Some scientists have compared the human mind or even the universe to a computer or robot. And robots are present in many science fiction novels and movies. In some fictional stories, robots eventually become smarter than human beings and ultimately take over the world.
Yes, a computer or robot has a brain (CPU or Central Processing Unit) and a memory like a human being. And its decisions, movements and actions are governed by software programs. Furthermore, some robots can learn to alter their future behavior by incorporating the results of past experiences. But this is where the similarity ends.
What is the fundamental difference between a robot and a human being? In many ways, when we are spiritually asleep, we do behave like automatons or robots. We react unconsciously to the world and behave automatically according to past behavior. Thus, robots like humans make unconscious decisions on what to do according to their encoded instructions. Computer programs and algorithms consist of instructions based on what could possibly occur. Thus, within a robot’s software, there are thousands of instructions on what to do under most circumstances, not all. For example, there is an instruction that says “If you hear “What is your name?”: play this recording: “My name is C3PO.” or “If you detect an obstacle”: Stop, etc… Thus, a robot is making decisions and behaving automatically according to instructions written by a programmer. The software program could be called the robot’s DNA code.
Now, when we are spiritually asleep, we are also behaving automatically according to the instructions of our DNA. Our DNA corresponds to our inherited tendencies. The difference between us and a robot is that we have the potential to become self-aware. Through self-awareness, we start to be liberated from our robotic ego.
According to Swedenborg, a person (or human being) is defined as someone with will, understanding and function because these three essentials are a reflected image of God, who is Divine Love, Wisdom and Power. When we are spiritually asleep, we tend to function unconsciously without meaning and purpose. Similarly, a robot is not a person because it lacks self-awareness, will (or the freedom of Love and emotions) and real conscious understanding; it is pure unconscious logic or intelligence and function. Self-awareness, Freewill, Rationality, Conscience and the Power to act are the important qualities that make us human because we were created as a reflected image of God (Divine Love, Wisdom and Power).
The state of spiritual sleep (or hypnosis) is a state of forgetfulness. In such a state, we assume that our intelligence is self-derived and forget that in reality we are connected to God or the source of real intelligence. In the case of a robot, he would need to wake up and realize that his intelligence was written by a software programmer. But we know this could never happen. In our case, when we wake up spiritually and become self-aware, we realize that we are interconnected to others and the Infinite (God) by Divine Love and Wisdom. When we are spiritually awake, our life becomes useful, meaningful and purposeful because we now understand the purpose of our existence and consciously act according to conscience and rationality.
God could also have created robots instantly but He desired to create beings that would eventually love Him freely and truly. Thus, he gave us the potential of self-awareness, a rational mind to understand the universe, the freewill to choose to love or reject Him, and the power to realize His Word through loving, wise and useful actions. The spiritual evolution of such free beings takes a very long time and involves many spiritual temptations and wars. This is all described in the Bible. A robot may appear intelligent by making unconscious decisions from its software. But a robot is still a pile of molded metal and silicon without a human heart and an eternal soul.
The state of a person when caught up in the proprium, that is, when he imagines that he lives from himself, is compared to a deep sleep. Indeed the ancients actually called it ‘a deep sleep’ while the Word speaks of people having ‘the spirit of deep sleep poured out on them, and of their sleeping a perpetual sleep. The fact that man’s proprium is in itself dead, that is, that nobody possesses any life from himself, has been demonstrated in the world of spirits so completely that evil spirits who love nothing except the proprium, and insist stubbornly that they do live from themselves, have been convinced by means of living experience, and have admitted that they do not live from themselves. With regard to the human proprium I have for several years now been given a unique opportunity to know about it – in particular that not a trace of my thinking began in myself. I have also been allowed to perceive clearly that every idea constituting my thought flowed in [from somewhere], and sometimes how it flowed in, and where from. Consequently anyone who imagines that he lives from himself is in error. And in believing that he does live from himself he takes to himself everything evil and false, which he would never do if what he believed and what is actually the case were in agreement. Emanuel Swedenborg [AC 150]
Happy is he that is awake, signifies the happy state of those who look to the Lord. This is evident from the signification of “happy,” as being to be in a happy state; also from the signification of “being awake,” as being to acquire for oneself spiritual life; and this is acquired by man’s looking to the Lord, because the Lord is Life itself, and from Him alone is life eternal. When a man is in life from the Lord he is in wakefulness; but when he is in life from himself he is asleep; or what is the same, when a man is in spiritual life he is in wakefulness, but when he is in natural life separated from the spiritual he is asleep; and what a man then sees is like what he sees in a dream. To live this life is meant also by “sleeping and slumbering” in the Word (as in Matt. 13:25; 25:5, 6; Mark 4:26, 27; 13:36; Isa. 5:27; Jer. 51:39, 57; Ps. 13:4; 76:7; and elsewhere). This makes clear what is signified by “being awake.” Emanuel Swedenborg [AE 1006]
Photo credit: C-3PO and R2-D2 at the Lars homestead on Tatooine. Copyright Lucasfilms ltd