The Souls of our Ancestors

Integrated information theory of consciousness predicts that a sophisticated simulation of a human brain running on a digital computer cannot be conscious - even if it can speak in a manner indistinguishable from a human being. Consciousness cannot be computed: it must be built into the structure of a biological system.

Except we have no idea if this is correct. Moreover this is no way even in principle (with advanced tech) to verify this claim:

Nor is this verifiable, even in principle,

Moreover IIT has well known incoherence. It is almost certainly a false theory of consciousness, even though it is all we have.

This raises a well known philosophical problem, the problem of “continuity of the self.”

It is somewhat related to the the Delphic Boat: “about whether a boat whose rotted planks have all been replaced is still the same boat.”

Or, more relevant is the The Prestige (film):

Well, we are trafficking in science fiction here, or theological imagination. It is questions like this, however, that convince many philosophers to take a substance-dualism view of the soul. Though, if the only entity capable of doing this is God, substance dualism may not be necessary, because God might just only do this in a way that does not violate our sense of self.

Yep. To be honest, I tend to ignore the philosophy on the subject. I’m waiting for a better characterization of the biology and physical phenomena. Then we can pick out the more relevant philosophical possibilities. I expect to be surprised. :grinning:

The subject of the soul is very important for me. For Christians who accept the declarations of the ecumenical councils, some of the debate over thr incarnation was over whether Christ had a human soul. I think Catholic and Orthodox Christians need to take this discussion very seriously. There is a lot that carries over into dogmatic theology. I’m not sure Nancey Murphy’s views are simpatico with traditional Christian views of the soul. But maybe they are. I need to look at this much more closely at some point. I tend toward some form of substance dualism, but I need to understand more the church fathers’ views as well.

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Oh? I haven’t read much about IIT, though it is intriguing. What is its well known incoherence?

Everything has some non zero level of consciousness in IIT, including your doorknob.

Also correlation is not identity. While we can (for the moment) grant brains exhibit IIT, it is not clear this is sufficient to determine they are conscious. We can construct and identify objects with high IIT that do not appear conscious.

For that reason IIT appears to be descriptive, but not salient.

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I feel the way Aristotole and Thomas Aquinas did. All creatures have souls, because that is what makes one live. However, lets let that human souls are immortal. The question is: are other souls eternal.

Edward Miller de Wynns

Is this you talking or is it this “Edward Miller de Wynns”?

And if it’s you, do you have any empirical basis for your feeling?

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I am a descendant of King Edward III of England and Llewlelyn of Gwynned. That made my ancestors English nobility. Charles Edward Miller de Wynns would be my name in Great Britain. In America, I am Charles Edward Miller. My family before the American Revolution used the French-Welsh de Wynns. My belief reflects my philosophy and is not empirical science. It was nice discussing this with you, Dr.Harshman.

Cadernid Gwynedd-----Strengthen (Gwynneed) Wales

I would say that the descendants of Adam and Eve were given an eternal. Aristotle and Thomas Aquinus believed that the soul is something that makes a being live; therefore, everything living has a soul. Thomas believed in the immortality of the human soul only; however, I believe that if we love a cat or dog to live that we had in this life, he could for our sake give that animal eternal life. A hominid could live for ever if God wished; however, I doubt that would happen.

Charles Edward Miller de Wynns

And if there were no Adam and Eve?

But is there any justification for any of those beliefs? If so, what might it be?

Fun topic. That reminds me of the math behind the Genealogical Adam. Almost 100% of citizens of England, and much of the population of Ireland and the USA, are descendants of Edward III. Articles exploring these kinds of ancestry topics are becoming increasingly common on DNA analysis and genealogy websites. The math varies but such articles usually start with the same themes: nobles often had the wealth and health and circumstances to produce many descendants, at least some of which tended to enjoy those same advantages. So after a few centuries those nobles tended to show up in virtually everyone’s family trees.

I find it interesting that soon after each presidential election, various journalists write excitedly about how the latest president turns out to be a distant cousin of several other presidents. It would be far more amazing if a new president was not related to several other presidents. This is a good example where our intuition about math tends to differ markedly from the actual reality.


I’m not sure if we every worked this out, and I’m not speaking for @Charles_Miller. You, however, have asked me for the warrant for my own beliefs at times. I would point to the evidence for the Resurrection, knowing that you are looking for evidence.

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True, especially because we seem to usually get a European president.

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We weren’t talking about the resurrection here. Would you say that’s evidence for the existence, nature, and/or distribution of souls?

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I’d say the epistemological grounding for the Christian faith is the Resurrection. From there, we can rationally come to trust Scripture, which might ground belief in an after life.

Outside Scripture, the case is much weaker. Though, I do find it puzzling that ubiquitously across cultures we see belief in an afterlife. This is very surprising to me. It seems like the atheistic understanding of “no afterlife” seems far more natural of an understanding. I do not understand why so many people would come to this view, largely independently of one another. Anthropologists think this belief arises 10s of thousands of years ago, long before organized religion appears, and it is unique to our ancestors.

From a Christian point of view, I can make sense of it. God put this belief into us because it is a true belief, even though we cannot build a good evidential case for it on our own. From an atheistic point of view, I’ve heard the arguments for why this belief arises, but they do not seem terribly plausible to me. Heightening the puzzle, this seems to be a view that people reliably come to in different cultures, so it is not an idiosyncratic belief. Yes, atheists really do deny an afterlife, but we have a much better account of how they come to their denial of this belief than we have of how the belief arises in the first place.

In my view, this is weak evidence for an afterlife. I agree it is not definitive, and might be misleading. It still appears to be a strange observable in the world that (possibly) makes most sense if there actually is an afterlife.


I appeal to you to make your argument clearer. I think you may be saying that if the resurrection is true, that means that other things the bible say must also be true, and therefore there is an afterlife, and therefore we have immortal souls. But you didn’t actually say that. I had to make the connection myself, and I’m not sure it’s actually your argument.

Is that true? There are certainly many cultures with such beliefs, but is it really ubiquitous? That’s a real question. But is that evidence for a soul? Now, it seems to me that the appeal of denying that death is real would be universal, regardless of its truth.

Did God also put all our false beliefs about probability into us? I think you can find plenty of demonstrably false beliefs that were universal in ancient cultures, and many that are universal even now.

In my view, it’s even weaker than you suppose. But it’s at least something, which is more than we have from anyone else so far.

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You got it. That is my point. I’m just describing the argument rather than making it.

I think this is largely correct. Of course, there is likely a minority of atheists in many cultures, but the dominant view in all cultures (till perhaps recently) has been life after death. From what I understand, this is so ubiquitous that anthropologists presume that evidence of ritualistic burial (e.g. with possessions and jewelry), is evidence of belief in life after death, a distinctly human feature.

This misses the logic. Our false belief in probability is understandable as a useful heuristic. It is not clear how our why belief in an after life is so common. Now, I agree, this is just weak evidence.

I’m not saying it is strong evidence. It is weak. It still is a puzzle to engage with, as I’m still not sure why we are wired this way.