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Saturday, July 08, 2017

Soul Uploading: Computers and the Mind-Body Problem



Uploading Souls – Computers and the Mind-Body Problem

I thank Don Wood, Gloria Bell, and the students of the Southern Wesleyan University Honors Seminar for interacting with me on this topic on January 31st, 2002. This document has been updated, off and on, ever since. This is the version of July 2017, and all links were current as of that date. Thanks for reading. - Martin LaBar, author.
For a good introduction to this topic, see the Wikipedia article on Transhumanism. See also their article on Mind Transfer.

This topic seemed relevant 15 years ago. Recent reading has indicated that it is still very much relevant, and that a Biblical worldview can help us in thinking about the possibility, and perhaps the actuality, of uploading a soul to a computer. An article in Wired, published in 2017, supposes that we should be able to manipulate how the brain works, and be physically connected, brain to computer, in the foreseeable future.
There are several references to important science fiction works. I know – they are fiction. But speculative fiction often considers important issues, and shapes our thinking about them.

Relevant quotations
What is a soul?
What about uploading?
Where do new souls come from?
Mind-body
What about the brain and computers?
Computer consciousness
Some dangers
Real soul uploading

Relevant quotations:

"To attain any assured knowledge about the soul is one of the most difficult things in the world." Aristotle.
'If you draw the timelines, realistically by 2050 we would expect to be able to download your mind into a machine, so when you die it's not a major career problem,' [Ian] Pearson told The Observer. 'If you're rich enough then by 2050 it's feasible. If you're poor you'll probably have to wait until 2075 or 2080 when it's routine. We are very serious about it. That's how fast this technology is moving: 45 years is a hell of a long time in IT.' - Pearson is said to be head of the futurology unit of BT, a UK firm.
. . . an intelligent being--or more generally, any living creature--is fundamentally a type of computer . . . we may even say that a human being is a program designed to run on a particular hardware called a human body . . . In principle, the program corresponding to a human being could be stored in many different forms--in books, on computer disks, in RAM--and not just in the brain of a particular human body.
J. H. Barrow and F. W. Tipler. The Anthropic Cosmological Principle (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986, p. 659.) Emphasis in original.

I believe the human race will never decide that an advanced computer possesses consciousness. Only in science fiction will a person be charged with murder if they unplug a PC. I believe this because I hold, but cannot yet prove, that in order for an entity to be consciousness and possess a mind, it has to be a living being.
. . . it appears that a living thing must be a being, must possess a self, to possess a mind. But silicon chips are not alive, and computers are not beings. I argue that this is so because the particular material substance and arrangement of the brain is essential to the creation of consciousness and "beinghood." Computers will never achieve consciousness because in order for a computer to be "conscious like us" it will need to be made of living stuff like us, to grow like us, and unfortunately, to be able to die like us.
Todd Feinberg, psychiatrist, neurologist, author, responding to Edge question, "What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?" Jan 4, 2005.

The atoms in my brain and body today are not the same ones I had when I was born. Nevertheless, the patterns of information coded in my DNA and in my neural memories are still those of Michael Shermer. The human essence, the soul, is more than a pile of parts—it is a pattern of information. Michael Shermer, "The Soul of Science," American Scientist, Mar-Apr 2005. (Shermer is still publishing similar ideas, as of 2017. See here for a refutation of them, by a Christian philosopher. She considers Shermer’s ideas on the resurrection of the soul.)

… the ability to copy one's mind into a synthetic brain will cause some severe problems. One can easily imagine a sort of arms race between different identities competing for influence. Some will try to acquire wealth in order to get the computing capacity needed to create many copies of their brains. Competition for resources will probably become much greater when copies of sentient entities can quickly be made. Randall Parker, "Should We Fear Transhumanism And Identity Copying?" FuturePundit (blog), March 11, 2005

For our present purpose, what matters is not so much the wild initial assumption that consciousness could be transferred to such machines. It is the further assumption about values, the assumption that the life which they would then live -- a life without sense-perception or emotion or the power to act, a life consisting solely in the arrangement of abstract 'information' -- would be a human life, or indeed anything that could intelligibly be called life at all. Mary Midgley, The Ethical Primate: Humans, Freedom and Morality. London: Routledge, 1994, p. 10.
So, what is a soul?

An excellent article, "The Salvation of Your Souls: But What is a Soul?" by Ben M. Carter, appeared in the December, 2000, issue of Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (52:242-254), the organ of the American Scientific Affiliation. After a linguistic, philosophical, and historical examination, Carter concludes that there is not a clear picture of the meaning of soul in Scripture. He concludes: "It is not our concept of the soul that saves us, it is our faith in the incarnate and risen Lord. This is not to say that we cannot teach some things about the soul: that it is not divine, that it is created, that it needs to be saved, and so forth. But it is to say that we should be less than dogmatic about many of its particulars." (p. 251) Other authors agree that there is not a clear Scriptural picture of what a soul is. John Wilson, in Christianity Today Online, complains that ". . . everyone but the church is talking about the soul," and that theology hasn't given clear answers as to what a soul is.

Dallas Willard has written an excellent response to a query about the relationship between soul and brain. Here is part of what he says:
The soul is one nonphysical dimension of the person. A human person is a nonphysical (spiritual) entity that has an essential involvement with a particular physical body. The brain, then—a piece of meat that is of more than usual interest—is one part of the embodied dimension of the human person. It too is integrated by the soul into one life, along with all of the dimensions of the person (at least when all is well).
The soul is not some separable part of us that eventually gets to go to heaven while everything else about us is left out.

Harper's Bible Dictionary (New York: Harper & Row, 1973, Madeleine S. Miller and J. Lane Miller, editors) says this: 
"Soul" is used in so many senses in Scripture that it should be rendered by even more Eng. words than are used in the various translations. Sometimes nepesh is used in connection with animals, e. g., Gen. 2:19. Both nepesh and psyche are used also in the sense of persons, or men (Gen 2:7; I Chron. 5:21; Acts 2:41). It is apparent that N. T. concern for the saving of "souls" (often "life" in the R. S. V., e.g., Matt. 16:26) is something different from what many O. T. passages suggest by "soul." Yet even in many O. T. passages the word translated "soul" usually means something living, something which could be "cut off" from the Congregation Israel (Num 15:30)--something which seeks God with all its might (Deut. 10:12); which is humbled by fasting (Ps. 35:13); and which is healed of sin (41:4) or cast down in despair (42:5). The soul was recognized as having a faculty for friendship (I Sam. 18:1).
The Jews after their return from Exile definitely believed that the soul was man's immortal part. Jesus taught that human forces are unable to kill the soul (Matt 10:28), and that it is wiser to retain the soul's integrity than to gain the whole material world (Matt. 16:26)

The entry on "Soul" in Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Theology is in basic agreement. It points out that the KJV uses no less than 42 English words to translate one Old Testament Hebrew word. It also says that there are many meanings attached to the Greek word used in the New Testament

In Whatever Happened to the Soul? Scientific and Theological Portraits of Human Nature (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998) edited by Warren S. Brown, Nancey Murphy and H. Newton Malony, Murphy makes the following statement:
It would be reasonable to begin . . . with an account of scriptural teaching on the nature of the person. However, this is one of the most vexing issues in the discussion, in part because our current questions were not the questions of the writers of Scripture, but also because of a long history of projecting onto the texts interpretations and even translations that reflect later writers' concerns and assumptions. (p. 4

In other words, Scripture isn't crystal clear on the matter of the meaning of soul, in part because we can't be sure of what Scripture means on this topic, in part because it is such a complex topic, and, in part, because we often read our own ideas into Scripture.
Murphy goes further in Religion and Science: God, Evolution and the Soul, published lectures by Murphy, edited by Carl S. Helrich (Kitchener, Ont: Pandora Press, 2002). She claims that the early church taught the resurrection of the body (p. 13), and that "if we recognize that the concept of the soul was originally introduced into Western thought as an explanation for capacities that appeared not to be explainable in biological terms, then we can certainly say that for scientific purposes the hypothesis has been shown to be unnecessary." (p. 20) She calls her view non-reductive physicalism, by which, as I understand it, is meant a belief that the soul and the body are inseparable, and that we are basically physical beings. (She does not deny our immortality, but says that scripture teaches that our bodies will be resurrected.)

Ian Barbour, in When Science Meets Religion: Enemies, Strangers, or Partners (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 2000--see parts of Chapter 5) has come to the same conclusions, apparently independently. As to the doctrine of the soul, a belief in an entity separate from the body seems to have been a part of pre-Christian Greek philosophy, hence is not necessarily a belief that Christians must embrace. Pythagoras, some 500 years before Christ, apparently believed that the soul could be separated from the body, and in the transmigration of souls from one body to another, not necessarily human body. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
 
Joseph A. Bracken, S. J., takes issue with Murphy's position in "Reconsidering Fundamental Issues: Emergent Monism and the Classical Doctrine of the Soul" (Zygon 39:161-174, 2004) As he puts it, ". . . I am uneasy that they appeal simply to the power of God to resurrect the human person somehow in altered form after death. . . . There is no philosophical common ground here with the nonbeliever in arguing for the plausibility of life after death." (p. 162) His view, emergent monism, holds that there is, indeed, some spirit found in material creation, even non-living material creation, and that spirit and matter are somehow dependent on each other. He draws heavily on the philosophy of Whitehead. Bracken writes, ". . . we can understand the emergence of the rational soul in human beings out of the developing infrastructure of the brain and central nervous system. It is not inserted into the organism by direct divine intervention but is, so to speak, a further development of the organism's own process of self-development . . ." (p. 169) This may provide philosophical common ground with some nonbelievers. Bracken's belief suggests that non-human organisms, perhaps even computers, also have souls. Bracken's paper does not deal with these possibilities, but I questioned him on them, and he graciously replied, stating that he does, indeed, believe that "there is a 'soul' or central subsociety of Whiteheadian actual occasions in every animal organism facilitating its ontological oneness and continuity of existence and activity from moment to moment." (Bracken, personal communication, March 27, 2004) He says that, to him, the issue of souls in inanimate objects is more complex. Although Bracken may be communicating with Whiteheadian philosophers, I am not sure how well his doctrine of emergent monism communicates with others. I do not know what he meant by "animal organism," but would be amazed if, say, amoebas or hydras had souls. Dogs and squids, maybe. Scripture seems not to explicitly exclude such a possibility, but it seems to teach that there is something special about the consciousness of humans.

Psalm 6:2-3 says "Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am faint; O Lord, heal me, for my bones are in agony. My soul is in anguish. How long, O Lord, how long?" The writer of a note to this passage, in the NIV Study Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1985) seems to agree with Murphy's view:
soul. Not a spiritual aspect in distinction from the physical, nor the psalmist's "inner" being in distinction from his "outer" being, but his very self as a living, conscious, personal being. Its use in conjunction with "bones" . . . did not for the Hebrew writer involve reference to two distinct entities but constituted for him two ways of referring to himself, as is the case also in the combination "soul" and "body" (31:9; 63:1). (p. 791)

Not everyone agrees with Murphy. J. P. Moreland and Scott B. Rae, in their Body and Soul: Human Nature & the Crisis in Ethics, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002) argue for a dualistic view--to them the soul is not just a function of the body. They call this a Thomist view:
. . . the Thomist will insist on a . . . deep, intimate relationship between soul and body . . .. For the Thomist there is a modal distinction between soul and body: the soul could exist without the body but not vice versa. Thus our version of Thomistic substance dualism of two separable substances. There is only one substance, thogh we do not identify it with the body-soul composite. In our view, the one substance is the soul, and the body is an ensouled biological and physical structure that depends on the soul for its existence. (p. 201)

One reason why they hold this view is that they believe that scripture teaches that scripture describes God as a personal being without a body, and that we are, in some measure, created in God's image. (Genesis 1:26)

John Polkinghorne, physicist and theologian, says: "I accept that humans are psychosomatic unities and I do not anticipate that a separable spiritual component (soul or entelechy) is part of our make-up. Hence my approach to the perplexity of mind and matter will be to seek to embrace a dual-aspect monism." John C. Polkinghorne, "The Laws of Nature and the Laws of Physics," pp. 429-440 in Quantum Cosmology and the Laws of Nature: Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action, 2nd edition, ed. by Robert John Russell, Nancey Murphy and C. J. Isham. (Vatican City State: Vatican Observatory, 1996) Quote is from pp. 429-30.

Palmyre M. F. Oomen, writing in the June, 2003, issue of Zygon, says that:
The notion of the soul has a variegated tradition of meanings, which, roughly speaking, follow two main avenues. One views the soul as something immaterial, with an independent existence apart from the body--an idea supported by Plato, Descartes, and many others.
The second sees the soul not as an immaterial substance separate from the body but as something that reflects the deepest core of living entities as living beings. ("On Brain, Soul, Self, and Freedom: an Essay in Bridging Neuroscience and Faith," 38:377-392. Quote is from p. 380.)

There may, indeed, be confusion or disagreement about what a soul is, or whether a soul is different than the emotions, the will, the personality or the mind. However, in spite of this confusion, one fact is clear: Scripture teaches that there is something about humans that has an eternal destiny, something that can be lost, in fact is by nature lost, but something that can be saved. (Matthew 16:26, John 3:16, Romans 6:20-23; 8:6-11) James W. Sire in Why Should Anyone Believe Anything at All? (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1994) agrees that it is impossible to know what happens at death with certainty. However:
. . . if--as many religions teach--my life on earth has something to do with my happiness (or lack thereof) beyond death, then I cannot escape the issue. I may not know as I wish I could know. But whatever I believe or think I know is either the case or not. My agnosticism--my refusal to wrestle with my doubt until it is resolved--may cost me dearly in the future. (pp. 21-22)

Owen Flanagan has written a book on The Problem of the Soul: Two Visions of Mind and How to Reconcile Them. New York: Basic Books, 2002. He writes that
"The problem of the soul" is a shorthand way of referring to a cluster of philosophical concepts that are central components of the dominant humanistic image. These concepts include, for starters, a nonphysical mind, free will, and a permanent, abiding, and immutable self or soul. (p. xi)

Although Flanagan goes on to demonstrate beyond doubt that he does not believe any of these concepts, at least not in the sense that most people have claimed to believe in them throughout Western history, he clearly does understand these concepts.

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 bering 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.

Ken Schenck, a theologian at Indiana Wesleyan University, posted, in early 2010, on the view of the relationship between the body and the soul throughout history, among Christians, and their Jewish predecessors. In his part 1, he claims that the idea of a soul, disembodied and separate from the body, is a Greek introduction, not a Christian one. In part 2, he continues, and says that Daniel 12:2-3 is the only passage in the Old Testament that indicates a belief in an afterlife. In his part 3, he concludes, indicating that there is evidence of belief in an afterlife, and perhaps in a soul separate from the body, in the New Testament. But he is not sure that the New Testament writers believed in such an entity. He says this: "Because the Bible gives us varied pictures of human psychology and of the afterlife, we probably should not consider any of these pictures absolute."

Roy Porter, who was a historian of ideas, and, so far as I know, not a Christian, takes the same position as Schenck, and others, in his Flesh in the Age of Reason: The Modern Foundations of Body and Soul (New York: Norton, 2003). (Paragraph added Apr 14, 2011)
Ric Machuga, in In Defense of the Soul (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2002) argues that the classical position of Christians, Jews and Moslems, and of Aristotle before them, is that "Our nature is an essential unity of both the material and the immaterial." (p. 16)

Sue Short, in her "The Measure of a Man?: Asimov's Bicentennial Man, Star Trek's Data, and Being Human" (Extrapolation 44:209-223, Summer 2003) comments on the ethics of dealing with robots, and on what makes one a human. (For any who may not know, Data was an android--a robot created to mimic humans as closely as possible--and a major character on the "Star Trek: the Next Generation" series.) Although not directly pertinent to the present paper, the article certainly is relevant. Short is writing a book about "Star Trek," and I await it with interest.

I have consulted other sources, including Merriam-Webster Online and HyperDictionary, and thought about the matter. 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.

For an introduction, see the Wikipedia article on Mind transfer.

Some thinkers see uploading a soul, or consciousness, is possible, and should, and will, happen. Here's Paul Davies, an important science writer, writing in Nature, perhaps the most important scientific journal in the world:
My favourite fantasy . . . is the idea of uploading the contents of my brain on to a supercomputer, to serve both as a back-up in case something horrible happens to the original and as a gateway to a universe of simulated reality, offering potentially limitless fun. Although technically challenging, to say the least, it is hard to see any obstacles of principle to this procedure, and it raises the unsettling question of how I can be sure that the reality I experience is the 'real' reality or just a simulation. Or indeed, whether there is any meaningful distinction between them. - Paul Davies, "Smart underwear for time travels," review of How to Clone the Perfect Blonde: Using Science to Make Your Wildest Dreams Come True, Nature 432:675, December 9, 2004

Uploading means transferring information from one medium, or location, to another. Therefore, my topic is approximately "Transferring 'the immaterial essence of an individual's life, the individual's total self, and immortal part' of an individual to some digital format." The FTP program I once used to place a forerunner of this file on the Web had an upload icon. When I used it, a file was placed into storage on the internet, from where it could have been accessed from anywhere in the world, without fundamental change. Uploading this file to my blog, although simpler to than FTPing, operated very similarly.

There are people who are thinking seriously about placing their souls into some sort of accessible storage, [the Cloud?] and, you may be sure, are hoping to accomplish that without fundamental change to their immaterial essence. If our soul is, indeed, a program, or some sort of complex data, soul uploading may be possible.

Alan Jacobs writes about the dream of a computer-based existence with little or no normal physical life:
Interestingly, fictional dreams of "virtual reality"—starting, perhaps, with Vernor Vinge's 1981 story "True Names" and proceeding through William Gibson's Neuromancer (1984) and Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash (1992)—imagine realms of purely mental experience: one lives in a digitally generated world, possessing an equally digital "body." One's real, material corpus lies motionless at some insignificant point in "meatspace" while one's mind explores the Metaverse (Stephenson) or the Other Plane (Vinge).
Such fantasies enact, as many commentators have noted, a classically Gnostic longing for liberation from the body. And even for those of us who have no interest in experiential games of that particular kind, if we feel that our most important work is done at our computers, then our bodies' needs—food, sleep, exercise, urination, defecation—can seem irritatingly distracting or even embarrassing. As though bodily functions were signs of weakness; as though thought alone dignifies us.
"Computer Control, part 3: The Virtues of Resistance," Books and Culture, September/October 2002.

Gibson's Neuromancer, referred to in the paragraphs above, was a significant work of science fiction. It won both the Hugo and Nebula awards, as well as the Philip K. Dick award. There is a "character" in the book who is dead--flatlined--and preserved in computer-stored form. Another significant work of science fiction is David Brin's Kiln People, which supposes that consciousness can be uploaded into a temporary "ditto," a clay "human" that can go out and do tasks at the same time that the original person is doing something else, then, if the original desires it, can download her experiences back into the original.


Entering uploading soul in Google generated over 4,700 responses in November 2000. In July, 2002, the number was over 9,000, in April, 2003, over 13,000, and in March, 2006, over 1,400,000, which indicates increasing interest, greater efficiency by Google, or both. (In July, 2017, there were about 750,000 responses. I’m not sure why the number dropped off so much, but, clearly, there’s still a lot of interest in the subject.) Many of these web pages were produced by people who take the prospect of uploading a soul quite seriously.

Why would anyone want to do this with a soul, assuming it were possible? The most obvious answer is that this is one of our many misguided attempts to achieve immortality. Desiring immortality has overtones of selfishness, and of putting ourselves in the place of God. As Timothy C. Morgan put it:
A handful of leading postmodernists, New Agers, cyber-utopians, and others aspire to . . . goals that seem straight out of a Star Trek episode:
  • •Developing computer systems to accept an upload of a dying individual's intelligence and personality.
  • •Creating a worldwide-linked computer system that would operate as a global mind.
  • •Reproducing computer-generated virtual realities that would operate with the same legitimacy as everyday reality.
If you set aside the scientific improbability of achieving such goals, these aspirations reveal a deeply spiritual agenda. When technology functions as a religion, as savior and liberator, we begin to project divine attributes onto it. Timothy C. Morgan, "A Cyber-Pilgrim's Progress" Books & Culture: A Christian Review, 4, Jan/Feb 1998, pp. 24-25.

This "deeply spiritual" agenda is parallel to that of the builders of the Tower of Babel. (Genesis 11:1-9) These folks wanted to make a name for themselves, to prove their own importance. God was not pleased. Another current technique with implications similar to uploading is cloning. There are, it seems, legitimate scientific and even economic reasons to copy an animal's DNA into new animals. I'm not sure that there are any such reasons for copying a human's DNA into a new human, should that be possible. One illegitimate reason is to allow egotistical people to perpetuate themselves personally, again, to make a perpetual name for themselves.

Supposing it were possible to upload the soul? What would happen to the soul? If it were possible to copy, say, Michael Jordan's soul to a computer, presumably this wouldn't destroy Jordan's own personality, soul, memories, or self-awareness. So there would then be two Michael Jordans, one in a computer, one in an aging body. I don't see how that would help the soul/personality/mind in the aging body--it would still be in a body that would grow old and die, and, for a while, at least, be aware of the process. Even if there were another soul in a computer, even if that soul in a computer could be implanted into an android, a robot, or a human body (where would this come from?), or if the computer itself could achieve consciousness, the first Michael Jordan would not become personally immortal. He would merely look on as another entity began living some sort of separate existence or other. So, I argue, even if uploading your soul were achieved, you wouldn't experience it. Some new soul would.

Leaving aside the fate of the original soul, and leaving aside the eternal fate of anybody, a newly created soul that was a copy of another one would start (?) life with some serious expectations. He/she/it would be expected to interact with the family and friends of the original, and would be expected to carry out some of the unfulfilled dreams of the original, and might not want to do so. Would you want to be the second coming of Michael Jordan, or Elvis, even in a computer?

Perhaps some consideration of less cosmic concerns is in order. Suppose your soul could be uploaded to a computer. Where would it be stored? With current computers, the answer would be in RAM, or in some sort of long-term storage, most likely the hard disk or equivalent, or in both solid-state memory or RAM. If it were only in RAM, then what would happen when the computer was turned off? If it were only on disk, who, or what, would issue the commands needed to place the consciousness into RAM? Would your soul be called up only occasionally, as some now call up, say, Excel occasionally? What would happen if there were two copies of the soul called up in the same computer?

Suppose you could be stored somehow, and that there was a mechanism for activating you. How would you interface with the hardware? For example, how would you manipulate the computer's monitor? Current application programs rely on drivers built in to the operating system. No such drivers exist for interfacing a soul with the screen, or the printer, or the speakers. How would they be developed? Would you want to be sitting in RAM, waiting for someone to figure out how to interface you?

So, even if soul uploading turns out to be possible, and leaving aside the "playing God" implications, I don't see the point. Leave a legacy--do some lasting good work, or have children, or teach, or write your autobiography, or have lots of pictures taken, instead.

Before closing this section, I must point out that there is one case of downloading in Scripture, and two in current life. Jesus, the Son of God, became a human being. (Philippians 2:5-11) God the Holy Spirit deigns to live in us, somehow coexisting in our bodies with our own souls. Evil spirits can also coexist in bodies with souls.

There is another reason why this topic, confused as it is, is important. As several thinkers, among them Pamela McCorduck (Machines Who Think: A Personal Inquiry into the History and Prospects of Artificial Intelligence. New York: W. H. Freeman and Company, 1979. p. 328.) have said, the advent of computers, and their increasing capability, are causing us to re-think what it means to be human, just as previous changes, like the realization that the earth is not the center of the solar system or the universe, have done.

There are people who believe that it is possible to capture the immaterial essence of an individual's life, the individual's total self, and immortal part to some format. Such ideas are rather widespread in many of the manifestations of popular culture.

A great deal of science fiction assumes or proposes such ideas as:
*        intelligent computers (For example, HAL, in Arthur C. Clarke/Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey.)
*        intelligent robots (machines that do tasks that have been done by humans) or androids (machines or machine/living tissue hybrids which resemble humans closely, even replacing humans in some roles) or cyborgs (humans which are partly machines) which will interact with humans in various ways. (See Isaac Asimov's "Three Laws of Robotics," and the later versions of Star Trek.)
*        that the goal of humanity is or should be to become a pure mind, an intelligence without a body (for example, much of Clarke's writing. For you youngsters, Clarke has arguably been the most influential s-f author.) That is what happens to the human race in his Childhood’s End:
Sixty years after the Overlords' arrival, human children, beginning with the Greggsons', begin to display clairvoyance and telekinetic powers. Karellen reveals the Overlords' purpose; they serve the Overmind, a vast cosmic intelligence, born of amalgamated ancient civilizations, and freed from the limitations of material existence. - Wikipedia article on Childhood’s End.
*        that given enough speed and capacity, computer networks will develop super-intelligent beings living in them, sort of like cockroaches live in the cracks in kitchens. (See the Dan Simmons Hyperion books, especially The Fall of Hyperion, which has main characters which are artificial intelligences, living within the multi-planet computer network; Orson Scott Card's Ender books)
*         Vernor Vinge, who is both a scientist and an important science fiction author, has proposed that there will be computers that are more intelligent than humans by A. D. 2020. He was writing as a scientist, in 1993.

Charles MacGregor ("Soul: Christian Concept" in Mircea Eliade, ed., The Encyclopedia of Religion, New York: Macmillan, 1987, pp. 455-457. Quote is from page 457.) tells us that:
Within the development of Christian thought on the origin of the individual soul, three views have been maintained: (1) creationism, (2) traducianism, and (3) reincarnationism. 
Creationism is the doctrine that God creates a new soul for each human being at conception. Upheld by Jerome, Hilary, and Peter Lombard, it was by far the most widely accepted view on the subject in the Middle Ages. . . .
Traducianism is the theory that the soul is transmitted along with the body by the parents. . . . in the Middle Ages it found little if any favor. Lutherans, however, tended to accept it. . . .

To me, reincarnationism, which supposes some previous existence for a soul, does not seem to be a Christian doctrine.

The creationist doctrine summarized above is too simple--"at conception" won't quite do. Identical multiple births result from a single conception. Surely identical twins don't share a single soul? If a soul inhabits a brain, an embryo would have to have developed for at least several days to offer a brain for an abode for a soul.
Presumably, if traducianism is correct, the soul is passed on as part of our genetic inheritance. This means that it is coded for in our DNA.

Although they don't usually speak of souls, but of consciousness or personality, many modern thinkers assume that the soul simply emerges if the organism or the computer reaches a certain state of complexity. (Note the science fiction ideas mentioned above.)
However we get souls, it isn't a problem for God. If computers ever have souls, then that too, won't be a problem for an omnipotent, omniscient God.

One might suppose that the answer is an unequivocal "yes," or "no," but it isn't unequivocally either one.

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Theology and other authorities state that, to Old Testament Jews, there was no such thing as a soul apart from a body, or, as Carl Schulz, the author of the article on "Soul" in Baker's puts it, a "profoundly complex . . . psychophysical being." However, there are certainly Scriptures in the New Testament that indicate a separate existence for the soul, such as Matthew 10:28: 
Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. (NIV)

D. M. Lake, in "Soul" in the Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, volume Five, Merrill C. Tenney, ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1975, pp. 496-498.)  writes: "The OT is not a textbook on human psychology but its doctrine of man seems to involve this polarity: man is a unified being but his being is profoundly creative and complex." (p. 496)

H. Wheeler Robinson, in "Soul (Christian)" in the Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, volume XI, Janis Hastings, ed. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1958, pp. 733-737.) states: (quoting himself, The Religious Ideas of the Old Testament, London, 1913, p. 83. Publisher not given)
The idea of human nature implies a unity, not a dualism. There is no contrast between the body and the soul, such as the terms instinctively suggest to us. The shades of the dead in Sheol . . . are not  called "souls" or "spirits" in the Old Testament; nor does the Old Testament contain any distinct word for "body," as it surely would have done, had this idea been sharply differentiated from that of "soul." Man's nature is a product of the two factors--the breath-soul . . . which is his principle of life, and the complex of physical organs which this animates. Separate them, and the man ceases to be, in any real sense of personality; nothing but a "shade" remains, which is neither body nor soul. If this seems but a poor idea of human nature, we must set over against it the great redeeming feature, that there is an aspect of this nature . . . which relates man to God, and makes man accessible to God. (p. 733) 

Jack Bemporad, ("Soul: Jewish Concept" in Mircea Eliade, ed., The Encyclopedia of Religion, New York: Macmillan, 1987, pp. 450-454. Quote is from page 450.) 
While the Hebrew Bible distinguishes between spirit and flesh, it does not accept the type of dualism of body and soul characteristic of Greek thought. Hebrew terms for the soul usually refer to an activity or characteristic of the body or to an entire living being. To "afflict the soul" means to practice physical self-denial ([Leviticus] 16:29ff.).

So, at least to the Old Testament Jew, the soul was not truly separate from the body.
Does the soul separate from the body at death? In particular, does the soul go directly to heaven, and await the resurrection of the body? (see Luke 16:19-31; Rev. 6:9-11, which may, or may not, answer the question. One of these passages is a parable, the other apocalyptic.) Although there is a more or less official position of the church, there have been, and are, dissenters: Nancey Murphy writes that ". . . doctrines [were] formalized at the time of the Reformation specifying that the dead enjoy conscious relation to God prior to the general resurrection." She indicates that this was made official Catholic doctrine in 1512, and Calvin made a similar statement in 1542. Luther, she says, believed that the soul does not have a conscious existence after death, until the resurrection. ("Human Nature: Historical, Scientific and Religious Issues," in Warren S. Brown, Nancey Murphy, and H. Newton Malony, Whatever Happened to the Soul? Scientific and Theological Portraits of Human Nature. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998, pp. 1-29. Quote is from p. 23.) The use of "sleep" for death, which is widespread in the New Testament, seems to agree with Luther.

Throughout Christian history, there has been a tendency, on the one hand, to over-emphasize the spiritual side, to the neglect of the body. Gnosticism was one such tendency, and many Bible scholars believe that when John wrote "which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes,  which we have looked at, and our hands have touched" (I John 1:1) about Christ, he was attacking the Gnostic idea that Christ wasn't a body, but just a soul. On the other hand, there has also been a temptation to over-emphasize the body, to the neglect of the immortal soul. In this life, and in the life to come, we will have both body and soul.

You might not have been surprised to learn that the question of the separateness, or lack thereof, of the body from the soul is important to religious thinkers. However, it is also important to secular ones.

Stephen M. Barr has written an important and wide-ranging book, Modern Physics and Ancient Faith. (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 2003) Among the arguments that he makes is that the mind cannot be solely material, nor can it be equivalent to a computer program. If Barr is correct on either of these points, this has profound implications for the possibility of uploading souls. Here is a key statement:
We are left with a problem. If numbers and other mathematical concepts (unlike trees) are neither material things nor even aspects or properties of material things, what are they? The most reasonable answer seems to be that they are mental things, things that exist in minds. Mathematics is a mental activity. Most schools of thought in the field called "the philosophy of mathematics" adopt some version of this view. But this raises the question of what a "mind" is and what "mental things" are.
To the non-materialist, minds and the ideas they contain can be real without being entirely reducible to matter or to the behavior of matter. To the materialist, however, there can be nothing to our minds besides the operations of our central nervous systems. In the memorable words of Sir Francis Crick, "you are nothing but a pack of neurons." . . . Now, if we say that abstract concepts, such as the number π, exist only in minds, and if we also say, with the materialist, that minds are only the functioning of neurons, then we are left in the strange position of saying that abstract concepts are nothing but patterns of neurons firing in brains. Not, mind you, merely that our neurons fire when we think about or understand these concepts, or that the firing of neurons plays an essential role in our thought processes, but that the abstract concepts about which we are thinking are in themselves certain patterns of neurons firing in the brain, and nothing but that. [Barr goes on to quote from a book on the neurobiology of mathematics to show that some thinkers do, indeed, believe as he suggests they must.] (pp. 194-5, emphasis in original)

Here is another:
There is another problem with the idea that the human mind is merely a computer program programmed by natural selection, and this has to do with two remarkable abilities which the human mind possesses: the ability to attain certainty about some truths, and the ability to recognize that some truths are true of necessity. . . .
There are two aspects to this problem. In the first place, a creature's "evolutionary success" (that is, its success in surviving to reproduce and in ensuring the survival of its offspring) does not require that it know things with absolute certainty or that it recognize truths as necessary ones. It is quite enough for it to have knowledge which is reliable for practical purposes and which is known to be generally true in the circumstances that it has to face. . . .
The second aspect of the problem is that even if it were helpful to their survival for human beings to have absolute certainty in some matters, or to realize that some things are true of necessity, there seems to be no way that natural selection could possibly have programmed us to have that kind of knowledge. Natural selection is based ultimately on trial and error. . . . However, trial and error cannot produce certainty. Nor, obviously, can it lead to conclusions about what is necessarily true. (pp. 200-201)

I find Barr's arguments to be scientifically and philosophically sound, even though his ideas are not popular with the prevailing materialist mind-set.

I would go on to say that even if we are "nothing but a pack of neurons" or a "computer program programmed by natural selection," which both Barr and I reject, that would still mean that we are a very long way from copying all of this hypothetical program so that we could be transferred or uploaded to computer memory. Presumably doing so would have to include replicating all of the neurons, and all of their connections to each other, and any memory molecules they might have inside of them, in some fashion. I suppose that development costs for common application programs, such as Microsoft Word, which I am using to write this, are quite high. They can be recovered by selling enough copies of the program. If each of us is an individual program, it must be at least a few orders of magnitude more complex than Word, and, presumably, much, maybe even all, of everyone's program would be unique to the individual.

Although I am not clear on what exactly a soul is, I believe, and nearly everybody else does, that it has something to do with the mind, or maybe is the mind, whatever that is. My topic, in fact, could just as well been entitled "Uploading your mind." The mind lives in the body, at least for a time, or it is part of the body. What is the relationship between the mind and the body? There is a long-standing discussion about this question, in philosophy and psychology, and the issue is known as the mind-body problem. See Alan Guelzo's review of several books in Books and Culture: A Christian Review.

Nancey Murphy, in "Human Nature: Historical, Scientific and Religious Issues," in Whatever Happened to the Soul? presents four alternatives, as follows (pp. 24-25):
1. Radical dualism: the soul (or mind) is separable from the body, and the person is identified with the former.
2. Holistic dualism: the person is a composite of separable "parts" but is to be identified with the whole, whose normal functioning is as a unity.
3. Nonreductive physicalism: the person is a physical organism whose complex functioning, both in society and in relation to God, gives rise to "higher" human capacities such as morality and spirituality.
4. Eliminative/reductive materialism: the person is a physical organism, whose emotional, moral, and religious experiences will all ultimately be explained by the physical sciences.

Murphy rules out 1 and 4 as incompatible with Christian teaching. If God the Father and God the Holy Spirit are partly, or wholly, nonmaterial, how can humans be in God's image if they are only material? Therefore, 4 will not do. 1, radical dualism, won't do, either. I Corinthians 15, and other Scripture, indicate that we will have a body, even after the resurrection. John wants us to know that Jesus had a body after His resurrection (Mary is told not to hold on to Him in John 20:17; in John 20:27, Thomas is invited to touch Jesus; John 21:4-14 gives the impression that Jesus ate breakfast with the disciples.) Murphy says that the 2nd possibility is most like historic Christian teaching. The 3rd possibility, which Murphy favors, is a view of a soul which emerges with complexity. She points out that we know more about neurobiology and psychology than we used to, and that this knowledge seems to favor the 3rd view. (The nonreductive part of that name means that the soul cannot be completely explained in biological, chemical, mathematical or physical terms.)

Francis Crick (that's the Crick) wrote a book called The Astonishing Hypothesis (1994). 
He is interested in how the brain processes that support visual perception lead to our being aware of something, to actually seeing it. Can we localize in the brain the processes that underpin conscious awareness? This is a good scientific question, although one that we do not currently know how to answer. Crick grafts onto this purely scientific question a kind of creed about the relationship between the mind and the brain … His so-called astonishing hypothesis is that each one of us is "nothing but a pack of neurones." This is biological reductionism in earnest. Fraser Watts, "Are Science and Religion in Conflict?" Zygon 32:124-138, 1997. Quote is from page 130.
In other words, Crick is an eliminative/reductive materialist.

D. Gareth Jones, in Our Fragile Brains: A Christian Perspective on Brain Research, (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1981) discusses the mind-body problem at some length. Perhaps the most famous approach was that of René Descartes. (Of “I think, therefore I am” fame) Descartes was a dualist. To him, body and mind were two different sorts of thing. To quote Jones:
 “. . . the fundamental divide within dualism [is] between the physical body and the nonphysical mind or consciousness, the former a prisoner of the mechanical world-order but the latter the author of uniquely human characteristics such as rational thought and free choice. For Descartes, it was the nonphysical mind which rendered a human being unique and which carried the marks of personhood. That nonphysical side of humans--the mind, soul or consciousness--was the critical one, constituting, alongside the body, one of the two basic substances of the world. (p. 250, emphasis in original)

Descartes believed that the mind interacted with the body through the pineal gland (which is located next to the brain). Although Descartes is dead, dualism isn’t. Such Nobel prize winners as John C. Eccles and Roger Sperry, brain scientists, and Erwin Schrödinger, physicist, have been dualists, says Jones. Other prominent thinkers, including Karl Popper, philosopher of science, and Wilder Penfield, neurosurgeon, have been dualists.

Guelzo writes that Descartes' wall of dualism, setting the soul as non-material and outside scientific inquiry, as influential and long-lasting as it was, is cracking--cracking, in part, because of our knowledge of neurobiology. Although, as Noam Chomsky put it, our knowledge is so incomplete that we can't explain how we recognize a straight line, let alone how we do more complex things with our brain, most brain scientists, and the general public, seem to think that we can potentially explain the workings of the brain in physical terms, or even that we already can do so.

The other development that put a crack in the Cartesian wall between brain and mind was in computers.
. . . one can almost pinpoint the moment when consciousness once again became a direct scientific target: the conceptualization by Alan Turing of the basic model of the computer and John von Neumann's conclusion that the computations performed by complex, integrated computers are like the functions of the brain. Hence, the brain should be understood, not as the residence of the soul, but as the hardware of a computational device. The proof of this, which became known as the Turing test, was maniacally simple: Any logical function, mathematical or otherwise, can be performed on a Turing machine; complex logical functions merely require the development of more complex Turing machines to copy them artificially; eventually, a universal Turing machine will be able to perform all the logical functions of a human being, and in such a way that an observer will not be able to distinguish between the work done by the human being and the work done by the computer. At that point, the computer will have achieved the same mind state as the human being; or, to put it another way, we will discover that human consciousness is nothing different from the high-level operations of a Turing machine.
To understand the Turing model of 'the brain,' it was crucial to see that it regarded physics and chemistry . . . as essentially irrelevant. . . . The claim was that whatever a brain did, it did by virtue of its structure as a logical system, and not because it was inside a person's head, or because it was a spongy tissue made up of a particular kind of biological cell formation. And if this were so, then its logical structure could just as well be represented in some other medium, embodied by some other physical machinery. It was a materialist view of mind, but one that did not confuse logical patterns and relations with physical substances and things, as so often people did. Alan Hodges, as quoted in The Computer and the Mind: An Introduction to Cognitive Science, by Philip N. Johnson-Laird. (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard, 1988). P. 11. (Original source not given)
This opened a direct route toward creating computers so sophisticated that they could beat grandmasters at chess. What was less noticeable at first was that this also opened the direct route to overthrowing Descartes' dualism and demonstrating that consciousness, instead of being the proof of spiritual substance in human beings, is only the by-product of computation—at best, the software of a mental Turing machine. Alan C. Guelzo, "Soulless," Books and Culture: A Christian Review, Jan/Feb 1998.

Turing's paper is available. Raymond Tallis, in his The Explicit Animal: A Defence of Human Consciousness (Macmillan, 1991, and reprinted by St. Martin's, 1999) argues that the best way to explain the mysteries of mind-brain interaction is to not explain it, but to call it the mystery of presence, and, more or less, say that we cannot explain it. Although his ideas have obviously not been universally adopted, his book is thought-provoking and important. He doesn't fit into any of Murphy's four categories. This, of course, was not Turing's approach at all--Turing rather saw the mind as a device which processed information. If that is true, then having a computer substitute for the human brain seems to follow naturally, if that word can be so used in this context. For Tallis' criticism of Turing's approach to consciousness, and approaches that follow from it, see Chapter 4, "Computerising Consciousness."

Guelzo himself is not ready to give up on dualism. Just because a computer can play chess doesn't mean it has consciousness. I agree. Just because humans can build complex computational devices does not mean that that is what we are.
I have not read The Mind and the Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force By Jeffrey Schwartz. A review says that Schwartz argues "that the mind can affect the brain," although, as the reviewer puts it, "Schwartz does not provide iron-clad proof of the mind's ability to rewire the brain, but makes a good preliminary case." (The reviewer is sympathetic to Schwartz' ideas.)

I think it would be fair to say that the mind-body problem--how the soul interacts with a material body--isn't solved. 

One of the reasons I got into all this was reading about Kevin Warwick. (Warwick has written a book, I, Cyborg, apparently published only in the UK as of August 2002. For a review--actually more of an attack, implying that Warwick's main accomplishment is getting publicity, see here.) On the very day that this chapel was presented, November 16, 2000, an article on using the signals from monkey's brains to manipulate an artificial arm appeared in Nature. (See the article by Mussa-Ivaldi, pp. 305-6, or the research that he is commenting on, later in the same issue.) Some progress has indeed been made in interfacing brains and computers.

Interfacing is one thing. Transferring is a different one. There's a big gap, so far, between a human mind and a computer. The human brain is a carbon-based entity, with thoughts apparently being electrical signals, changed into chemical ones as they go between cells. Our memories are at least partly due to physical connections which grow between our nerve cells as we have experiences. Our instincts are transmitted from generation to generation in DNA. What, if anything, does this have to do with a silicon-based computer, wherein memories are stored as patterns of magnetism? True, we have started to work on DNA-based computing, and what passes for thinking in a computer is electrical signaling, more or less, but we are a long way from saving a brain to a computer file. Some of you have had the experience of reading a Microsoft Works document into Microsoft Office. The results often include various extraneous material as well as the information you want. If it is so difficult to get a clean translation between two applications made by the same company, perhaps running on the same computer, imagine the greater difficulty in changing a computer file to thought, or the reverse. Will it be possible? Only God knows.

There are those who believe that interfacing computers and human consciousness is going to happen. The theme appears in some science fiction works. For a recent example, read Genesis by Poul Anderson (New York: Tom Doherty Associates, 2001). Anderson writes about the technology of the near future allowing human consciousness to communicate directly with robot consciousness, then, as the technology evolves, about human personality (consciousness?, souls?) being integrated into a larger non-biological consciousness, and, at need, copies of such a consciousness being downloaded into machines or artificially created human beings.

The Transhumanist FAQ of the World Transhumanist Organization says that:
Some posthumans may find it advantageous to jettison their bodies altogether and live as information patterns on vast super-fast computer networks. Their minds may be not only more powerful than ours but may also employ different cognitive architectures or include new sensory modalities that enable greater participation in their virtual reality settings. Posthuman minds might be able to share memories and experiences directly, greatly increasing the efficiency, quality, and modes in which posthumans could communicate with each other. The boundaries between posthuman minds may not be as sharply defined as those between humans.

N. Kathleen Hayles has written How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. (Chicago: U. of Chicago, 1999) To an excerpt from the book. Here is a speech/presentation by Hayles, apparently covering much the same territory as the book, entitled How We Became Posthuman: Humanistic Implications of Recent Research into Cognitive Science and Artificial Life. One of Hayles' themes is, as she puts it, "how information lost its body, that is, how it came to be conceptualized as an entity separate from the material forms in which it is thought to be embedded." (p. 2) The book, and also the presentation, expand on this theme.

Hayles says this:
Information, like humanity, cannot exist apart from the embodiment that brings it into being as a material entity in the world; and embodiment is always instantiated. Once the specific form constituting it is gone, no amount of massaging data will bring it back. (How We Became Posthuman, p. 49)

Perhaps the most ambitious thoughts about soul uploading (which he calls downloading) are those of Frank J. Tipler, a mathematical physicist with an interest in computers and information. (See the quote near the top of the first of these pages) He says "Eventually, mind children will engulf the entire universe! In fact, they must eventually engulf the universe if they are to survive. In fact, the laws of physics require them to eventually engulf the entire universe and take control of the universe!" ("From 2100 to the End of Time," article published in Wired, but from Tipler's own web site.) If that doesn't seem ambitious, then surely this will: "So our mind children at the end of time will be omniscient (they will know everything that can be known); they will be omnipotent (they will have infinite energy, controlling all the energy resources in the universe), and they are omnipresent (they are ubiquitous throughout the universe). It is interesting that God's Name, as given in Exodus 3:14, is in the original Hebrew Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh, which translates into English as I SHALL BE WHAT I SHALL BE."

Statements like these strike me as not just ambitious, but blasphemous. Tipler is claiming, in no uncertain terms, that our consciousnesses, uploaded, or downloaded, into quantum computers, will be gods.

So maybe computers can capture our signals, or send signals to us. What about computer consciousness? I quote from James Trefil:
. . . I believe that the most central fact about my existence is I perceive that there is an "I" that observes the world from someplace inside my head. It makes no difference how many details you tell me about the working of the brain and the firing of my neurons. Until you have explained how I come to that central conclusion about my own existence, you have not solved the problem of consciousness. - James Trefil, Are We Unique? A Scientist Explores the Unparalleled Intelligence of the Human Mind, p. 184. (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1997)

So can a machine like a computer be conscious? . . . it may turn out that it is possible to build a machine that is conscious in the sense that a human being is conscious. It may be possible to build a machine that has sets of attributes that many people would define as "conscious" but which is not like the human brain-that is conscious, perhaps, in a different way. It may, on the other hand, turn out to be impossible to build a machine that can approximate consciousness and the human brain at all. I simply want to insist on one thing: This is an open question. - James Trefil, Are We Unique? A Scientist Explores the Unparalleled Intelligence of the Human Mind, p. 204. (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1997, emphasis in original.)

Rafael E. Núñez says that the question of whether computers can think has largely disappeared--it's not asked much anymore. He says that it was found that ". . . even the simplest everyday aspects of human thought, such as common sense, sense of humor, spontaneous metaphorical thought, use of counterfactuals in natural language, to mention only a few, were in fact intractable for the most sophisticated machines." It is, of course, possible to suppose that, as more sophisticated computers appear, they will become tractable. However, if that is true, then uploading one's soul to a currently insufficiently sophisticated computer would seem to be futile.

Neuroscientist Gerald Edelman, who believes that the mind and the body are not separable, says:
Logic can be “imparted” and robots can be programmed. But that is not consciousness, which cannot arise from pre-defined information, but rather from the ability to self-organize, recognize patterns, learn and evolve on its own. Even if we one day had conscious artifacts, they wouldn’t be like us. They wouldn’t have our body and our evolved neural circuitry and the body that make us what we are. Machines might become intelligent one day, perhaps even conscious, but they will not be human.

Supposing that it were possible to somehow transfer a soul to a computer. Would the computer know it, or could the soul control the computer, and be conscious of doing so? Again, a good question, and, again, the answers are unclear, at best.

Although this document is not about animal consciousness and morality, the topic is certainly interesting, and related. It is hard to test self-awareness in humans, and is exceedingly difficult to propose and carry out meaningful tests for it in non-humans. However, there is some reasonably good evidence for self-consciousness in some animals, and even for some sort of moral sense. Perhaps the best book about animal morality is Frans de Waal's Good Natured: the Origins of Right and Wrong in Humans and Other Animals (Cambridge, MA: Harvard U. Press, 1997). By no means all scientists are convinced that any non-human organisms have a moral sense, and some may even doubt that any non-human animals are self-aware. Surely we would have the same problem in assessing computer consciousness.

Some Dangers
The history of humans is a history of running from God, or just ignoring Him, or of worshiping ourselves, with a loving God doing what He can to reconcile us to Himself. The ideas touched on in this document include several ways in which we are in danger of repeating this history, perhaps using new methods:
* a desire to preserve the personality by uploading the soul can be a type of ultimate egotism, the 21st century equivalent of the Tower of Babel. Only God can preserve our personality, or soul, or spirit, or mind.
* the belief that personality, soul, spirit, mind, or all of these, come about by nothing but chance, is naturalism in an extreme form. Even if, say, a computer with sufficient complexity could be shown to have developed a personality, this would by no means rule out the work of God in its appearing, and it certainly wouldn't show that a personality developed from nothing by chance.
* belief that the spiritual side of humans is our only important part has led to heresies in the past, such as Gnosticism. We ignore our bodies at our peril.
* belief that we are nothing but information, in whatever form that information exists, is a gross over-simplification.

Real soul uploading
There's a lot I don't understand about souls, or uploading. But I do know this--as Handel, using the text of I Corinthians 15:52-53 (KJV) put it in Messiah: "The trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality." I want to be part of that great final soul uploading, when the immaterial essence of my life, my total self, my immortal part, is uploaded into a perfect body, one that doesn't need to go on a diet, or wear bifocals, can run again as I once did, and will spend eternity in the presence of my Savior. Don't you also want to be part of that uploading? Make it so.


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4 comments:

Weekend Fisher said...

Wow, what a thorough and wide-ranging treatment. I enjoyed that you had a number of reference-points in time to how the article (and relevant context) had been updated and grown over the years.

This one is a gem. I don't say it often enough: I'm very glad that you blog.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Martin LaBar said...

Thank you for your kind comment.

In case you didn't catch it, I linked to your recent post on Michael Shermer.

Weekend Fisher said...

I did notice; I appreciate the mention. I hope to live up to the "philosopher" tag. (Oddly, I've got some philosophy-related private studies that I've been working on that I hope to get blog-ready, but these things don't rush.)

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Martin LaBar said...

You are a philosopher.