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As a sixth-generation Mormon I have enjoyed the poetic language we have developed in our LDS culture, but still find myself translating everything I hear into my own technical language so that I am able to internalize it. Some folks like to compartmentalize their belief, keeping the spiritual separate from the secular. I don’t know how they can do that—isn’t Heavenly Father Lord of all things? For me it is either all or nothing, where no concept is immune to that null hypothesis. Many religious terms have been inherited from ages past, where sometimes highly complex and technical subjects had to be described in the language of the time. Also, much of the language we use today has a great deal of baggage attached dating from early-fourth-century Nicaea and similar tumultuous historical events—no wonder some folks have come to think that religion is associated with mysticism and superstition. I’m so thankful that Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and latter-day leaders have set a foundation that restores plainness, order, and lawfulness to where it was in the beginning. The Gospel is simple, but people try to overlay their own versions of complexity and vagueness on it. Therefore, the following is a tentative list of terms, and their working definitions, that I have found useful to help me understand some LDS concepts. I make no apology that these descriptions show my own engineering bias.

Faith: In the LDS mind, ‘faith’ is not a belief system, but a process for gaining knowledge. The word faith is used as it was in the primitive Christian church. Faith is never the ultimate goal—for any particular concept, one would use faith to attain knowledge, but once the knowledge is attained faith becomes dormant or is unneeded for that concept. Faith is a motivator to do work, and connects back to any variety of causal methods for getting it done. In the LDS mind, ‘faith to move a mountain’ may simply mean the person has hope that he can get in the bulldozer, turn the key, and move all that dirt one shovel full at a time until it is all moved. Beforehand it was hoped for, but once it is completed faith is unneeded. In this respect all of us need faith to simply walk across the room—beforehand we only have a high expectation that it can be done, and are motivated to do so—but once it is done we then have a perfect knowledge that we got across the room and faith is not needed anymore. Beyond what we ourselves can do, the LDS believe the powers of heaven can be called upon through faith, but if you translate that back to a technical understanding, any ‘divine intervention’ is where God (described below), through lawful, natural means, interacts with the environment and provides a causal solution. It’s literally as simple as that. All knowledge and truth is attained through faith. Alma eloquently described the faith process around 74 BC:

  1. Base assumptions / paradigm (Alma 32:39)
  2. Observation (Alma 32:28)
  3. Hypothesis (Alma 32:28)
  4. Null hypothesis (Alma 32:32)
  5. Experiment (Alma 32:27 & 36)
  6. Analysis (Alma 32:33)
  7. Knowledge created (Alma 32:34)

Truth: The scriptures define truth as “knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come” (D&C 93:24). We become aware of things by an excitation of our senses, by way of electromagnetic energy or, in other words, light. Although it may appear that the objects around us are static constructions of unchanging metal, stone, and other materials, in actuality there is a lot of activity constantly occurring at tiny scales. Author Ray Kurzweil explains that a one kilogram rock contains approximately 10^25 atoms that are “in continuous motion, sharing electrons back and forth, changing particle spins, and generating rapidly moving electromagnetic fields” (Kurzweil 2005). The activity occurring in the particles that make up the rock is identical to the computation that occurs in a computer, even if it is not meaningfully organized. Research has shown that “1,024 bits can be stored in the magnetic interactions of the protons of a single molecule containing nineteen hydrogen atoms” (Bennewitz, et al 2002, also referred to by Kurzweil). Therefore, the state of the rock at any one moment represents at least 10^27 bits of memory. Considering the electromagnetic interactions, there are at least 10^15 changes in state per bit per second going on inside the rock, which represents about 10^45 calculations per second. According to Kurzweil, that is “about ten trillion times more powerful than all the human brains on Earth.” By all accounts, in spite of the tremendous supercomputing capacity contained in this one kilogram rock, all of it is random and not of much use to us—or is it? What could all that processing power be calculating that is so important? The rock is calculating truth about itself. It is literally the Lord’s electronics. All objects around us are calculating truth, and broadcasting their current state to the rest of the universe. Objects in the universe are participating in the generation of reality.

Spirit: According to LDS belief, light = electromagnetic energy = intelligence = truth = spirit. “For the word of the Lord is truth, and whatsoever is truth is light, and whatsoever is light is Spirit, even the Spirit of Jesus Christ” (D&C 84:45). This is no metaphor—the light that is discussed in the scriptures is the same light that is defined by physics. “And the light which shineth, which giveth you light, is through him who enlighteneth your eyes, which is the same light that quickeneth your understandings; Which light proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space—The light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed, even the power of God who sitteth upon his throne, who is in the bosom of eternity, who is in the midst of all things” (D&C 88:11-13). We also read that intelligence is equivalent to light and truth. “The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth” (D&C 93:36).

If intelligence, light, truth, and spirit are equivalent, then the effects of it are visible to us every minute of the day using our naked eyes. It also means that every interaction we have with the environment is spiritual; the very act of touching other objects requires the transfer of light in various forms. I can command a pot of water to boil by turning up the heat (since heat is another form of light), and the particles of water will understand the command by way of light and become agitated to the point of boiling. In the same way I can command two boards to be attached together by nailing one to the other—friction energy (another form of light) between the metal nail and the wood creates a bond that tends to stay together. Everything we create or do comes back down to this basic fundamental spiritual language.

Inspiration: a mechanism for discovering truth and novelty, experienced by all in one form or another. Inspiration likely never comes in big chunks but takes a lot of work; one must painstakingly study all concepts out, and research them as far as we can go. When all research is exhausted and we balance precariously on a tipping point, inspiration gives us that last leap where novelty is the ante up in the connection of already established concepts in an ‘aha’ moment. Sometimes inspiration produces complete novelty, and other times it just nudges us into ideas of where to look next. Anyone can receive inspiration if they have done all the work. If you haven’t done the work, don’t fool yourself into thinking you’ll get inspiration—you’ll just have to have faith in others who have done the work. I believe all inspiration comes from somewhere, and no novelty can spontaneously create itself; the tipping point can’t be crossed without some sort of shove. I also believe that the novelty comes from a communication pipeline that was engineered into the structure of our neurons right from the start, whether through electromagnetic or quantum processes I don’t know. The source of that communication may be from God (as discussed below), and if we had the right instruments and knew where to look we could detect it. I believe that from the very beginning all cells were engineered with some sort of back door for communication and control—perhaps it is through quantum effects in microtubules of ribosomes and mitochondria, in neurons and all cells where control is right where the factory needs it. I believe it is only a matter of time before science finds this back door, perhaps by learning how to use it in the field of genetic engineering.

god (in lower case): a title given to a class of humans who have reached perfection and proven themselves worthy of all power and access to all knowledge, and who have the right to use that power and knowledge in creative and engineering works. The title of god is awarded through much effort and work—one would begin with simple steps and master concepts along the way, each time choosing actions that are constructive. Destructive choices set one back, and the very causal nature of the universe could result in consequences that lead to self-destruction. A god is a person who has been able to overcome destructive decisions without falling into a self-destructive cycle, and is experienced in enough real-world situations to achieve the capacity to make constructive decisions no matter the circumstance; the very righteous attributes that bring forth correct decisions every time without fail are completely burned into that individual through much trial and experience. The concept of humans becoming gods (I hesitate to use the terms deification or apotheosis because those terms have their own baggage) was known in Old Testament times, and was taught by Jesus and his disciples in the New Testament. Unfortunately a committee in fourth-century Nicaea rejected those brilliant concepts and many folks today don’t even know it is an underlying basic tenet of Christianity.

All humans are progressing toward godhood, but not everyone will go that far. One simply needs to project our human culture into the future to understand that some day we will understand all laws and be capable of using all technology for whatever engineering purpose—in effect being omnipotent and omniscient. However, this unfortunately will not be universal for all; if one is not willing to get one’s act together in the small things, one cannot be trusted with the more powerful technologies. Some will sell themselves short because they don’t understand their full potential. Others will try to hedge themselves from work, seeking recreation, and will find themselves bored to death in eternity (learn instead to be creative, and always have projects to keep yourself busy with—as you obtain greater tools and technology to work with there will be no end to things that will keep you occupied). The good news is that we are each in control of our own destiny, but the bad news is that many will not choose to put forth the considerable effort required to reach that potential. The laws that need to be understood not only include those that govern particles, chemistry, or biology, but also those that govern society and human behavior. Will we be able to overcome all without destroying ourselves? If the answer is yes, we will eventually and inevitably be gods.

God / Heavenly Father: The LDS believe there is a culture of perfected humans that outdate the age of this earth who have come before us—a civilization of advanced engineers who have achieved godhood (see above), and who are interested in populating other worlds to spread themselves throughout the universe. Life on earth is a result of that terraforming activity, and all the geologic and fossil record is the evidence of it (perhaps evolution is one mechanism of that terraforming process). We as humans are literally offspring of that race. There is one representative of that race who prepared the earth from pre-existing materials and went through all the time-consuming steps to make it habitable for His children. This is the person we call God (in capitals) or Heavenly Father, and He is intimately interested in our personal welfare because He is literally our father. I don’t know how he has the capacity to personally engage (see ‘inspiration’ above) with all the billions of people who are His children, but you can bet technology has something to do with it.

Power of God: The power of God is technology. In my mind there is literally no other way to put it. Technology is the capacity through causal means to influence, control, or convince particles to coordinate with each other and achieve some purposeful outcome that otherwise would not have been possible without that coordination. All aspects of the LDS religion are based on technology, since every interaction we have with the environment is spiritual (see ‘spirit’ above). For example, to heal someone one would need to first apply available medical remedies that will help the body heal itself, and in parallel, one might pray, have faith (see above), or call upon the powers of heaven to provide additional curing power—through whatever back door of control exists, God is then able to, through purely causal means influencing the exchange of light and electromagnetic energy between particles, push the cells to order themselves as He sees fit and hurry up the healing process (or not). There is no magic or supernatural process about it. Other technical processes include immortality (reordering various aspects of the cells and organs to counteract aging, a process we will understand and be capable of soon enough), and resurrection (re-creation of the body using the mechanical means available in the cells through DNA coding, another process we will learn how to do soon enough as a natural eventual step of our genealogy work), etc.

In the LDS church we understand this era we live in to be the ‘Dispensation of the Fullness of Times’ where all blessings ever provided for us will be ‘dispensed’ during this one era. In other words, all knowledge will be given to us through inspiration (see above), and a great many inventions that are for the blessing of the entire human race will come about. I believe all inventions and technology that come to us in the Dispensation of the Fullness of Times are not merely incidental to the LDS religion but are core to the building up of the Lord’s kingdom (though some may not realize it); computer advances are indispensible to genealogy work, medical advances will eventually facilitate resurrection and immortality, space technologies will allow us to populate other worlds as described as the Lord’s core purpose of providing a place for His children to reside (see Moses 1:38-39), etc.

Body: an extremely advanced machine optimized as an instrument whereby the spirit can both experience and manipulate the causal structure of the universe.

Sin: a destructive action that sets back progress. It is easiest to think of sin as an action that creates entropy in the universe. The greater the entropy, the greater the damage and consequences will be. Some sins are reversible, and don’t have a destructive causal chain rippling through society if we catch it early enough and reverse the damage. Other sins have great consequences. On the other hand, working toward creativity it is possible to reduce the entropy of the environment. Perhaps it may even be possible to be so creative, and provide so much service, order our environment so much, that entropy becomes negative or highly controlled.

Veil: a temporary barrier (whether real or conceptual) beyond which we cannot yet observe. Through experience, we know that when a less-advanced race N comes into contact with a more advanced one A, either A will destroy N, or N will not yet have the discipline to handle A’s technology and will prove to be a menace to itself and to A, destabilizing economies and/or using the technologies for destructive purposes. A, having learned all those lessons by themselves in a painfully slow experiential process, cannot simply hand everything over to N wisely. Therefore a truly advanced race of engineers would not reveal themselves to us until we are ready and have gone through our own mistakes. However, they can still influence us to keep us out of unseen pitfalls, technical or societal, simply by making us go through the painstaking research process and giving us the shove over the tipping point (see ‘inspiration’ above). Early on, if behavioral codes and morals are the first things we work on before we even have access to the advanced technologies, then through the laboratory of ages our society can evolve a set of norms so that destructive fringes can be dealt with by society before we are even exposed to powerful, potentially destructive technologies. If we cannot see our advanced patron race, it’s because we are not ready.

Testimony: It is no small thing to be a witness or to bear testimony. We should give testimony every bit of importance, as would a court of law, assigning accountability to the person for what is being claimed. One of the things that excite me about our church is that it is an evidence-based church. In our evidence-based system, there are three important characteristics that set us apart from other religions. Those are, 1) artifacts that can be examined, 2) witnesses who claim personal knowledge of facts or events, and 3) the opportunity for anyone who is interested to become a witness themselves. Another aspect of an evidence-based system is that no single proof or method for verifying the evidence is relied upon, but multiple methods are available for every piece of evidence.

Artifacts: Not all facts or evidences are necessarily available to us at all times. There are several reasons for this, such as that some evidences have not been preserved, some artifacts need to be protected, we are not ready to view or accept some evidences, and we need to build up our faith before we can see some evidences. This being said, the Lord has required that the most important evidences and artifacts should remain for all to hold, examine, and witness for themselves. These artifacts include tools, possessions, journals, and accounts from history. But the most important artifact for us is the Book of Mormon, which can literally be owned by anyone who desires to have one. The Book of Mormon was translated from ancient records, and, even though those ancient gold plates are not available to us to examine freely, the circumstances of its translation and witnesses, and the actual content of the Book of Mormon provide multiple evidences for its truthfulness.

Witnesses: The Lord does not rely on single isolated individuals to convince others, but requires multiple witnesses. “In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established” (2 Corinthians 13:1, Matthew 18:16, D&C 6:28). There are three types of witnesses: first-person, where someone actually witnessed the event or examined the evidence; second-person, where someone hears and trusts a first-person account and tells others about it; third-person, where you don’t particularly know the quality of the source, or necessarily trust it. The first-person witness is the most reliable, where third-person is the least reliable. It is healthy to be skeptical of all witnesses, while striving to be a first-person witness yourself. There are very few instances when only one person was present at important events, visions, and heavenly visitations in Church history, and in each case those were personal events that the witness provided for our benefit. For example the First Vision was an experience expressly given to Joseph Smith in answer to his own research and supplication. He was the only one present when it happened, but later he wrote of it in his personal testimony as one of the evidences that convinced him of the importance of revelation and supplication. Events that were meant for the Church as a whole were always attended or witnessed by two or more other persons.

Becoming a Witness: The vast majority of knowledge we have of the world consists, surprisingly, of third-person sources. For example, how many of us know the Earth orbits around the sun, and not the other way around? If we haven’t had access to the instruments that would tell us otherwise, we probably just trust that it is so because we heard it from somewhere; from a first-person witness point of view, it appears to us that the sun moves around the Earth. For matters of high importance, it is critical that we have faith in the words of others but seek to become a witness ourselves. The beauty of our evidence-based Church is that everything is set up to encourage a person to research things out themselves and find out for themselves it they are true. The experiments and procedures are all explained step-by-step, and if anyone performs the experiment with all the steps intact, they will always get the same result.

Here is my witness: As one who is trained at both engineering and reverse-engineering sophisticated systems, I find that most weak theories fall apart or are not well thought out in the material handling stage—‘somehow’ we get from configuration A to configuration B without delineating the processes and paths by which all those configurations have to be manipulated to become one another. For me, it takes much more faith and effort to think that somewhere, somehow, some series of mindless processes happened to result in the incredible diversity of life, than if someone actually engineered it and nudged the system along the way. Coming up with a few types of modular, self-replicating building blocks that can be programmed to become a whole suite of machines to fill out a biosphere seems like a logical engineering task, and in fact we are already doing some aspects of it—I personally am developing similar, albeit crude, modular systems that can reconfigure into a variety of tools, where physical robotic modules (body) are controlled by virtual CAD representations of themselves (spirit). Knowing that what I engineer today may eventually influence the foundation for nano self-replicating building blocks helps guide the decisions that I make regarding the system.

For me the proof is not in the past but the future. It takes very little effort to consider the literal ‘material handling’ causal chain that will get us from the current state of technology in genetic engineering, robotics, and nanotechnology that will eventually allow us to reprogram DNA into whatever species we like (trees that grow into houses, legged draft animals with enclosed cabins and seats, or whatever). It is easy to imagine there will come a day when we cannot differentiate between what we assume has naturally grown, and what we ourselves have invented. Also, in NASA we are exploring the idea of permanent outposts, colonies on Mars, and even theories of how to terraform another world using engineered organisms. These are serious studies, with lots of hardware to prove feasibility. I’m always curious about when the turning point will be when folks stop creating an artificial boundary between biological organism and machine. I can’t help but think that a few hundred years from now the kids will incredulously ask, “Wait, you mean some machines spontaneously emerged out of the mud?” No manner of explanation that the emergence process took billions of years and baby steps will convince those future children that in this case Occam doesn’t really mean the most obvious, simple process was at work, because the evidence will overwhelmingly point to life technology having come out of the laboratory as the most simple explanation.

The question of where it all began is less interesting, and seeing how our perspective is yet confined to the vicinity of earth in a vast universe, just asking it might be a bit silly, even though cosmology may have a few possible answers. How can we fool ourselves into thinking that our narrow perspective could allow us to glimpse the whole universe?

My religion, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon), says that I can grow, progress, and eventually become a god with immortality, eternal life, and unlimited opportunities to exercise my creativity, if only I can work on decreasing destructive behavior and increase constructive, creative, righteous attributes. I can easily see the ‘material handling’ causal chain all the way to the end of this, even if it requires a few thousand years to accomplish. When we overcome aging and figure out how to rebuild bodies of those who have passed on, each of us will have all the time we need to work these things out. The world becomes a bright, wonderful place. All the problems around us seem to go away and what is left are hungry opportunities to roll up our sleeves and get to work. It is so obvious to me—can any other philosophical system, science, or religion give me that? Anything less than that great promise is darkness to me.

And finally, I have experienced the ‘shove over the tipping point’ (see ‘inspiration’ above) too many times not to recognize it for what it is—a pure information pipeline guaranteed to produce novelty. If I’ve done my homework, I can recall it at will and open up the pipeline when needed. The most creative of my colleagues experience it, even if they can’t really explain what it is. I know there are skeptics, but strange how the skeptics have lots of time to talk and make wind but never seem to produce any real novelty. The inspiration is real. There is a Heavenly Father out there who is deeply interested in our wellbeing. And even if things get worse before they get better, there is a bright future in store for us. I guarantee it.

References:

R Kurzweil (2005). The Singularity is Near. New York, New York, USA: Viking.

R Bennewitz; JN Crain; A Kirakosian; J-L Lin; JL McChesney; DY Petrovykh; FJ Himpsel (2002). Atomic Scale Memory at a Silicon Surface. Nanotechnology 13, pp499-502.

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A. Scott Howe has a PhD in Architecture from the University of Michigan, and a second PhD in Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering from Hong Kong University, focusing on self-assembling structures and modular robotic construction systems.

Dr. Howe served as a faculty member at the University of Oregon for three years, and at Hong Kong University for six years. He has extensive experience creating curriculum, chairing peer-reviewed conferences, and organizing special workshops, in both domestic and overseas programs. He has served as a licensed practicing architect emphasizing modular compact buildings, habitats, and deployable structures, and has twenty-one years’ experience engineering robotic construction systems with significant skills in configuration, structures, and hands-on hardware assembly. Dr. Howe has ten years’ experience living and working in Japan on building design, kit-of-parts modular building systems, and automated construction research with Kajima Corporation, Shimizu, and Hazama. He is widely published in journals, conferences, and has contributed to book projects as editor and chapter contributor. Selected projects and publications can be viewed on his webpage: http://www.plugin-creations.com/us/ash/

Dr. Howe is currently located at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) as a Senior Systems Engineer in the Mission Systems Concepts Section, Exploration Systems Concepts group. He currently serves in the NASA Exploration Mission Systems Office (EMSO) on the Habitation Team; as Design Integration Lead for the NASA Habitat Demonstration Unit (HDU) project; and as a member of the All-Terrain Hex-Limbed Extra-Terrestrial Explorer (ATHLETE) robotic mobility system development team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Dr. Howe has extensive experience on site supporting field analog and prototype studies including NASA Desert Research and Technology Studies (D-RATS).

Posted January 2011