Maggie Gallagher

Ingmar Bergman is dead.

The legendary Swedish filmmaker, who wrestled all of his artistic life with the core realities of sex and death, finally succumbed to the latter on the Isle of Faro at the ripe old age of 89.

Like many great artists, Bergman was an avatar of his age -- the period when the Enlightenment Project penetrated deep into the upper middle class mainstream mind, the heyday of Freud and Marx, when Nietzsche's signature phrase "God is dead" hit the cover of Time magazine. In the movies made by this son of a Lutheran pastor, writes Mervyn Rothstein in The New York Times, "God is either silent or malevolent; men and women are creatures and prisoners of their desires."

In Stephen Holden's appraisal: "Though many of those films are steeped in church imagery, God is usually absent from the sanctuary." The high-art seriousness with which so many undergraduates approached an Ingmar Bergman film, though, appears "increasingly quaint and provincial," Holden writes. "The longstanding belief that humans are born with singular psyches and souls is being superseded by an emerging new idea: the human as technologically perfectible machine."

What happens when God dies? Evidence for just how much humans remain prisoners of our desires was on display at the World Transhumanist Association's annual Transvision conference last week in Chicago. In the place of priest, Capt. Kirk (actor William Shatner) offered motivational uplift, according to Ronald Bailey's account in Reason magazine. Leading scientists joined aging Hollywood actors in the restless search for some way to triumph over death.

Marvin Minsky, an artificial intelligence scientist who heads up MIT's Media Lab, had one answer: Get rid of the body. Once researchers discover how brains work, "we will discover ways to upload our minds into machines," he said.

Advances in artificial intelligence, he suggested, will soon allow us to upload the minds of 10 billion people and run them on a computer that costs a few hundred dollars, solving the world's population problem (if not its depopulation problem). He predicted that our artificial intelligence "descendants" will spread throughout the universe.

"If we are the only intelligence in the universe, then we are obligated to ensure that the universe remains meaningful," said Minsky. (Obligation? Why exactly? Would the unintelligent universe care if meaning disappeared?)


Maggie Gallagher

Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist, a leading voice in the new marriage movement and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.