Daniel Fabulich (
Tue, 21 Jul 1998 12:02:44 -0400 (EDT)

On Mon, 20 Jul 1998, Geoff Smith wrote:

> (in addition to the already stated empirical evidence approach, I have
> provided an answer for those who prefers semantics and "logic" to
> empiricism...)
> For a spirit to interact with matter&energy, it would by definition have
> to BE a form of matter&energy. If it is useful(or spiritually imperative)
> to separate matter&energy into that which is considered the "soul" and
> that which is not, this separation can be accommodated in the uploading
> process.
> Thus, by simple logic, it is appparent that even those who believe in a
> soul can be uploaded without compromising their faith. Transhumanism is
> therefore compatible with any religion that does not explicity state "Thou
> shalt not upload!"

This argument will not appeal to its stated audience, I think, because most of those who believe in the soul would not swallow your premise that a soul is matter or energy; many believe it is made out of soulstuff that cannot be measured; others believe that it is energy, but it is a form of energy which is unlike other forms of energy in certain mystical ways. Anyone who believes these things will not be convinced by your argument.

To answer this question more mystically:

Some people believe that if humans were ever to build a brain or reanimate a cryonically frozen one, it could never have a soul. If this belief is true, then artifical consciousness of any kind is impossible.

I must begin by pointing out that it seems quite likely that humans will one day create something so sophisticated that we will not be able to tell whether it is conscious or not simply by observing its behavior. For example, a functional upload would definitely APPEAR conscious. Similarly, if we could get cryonics to work at all then the reanimated person would look and act just like a normal person; while progress in AI is moving slowly for now, I am aware of no strong evidence that it is impossible to make a computer which ACTS like it has a soul. That we will one day, at least, perfectly imitate consciousness seems clear to me.

The necessary consequence of this point, however, is that when presented with such a computer, we could never use human observation to figure out whether it has a soul or not. If it acts conscious, claims to be conscious, and exhibits intelligence, there's really nothing further we can observe using our five senses. The rest is necessarily incorporeal.

I could now argue, as many intelligent people have, that if we cannot tell the difference between something that has a soul and something that doesn't, then it doesn't really matter; some have even gone as far as to define consciousness in terms of its behavior, claiming that anything that seems conscious, is.

This answer does not settle well with the religious, however. A religious person might argue that there are lots of things outside of human observation; the soul may be one of them. While a behavioralist might not find this argument very compelling, the behavioralist's argument is equally opaque to the religious: just because we can never observe whether the soul is there or not doesn't mean that it is there; nor does it mean that we cannot know at all.

I conclude, then, that if one believes that the answer to this question cannot be acquired by human observation, then the religious have no choice but to seek out *religious* knowledge, ie that wisdom derived from religious texts and personal meditation.

Unfortunately, this specific question is not explicitly answered in any religious text that I am aware of. Like so many other things, the religious must work out the answer to this question themselves, with only their wits and their religious knowledge to guide them.

That being said, here are some interesting questions to ask yourself: Does the soul enter the body during the conception process? If so, would it likewise form in a body in which one cell was actually a computer? What about two cells? Four? A dozen? Half? Most? All but one? All?

Similarly, many people alive today were frozen, as fertilized zygotes, months before a woman gave birth to them. Do they have a soul? Would they have a soul if they were frozen three months into the pregnancy? Six? Immediately following birth?

Good luck! :)