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Occam’s Razor Soul

Posted: Thu, July 25, 2013 | By: Indefinite Life Extension



by Yaniv Chen

Here’s a rhetorical question for you: On which side of Occam’s Razor does your notion of ‘Soul’ fall?

Think about it for a couple of seconds. Then continue reading.

The purpose of this little cerebral apéritif is to preface a straightforward yet – to most – shocking conclusion about the nature of the ‘Soul.’

1. Let’s first define ‘Soul,’ ‘Consciousness,’ ‘Mind,’ ‘Self,’ etc. as any nonphysical phenomena containing either the essence of one’s personality or elements thereof. I use these terms (which are not absolutely synonymous) interchangeably here.

2. According to Occam’s Razor, “among competing hypotheses, the hypothesis with the fewest assumptions should be selected.” This is really just human common sense simplified: sure, it is definitely possible that every time an apple falls to the ground, pink unicorns from Mars shoot invisible “laser” beams to push that apple down; then again, it’s much likelier that Earth’s mass simply bends space-time around Earth, thus exerting a force we experience as gravity.

3. Though there are countless examples to illustrate the point, let’s only consider the following situation: somebody close to you snaps his fingers; the air gets compressed in waves until it reaches your outer ear; these compressed waves travel through your ear canal, then hit the eardrum. The resulting vibrations, via the Malleus, Incus, Stapes, Semicircular Canals and Cochlea (in a perfectly understood mechanical-physiological-electrical process which we can readily emulate nowadays – see “cochlear implants”) are in turn translated into electrical pulses.

Electrical.

Pulses.

From here on, there is nothing but electricity and chemistry.

These electrical pulses travel to the brain via the auditory nerve. Now. Your brain is a quiet place; it doesn’t have any pictures, nor any sounds or smells. You have learned, through extensive trial and error – mostly during your formative years – to interpret external stimuli, in this case, particular patterns of electrical pulses – as somebody snapping their fingers.

What we experience as consciousness – in this case awareness to an external phenomenon – is really merely the physical output of a pattern-recognizing machine: the cortical columns processing auditory information are virtually identical to the cortical columns processing visual, or tactile information. All of these columns are processing electrical pulses in a very, very similar manner. The difference among them mainly lies in the preceding wiring, i.e. did the stimulus arrive via the auditory nerve or via the visual pathway? 

If you do not believe that to be the case, simply observe a six month old baby trying to reach a toy right in front of him. Look at how he twitches every muscle in his body and face. The infant simply does not know yet how to associate specific external stimuli – the sight of the toy, its size, varying pressures on specific patches of skin indicating where his limbs are located, etc. – with specific desirable results – causing a specific set of exquisitely timed electrical pulses, thus flexing the proper muscles in a series of actions that will result in him grabbing the toy.

4. Increase the level of “white noise” in the physical brain via simple chemicals (e.g. Propofol, a popular weapon of choice among anesthesiologists), and you will induce lack of consciousness. Use a specific deep brain stimulation probe, and you can even increase that noise so as to drown out Parkinson’s. Eliminate tiny regions in the brain associated with short term memory processing and attention span, and you will be faced with a mere shell of a man. Flip a switch, and you will be able to erase or restore a rat’s memories.

If such simple physical, chemical, electrical, measures can have such profound – even negating – effects on our so-called consciousness, what makes anyone think that consciousness is anything but the product of a physical, chemical, electrical brain is beyond me. We do not need anything more than the physical brain in order to generate consciousness.

5. The Conclusion: you are a bio-chemical-electrical machine! There is no nonphysical ‘Soul,’ no ‘Consciousness.’

We are here simply because each and every one of our ancestors managed to survive and procreate (or multiply.) – a chain unbroken for more than 3.6 billion years. The mind is merely a mechanism designed by spartan, brutally aloof evolutionary forces to increase the likelihood of that survival. If you can interpret patterns, you would, for example, know that that rustle in the grass is indicative of a beast ready to pounce; you would know that next year, 2 moon cycles after the days have stopped shortening, there should be enough rain to sustain your newly sown seeds. You would survive.

Of course, being logical, critical thinkers requires that we stop believing in ‘supernatural’ phenomena of all kinds – inside and out – gods, demons, angels and fairies especially, but also in our own ethereal, out of body ‘Soul.’ Though distinct, we are not “unique snowflakes.” Though the comforting nature of the notion of a ‘Soul’ is self-evident, isn’t it time we all grew up?

Descartes, one of the champions of the so-called ‘Mind-Body problem,’ who believed that physical inputs are eventually passed on to the “immaterial spirit,” was wrong. There IS no ‘Mind-Body.’ There never was. There was only ever a Body that until very recently was unfamiliar with its own neuronal processes, so it – we – simply fabricated the falsehood of the ‘Mind.’ That fabrication was necessary if we were to grapple with the perceived dichotomy between what we “thought,” and what “was.” Little did we know that the former was the product of the latter. How prosaic. How miraculous.

That is why our ‘Mind’ feels good when our ‘Body’ consumes chocolate – they are the same. That is why when our ‘Mind’ suffers and we are depressed, our ‘Body’ is more likely to catch a cold – they are the same. That is why, if the ‘Body’ of a cow produces a misfolded protein (a prion), the result will be a ‘Mad Cow,’ and the human consuming its meat might contract Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease, and lose his ‘Mind’ – the ‘Mind’ and ‘Body’ are the same.

They were always the same.

There is no need for the added complication stemming from the existence of an ethereal ‘Soul;’ the concept of ‘Soul’ falls on the side of superfluous assumptions, and should not be selected.

Thus, according to Occam’s Razor, indeed, according to human common sense, there is no ‘Soul.’ We simply “do not have a need for that hypothesis.”



Comments:

While I agree completely with your point about the physical body being all there is to ourselves, there is a way to define “soul” such that it fits in with that interpretation (or, rather, that “Fact”).

“Soul” could be described as those parts of us that make us unique. Sort of like how a Van Gogh painting and a Mondrian painting, or a Picasso all are made of the same things (paint, canvas, binder), and the same basic tools cause images to appear in this medium. Yet each person’s paintings have characteristics that are definitely their own.

It is possible for a very talented and highly-trained artist to copy another’s work in such a way that it is indistinguishable (and we can now use technologies to do the exact same thing), so people might be possible to embody the essential “essence” of another in their behavior and thinking (Actors are typically such people).

But… This still means that the “Soul” isn’t some nebulous “stuff” that magically makes us who we are.

Rather, it is a pattern of thoughts, behavior and sequence of experiences we each have in our lives that creates specific patterns of thought, behavior, and experience in turn (a feedback loop).

I imagine that the more religious persons would find this to be an unacceptable version of the “Soul.”

But it does allow for the word to do work, and to describe something real, and composed of physical properties or elements.

By Matthew Bailey on Jul 25, 2013 at 10:36am

A soul is simply a defining record of the self.
It either trivially exists, in the form of Einsteinian 4D worldline, or non-trivially in the form of an external record that may be (re)contructed at a later date.
Or it may currently exist independent of us if we are actually residing in a simulation.

By Dirk Bruere on Jul 25, 2013 at 10:47am

going back and forth on the subject ,very similar to what quantum physics is going through by adopting a different statistical methods showed no need for the cat anymore .I first want to remind everybody that even though we think we know at the microscopic level what happen at the complex level the outcome is totally different . yes being human does create a limitation on the range of possibility inherent to our gene and physiology but the amazing variations make a soul a good definition of that variation. the bible even though not the best scientific book tells of some talents that are given but they need to be developed and these cannot happen spontaneously .even though many people will try to do the same things the outcome and the products are totally different showing the variability in the development of circuits as well as the memories and thinking used to get there. The so many factors involved from the DNA to the RNA , to iRNA , to the protein synthesis to the secretion to the receptors and neuro-transmitters, to the memory formation and do not forget the RE systems and the frequency coordinating each one of our muscle movements makes any attempt to define the soul or mind in a petri dish a demonstration of our ignorance that we allowed ourselves to simplify nature in order to control it instead of learning from it and” obeying it” in order to try to advance our knowledge and really see the real world in its complexity despite starting from simple small things that we feel comfortable understanding .the soul is the complex set of unique neuro-anatomical-electrical-electromagnetic-environmental-conditional-genetical -chemical-and likely more we still do not know-living complex that gives us an identity unique but within a range of changes also unique to the limitations of the different components, yet so much complex and diverse to make it the identity of each one of us that we call the mind the soul the identity

By Joseph Fayad MD on Jul 27, 2013 at 6:07pm


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