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Barbour, Ian. “Neuroscience, Artificial Intelligence, and Human Nature: Theological and Philosophical Reflections."

Ian Barbour, in “Neuroscience, Artificial Intelligence, and Human Nature: Theological and Philosophical Reflections,” develops a three-stranded argument, in which he sets out to show that it is consistent with neuroscience, computer science, and a theological view of human nature to understand a person as a multilevel psychosomatic unity who is both a biological organism and a responsible self. He considers the themes of embodiment, emotions, the social self, and consciousness.

Barbour surveys biblical and theological accounts of the person that emphasize the integration of body and mind, reason and emotion, individual and social groups. He then cites work by neuroscientists that highlights these same features, including Arbib’s action-oriented schema theory, LeDoux’s work on emotions, and Brothers’ work on the neural bases of social interaction. The ways in which computers fall short of human capacities provides additional insight into human nature: to approach the level of human functioning, computers require analogues to embodiment, learning and socialization, and emotion. The question of the possibility of consciousness in a computer is particularly problematic. Barbour shows that the concepts of information, dynamic systems, hierarchical levels, and emergence are valuable for integrating insights from neuroscience and AI research with that of theology in a theory of human nature.

Barbour argues that process philosophy provides a supportive metaphysical framework for understanding the concept of human nature that he has developed in this essay. Alfred North Whitehead’s philosophy emphasizes processes or events rather than substances. These events are all of one kind (thus, monism) but are all dipolar - they have both an objective and a subjective phase. Thus, in attenuated form, experience can be attributed not only to humans and animals, but also to lower forms of life, and even to atoms. In its own way, process philosophy emphasizes the same themes that Barbour traced through theology, neuroscience, and AI research. So Barbour concludes that a dipolar monism based on process philosophy is supportive of a biblical view of the human as a multilevel unity, an embodied social self, and a responsible agent with capacities for reason and emotion.

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