Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Alternative View of Souls

From guest blogger, Isaac.  

Steinberg uses the definition of disembodied mind as follows.

X is a soul = 1. X is a substance; 2.  X is unlocated; 3. X is capable of consciousness
It is also pointed out that the disembodied mind exists outside of space, since it is unlocated, while still existing in time. This means that the substance in question would still have temporal properties and would be able to be identified over time. This sense of identity is the heart and soul of the paper. You may remember that Jesse’s dad, Alan Steinberg, claimed that once you agree with this premise of identity, then they had “got you”. This is because their argument against the soul rejects first that disembodied minds can be distinguished from one another, and secondly, that a disembodied mind can even exist outside of space while still existing in time. So, if you agree to the above premises, you will inevitably run into the same contradictions or inabilities to identify the disembodied minds.

I think this line of argument confuses the notion of the soul. So, I would like to present an alternative view or even a more practical view of the soul. First I would like to address certain criteria for this view. In order for x to be a soul it must: be able to exist alone outside of the universe or as the only thing in the universe, exist eternally/timelessly, and be able to interact with beings/bodies other than itself. The last criteria is in place of consciousness or self awareness because if a soul were self aware or conscious it would be able to ask the question of "what am I" in the same way our physical bodies would act, which would not make sense for the following reasons. The soul, under this criterion, is a principle of one's being or rather the state of being from which one's body acts. This means that the soul is not conscious in the way humans are conscious. They are the principles that constitute our being. For example, the rules of a certain game could be seen as the principles or soul of a game. These rules constitute the way the players or bodies interact with each other. Another example would be the principles that a group of people live by such as a culture, nation, community, etc, would be the soul of that community. The soul or actual self, in this view, does not have the same characteristics as human bodies or minds have, even though these very characteristics result from a beings soul. In this view, all beings have souls whether they are "living" or not. For example, everything from cultures, animals, plants, even molecules have souls. So, in the same way it would be inappropriate to say the rules of a game to ask "what am I" it would be inappropriate for a soul to ask that question. I think it is also worth noting that under this view, all souls contain an indefinite amount of souls. This means that all the principles of each soul exists within the containing soul. For example, a flower's soul contains all the souls of each atom, molecule, cell, etc. that constitutes it.

There is much more to be said here but I would like to get initial feedback on what I have proposed as an alternative to the disembodied mind model. I think that this model can show that souls don't fall into the problems with existing in time and not space, and being able to differentiate between souls. I would have gone into this but If what I have proposed so far is either incoherent or filled with too many problems I don't want to waste my time getting the other arguments off the ground.


Danny Witt said...

Hi Isaac, I like your topic! I find the soul arguments interesting because they open up many different philosophical avenues of inquiry (which raises interesting questions while making things a bit more cumbersome). Anyhow, I think you are asking some interesting questions, but I wanted to push on a few of your ideas:

In the criteria that you provide (to be a soul), you mention that souls can exist as the “only thing in universe”. This seems to directly oppose your other criteria that they can interact with bodies (i.e, other things in the universe). My guess is you were meaning that they exist outside of spatial constraints; I would just be careful in trying to say they are the only thing in the universe. Also, if that criteria sticks, you would have a difficult time saying that there were individual souls existing in all things (from trees to humans to atoms) and that higher order souls (i.e., that of flower) emerge from individual smaller souls of the atoms and molecules composing that plant.

I like the above idea, but it might be good to hash out the metaphysics of embodied (and thus quasi-distinguishable) and disembodied (lacking the ability to be differentiated) souls. When the souls of these things separate from a body, what are they and how can they be individuated (i.e., the essential question of the Steinberg paper)? Do they need to be? Maybe they partake in some grand soul which is one thing that is inseparable and uniform throughout (and outside of) time and space. Just a few thoughts on that stuff.

Also, I had a question about your choice to leave consciousness out of the necessary criteria for a soul. If we assert that souls have no consciousness, then what is the effect of this proposition on the value of souls? It seems like “consciousness” is what most people want when they talk about souls existing beyond death in some disembodied form. In a sense, our self is intrinsically related to our conscious experience of the world. I suppose it depends on your evaluation of personal identity (in terms of what criteria must be fulfilled to still be the same person); however, it would seem like most people judge identity based (at least in part) on psychological traits such as consciousness. When the soul is devoid of conscious experience, what is it exactly? Is it just some ethereal stuff floating about? Is it just some immaterial energy? I hope some of these questions are helpful; I like where your sights are set!

Anonymous said...

I agree with the comments above. If you equate "soul" with some sort of abstract "rule of a game" or "aspect of a culture" or "some abstract principle by which people interact," then you may be talking about something tht we can define more precisely. But you are not talking about anything people have wanted to mean by the word "soul." People say that some musicians have soul, that is, they play with certain features that make the music sound great. But that sense of "soul" isn't what survives death in the form of a lasting existence of the person. True, the music lives on after the person is gone, but that is also true of other sorts of things people make or do.

William Cottrell said...

This notion of 'soul' seems somewhat incoherent. First, in the example you gave, it doesn't make sense to say that a 'rule' interacts with beings or bodies. At least, that is not what people normally mean by 'interact'. Perhaps you mean 'govern'? Also, it is not clear how something like a culture could exist as the only thing in the universe. How does one have a culture with no people? Moreover, the logic as to why a soul cannot be conscious seems to be somewhat backwards. More precisely, this does not follow from the three initial criteria you gave initially, rather, it follows from some new criteria that you stipulate afterwards. Finally, while there is some precedence for thinking of souls this way, this somewhat sidesteps the issue of the existence of a 'personal soul'. The most basic rules by which my mind operates are the same for every individual. Going further, all the rules governing everything in the universe are the same, so you would have to say that there is just one soul, i.e., something like the Atman.

Zach Wrublewski said...

As we discussed earlier, I think the most difficult part of your argument will be to convince folks that the thing with which they are identical is not some sort of "experiencer" (i.e. a mind, body, soul, or anything else that might "experience your experiences"), but rather a principle. It seems likely that most people would agree that there is some sort of general character, disposition, or set of reliable factors that might guide one's thought processes, behaviors and such, but would reject the notion that they are identical with these things.