Our Computer Brain
A look at what Stephen Hawking said in his latest interview
This week I read an interview in with the esteemed Professor Stephen Hawking. I really like him, he has many good ideas and I think what also endears me to him is the fact that he's lived with the prospect of an early death since he was 21 as he has Motor Neurone Disease, a condition that has progressed over the years and has left him almost completely paralyzed. The interviewer asked him about a health scare he had when he was taken into hospital back in 2009, this was funny because the scientist has lived with a health scare every day for 49 years. Stephen went on to say that he's actually not afraid to die, and that he regards the brain as a computer and as there's no afterlife for broken down computers, heaven is a fairy story for people who are afraid of the dark. I spent some time during the day thinking about what was said in this interview, and I was still thinking about it when I put my dog out of the door to do what she does before we all go to our bedrooms for the night. My thoughts turned to how distressed my dog would be if I went straight to bed without letting her outside for five minutes, or how distraught she'd be if I didn't give her some food at some point during the day. And then I thought, I'm a bit like a god to my dog, I provide her with many things she can't get herself. She can't turn the key in the back door and doesn't even seem to know where to start, but when she cries my ears prick up and compassion in me is stirred and I open up the door. She must look up to me with admiration in her doggy kind of way. And yet even though I am higher up the life-scale than my dog we still share the same biological nature. I have a lot in common with my dog. We both know what hunger is, we both feel the need to look after our offspring and we both know what fear is, in fact there are many emotions and experiences that we share because we both have biological life in a physical body. But surely I am more than just a body, I have creative thought, human spirit, I have the ability to reason, I have more to me than my physical attributes and what's more I know how to open the back door.
Over 350 years ago the French philosopher René Descartes locked himself in an oven room, so he wouldn't be disturbed, to think about doubt. He reasoned that we can doubt everything, we can even doubt our own existence after all when we're asleep we're fooled into thinking something is happening when it's only a dream, maybe even in real life we're not really here. But the one thing we cannot doubt is the fact that we are doubting, for to doubt that means we are still doubting. Hence there is something there at the very centre of our being from which thoughts emanate in our brains, an essence or substance or what the bible calls spirit. His famous line which is often quoted is “Cogito Ergo Sum” - I think therefore I am. Professor Hawking may say that the brain is a computer and he may be right, but computers need an operator, it is the human spirit that operates our brain and makes us self-aware. Even the phrase self-aware implies more than one part, the bible explains we are body, soul and spirit and therefore able to look back in on ourselves. Otherwise I would have the brain of an animal, which may have been programmed at the beginning but has no operator and relies on its instinctive programming.
This spirit nature I have, I don't share with my dog, but I do share it with God. All human beings are made in his image, in some way we share his nature. On the one hand I have a biological nature and on the other I have a spirit nature. Of course it's easy to see my biological nature because I observe it with my eyes, but my spirit cannot be seen with the optic nerve. Yet spirit is a massive part of life, and God's Spirit is all pervading, but we cannot see God's Spirit. There are many things that cannot be seen with the optic nerve, most things in fact. The small spectrum of visible light that the human eye detects is very very small. If we were to line up the electromagnetic spectrum like the keys of a piano with visible light being six keys near the middle of the piano, the keyboard would stretch to the moon. This illustration is useful because it shows me how limited my own eyes are to detect what is in the physical universe, in a similar way I cannot hope to detect spirit through physical means, yet it holds such a massive position in human life. I don't see God, I can't expect to, but I do have a similar nature to God just as I have a similar nature to animals, because a part of me is animal yet another part of me is spirit. God provides for me and I provide for my dog.
Another thing that was bugging me about what Stephen Hawking said is that he is putting all his faith in the hope that he has covered all his bases with the brain he has. He's putting his faith in his own brain. There aren't too many people who will put such confidence in themselves, because we're human and often miss things, it's call human error, and each one of us has it. Derren Brown and other illusionists make a good living out of the fact that human beings miss things. Faith in God is a cry from the human heart, a calling for help, an urgent request for assistance, like a ship which is sinking sends out the message ‘save our souls'. That's why there needs to be humility when call out to the Lord. For those who are willing to make that cry we find that what Jesus said was true, if we ask it will be given to us, if we seek we will find and if we knock the door is opened. We suddenly find that our own human spirit is ignited by his Spirit.