Friday, February 19, 2010

Hard wiring, software, and imagination-

The idea of human hard wiring has come up in a number of blogs I read, and the comments following those blogs. Hard wiring is a term relating to the physical elements of an electronic device (such as a computer) which are connected by wires. Often these wires are soldered together, forming a single physical device. In humans it would be the behaviors built into our physical systems, and by extension the thoughts and ways of thinking that are defined and limited by our physical structures.

I recall a discussion I had many years ago via computer (prior to the Internet modes we are currently using) with a very hard determinist. This individual believed that no thought or action arose from our own decisions, but that our very thoughts were predetermined by the interactions of physical matter right from the Big Bang. I contended that because we experienced apparent freedom in thought and action that some degree of freedom (and in the context responsibility) actually existed.

His argument was that all behavior is determined by a cosmic hard wiring. I am more inclined to believe that a lot of inclinations are hard wired, along with a set of basic instincts which are simply part of our automated systems. We don't learn to breathe or blink our eyes. We don't think about functions like that, we just do them. Beyond that we might find some inclinations (such as a love of books or physical games) so compelling as to indicate a degree of hard wiring.

Perhaps the system has some hard wired sub-components which are receptive to stimulation and very open to  experiences such as soccer or cooking. It might just be that such apparently easy apprehension simply creates the illusion of hard wiring, and so we have adopted a technical term to represent what we think is happening. In the future the human brain and related components may well be mapped out and we shall understand these things better.

I have read a lot of Stephen King. In the course of his works he presents more than once the idea that we evolved consciousness as a by-product of more useful mutations. An interesting idea. In Cell he presents humans reduced to essentially their hard wired selves, and then does things to them only Stephen King can do. King is not a brain scientist, a social scientist, or even a professional philosopher. He is a writer who observes and thinks about people and writes stories. Still, he notes that our conscious selves are not necessarily necessary for our ongoing existence as animals.

That thinking self-awareness is the realm of our software. Software is the part of the computer which is composed of coded instructions. It can be installed, modified, and even removed. Like the hard wire analogy it has a lot of weaknesses if examined too closely. The idea is more of a general illustration than a sound description.

We are able to learn much better than most of the other beings we can observe on our earth. Our brains are programmable and re-programmable. We can not only solve survival related problems with our brains, but recognize a world beyond simple survival. We systematize and record our experiences so that we can share them and learn beyond our immediate experiences.

Beyond the hard wired hardware of our beings and the programmings of our software we have something most astounding. Imagination. Just another consequence of our evolution, useful in living our self-conscious lives but still a by-product of random events? Or, maybe the single most important element in a created being for relating to his transcendent creator? Hmmm.

We are dangerous creatures, we humans. Hard wired well enough to survive just about anywhere. Programmable enough to learn and expand our realms of knowledge. Imaginative enough to overcome the limits of our senses and reach beyond just what is, here and now. Perhaps imaginative enough from time to time to touch the face of God.

Imagination is the essence of being human. It is the core of religious experience no matter what context. It is the heart of exploration and learning. Yes, it can fuel our baser instincts, causing fear and repression and evil in many forms. It can also allow us to see beyond such dark moments, and find the pathways to greater light. It lets us go beyond simple knowing. Imagination allows us to believe.

To believe is to choose. Choose wisely. Choose well.

1 comment:

mac said...

You express your thoughts well :-)

I agree with a lot of what you have here. I differ slightly, but not too significantly.

One area is imagination.
Yes, I think it may be one of our most useful tools. But, I think rather than our imagination coming from God, God comes from our imaginations.