Re: Damien Broderick's new book (& the soul)

Anders Sandberg (
22 Apr 1999 19:27:46 +0200

Damien Broderick <> writes:

> Which brings me to the topic of a different thread, the question of `soul'.
> It seems to me that science is good at providing satisfactory solutions
> only to questions that can be well-framed, questions for which we can hope
> to find an answer. Its starting point might be the one I. I. Rabi blurted
> out when he learned of the meson: `Who ordered that?' That is: what's the
> role this phenomenon plays in the wider scheme of things known to us from
> all our joint efforts to know and comprehend the world? So: Who ordered
> the soul? People who were puzzled by the gap between brute, unliving
> matter and complex living critters, and by the gap between brute matter and
> the rich inward qualia of consciousness.

I think this fits the facts. Lee Smolin mentioned something similar in _The Life of the Cosmos_, where he pointed out that Newtonian mechanics couldn't explain life and other complex systems satisfactory, so people invented vitalism.

I wonder if we humans are excessively anthropomorphizing things? We have well developed social interaction subsystems of our brains, and using them to think about complex phenomena might have been a convenient mental shortcut (handle animals as if they had human properties, and you could more easily learn to hunt or use them; the same goes for plants and the weather). So we have brains that tend to imbue just about everything with a human-like appearance. This might be another reason people believe in souls: they anthropomorphize a lot of their aspects (shadow, breath, thinking), and this easily become something apparently independent (Yes, I was reading Frazer's _Golden Bough_ over breakfast :-)

> But increasingly, the public investigative methods
> of the sciences *are* approaching an adequate account of how mind is the
> brained body in action. We can't yet explain the allure of the Mona Lisa
> (I'd bet learnig to copy the avowed responses of others has a lot to do
> with it), but cognitive science and evolutionary psychology offer a better
> chance of a good account than gesturing at a supposed `soul' that has no
> limits or characteristics distinguishing it from its absence.


Anders Sandberg                                      Towards Ascension!                  
GCS/M/S/O d++ -p+ c++++ !l u+ e++ m++ s+/+ n--- h+/* f+ g+ w++ t+ r+ !y