This blog is no longer being updated. About this blog.

The Mind’s I

I recently finished reading The Mind’s I by Douglas R. Hofstadter, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, and Daniel C. Dennett, the Santa Claus-like patron saint of the recent publicly resurgent atheism. Sometimes books come into your life at the precise moment when they will have maximal impact. That happened for me with this book.

It is a collection of writings from authors such as Alan Turing, Richard Dawkins, John Searle, StanisÅ‚aw Lem, and Jorge Borges on the subject of mind, consciousness, and artificial intelligence. That’s exactly what I’ve been pondering lately. The authors present conflicting viewpoints (they promise to make everyone think) and then present their responses to the essay. A simple, very effective format.

The authors delivered on their promise. The book caused me to take a long look at what exactly it means to be a conscious, intelligent being. What is the self? Is there a soul? Can consciousness be explained reductively by interactions of neurons? What gives rise to our experience of consciousness? Many were the thought provoking moments that I spent with this book.

By the way, this is the book that I was reading in that Indian bistro a while ago.

An excellent read.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments (1)

Soulless Sleep

I was thinking about death and how much I don’t want it. I pondered what it would be like to be dead. Of course, if you believe in a wholly material universe, the answer to asking what being dead will be like is “Mu“. Being dead isn’t like anything because there is no consciousness to experience death. This is so outside our experience (by definition) that it’s frightening to contemplate.

Yet, I thought, it isn’t truly outside our experience because we lose consciousness every night when we enter dreamless sleep. All conscious experience ceases.

Then I pondered what this would mean if we had a soul. As a Mormon, I was taught to believe that my spirit existed before I was born. I had an existence before this life where I reasoned, loved, made choices, learned, and so on like I do here. If this is true, what happens to that spirit when I lose consciousness? Why must that eternal spirit sleep while its physical body sleep? Why does the physical body have power to extinguish the spirit’s capacity to experience and reason and learn while the body sleeps? Surely if the spirit had those faculties before having a body, then those faculties shouldn’t depend on the state of the body.

Perhaps the way I believed before was too simplistic. Perhaps there could be a spirit within me which has an experience entirely independent and inaccessible to my body’s consciousness. Or perhaps the soul has no role in my ability to reason, remember, experience, etc. Occam’s razor applies here. I should be very reluctant to multiply extra entities to explain a phenomenon which has a simpler explanation: I have no soul.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments (24)