C.S. Lewis and the Information Society: A Dialogue

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Your third objection scarcely needs a reply “scientific methods do not equip us to deal with inner experience in a testable and reliable way. I agree absolutely but does it therefore follow that there is no such inner experience? It would be a very odd way of doing science if we were to say, a priori, that only those things I am currently equipped to investigate are real, nothing else exists, that would surely be the end to all further advancement and discovery.

Your fourth objection is I think the most telling and interesting and the one that would give Lewis real pause for thought. What if, in a series of operations the human biological material was gradually replaced by a series of prosthetic transplants until there was none or very little of the original organic matter left, would that person be only partly human, would there be a point at which they ceased to be human? What would become of their consciousness or their sense of self?

I think Lewis might respond to this interesting scenario in three ways. First he might observe that, even without implants, we do not identify ourselves absolutely with the bodily material of which we are composed, Long John Silver is not less human for having a wooden leg and, in fact, we know that, over the course of seven years, every cell of our bodies has been destroyed and replaced.   None of us has the same body we were born with. It follows therefore that the essence of our human self-hood is not to be identified with the actual atom of our body but rather with what Plato and Aristotle would both have called the form, shape meaning or organizing principle of our being which, though it organizes matter, is not itself material

Second I think Lewis would point out that even supposing a long series of transplants replaced everything biological with something mechanical and supposing the sense of self survived these operations the machinery would still not have produced the consciousness, merely preserved what was already, mysteriously given.

Thirdly and most importantly Lewis would say that both the operators and the patient would have lost their true humanity long before they had created their mechanical being since the recognition and acceptance of our mortality is of the essence of our being human and it is precisely the desire for personal life extended forever at the expense of others that dehumanizes us, that is the meaning of his character of the white witch!

I would not wish to give the impression that CSL was against science.  He called for a new science that incorporated awe, reverence, a sympathetic working within nature rather than over-riding or dominating her. It may be that just such a science could emerge in your field and in others

Ray Adams and Malcolm Guite

Let’s now turn from antithesis to synthesis.  There is a need for both science and theology need to mature as both academic disciplines and in their applicability to everyday life.  There are a number of vital issues that we can both own.  Though we approach sense-making from two different perspectives, namely the literary critic and poet (MG) and the cognitive scientist (RA), we also share common ground through the same Faith, the same Church, the same University and friendship.

Some of these emerging points include:

  • A need for a better awareness of the bigger picture, as sometimes science gets caught up in the minutiae of the specific issues of a specific science.
  • The notions of upward and downward causality.
  • The assumption, or non-assumption, that time will continue on forever.
  • Human nature / consciousness as more than equivalent to a computer.
  • The necessity and justification of scientific ethics.
  • The distinction between simulation and the real thing.
  • Reintroducing a sense of wonder into both science and theology.