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Irat's Avatar Jump to comment 339 by Irat

Man, I can't believe I've read all this to page 12... Anyway, I'd like to offer some helpful information/questions from the cognitive sciences, which is an area of which any theist I've so far met has been, frankly, disconcertingly ignorant (sometimes I suspect actively):

How would you define "software" as opposed to "hardware"? (Since I don't know if I'll have time to check your answer later, I'll just answer it myself, and hope it helps; also, if anyone would like to help here with more precise definitions/clarifications, please do.)

One simple (and I'll try to stick with very simple)--but useful--way to define it is as "that which the hardware does." But how does it do it? And what is it, actually? Well, any software is really just the product of a pattern of matter on the hardware, through which electricity passes, and creates what we see; that is, the software is a product of the manipulation of the hardware. We can make such complex softwares that it seems just incredible, oftentimes, that all of that is really the product of a pattern on a material substrate.

What we typically call the "mind" is to the "brain" what "software" is to "hardware." That is, the end product, which we see as an individual's outward "self," is the product of a pattern of matter (granted, a very complex pattern). Of course, serious endeavors into the computer sciences and Artificial Intelligence being only relatively recent (less than 100 years, I would say), it is not surprising that we have not been able to produce the sort of complexity which evolution by natural selection has in its billions. But even so, we have been able to cut through a good chunk of those billions of years with less than one century of scientific inquiry.

But, now, the thing I was getting to, namely answering Sparkly's question about the soul. It is clear from what we have scientifically verified already that the dualist hypothesis--that is, of a "soul" or "mind" independent of the body--is quite simply false. It is clear that our "minds" are products of many and sundry components of our brains working together--or often, against each other--on probabilistic algorithms to solve different problems. Any manner in which we choose to separate/distinguish the different components is somewhat arbitrary--with some arbitrary distinctions being more useful than others, of course--and indeed, it would not be entirely incorrect to view the whole body of a person as a "brain," with each of the organs/body parts doing their own "thinking," and communicating with the rest of the body. We have good evidence for these claims.

The idea of a "soul," on the other hand, is simply useless from the get-go, and is already falsified effectively by an observation of the mind-altering properties of chemicals upon the brain, from alcohol to arsenic. If you put alcohol into a brain, for example--which, in effect, "tweaks" it's material composition somewhat--you may notice certain effects, such as perhaps a change in personality. If there is an immaterial soul, it should not be affected by such things.

But perhaps that's not so obvious. More obvious is the fact that you can remove or damage (or even just "shut off") certain parts of the brain--the material substrate--and witness an entirely different product emerge (the mind). You can do things from changing a person's personality--whether they're amicable or inimical--to whether they can produce coherent speech patterns, to whether they can speak their verbs perfectly fine but have trouble with their nouns, to whether they recognize an entire side of their body or not, to whether they remember something or not, to whether they find a particular experience pleasant or not, and so on.

But it is clear, in any case, that there is no such thing as an immaterial soul. This is a fairly-long-ago falsified hypothesis. No evidence has been presented in its favor. Insurmountable evidence has been discovered against. (I know, I belabor the point, but I run into this issue constantly, and I think it's an important one to understand).

None of this seems to devalue human life. Well, I mean, sure, we don't get to regard ourselves as some special pet project of some higher mind, which we arbitrarily choose to worship. And no, by the way, we don't need to be immediately afraid of "evil" artificial intelligence destroying us and so on...we don't need to supply it with the types of "intelligence" we find unpleasant (but I'm getting off-topic here, partly because I'm tired, partly as a joke). But in any case, the truth is the truth, and it doesn't matter whether it appeals to us or not. The sooner we can look at it honestly, the sooner we can set about making our lives better for ourselves and for each other.

Tue, 03 May 2011 04:49:21 UTC | #622325