank, new brain capable of functioning, but without any memories. We bring all of the information of the sick person into the brain of the new body. If all of man’s memories, thought patterns and personality traits are transferred to a new body and brain, then this person literally exists in his new body, but nothing physical has been transferred, only the information. But then
the question arises, who is the real you?
It is not your body, nor your brain; it is the information contained in your brain — the personality traits, memories and thought patterns, the non- material ego.
After the body ceases to function, what happens to the real you, the human personality? What happens to all the memories, thought patterns and personality traits? When a book is burnt, its contents are no longer available. When a computer is smashed, the information in it is also destroyed. But, when a man dies, everything still remains in
G-d’s memory. We may think of something existing only in memory as being static, but G-d’s memory is dynamic and still maintains its identity. This is the meaning of immortality, the Garden of Eden, the World to Come, the world of souls, the bond of eternal life. ‘Dust returns to the dust as it was, but the spirit returns to the G-d who gave it.’ (Ecclesiastes 12:7)
A person is theoretically able to perceive everything that that surrounds him and to remember everything. But if all of this information poured into his mind continuously, it would overwhelm him, Therefore, the brain screens out most of what we perceive and remember. It functions in part as a reducing valve, to limit the information that enters our awareness so that we encounter the constant data from the world as a gentle stream rather than as a tidal wave. A hint of what the brain excludes can be understood if one closes his eyes and views the kaleidoscope of random pictures that enter the mind.
Let us now imagine the mental activity of a disembodied head, naked in front of G-d, as it were. The reducing valve is gone; the mind is open and transparent. Then one can perceive everything in a way impossible to a mind which is held back by a body and a nervous system. That is why the Sages describe the World to Come with the following imagery: The righteous sit with their crowns on their heads and delight in the rays of glory of the Divine Presence. The Book of Job states: ‘ After my skin is destroyed, then without my flesh I shall see G-d.’ (Job 19:26) This is reflected in Near Death experiences which have recently been scientifically explored.
In this disembodied state, the individual will see himself in a new light. He will see himself for the first time without the jamming that shuts out most thoughts. Even in our mortal, physical state, looking at oneself can sometimes be pleasing and at other times painful. Even more so, when one stands with one’s memory open in front of G-d, one will feel enormous pleasure from all of the good deeds that one has done and which G-d approves. For the opposite, one will feel great shame: ‘Many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to reproach and everlasting shame. And them that are wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament.’ (Daniel 12:2-3) This concept of the human personality is totally unlike the mechanism and data of the computer.
Another major difference between the mind and the computer is that the individuality of man is associated with thought patterns, traits and the memories in one unit. In contrast, computer operations are discrete, not unified; there is no ego in the computer, no unifying force.
Usually, we behold hundreds of objects and dozens of colors. The eye functions as a lens, similar to a camera, and focuses an image on the retina. Attached to the retina are millions of nerve endings that convey the impulses created by that image through the optic nerve to the brain. And the optic nerve has a cable, as it were, that contains a great number of parallel strands each carrying a separate message. What happens when these messages arrive at the brain?
For example, when we are looking at two points of light, one bundle of nerves carries the message of one of the lights to one part of the brain, and another bundle to another point, another part of the brain, and the total message is spread out in space. The nerves with their messages cannot converge on one point or on one particle because the size of the nerve is far in excess of any particle. Therefore, since these nerve endings are in different parts of the brain, one producing the impression of light here and another over there, what entity in physics can account for our seeing two lights at the same time? These two discrete things must be in two places at the same time and there is no physical entity where this can possibly be true. In physics, there are four known forces: gravitation, electromagnetism, and the weak and strong nuclear forces. None of these can help us to see how a physical entity can have been in two places at once. The entity that encompasses the two points of light together as a unity cannot be a physical entity. It is the mind which has the unique function of holding disparate things together in a unity and which spreads over matter.
The ego is situated in many places at once. For example, we look out of both eyes and see our nose. Is my nose to the right or to the left? It is to the right of one eye and to the left of the other. So where am I? I must be situated behind both eyes, and therefore I cannot say that the nose is to my right or to my left.
For example, when I look at a table, I know that it has legs underneath and a side to it. But I only know it because my mind can hold together images that are separate. My eyes see the whole top of the table at once. Even that is only possible because of the unifying, integrating part of the mind. I can only see the total table by having an image of the top, an image of the bottom, an image of one side and the other side; then I take all of the images together and create the reality of the table through the power of my mind. And that can never be done by any machine.
Cornputerised axial tomography (CAT) is a medical diagnostic technology that scans cross-sections of the human body and assembles via computer graphics a three-dimensional image. The CAT scanner only concatenates a myriad of two-dimensional slices, and then projects images onto a viewing screen. The computer does not present a single, unified image of the body or object being viewed. Only the human mind, with its unique conceptualizing power, can extract a unified concept of a body or object.
Some believe that the physical brain does the thinking. But the physical brain is just like a machine; the thinking is done by something non-physical, the mind, which joins together the conceptual correlate of the impulses of the brain. There is a correlation between brain activity and the thoughts that produce this activity. But the mind is the ultimate reality. The body, including the brain, exists more like a shadow in comparison with the mind. It is the mind that holds together the diverse aspects of space and objects and also the separate points of time.
The individuality of man is expressed through the power of his mind. The source of this power of the individual? The influx that comes from a higher Source, from G-d Himself. That is how G-d is described as being the source of the Divine Breath, ‘Neshama’ — the soul power of the human being. The Deity is a larger Mind of which our own minds are elements, but which still permits the mind of man to have its own individuality.
When one sees a glorious sunset or a majestic landscape one feels in touch with a greater Mind because then the ego shrinks. We realize that petty concerns are small in comparison to the great harmony we perceive. This is why the Sages have given us a blessing to say for all the wonders of nature, which make us conscious of the transcendental world. Through immersing oneself in the great harmony of life and Divinity which is contained in the Torah, one encounters the spiritual space, where the soul-mind of man resides.
In our day, when man so readily likens himself to a machine and regards the computer as having greater abilities than himself, we must reaffirm the superiority of the mind and soul. All man-made creations will bring solace and harmony only if they are dedicated to G-d, the Mind of the universe.