One of the lovely things I have discovered as my sons have grown up is that they have reached the stage where we can have a conversation and it always delights me when they discuss things in a way that shows their intelligence, thoughtfulness and conviction. My younger son likes to hover around when I am washing, cleaning, ironing (occasionally offering to help..) and talk through the things on his mind. These are usually related to Maths. It was during the summer holidays after his AS exams that he first started to try to explain to me some of the things he was interested in. I remember him holding forth about the Golden Ratio one day when I was trying to clean the kitchen. He even brought me in some graphs and diagrams. "Aren't they amazing?", he asked. It was the first time that I really understood that people who study subjects like Maths can become as absorbed and delighted by them as much, if not more so, than I can by the themes of a novel or a moving and beautifully written poem. Of course, I had known this before, I guess, but I had never fully appreciated it - and that is a different thing.
Anyhow, my son is currently interested in the role of maths in Artificial Intelligence. Fortunately he does not now even attempt to explain the maths to me but he does talk about some of the possible benefits, and very real problems, that Artificial Intelligence poses in that it could offer huge benefits but also enormous risks as effectively it is the ultimate Frankenstein's Monster, creating something that we do not fully understand or have control over. The example that my son gave was that we might ask a superior intelligence to come up with a solution to global warming and the answer might be:"kill all human beings", a solution which admittedly would cut carbon emissions! If then the superior intelligence could make decisions, chose to act on this and found means to do so, then we would be in real trouble (although I venture to suggest we already are, and perhaps a short swift end might be better than the more protracted agony which is facing us?)
I am not convinced that what we need to solve global warming is more intelligence. I think we know exactly what we need to do, we just don't want to do it. What we lack is not intelligence but other qualities such as the will to act, the ability to put long term interests before our short term desires, the ability to co-operate and work in harmony with each other, the willingness to relinquish our greed and our self interest. What we need is not intelligence, but a different kind of intelligence. What we need is wisdom.
Underlying the Christmas message, and the whole message of the Gospel, is the most profound wisdom. It tells us that God, who is all powerful, chose a path not of greed and loveless power but of renunciation, humility, poverty. He walked with us in solidarity, as the hymn says put aside his majesty, and embraced sacrifice. One of the reasons I am a Christian is that I truly believe this message offers us the wisdom we need to bring about peace on Earth and goodwill (among) men.
This Christmas I will pray for wisdom for our leaders in their attempts to find solutions to the many problems facing us at the moment. Although my hopes are not high, I will particularly pray that we will be able to act to do something about the problem of Global Warming. More than anything this Christmas, I want us to have a world to pass on to our children.