Ancora Imparo - I am still learning

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Interesting Philosophical Discussion

For my philosphy, I had to read a scenario of an episode of Star Trek the Next Generation in which Data, an android, is set by Maddox to be taken apart. Picard, the captain of the Enterprise takes Maddox before the JAG to fight this, because Data can think and reason and has self-awareness. I had to post a philosophical post regarding this episode - over whether I feel androids will ever be human and the consequences if they would.

As I was reading the scenario of the Star Trek episode and these questions, several ideas were running through my mind - ideas such as: what it is that makes us human?, are we unique in our humanity?, what about the rest of creation? The first thing that I thought while reading the scenario, however, was that the writers of the episode were playing on our sympathy for Data. I was reminded of the movie I Robot and of how, by the end of the movie, I was rooting for the robot. But, then, I remembered that if scientists do eventually create artificial intelligence with human emotions, feelings, and actions; the writers have simply captured the emotions that we humans may feel toward our "property." Wow! This question is much more complex than I first imagined when reading over this assignment.

Man is comprised of three elements: body, soul, and spirit. Philosphy asks us how we know that these properties exist. The body, obviously, is observable. We can see and feel our own bodies. But how do we truly know that the soul and spirit exist? I remember, when I was child, contemplating how no one else was me. No one else understood totally what I was feeling and thinking. I wondered, "Why am I, me? Why are they, they?" Many argue that the mind and the brain are the same thing. I have to disagree. A child would not contemplate such questions with the brain alone. There is a spiritual aspect to the mind. I read a good example once regarding this philosphy, although I cannot remember where I read it. This unknown reference stated that if a person is connected to an MRI, the MRI can read when a person is dreaming. However, it cannot read what is being dreamt. That left a huge impact on me. There is a spiritual level to human beings that allows them to dream and to contemplate existential questions.

This leads us to the point of a soul. This point was brought up in the Star Trek episode. It is hot philosophical and theological issue: is man the (only) creature to have a soul? Some philosophers feel that humanity is what we see here - a body. Once the body dies, nothing lives on. All we have is here and now. Others, on the other hand, believe that man possesses a soul that lives on - the idea of immortality of the soul. Yet others claim that man can live on without a soul - the Christian materialists described in the Hasker text. Perhaps the best way to answer this question: does man have a soul? - is to contemplate the question that I asked myself as a child "What makes me, me and you, you?" Is it something physical - the color of hair, the color of skin, the color of eyes, one's height, one's weight?" If this were the case, then were I to bleach my hair from brown to blonde, I would cease to be me. If I were to lose or gain weight, I would cease to be me. This, of course, is a laughable conclusion. Perhaps it is something emotional. That is, does a significant event in someone's life such as a marriage, divorce, or birth of a child change that person's humanity? In all fairness, it may change the person's view on life; but, nonetheless, the person who experiences these events is still human. Nothing has been changed in that area. There is something beyond the physical and the emotional that makes me, me and you, you - a part of us that sees without using eyes and senses without using skin. That part of us is best defined as the soul.

As a Christian, I believe God's creation (whether human or non-human) is unique. God breathed into his creation. As scientists attempt to create a non-human machine that can think, feel, and understand as man does; they are, in a sense, attempting to become God. Such is a result of the philosophy that science is the answer to all. I maintain that science is not the answer to all! I do not believe that man will be able to create a machine that has the feelings and emotions of an ant let alone of a human being. God is God. We are not. My computer may be faster than I am and may be able to store more information than I will ever be able to. However, it cannot understand what is stored.

Recently, my four-year old son lost a favorite stuffed toy - a gray stuffed cat he named "Flower." He was very, very upset for the two weeks that "Flower" was missing. What made this experience difficult for him (and for his parents)? Was it the fact that "Flower" had feelings and would fear being lost? Of course not. (Regardless of what the writers of Toy Story believe - LOL). What made it difficult was the emotional attachment that my son, a human being, felt for the stuffed cat. (Needless to say, we were thrilled when "Flower" was found!) In the same way, scientists may create a machine that will work for us and assist us in our endeavors - one that we will build an emotional attachment to. However, without the breath of God, I conclude that there is no way for that machine to develop an emotional attachment back.

This being said, the only thing that would be considered a "crime" in turning of any artificial intelligence the future may hold would be in emotionally harming the human beings who care about the machinery. This would definitely not constitute murder in that murder is the taking of a human life. An android is no more human - with a human spirit and sould - than "Flower" is a real cat. My sons swings "Flower" by the tail and tosses "him" into the air. Would I allow him to do this to our pet cats? Of course not! This being said, I do feel that the view of Maddox in the Star Trek episode is heartless. It is important to remember the view of those who do care about Data. No, Data is not a human being, and, as such, does not have human rights. However, there are humans who care about Data. Their rights should be respected. Maddox, however, I believe is closer to the truth about the differences between humanity and machines that Picard is. The mind, the soul, the human aspect that makes each of us human, as Maddox believes, is not present in any machine. Picard seems to be willing to place human value on a non-human object. He views Data as human because "he" has human characteristics. However, no matter how hard Picard may try to prove his point, Data will never possess a human mind or soul. That is unique to a creation of God.

I believe that Maddox does have a point by stating that Picard is being emotional. That, however, is the difference between man and machine. Man is emotional. That is part of our make-up. It is not part of the make-up of a machine. Is he being irrational? I do not think so. He is defending something that he truly cares about. If that is considered irrational, so be it. Would someone cry if his/her house was destroyed by fire? More often than not, yes. Is (s)he being emotional? Definitely. There are emotional attachments to a home. In the same way that it is illegal to destroy someone's home, I do not think it is right to destroy anything that is non-harmful that a human being has developed an emotional attachment to.

I do believe stating that robots could be enslaved is going too far. Again, I think back to the movie I Robot. Is it possible that robots being treated as servants is immoral and unethical? I do not think it is. This would be worse than saying that keeping a horse to ride is unethical. Horses are creations of God. Robots are simply creations of the mind of man. Horses are flesh and blood with physical feelings (and possibly emotional?) I believe all of God's creation contain an immortal soul (but this is another philosophy). Robots do not, based upon the previous discussion.

This all being said, I do believe the judgment of JAG was correct for the incorrect reasons. I do not believe Data had a self-understanding. However, as I stated above, I do believe strictly for the emotional attachment that human beings showed for the machine, it should not be destroyed.

Kandy Crosby-Hastings


Mama Lavender said...

Kandy, I really enjoyed reading your assignment. I think you hit the nail on the head in regard to keeping how human feel towards their creations should matter, but that the creation itself - having no soul and being a machine - does not on it's own 'matter'. Very interesting read.

April said...

Very well done, thanks for sharing.