It is a real honor to be able to share an academic article of mine that was recently published in the journal Conservative Judaism:
(click to download pdf file)
In this article, I discuss the possible consequences that our 21st century technology will have on our belief in a life after death.
Using Rabbi Neil Gillman's work on eschatology (the study of the end of days), I compare the Jewish vision (or "myth" to Gillman's word) of the afterlife with the recent work of Ray Kurzweil, perhaps the most well-known thinker grappling with consequences of our technological progress.
Kurzweil's most recent book The Singularity is Near is a discussion of what might occur when "humans transcend biology."
In addition, Kurzweil is planning to open the Singularity University, along with NASA, in Silicon Valley as an "interdisciplinary university whose mission is to assemble, educate and inspire a cadre of leaders who strive to understand and facilitate the development of exponentially advancing technologies... and apply, focus and guide these tools to address humanity’s grand challenges."
The purpose of my article was to begin a discussion about the consequences that this 21st century vision will have on our religion and our faith.
Here is a passage:
Click here to download the full article as a pdf.
Optimism and Pessimism
Throughout the history of Jewish intellectual thought, there have been two intertwining eschatological impulses, one optimistic and one pessimistic. Whereas, the first impulse “speaks of a gradually emerging, ever more perfect society” that humanity is able to achieve, the second “despairs that human beings of their own accord” are capable of bringing about that world. One or the other of these impulses became predominant at different times and in different societies.
Of the two eschatological impulses, Gillman wrote that “clearly, today we are in the midst of a period where the pessimistic impulse is dominant.” An impulse that is fueled, in part by “a persistent and pervasive despair about what human beings can accomplish on their own.”
This is still the case today. However, the twenty-first century has seen a different type of myth – a technological one – begin to take hold of our human imagination. One such myth is referred to as the “Singularity,” a technological vision that concerns the rapidly accelerating speed of our technological achievements and the potential consequences of those advancements. It imagines a point in the future when the intelligence of our technology far exceeds human intellect, an achievement that, once reached, has the potential to transform our universe in ways that are not possible for the unaided human mind to comprehend.
These technological visions will challenge us to rethink how we understand ourselves and our role in the universe. They will necessitate, if they hasn’t already, a drastic rethinking of what it means to be human. And, eventually, what it means to die.
I would also like to note that it was a special privilege to be able to honor my teacher, Rabbi Neil Gillman, in this special tribute to him; along with other contributions from Debra Reed Blank, Alfredo Borodowski, Steven M. Brown, Menachem Creditor, Richard L. Eisenberg, David M. Freidenreich, Lisa J. Grushcow, Rachel Kahn-Troster, William H. Lebeau, Michael Malina, Joel Roth, Lawrence Troster, and Jonathan Wittenberg.
If you have any comments or thoughts about this article - or about my comments from the annual meeting where I addressed the vision of The New Shul as our Senior Rabbi, Niles Goldstein, prepares to leave our community - please email me at "rabbidan" at gmail, or contact me on Facebook.
Or, by all means, put a note in the comment section below.
I look forward to continuing our conversation,
Rabbi Dan Ain