The results of 20th-century science that have most captured people's imagination are in physics: relativity, quantum mechanics, chaos. Just as profound, however, has been the emergence of the "intentional sciences": disciplines that deal with symbols, reference, and interpretation, such as logic, cognitive science, psychology, neuroscience, parts of biology -- and all of computing.
These new sciences are changing our conceptions of reality, and of science's relation to it. Truth and meaning have been brought within the compass of science; our views of realism and metaphysics are being overhauled; we are starting to probe realms of emotion, norms, and values. There seems no limit to where these investigations are headed.
Classically, it is in the religious traditions where questions of ultimate significance have been asked: What makes life worth living? What is it to be human? What ultimately matters? Many academics are sceptical (even allergic) to religious practice. Yet whether it knows it or not, science seems to be plowing straight into the same territory.
What will come of these developments? As scientists and intellectuals, can we forge an understanding strong enough to give meaning to people's lives, instill humility and inspire justice -- even nourish a sense of grace and redemption?
Brian Cantwell Smith
Professor of Cognitive Science and Computer Science
Adjunct Professor of Philosophy
Presented at the "God and Computers -- Minds, Machines, and Metaphysics" series at MIT, Wednesday, November 18, 1998.
Pages last produced Friday, February 19, 1999.