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Saturday, December 01, 2007

In Defence of the Soul, by Keith Ward

One of the few books I have found on the important subject of what a soul is is Keith Ward's In Defence of the Soul. (Oxford, UK: OneWorld, 1998.) Ward argues strongly that there is such a thing as a soul, that the development of a soul depends on something physical, but that a soul is transcendent -- it can survive without the material necessary to produce one in the first place:

The most important characteristic of a soul is its capacity for transcendence. It has the capacity to 'exist', to stand outside the physical processes that generate it, and of which it is part. We might see the soul, the subject of awareness, deliberation and intention, as one part of a vast web of interacting processes, at various degrees of complexity, coming to conscious perception of the actions of other forces upon it, and realizing its own capacities in accordance with more or less clearly formulated principles. It is distinguished not by being quite different in kind from its material environment, but by reflecting and acting in that environment in a more conscious, goal-oriented way. In other words, the soul is not an alien intrusion into a mechanistic world. It is the culmination and realization of the principles that dimly inform what we call 'matter' at every stage of its existence. Yet, in that culmination, it is able to transcend the material. The material is limited by a particular location in space and time. It is contained by that location. But the soul by nature 'transcends', it is orientated away from itself, to what is beyond itself. (pp. 142-3)

Ward does not rule out the possibility of a computer having a soul. He doesn't seem to think that computers of today have such.

Thanks for reading.

Added Dec 3, 2007: I have written an extensive document, entitled "Soul uploading: computers and the mind-body problem." I make no claim to understand exactly what a soul is. The Bible says that we have one, so we must.


George said...

One wonders... memory appears to be highly malleable, not only through mental illness or physical malady of the brain, but in the everyday course of life. Obviously memory is not a significant part of the soul; but then, those who take seriously the concept of reincarnation envision a soul much apart from memory. Personality, rather, and something 'else', some sort of 'essence', are integral.

Yet I am unable to conceive of what this transcendent 'essence' might be. I do not think that much of importance can be said of a person outside the context of personality and memory (or rather, their past actions, which are recorded in memory). And, we have learned, personality is also readily malleable by means of physical changes to the brain. What meaning does the term 'soul' have for an individual when it consists of neither personality nor memory? Is this not by itself sufficient evidence that all of significance in the makeup of an individual resides in the material, in the brain?

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, George.

I'm not clear about exactly what a soul is. In this document, I make an attempt at definition: "For the purposes of this document, a soul is the essence of an individual's life, the part of us that makes our most important choices, and our immortal part. This definition is not meant to imply that the soul is separate from the body, or that it is not."

The Bible says that we have one, but Christians aren't unanimous in exactly what a soul is, or on its relationship to the body.

George said...

Well, that's fair enough.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, George.

Rob Rumfelt said...

After scanning the intro to your article "Soul Uploading. . ." it brought to mind a book I recently finished. It's titled "The Footsteps of God" and it's by Greg Iles. It involves uploading the human personality into a computer. There's more to it than that, of course, but that's one of the main plot-points. Think you'd like it!

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, Rob.

I looked up the book, and will add it to my list.