Social Question

Jeruba's avatar

Hard-headed atheistic realists: do you allow yourself to think of a "soul"?

Asked by Jeruba (47742points) March 24th, 2010

I am an atheist and a skeptic all the way, with no room in my life for fictions and fantasies about angels and demons, fairies, gods, heavens and hells, afterlives, or fates and destinies and things that are “meant to be.” Yet in spite of everything I find the concept of a “soul” meaningful, and not just because it makes good poetry.

How about you? Do you scoff, or do you need this word to express something that is not adequately covered by neurons and chemistry?

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89 Answers

kevbo's avatar

I thought one of the tenets of athiesm was the transmutation of the soul into dense calcium deposits on the cranium.~

ragingloli's avatar

The term soul has yet to be properly defined. Until it has, it is meaningless.

The_Idler's avatar

It could be a useful concept, philosophically and psychologically, taken as an implicit construct of the sentient mind, or a representative phenomenal “idea”, but as a literal, ultimately existing thing?
What’s the point?

zaphod's avatar

I agree with @ragingloli—there is no clear definition of a “soul”. What is your definition?

As far as I’m concerned, its meaningless, but people use it a lot to “sound” deep and insightful. However, being atheistic, you should be prepared to respond for or against concepts like soul and spirituality. So, knowledge of these terms certainly helps.

talljasperman's avatar

I believe that a my, ex-girlfriend (member of my social circle) was capable of level draining… and I believe that is the soul she was draining so yes…

ninjacolin's avatar

if i had to, i would say the soul is the sum total of everything represented by your existence. the cause of all your effects on reality. your soul is the cause and the spirit is the energy that emanates from it like the waves on the ocean are from a wind.

something like that

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

I think the soul is one of the most harmful, and most laughable ideas around. I am a strict materialist when it comes to the human mind, and cannot understand why dualism hangs around in such a scientifically enlightened age.

LuckyGuy's avatar

I define “soul” as simply a softer name for “brain wave activity.” They are the same.

JeffVader's avatar

No, I dont believe in the human soul. I think it is just a manifestation of humanities desire to live for ever…. or at least not to die.

augustlan's avatar

Sort of, but not in the traditional sense. I might use soul to mean the essence of a person. ‘Good soul’, ‘old soul’, that sort of thing.

Fyrius's avatar

It does make good poetry, doesn’t it?
I think terms like “soul” and “spiritual” are the only words I know that come close to that aspect of the mind that concerns itself with deeper emotions, with art and compassion and peace of mind, like poetry can inspire. I just wish there were a word for it that didn’t have any connotations of a magical essence of divinity that makes the humans speshul.

And surely that’s also covered by neurons and chemistry, but that’s no more help than the knowledge of the ink and paper is to the meaning of a poem.

@talljasperman
You aren’t actually serious about this level draining business, are you?

talljasperman's avatar

@Fyrius Something bad happened to me and I burned out… I can only guess at which bad things that happened to me all at once triggered my burn-out or epiphanies’…It helps to have a laugh now and then about it…maybe I’m better for It but I was in a lot of pain when It happened

LostInParadise's avatar

There is some kind of extraordinary means by which all the individual neurons in our bodies come together and create a sense of “I,” but I do not regard this as soul. Where I feel a sense of spirituality is in the sense of oneness I feel with other humans and other living things and, on a good day, with the rest of the Universe. There is definitely something bigger than myself that I am part of, several things actually, but I do not see this as being connected with any supreme being.

Ron_C's avatar

The human mind is a pretty amazing machine and we haven’t found the extent of it’s abilities. If you want to call the extreme, unknown capabilities “soul” that’s fine with me. It is the religious meaning that causes me problems.

Cruiser's avatar

I believe in the soul as in your life force that is intricately woven into the fabric of the universe. This energy that you borrow during your life cycle on earth becomes yours forever and possibly will last like an echo in the universe always there to be heard, felt and shared by those that come after.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

What an excellent question.

I’m also an atheist, a so-called “weak atheist” in that I don’t “believe” in a god or gods, but I don’t militantly disbelieve, either. An agnostic, I suppose, recognizing that it’s impossible to “know” for certain one way or another. (Which would be the way “God” would want it anyway, if It had put any thought into that—and of course, It has all the time there is to think: What good is faith when proof is available?)

So in that sense, it would sure be nice to be wrong. It would be comforting to believe in a god or gods and an immortal part of “me” that lasts through eternity—we can discuss later where that eternity might be spent, since I don’t conform to various religious groups that believe it has to be spent in their version of hell because I don’t believe as they do. But, of course, I don’t believe in that, either. (It also raises the question of where this “soul” of mine has been up until now—since I retain none of its consciousness from any “past” prior to what we call 1953.)

As close as I can come to “spirituality” is… thinking and writing about questions like this, and pondering big things like the stars at night (or in the daytime, for that matter—the stars are there whether I can see them or not yeah, I know, maybe some gods are, too), and little things like cell division and DNA, and things that I can’t even see, like friendship and love. Because I don’t believe that my thoughts—or friendship and love—are just chemical reactions, either.

mattbrowne's avatar

If you allow me to answer this question as well. We should not make the mistake to think that only physical entities exist. There is plenty of evidence for physical entities, sure. But there is also evidence for abstract concepts. I believe in democracy for example. It does exist as an abstract concept. And I also believe in it. I don’t believe in totalitarianism. I don’t believe in hell. Does totalitarianism exist as a concept? Yes, it does. Does hell exist as a concept? Yes, it does. Is hell a large room somewhere above Earth’s stratosphere full of blast-furnaces powered by charcoal to be ignited by God? No, of course not. Oh, and Santa Claus does exist. He’s a historical person i.e. a physical entity. His attitude was transferred into an abstract concept: secret gift-giving. Do I believe in it? Yes. It’s a wonderful idea.

Do I believe in the existence of the soul? Yes. It’s a wonderful idea too. Can we touch it? No. Is there a chemical litmus test? No.

But like you @Jeruba I find the concept of a soul very meaningful, and not just because it makes good poetry.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@mattbrowne What is the difference between a conceptual entity and what some people would call a ‘real’ entity? Matt Browne is certainly a conceptual being, but how can I define his existence beyond that? Can we define a soul in a similar way, as a ‘real’ entity? Everything that is thought of by any subset of the human population exists conceptually, so it really isn’t a profound statement to say that something exists as a concept.

Snarp's avatar

I don’t really think of a soul. Each of us is unique and has our own thoughts and feelings, but these are largely the result of brain structure and chemistry. I believe that the results of this brain chemistry make us who we are, and that we are all valuable individuals for our uniqueness, but I don’t believe there is anything that exists independently of the body or that goes on after the body is dead.

Vunessuh's avatar

GQ. I never even really thought of the definition of a soul before reading your question. I believe that humans are material beings and the mind, spirit and soul are merely functions of the brain. Obviously, I don’t believe I have a God-given soul, because there isn’t evidence that such a thing exists. I don’t believe in a soul as far as it being a moving spirit or an immaterial essence, but I won’t discredit the definition that it’s a composite of the moral and emotional nature of human beings as far as our feelings and thoughts are concerned. I suppose it depends on how you define the term.

janbb's avatar

NSFW – Too thought provoking! I can’t really give this the long answer it deserves right now but I do have the concept of a soul. I feel that there is a “me-ness” that is not solely (bad pun) defined by my hard-wires but somehow emerges from the combination of them. I don’t think of souls as being immortal, except in the memories of those you’ve touched, but I do see it as a valid emotional concept.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

Of course there is a soul in every living breathing organism. It’s the life energy we all carry around that allows us to interact with other organisms. Can we appreciate a beautiful sunset or rainbow? Do we enjoy baby animals with an innocent joy that makes us laugh? I saw memories mentioned, they’re the residual soul that others carry on for us. I don’t believe in organized religion, but I will stop and say a prayer if any animal is killed on my road by some careless driver.

zophu's avatar

“soul” is a concept like any other; it has many meanings. The traditional of which are very religious. But it holds much more meaning than a lot of other concepts, which gives it significant flexibility. Even less flexible concepts like “angle” and “demon” have their meanings outside of religion.

“Atheist” is a concept with much less flexibility than the one you’re questioning here. Almost all of the words I avoid using casually (which are few) end in an -ism or -ist. I’d worry more about those if I were you.

In any casual situation it’s probably unwise to call yourself anything outside of practical titles like brother, friend, cook, nurse, etc.. Many masterpieces are left untitled by their creators. If an artist can respect a painting or a song enough to be unable to label it honestly, what does that mean for you if you attempt to label your universal perspective (or, your “soul”)?

Every religion begins with a catch-all status. “If you don’t believe in god, you’re one of us” is the direct opposite to the traditional catch-all, but it’s within the same spectrum of foolishness. Skeptics can be just as foolish as the people who worship rocks and bathe in the blood of the sacrificed. One embraces emotion, forsaking logic and worshiping intuition as a god. The other embraces logic, forsaking emotion and treats intuition like a childish dream. It’s not who’s less logical that defines a fool, it’s who’s less balanced. Be a human, not an -ist or -ic.

Don’t get me wrong, you’re probably automatically more balanced an individual if you call your self(soul) an atheist over a religious person. But true balance will never be had if you’re in constant contention. You’ll be in the same boat as your supposed enemies. Think about how the challenging of your title makes you feel, whether here with my words or from others’. Do you think it’s similar to how a Christian feels when approached by your perspective?

If you’re not as religiously atheistic as your question makes you appear, sorry for the words I’ve chosen. I had to say them. To be honest, I’m not sure I was talking to you.

the100thmonkey's avatar

@mattbrowne: but unless you’re a hardcore type physicalist, there’s a problem with that view – we end up with an ontology that is effectively boundless – the brain seems to encode information in similar ways, at least for concrete nouns. However, it’s worth noting that the encoding is not 100% consistent for the nouns in the experiment, and that the authors note that it ignores social aspects of noun representation.

Basically, is my internal representation of the Eiffel Tower the same as yours? I doubt it.

The question then arises that if we don’t represent the noun “fork” in the same way, do we represent abstract nouns like “love” or “soul” in the same way. Again, I doubt it. I would suggest that concepts like “soul” are normatively balanced so that they are conceptually similar, but that the similarities are too fuzzy to allow us to assert that there is a world of thought-contents.

I think the term soul has a social function, but that its referent is vague and open to interpretation. I suspect that what most people call “soul” is actually global access.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@zophu Why do you think atheists forsake their emotions? I certainly don’t.

Trillian's avatar

The bottom line is that we do not and cannot know either way for sure. @talljasperman, I think your concept bears scrutiny. I’ve felt that therre are people who are “draining”. A classic example is Rikki Lake. Watch some of her old shows and especially watch her eyes while there is a conflict going on. I always got the creeps from her. I felt that she was a “psychic vampire” for lack of a better term. i felt that she fed off of the negative energy generated by conflict.
The thing about me is that I have intuitions that too often prove themselves to be right.
Most recently for example is the feelings I was getting about things my ex SO was doing while I had allowed him to move into my house. Every time he accused me of starting things, but every time I found myself to have been right and more.
So I accept my intuitions about things that I can’t prove, though I’m not a mystic by any stretch. I just happen to think your statement has validity.
@Fyrius, I see you’re crafting, do you not think it is possible? I don’t postulate the Ms Lake is deliberate with her feeding, or even aware, only that she is getting something out of the negative exchanges and it is not healthy.

JeanPaulSartre's avatar

Not in as much as a “soul” – but certainly I respect that we are more than a pile of parts – there is a certain amount of energy needed to keep our brains functioning. I guess that could be called a soul – it’s such a poorly defined term. I guess that parts of us that aren’t just molecules, I consider to be a “soul”

zophu's avatar

@FireMadeFlesh I was demonstrating two extremes for the benefit of those who are religiously atheist. I’m an atheist when it comes down to the simplest perspective. But, I wouldn’t label myself such casually. It’s oversimplifying. I’m not really condemning anything but that—oversimplification of people. . . Which is really condemning a positive negative. So, actually, I’m trying to condemn nothing here. It’s hard for me to do without confusing people, and myself.

Fyrius's avatar

Crap, this thread is getting away from me already. NSFW indeed.

@zophu
Surely using a word to describe yourself doesn’t immediately make you a slave to the dictionary. You don’t have to define yourself with words, you can also just use them to describe yourself.
I’m an atheist. That means I don’t believe in gods, which is true. It doesn’t mean I value reason and logic (which is incidentally also true) and it definitely doesn’t mean I disregard emotions (which is not true at all).

@Trillian
I’m not sure what you mean. Would you expect me to think intuition is impossible?
I would describe intuition as a subconscious mix between instincts and statistical learning. There’s nothing about that that’s hard to explain.
And sometimes it’s right. Other times it’s wrong.

zophu's avatar

As far as my philosophy goes on the concept of soul, I consider it to be a sort of center point of the spirit. The spirit I consider to be one’s effects on humanity. I prefer not to state these things so simply, but there you go. I hope someone appreciates it.

Fyrius's avatar

Side note:

@CyanoticWasp
“What good is faith when proof is available?”
Are you implying faith is any good when proof is not available?

zophu's avatar

@Fyrius You are right.

stratman37's avatar

great, NOW what am I gonna call that nasty patch of hair below my bottom lip?

Fyrius's avatar

@stratman37
You now have a strictly abstract notion of human worthiness and intuition patch.

Trillian's avatar

@Fyrius No, I was stumbling and fumbling my way towards the concept of people who somehow feed off of negatve energy.

stratman37's avatar

I’m going downtown for lunch, maybe have some strictly abstract notion of human worthiness and intuition food.

zophu's avatar

@Fyrius Analyze the concepts “faith” and “belief”. Both have significant meaning outside of religion.

Sorry, did the wrong @ thing at first.

stratman37's avatar

“I’m a strictly abstract notion of human worthiness and intuition man! (da da da da, da da da da) I’m a strictly abstract notion of human worthiness and intuition man! (play it Steve!)

stratman37's avatar

Jesus saved my strictly abstract notion of human worthiness and intuition

Fyrius's avatar

@Trillian
Ah.
Well, in the literal sense of “feeding off negative personal energy”, no, there’s no such thing. There’s also no such thing as negative personal energy.
But there certainly do exist people who get a kick out of making other people feel bad.

stratman37's avatar

and I command you to kneel (before the) God of Thunder! and Rock and Roll. The spell you’re under, will slowly rob you of your virgin strictly abstract notion of human worthiness and intuition!

zophu's avatar

@stratman37 I’ll bite, lol.

Abstraction allows complexity. Everything is complex, nothing is simple. To be practical, one must allow for simplicity so that “real shit can get done.” Thus, to be productive, one must be delusional. It is the balance of delusion and clarity that is key. Right now, I’m speaking to humans, with brains, that have minds in them. Minds benefit, practically even, from abstract concepts.

wundayatta's avatar

I believe the term is used as a metaphor for the essence of a person—that unknowable collaboration between mind and body and life. It’s about the essence of a person’s life, all their experiences, their memories, their actions, and their thoughts about all of this. It suggests a direction that we perceive in other people.

Some people we call “old souls.” That usually suggests they have a wisdom that seems to be beyond their years. Where could it have come from?

There are soul-mates; people who connect at such a deep level, it seems like they are perfectly matched in their essential natures.

There are many kinds of soul systems. For example, this author makes up two types:

1) jiva-atma – the individual soul, known as the living entity
2) param-atma – the Supersoul, known as the Supreme Lord, who resides in the hearts of all living entities as the witness.

I googled types of souls and found seven soul systems and four soul systems, “three soul systems” (http://www.kabbalaonline.net/Safedteachings/gor/Three_Types_of_Soul_(71).asp) and who knows what else. There are alien souls inhabiting the bodies of humans and there are souls in inanimate as well as living beings, including animals.

For one, souls are personality systems:

The names reflect the natural proclivities of each soul type:

Servers are naturally accommodating, caring, nurturing, hospitable, altruistic.
Artisans are naturally creative, inventive, imaginative, sensitive, dexterous.
Warriors are naturally forceful, loyal, protective, determined, steadfast.
Scholars are naturally curious, studious, academic, analytical, neutral.
Sages are naturally engaging, articulate, charming, entertaining, expressive.
Priests are naturally inspirational, uplifting, motivating, energising, visionary.
Kings are naturally commanding, assured, powerful, authoritative, decisive.

It think that all of these systems are trying to capture the notion of the true essence of people and things. Soul is the metaphor for that which can’t really be encapsulated. We call it a soul and leave it at that as if we have explained it.

In truth, it is extremely difficult to explain the essence of a being. “Soul” is a useful metaphor, even for atheists. Most people understand intuitively what is meant. The atheists who get annoyed with the term (I used to be one of those) may eventually learn to lighten up and use the word without religious connotations. It is possible to do that.

stratman37's avatar

@zophu you’ll bite what?

zophu's avatar

@stratman37 You made me feel like you were taunting me, so I responded instead of ignoring you. Wasn’t it me you called abstraction man?

@wundayatta Please don’t think of souls like classes in an RPG game. . . I can’t even laugh at that as silly as it sounds, “Warriors, Sages, and Kings.” A human is all of these things, don’t simplify people—it’s how parasites control us, rendering us slaves. Slaves are not human.

(addendum or however you spell it)

There are specific roles people play in life, some for their entire lifespan, but let’s not start assigning jobs to individuals in their entire being. I think it’s unhealthy.

(addendum addendum)

It seems you were being scholarly in your response, wundayatta. Sorry to be so quick to attack the personality system you found. But it reminds of star signs and the like. Those things disgust me.

stratman37's avatar

@zophu Naw, I wasn’t calling anybody anything. I was just trying to work the phrase into everyday uses of the word “soul”. Hello? Is this thing on? These are the JOKES, people!

zophu's avatar

@stratman37 Oh, sorry. I’m overly defensive because I say things that mean a lot to me and it would hurt if someone cut me down.

Fyrius's avatar

@wundayatta
I’m going to take a page from @zophu‘s book now and object to taking any system seriously that divides people into a small number of “personality type” categories.
It’s typical human oversimplification that makes us come up with so many wildly different versions of “there are N kinds of people”. The only two numbers you can fill into that variable that are objectively true are “one kind of people” (carbon-based ones that breathe oxygen) and “six billion kinds of people”. Any number between those two needs to rely on an arbitrary criterion of what counts as one “type” or “kind”, how much difference you need before you can’t call two people “the same kind of person” any more.
Arguably an exception would be “two kinds of people – men and women.” But even then the transsexuals and the genderqueer would like a word with you.

janbb's avatar

toggling back and forth between this question and Dibly’s. Ah Fluther – gotta love it!

stratman37's avatar

@zophu duly noted. I ain’t hatin’!

zophu's avatar

People must allow themselves to be abstract, and they must allow the people of their perception as much similar respect as they can manage. It gets very hard to accept the complexity of people around you and of yourself when living in modern over-populated communities. Which is why we are constantly simplified by culture—stability grows more difficult when systems become more complex. It is when people are oversimplified that they are misidentified as things less-than-human and thus considered exploitable, expendable or worthy of extermination based on superficial characteristics.

But then, people can truly be less-than-human. It is competence in social order that is necessary for our sustained complexity, and thus our sustained adaptability, and thus our survival. With the world population reaching ridiculous growth rates and social systems as they are, the simplified majority and most actual humans will fall into some sort of mass death. It seems to be the only possible outcome next to a miraculous redesign. Hell, at this point the most miraculous a redesign could probably be is as a planned “Apocalypse.” Hopefully the religious wont lead us into one. It would be the Dark Ages x a few hundred million. No, it will probably be more “evolved” than the Dark Ages. Geh. that’s depressing.

wundayatta's avatar

@zophu and @Fyrius I hope you don’t think I was endorsing any of those systems. My point was to do a little survey of how people use the term. I didn’t know people used the concept of soul to develop little categorization schemes, and I agree with both of you that such categorization schemes, as with their psychological brethren, are silly. I think they call that “reductionism?” Or reductio ad absurdum?

Like I said, I think people use the term “soul” as a way to talk about the whole essential being of a person. To say we know a soul is to reduce that person to an imagined idea of that person. That is the conceit of the term, and that is something that anyone can use, not just religious folk. It is merely a placeholder for a much more in dept discussion.

zophu's avatar

@wundayatta Yeah, I’m very sorry for the apparent attack. I didn’t read your post thoroughly. I was being lazy. Wont happen again. Probably.

AstroChuck's avatar

I thought that Don Cornelius already proved the existance of the soul.

zophu's avatar

@AstroChuck
that video makes me glad I missed the 80’s lol

Qingu's avatar

I think “soul” is just a loaded term for “consciousness.”

davidbetterman's avatar

@TrillianI was stumbling and fumbling my way towards the concept of people who somehow feed off of negatve energy.”

Of course these people exist. Those of us in the know call them vampires. Energy vampires.

Trillian's avatar

@davidbetterman I said that. I called them psychic vampires. Thank you. So, I guess that there would be a lot of them where the pickings are really good. Washington DC springs to mind.

davidbetterman's avatar

@Trillian The pickings are good everywhere…even online. Many trolls who roil the waters and push others to respond with negativity actually devour that energy evoked from their victims!

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

My ‘disbelief’ in a soul has nothing to do with my atheism. I think the term stands for the fact that, as @JeanPaulSartre mentioned, we’re more than our parts and are capable of feelings and connecting in ways that aren’t alwas quantifiable and shouldn’t even be so. However, I don’t think there is any such thing as a soul, one single entity residing god knows where (pun intended) but I didn’t believe in it when I was religous either.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

@Fyrius what I meant by the comment (repeated here since your question was soooo long ago in the thread):

“What good is faith when proof is available?”
Are you implying faith is any good when proof is not available?

What I was saying was that the way most religions are structured, “faith” is a requirement. Religions speak of “true believers” and “members of the faith”. And if I were a god, this is what I would demand, too: I would never offer “proof” of myself, because proofs can be misunderstood, botched—and disproved with sophistry. I would say, as gods have said in every religion that I’ve ever studied: “Believe in me because I tell you to. This is a requirement for you—to hold that belief absent any ‘proof’. You won’t get ‘proof’.”

@Jeruba I’d sure love to hear your thoughts on the Q you asked. I can’t believe—won’t believe—that you are a “pure mechanist” who can reduce all of our thoughts, emotions, beliefs and concepts to be little or nothing more than brain chemistry and physics.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@CyanoticWasp I like to think of as nothing less.

Fyrius's avatar

Tangent time.

@CyanoticWasp
I figured as much.
Of course, I’m no stranger to the religious mind-set that faith is good. But I think it’s a load of rubbish. And whenever a subject comes up that I think is a load of rubbish, I have to point it out. :P

I don’t agree with what you say, either. I think faith is only considered an indispensable part of religion because religions can never prove themselves. Faith is the only thing they have and proof is usually against them, so the religions mold the minds of their followers to make faith good and proof bad. It’s a strategy a memeplex employs to sustain itself.
But if any religion could prove beyond any doubt that they’re the Only Right One, I don’t think any of its followers would think any less of their belief in it. I bet they would embrace the proof and use it to point and laugh at everyone else.

You say proof can be misunderstood, messed up or bullshitted away if people really want to, but does that make proof useless? Does it make faith in P preferable to knowledge that P?
If you’re a god and you give the earthlings no proof of your existence, and just leave them alone so they can go have faith, at least 99% of them is going to have faith in something else. Probably 100%. They’re going to have faith in Horus or Jehovah or Vishnu or Zeus instead of in CyanoticWasp. How could they not? How are they supposed to know what’s true if they are only allowed to have faith? Faith doesn’t distinguish between true or false.
And surely a god can come up with a kind of proof that can’t be misunderstood or denied. And if people do it anyway a god could just come down and tell them how wrong they are.

mattbrowne's avatar

@FireMadeFlesh, @the100thmonkey – Yes, all physical entities (let’s call them PE) exist as conceptional entities as well (let’s call them CE) which means CE is a superset of PE. A physical entity is something that has a distinct, separate material existence, i.e. a photon or a down quark. What do you mean by real entity? Maybe what I call a physical entity. There is of course the metaphysical or religious question: Is there a transcendent realm (let’s call it TR) which is a subset of CE as well, but disjoint from PE. To most naturalists and positivists TR is equal to the empty set. An interesting question is what is the mind and what is consciousness (@Qingu said it might be the same as the soul). Is it part of PE? Or TR?

I believe the soul is part of TR, but hell isn’t. I know to some atheists this might sound ridiculous.

Fyrius's avatar

@mattbrowne
But surely there exist physical entities that have no conceptual counterpart, at least not in any human mind. Like stars so far away that they’ve never been observed.

And consciousness is definitely a PE. Ask any neurocognitive scientist for their results.

zophu's avatar

@Fyrius

You just made a conception of stars so far away they’ve never been observed. And, you just contradicted your notion that there exists physical entities that have no conceptual counterpart—because that is a concept of those physical entities. Doesn’t that count?

zophu's avatar

@mattbrowne

any solid beliefs in a “Transcendent Realm” is very religiousy. Simply because it’s so specific a concept for things that seem to be so far beyond understanding.

Transcention exists, however. Perhaps your “TR” is a “CE” of the “PE” of a future where you, or humanity, is at a higher level of evolutionary advancement?

Fyrius's avatar

@zophu
Hum.

But black holes, for example, had already existed for aeons before humans ever developed a mental concept of black holes. Certainly there still exist unknown phenomena like that. Would you really consider the concept of “unknown stuff” a conceptual counterpart of such things?
And how about all that time before humanity even existed? There physically existed things while there existed no conceptual entities (bar alien concepts; there must have been a time when there was no life form in the universe that could have concepts).

mattbrowne's avatar

@Fyrius – I think every physical entity has a conceptual counterpart. ‘Set of undiscovered stars’ is the conceptual entity for your example.

If consciousness is a PE what exactly is it? We know the brain consists of neurons which consists of molecules, atoms… The brain clearly is a PE.

mattbrowne's avatar

@zophu – I think even Kurzweil’s superintelligence will be limited to the physical universe. The transcendent realm (if it exists) is not accessible.

Fyrius's avatar

@mattbrowne
I addressed your first remark already.
As for the second, consciousness is a state of a brain. In the most physical terms, it’s the difference between the activity you measure in the brain of someone awake and the activity you measure when they’re asleep.
But for a more useful description of the software than what the hard drive does, I’d have to refer you again to a neuroscientist. I’m not an expert on this, even if my field (linguistics) is technically part of the cognitive sciences.

zophu's avatar

@Fyrius

“Unknown stuff” still a valid concept of unknown things. The value of the concept in relation to what the unknown things might one day be known as is irrelevant. It’s not our conception that defines reality. But it is our conception that defines the concepts of reality. Do you understand? We don’t see reality, we see our brain. On any absolute level, our concept of “unknown stuff” is just as definitive as our concept of gravity. Not nearly as useful, but just as definitive.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@mattbrowne I see things the other way around – CE is a subset of PE, as conceptual entities are encoded in a physical sense in the brain. The materialist concept of the mind is a foregone conclusion for me.

TR in my opinion is, as you anticipated, ridiculous. I equate it with @zophu‘s “unknown stuff” concept. What we do not yet understand or what we wish to be true despite evidence enters the transcendent realm, where reason and science cannot touch it without us being politely asked to respect the beliefs of others.

zophu's avatar

@mattbrowne

It just seems like too specific an idea for something so mysterious. That’s an indicator of religiousiness. You should analyze how strongly you hold your beliefs and question the strongest ones rigorously. You may believe in this transcendent realm with the spirit of a pioneer in exploration, but things like that can get a little too solid and get stuck in your head. Before you know it, your assumptions have made you miss so many other things.

mattbrowne's avatar

@FireMadeFlesh – One way to look at it. My view is different. Conceptual entities exist before the very first human (or alien) intelligence discover them as abstract concepts. Suppose a big bounce universe does not exist physically. To me there’s the idea, the discovery of an idea and the neurological encoding inside the brain of the discoverer (an alien intelligence might store this in a different way). Memory is a PE of course. We can actually observe synapses growing in our brains.

Sorry, but you have not understood the TR concept of a theology rejecting the god of the gaps idea.

mattbrowne's avatar

@zophu – Einstein once said: ‘The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed. The further the spiritual evolution of mankind advances, the more certain it seems to me that the path to genuine religiosity does not lie through the fear of life, and the fear of death, and blind faith, but through striving after rational knowledge.’

LostInParadise's avatar

Consciousness is an emergent property just as an ant colony is an emergent property. There is no need for metaphysics.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@mattbrowne I do understand, you explained it to me many months ago. My comment simply reflects the way I think most people go about it. Your views are not the prevailing religious thought, and I was not addressing them in that post.

zophu's avatar

@mattbrowne

I guess I agree, if I understand what you’re saying. But does that address what I said? About how the way you presenting your “theology” seemed unhealthily religiousy. It may not be, you might be expressing a theory that inspires you and not a hardcore belief like the kind christians depend on for dealing with the complexity of existence.

Fyrius's avatar

@mattbrowne
I disagree.
If by “the mysterious” Albert meant “that which we cannot explain and never will”, I disagree. The mysterious is boring as hell. It was unknown a thousand years ago, and it’s still unknown. What’s so fun about not knowing something?
What’s genuinely interesting is that which is unknown but not unknowable. The riddle we can set about to figure out. The question that we can make definite progress in trying to answer.

No, I don’t think looking at a delicious sandwich on a platter behind bullet-proof glass is more fun than reaching for an accessible delicious sandwich and then eating it.

mattbrowne's avatar

It is not “my” theology. It’s the theology of most intellectual theologians in Europe. Yes, it’s not the theology of the evangelical movement in the US.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Fyrius – Einstein meant both. Yes, he was pointing out that unexplained does not mean inexplicable. What is dark matter? What is dark energy? Very likely this will be explained by scientists in the future. But Einstein also meant deeper questions. Why are the natural laws of the universe stable? What is the purpose of our universe? And so forth. Einstein was not a positivist who would claim that the only authentic knowledge is that which is based on sense experience and positive verification.

Fyrius's avatar

I feel I should interject here that I’m not happy about this Big Boss of Braininess authority thing Einstein seems to have going on. The man was a brilliant theoretical physicist, I’m sure, but where theology is concerned I think he was a bit of a loony.
I don’t feel very compelled to take an idea more seriously because Einstein believed it. On this subject I don’t accept his authority.

As for the rest, fair enough.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Fyrius – I agree. Einstein wasn’t a philosopher or theologian. I quoted him not because I thought he was an authority in these fields. I am not a philosopher or theologian either. I’m a computer scientist. I used the quote to show that scientists might take an interest in mysteries outside the scientific realm. There are others like Paul Davies or Kenneth R. Miller.

zophu's avatar

@mattbrowne

You should only believe in that which can not be known if you’re actively exploring it, otherwise you’re just another crusader. “Maybe” is an priceless thing.

mattbrowne's avatar

@zophu – I’m thinking.

mattbrowne's avatar

Yes, still actively exploring it ;-)

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