Dialogue on the Soul (Part 2)

This is a dialogue in which four friends discuss arguments for and against the existence of a soul. At the start, two believe in a soul and two oppose the idea of the soul. To make it a bit clearer who supports which statement, I will (very) briefly discuss the characters.The two characters that do believe in the existence of the soul are Milo and Alden. Milo is a young man, a bit hot headed at times. Alden is the oldest of the group, he is a few years older than Milo.Lyra and Zeno are the two opposing the existence of the soul. Lyra is the only girl in the company, and carefully thinks through everything she says. Zeno has not really thought about the subject before this conversation and is quite straightforward when he says something.This dialogue is not meant to take one side or another in the conversation. It is up to the reader to decide which arguments (s)he finds more compelling and make the judgement call him/herself. It is not meant to lecture the reader; it is meant to make the reader think. The dialogue will be uploaded in multiple parts, with an undetermined amount of time between them (I still have to write the rest of the scenes).
I have written the names of Milo and Alden
in italics to show that they are on the “Soul Side” of the dialogue. Lyra and Zeno are also written both without italics to show they are also on the same “side”.
The room fell still and after a few seconds of silence, Milo broke it with a new argument.

Milo: We can reason of course! Not only that, we have beliefs and desires. No machine could ever have desires and no machine can reason. Take my lawnmower as an example — clearly, it does not want to cut the grass.

Zeno: Do machines not have desires? Look at a computer. When I play a game of chess against my computer I think it has a clear desire — a desire not to get it’s king slain, a desire to win the game.

Milo: I don’t think you’re right. I think you are simply ascribing human characteristics onto the computer. Ask yourself, does the computer reallywant to beat you? I think you are just personifying the computer.

Zeno: I think that is just plain prejudice. If I look at your argument it seems to me that it would be structured something like this: ‘Only humans have desires, therefore computers cannot have desires.’ Is this not absolutely ridiculous? Is it not a huge assumption to say that the computer has no wants in the matter of having it’s king slain during a game of chess?

Milo: No, you are missing the point! Desires are not just simply existing in solitude — a desire is always accompanied by an emotion. You get excited when you are winning the game of chess against the computer — the computer does not want to slay your king because it is excited, obviously.

Alden: Ah Milo, so now we come to an argument which I think holds up very well in the defence of the soul! No computer could have emotions, no machine could feel as we do.

Lyra: I would agree with you that computers do not have emotions, yet. But it, at least the concept, does not seem all that strange to us — robots like R2D2 and C-3PO in Star Wars, to use but an example, have emotions. Of course this is all science fiction, but what is there to say that in the future robots cannot have emotions?

Alden: I would now accuse you of what Zeno just accused Milo of, namely of having a prejudice.

Lyra: Would you care to elaborate on that?

Alden: Of course. There are two sides to emotions. Not only the behavioural side which the robots seem to posses, or at least could possess, but there is also a sensational side. When we get scared, we do not only simply run, which robots could do, we feel our heart pounding and our thoughts racing — the sensational side of emotions. You would agree with that?

Lyra: Yes, certainly.

Alden: And why stop at emotions? Why not give this sensational aspect to other day to day things, like seeing colour? I have a sensation when I see colour. Sure, the machine can distinguish the colour red from the colour blue — but does it know what seeing red is like? If someone knows everything there is to know about the colour red, but has never seen it, will that person learn anything new when shown the colour red for the first time? Or stated differently, can a blind person ever know what it is like to see red?

Lyra: I believe not.

Alden: Indeed. Let us call these aspect seeing red, which we label under the sensational side of emotions, ‘qualitative aspects’. This is the aspect that separates us from the machine, and shows why we are not purely physical systems. No mere machine could be conscious in the way that we are when we see red, when we smell freshly cut grass.

Lyra: So what you are saying Alden, is this, if I understand you correct, no purely physical system could be conscious in the way we are, therefore we are not purely physical and thus are in the possession of a soul. Do I understand you correct?

Alden: Yes, you do most certainly.

Lyra: I would say the following to this argument: It is true that we do not know how consciousness works. But in the past there have been many things of which their workings were unknown to us — and which we have now discovered. I am convinced that it will be the same with consciousness. Not knowing is not the same as not ever knowing.

Alden: But Lyra, I hope that you can see that this is simply a double standard that you are holding. We are on a search for a problem which the soul could be a better explanation than just the body — now that we have found one you simply dismiss it.

Lyra: Do you believe that you have found a better explanation?

Alden: I do.

Lyra: Because I certainly do not. It is true that we have no explanation for consciousness, but this problem is not solved ascribing consciousness to the soul. For can you explain to me, how it is that the soul is conscious?

Alden: I can not. But I can also say that I do not know yet, just as you did. This would make it a tie, both arguments are equally strong.

Lyra: It certainly does not! We know we have bodies, but you need to give me an explanation why I need to add the soul — and you clearly haven’t. All that you have done is added an extra problem to an existing one, you have added the soul to consciousness.

To be continued.



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