Roger Knights pointed me to a piece by David Gelernter that's been receiving quite a bit of attention online. It's "The Closing of the Scientific Mind," and it covers the rise of a philosophy Gelernter characterizes as "roboticism," a sort of transhumanism that aims to dispense with all distinctively human qualities and transform humans into cyborgs. It's supported by currently trendy ideas in the philosophy of mind that dismiss subjective experience as an illusion. Gelernter is having none of this, and he makes a good case for the transcendent importance of our subjectivity and our essential humanness.
The piece is too long and complex to excerpt, so I'll just wait here while you go read the whole thing.
(Waits, humming "Greensleeves.")
Okay, are you back? Now, I think ... Hold on. You didn't really read it, did you? You just kept right on reading this post.
That won't work. Go off and actually read the darn thing this time.
(Waits, tapping foot impatiently.)
There. Now that you've really read it, I have just a couple of comments of a critical nature.
First, though Gelernter is admirably unafraid to reject the crude physicalism of people who say there is no such thing as consciousness and that subjectivity is an illusion (an illusion experienced by whom, pray tell?), he still seems somewhat committed to materialism in a weak form. That is, he asserts without argument, as a self-evident truth, that minds are dependent on brains: "no mind can exist apart from the brain that 'embodies' it." He thus seems to tacitly assume that consciousness ultimately arises from matter as an emergent property of physical systems; and to this extent he is embracing the same position he caricatures as the theory of the Origins of Gravy (that somehow, when you cook a roast, the gravy "just comes").
I would suggest that minds depend on brains in order to operate in the physical sphere, but that the extinction of the brain does not mean the extinction of the mind. That Gelernter himself believes in personal extinction is evident from his argument that religion will have to become more this-worldly and less centered on an afterlife. It seems likely that he takes this position because he finds the idea of an afterlife untenable. What makes it untenable for him, I suspect, is his assumption that there can be no minds without brains.
The other point I'd make is that Gelernter's diagnosis of the problem is perhaps more astute than his remedy, which involves a revival of traditional religion along more socially conscious lines. I am doubtful that traditional Christianity and Judaism (or other traditional religions) can really be retrofitted to address modern doubts and questions. A robust answer to roboticism probably requires a new approcah, one that makes use of empirical evidence to buttress its philosophical assertions. Predictably, I think this kind of evidence can be found in the study of psi, mediumship, past-life recall, near-death experiences, and related phenomena. The encyclopedic Irreducible Mind offers a compendium of evidence of this sort, much of it published in mainstream (not parapsychology) peer-reviewed journals.
For me, this path, first marked out by the early psychical researchers like Myers, Lodge, Hodsgon, and William James, offers greater promise than reliance on millennia-old sacred texts, no matter how creatively reinterpreted.
I'd also suggest that the computational view of the mind, summarized by Gelernter, can perhaps be combated most effectively by looking at the space-time universe itself as the product of information processing - an approach that makes information, rather than matter or energy, into the ground of (physical) being, and arguably opens the door to a powerful role for consciousness in "rendering" these data into the images that we call sensory reality.
In that connection, let me point out that computer scientist Brian Whitworth has edited and simplified the introductory chapter on virtual-reality theory at his website. Some of the later, more technical chapters have left me behind, and I doubt he would be interested in my freewheeling speculations on consciousness, but as best I can tell from my layman's perspective, his bold and creative approach is yielding some provocative results.