To you we’re not deep

February 13, 2010    By: Jacob J @ 2:48 pm   Category: Theology

Over at Mormon Insights the erudite S. Faux has been blogging an very interesting series on consciousness and the brain. One of the recurring themes in that series is that consciousness is a physical phenomenon which will eventually be entirely explained by physics. As I explored in my previous post, I believe that the concept of moral responsibility is eviscerated in the context of physicalism. I poked at S. Faux along those lines on a couple of occasions (once starting in this comment, and then again starting in this comment).

S. Faux responded to my prodding with his typical graciousness and even took a stab at answering a few clarifying questions about his philosophical assumptions. My first impressions about his physicalist assumptions appear to me to be supported by his responses there.

Despite the humility and often wisely tentative responses he gave to me, Blake, Jeff G, and others on his blog, he seemed to open up a bit when a few days later he expressed frustration with people like me[1] to fellow frustrated-with-those-who-question-science scientist SteveP:

Why are some Latter-day Saints cafeteria consumers of science, picking and choosing their facts with the same kind of selectivity that my teenager uses when eating mixed vegetables on his plate?

Why are some LDS afraid that our physical brain could be conscious? (S. Faux at Mormon Organon, emphasis mine)

I thought I’d post a response to that question. First, I must clarify some starting assumptions. For this post, let’s stipulate the basic components of Mormon theology (as S. Faux does on his blog). Namely, that

1. There is a preexistent spirit
2. It inhabits the physical body during mortality
3. It persists after death
4. It is ultimately joined to a perfected physical body in the resurrection
5. It is ultimately judged based on choices and actions taken in mortality.

It seems clear to me that:

a. 1 and 3 require consciousness without a physical body
b. Continuity between 1-5 and item 5 per se require the consciousness of 1 and 3 to be related in some fundamental way with the consciousness in 2 and 4,[2]
c. The concept of moral accountability required by 5 makes no sense in the context of determinism (go to my previous post to comment on that.)
d. Moral accountability in 5 is accountability with respect to things that happened exclusively within our consciousness during mortality.

This last one deserves a bit of explanation. We we talk about agency and accountability, what we have in mind is that we will be held accountable for our choices. Lots of stuff happens in our bodies and in our brains that we are totally unconscious of, but these are not things we hold each other morally responsible for.

We hold each other responsible for the choices we make in our conscious minds. It is when we deliberate, when we think, and when we take conscious control of something that we consider ourselves accountable. This is why we view death by suicide as a morally different situation than death by heart attack or brain aneurysm. To claim that our consciousness is reducible to brain micro-physics is to undermine moral accountability (this conclusion from d. depends on the validity of c.).

There you have it. These are my reasons for fearing the idea that consciousness is completely explained by the physical brain. My fear is that it leaves no hope of our theology being correct.


[1] I have no reason whatsoever to believe he was thinking of me when he wrote the comment, but I think I fit the description of the people he is talking about.

[2] I readily concede that fleshing out the details of that fundamental relation is tricky business which I can’t adequately accomplish at the moment. I think the relationship is required by our theology nonetheless.

43 Comments »

  1. Jacob:

    Is there no room for dual consciousness of both spirit and brain? Must it be one or the other?

    Comment by Eric Nielson — February 13, 2010 @ 3:55 pm

  2. It seems there must be some sort of balance to this, as we have to acknowledge that the physical brain does have a major impact on the behavior of the person, with such things as sociopathy, epilepsy, and autism being aberrations in behaviour caused by the state of the brain. We must accept that the mortal imperfect brain does indeed have some form of controlling factor on our agency. Most of the time I think of this as the natural man being an enemy to God.

    Comment by Matt W. — February 13, 2010 @ 5:29 pm

  3. Eric, good question. I think there’s plenty of room for a theory where they are both conscious. In fact, in some sense this is required by 1-3. My statement in b. and footnote [2] relate to that. The continuity of identity before and after death requires, I think, some fundamental connection between these two consciousnesses because the essence of what I mean by “me” is manifest in my thoughts. In Avatar terms, it is still me if I project my consciousness into a tall blue body, but it is not me if someone else projects their consciousness into my body. It is what happens within our consciousness that most fundamentally defines who we are.

    Comment by Jacob J — February 13, 2010 @ 5:36 pm

  4. Matt, yes, drugs and hammers make it obvious that at least during mortality our mind is hugely dependent on the brain. S. Faux cites this as evidence that consciousness is physical. I acknowledge your point fully and readily, but the post explains why I resist jumping from that point to a theory that consciousness is fully reducible to physics.

    Comment by Jacob J — February 13, 2010 @ 5:40 pm

  5. Well said Jacob. Mormonism fails in the absence of a persistent mind of some kind that exists independently of our current brains. Of course the interaction between our brains and our eternal mind is a complete mystery still. Maybe that mystery is the problem S. Faux is chafing at.

    Comment by Geoff J — February 13, 2010 @ 10:13 pm

  6. BTW — did you know that one of the HouseMartins went on to become Fatboy Slim? (I think it is the tall one)

    Comment by Geoff J — February 13, 2010 @ 10:16 pm

  7. Your (c) doesn’t really seem to do much any work in the argument as I read it. It seems that all you need to do is point out that the idea of judging an eternal spirit for something an entirely disconnected body did is unjust. Does it really matter whether the actions of the body were LFW or not?

    Comment by Jeff G — February 13, 2010 @ 10:24 pm

  8. I don’t think there is a fundamental problem with physicalism, as such, as long as we are talking about the right kind of physicalism, one where (at a minimum) material has something resembling “spiritual” properties.

    My opposition to physicalism comes primarily in opposition to the prevalent, but sterile form of physicalism that can make no allowance for anything remotely spiritual, and worse where the nature, properties, and existence of anything can never ultimately be traced to a decision by anyone, but rather only to rolls of dies, flips of coins, and conditions determined by no one and no thing.

    Suppose the conventional view of the modern evolutionary synthesis is right – you dump a prebiotic soup into the laws of physics and out comes advanced civilization. Well the question is, did the prebiotic soup at any point have any say as to how civilization would turn out? Or is everything about modern civilization essentially an accident of history?

    I mean, who really wrote the Bible anyway? Is the Bible in the prebiotic soup, in the laws of physics, or is it largely an accident traceable to neither? According to conventional physicalism free will has about as much to do with the fate of the world as the color of my car does. There is no there there.

    Comment by Mark D. — February 13, 2010 @ 11:27 pm

  9. Jeff G,

    That’s a good point. When I wrote c. I’ll admit I was putting in a reference to the determinism debate specifically so that I could funnel any of that discussion to the other thread and keep it off this one. Your point is what I was trying to get at in b. but I like the direct way in which you said it much better.

    Comment by Jacob J — February 14, 2010 @ 1:16 am

  10. Geoff, I had no idea Fatboy Slim was a former Housemartin. Crazy. That’s right up there with Fine Young Cannibals springing from the ashes of The Beat.

    Comment by Jacob J — February 14, 2010 @ 1:25 am

  11. Jacob J:

    You have fairly represented the debate in your text, but your title wrongly implies that I think you are not deep. In fact, your comments on my site and this post are so deep, they may be over my head and beyond my consciousness.

    The basic scientific fact that seems to be ignored in our discussions is that many forms of brain impairment diminish consciousness. I refuse to believe the immortal spirit has been harmed when consciousness is reduced in a brain damaged patient. I just don’t think your homuncular model accounts for that fact.

    The scriptures do not give us a formula for how body and spirit interact. Consequently, I am not convinced that only a single kind of formula (such as what you give) is possible. The possibilities seem endless, and they certainly require more theological and scientific knowledge than we now have.

    You make a clear proposition, but you have placed our theology in harm’s way when and if a computer ever becomes “conscious.”

    I simply do not think consciousness is particularly special. It is the ability to react (not remain asleep); it is the ability to self-observe; and it is the ability to respond to the intentions of others. These properties seem very mechanical to me, not requiring a medium (spirit) that we know very little about. But, I do agree with you that disembodied spirits are described in the scriptures as being conscious. No argument there. The issue is whether that consciousness fully transfers when a spirit becomes embodied in this “telestial” body. Why does consciousness seem to be so fragile, when we know the spirit is NOT fragile. To me, that is a basic question.

    Thanks for the thoughtful post. I am glad I provoked you a little. I hope you will respond to my upcoming posts in the near future.

    Comment by S.Faux — February 14, 2010 @ 4:17 pm

  12. S. Faux,

    I agree that there is no question that brain damage impairs the minds of humans. And clearly while we remain alive in mortality any eternal minds we have is at least filtered by our mortal brains. But if it is just that — filtered — then we at least have a working basic theory about why mortal consciousness could be fragile even if eternal minds aren’t fragile right? I talked a little about this recently in this post.

    Comment by Geoff J — February 14, 2010 @ 4:54 pm

  13. Steve: I’m not very adept at these issues. But I read all of your posts with interest. I’m a bit confused. Here is what I took away:

    explanation for human behavior = 100% brain
    explanation for human behavior = 0% spirit
    explanation for relationship between spirit and brain = ?

    I was interested in your reason for not wanting to adopt a view that Jacob proposes because someday computers might become conscious and that would prove — what? — physicalism or materialism and your formula above? I’m pretty skeptical about that kind of science fiction — and I don’t think a theology ought to avoid making suggestions because they could be disconfirmed. (The vericationists among us, if there are any, would cheer!)

    Here is my question: how could we possibly know if a computer is conscious? This is an interesting question because if the computer spit out: “hi there, I’m glad to meet you,” we’d just explain it as garbage in, garbage out. It wouldn’t matter how the computer acted, it would just be explained as a matter of programming determistically spitting out what has been put in there by the programmer.In other words, it would be just a deterministic output of algorithms programmed to run on hardware. We couldn’t have access to the subjective mind-states of the computer or what it is thinking or even if is thinking or has such subjectivity.

    Are you suggesting that the computer would be morally responsible? Free? Able to love? Have an eternal intelligence?

    It seems that the only real sign of consciousness would be something that could be verified to be truly creative in the sense that it came up with something new that is not explainable in terms of a deterministic output of programming. It would be like: “I love you,” and we can verify that the program doesn’t provide for that output? We’d notice that the circuitry was chaotic and haywire like humans who are twitterpated and their brains look like the brains of schizophrenics. In other words, to verify consciousness in a computer it seems like it would have to be something new and novel and creative that is not determinstically explained by the hardware and software programmed into it.

    That brings me full circle with what Jacob is saying. As I understand him, he is saying that the determinist has provided what they consider to be sufficient condition for things like free will and moral responsibility and consciousness — and when we look closely we notice that rock meets those same conditions.

    To answer and defend determinism and physicalism (of the non-reductive type I suppose) Jeff G. refers to things like beliefs and dispositions and the like. The problem I have with that is precisely that those don’t seem to the kind of thing that explains anything in terms of physical or reductive materialism where we explain everything by analyzing the behavior its smallest parts — I suppose things like molecules and atoms and quarks in the brain ultimately or organic chemistry that gets reduce to — what? — microphysics I suppose. Dispositions and beliefs are mental states. They aren’t the kind of thing that can be analyzed into explanations of brain neuro-chemistry. If they can, then it seems that Jeff G’s explanation is really an explanation because it stopped too soon. He needs to analyze things further to really explain anything.

    Wow — this got long. I also wanted to say that my conscious experience must be different that Steve’s. (How would I know? I’m not sure.) I do a lot more than just operantly respond like a salivating dog. I plan for the future, plan and create clothes designs and love.

    Comment by Christine — February 14, 2010 @ 5:55 pm

  14. Steve,

    The basic scientific fact that seems to be ignored in our discussions is that many forms of brain impairment diminish consciousness.

    Thanks for stopping by. Like Geoff, I think it’s obvious that in mortality our consciousness is dependent on the physical brain. However, I don’t think dependence implies equivalence. The connection between spirit and body is definitely a huge mystery. There is only so much weight we can give to scriptural language on such a topic, but they do talk of spirit and element being “connected”. It doesn’t seem too far fetched to posit that while the spirit is connected to the body consciousness arises in the physical brain and is affected by brain damage etc. NDEs are perhaps the closest we can come to evidence of how that consciousness springs back when disconnected from the physical body.

    I am not convinced that only a single kind of formula (such as what you give) is possible.

    Not sure what single formula I provided.

    if a computer ever becomes “conscious.”

    Like Christine, I am not sure how we would prove that a computer is conscious, but I’ll admit that I think a conscious computer would threaten my theology.

    I simply do not think consciousness is particularly special.

    That is rather surprising to me. Why would the “hard problem of consciousness” be “hard” if there wasn’t something particularly special and peculiar about it?

    Comment by Jacob J — February 14, 2010 @ 10:13 pm

  15. On this one I am a little torn. I see consciousness VERY much like Steve does, namely, as being a purely physical phenomenon. Unlike him, however, and more in line with Jacob, I don’t see this as being very Mormon friendly.

    Indeed, I think it is THE battle grounds between science and religion. (I never have been able to see the beef with evolution as amounting to much anything at all.) Physicalist theories just seem to make the existence of anything beyond this world totally superfluous or even expendable. Surely Mormons can’t be comfortable with this.

    I think Steve feels the tug as well. What we are all trying to do is articulate this tug; what, exactly, is it in Mormon doctrine that stands in stark contrast to physicalist theories of consciousness. I’m having trouble articulating it. It seems Jacob is too. I assume that Steve is too, and not being able to nail down the problem he concludes that, intuitions aside, there really isn’t any problem.

    Comment by Jeff G — February 14, 2010 @ 10:37 pm

  16. Conventional materialist and dualist theories are not the only options. There is also property dualism and no doubt many other possibilities no one has even thought of.

    I am inclined to property dualism myself, because I see within it the most plausible basis for a solution to the mind body problem, as well as providing a reasonable foundation for moral responsibility and libertarian free will.

    There are theological difficulties with property dualism as well, but they do not seem to be insurmountable theological difficulties of the sort associated with ordinary materialism.

    I agree with Jeff G. that this issue is the critical battleground of the modern age, but I do not see it as a battle between science and religion, but rather a battle between ordinary materialism (or ordinary physicalism) and all the alternatives. Check out this article for an example.

    Comment by Mark D. — February 14, 2010 @ 11:23 pm

  17. Jeff: Isn’t “the tug” — the central problem — that we are not going to hold neurons and brain functions morally responsible, deem them to be free or regard them as persons having human dignity? If we explain everything by reducing it to biochemistry, don’t we lose everything that is valuable about human life as a result? I can’t see blaming neurons for firing or failing to fire (or make chemical connections). Doesn’t life become a random crap-shoot in such an event? It seems to me that the kind of dignity and value that come from free will and personhood are very much worth wanting despite what Dennett says. I cannot see how any such value could be recognized if we recognize that humans are just the upshot of biochemical interactions.

    Isn’t the tug also that biochemical reactions don’t seem to really explain what we experience: the ability to direct our choices, deliberate about things, having thoughts about how things could be, make choices among alternatives and feeling accountable for what we do? My subjective state of consciousness of being aware that I am alive and exist doesn’t seem to be anything like a neurochemical interacting.

    Comment by Christine — February 14, 2010 @ 11:23 pm

  18. what, exactly, is it in Mormon doctrine that stands in stark contrast to physicalist theories of consciousness

    That’s funny, I thought we were articulating it brilliantly. It is, as you say, that it makes the spirit totally superfluous and that it destroys any possibility of continuity of identity from this life to the next (undermining the concept of judgment, among other things).

    Comment by Jacob J — February 14, 2010 @ 11:34 pm

  19. Christine, I agree with you and would put moral responsibility right at the top of my list, but Jeff believes Mormonism is viable even in a deterministic universe and yet even he thinks physicalist theories of consciousness are a threat to Mormonism. That’s why my #18 makes no mention of moral responsibility.

    Comment by Jacob J — February 14, 2010 @ 11:40 pm

  20. Jacob,

    I actually think you have done a pretty good job of articulating the problem in this post. Unfortunately, I don’t think Steve will think the case is closed by a long shot. I sure don’t.

    In this debate you seem to be playing the same strategy you did against me:

    “I don’t see how X and Y can both be true. Therefore, until you meet the burden of proof which I am now assigning you, you will hereby be deemed wrong.”

    I could totally see how God could somehow guide or alter your physical mind to, in some relevant way, stand in proxy for your spiritual mind, and then doing something very similar after your death. But Steve doesn’t really have to come up with any story at all, really. All he has to believe is that he has seen no convincing reason to accept that X and Y cannot possibly both be true.

    Comment by Jeff G — February 15, 2010 @ 12:29 am

  21. It is, as you say, that it makes the spirit totally superfluous and that it destroys any possibility of continuity of identity from this life to the next

    For purposes of argument, suppose that in this life the spirit is not physically distinct from the body, but rather that the particles the body is composed of have spiritual properties.

    The spirit / body then is a literal in-corp-oration of a large number of entities who each, at some primitive level, spiritually rejoice (as cross coupled, spiritually interconnected entities) not only at the success of the body, but also at the true mutual benefit (harmony, cohesion, etc) of the world at large, despite little or no individual consciousness of the larger events around them.

    Death, of course, presents a dire threat to the viability of this corporation, so by some means established by a much higher level of consciousness, a snapshot is taken of the structure of the corporation prior to death.

    Then in the spirit world, and again in the resurrection, this corporation is re-constructed from different primitive entities, and the corporation is disciplined and judged so that it can be a better corporation, such that the elements that compose not only that body but all the similar bodies in the world can spiritually benefit thereby.

    In other words, the long term purpose of judgment, restitution, moral responsibility and so on would not be to penalize or reward certain corporations as such, but rather to redeem their structure and organization so that the elements that participate in each at any given time are not only as happy (harmonious, peaceful, pain free) as the elements employed elsewhere, but that the entire society of corporations becomes a more peaceable and enjoyable place for each and every element, in its own primitive way.

    As the scripture says, the resurrection of the body is the redemption of the soul. Re-incorporating the painstakingly developed form, structure, and character of a body with new elemental beneficiaries. Call it “libertarian hylomorphism“.

    As bizarre as that is, I suggest that is theologically sound implementation of an anomalous physicalism.

    Comment by Mark D. — February 15, 2010 @ 12:39 am

  22. Jeff: Hasn’t Jacob shown a conflict between the kind of reductive materialism Steve seems to espouse and the notion of a spirit that could be later held responsible for the acts of a mortal body? Further, it seems to me that you’re the one who made that same argument in #15? Am I missing something here?

    I think Jacob does a good job of articulating a basic problem — but I’d go farther than Jacob. To the extent that physicalism cannot account for large parts of our human experience like consciousness and moral responsibility and ability to make choice, it is physicalism which is called into question by its lack of ability to explain what must be explained. Of course one could deny that we are conscious (like Steve seems to do by denying that there is much to consciousness) or like Jeff (who seems to be reluctant to really say people are morally responsible) — but maybe I have misread both of them. But that counts against their views because I don’t know many who are really willing to say that they don’t believe their thoughts and beliefs cause some body states — or that the people who blew up the twin towers were not responsible or punishable for what they did.

    Comment by Christine — February 15, 2010 @ 12:45 am

  23. A nice articulation of your theory Mark. I think the biggest hurdle you continue to face is that in your theory our pre-mortal minds are completely obliterated and replaced with new permanent minds here. That means your theory only solve 50% continuity of mind problem. (But this is a bit of a threadjack so I’ll continue that conversation with you elsewhere)

    Comment by Geoff J — February 15, 2010 @ 12:51 am

  24. Jeff,

    In this debate you seem to be playing the same strategy you did against me:

    “I don’t see how X and Y can both be true. Therefore, until you meet the burden of proof which I am now assigning you, you will hereby be deemed wrong.”

    I’m not “deeming Steve wrong.” I’m offering my own reasons for believing he is wrong.

    All he has to believe is that he has seen no convincing reason to accept that X and Y cannot possibly both be true.

    Of course, this is true in any and all debates which cannot be settled by logical proof. But if we disagree, the least I can do is offer him the reasons that are compelling to me for believing X and Y to be incompatible. If he reads them and thinks they are not at all compelling, I’ll be interested to hear his reasons and may take a shot and motivating them again once I understand his objections. An interesting discussion may ensue. One or both of us may alter our views. But in the end, we are all just going with the reasons we’ve seen that seem convincing to us. I have no objection to that. I’m not sure what “strategy” I’m employing that you find objectionable. Can you contrast my strategy with the one you’d find more agreeable?

    Comment by Jacob J — February 15, 2010 @ 1:03 am

  25. Yeah, I’ll be interested to hear Steve’s response as well, if only because he stands for so much of what I used to stand for in Mormonism. I have always been repulsed by the idea of doctrine getting in the way of what has been demonstrated by science. Seeing that Mormon doctrine and brain science are, as I had always hoped, perfectly and entirely compatible would be wonderful.

    As for the strategy, I might have pounced on something a little prematurely, and for that I do apologize. I guess I’ve just gotten a little sensitive about the “well then show us” counter reply.

    Let’s be honest, though, these threads are about more than mere “conversation.” We are arguing, trying to convince one another of our own positions. And some times it gets a little too easy for us to not give our interlocutors their due credit while at the same time helping ourselves to a little more credit than we’ve earned.

    In this case, I would say that you have raised some fascinating questions. But I don’t see that you’ve mustered anything close to a death blow to Steve’s main point.

    Comment by Jeff G — February 15, 2010 @ 1:24 am

  26. The most interesting thing about this post to me, is SteveP once told me in another post that he feels God’s role in our creation is the rise of consciousness. How did SteveP respond to S. Faux.

    Also, I think Jacob and S. Faux probably define consciousness differently.

    Comment by Matt W. — February 15, 2010 @ 9:13 am

  27. This is what I think: I think our situations are kind of like Avatar. I think we’re all really in heaven hooked up to machines to give us a virtual experience based totally on our need for growth and uh, a word that slips my mind–progress! That’s how God can help us all at once–or angels or spirit guides or whatever you believe.

    And so, though in my computer program, I’m experiencing all the tough things I’m experiencing, in your world, you are having the bad experience and maybe I’m the neighbor next door who has all the good things happen. I’d say maybe I’m the pain in the *** but I’m already that to a lot of people.

    I haven’t figured it out completely, but I think I’m really an avatar learning to be a God.

    Comment by annegb — February 15, 2010 @ 9:57 am

  28. Jeff, fair enough, I agree that my objections are not air tight at this point. Far from it.

    annegb, clearly our situation is like the Matrix and not Avatar because we are not blue. If it was like Avatar we’d be blue. I just realized while reading your comment that this Matrix solution would solve the problem of God being limited by the speed of light and subject to the heat death of the universe which we were discussing last week. Nice work.

    Comment by Jacob J — February 15, 2010 @ 10:05 am

  29. Yeah, it also solves the problem of evil. I just wished I could believe it.

    Comment by Christine — February 15, 2010 @ 10:14 am

  30. Christine, I’m not so sure about that. If we really are in the Matrix why isn’t God stopping all the evils which he could easily stop? Just because I’m in an experience simulator it does not mean God should get a free ride about the crappy experiences he keeps simulating.

    Comment by Jacob J — February 15, 2010 @ 11:28 am

  31. Jacob J:

    I don’t really accept Chalmer’s so-called “hard problem.” The hard problem seems to be a futile search for some phenomenal form of consciousness that I think is probably a figment.

    So, yes, you and I probably do define consciousness a little differently.

    I do accept the overall LDS plan of salvation. In terms of our broad “chemical” make-up we are dual beings made up of purified matter (spirit) and “coarse” matter (body). Such, is part of my theology. But, I find it very difficult to turn theology into scientific hypotheses.

    Can there be a science of consciousness? One major problem with turning “consciousness” into a theological concept is the issue of hindering empirical research.

    If we better medically understood consciousness, for example, maybe we could cure those individuals with the “locked-in” syndrome. There would be many medical disorders of consciousness that I could name. If we make consciousness “off-limits” to science, then we have taken a significant step backwards, it seems to me.

    More later…

    Comment by S.Faux — February 15, 2010 @ 12:28 pm

  32. Jacob,

    The problem of evil is solved via the Matrix model if we dump the “progress” aspect and make our journey into the Matrix a sophisticated theme park ride for immortals/gods right? That way the pain here is a feature rather than a bug. (I doubt that model would have many takers though)

    Comment by Geoff J — February 15, 2010 @ 2:09 pm

  33. Steve: Your # 31 explains to me why we see consciousness differently. It just doesn’t seem to take into account what consciousness seems to me to be — the subjective awareness of intentions, purposes, thoughts, one’s own existence and so forth. I admit that if all we need to explain is some sort of stimulus/response, then there is no reason why your approach isn’t adequate. But human experience of our own subjective states is infinitely richer than you are willing to acknowledge as I see it.

    Here is the hard question for those who deny the hard problem and claim, like you, that it is a figment: a figment of what? How could there be a figment of anything at all if there is no “what it is like” to have a figment? Your position seems to be self-defeating.

    Comment by Christine — February 15, 2010 @ 2:41 pm

  34. Steve,

    First, I fully endorse Christine’s #33.

    Second: If we make consciousness “off-limits” to science, then we have taken a significant step backwards, it seems to me.

    Just to be clear, I would never suggest we make consciousness off-limits to science. I am a hugely pro-science guy. Did I ever imply that I wanted to hinder research in any way? I hope not. For the purpose of scientific exploration, I think it is perfectly appropriate to attack the problem using any and all strategies which look promising, including ones that start from the premise that it is all physical. However, if we don’t understand the nature of consciousness yet, I think it is premature to conclude that it must be reducible to physics simply because we want it to be amenable to scientific investigation.

    Comment by Jacob J — February 15, 2010 @ 4:48 pm

  35. Back in 1962 or 1963 in Richland, Washington I got to attend an early “teleconference” that had Henry Eyring (Elder Eyring’s famous father) on the other end of the line. Somebody asked him if he thought that there would ever be robots with human intelligence. I was surprised by his answer. He said that he supposed that if men could create a suitable body and brain, God could provide a suitable spirit.

    Comment by Forest Simmons — February 16, 2010 @ 5:31 pm

  36. You guys, when it’s all over and we understand everything, tell everybody how I figured it out first. Without science, just based on gut and with things that happen that don’t make sense. I get the Nobel Prize of figuring out life. Don’t let anybody steal my idea, ok?

    Comment by annegb — February 16, 2010 @ 7:22 pm

  37. It is quite impossible to have pain in a simulator if one cannot have pain in real life. In other words the nature of being in a simulator is the nature of being in a simulator.

    The problem of evil in the real world doesn’t go away, there is just some synthetic coupling between artificial and real evils, a coupling that magnifies rather than diminishes the original problem.

    Comment by Mark D. — February 17, 2010 @ 9:43 pm

  38. Right, that’s why if you die in the Matrix, you die in real life, as everyone knows.

    Comment by Jacob J — February 18, 2010 @ 12:22 am

  39. Right, that’s why if you die in the Matrix, you die in real life, as everyone knows.

    Surely you jest.

    Comment by Mark D. — February 18, 2010 @ 8:54 pm

  40. What, you’ve never seen the Matrix?

    Comment by Jacob J — February 18, 2010 @ 9:04 pm

  41. I have seen most of the Matrix, and don’t doubt that is the case in that fictional world. I am questioning the validity of the correlation between simulated death and real death in general. I died thousands of times in simulation before I turned twenty, and came out with nary a scratch.

    Comment by Mark D. — February 18, 2010 @ 9:25 pm

  42. I’m positive you’re not equating a video game with the Matrix since that would be ridiculous and you are not a ridiculous person.

    Now, I’m willing to consider your point because in Avatar, if your avatar dies you *don’t* die in real life. So maybe you have a point. I’d feel more comfortable if we had a third sci-fi movie to break the tie though.

    Comment by Jacob J — February 19, 2010 @ 12:14 pm

  43. Right, that’s why if you die in the Matrix, you die in real life, as everyone knows.

    That is, you hare actually bodily inside the simulated the Matrix and die; you are not a “representation” but a real person. I think the first Matrix movie showed some real promise, but then it sort of got bogged down to just trying to come up with flashier FX.

    Anyhow, I think I understand where S.Faux is coming from. There’s no incompatibility in my mind with our theology — we’re limited by our physical body, both physically and mentally/psychologically/spiritually.

    What I’d love to find out is how and where exactly the mind and spirit interface, or if they actually do so. I believe they must. Note that I use “mind” advisedly, standing for both conscious and subconscious mind.

    I have experienced some imbalances in brain chemistry, and it is not nice. I am definitely hostage to my brain in this life, but I believe in the libertarian free will because that would be the only thing that would make a “judgment” fair in this context.

    Comment by Velska — February 20, 2010 @ 3:48 am

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