Soul Machines?

E. L. Doctorow was born on this day in 1931. Doctorow’s upcoming novel, Andrew’s Brain (due for publication on January 14) features a disaster-prone cognitive scientist whose world unravels from without and within. In pre-publication interviews, Doctorow has discussed one of the issues driving Andrew to the brink:

The neuroscientists who accept the materiality of mind — that is, who regard the soul as a fiction — don’t know yet how the brain becomes the mind — how the three pound neuro-electric system in our skulls produces our subjective life, our feelings, our thoughts. There are people building computers to emulate the brain and who believe in theory that a computer can be achieved that has consciousness. I’m not talking Hollywood movies here. If that ever happens, as Andrew assures us, it’s the end of the mythic world we’ve lived in since the Bronze Age. The end of the Bible and all the stories we’ve told ourselves until now. How can that not interest me, or you, or anybody? The impact of that would be equivalent to the planetary disasters of global warming, overpopulation or another giant asteroid blowing us to smithereens.

Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.

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