Religious Robots Revisited

Posted 21 Oct 2009 at 19:40 UTC by steve Share This

A topic that's arisen here several times in the past is whether or not future robots, assuming they achieve a level consciousness and intelligence comparable to humans, would be capable of religious beliefs. A new study, The Neural Correlate of Religious and Nonreligious Belief (PDF format) used fMRI to compare the brains of fifteen Christians with fifteen nonbelievers, shedding some empirical light on brain differences in how they each evaluated the truth or falsity of religious and non-religious propositions.

For both groups, and in both categories of stimuli, belief (judgments of “true” vs judgments of “false”) was associated with greater signal in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, an area important for self-representation, emotional associations, reward, and goal-driven behavior. This region showed greater signal whether subjects believed statements about God, the Virgin Birth, etc. or statements about ordinary facts. A comparison of both stimulus categories suggests that religious thinking is more associated with brain regions that govern emotion, self-representation, and cognitive conflict, while thinking about ordinary facts is more reliant upon memory retrieval networks.

Applying their findings to intelligent robots, it seems that while consciousness and intelligence might be enough to practice religious rituals, that emotion is key to evaluating the underlying religious propositions. Emotion is already an important topic of research in robotics, so these new findings should keep the debate going over the eventual possibility of religious robots.

Am I crazy?, posted 21 Oct 2009 at 22:30 UTC by Nelson » (Journeyer)

I must confess that I do not see how this study on brain localization and religious beliefs has any connection with robots.

Our fundamental understanding of the neurophysiology of emotions and consciousness are too limited to provide anything more than a very superficial and vague definition.

On top of this, we aren't anywhere near a design for an intelligent robot beyond the general capabilities of logic gates, so asking if a robot is capable of religon is about as helpful as asking if sub-atomic particles can compose Beethoven's 9th Symphony.

Re: Am I crazy?, posted 22 Oct 2009 at 00:20 UTC by steve » (Master)

You're probably no crazier than the rest of us robot builders. :)

Some people spend their time building things, other spend their time pondering the future of bots. Like consciousness, religion is one of those recurring topics. SF writers, arm chair philosophers, and others like to ponder these sorts of things.

As for myself, I'm more interested in the question of whether a robot could compose something like Beethoven's 9th Symphony. We're working on solving that one now...

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