My wife and I were asked the other day what religion we were(and explicitely, were we 'Roman Catholic?') We said we weren't Roman Catholic. But that wasn't enough, it was necessary to disclose what we 'were.' This is a kind of shortcut for others to let them know what kind of people we were. You know, decent types, or the other kinds. My wife said 'We aren't members of a religion' and hoped that would be enough, but it was not. Because then it moved on to "So you are non-believers?"
And of course, we knew what they meant; did we believe in this person's accepted concept of God? There is a simple answer for that-- no-- , but for a devote agnostic tongue in cheek theist like me(who has become more devote in his agnostic tongue in cheek theism the older he gets) the truth of that question is that there is not a simple answer. The simple answers are the mindless answers.
Because I do believe in something; I believe in the Universe, as it is. It is a belief beyond faith, because the Universe is forever offering up actual proof to me of its existence. The Universe does not require my belief without evidence. The Universe requires nothing of me except one thing, which it enforces absolutely; that I obey its actual laws, not its imagined laws. I suppose that makes The Universe, as it is, one of the lessor God the Creator candidates in some Hall of God Fame in Ohio somewhere. Not only that, I am absolutely convinced that, at the very least, I and everyone I love (as well as billions of others)were all created by the Universe, as it is. So am I a 'non-believer?' Is my 'belief' in a Universe as my creator, as it is, a form of allowed theism, (as a belief in a creator), or is it a form of diss-allowed atheism (a belief in a not creator enough to have created me and everyone I love as well as billions of others?)
Too much magic? Or not magic enough?
Allowed or diss-allowed by whom? I recognize the semantic ability of mankind to imagine conundrums, such as the concept of a God that is forever outside the Universe we live in. Totally safe and unimpeachable, an authority beyond approach, and totally non-complaining when that authority is easily borrowed by now millions of fellow naked sweaty apes as their imagined own.
My wife and I watched the movie 'Her' this weekend. (We also went to see 'Neighbors' and it was awful; a complete rip off of The Stiffler, right down to the rubber dildos, only they weren't blue this time around the well worn track surrounding the by now cob-webby frat house. Could hear a pin drop in the packed movie house, it was that tiredly un-funny. People filed out afterwards with that "I can't believe I fell for the manufactured plastic industry hype surrounding this movie and paid to see it" look on our faces...)
"Her" was fascinating and asked really intelligent questions; what does it mean to be intelligent, and what does it mean to be in a relationship? No spoilers follow, just some setup. The story is set just a few years off into the future, maybe 10 or so. The vision is a kind of successful but technologically isolated cold but pristinely beautiful new world. 'His' job is a perfect metaphor for the times; he works for something called 'handwrittenletters.com' -- a kind of Hallmark card of the barely future, who specializes in writing 'handwritten' custom heartfelt letters for special occasions, complete with personal details. Clearly, folks are so otherwise busy with their lives that even these personal tasks are outsourced. "He" is especially gifted at writing these letters and enjoys his work, has a collection of steady customers for whom he is the paid designated wordsmith. But 'He' is recently split from his wife, her idea, not his, and he is somewhat broken. "He" ends up in a 'relationship' with his new Operating System (O/S 1) which is the then latest generation of adaptive A.I. He chooses a female voice when he fires up his new O/S -- there is a funny moment where the start up instructions asks him a personal question, watch for it. Then 'Her' shows up, and that is the entire rest of the story.
My wife had trouble accepting the technological premise that A.I. would ever be that good(as in, able to pass the 'Turing' Test as well as 'Her' in this movie). I made the Kurzweil argument; that if today and 'Siri' on her I-Phone is the Kitty Hawk of A.I., then 'Her' is inevitable in the not so distant future. She asked "But how?" And I asked "Well, how do we do it? Is it any less magic?"
Because yes, the Universe as it is, is overwhelmingly mostly Hydrogen; a single electron orbiting a single proton. All that we see around us that is not simple Hydrogen -- including most of us -- is made up of the heavier elements, and all of those were forged inside of stars long dead. And some of those fringe rare heavy elements formed planets, and some of the heavy elements on some of those planets became self aware and what we call 'intelligent.' And that process of evolving creation, if it self organizes into a silicon based form of what we call 'intelligence' and 'self awareness' is all, all of it, occurring inside the Universe, as it is. So why would that be any more or less amazing than what has already long happened?
I won't spoil the movie by telling the ending(but please look for the gradients in this and every story.)
What does it mean to be intelligent in a Universe made up mostly of Hydrogen? And why would we expect that evolution of intelligence to stop with us? Kurzweil has a lot to say about that, and so does Wolfram with his NKS, and ... so does this movie. Enjoyed the Hell out of it.
Yes, I'm a believer; in the Universe, as it is. And I get more-so as I get older, though indeed, less Roman Catholic; I started out at 0 on that. I was confirmed as a Lutheran Protestant at age 13, last time I willingly went to church as a member of a religion. 1968. I was a member of that church for exactly one day, an obligation to my parents. As I get older and closer to my end here, do I feel myself filled with an urge to run back to some Evangelical church and/or religion? Not in the least; perish the thought. Would I take comfort in being sold a bill of goods on my death bed? That would be a sign of my senility only, so only if I am gone enough not to recognize that. I hope when that time comes I take comfort in the certain knowledge that I was here.
I have one irrational fear about my passing, and that is, that a religious relative would invite some spooker to the event to say a few words. But that is irrational because I won't be here; it makes me uncomfortable only in imaging some future event I won't be at.