Saturday, 25 April 2009

I thought by now I'd ... date a girl made out of wires...

Five studies have dove-tailed recently. Four studies indicate that a TV will help take the place of relationships. Something we all already knew- if you have lost a relationship, or fear that you might, the TV becomes a surrogate. But not just any TV- it must be shows that you really enjoy. Any TV won't help. TV fills in that gap of relationship when you are watching characters that you really care about- like Cheers, or Friends, or whatever you personally enjoy.

A separate paper looks at the increasing use of automation and computers in research, to the extent that they are beginning to replace scientific researchers themselves. The authors caution that humans will always need to be in the loop, but we are increasingly seeing that we need computers to accomplish what humans once did, due to the complexity of certain studies.

There is an obvious synergy in these two studies. We are looking at that which is artificial to replace people- in one case, relationships, and in another, one's livelihood.

The authors of the first studies are quite clear that TV is not as good as real relationships. In this regard, it is much like the manner in which some lonely people look toward their pets for comfort, and others speak of how they have much better relationships with animals than humans. It is easy to have a relationship with an animal, as you can read so many of your own emotions into the animal. Humans are more complex, and more messy. Easier still is to watch passively the characters you care about, where you can imagine your own response to them, and how they would act. The end result is the entire relationship takes place exclusively, or largely, in one's own mind.

Is this an entirely bad thing? We are created in the image of God. What does that mean? The word "image" was the same word as "idol" in ancient Hebrew, referring to the seat of the god. No one believed that the god was the same as the stone image they made- they believed it was the seat of that deity. We were created to be the seat of YHWH, the one true God. But the Hebrew of Genesis makes it clear- it is not we as individuals who are created in the image of God. No, rather, "He created humanity in his image, male and female he created them." It is the male and female together that are in the image of God. It is the relationship of love that holds the seat of God. And, one might argue, the relationship of those most different, for the different is more difficult to love, and therefore shows a greater love- and therefore, to an ultimate degree, it is the relationship between men and women, whether erotic or platonic, that shows this image of God most greatly.

So we are in God's image. And God is creator. Is it an entirely bad thing if we create life- even intelligent, sentient life? Is this not fulfilling God's destiny for us, that we also create, just as he did? It does not make us God, for he is still the ultimate, but it would make us attempting to follow in his steps. And since all life has evolved, including us, we have in that sense already participated in the creation of life, along with every other species on this planet (particularly the 99% of species now extinct). It is indeed God's gift to us, through evolution, to allow his children to participate in the process of creation through evolution. And in this, the passive process of evolution, we come closer to God himself. How much more so in the active process?

These are only possible suggestions. Hesitationally offered, much as Origen did when he suggested the pre-creation of the soul, though those works were still declared heretical centuries after his death.

But even if this is so, certainly this is not what we see on TV. For just as it is the most difficult relationships where love still exists that most show the image of the eternal God, so it is the heart of relationships that one has no control over them. A relationship of command and fiat is no relationship at all. Relationships by nature are messy, and praise God. Relationships are those things where I have no control, and I must give up my pride and concept that I can do as I want. And it is only in that humility, not considering equality with God a thing that must be demanded, that I find real love.

But the relationship of the TV is par excellant the relationship of control. It is in the imagination, it is self-fulfilling and self-filling. It is no relationship at all. When one is down and depressed, it may seem to be a filled hole, but that hole is only sinking sand.

Likewise, the creative process may soon be replaced by computers. Computers are learning to be creative, though humans are still necessary for research- and probably always will be. Computers are needed for analyzing data, and will increasingly be needed for this. But we lose something of ourselves when we give up those most human of traits- curiosity and creativity- to machines. For those of us like myself who find the appreciation of nature a moment of worship, there is here, also, a loss of relationship, with God, and yes, with the data itself, when one gives up these opportunities for joy to a computer. Were these computers with all of the abilities of humans, with all of the independence of thought and emotion, it would be different. But we aren't there yet- and aren't likely to be for centuries. As such, our increasing use of computers in research decisions would lead to a loss of what it means to be human- what it means to be in relationship.

The great band Swirling Eddies/Daniel Amos had a song once, "It's the Eighties (So Where's Our Rocket Packs?" One line stated "I thought by now I'd have a robot run the vaccum, and date a girl made out of wires..." What matters is not what the individual is made of, but what is inside. Do they have the soul, the independence, to make love a challenge- and therefore to make love real? But we aren't there yet. Any techonology we use becomes a replacement, and a removal from our status as the image of God.

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