Holographic Souls

The year is 2058. A massive earthquake is toppling all of California into the ocean. Atop a Los Angeles skyscraper, a scientist is about to achieve immortality: Moments before his body plunges to the ground, the scientist downloads his mind into a computer located thousands of miles away. In effect, the scientist has downloaded his soul. That’s the climactic conclusion to Arthur C. Clarke’s popular new novel, Richter 10. Clarke has written more than 50 books, but Richter 10 is the fullest expression yet of the philosophy that governs most science fiction: that sheer intelligence—the ability to process information—is the essence of what makes us human. This one-dimensional view of human nature is widespread in our culture today. Clarke’s best-known work is 2001: A Space Odyssey, featuring an incredibly complex computer named HAL. HAL is so intelligent that the computer attains human consciousness, complete with an endearing personality. Isaac Asimov, another popular science-fiction writer, has written a novella called I Robot, depicting robots that exhibit human traits like emotions, conscience, and the capacity for ethical judgment. In the story, a court of law ultimately declares a technologically advanced robot to be fully human. To make intelligence the measure of humanness is to change the concept of immortality itself. In Richter 10, the human soul is defined as the collected memories of an intelligent mind. If people have the foresight to store the contents of their minds on computer chips, Clarke writes, their “souls” are “held... within [the] electrical charges” of the computer. After their bodies die, they can live on in the form of holographic projections. The problem with this worldview is that it reduces everything that is uniquely human to mere data: our memories, our feelings—even our morals and beliefs. It shrinks human nature to the level of computers. But Christianity teaches a completely different model. Genesis 1 says God created humans as whole beings—not only our intellect but also our will, our emotions, our moral sense, our spiritual nature, and the unique capacities of our physical bodies. This rich and complex understanding of human nature is often lost in science-fiction literature and films. If you’re not interested in the science-fiction genre, it’s easy to lose sight of the cultural importance of sci-fi books and films. We need to remember that many of our most enduring cultural symbols emerged from the minds of science-fiction writers, including films like Independence Day, Jurassic Park, 2001, and Star Wars. As I write, thousands of people—including, perhaps, your own child or grandchild—are curled up reading the latest sci-fi thriller, or watching the hottest new science-fiction movie, and absorbing its philosophical message.


Chuck Colson


  • Facebook Icon in Gold
  • Twitter Icon in Gold
  • LinkedIn Icon in Gold

Sign up for the Daily Commentary