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Naturalizing the Spiritual: Lessons from Cognitive Science Ron Chrisley COGS/Informatics University of Sussex Yale Divinity School November 13th, 2007.

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Presentation on theme: "Naturalizing the Spiritual: Lessons from Cognitive Science Ron Chrisley COGS/Informatics University of Sussex Yale Divinity School November 13th, 2007."— Presentation transcript:

1 Naturalizing the Spiritual: Lessons from Cognitive Science Ron Chrisley COGS/Informatics University of Sussex Yale Divinity School November 13th, 2007

2 Tease: Artificial intelligence & spirituality Creating minds: artificial intelligence (AI) as Blasphemy? Designing for autonomy: Can theodicy help AI? Vice versa? External naturalization of spirituality: Will robots believe in God? Will discuss these at end, if time permits First: Topic as given in title

3 Terms: Cognitive science One can define cognitive science to be any scientifically-based attempt to naturalize the mind: show how it is possible for the mental to be part of the natural world Can we use same techniques to investigate whether the spiritual is also?

4 Naturalizing the mind Mental states and processes seem to be very different from physical ones: e.g., thoughts can be true or false, atoms can't How can it be that a physical thing can also be a thing with a mental life? Or, conversely, why is it that my physical body behaves in a way which matches up with my intentions? (cf "The Miraculous Coincidence Thought Experiment", Cussins 1987)

5 Terms: Naturalization Making it intelligible how multiple views of the world: –Can be of the same world –Can each give understanding of that same world Need not give any one view special authority –Though some approaches (asymmetric ones) do cf "The Limitations of Pluralism" (Cussins 1992)

6 External vs. internal naturalization 1.External naturalization of spirituality: E.g., why do people have spiritual beliefs? How could this have evolved? spiritual anthropology (van Pelt) cognitive science of religion (Bloom) 2.Internal naturalization of spirituality: How can spiritual views be reconciled with, e.g., scientifically physical views? This evening, only discussing number 2

7 When (internal) naturalization fails Either: Elimination (of the exotic) Relativism (e.g., post-modernism, quietism)

8 Terms: The spiritual  Which notion of the spiritual?  Any suggestions?  Fortunately, a definition is not needed for my purposes  Proposed naturalization strategies should work for most or all notions of the spiritual  Am not assuming that the spiritual is necessarily supernatural  Begs the question  Makes naturalizing the spiritual impossible by definition

9 Methods of naturalization 1.Interactive dualism 2.Reduction 3.Supervenience 4.Interpretation 5.Intelligible construction 6.Conceptual change

10 What are the things to be naturalized? Two or more ways of understanding the world –Here we will only consider two at a time (P and Q in the case of symmetric naturalization) Call these "discourses", although need not be linguistically expressed (or even be expressible) Some means of naturalization are asymmetric: –One discourse is deemed privileged or familiar (F) –The other is unfamiliar or exotic (E) –E is naturalized to F, not the other way around

11 Interactive dualism Symmetric: P and Q are "discourse peers" The states, processes, etc. of P and Q are incommensurable –e.g., non-extended vs. extended substances (Descartes) But there are non-explanatory (usually causal) relations between P and Q –e.g., perception and action Many famous problems, e.g.: –If P or Q (e.g. physics) is causally closed, no room for the other to have any effect on it –Epiphenomenalism is no solution: Denying causal links in one direction (e.g., mental to physical) prevents knowledge (e.g. of the mental) –Same problems apply if P or Q is spiritual discourse

12 Reduction Asymmetric: Reduction of E to F Requires being able to define each of the concepts in E in terms of the concepts of F –E.g. The temperature of a substance is the mean kinetic energy of its molecules Many problems, e.g.: –Such reductions can be hard to find –If E (e.g. mind) is multiply realizable, reduction appears impossible –If reduction of E to F is achieved, eliminativism threatens: no causal work left for E to do –Same problems apply if E is spiritual discourse

13 Supervenience Asymmetric: Supervenience of E on F Weaker than reduction: Only requires that F fixes E; a change in E implies a change in F So avoids the problems of reduction (e.g., Kim 1990) But too weak: can't explain, e.g., the causal efficacy of the mental Same applies if E is spiritual discourse

14 Interpretation Asymmetric: interpretation of F in terms of E E.g. for E = the mental, the "Intentional Stance" (Dennett 1984): A system S has mental states B and D if the non-mentally construed behaviour of S can be explained by: –Ascribing to S the beliefs B and desires D S should have, given S's interactions with the world –Assuming that S will behave in a way that would achieve D if B were true Not all systems will be explicable this way; those that are are the ones with mental states

15 Interpretation: Problems Merely re-states what we want to explain –We know that our bodies can be interpreted as intentional systems, but why? Doesn't explain the source of mentality of the interpreter –Presupposes an ur-interpreter that grounds everything? Relative, and therefore non-deterministic –Whether I am interpretable depends on who is doing the interpreting; there is no fact of the matter –But surely the contents of my mind (and that I have one at all!) are independent of who is interpreting me

16 Interpretation: Problems These problems might also apply when E = spiritual discourse –But not clear how to modify Dennett's proposal to yield the "Spiritual Stance" –(Would be ironic if one could do so, given Dennett's views on, e.g., theism!)

17 Intelligible construction Perhaps similar to interpretation, but with some key differences In particular, symmetric: intelligible construction between E and F Naturalization is achieved when one has a practical capacity to act in terms of P in a manner appropriate for achieving one's goals in Q, and vice versa (cf Cussins 1990) –E.g., an architect with respect to blueprints vs. construction materials

18 Intelligible construction In the case of the mental, this practical capacity is the result of : –Possessing set of practical capacities to negotiate a number of discourses –These discourses together constitute an intelligible construction from P to Q, and vice versa –No longer a mystery why something with these physical properties is also something with these mental properties, and vice versa –The intermediate discourses are, in the main, computational

19 Naturalizing the mind Mental description Physical description ? Computational description Mental description intelligibility (skill mediated)

20 Analogy: Chess computers Interpretable as having beliefs, desires, goals, etc. But also understandable as a physical system But no mystery; Why not? Answer: Analysis in terms of representations, and computations over them Computational properties are not reducible to physical ones: multiple realizability So: Naturalistic explanation without reduction

21 Naturalizing the mind via intelligible construction AI/Cognitive Science: What goes for the chess computer goes for us We can naturalize our mental states without reducing them Do so by finding a level of description/explanation in between the mental and physical: computational

22 Naturalizing the spiritual via intelligible construction? Does this suggest a way for naturalizing the spiritual? Suppose (as seems likely) that spiritual events, properties, entities, etc. cannot be reduced to physics Does this mean naturalists have to abandon or eliminate the spiritual? No; not if some other means of naturalization (e.g., intelligible construction) can be achieved

23 Naturalizing the spiritual E.g., need not eliminate the spiritual if one can find an intermediate level of description that allows one to non- reductively naturalize the spiritual But what is this level? –A new kind of discourse/conceptual scheme? –Or perhaps computation again?!

24 Naturalizing the spiritual Spiritual description Physical description ? intelligibility (skill mediated)

25 Conceptual change All preceding naturalization methods assumed that the discourses to be related are fixed in advance But there can be change in the concepts one employs without changing the topic –I.e., same reference, different sense This may be a way to remove some conceptual obstacles to naturalization (Chrisley 2007) –E.g., the apparent possibility of zombies: creatures that behave just like us but with no phenomenal consciousness –A change in our concept of mind/consciousness might reveal this apparent possibility to be an illusion So also for naturalizing the spiritual?

26 Changes to our conception of the spiritual? E.g., must God be finite to be naturalized? –No: there are infinite idealizations in many discourses: e.g., the Turing machine (computation) But perhaps other changes are required, and can be made, while still being concepts of the spiritual A case where lack of precision ("slippage") in the concept of spirituality may be an advantage

27 Could there be a science of spirituality? Not asking about an external science (e.g., evolutionary account of why people have spiritual views) But internal: a science that tests hypotheses about the relation between spiritual events, provides explanatory, even predictive theories of them, etc. Perhaps required for naturalization? Just as a science of mind requires familiarity with experience, a science of the spiritual would require a familiarity with the spiritual

28 Coda: AI and God

29 The artificial/natural distinction What do we mean by "artificial"? Made by humans? –No, because then making babies would be a case of doing artificial intelligence Made by humans, by design? –Better, but rules out possibility of other species making artefacts Rather: Made by an agent, by design

30 Adam: The first AI? Consider: Judeo-Christian creation story Adam was made by an agent, by design –In particular, he was "made, not begotten" So Adam was artificial: The first AI! But then everything is artificial?! Yes, but some artefacts are also natural; natural = made by God

31 Is AI an oxymoron? Intelligence implies autonomy Autonomy implies responsibility So for something to be intelligent, it must be responsible for its actions Artificiality implies having been designed X having been designed implies the responsibility for X's behaviour lies with the designer So for something to be an artefact, it must not be responsible for its actions

32 Responsibility in the case of design DesignerArtefact Behaviour is responsible for designs generates

33 Responsibility in the case of no design Agent 1Agent 2 Actions is responsible for brings into being

34 Design and theodicy How can God be good, and yet be responsible for evil? Traditional answer: God is not responsible for evil, we are That implies that we were not designed by God (see preceding diagrams) But traditional theology sees us as products of God's design ("made, not begotten") If AI is a contradiction is terms, so also is the notion of God as creator?

35 AI and theodicy To make systems more intelligent, AI researchers elaborate their design But the more they do this, the more they limit the autonomy of the systems they build How can AI researchers create an artefact, through design, without thereby usurping its responsibility, autonomy and intelligence? In other words: –Can AI show how to resolve the problem of evil? –Or: can proposed solutions to the problem of evil suggest a way to do AI?

36 A middle way: evolution/learning/adaptivity Evolver Evolved Actions is responsible for nurtures/structures/guides

37 A twist in the debate If this is right, then not only is Darwinism compatible with the view of God as creator… …but is in fact required for it! –Any other means of divine creating would make our actions too closely related to God's intentions –This would render them his actions, not ours –That would be not only a blow to our freedom, but a blow against the omnibenevolence of God

38 Is attempting AI blasphemy? Isn’t doing AI "playing God", and therefore blasphemy? Perhaps, but consider: On the Judeo-Christian view, God created us in his/her image It follows immediately that part of that image is being a designer of intelligent life So by striving to do such, we are only trying to fulfil the divine potential God instilled in us Compare: Are we "playing God" when we strive to be like God in other ways? On this view, we are only "playing God" when doing AI in the same sense that we are "playing God" when we try to do good, and to love

39 Thank you! This lecture will be available soon, in video ("PodSlides"), audio and PowerPoint format, at: Comments welcome:


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