Wednesday, January 23, 2013

consciousness and the soul




In modern philosophy there is an ongoing argument in regards to whether or not the universe contains more than just the physical.  One way to look at it is in terms of reduction.  Let’s say I have a glass of water.  I can create a reductive pathway that starts with the properties of the glass, then the molecular structure of the glass, the properties of magnetism that allow for the glass to be hard, the properties of water and the fact that it reduces directly to H2O. 

Being able to successfully reductively explain that instance of a glass is an argument that “all that there is” are the physical elements of that glass of water.  If I have all those physical elements put together the same way at another time, no doubt I will have a glass of water.  There is nothing more that makes it a glass of water.

But when discussing ideas, it gets more difficult.  Life and consciousness could possibly be realized through basic properties.  But it is our need to somehow wish that there is more than those physical properties.  Part of the problem is we have not yet found those other physical properties.  Just as we used to think the sun revolved around the earth, there are a lot of gaps in our knowledge of the brain that we want to fill in with mysticism.


A minority in the philosophical world call this dualism.  The idea that being alive is more than just the basic properties on their own.  What that extra thing is, we don’t know, but it is there and has yet to be discovered by us.  But it explains why we can’t quite describe consciousness presently.

I was surprised at the fact that the majority of philosophers today disagree with dualism and therefore are naturalists.  Meaning they do not believe in the soul, spirits, and other psychic phenomenon.  We as a culture are simply not ready to accept that.

What was disappointing to me was that there are still some men and women of philosophy who still have to turn to faith over reason and misrepresent it as such.  Like creationism, there is this idea that once you take all the atoms away, there is still some other property left.

One of the questions that arises is, “What is the function of consciousness?”  Most argue that it is not really known and that simply saying consciousness is a way to control behavior is too swift of an argument because it doesn’t answer the why.  Why does pain feel the way it does?

I disagree.

I think that both dualism and those opposed to the idea that consciousness function to control behavior are ignoring time.  Like so many creationists of today, they forget that evolution happened over millions, not thousands or hundreds of years.  We can’t even comprehend that, really.

But if over time a creature ‘feels’ a certain way and therefore reacts a certain way – those feelings will evolve in order to create the most fit animal.  And the consciousness itself is a way to adjust behavior based on circumstance rather than on simple one-to-one reactionary functions.  What I mean is, you see red, therefore your brain registers red.  That is a one-to-one.  But what you feel when you see red is composite of many things, a lot of which are influenced by your experiences.  Therefore, it allows you to learn and adapt to the feeling of red in one lifetime, rather than be a part of a physical evolutionary process.

This to me is the ultimate in cool.  We are doing the same thing in the evolution of computers.  Right now we are programming computers to sense and respond.  However, we are starting to create computers that do not necessarily have to wait for another hardware version of itself to change and/or adapt.  The controls are still very much in human hands, but the idea is still there.  Virtual servers and computers are larger machines who change the way they operate to fit a function.

I predict that this cycle will come back around as we become more educated on the human brain and emotional intelligence.  We will then start over with stiff representations and continue through until we eventually have machines that can adapt the way they behave based on more than memory set by their users.  When that comes around, which won’t happen for a long time, we will finally have AI that could possibly be inseparable from humans.

Of course, that is impossible if you feel there is more to life than what we are made up of.  Seems a bit arrogant to think that what we are made up of physically isn’t already a miracle – that there needs to be more to make us ‘special’.  This will begin to soften, I think, once we start to blur the lines between human and machine with biotechnologies.  Like clothes and vaccines, we will gradually assimilate another ‘adjustment’ to our normal disposition.

Who knows what that will do to the conversation of the soul.  But arguing against it is not the devil’s work.  People are so afraid, they cling to the idea without any way of describing the idea.  It’s their safety net.  Yet, it makes no sense in any logical context.  And throughout time, all things that we said couldn’t be described logically, have slowly become explained logically.  I’m not against having place holders for the unknown, but I am against holding them so sacred that it is taboo to even suggest otherwise. 

Especially when there are so many obvious examples of how humans are simply reactionary beings.  An individual may sit and ponder, but we have all been guilty of reacting poorly to something simply because it was our natural state to do so.  This is so appallingly used and evident in how often the mob rule is used against itself.  Ironically, a lot of the time in the defense of their souls.

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