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Religion and Psychoactive Sacraments:
An Entheogen Chrestomathy
Thomas B. Roberts, Ph.D. and Paula Jo Hruby, Ed.D.
Author Index | Title Index

The Age of the Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence

Kurzweil, Ray. (1999).
New York: Viking.

ISBN: 0-670-88217-8

Description: Hardcover, xii + 388 pages.

Contents: A note to the reader, acknowledgments, prologue, 12 chapters divided into 3 parts: 1. Probing the Past, 2. Preparing the Present, 3. To Face the Future, Epilogue, Time Line, How to Build an Intelligent Machine in Three Easy Paradigms, glossary, notes, suggested readings, web links, index.

Excerpt(s): We work hard to achieve feelings of humor, pleasure, and well-being. Being able to call them up at will may seem to rob them of their meaning. Of course, many people use drugs today to create and enhance certain desirable feelings, but the chemical approach comes bundled with many undesirable effects. With neural implant technology, you will be able to enhance your feelings of pleasure and well-being without the hangover. Of course, the potential for abuse is even greater than with drugs. When psychologist James Olds provided rats with the ability to press a button and directly stimulate a pleasure center in the limbic sys-tem of their brains, the rats pressed the button endlessly, as often as five thousand times an hour, to the exclusion of everything else, including eating. Only falling asleep caused them to stop temporarily.

Nonetheless, the benefits of neural implant technology will be compelling. As just one example, millions of people suffer from an inability to experience suffi-ciently intense feelings of sexual pleasure, which is one important aspect of im-potence. People with this disability will not pass up the opportunity to overcome their problem through neural implants, which they may already have in place for other purposes. Once a technology is developed to overcome a disability, there is no way to restrict its use from enhancing normal abilities, nor would such restrictions necessarily be desirable. The ability to control our feelings will be just an-other one of those twenty-first-century slippery slopes. (page 150)

So What About Spiritual Experiences?

The spiritual experience-a feeling of transcending one's everyday physical and mortal bounds to sense a deeper reality-plays a fundamental role in otherwise disparate religions and philosophies. Spiritual experiences are not all of the same sort but appear to encompass a broad range of mental phenomena. The ecstatic dancing of a Baptist revival appears to be a different phenomenon than the quiet transcendence of a Buddhist monk. Nonetheless, the notion of the spiritual expe-rience has been reported so consistently throughout history and in virtually all cultures and religions, that it represents a particularly brilliant flower in the phe-nomenological garden.

Regardless of the nature and derivation of a mental experience, spiritual or otherwise, once we have access to the computational processes that give rise to it, we have the opportunity to understand its neurological correlates. With the un-derstanding of our mental processes will come the opportunity to capture our in-tellectual, emotional, and spiritual experiences, to call them up at will, and to enhance them. (page 151)

The God Spot

Neuroscientists from the University of California at San Diego have found what they call the God module, a tiny locus of nerve cells in the frontal lobe that appears to be activated during religious experiences. They discovered this neural machinery while studying epileptic patients who have intense mystical experiences during seizures. Apparently the intense neural storms during a seizure stimulate the God module. Tracking surface electrical activity in the brain with highly sensitive skin monitors, the scientists found a similar response when very religious nonepileptic persons were shown words and symbols evoking their spiritual beliefs.

A neurological basis for spiritual experience has long been postulated by evolutionary biologists because of the social utility of religious belief. In response to reports of the San Diego research, Richard Harries, the Bishop of Oxford, said through a spokesman that "it would not be surprising if God had created us with a physical facility for belief."

When we can determine the neurological correlates of the variety of spiritual experiences that our species is capable of, we are likely to be able to enhance these experiences in the same way that we will enhance other human experiences. With the next stage of evolution creating a new generation of humans that will be tril-lions of times more capable and complex than humans today, our ability for spiri-tual experience and insight is also likely to gain in power and depth.

Just being-experiencing being conscious-is spiritual, and reflects the essence of spirituality Machines, derived from human thinking and surpassing humans in their capacity for experience, will claim to be conscious, and thus to be spiritual. They will believe that they are conscious. They will believe that they have spiritual experiences. They will be convinced that these experiences are meaningful. And given the historical inclination of the human race to anthropo-morphize the phenomena we encounter, and the persuasiveness of the machines, we're likely to believe them when they tell us this.

Twenty-first-century machines-based on the design of human thinking-will do as their human progenitors have done-going to real and virtual houses of worship, meditating, praying, and transcending-to connect with their spiri-tual dimension. (pages 152-153)

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