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← Surely by now we've outgrown the soul?

Surely by now we've outgrown the soul? - Comments

fullyladenswallow's Avatar Comment 1 by fullyladenswallow

Link is here: http://blogs.independent.co.uk/2011/10/16/surely-by-now-weve-outgrown-the-soul/comment-page-2/

Mon, 17 Oct 2011 08:25:46 UTC | #881399

Stevehill's Avatar Comment 2 by Stevehill

Well yes, obviously. How many laws do you have to break for your identity and all of your memories to survive, say, a catastrophic plane crash with 100% reliability, and instantly be transported to a better (or possibly worse) place where the necessary expenditure of energy required to "continue to be me" will carry on for eternity without any means of sustenance?

I try not to be too hard on my fellow men, but anyone who seriously believes this stuff is nuts.

Mon, 17 Oct 2011 08:42:17 UTC | #881406

Inquisitor Mence's Avatar Comment 3 by Inquisitor Mence

"Human behaviour is alarmingly complex."

I'm starting to think I'm the only one that doesn't think this way, but I know that isn't true. As a survivor of chronic depression, I see human behaviour as extremely simple and basic, perhaps alarmingly so considering the power we wield :P

Mon, 17 Oct 2011 08:59:42 UTC | #881414

andersemil's Avatar Comment 4 by andersemil

Comment 3 by Inquisitor Mence :

"Human behaviour is alarmingly complex."

I'm starting to think I'm the only one that doesn't think this way, but I know that isn't true. As a survivor of chronic depression, I see human behaviour as extremely simple and basic, perhaps alarmingly so considering the power we wield :P

The fundamental rules and concepts in human behavior appear to be simple and in many ways exactly like those in our mammalian cousins. Freud realized this and warned that we should not regard everything as motivated by sexuality; but imho, he was probably just scared of what he saw. At the core, we are primitive animals; but on top of that, the complexity of our society and cultural laws require a big, creative brain to sell ideas and inspire collaboration. When it fails, we resort to aggressive and segregational behavior.

Mon, 17 Oct 2011 09:16:51 UTC | #881417

Mark Question's Avatar Comment 5 by Mark Question

"Neuroscience certainly hasn’t done itself any favours in this argument. We’ve all read over-hyped and nonsensical reports in national newspapers about scientists discovering the neural location of love or the brain areas responsible for iPhone addiction."

And there was I thinking it was newspaper reporters who write these reports not neuroscientists, silly me!!!

Mon, 17 Oct 2011 10:01:56 UTC | #881426

Cartomancer's Avatar Comment 6 by Cartomancer

Unlike the clear-cut (and, dare I say, reductionist) notion of a ‘soul’ for which no more explanation is possible, a scientific approach acknowledges the complexity apparent at every level of brain function and begins the difficult task of understanding it.

But the idea of a soul was never supposed to be a "no more explanation is possible" end to the argument. In virtually all ancient and medieval speculation on the nature of human minds and consciousness, the soul was simply the locus of all these questions. Have a look at the diagram used as an illustration for this article. It's an early modern representation of a version of the Aristotelian-Avicennan-Averroistic model of human sensation, cognition and thought as developed throughout the central and later Middle Ages. It's not a simple statement that "it's all to do with the soul, that's all you need to know". Indeed, it deals in quite a complex way with the reception of diverse sense impressions, their conversion into mental pictures by the common sense, the formulation of images in one part of the brain and their storage as memories in another, and the rational processes that go on using those images. Vast tomes were written to clarify, explain and adapt this model, and many other models of a human soul.

And not just a human soul. It is a quaintly theological notion that only humans possess souls. Aristotle and his medieval followers would not have recognised it. To Aristotelian psychology animals and even plants have a lower-order soul, responsible for growth, nutrition and sensation if not for rational thought. Plato, admittedly, reserved souls for humans alone, but that's because Plato's idea of the soul was more to do with rational contemplation.

And even the notion that the soul was nothing to do with the body was not a part of all pre-modern speculation. For Aristotle the soul was the form of the body, its shape and function. For the late antique follower of Aristotle, Alexander of Aphrodisias, it was the other way around, and the soul was created, governed and dissolved according to the humoural composition of the physical body.

Sure, the people who did their psychology and neuroscience with the term "soul" were mostly wrong about the truth of the matter, and hopelessly entangled with religious speculation (Da Vinci even drew a special tube from the brain to the testicles in his anatomy sketches of humans, so that the soul of the father could be transmitted to the offspring) but they were still trying, with the best intellectual tools available to them, to make progress in understanding these issues. And they were considered very important issues if manuscript survivals are any guide - by far the most popular and widely copied scientific work of Aristotle was his De Anima. People genuinely wanted to know about these things, and delve further into them.

It is one thing to say that medieval science is little use as a guide to modern science. It is quite another to say that medieval science was, by its nature, closed-minded, incurious and stifling of debate.

Mon, 17 Oct 2011 11:19:28 UTC | #881445

ANTIcarrot's Avatar Comment 7 by ANTIcarrot

Isn't this essentially what PETA has been saying for, you know, decades? For pretty much exactly the same reasons?

Not so much Science Marches On, but Science Catching Up. Combined a little with Humanism Finally Noticing The Great Big Elephant In The Room That It Had Been Willfully Ignoring Up Until Now.

Though humanism is better than religion, it still assumes that humans are the moral yardstick of the universe, which is as much magical thinking as anything the vatican indulges in.

Mon, 17 Oct 2011 11:53:07 UTC | #881453

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 8 by Steve Zara

I am often accused of attempting to reduce the ineffable beauty of human experience down to ‘just’ a bunch of chemical reactions.

I know the feeling. How do we get around this?

Mon, 17 Oct 2011 13:03:16 UTC | #881474

aquilacane's Avatar Comment 9 by aquilacane

Comment 3 by Inquisitor Mence

"Human behaviour is alarmingly complex."

I'm starting to think I'm the only one that doesn't think this way, but I know that isn't true. As a survivor of chronic depression, I see human behaviour as extremely simple and basic, perhaps alarmingly so considering the power we wield :P

I hear you. Every thing is simple, we just get bogged down by multiple layers of simplicity. Keeping simplicity organized is the hard part. There is no need for complexity so it probably doesn't really exist.

Mon, 17 Oct 2011 13:03:25 UTC | #881475

Agrajag's Avatar Comment 10 by Agrajag

Comment 8 by Steve Zara

I am often accused of attempting to reduce the ineffable beauty of human experience down to ‘just’ a bunch of chemical reactions.

I know the feeling. How do we get around this?

This is how I do it: "You simply don't appreciate how amazing those chemical reactions are."

I'm sure there are better answers, or will be in the near future.
Steve

Mon, 17 Oct 2011 13:48:18 UTC | #881490

Barry Pearson's Avatar Comment 11 by Barry Pearson

Comment 8 by Steve Zara :

I am often accused of attempting to reduce the ineffable beauty of human experience down to ‘just’ a bunch of chemical reactions.

I know the feeling. How do we get around this?

I suspect that many of the people saying those things are immune to explanations.

But surely part of any attempt should include all the known ways that chemical changes in the brain dramatically change our experiences. We can use chemicals to switch off experience (general anesthetic); mind-altering drugs are obvious examples; and there must be many other things we could identify.

Mon, 17 Oct 2011 14:00:05 UTC | #881492

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 12 by Steve Zara

Comment 11 by Barry Pearson

I suspect that many of the people saying those things are immune to explanations.

Indeed. They simply don't want any explanation at all. After all, if we think about what would be needed to produce a mind, a brain seems like a rather effective way of doing it given that the building blocks are cells.

Why I submitted this article is because the insistence on a rather theologically dumb version of the soul is at the core of just about all theism around in the world today.

Perhaps more antagonistic to such beliefs systems than a declaration of atheism might be to come out as soul-less :)

Mon, 17 Oct 2011 14:06:43 UTC | #881495

Andrew B.'s Avatar Comment 13 by Andrew B.

Comment 10 by Agrajag :

Comment 8 by Steve Zara

I am often accused of attempting to reduce the ineffable beauty of human experience down to ‘just’ a bunch of chemical reactions.

I know the feeling. How do we get around this?

This is how I do it: "You simply don't appreciate how amazing those chemical reactions are." I'm sure there are better answers, or will be in the near future. Steve

Yes, you have to question their use of the word "just." This is what Shelley Kagan did in a debate/discussion with WLC (it's on youtube), when he questioned WLC use of the word "just" to describe human brains. I'm paraphrasing here, but:

Well, you're talking about brains that make it capable for us to fall in love, and write novels and do calculus. I don't know how you can use the word "just" to describe that.

Mon, 17 Oct 2011 14:24:31 UTC | #881502

ZenDruid's Avatar Comment 14 by ZenDruid

Comment 7 by ANTIcarrot :

Though humanism is better than religion, it still assumes that humans are the moral yardstick of the universe, which is as much magical thinking as anything the vatican indulges in.

That's funny, I never found that in the Humanist bible. Chapter and verse, please...?

Mon, 17 Oct 2011 15:08:18 UTC | #881508

prettygoodformonkeys's Avatar Comment 15 by prettygoodformonkeys

Comment 6 by Cartomancer

Once again, thank you for clarifying. Which is to say: thank you for your studies.

Mon, 17 Oct 2011 15:20:21 UTC | #881512

KenChimp's Avatar Comment 16 by KenChimp

Comment 14 by ZenDruid :

Comment 7 by ANTIcarrot :

Though humanism is better than religion, it still assumes that humans are the moral yardstick of the universe, which is as much magical thinking as anything the vatican indulges in.

That's funny, I never found that in the Humanist bible. Chapter and verse, please...?

There is a terrible misunderstanding of what "Humanism" is, and this causes many outside that philosophical movement (and some within it) to regard secular humanism as a religion. It is no such thing. And the idea that it promotes humanity as the moral yardstick is a misunderstanding as well.

In a universe that is utterly devoid of "purpose", secular humanism holds forth that human survival, growth and happiness constitute the most rational ideal of "purpose" human beings can devise for their endeavors.

Makes perfect sense to me.

Mon, 17 Oct 2011 15:30:37 UTC | #881515

InYourFaceNewYorker's Avatar Comment 17 by InYourFaceNewYorker

Here's what I always say to people who believe in a soul and afterlife:

Okay, let's say you have an Alzheimer's patient whose brain has deteriorated to the point that he does not recognize anybody, even his own siblings. When this patient dies and his soul goes to heaven, are his brain and memories reinstated? Or when somebody dies for any reason, be it at age 1 or 101, what age does that person assume in heaven? If that person died of Lou Gehrig's Disease, is that person able to walk and run again in heaven?

Just shows you the silliness of the idea of a soul!

Julie

Mon, 17 Oct 2011 15:59:57 UTC | #881525

C.Wood's Avatar Comment 18 by C.Wood

Comment 16 by KenChimp :

In a universe that is utterly devoid of "purpose", secular humanism holds forth that human survival, growth and happiness constitute the most rational ideal of "purpose" human beings can devise for their endeavors.

Makes perfect sense to me.

And not just that, we can still find it in us to aspire to respect other living creatures, try our best to cause them no suffering (well, some of us more than others), and contribute to their well being.

Also makes perfect sense to me :)

Mon, 17 Oct 2011 16:00:20 UTC | #881526

KenChimp's Avatar Comment 19 by KenChimp

Comment 18 by C.Wood :

Comment 16 by KenChimp :

In a universe that is utterly devoid of "purpose", secular humanism holds forth that human survival, growth and happiness constitute the most rational ideal of "purpose" human beings can devise for their endeavors.

Makes perfect sense to me.

And not just that, we can still find it in us to aspire to respect other living creatures, try our best to cause them no suffering (well, some of us more than others), and contribute to their well being.

Also makes perfect sense to me :)

Good point. That's also covered in secular humanism, and is considered of vital importance. Thanks for bringing it up.

Mon, 17 Oct 2011 16:28:16 UTC | #881534

Alan4discussion's Avatar Comment 20 by Alan4discussion

Comment 8 by Steve Zara

@OP I am often accused of attempting to reduce the ineffable beauty of human experience down to ‘just’ a bunch of chemical reactions.

I know the feeling. How do we get around this?

Next they'll be accusing you of reducing a beautifully projected coloured light display - and ornate, antique, stained glass windows, to a bunch of photons and filters!! Dummies have not worked out that beauty (and pattern recognition) is in the eye (or brain) of the beholder!

Mon, 17 Oct 2011 16:46:51 UTC | #881541

Laura Bow's Avatar Comment 21 by Laura Bow

@InYourFaceNewYorker

This is quite similar to the argument I often make and I am often baffled by people who believe in soul, but can't in anyway define what it is. It implies that there is something essentially "you" that is constant regardless of your level of education, experience, trauma, brain damage, etc. Presumably, this soul would be most apparent at the time of birth, before your essential being would be modified by experience (although science seems to suggest that even experiences within the womb can effect the manner of the baby). So outside of the material world, are we all reduced to our infant state? Would those of us that have lived longer get to bring our worldly knowledge to the afterlife? Would others bring along with them their personality disorders or physical defects? It's a belief that seems to ignore the fact that we are constant works in progress/decay and that there is no definitive point at which we become our true selves.

If the soul can experience things without a brain, can the it see without eyes? Can it hear without ears? if so, why does it not step in when we are physically blinded and deafened?

Mon, 17 Oct 2011 17:12:27 UTC | #881544

ZenDruid's Avatar Comment 22 by ZenDruid

I'm perfectly comfortable with the concept of 'soul' as equivalent to 'dream-self', an airy confection of the ego.

Mon, 17 Oct 2011 17:24:19 UTC | #881548

AisforAtheist's Avatar Comment 23 by AisforAtheist

Dualists? They can go to hell. ;)

Mon, 17 Oct 2011 18:00:56 UTC | #881561

NormallBean's Avatar Comment 24 by NormallBean

The human soul can be equated to our ability to share knowledge across generations and language barriers.

Mon, 17 Oct 2011 18:03:31 UTC | #881563

Schrodinger's Cat's Avatar Comment 25 by Schrodinger's Cat

Hmm. Yet another shallow and superficial reductionist rant.

And that's the problem with so much reductionist thinking. It is extremely superficial. It never really answers the real questions.

The trouble is that science HASN'T explained consciousness. It has not explained why this 'thinking meat' should be conscious, and least of all has it explained how.

If everything is just the working of neurons in the brain, why can't those deterministic neurons just do their thing without the need for awareness of the process ? Why aren't we all philosophical zombies ?

Martha Robinson has no answer to that question.

Mon, 17 Oct 2011 23:52:26 UTC | #881651

Schrodinger's Cat's Avatar Comment 26 by Schrodinger's Cat

Comment 6 by Cartomancer

It is a quaintly theological notion that only humans possess souls.

I'm not interested in quaint theological ideas. Least of all a bunch of nonsense definitions invented by medieval monks. What I am interested in is that there seems to be more going on than meets the eye....so to speak. I think the idea of an ethereal soul as commonly conceived is nonsense, but I am equally as convinced that something is going on.

The following video may be in relation to a fantasy film.....but the philosophy discussed is extremely relevant. Dennett, Chalmers, and many others of note discuss precisely the issue of this thread....and the philosophy of Kant, Baudrillard, and a host of others........the nature of free will....etc etc. I don't think I've ever seen so many philosophers in one documentary....

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9q1jHx29C70

What I like is that it raises the real questions. What is reality ? To what extent do our own minds shape our perception even of the external world ? Are more recent ideas that the universe can be reduced entirely to 'information' correct ?

The best philosophical discussion I have watched for a long time. Steve....you'll love it.

Tue, 18 Oct 2011 00:13:31 UTC | #881656

Quine's Avatar Comment 27 by Quine

S.Cat, how would you convince a skeptic that you are not a philosophical zombie? Note, just claiming that you "know" that you are not, is insufficient.

Tue, 18 Oct 2011 00:14:49 UTC | #881657

Quine's Avatar Comment 28 by Quine

Comment 8 by Steve Zara

I am often accused of attempting to reduce the ineffable beauty of human experience down to ‘just’ a bunch of chemical reactions.

I know the feeling. How do we get around this?

It is because it looks that way from the inside. Reminds me of so many drug addicts who, from the inside, don't see that they have any problem, while it is very obvious to their friends.

Tue, 18 Oct 2011 00:27:58 UTC | #881659

mtgilbert's Avatar Comment 29 by mtgilbert

Right, Julie, and what about miscarriages? Do fetuses have souls? What do they remember about their life in utero?

Tue, 18 Oct 2011 00:36:16 UTC | #881661

Schrodinger's Cat's Avatar Comment 30 by Schrodinger's Cat

Comment 27 by Quine

S.Cat, how would you convince a skeptic that you are not a philosophical zombie? Note, just claiming that you "know" that you are not, is insufficient.

But I do know that I am not. The fact that you can't peer inside and see the internal world is precisely the nature of the 'hard problem'. In fact your very demand poses that the hard problem is unsolvable !

I could equally turn your question around. How would you ever know that you had created a conscious machine ? If you cannot ever know....then the hard problem will never be solved.

Consciousness will have a scientific solution the day a scientist can point and say 'that machine is conscious.......that other machine isn't'.

Tue, 18 Oct 2011 00:45:35 UTC | #881663