We find ourselves back in the same situation as that which the Christians encountered during the decline of the ancient world. Everything depends on whether the Christians … are able to communicate their hope to a world in which man finds himself alone and helpless before the monstrous forces which have been created by man to serve his own ends but which have now escaped from his control and threaten to destroy him.Christopher Dawson
Thirteen years ago Gil Bailie posted this quote on our old weblog. Today, in reflecting on the ‘forces created by man…which have now escaped from his control’ , all sorts of images came to mind from pollution to weapons of mass destruction to manipulation of human genetic material.
Last week one of the most successful tech billionaires, Elon Musk co-founder of Tesla and SpaceX, unveiled a device developed by his company Neuralink that can be implanted in a subject’s brain allowing for computer to brain wireless data communications and touting the potential for beneficial therapeutic applications of this technology. (Short summary video.)
On the same day Elon Musk was displaying his new device the New York Times published an article entitled The Brain Implants That Could Change Humanity which provides an overview of the research and technological progress being made in this field. One of the themes addressed in the article is the ethical ramifications of the brain/computer interface, mostly focusing on ‘neurorights’ and privacy concerns with an occasional allusion to the possible nefarious uses of this technology previewed in dystopian movies or TV programs.
“People have been trying to manipulate each other since the beginning of time,” …. “But there’s a line that you cross once the manipulation goes directly to the brain, because you will not be able to tell you are being manipulated.”
Today the materialistic basis of modern science is taken for granted. The ability to alter our material substrate without restraint comes with a self-generated (as well as a political and/or economic) imperative to pursue the prospective ‘good’ that is envisioned as the result. History has demonstrated the generally beneficial outcomes from a world transformed by human technology. And the unintended negative effects are considered part of the price to be paid for our comforts and conveniences. But as we enter a time when the material to be altered and ‘improved’ is the human person we tremble at the thought of crossing that threshold. To question the wisdom, not to mention the truth, of the materialist world view is often considered anathema and anti-human both on the left and the right.
But Christians have never been materialists. Creation is received as a gift for which our response is gratitude. We are given the work of nurturing and tending our world making a home fit for human habitation. It has been one of the treasures of the Catholic faith to see in the material world the sacramental infusion of God’s creative power in everything that exists. All of the suffering and injustice heaped up each day by natural disasters and human sinfulness only gives us more work to do. We are not promised victory and success in the material sense. Our hope lies in the One who infuses our world, our lives, and our work with the “power of crucified love”.
Perhaps one day we can download Christian hope directly to our brains…in the mean time I suggest opening our hearts and receiving the sacramental grace to join in the banquet of the Beloved. God help us.