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There is no Soul. Deal with it.

Galilei kicked us out of the Center of the Universe.

Darwin kicked us off the Pinnacle of Creation

Freud kicked the Soul out of our Brains.

Few remain adherents of Geocentrism.

The opponents of evolution are legion and very vocal (in this country, and a couple of Middle Eastern ones), but they have been defeated so soundly so many times, they had to concede more and more ground, and though they are getting sneakier with time, their efforts are becoming more and more laughable and pitiful.

So, the last Big Fight will be about the Soul. The next area of science to experience a big frontal attack will be Neuroscience.

There is no Soul. Your mind is the subjective experience of what the molecules in your brain cells are doing. Period. But for many, that is the last straw. And the attack will, unlike Creationism, be coming from all sides of the political spectrum, as there are as many adherents of Spirituality crap on the Left as there are believers in the Soul on the Right. They just cannot bear the idea that there isn’t “something more to it” than “just materialism”!

Witness the new book “Spritiual Brain” which is so bad that it cannot even be fisked argument by argument as no arguments are actually presented (at least Creationists have their usual list of idiotic statements that can be effectively demonstrated to be wrong). Shelley Batts and PZ Myers tried hard, but there is just no ‘there’ there.

And even serious neurofolks, like Alvaro and colleagues who are organizing a meeting in Aspen on some of the coolest aspects of neuroplasticity – a hot area of neuroscience that studies how events in the internal and external environment modify the functioning of the brain, which affects the subjective experience, something that is potentially useful in treating people with mental or emotional problems, get slammed for being too materialistic.

If it is non-materialistic, then, by definition, it does not exist. Not just that it is not amenable to scientific study. It.Does.Not.Exist.

Comments

  1. #1 Mark Powell
    October 3, 2007

    Righteous stuff, brother!! I think you’re right that the soul will provide turf to fight over. And I think you’re right that this is not a left/right issue. That will make it more interesting.

  2. #2 Jerad Kaliher
    October 3, 2007

    It’s so refreshing to hear such a blunt estimation of the situation. The faster humanity moves on and realizes that science is the answer to their questions, in all its beauty and fascination, we’ll be a lot better off.

    I hope that intelligent people begin moving forward and stop hiding behind a veil of political correctness and double speak.

  3. #3 A. Marques
    October 3, 2007

    Right on…

    But, I guess this soul business is going (again) to be an eternal fight. It’s very hard to convince people who’s beliefs are so pressed they don’t even want to consider other hypothesis.

  4. #4 Moopheus
    October 3, 2007

    Now, you know Copernicus kicked us out of the center of the universe. Galileo just provided more observational backup.

    And Freud was actually right about something? Yeesh. Who knew?

  5. #5 Tegumai Bopsulai, FCD
    October 3, 2007

    What a poor job of framing! You should acknowledge that it is rational to believe in a nonrational soul-concept.

  6. #6 bob koepp
    October 3, 2007

    I don’t know much about souls, but I have some acquaintance with at least one mind. So when I encounter blunt assertions like, “Your mind is the subjective experience of what the molecules in your brain cells are doing. Period,” I know that we’re knee deep in nonsense. Even if minds are material phenomena, a large fraction of subjective experiences are of things external to brain cells; things like people, chairs, books, … well, most of this universe.

  7. #7 coturnix
    October 3, 2007

    Yes, all those things actually exist. Molecules in your sensory organs respond to them and molecules in your brain process that information. Your subjective notion that you see a book is thus a result of purely materialistic processes.

    Yes, a book really exists. And our brains have evolved to such a size and complexity that we are now capable of coming up with all sorts of concepts. All the concepts exist. The objects those concepts denote may or may not exist.

    A concept of the book is real. A book is real.

    A concept of a Unicorn exists. A Unicorn does not.

    A concept of a Soul exists. A Sould does not.

  8. #8 bob koepp
    October 3, 2007

    Well, this talk of existence simply ignores the point that, by and large, subjective experiences are of things external to brain cells. So the blunt assertion remains nonsense.

  9. #9 coturnix
    October 3, 2007

    There was never any blunt assertion that everything is internal. See my last comment. There is a real world. There is a brain processing information about the world. There is subjective notion we have about it all (“mind”). All of those truly exist and are fully ‘materialistic’. There is nothing supernatural (“Soul”) about the entire process. What part of it you have a problem with?

  10. #10 bob koepp
    October 3, 2007

    I haven’t questioned your materialistic presuppositions. But I did directly quote you regarding what “your mind” is. That was a blunt assertion (period…), and nonsense to boot. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I think a materialistic view can be presented and defended without lapsing into such nonsense.

  11. #11 coturnix
    October 3, 2007

    Are you talking about this sentence:”Your mind is the subjective experience of what the molecules in your brain cells are doing.”?

    What is un-materialistic or internalistic about it? We do not experience the outside world, we experience what our brain cells tell us about the world, and what they tell us about it is based on the real, physical effects of the world on sensory organs. Actually, to be even more precise, the play of molecules in neurons IS the mind. No room for spirits or soul, nor is it “everything exitst only in your mind” assertion. It is quite real and realistic and fully materialistic.

  12. #12 bob koepp
    October 3, 2007

    This is absurd. A glance at my original post will show that, yes, that is the very sentence I quoted from your post — along with the added “Period.” And then I mentioned a few things other than molecules in your brain cells that might be objects of subjective experiences. But you seem intent on maintaining that “We do not experience the outside world …” Well, if you develop that line of thought _consistently_, you’ll probably end up with some sort of idealism. And somehow, I think that’s not what you have in “mind”.

  13. #13 Steve Esser
    October 3, 2007

    Hi Bora. I enjoy your blog as always and am sorry I don’t frequently comment. I hope you don’t object to this comment.

    I think your last statement does go beyond what is settled yet. Supernatural immaterial souls almost certainly don’t exist, so I’m in agreement with you there. But as a metaphysical worldview, my opinion is that materialism doesn’t account adequately for the existence of first person subjective experience. The argument is that there is no reason that the brain/body/environment system, as described in classical functional or mechanical terms, could not be operating “in the dark” with no subjective experience.

    Some philosophers make this case effectively, although others, of course, disagree. But I think it points toward the need for a worldview which is naturalistic in the sense of rejecting traditionally supernatural entities or interventions, but improves on materialism.
    Best regards, – Steve Esser

  14. #14 BRC
    October 3, 2007

    How very sad to think so.

  15. #15 qubit
    October 3, 2007

    Bob, I have a simple question for you: Care to give ONE example of a subjective experience that is not “what the molecules in your brain cells are doing”? Just one. Not sensory input, since what we experience is thoroughly processed interpretations of the activity in the sensory centers of our brain. Unless, of course, you want to claim that hallucinogens alter the outside world, not our experience of it.

    Steve, serious question: how would you make the distinction between materialism and naturalism? I can see several ways to split them (e.g., I might say quantum field theories are naturalistic without being materialistic since they don’t deal with matter, per se), but I’m not entirely sure what you mean here. Sorry, involuntary physics reflex (‘be precise in your terms’).

  16. #16 Steve Esser
    October 3, 2007

    Hi qubit. Thanks for your question. I apologize for not answering better now, but the phila. phillies are in the playoffs for the first time in 14 years and I’m heading to the game.

    My speculative idea is that the world is comprised of events which are physical from the third person perspective but inherently experiential from the first person perspective. I think a certain interp. of QM can support this idea. The big problem is how our macroscopic level experience is built up from the micro-level.

  17. #17 qubit
    October 3, 2007

    Hmm… so something like a ‘consciousness causes collapse’, but without the problematic ’causes’ part? That’s probably the one interp. of QM I never use (I switch between them rather freely as convenient for the problem at hand), but it certainly isn’t completely absurd considering the extent to which QM is based on the actual act of measurement. I actually think the biggest problem meshing this with QM would be the lack of local realism, but that tends to be a thorny issue to begin with.

  18. #18 Colugo
    October 3, 2007

    “We do not experience the outside world, we experience what our brain cells tell us about the world, and what they tell us about it is based on the real, physical effects of the world on sensory organs”

    OK, but just what is this “we” and “us”?

    Look, I agree with you about materialism and all that. La Mettrie was on the mark a quarter millennium ago.

    The reason why it is still a battleground is that we still have very poor understanding of the mechanistic basis of the subjective experience of consciousness. Let’s be candid about that fact. What we do know for certain is that the explanation has to be wholly materialistic. Current scientific and philosophical attempts to solve the problem often involve redefining consciousness into something much more simple and trivial. (Perhaps when the real solution is discovered, it will seem embarrassingly obvious, shades of Huxley’s “How extremely stupid not to have thought of that!” It will probably involve embodiment and emergence and some other current buzzwords, but stated more elegantly and incisively.)

    The other remaining battleground is anthropic cosmological fine tuning (which may also turn out to also have an “obvious” – and of course, wholly materialistic and non-teleological – solution).

  19. #19 bob koepp
    October 3, 2007

    qubit – I already mentioned people, chairs and books as things of which one might have subjective experience, and last time I checked, neither people, nor chairs nor books are molecules in my brain cells. Note that I don’t claim my subjective experiences of such things doesn’t depend on what the molecules in my brain cells do. But that doesn’t underwrite a claim that brain cell activity is the object of subjective experiences.

  20. #20 Colugo
    October 3, 2007

    Not only was Freud a latecomer to science’s elimination of the soul concept, he badly botched the program. But I’ll grant that he was the most culturally influential.

    By the way, have you read D.S. Wilson and E.O. Wilson: ‘Rethinking the theoretical foundation of sociobiology’? (Available on DS Wilson’s website.)

  21. #21 jim
    October 3, 2007

    If it is non-materialistic, then, by definition, it does not exist.

    This gets really close to what I suspect is an unvoiced axiom in many (not all) science bloggers’ minds. It goes something like: “only that which is material exists”.

    You’re certainly entitled to believe that, as am I, but like the non-existence of the cosmic teapot, it’s a postulate.

  22. #22 qubit
    October 4, 2007

    Bob, equivocation is not the same thing as an argument. You don’t experience a chair. You experience the excitation of your visual cortex when photons reflecting off the chair activate your retinal cells, &c., &c., leading you to see what you categorize as a chair. Two simple points to demonstrate this:

    1. Take some acid. Maybe you’ll see a chair, maybe you’ll see purple monkeys. But what you see is a subjective internal state of your mind. To claim that you experience the chair, not the observation of it, is just silly.

    2. Take some ketamine. Your eyes will get the photons just fine, your visual cortex will even get a mostly accurate image. But you won’t recognize a thing, least of all a chair. You will experience chaotic, unprocessed sense data.

    I actually think psychopharmacology is one of the best arguments against dualist superstition, and certainly less abstract than the conservation of energy/time translation symmetry argument.

  23. #23 bob koepp
    October 4, 2007

    qubit -
    I’m not equivocating. I understand the difference between direct and indirect theories of perception just fine, and know that the simple experiments with consciousness that you suggest don’t demonstrate what you think they do. I also know that this is a separate issue from dualism. Do you?

  24. #24 Steve Esser
    October 4, 2007

    Right. Not consciousness causing collapse (consciousness remains an unexplained mysterious thing in that case), but experience is an inherent part of collapse events. And collapse events (interactions between quantum systems) are the stuff of reality.

  25. #25 Mark Wyatt
    October 4, 2007

    “Galilei kicked us out of the Center of the Universe.”

    But haven’t you heard? Galileo Was Wrong. The Church Was Right.

    Sorry, but your presumptions do not count as truth.

  26. #26 Mark Wyatt
    October 4, 2007
  27. #27 Chris
    October 4, 2007

    Wow. Medieval Times called and they want their parody back.

  28. #28 Heresiarch
    October 4, 2007

    “If it is non-materialistic, then, by definition, it does not exist.”

    This idea is a real problem: Materialistic Fundamentalism. Just as pernicious as religious fundamentalism.

    Two things: (1) “by definition”? Whose definition? Certainly not that of a Platonist. Maybe that of your high school science teacher. (2) Quantum mechanics redefines “materialistic,” so the whole issue has to be recast. Start over.

    Earlier in this thread, someone said that consciousness must be accounted for in materialistic terms. That’s fine, if you loosen the definition of materialistic to include quantum mechanics. Either way, the philosophical issue remains: if I can actually cause my arm to move by willing that it do so, then I have moved atoms with my mind. How can atoms respond to mental commands? I know all about muscular contractions and nervous impulses that can be traced back into the brain, but the causal chain ends with my intention to move my arm.

    Otherwise, the universe is a perfect determinism (a proposition already exposed as wrong by quantum mechanics) and we better let all the murderers out of prison, because they cannot be held responsible for their actions, because they could not do otherwise. Because every event that ever occurred was predetermined at the instant of the big bang — if the universe is a perfect determinism. If it’s not (and we know it’s not) then how does the set of possible events become reduced to the set of those that actually occur? There is no decision-making agent but subjectivity.

  29. #29 jspreen
    October 5, 2007

    There is no Soul. Your mind is the subjective experience of what the molecules in your brain cells are doing. Period.

    Now what is that? Before you can decide whether a thing exists or not, you must define it. Where is your definition of the soul? The way I read your contribution I can only conclude that your phrase:
    Your mind is the subjective experience of what the molecules in your brain cells are doing. is as close as you get to a definition of the soul and at the same time the proof of it’s existence.

    Anyway, what the heck, I couldn’t care less. What makes me jump though is this:

    “So, the last Big Fight will be about the Soul.”

    Why do people always fight about who’s wrong and who’s right? Haven’t you yet learned yet that nobody’s ever been definitely right about anything? Why fight man? What depends on it? Why not simply sit together and learn from each other? You won’t get anywhere the way you proceed, unless, of course, walking the beaten path ad nuaseam is equivalent to getting somewhere in your eyes.

    Here, this is the way I see it, exactly the other way around:

    The molecules in your brain cells are doing what the subjective experience of your mind tells them to do.

    Mine is a different world from yours, ain’t it? But we’re both in it so it’s the same.

  30. #30 jspreen
    October 5, 2007

    All drugs are toxic.

    OKAAAAAYYYYY !!

    Now, that said, why don’t you go thinking on a little further?

    I mean, for instance the thought that humanity didn’t get any further yet than trying to heal people who feel bad because their own body hurts itself, by giving them poison: ain’t that something to consider? I mean, modern science and all that, and we’ve only got that far? Man, one single step of an intellectual dwarf should have got us way beyond where we are today!

  31. #31 bob koepp
    October 5, 2007

    It pains me to criticize less than careful remarks about minds by people like Bora, since I don’t want certain others to think this supports their own ill-conceived views about the nature of minds. Materialists should be candid about the very difficult problems remaining on their to-do list, and those certain others need to understand that the unanswered questions of materialism don’t constitute an argument for any sort of immaterialist alternative.

  32. #32 coturnix
    October 5, 2007

    Thanks, bob. I was too busy, frankly, to pay much attention to this thread. I’ll have to revisit it over the weekend and see if I can figure out who is saying what and why.

  33. #33 jspreen
    October 5, 2007

    (Sorry for my previous entry which has nothing to do here.)

    Materialists should be candid about the very difficult problems remaining on their to-do list, and those certain others need to understand that the unanswered questions of materialism don’t constitute an argument for any sort of immaterialist alternative.

    And vice-versa (by inversing material and immaterial), don’t forget.

  34. #34 bob koepp
    October 5, 2007

    jspreen – Point taken. However, even though materialism is a metaphysical stance, it is possible to “bracket” metaphysical questions and get on with the piecemeal empirical investigation of materialist hypotheses regarding carefully circumscribed questions about minds. The neurosciences and various branches of psychology are awash with examples of fruitful empirical investigations of that sort. I think extrapolating from those empirical investigations to metaphysical conclusions is ill-considered, or at least premature. But most materialists at least seem to appreciate that empirical evidence is the currency of science qua science. I can’t say the same for most immaterialists.

  35. #35 Colugo
    October 5, 2007

    “Your mind is the subjective experience of what the molecules in your brain cells are doing”

    How is the “subject” in “subjective” generated? We don’t really know. This is related to David Chalmers’ “hard problem of consciousness.” Dennett, Hofstadter, Churchland, Damasio, Varela etc. don’t have the solution to that. The neurophysiological (including pharmacological) correlates of consciousness is a much easier problem. More complete understanding of this “easy problem” may lead to the solution to the “hard problem.” Alternatively, the solution might require a conceptual breakthrough that could have been made much earlier, like Darwin’s insight. And it is not inconceivable that the “hard problem” will forever remain a mystery, to the delight of mystics and theists.

    http://www.wie.org/unbound/media.asp?id=77

    http://world.std.com/~awolpert/gtr570.html

  36. #36 Colugo
    October 7, 2007

    Steven Rose believes that the proximate mechanistic basis of consciousness is a very hard problem.

    Steven Rose: “Peter Medawar talked about science as being the art of the soluble, and he’s right, which is why I won’t work on consciousness.”

    http://education.guardian.co.uk/academicexperts/story/0,1392,618984,00.html

    Steven Rose: “Being conscious has survival value. Certainly the evolutionary path that led to humans involved building bigger and better brains and greater capacity for plasticity for operating on and predicting one’s environment.”

    “I am inclined to dismiss questions that you can’t get a clear handle on. I know that it’s a narrowness of view, but I don’t know how to answer those questions. Consciousness
    is for someone else at this stage.”

    http://www.embl.org/aboutus/news/publications/report/report02/report02_51.pdf

  37. #37 soul_less
    May 12, 2009

    Nice blog entry. There is no soul, or spirit in the machine. We are — that is, our personality, memories, inclinations etc. — strictly the result of chemical processes occurring the brain.

  38. #38 souls r fake
    June 15, 2009

    Souls don’t really exist. All there is is just a brain, and a free floating, resonant electromagnetic field that has the capabilities to experience the world, that is linked to the electrochemical signals sent through the brain. Quite simply, when you die, if the field survives, you feel no emotion because of no more electrochemical signals, and you don’t matter anymore. End. Consciousness is an illusion.

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