How Are Humans More Than Mere Matter?

This is another in a series of questions about the existence of God.

Question: How are human beings more than just matter? At what point is the mind more than artificial intelligence can imitate, given the rapid progress of technology?

Response: While artificial intelligence (AI) will inevitably get more and more lifelike, it will never replace the human mind. Even though AI may get so good to where we may not distinguish between the machine and a human, there will always be great differences.

I can program a computer to talk to me when I arrive home from work. I could make it say “Welcome home dear. I have missed you. I love you.” But the computer would not have truly missed me, for it was only saying what it was programmed to say. It does not truly love me as a family member would. The voice on my phone right now can tell jokes, but it does not get the humor. It is only doing what someone programmed it to say.

Here’s another way to try to explain the problem. John Searle devised an illustration that has come to be known as The Chinese Room. Here is Searle’s summary of the illustration:

Imagine a native English speaker who knows no Chinese locked in a room full of boxes of Chinese symbols (a data base) together with a book of instructions for manipulating the symbols (the program). Imagine that people outside the room send in other Chinese symbols which, unknown to the person in the room, are questions in Chinese (the input). And imagine that by following the instructions in the program the man in the room is able to pass out Chinese symbols which are correct answers to the questions (the output). The program enables the person in the room to pass the Turing Test for understanding Chinese but he does not understand a word of Chinese.

In the Chinese Room, Searle seems to demonstrate to us that thinking and experiencing is more than mere mental processing. A computer can translate language, several online translators show that. But the computer doesn’t really understand, does not have consciousness, does not think of itself as an “I.” The person in the Chinese Room can match symbols and correctly follow the rules, but has no idea of whether the symbols are Chinese or Martian, or know whether he is answering questions about cooking or car repair. The person is correctly answering the questions, but doesn’t really understand the meaning. Our universal experience of thinking tells us that there is something more to answering questions than merely following programming rules. A computer can follow programming rules, but it’s not thinking in a human sense of the term. A supercomputer does not truly have self-consciousness, does not think of itself as an “I.”

These examples show that no matter how good the AI gets, it will never be the same as a human mind. In such things as mathematics, love, and justice, we recognize that there is something more than mere mental processing, something more than merely working out a pre-programmed problem. When my phone tells a joke, we realize that humor is more than the pure sound waves of the words. When we listen to music, we do not hear a series of frequencies in sequence. Rather, we hear a tune that is connected and flows. We know there is something more there than sound frequencies.

Further, we know that some things exist beyond mere AI. If God does not exist, than all that does exist is ultimately physics and chemistry. The universe, with us included, are merely complex machines, molecules in motion following natural laws such as electromagnetism and motion. Yet things like mathematics, love, and justice are real things that actually do exist. If God is not real, then pure atheistic materialism is true, and all that exists is matter, then justice and love are not real, for neither are material.

It gets worse for the atheist materialist, for if all that exists is matter, we would not have even developed the concepts of non-material things. The ideas would have never arisen. Indeed, as The Chinese Room shows, even meaning would not exist.  Yet they have, therefore a purely materialistic worldview becomes untenable.  This is why some Christian thinkers maintain that if God does not exist, then all meaning is lost and the world becomes absurd. Yet we know that meaning exists and justice is desired by people. Therefore something exists beyond pure materialism. This we call God.


About humblesmith

Christian Apologist & Philosopher
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3 Responses to How Are Humans More Than Mere Matter?

  1. Ben says:

    As I read your article I began to compare the differences being expressed between a human mind and the AI but in the sense of a theological view of Pre-Determinism. I then thought in agreement that no matter how lifelike, if pre-programmed it would not be true emotion, love and justice would not be real, even if the programming was from God. I wondered in you would agree? It seems some would express the idea that the human mind itself was programmed. Just food for thought… 🙂

    • humblesmith says:

      This is one of the reasons for the debate on whether God completely causes human action toward God or whether we have some degree of ability to choose or accept God’s offer of love and mercy. The strict Calvinists maintain that man only runs away from God and any ability for Godly things is totally nonexistent in humans, therefore any love of God is completely generated by God. Those that hold some degree of free will hold as you have, that pre-programmed desire is basically a computer saying “I love you, God.” I hold that we do have the ability to accept or reject God’s love, as you have maintained. The determination part is another story, since God could exist non-sequentially, then be able to determine a future free act. Spacey stuff.

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