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”.
Milo: Well let me present this argument now. A purely physical system can in no way be creative!
Zeno: Why, of course they can be creative. The chess program of which we spoke earlier is certainly creative. It can come up with moves that no human has thought of before. But there is even more – computers are able to write poetry, music and even books nowadays!
Milo: Yes, but all the while it is still following its programming, its code.
Alden: So what your argument actually comes down to, Milo, is this: A computer can’t be creative because of it’s programming.
Alden: Would you say that we, as human beings, have something added to that? We discussed this earlier, that humans also have a program – our genes, our culture, etc. But is that the only thing we are?
Milo: No, I don’t think so. We have free will.
Alden: That’s what I wanted to hear! Thank you Milo. We have free will – no physical system could ever have free will.
Zeno: Why could no physical system have free will?
Alden: Well, the physical world is subject to the laws of cause and effect – a ball hits another ball and causes it to roll. This we call ‘determinism’. It is determined that the ball hits the other ball and causes it to move – when the ball hits the ball with a greater force the other will move faster, and vice versa. So the physical world is subject to determinism. Nothing that is subject to determinism can have free will. So we are not subject to determinism. This morning I ate oatmeal, not for any reason besides the fact that I simply wanted to eat oatmeal.
Zeno: I see your point..
Lyra: Alden, I am incredibly sorry – but I must disagree with you again I am afraid.
Alden : We really don’t see eye to eye on these matters do we?
[Lyra laughs as well]
Lyra: Indeed we don’t!
Alden: So what is the point of disagreement? I have made several points in my previous argument. Would you not agree that the physical world is deterministic? Or would you not agree that everything which is deterministic can’t have free will?
Lyra: I would take it even further. You start with the premise of humans having free will. From thereon you argue that physical systems are subject to determinism, and everything subject to determinism can’t have free will – therefore we are not subject to determinism, so we must not be a fully physical system. Although I have some minor disagreements with almost all of these premises there is one assumption I think you make – that humans have free will. I don’t think this assumption is right. Now that is an argument for another time, so I will keep to the premise of ‘the physical world is subject to determinism’.
Alden: I would very much like to hear why you don’t believe in free will, but I understand that we can maybe talk about that some other time. It is getting late and that would take the whole night for us to discuss! Please continue.
Lyra: I will explain to you an example that will prove your argument wrong, even while sticking to the assumption of free will. Are you aware of what ‘half-life’ means?
Alden: I am not.
Lyra: It has to do with nuclear physics. It is the time required for a certain amount of radioactive radiation to reach the half of its initial value, on average. Certain particles cause this radiation, and these particles decay. This is how the radiation lessens. So the half-life is the time required for exactly half of the particles to decay on average. In other words, the probability of a radioactive atom decaying within its half-life is 50%. This may sound confusing but it really is simple: you have 100 radioactive atoms, say the half-life of those atoms is 1 year. After 1 year, the chance of each of those atoms having decayed is 50%, and thus on average, only 50 radioactive atoms would be left after a year. Do you follow me?
Alden: I think I do. So if you had 200 of those same atoms, after 1 year there would be 100 atoms left, because 50% of them decay in 1 year?
Lyra: Almost. It is important to know that the half-life is an average. The atoms have a 50% chance of decaying. There is no order in which atoms decays, no structure – the nature of the process is probabilistic, it relies on the probability of the atoms decaying. It is therefore not deterministic. Your argument therefore does not hold up – the physical world is not deterministic by definition, so we have no need of positing the soul to explain free will.
Alden: Very interesting..
Milo: But what about NDE’s! Near Death Experiences, how do you explain them?
To be continued.