Social Networks, Nanobots, and the Dignity of the Human Person

We just recently took part in a two-day symposium here at the seminary looking at the place of technology and social media in our lives, what it means for our ministries, and the impact that it may have on our future. While I hope to write a longer post in the coming days regarding the symposium, I will say that we covered many topics with our presenters, Sr. Mary Timothy Fokes, FSE, and Fr. William Holtzinger of the Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon, ranging from social networking to nanotechnology to artificial intelligence, and even the integration of technology and the human mind itself. I just stumbled upon this article focusing on a recent interview of Ray Kurzweil by Neil deGrasse Tyson, one of the authors from which Sr. Timothy derived her research. Fascinating and thought provoking…

From the article:

When I talk about computers reaching human levels of intelligence, I’m not talking about logical intelligence…It is being funny, and expressing a loving sentiment… That is the cutting edge of human intelligence.

The question with which we will be faced: how do we maintain the dignity of the human person in this rapidly evolving world and what can we personally do to achieve this goal, no matter what the technology? I am certainly not saying there is no answer to this question, I am simply saying that we need to keep it at the forefront as we develop these technologies!

Be sure to check out the article and accompanying video of the interview with Kurzweil and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson!

Pax.

Finding Meaning in Life

I came across a quote by Neil deGrasse Tyson recently that has me thinking:

The problem, often not discovered until late in life, is that when you look for things in life like love, meaning, motivation, it implies they are sitting behind a tree or under a rock. The most successful people in life recognize that in life they create their own love, they manufacture their own meaning, they generate their own motivation. For me, I am driven by two main philosophies, know more today about the world than I knew yesterday. And lessen the suffering of others. You’d be surprised how far that gets you.

This broad panorama of the Carina Nebula, a region of massive star formation in the southern skies, was taken in infrared light using the HAWK-I camera on ESO's Very Large Telescope. Many previously hidden features, scattered across a spectacular celestial landscape of gas, dust and young stars, have emerged. Picture: ESO/T. Preibisch

This broad panorama of the Carina Nebula, a region of massive star formation in the southern skies, was taken in infrared light using the HAWK-I camera on ESO’s Very Large Telescope. Many previously hidden features, scattered across a spectacular celestial landscape of gas, dust and young stars, have emerged. Picture: ESO/T. Preibisch

I am a huge fan of Tyson. He has done a great deal to further science education and awareness. Despite some misgivings about his portrayal of the Church in his remake of Cosmos, which is probably the result of Seth MacFarlane more than Tyson himself, I have seen every episode. I also listen to his podcast, StarTalk, regularly. So when I read this quote, I thought, “That sounds nice. It makes sense. We are responsible for our own destinies.” But something wasn’t quite working for me. While the sentiment was nice, there was something missing. I agree with Tyson’s thought that we should constantly be learning, and work towards lessening the suffering of others. His statement on how we create our own love and meaning, however, gives me pause.

The answer to my misgivings is best expressed in Sunday, May 18th’s, reading from the Gospel of St. John:

Jesus said to his disciples: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be. Where I am going you know the way.” Thomas said to him, “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, then you will also know my Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

In some sense, Tyson is right; we must work to create love and meaning in our lives. That love, however, does not originate from ourselves. The love, the meaning we find in life, is in Jesus Christ. He is the only “way” that can give us true meaning and fulfillment. In His “truth” we find the reality of love, and the power of mercy and forgiveness. In His “life” we discover our vocation to holiness. Tyson is correct when he says love and meaning cannot be found behind a tree or a under a rock. In fact, they cannot even be found in studying astrophysics and piecing together the secrets of the cosmos, a pursuit which I have enjoyed following since I was a young child.

The pursuit of learning and scientific truth remains laudable, and can carry a person far in life, but it cannot carry a person to the fullness of truth; they are but roads to Truth. The love and meaning that Tyson speaks of, whether we realize it or not, comes from a journey with something greater than ourselves. This something, rather someONE, brings us to the fullness of Truth, the Word of God.

Study the world. Study the universe, but remember that the true meaning of life goes much deeper.

Pax et bonum.

PS: There’s a new post over at Consider Priesthood. Check it out!

It’s the end of the world as we know it…

Or not.

On a side note, I highly recommend checking out more of Dr. Tyson’s work. I may disagree with him in regards to religion, but as far as astrophysics goes, he is humorous and engaging, bringing difficult concepts to the people and enlivening their interest in the development of science and technology.

Anyways, on to the point at hand…

I came from a New Age and Pagan background before being baptized in 2005, and so I am well versed in a lot of these subjects. Planet Nibiru/X, the shift to a higher consciousness, psychic energies, and enlightenment in the “aquarian” sense were all very much a part of my life and study for several years. I devoured any books that I could find, and I really believed some of this stuff. Coast to Coast AM was my favorite radio show (actually, I do still listen to it except when there are more…outlandish…guests on the air).

But I eventually found that these theories did not hold up. They did not make sense. There was no “proof” to their validity. Around the same time, I came in contact with the Church, and while that is a much more in depth story, the rest is, as they say, history. In fact, it was my love of subjects such as theoretical physics and quantum theory that helped to draw me closer to the faith. In their beauty, I found the imprint of the Creator of the Universe. I found real Truth in the Faith.

But I digress, as usual. I can hear some people now: “Well Catholicism doesn’t have proof either!” No, it doesn’t. At least not the empirical evidence that our society seeks. The evidence is there, if one is willing to open his or her heart to it. Picking up a history book or two doesn’t hurt either. In the case of the Doomsday supporters, however, there is literally no evidence. Everything they have put forward has been disproven and is not well-researched. The Mayan calendar ending? That’s just a coincidence. The Mayans themselves didn’t believe that the world would end. The alignment with the galactic core? As Dr. Tyson points out, that happens every year. Planet X? There is not a shred of gravitational or other types of evidence to say that there is a rogue planet barreling down on us right now. Besides, we would have already felt the effects of it (extreme tides submerging San Francisco, anyone?).

We need to stop worrying about all of these end-times theories  Only the Lord knows when the world will end. What we must worry about is our lives as they are right now. Are we striving to love God and neighbor? Do we reach out to others, and work to deepen our relationship with Him? All of our actions, even the most mundane daily activities, should strive toward these goals, toward this Love.

But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they did not know until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of man. Then two men will be in the field; one is taken and one is left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one is taken and one is left. Watch therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the householder had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have watched and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect. (Matt. 24:36-44)

My prophecy? Just like this guy, the doomsday prophets will pull back and make new “predictions” on December 22. May the Lord grant us the grace to seek Him in all things…

Pax et bonum.