What Freedom from Moral Sensibilities Feels Like

Writing for The Chronicle of Higher Education, Kevin Dutton underwent transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to damp down his amygdala and explore the way some brain scientists think psychopaths feel.  (It’s the Dark Side version of a moral jump discontinuity).  I’ve read some scientific literature on this hypothesis before, but it was really interesting to read his subjective experience.

It isn’t long before I start to notice a fuzzier, more pervasive, more existential difference. Before the experiment, I’d been curious about the time scale: how long it would take me to begin to feel the rush. Now I had the answer: about 10 to 15 minutes. The same amount of time, I guess, that it would take most people to get a buzz out of a beer or a glass of wine.

The effects aren’t entirely dissimilar. An easy, airy confidence. A transcendental loosening of inhibition. The inchoate stirrings of a subjective moral swagger: the encroaching, and somehow strangely spiritual, realization that hell, who gives a s—, anyway?

There is, however, one notable exception. One glaring, unmistakable difference between this and the effects of alcohol. That’s the lack of attendant sluggishness. The enhancement of attentional acuity and sharpness. An insuperable feeling of heightened, polished awareness. Sure, my conscience certainly feels like it’s on ice, and my anxieties drowned with a half-dozen shots of transcranial magnetic Jack Daniel’s. But, at the same time, my whole way of being feels as if it’s been sumptuously spring-cleaned with light. My soul, or whatever you want to call it, immersed in a spiritual dishwasher.

So this, I think to myself, is how it feels to be a psychopath. To cruise through life knowing that no matter what you say or do, guilt, remorse, shame, pity, fear—all those familiar, everyday warning signals that might normally light up on your psychological dashboard—no longer trouble you.

I suddenly get a flash of insight. We talk about gender. We talk about class. We talk about color. And intelligence. And creed. But the most fundamental difference between one individual and another must surely be that of the presence, or absence, of conscience. Conscience is what hurts when everything else feels good. But what if it’s as tough as old boots? What if one’s conscience has an infinite, unlimited pain threshold and doesn’t bat an eye when others are screaming in agony?

Dutton went through the experimental set-up (watching graphically violent images while scientists record his biological readouts) twice, once with TMS and once in his natural state.  But what’s really interesting, especially in the context of that last paragraph, is how the Special Forces soldier who was also going through the experiment reacted:

Results reveal later that, at this point, as we wait for something to happen, our physiological output readings are actually pretty similar. Our pulse rates are significantly higher than our normal resting levels, in anticipation of what’s to come.

But with the change of scene, an override switch flips somewhere in Andy’s brain. And the ice-cold Special Forces soldier suddenly swings into action. As vivid, florid images of dismemberment, mutilation, torture, and execution flash up on the screen in front of us (so vivid, in fact, that Andy later confesses to actually being able to “smell” the blood: a “kind of sickly-sweet smell that you never, ever forget”), accompanied not by the ambient spa music of before but by blaring sirens and hissing white noise, his physiological readings start slipping into reverse. His pulse rate begins to slow. His GSR begins to drop, his EEG to quickly and dramatically attenuate. In fact, by the time the show is over, all three of Andy’s physiological output measures are pooling below his baseline.

Nick… shakes his head, nonplused. “If I hadn’t recorded those readings myself, I’m not sure I would have believed them,” he continues. “OK, I’ve never tested Special Forces before. And maybe you’d expect a slight attenuation in response. But this guy was in total and utter control of the situation. So tuned in, it looked like he’d completely tuned out.

These results point to the horror of war, and the shame of training people in this kind of strength.  The freedom and clarity and power that Dutton experiences are the worst thing for him.

People who have congenital insensitivity to pain with anhidrosis (CIPA) don’t get sensory feedback of pain, heat, or cold, because of a defect in their nervous system.  And they tend to be in terrible danger.  They lack data about what is happening to their bodies, so they can break a toe, not notice, and end up septic.  It seems like psychopaths and other morally dampened people are in a similar situation.  They’s still taking (and causing) damage, and their insensitivity can’t spare them the effects of what they do, it just makes it harder for them to notice and seek healing.

About Leah Libresco

Leah Anthony Libresco graduated from Yale in 2011. She works as an Editorial Assistant at The American Conservative by day, and by night writes for Patheos about theology, philosophy, and math at www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked. She was received into the Catholic Church in November 2012."

  • Tom H

    Sounds a bit like what Augustine says about the effects of sin.

  • kenneth

    I need to get one of those machines. I might finally be able to succeed in corporate America or elected office!

  • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com/ Jake

    Do results like this give Theists pause? This seems to indicate that our perception of morality is largely a physical sensation (regardless of whether morality itself is objective or not), and that a small defect in your hardware would fundamentally change the person you are.

    This strikes me as a strong indictment against the concept of a soul (and free will in geneneral), but even more, against the standard of “belief” as a selector for salvation. If a physical defect can prevent us from seeing a fundamentally true aspect about reality (presuming objective morality for a moment), then why can’t a physical defect prevent us from seeing another fundamentally true aspect about reality (in the context of this blog, lets say the doctrines of the Catholic church)? And if that’s the case, haven’t we lost any sense of culpability that goes along with not believing something?

    It seems to me like we’re left with the choice of jettisoning the claim that our beliefs/morality is a fundamental part of who we are, or admitting that some people are damned because they were born, outside of their control, with a physical handicap.

    • http://coalitionforclarity.blogspot.com/ Robert King

      The Catholic Church believes that all sorts of things limit – but don’t necessarily eliminate – culpability. These explicitly include mental illness or abnormality, addiction, and cultural conditioning. The Church teaches that the human body-soul-unity we call a person is in a state of weakness and distortion from its very conception, so it is common (if not, strictly speaking, natural) for us to desire things that are bad for us, and to fail to recognize things that are good for us.

      Moreover, Catholic teaching holds that the human body is not a shell or machine which contains a soul, but rather that the body is the physical manifestation or expression of the soul; that is, the human soul is not complete unless expressed physically, and the body is dead when separated from the soul. Every “spiritual” act has a physical manifestation, and every physical act is an act of the whole person, with effects on the soul as well as the body. (This is a subtle teaching, and assumes all sorts of things not commonly assumed in post-Enlightenment discourse; so please ask me to clarify if something doesn’t make sense.)

      In short, for a Catholic at least, these findings do not challenge the theist’s idea of a soul at all.

      However, they do raise interesting moral questions, such as the amount or degree of such manipulation that should go on. My initial take is that such treatments should be administered medicinally, like psychotropic drugs. They may help someone who suffers from some mental abnormality to become more “him-/herself”, but they may also cause real damage to a person’s ability to be fully human. More job security for the researchers, I guess!

      • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com Crude

        I agree with you that this doesn’t pose any problem for the theist conception of a ‘soul’, anymore than alcohol ever did.

        I do, however, think it may be a tremendous problem for Bob Seidensticker given his recent exchanges with Leah. Bob defined morality heavily, maybe even exclusively, in terms of reference the personal consciences of individuals. Well, based on my reading of the article, then it seems as if we’re developing machines that can swiftly and radically change conscience – and morality (by Bob’s standards) along with it.

        • http://coalitionforclarity.blogspot.com/ Robert King

          I get the sense (please correct me if I’m wrong) that for Bob, the word “conscience” refers to a basically emotional reaction, a gut-level feeling of right or wrong. But in Catholic jargon, “conscience” refers to a rational intellectual faculty, an ability to recognize and sift through various goods and distortions of goods. It has aspects of innate ability and trainable skill, rather like music: not everyone has an ear for melody or harmony, but anybody can learn to hit a given combination of keys on the piano. This doesn’t make music relative; but it does mean that musical ability varies greatly, and to some extent at no fault of the tuneless.

          Likewise, some have greater or lesser obstacles to their faculty of moral assessment, but all of us can learn to obey basic laws and social conventions. Morality is not necessarily relative, even if some of us are “tone-deaf”, but neither should we expect everybody to have the same aptitude for all virtues.

          This is what a theological or philosophical Catholic thinks of when he/she hears “morality is based on conscience.” But for those who hold “conscience” to be a less rational faculty, more akin to desire, it seems to mean that morality “is in the eye of the beholder,” and I have seen Bob state as much when pressed. Foundationally, he seems to see morality as a competition between different individuals’ consciences, and “right” seems to be determined by who is most able to enforce his/her “conscience” upon the surrounding community.

          In such a view, tools such as Leah describes would be a powerful tool for enforcing one’s view of morality on others – or for quickly manifesting the “might makes right” foundation that Bob seems to think underlies morality.

        • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com/ Jake

          I agree with you that this doesn’t pose any problem for the theist conception of a ‘soul’, anymore than alcohol ever did.

          Interesting, I think alcohol does pose a problem for the classical conception of a soul. So do drugs, Alzheimer’s, amnesia, FMRI scans, etc. Any result that indicates that our thoughts, behavior, and beliefs are facts about our physical body rather than derived from some spiritual reality, to me, is really hard to work into a coherent conception of a soul

          • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com Crude

            is really hard to work into a coherent conception of a soul

            Not really. You should just hunker down and read up on just what is meant by ‘soul’ – and I don’t mean, find a critic attacking the topic. Even the Cartesian dualist conception of soul isn’t going to be as affected by those things as you think, to say nothing of the Catholic view, on which the body is (in some ways) fundamental to the human soul, and absolutely fundamental to animal and vegetable souls.

          • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com/ Jake
          • Ted Seeber

            Does a malfunctioning CPU change the software, or does it just execute it incorrectly?

            I long ago noticed that I work in the primitive world of what may one day become creation of souls. The soul is the software, the meatspace is just the hardware that it runs on.

            Software doesn’t exist materially- it’s just a pattern of information.

          • keddaw

            But any competent intelligence, which I guess you would say the soul was, would recognise quickly that the hardware was defective and alter the instructions it was pushing in order to compensate. This is not what we see when someone has faulty hardware.

            The other way I’ve heard this expressed is that the body (or brain) is the receiver and the soul is broadcasting moral instructions.

            Since it’s the soul that gets eternal pleasure or punishment based on what the wetware does it seems that it would be very sensitive to the meat machine misinterpreting instructions and very reactive to correct mistakes. Again, this is clearly not what we see – the clearest example would be someone who has a physical problem that risks murder and so eternal damnation, that soul would almost definitely not want to risk that and do all it can to stop it doing anything.

          • Ted Seeber

            We don’t see that? How is it that stroke victims recover the power of speech by singing? Isn’t that just routing around the faulty hardware?

      • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com/ Jake

        Moreover, Catholic teaching holds that the human body is not a shell or machine which contains a soul, but rather that the body is the physical manifestation or expression of the soul; that is, the human soul is not complete unless expressed physically, and the body is dead when separated from the soul. Every “spiritual” act has a physical manifestation, and every physical act is an act of the whole person, with effects on the soul as well as the body. (This is a subtle teaching, and assumes all sorts of things not commonly assumed in post-Enlightenment discourse; so please ask me to clarify if something doesn’t make sense.)

        So, let me ask you this- is the body logically separable from the soul? What I want to understand is, is the soul something more than the physical neurons that are firing in our head, or is that it?

        I’m thinking specifically here of (my understanding of) the Buddhist conception of the soul (or rather, lack of soul) that says that what you are is just a collection of physical atoms that happen to be firing in such a way as to make you self-aware. They contend that “self” is an illusion, and that any personal existence outside of a physical one is nonsensical, since you are inherently a physical being. Are you actually making a substantively different claim than they are, or are you just calling it the doctrine of the “soul”, while they call it the doctrine of “no-soul”, but you actually mean the same thing?

        Just so you know the trap I’m planning on springing, if you’re claiming that the soul is something more than physical, that is tantamount to a claim that the brain is (or at least contains) an interface to a non-physical reality. How is this not falsified if and when we find purely physical reasons for humans acting the way that they do?

        • Joe

          Is justice physical? If someone acts according to justice are they acting for a purely physical reason? I don’t think its possible to claim that people can act (morally anyway)from purely physical reasons. For a clearer understanding of soul go here
          http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2012/03/what-is-soul.htm

          • Alan

            Except don’t experiments like this one give you pause – it certainly seems as we are slowly uncovering the physical aspects of the brain that drive people to act ‘morally’.

          • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com/ Jake

            Define “justice”. If you just mean fairness, evolution does a pretty good job of explaining it in purely physical terms- unless you’re arguing that monkeys too have non-physical components?

          • Joe

            Alan

            The experiment only shows that emotions help us act morally but don’t necessarily force us to. The first test subject says he experienced the following “The enhancement of attentional acuity and sharpness. An insuperable feeling of heightened, polished awareness.” This quote made me think that maybe for the first time in his life he could think about the objectiveness of morality without his emotions involved. He could set aside his biases with ease and with out pain and truly think (about morality) with clinical precision. I think the problem is , like most people, he confuses “conscience” with the effects of conscience or feelings. A conscience with out feeling is crippled in action, but is not necessarily imprecise. Forming our conscience means thinking through morality rationally, beginning the difficult practice of forming habits of rationally correct behavior and action, and then hopefully the additional aid of emotions will begin to develop accordingly. Unfortunately most people today reverse the process. They reason based on their malformed emotions.

        • http://coalitionforclarity.blogspot.com/ Robert King

          I’m not very familiar with Buddhism, so I can’t comment on that.

          I would say that, from a Catholic point of view, the body is logically distinct from the soul (in a similar way that red and round and sweet/sour are distinct from an apple), but not separable. A body separated from its soul is dead, is decomposing, is no longer properly speaking a body. Likewise, a human soul without a body is incomplete and is incapable of full action or expression.

          This goes back to a basically Aristotelian idea of “form” or “formal cause,” which seems counter-intuitive to most post-Enlightenment people. I’ve heard much talk about “mind” as an “emergent property” of the brain. I think a Catholic perspective would consider it more apt to say that the brain – and the entire body, for that matter – is an emergent property of the soul.

          So it’s not so much that the brain is an interface with a non-physical reality, as much as that the body (including the brain) is the physical manifestation or instantiation of the spiritual reality, a reality that is not itself reducible to physics or matter, but is the form of a physical and material being.

          I hope that clarifies more than it confuses!

          • Joe

            Jake

            I loved the video!! But I wonder if the monkey was just acting out of instinct or if it could just choose rationally not to give a crap about justice or fairness the way humans can?

          • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com/ Jake

            A body separated from its soul is dead, is decomposing, is no longer properly speaking a body

            This sounds like a testable prediction. Is there any case in which you would predict a body to (inexplicably) die because it had no soul attached (a human clone, brought back to life via CPR, Voldemort-esque soul-splitting, etc.)? If not, this sounds suspiciously like the invisible dragon in the garage- reality LOOKS as if human consciousness is purely physical, but it’s ACTUALLY spiritual, even though the spiritual model co-opts all the same predictions of the purely physical model

            This goes back to a basically Aristotelian idea of “form” or “formal cause,” which seems counter-intuitive to most post-Enlightenment people.

            Yes, I’ve noticed this is my biggest point of departure from Catholic belief- I don’t see any evidence for Platonic/Aristotelian forms, but reductionism seems self-evidently true to me. I’m very suspicious of philosophies that postulated the existence of forms before they had an understanding of the underlying physical structure of their supposed forms. These facts about reality are what make reductionism seem to me self-evidently true- if these philosophers didn’t have access to the facts, it’s no surprise that they arrived at conclusions that were rendered obsolete by them.

            I think a Catholic perspective would consider it more apt to say that the brain – and the entire body, for that matter – is an emergent property of the soul… it’s not so much that the brain is an interface with a non-physical reality, as much as that the body (including the brain) is the physical manifestation or instantiation of the spiritual reality

            Interesting perspective. I’m not sure this solves the problem though- we still haven’t described how the spiritual reality is relaying its instructions to the physical reality. Clearly, some physical reality exists without explicit spiritual underpinnings (unless you’re claiming monkeys have souls too). What’s different about a human that gives it a soul than a monkey that prevents it from having a soul? Surely it must be some interaction of the underlying spiritual reality with the top level physical reality. It seems like anything else would be a claim that a soul is an emergent property of a sufficiently complex physical brain.

            Put it another way: either spiritual reality (the soul) has a direct effect on physical reality or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, then no soul is required to explain humans in the first place. If it does, then physical reality (cells and atoms) in humans must be doing something different than it would do in the hypothetical-world-without-souls. If we can’s say what the difference is, then the soul theory isn’t really a theory- it’s just a linguistic trick we’ve applied on top of the underlying physical reality because it’s a useful, if not strictly accurate, way of talking about the world (just like the world “airplane” is useful in describing a particular physical object, but less accurate than describing every atom that makes up the object). And look, we’re back at reductionism! :)

          • http://coalitionforclarity.blogspot.com/ Robert King

            Don’t confuse Aristotelian forms with Platonic forms. Plato thought that forms were things themselves, that existed separately from material things. It sounds like that’s the kind of form you’re talking about.

            Aristotle said Plato was dead wrong on that point. He said that a form is simply the cause of something being *this kind of thing*. So, for example, the matter that makes up a rock or an apple or a ten-year-old girl is basically the same kind of matter, the stuff of the physical universe. But it cannot exist as pure “stuff” – it always exists in a certain form: whether as a rock or an apple or a ten-year-old girl or as a dispersed field of subatomic particles. Matter only exists in a form, and a form is always the form of something; only together as matter formed into something, do physical substances exist.

            “Soul” is simply the word for “living form” or “form of something alive.” So, yes, apples and monkeys have souls of a kind: the apple lives and grows and develops into a tree and so on; the monkey lives and grows and also senses the world and moves in response to what it senses; it even remembers and imagines and draws connections between its experiences. The distinctive nature of the human soul is that it abstracts: not only does it make connections between experiences, and things, and such: it develops math and language and laws and abstract principles which it then applies back to concrete experience.

            From this point of view, a “hypothetical-world-without-souls” is nonsense: at best it simply means a world in which there is no life. Extrapolated to a world-without-forms you get a world that can’t even be called a world, because world itself is a form of some kind.

            Now, a reductionist could, I suppose, take a nominalist approach to this: what we call “forms” – whether “round” or “animal” or “species” – are just arbitrary names we apply because such categories are useful to us. But if forms are not real, if there is no reality to them, then there is no reality to laws of physics or to the identity or continuity of objects or even to our ability to communicate arbitrary names and categories. So from my point of view, I find reductionism entirely inadequate to explain even itself, much less the rest of reality.

          • Brandon B

            Robert,
            Now I, a Catholic, would like clarification. I know almost nothing about medieval philosophy, and though I’ve studied Aristotle’s stuff a little I don’t recall “Aristotelian forms”, just a bunch of stuff about how he liked to categorize things.

            You describe a soul as “the form of something alive”. When I think of the word “form”, and when I’m not thinking in the context of some particular philosophy, I think of something that doesn’t exist without the thing that possesses it. A basketball has a round form, for example. However, if I take a big knife and cut it open, the air inside escapes and its stops being quite so round. It loses its form. Is this view that you’re attributing to Aristotle?

            If it is, it doesn’t seem compatible with Catholicism. Talking about “a body separated from its soul” would really be talking about a body that lacked a certain set of properties, namely the properties that come with being alive. Those properties would not exist if the body stopped being alive. If a ball is blue, but you paint it red, its “blueness” ceases to exist. Even Plato would say that the “blueness” that persists is more abstract, and was never attached to any particular object. Yet Catholics believe that we have individual souls, and those are associated or united somehow with particular bodies, and that our souls persist when our bodies are no longer alive. How is what Aristotle thought relevant?

          • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com/ Jake

            @Robert-

            “Soul” is simply the word for “living form” or “form of something alive.”

            So, I’m no expert on Thomism, but this is very clearly not what most people mean when they say “soul”. I don’t want to argue terminology, so what I’m talking about is whatever-it-is-that-makes-humans-different (WIITMHD). Most religions say that there is some spiritual component to humanity- something beyond the physical- that explains WIITMHD.

            If “soul” is just a synonym for “alive”, then we haven’t solved any problems. First, humans are alive, but so are monkeys, and slugs, and bacteria. I know of no form of Christianity that gives these things equal weight.

            Second, what qualifies as alive in your definition? Do bacteria? Do viruses? Do the cells that shed off our body in a normal day? Does fire? Science has a good definition for what qualifies as alive- does your Thomistic forms have one? Do you think vegetables are a physical expression of a spiritual truth?

            Finally, life appears to be totally explicable without any reference to the spiritual. We can see life reproduce on a micro scale (cell division) and on a macro scale (sexual reproduction), we can observe its mechanisms, we can read its genetic code, we can perform experiments and modify life to suit our own needs. There’s no need- more, no justification- to introduce a mysterious spiritual component when the physical component seems sufficient to explain everything that happens.

            Now, a reductionist could, I suppose, take a nominalist approach to this: what we call “forms” – whether “round” or “animal” or “species” – are just arbitrary names we apply because such categories are useful to us.

            I would drop the word “arbitrary”, but this is essentially correct. “Round” and “animal” and “species” are real things, but they are not fundamental things. They describe arrangements of matter, not matter itself. Put it another way- a “round” object is an object who’s matter has been arranged in such a way that it fits within the mathematical equation for a circle. An “animal” is an object who’s matter is arranged in such a way that it demonstrates the characteristics of life, it has a brain, it reproduces, etc. A “species” is an idea that describes the placement of a certain arrangement of matter in chronological and causal order in historical context. But none of these things are fundamentally indivisible. If you cut an animal in half, you’ve changed the arrangement of matter, but you haven’t fundamentally altered reality. The atoms inside the animal are still following the same laws of physics. You’ve changed the arrangement of that matter so that it no longer fits with our idea of an “animal”, but you haven’t done anything beyond that. Our labeling of the original object as an “animal” and the resulting objects as “meat” is not arbitrary- they’re descriptions of reality. They’re just not descriptions of any reality deeper than the physical.

            I’m not sure I’m being as cogent as I’d like to think I am, so I’ll refer anyone who doesn’t understand what I’m saying to the less wrong article, which as always says it better than I could.

            But if forms are not real, if there is no reality to them, then there is no reality to laws of physics or to the identity or continuity of objects or even to our ability to communicate arbitrary names and categories

            I don’t think this follows. Whether reductionism is true or not, our subjective perception of reality is what it is- it will not suddenly invalidate itself as soon as we admit that our observations point to reductionism. Forms are a useful way of talking about reality, but they shouldn’t be confused with reality itself. They are high order approximations that allow us to quickly and accurately communicate, but there’s nothing inherently “life-y” about living things, nothing inherently “chair-y” about a chair, nothing inherently “airplane-y” about an airplane. They’re just collections of atoms, each of which follows the laws of physics, that are arranged in specific ways and categorized by us according to their macro-level behavior.

            So from my point of view, I find reductionism entirely inadequate to explain even itself, much less the rest of reality.

            Depends what you mean by “explain”. It doesn’t give itself any greater meaning, but then it doesn’t try to. It’s just a description of physical reality that seems to be empirically accurate.

          • http://coalitionforclarity.blogspot.com/ Robert King

            @Brandon B -

            First off, what I’m describing is my understanding of one tradition of Catholic philosophy. This is not doctrine and is not required for being a faithful Catholic. The unity of soul and body is mentioned in the Catechism (CCC 362-8), but it leaves a lot of room for interpreting what is meant by “the soul is the form of the body”. Historically, the Thomistic approach (following Aristotle) became the primary theological approach; but I don’t want to imply that it is the only possible way to understand Catholic teaching.

            Second, most of my understanding of Aristotle comes through the filter of Thomas Aquinas. I know there are Aristotelians who understand him differently, and I’m not smart enough to argue the points. I think I understand Thomist Aristotelianism well enough to explain it, but not well enough to fully critique it, and certainly not well enough to answer all critiques of it. So my goal here is to explain, not necessarily to convince. Edward Feser (http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/) seems to be the go-to guy for a deep, but still accessible to non-professionals, explication of the Thomistic perspective these days.

            That’s the end of my disclaimers. On to your questions.

            There are basically two kinds of forms that are very similar to one another. The forms immediately intuitive to us are like the roundness of a basketball or the redness of a berry or the flow of a river. These are forms that show us what something is, but do not make the thing actually to exist. As you point out, a deflated basketball is still a basketball when it is no longer round. More fundamentally, it is still rubber (or whatever they make basketballs from). It loses its functionality and recognizability, but it does not cease to exist or cease to be what it is. The term for this kind of form is “accidental form”, but “accidental” has almost an entirely different meaning than normal English usage today. It basically means, “a form which is not necessary to the existence of the substance, and could conceivably be different without destroying the substance.”

            The other kind of form is the form that causes something to be what it is. For example, water can take a variety of shapes and colors and temperatures and so on, but it always retains the form of water – until it undergoes some *substantial change*, in this case by being broken into its component atoms. The water has ceased to exist as water. Its matter has taken on a new form, perhaps as raw hydrogen and oxygen, perhaps as rust or as some part of a plant. The substantial form is what makes a thing to be what it is, and to behave according to what it is. That is why the substantial form is sometimes called the “nature” of a thing.

            The form of water makes matter exist as water. The matter existed in some other form prior to existing as water, and will probably change to some other kind of substance later, but water is more than the sum of its parts: it is a substance in its own right.

            This is more clear in living things. A plant is not just a collection of other substances, atoms and molecules and such. Every distinct atom and molocule acts differently because it is a part of the plant than it would if it were separate from the plant. It is no longer “just” an atom or molocule or cell or whatever: it is a part of a whole, unified being. The life of the plant is what unifies what we would otherwise call parts. The same is true of all living things. And when that principle of unity is lost, the various parts begin acting like separate parts again: they revert to the forms of water and carbon and whatever intert substances the plant decays into.

            Now, you’re right that this raises questions about the idea of an immortal soul. The reason that Aristotle thought that the soul could be immortal, and that Christians picked up to explain how the soul survived the death of the body, is this: the human soul is not simply the form of a body, but is also the form of an intellect, of a substance that holds within itself abstract and immaterial ideas. The very fact that we can distinguish mathematics from concrete objects, that we can distinguish different kinds of form, or distinguish that something exists from what it is, all demonstrated that there is something beyond mere matter in the life of a human person.

            So a human soul is the form of a being whose existence includes a physical body that is alive and that also includes non-physical aspects of reality such as abstraction and understanding and freedom. Because the soul is not merely the form of a body, it remains after the body dies. But because it is still the form of a body, it is incomplete and limited. This is why Christianity teaches that our final destiny includes taking on a body, and that heaven and hell involve bodily goods or evils.

            I know this was very long and even so didn’t address every point you raised. But I hope it brought some clarity.

          • http://coalitionforclarity.blogspot.com/ Robert King

            @Jake -

            No time for a long reply, but I’ll try to hit your other points later.

            …this is very clearly not what most people mean when they say “soul”. I don’t want to argue terminology, so what I’m talking about is whatever-it-is-that-makes-humans-different (WIITMHD).

            I agree that “alive” is not how most people use “soul”; it’s just how ancient and medieval and even some contemporary philosophers use the term. Terminology is how we communicate, though, and I’m not sure that there are direct “translations” of Aristotelian or Thomistic concepts into contemporary everyday speech. I’m open to suggestions!

            As to What Makes Humans Different, the ancients and scholastics would point to the intellect, the ability to abstract and understand, not only via the senses, but via immaterial ideas. (See my response to Brandon B above.)

            They describe arrangements of matter, not matter itself. Put it another way- a “round” object is an object who’s matter has been arranged in such a way that it fits within the mathematical equation for a circle.

            This is (almost) exactly what ancient and medieval philosophers meant by “form” – and, for that matter, by “matter”. Round or red is not material, it is not composed of matter. It is an arrangement which makes the thing arranged (or formed) to have features greater than the sum of its parts. Taken a step further, matter cannot exist without existing in some form or other, that is, without being arranged or shaped in some concrete way – that is, even to exist as an up-quark or a down-quark is to exist as a particular kind of matter. The arrangement or form, although it is not itself matter or composed of matter, is necessary for matter to exist.

            So ancients and medievals (at least in the Aristotelian tradition) did not consider either matter or form to exist without the other. Really existing things, they called “substances,” and physical things they called “bodies,” which they said were composed of matter and form. So it’s perhaps more accurate to talk about “incorporeal” souls than “immaterial” souls.

            I’m not sure whether we disagree all that much. Many of the problems with philosophy of science come from the way words that were for millenia used in one way have over the past few centuries been used in ways that are very different from and sometimes contradictory to their original meanings. We’ll probably still argue over whether the incorporeality of human intellect implies subsistence after death; but it seems that we agree that (for example) a mathematical formula cannot be reduced to something physical or material. Am I understanding you correctly?

          • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com/ Jake

            I think I’m running out of steam as well :)

            It is an arrangement which makes the thing arranged (or formed) to have features greater than the sum of its parts

            I think this is the major point on which we disagree. Ii don’t agree that arrangements of matter yield features that are greater than the sum of it’s parts. They yield features that are exactly congruent with the way physics interacts with each individual constituent part (to be clear, I’m not trying to argue for the fallacy of division- if it seems like I am, I can try to rephrase it)

            but it seems that we agree that (for example) a mathematical formula cannot be reduced to something physical or material. Am I understanding you correctly?

            I’m not sure exactly what you mean here. Math is like logic, not like water. I do agree that math is an objective fact about reality (like logic), but I’m not sure “is math physical” is any more of a sensical question that “what does blue taste like”?

        • JRA

          Here’s alternative to the traditional Aristotelian view (in which the soul is something of a tautology: organized things have an organization). Let’s say the soul is a pre-scientific way of speaking about qualities of matter that we’ve had no way of understanding at the time. The problem isn’t that the base matter needs an add on to explain human nature; the problem is that we think matter is base in the first place–a legacy of the featureless billiard ball model that physicists have always, to some extent, had rattling around in their heads.

          Now we know that matter itself exhibits startling characteristics of freedom. We may say, “Every quality that the world exhibits is emergent from the world itself,” and yet at every instant, a practically infinite number of physical features (the characteristics of particles) are manifest without regard to anything else in the whole history of the universe. It emerges according to certain laws of nature, yet constantly awash and dependent on freedom. (symmetry breaking, which is necessary for certain characteristics to emerge, depends on deviation from expected outcomes)

          So you may say, eventually, “Look, we understand the mechanisms by which such and such phenomenon occur in the brain and thus human experience.” But those mechanisms themselves are constructed on something indeterminate by nature, and not merely indeterminate by the inadequacy of our investigation.

          Second, if the characteristics of the world emerge from the world itself, we have to attribute to the world all of those characteristics. The world, in other words, is intelligent, conscious, creative, and exhibits a tremendous diversity of personalities. That’s what a universe does, insofar as we know universes.

          We do not understand much about the context of being in which the physical universe came to be. I suppose we could say that it’s not subject to time and that it is capable of producing universe(s). But either there is something about that context that engenders these conscious, intelligent universes whose blossoms include personalities, or there is something about that context which guides the universe in the disposition of its ubiquitous freedom. Because that is a context with no time, all characteristics of the universe are equally present there, even though to us they coming into being and passing away.

          A soul, in this view of things, is the reality of an individual personality/nature from the perspective of that context in which the universe came to be–a perspective from which it is ever present. That nature came about in the universe through the emergent processes of matter like all other things, but its meaning is only clear in the context of the freedom that brought it about.

          That doesn’t help much with the falsifiability, except insofar as one can disprove freedom. Then the jig is up on all of this.

          • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com/ Jake

            Second, if the characteristics of the world emerge from the world itself, we have to attribute to the world all of those characteristics. The world, in other words, is intelligent, conscious, creative, and exhibits a tremendous diversity of personalities. That’s what a universe does, insofar as we know universes.

            I definitely don’t agree with this statement. I think I might be too tired at the moment to parse the rest of it XD

          • http://coalitionforclarity.blogspot.com/ Robert King

            You’re clearly using contemporary theories of physics (emergent properties, symmetry breaking, etc.) that I don’t understand very well, so please explain if I’m barking up entirely the wrong tree.

            It sounds to me like you’re arguing that, since nothing comes from nothing, and we have intelligent, conscious, creative beings in the world, that the universe itself must be intelligent, conscious, creative, etc.

            This line of argument has traditionally gone in one of two directions: 1) the universe itself is alive and intelligent, and we are like cells in the body of the universe, distinct but not really separate from the universe; this is often short-handed to The Universe = God, aka pantheism. 2) there is being beyond the universe, a transcendent creator, who is intelligent beyond our categories of intelligence, alive beyond our categories of life, and so on; this is the approach that the Judeo-Christian tradition takes, that God is beyond the universe, beyond space and time and physics.

            Are you following either of these paths? Or am I misunderstanding your argument altogether?

    • Ted Seeber

      I’m a psychopath. Well, not really. Just Asperger’s. But I have many of the same inabilities the psychopath has, and I’ve had to work incredibly hard to educate myself to *notice* what other people are feeling.

      Instead of being a strong indictment of the concept of a soul, I’d say it is proof of one. AND proof that the soul needs and objective, outside-of-self code of morality to truly be strong.

      It’s why I say “Good without God” is a an objective lie. Because I don’t know any human being that I can classify as good. And because this “innate sense of morality” that others talk about, like piety and empathy, is utterly a myth to me.

      • Alan

        So you say good without god is a lie because you are physically defective – it seems that would more imply that good with (certain) physical defects is a lie. It also seems to confirm (as does the experiment here) that ‘morality’ lies within and can be manipulated by the physical realm – no need to assume a soul at all just a few magnets here and there and we can remove/recover your ‘conscience’.

        • Irenist

          My moral perception can be manipulated by magnets; the lens of a telescope can be cracked. Yet Justice and Jupiter both exist.

          • Alan

            No comparison at all of course as one is an observable physical entity and one is a squishy concept that people whose evidence of existence to some is evidence of its lacking to others.

            But sure, if that give you comfort, why not.

          • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com Crude

            No comparison at all of course as one is an observable physical entity and one is a squishy concept that people whose evidence of existence to some is evidence of its lacking to others.

            Plenty of comparison, actually – people disagree about evidence for physical entities, and plenty of other things. In fact the very example Irenist gave was one where the physical entity wasn’t observed – the lens was cracked. But Jupiter’s out there.

            But if that disturbs your comfort, oh well.

          • Alan

            And when they disagree about physical entities they develop testable hypothesis to determine which side is wrong (or if all sides are wrong) and they can reach an eventual consensus – let me know when we do that with justice.

            See that is the difference between physical entities that we actually can determine to be objective and metaphysical constructs which rely on what amounts to assumption and assertion that they are objective – and given the variety of those possible assumptions and assertions the world operates as if the determination is subjective, whether or not those platonic forms are sitting out there.

          • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com Crude

            And when they disagree about physical entities they develop testable hypothesis to determine which side is wrong (or if all sides are wrong) and they can reach an eventual consensus – let me know when we do that with justice.

            Actually, some questions about physical entities are unresolvable now, and may well be unresolvable in practice or even in principle. And consensuses about justice? They’ve been attained. Universal, no-disagreements-registered consensuses? Nope. Then again, good luck finding those in science.

            metaphysical constructs which rely on what amounts to assumption and assertion

            That evinces a big misunderstanding of not just justice, but philosophy and metaphysics in general. What they rely on is argument, reason, evidence and more. They simply aren’t subject to scientific testing – neither is materialism or naturalism. If you want to ditch those, be my guest.

            and given the variety of those possible assumptions and assertions

            Because all assumptions are created equal? C’mon.

            This is a hair away from saying that so long as there’s no universal agreement about X, X doesn’t exist or isn’t true. Or that, if we can’t perform scientific experiments, we can’t make progress on a given claim.

          • Irenist

            “when they disagree about physical entities they develop testable hypothesis to determine which side is wrong”
            Some domains of knowledge, like the physical sciences, are more amenable than to the development of falsifiable hypotheses than others. When the scientific method is applied in endeavors better suited to drawing upon humanistic wisdom, we end up with false confidence in things like the mathematically expressed pseudo-precision that makes so much of economics so pernicious (e.g., the equations relied upon by Wall St. prior to the implosion of the market for securitized mortgages in 2008), or evo-psycho-babble purporting to tell us how to live out our love lives based on some misogynist’s puerile theorizing about polygamous macho hunters and the nest-feathering cavewomen who loved them for their social status. Not every question worth asking is a nail for science’s hammer.

        • Ted Seeber

          I say good without God is a lie because EVERY HUMAN BEING IS PHYSICALLY DEFECTIVE from the point of view of omnipresence. Thus making the idea of a “good human being” a total myth.

    • Irenist

      “Do results like this give Theists pause?”
      No. As Robert King noted, every human soul is the form of a rational animal. If a given human soul happens to be the form of a human body that lacks the capacity, due to brain or other bodily injury, for sight, or walking, or moral reasoning, then that particular human soul will still have those capacities, but will be unable to express them. At the Last Judgment, AFAIK, that soul will be reunited with a body able to properly express these capacities E.g., Phineas Gage’s soul, always the form of a healthy human being, will then be associated with a properly functioning human brain in a properly functioning human body, as if the famous accident with the railway spike had never happened. (Whether Mr. Gage’s specific body will be the glorified one of a saint is not for me to judge.)

      “if that’s the case, haven’t we lost any sense of culpability that goes along with not believing something?”
      C.S. Lewis addresses this question in many of his books, writing somewhere that just as a skilled driver handling a jalopy deserves more credit than a mediocre driver handling a fine car, so, too, does a sincere person handling, e.g., a grumpy, psychopathic, or invincibly ignorant disposition through accident of nature or nurture deserves more credit than a respectable Christian who just goes inoffensively through life’s motions and couldn’t care less. Although the analogy of soul to driver and brain to car can often mislead (since the soul is the form of the brain-bearing body, not some homunculus), I think Lewis gets at the general answer to your question.

      • deiseach

        No, this is why the teaching of the Church is that you are obligated to inform your conscience, precisely so that it is not a matter of “I feel this is right/wrong for me/you” but that you have a reasonable framework where you understand the limits and the freedoms of your beliefs and can be instructed by the conscience when in doubt.

        Definition of conscience from the current edition of the Catechism: “Conscience is a judgment of reason whereby the human person recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act that he is going to perform, is in the process of performing, or has already completed.”

        Conscience is an act, not a power, of the intellect (very, very simplified version of a conclusion of St. Thomas Aquinas). So someone with a deficient intellect or power of reasoning might not be able to instruct their conscience, or properly understand what they should or should not do. In the example above, Kevin Dutton is like someone under the influence of drink or drugs (or brain injury, which is pretty much what he did to himself, even if it was temporary and reversible). He is not operating under the normal functions of the healthy brain, in other words, and so although he may have suppressed his ability to follow the dictates of conscience, and cannot be held fully culpable for any wrong he might do while in that state, he is still more to blame because he artificially altered and made himself unable to distinguish right from wrong than someone so affected due to nature or accident.

        The point I am trying to make is that conscience is an act of the intellect supported by the will and the trained emotions, so it is more akin to a habit, not an innate ‘little voice in our heads telling us right from wrong’.

        • http://coalitionforclarity.blogspot.com/ Robert King

          Thank you for pointing out that, for Thomas, concience is an act (and synderesis is a habit)! (ST I q79 a12 & 13) I had slipped into the sloppiness of calling it a “faculty.” This perhaps invalidates my analogy above with music – though music is a habit as well, based in both sensory and intellectual faculties, so perhaps the analogy may stand.

      • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com/ Jake

        just as a skilled driver handling a jalopy deserves more credit than a mediocre driver handling a fine car, so, too, does a sincere person handling, e.g., a grumpy, psychopathic, or invincibly ignorant disposition through accident of nature or nurture deserves more credit than a respectable Christian who just goes inoffensively through life’s motions and couldn’t care less

        I think this is the problem: define sincerity. I’ve read a lot of Lewis’ works, and while I love his writing, I find that he always stops one level too soon. What makes you sincere? Well, some weird interaction between your physical body and your soul does. If the standard of “sincerity” is what we’re using to judge salvation, then we’ve abstracted away the issue with using “belief” into an issue of using “sincerity” as a selector. So long as our mental conceptions are dependent on physical phenomenon outside of our control, it doesn’t matter how many abstractions we make, we’re going to keep running into the same problem.

        The fundamental question that doesn’t seem (to me) to have a good answer outside of reductionism is “where does the soul end and the body begin?” Where’s the line between “that which is our nature” and “that which is what we actually are”? Or more specifically, in the spirit of reductionism, what are the actual physically observable consequences of a “soul”? It’s a pretty wild claim- that an immeasurable, undetectable thing is having a direct and consistent effect on our physical reality. Your soul is changing the chemical reactions in your brain on an atomic level. Any alternative conception of a soul (e.g. one in which there is no measurable effect of a soul on the physical atoms of a human) that I can think of doesn’t actually describe what it is that most people claim the soul is doing.

        If God is making the determination of our ultimate salvation based on some standard that’s not even correlated with our observable reality (for example, the hypothetical world where Phineas Gage, in his true form, is a Saint), then we’ve gotten rid of the selection problem at the cost of introducing a whole new set of (much bigger) problems

        • Irenist

          ” Or more specifically, in the spirit of reductionism, what are the actual physically observable consequences of a “soul”? ”
          Here are some places to start looking for better answers than mine:
          http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/dualism/#VarDuaInt
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dualism_%28philosophy_of_mind%29#Replies

          For a deeper answer, I would direct you to Tolstoy’s The Kingdom of God is Within You, where he wrestles with what the freedom to choose or reject God can mean in the deterministic Newtonian clockwork cosmos of the science of his time. I don’t endorse Tolstoy’s answer, but find it helpful.

          To clumsily paraphrase his insight in modern terms, our intuition of free will seems to be one of the phenomena eliminative reductionism can’t save. As far as modern neurology is concerned, it doesn’t seem to exist. If so, it wouldn’t show up in a lab, or have a physical locus in the brain. But, like qualia and intentionality (also hard to locate in the brain), free will would (if it exists) exist non-materially, if a place in the brain can’t be found for it. Thus, if we trust (have faith in, as it were) our intuition that free will exists, we have something (free will) without a locus in the brain. Without a locus in the brain, it couldn’t be destroyed by any injury or illness of the brain. Thus, free will, on some accounts of dualism like those perhaps embraced by Tolstoy, can have no effect on the relentlessly wound-up clockwork of the material body, but could still choose–or not–to accept grace when and however it might be proffered to it by God in the mind’s inmost depths.

          On a dualistic account that allows will influence over the world, we could instead posit the answers cited in the linked wikipedia article: e.g., the dodgy-sounding but interesting idea that the cosmos mightn’t be a closed system but instead open wherever it links up with the dimension (or whatever) of the spiritual, and thus the second law of thermodynamics doesn’t apply to the soul. I’m wary of “Tao of Physics”-type speculations, so I won’t even attempt to defend that. But if there is some way for will to interact with brain, than perhaps that avenue can be closed off by injury, just as the capacities of the soul’s other abilities to express themselves can be. In which case, Phineas Gage might have continued to will to accept God’s grace within the depths of his soul without being able to express that acceptance. This, however, sounds too homuncular again.

          TL;DR: Interactionism is a messy problem for dualism, but no worse, IMHO, than eliminative reductionism for materialism.

          • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com/ Jake

            Interactionism is a messy problem for dualism, but no worse, IMHO, than eliminative reductionism for materialism

            …only if you want to hold on to a classical idea of free will though, right? i.e. this problem doesn’t exist for a Sam-Harris-Esque interpretation of free will as an illusion?

          • Irenist

            [Interactionism] doesn’t exist for a Sam-Harris-Esque interpretation of free will as an illusion?

            Correct. The problem with the Sam Harris-esque interpretation (which is called “eliminative reductionism”) is that proponents like Alex Rosenberg logically conclude that not only is free will an illusion, but so are qualia (i.e., “what it’s like” to experience redness or some other sensation) and intentionality (i.e., “aboutness,” or “meaning”. As Rosenberg says in his summary of eliminative reductionism, The Atheist’s Guide to Reality, he and his fellow materialists are logically led to conclude that since a clump of neurons can’t be “about,” e.g., the Eiffel Tower, that thoughts are meaningless. The problem with this view is that it is trivially self-refuting: consistent with their own claims, eliminative reductionists’ own thoughts and words (and books) would have to be entirely devoid of meaning. They have sawed off the branch they need to sit on to be able to think or speak about their own theories. IMHO, the inability of materialist science to explain intentionality without explaining it away as an illusion is a far more fatal theoretical defect than that presented for any dualism (particularly hylemorphic dualism of the Thomist sort) by the interaction problem: explaining how the soul might relate to the body is merely confusing; explaining how materialists’ conception of matter might relate to meaning is in principle impossible by their own admission!

          • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com/ Jake

            The problem with the Sam Harris-esque interpretation (which is called “eliminative reductionism”) is that proponents like Alex Rosenberg logically conclude that not only is free will an illusion, but so are qualia (i.e., “what it’s like” to experience redness or some other sensation) and intentionality (i.e., “aboutness,” or “meaning”.

            Free will being an illusion is a very different claim than qualia and intentionality being an illusion. Free will is a claim about the source of our thoughts and actions. Qualia is a set of subjective experiences. Intentionality is pretty fuzzy, but it is ultimately (in my estimation) a claim about whether or not rational agents exist. Free will being an illusion does not invalidate either Qualia or Intentionality as subjective experiences- that fact that our intuitions are wrong about having free will doesn’t change our actual subjective experience of reality when we realize we’re wrong. Harris, I believe, makes much the same claim.

            Put it another way- we experience what we experience, reductionism notwithstanding. And if reductionism is the way reality works, then reductionism is the way reality works, our misgivings notwithstanding.

            The problem with this view is that it is trivially self-refuting: consistent with their own claims, eliminative reductionists’ own thoughts and words (and books) would have to be entirely devoid of meaning

            We need to specify our definition of “meaning” here. It’s true that eliminative reductionism means that the universe is ultimately just atoms + time (relevant XKCD!), but that doesn’t mean facts about reality don’t exist. Eliminative reductionism is simply that- a claim about reality. Thoughts and word may be complex constructs of much simpler parts, but it doesn’t follow that it’s all gobbledygook. The “meaning” of thoughts and words is created by the fact that we attribute them meaning- that humans have language processing capabilities, that we have developed written languages, that we’ve built societies that value philosophy. In the absence of humans, these things would have no meaning- because humans are all that give them meaning.

            IMHO, the inability of materialist science to explain intentionality without explaining it away as an illusion is a far more fatal theoretical defect than that presented for any dualism (particularly hylemorphic dualism of the Thomist sort) by the interaction problem: explaining how the soul might relate to the body is merely confusing; explaining how materialists’ conception of matter might relate to meaning is in principle impossible by their own admission!

            I think this is the major point where we differ. I’m saying that there is no coherent conception of meaning that’s any better than eliminative reductionism. Any attempt to come up with one hits the same sort of infinite regression that eliminative reductionism hits when trying to define meaning.

            Ultimately, I think anyone claiming a deeper reality beyond the physical is left to throw up their hands and say “we don’t understand how the soul/morality/meaning works, it just does“. Holding on to the classical idea of a soul/morality/meaning leaves you rejecting causality, logic, and empiricism, and requires you to postulate a reality above ours, undetectable to ours in any way, which doesn’t follow the same rules, and which is taken on faith. I prefer a physically accurate model that admits this up front to a convoluted model that tries to hide it behind layers of abstraction.

          • http://coalitionforclarity.blogspot.com/ Robert King

            Ultimately, I think anyone claiming a deeper reality beyond the physical is left to throw up their hands and say “we don’t understand how the soul/morality/meaning works, it just does“.

            And what’s wrong with that?

            You go on to say:

            Holding on to the classical idea of a soul/morality/meaning leaves you rejecting causality, logic, and empiricism, and requires you to postulate a reality above ours, undetectable to ours in any way, which doesn’t follow the same rules, and which is taken on faith.

            I don’t see how admitting that there are things we don’t know, or even that we can’t know on principle, leaves us “rejecting causality, logic, etc.” or accepting a reality that “doesn’t follow the same rules.” Causality itself is, as Hume noted, something beyond our understanding. We throw up our hands, cry “The sun will rise tomorrow!” and admit that we may never comprehend how or why causality works. Then we get on with life, including inquiring about how and why causality works. Even if we never figure it out completely, we still learn true and valid things along the way, which are not invalidated by our failure to understand something like causality.

          • Irenist

            Jake, I think the easiest thing to do would be to read Rosenberg, and then tell us where you differ from him.

            Free will being an illusion is a very different claim than qualia and intentionality being an illusion.

            Sure. But eliminative reductionism entails that all three are illusions, not just free will. Again, read Rosenberg.

            Put it another way- we experience what we experience, reductionism notwithstanding. And if reductionism is the way reality works, then reductionism is the way reality works, our misgivings notwithstanding.

            We experience what we experience. And if eliminative reductionism tells us that we cannot and do not experience our experiences, then eliminative reductionism is false–atheist materialists’ misgivings notwithstanding. Follow the evidence.

            We need to specify our definition of “meaning” here.

            Aboutness. The capacity of any thought or speech act to be “about” something.

            It’s true that eliminative reductionism means that the universe is ultimately just atoms + time

            That’s what “reductionism” means: that qualia and intentionality, e.g., can in principle be reduced to explanations rooted in physics. “Eliminative reductionism” means something else: it means that qualia and intentionality cannot be successfully explained by physics, and that our reaction to that should be to abandon qualia and intentionality instead of abandoning a reductionist metaphysics. Many prominent modern reductionists (Dennett, e.g.) have argued that reductionism is untenable unless it is eliminative reductionism. I accept their argument that reductionism must be eliminative, but reject their preference for metaphysical speculation over observable reality. If only dualistic metaphysics can provide a coherent worldview with intentionality in it, then reductionism is untenable.

            but that doesn’t mean facts about reality don’t exist. Eliminative reductionism is simply that- a claim about reality. Thoughts and word may be complex constructs of much simpler parts, but it doesn’t follow that it’s all gobbledygook.

            I agree with all of this. The facts of reality do exist. Eliminative reductionism is simply a (false) interpretation of those given facts. Thoughts and words are not mere gobbledygook. Your fellow materialists differ with you. They think their own thoughts are literally without content. Sounds crazy. It is crazy. Take it up with them.

            The “meaning” of thoughts and words is created by the fact that we attribute them meaning- that humans have language processing capabilities, that we have developed written languages, that we’ve built societies that value philosophy. In the absence of humans, these things would have no meaning- because humans are all that give them meaning.

            You’re talking about the “meaning of life” or whether the world “means” something without humans to arbitrarily assign meaning to phenomena. What you’ve offered is a congenial Rortyan pragmatist view of linguistic meaning; not my cup of tea, but pretty inoffensive nominalist stuff. I’m not talking about that at all. I’m talking about the basic question of whether human thoughts can in principle be “about” anything–not just in the realist sense, but even in the “all meaning is just social convention” Rortyan nominalist sense. Your fellow materialists are out there claiming that because clumps of neurons aren’t “about” anything that intentionality is an illusion, and claiming that this necessarily follows from the post-Galilean scientific worldview. If Rosenberg and co. are correct (and I haven’t seen you refute them) then you have to choose: either thoughts are just gobbledygook (because that is the claim; read Rosenberg if you don’t believe me) or eliminative reductionism is wrong. If you reject that as a strawman, then you may be a non-eliminative reductionist, or a non-reductionist materialist (perhaps a neutral monist, e.g.), but you aren’t an eliminative reductionist. But if you aren’t, you need to show how a non-eliminative reductionism can be a coherent one.

          • Irenist

            Jake, just a side note about my admonition above to follow the evidence. When I was abandoning my weak (in the Carl Sagan, “absence of a god belief”) atheism for Catholicism, I felt like I was stumbling through the Looking Glass. I found myself being persuaded by the arguments of Thomist metaphysics, and worrying that I was liable to become some sort of delusional religious wingnut if I didn’t get a grip. (You may think I have!)

            Thing is, though, reality is weird. And as the Litany of Gendlin on the very atheist “Less Wrong” wiki says, “What is true is already so./Owning up to it doesn’t make it worse.” On the off chance that these arguments start persuading you, it will be scary at first. I imagine that the first classical physicists to encounter quantum weirdness were pretty freaked out, too. If atheism still persuades you, okay. But if not, just push through. Be loyal to reality and honesty, not to preconceptions. The rest will take care of itself.

          • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com/ Jake

            @Robert-

            And what’s wrong with that?

            Because it doesn’t differentiate you from any other metaphysical system that throws up its hands and says “we don’t know, ___ just does”. Also, because Materialism doesn’t suffer the same problem.

            I don’t see how admitting that there are things we don’t know, or even that we can’t know on principle, leaves us “rejecting causality, logic, etc.” or accepting a reality that “doesn’t follow the same rules.”

            I may have stepped beyond the context of this discussion with my list of things I think religion doesn’t deal with well. But I do think it’s pretty clear that positing a non-physical reality which affects the physical reality in an unmeasurable and undetectable way tosses aside causality in favor of a non-physical reality that follows different rules than our observable physical reality.

            Causality itself is, as Hume noted, something beyond our understanding

            I’m not sure I agree with this- causality seems a lot more like logic or math, a brute fact about reality- but even if this is true, we know causality is true by observation. It’s a fact about reality- whether it’s a priori or a posteriori doesn’t seem super important to me.

            @Irenist-
            That’s fine, I’m not super concerned with labels. If I’m using “eliminative reductionism” incorrectly, apologies- from your earlier comment, I was under the impression that was the terminology you preferred to describe what I was arguing for.

            If only dualistic metaphysics can provide a coherent worldview with intentionality in it, then reductionism is untenable.

            You can probably guess, but I don’t find dualistic metaphysics to be coherent, and I don’t agree that reductionism is untenable.

            Your fellow materialists differ with you. They think their own thoughts are literally without content.

            I may be misunderstanding your terminology again, but by my terminology (and the terminology I’ve seen most everyone else use), most atheists are materialists, and most of them would not agree with this.

            @Irenist (last post)-
            This describes my experience moving from Christianity to Atheism pretty well too. Also describes the transition for lots of other deconverts, if you believe the internet. I agree that we ought to be loyal to reality and honesty. My experience so far is that honestly following the evidence leads to reductionism. Perhaps this will one day change, if new evidence comes to light- but I see no reason to expect that it would.

        • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com Crude

          Where’s the line between “that which is our nature” and “that which is what we actually are”? Or more specifically, in the spirit of reductionism, what are the actual physically observable consequences of a “soul”?

          You’re asking the wrong questions. On top of Irenist’s reply, I’d recommend Ed Feser’s writings on this topic – both on his blog, and particularly in his Aquinas book. You’re treating what amounts to a metaphysical claim as not only scientific claim, but a quasi-materialist claim from the outset.

          Here’s an important part: when the Cartesian Dualist talks about a soul, he’s not talking about ‘a strange kind of matter’, like ectoplasm. He’s talking about something wholly other.

          More important is this distinction: when Thomists/hylemorphic dualists are discussing things, they not only differ with the Cartesian conception of soul, but the cartesian/mechanistic conception of matter as well. Thomists don’t only have a different view of minds than, say, physicalists do – they have a different view of just about everything.

          Any alternative conception of a soul (e.g. one in which there is no measurable effect of a soul on the physical atoms of a human) that I can think of doesn’t actually describe what it is that most people claim the soul is doing.

          “Most people” only have a vague understanding at best of the soul. Or evolution. Or physics. Or the legal system. Or…

          • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com/ Jake

            You’re asking the wrong questions

            Well, I’m asking them because I’ve never heard good answers to them. Moreover, they’re questions science has really great answers for (answers we’ve really only discovered in the last century of so), and questions that I think need to be addressed by any comprehensive theory about reality (Just like I wouldn’t accept a scientific theory that ignores inconvenient data, I wouldn’t accept a religious claim that ignores inconvenient questions)

            You’re treating what amounts to a metaphysical claim as not only scientific claim, but a quasi-materialist claim from the outset.

            I honestly don’t think I am. I’m asking how your theory about the nature of reality is reflected in reality. If that’s off limits, then we’ve strayed into territory that I don’t particularly care to argue about, since it’s inherently unknowable. I don’t think it’s quasi-materialist to ask how spiritual reality interacts with physical reality- really, I’m just trying to taboo the world “soul” and find out what you actually mean when you say soul. If what you mean has no effect on observable reality, then you’re right, I don’t have the tools to answer that question (no one does), but if what you mean does have some effect, then it’s not bad faith to ask what that effect is.

            Here’s an important part: when the Cartesian Dualist talks about a soul, he’s not talking about ‘a strange kind of matter’, like ectoplasm. He’s talking about something wholly other.

            Yeah, I get that, but he’s still making the substantive claim that the soul affects observable reality. He’s obviously not saying that spiritual reality and physical reality are separate magisterium, never the twain shall meet, else I would simply posit a super-super-natural reality with all kinds of cool rules and mystical descriptions of things, and there’d be no valid response (and more importantly, no way to tell if I was actually right)

            “Most people” only have a vague understanding at best of the soul. Or evolution. Or physics. Or the legal system. Or…

            Fair enough. Really I just meant “I doubt you-who-happen-to-be-reading-this have a conception of the soul that is fully described by this model”

          • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com Crude

            Well, I’m asking them because I’ve never heard good answers to them.

            Great – but they’re still the wrong questions. It’s like asking what number blue is, and then when the reply comes that that question doesn’t work in mathematics, pointing out how other fields give plenty of information about blue, and that seems to be a pretty severe blow against mathematics.

            It’s not an “inconvenient question”. It’s a question that, literally, is useless given the context. And it’s not just “with regards to religious questions” either, but with metaphysical questions generally.

            I honestly don’t think I am. I’m asking how your theory about the nature of reality is reflected in reality.

            I’m not doubting your sincerity. But sincerity isn’t going to make your understanding correct.

            The thomist view of the soul, the cartesian view of the soul, and Bertrand Russell’s view of the mind, Alex Rosenberg’s eliminative materialism – these things and more are not scientific theories that stand or fall based on lab experiments. Nor are they ‘inherently unknowable’ – you can know plenty of things without doing any science, and in fact you have to know or assume some non-scientific things to get science off the ground to begin with.

            So again I note, when you start treating hylemorphic dualism, cartesian dualism, and yes, even materialism as ‘that thing which you can test by scientific experiment’, you’re off on the wrong foot immediately. (And note, ‘testing by scientific experiment’ is far away from ‘interpret scientific experiments in light of’.)

            If what you mean has no effect on observable reality, then you’re right, I don’t have the tools to answer that question (no one does), but if what you mean does have some effect, then it’s not bad faith to ask what that effect is.

            First, you’re wrong – yes, we do have the tools to explore things, even putting ‘observable reality’ aside. We have logic, argument, first principles, etc.

            Second, yes, it is incorrect to treat metaphysical views about the mind and body as what they are – metaphysical views, not scientific theories. If I ask you to give me a scientific experiment that demonstrates external reality exists, rather than (say) Berkeleyan idealism, you’re not going to be able to. If you’re saying you’re a complete metaphysical agnostic and have no use for any claims that can’t be investigated by scientific experiment, you’re welcome to it – just kindly drop the materialism along with the Thomism and dualism and panpsychism and, etc.

            Yeah, I get that, but he’s still making the substantive claim that the soul affects observable reality.

            And those claims are not subject to test by science, any more than materialist claims are. Go ahead, posit your super-super-natural reality with all kinds of cool rules and mystical descriptions – it can still be investigated, discussed, and progress made on. Contradictions can be found, reductios can be made, etc. Rather like how we can make a whole lot of progress with math without needing to literally move cubes around whenever we add – we can add things up on paper and find problems (or solutions) there.

            and more importantly, no way to tell if I was actually right

            You’re looking for certainty? Then skip science altogether. You’re looking for evidence and reasons to believe one idea may be more reasonable than the other? Then those are plainly available.

            Really I just meant “I doubt you-who-happen-to-be-reading-this have a conception of the soul that is fully described by this model”

            What I have is an understanding of some various arguments about a variety of metaphysical views, some of which I find pretty persuasive, and which fit the facts beautifully. Do I have a scientific theory of the soul that treats the soul as ‘this quasi-material thing which pushes and polls atoms’? Nope. Luckily, that’s not necessary with metaphysical questions.

            Like I said, if you want to ditch metaphysics altogether, go for it. Say goodbye to naturalism and materialism alongside dualism and the rest.

          • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com/ Jake

            It’s like asking what number blue is… It’s a question that, literally, is useless given the context

            …Really? You honestly believe that a question about how your claims of an extra-physical reality affect the observable universe are nonsensical? I don’t see how you could possibly differentiate between the infinitely-many systems of belief that have no observable effect on reality. You can’t possibly think that Christianity is knowable a priori?

            The thomist view of the soul, the cartesian view of the soul, and Bertrand Russell’s view of the mind, Alex Rosenberg’s eliminative materialism – these things and more are not scientific theories that stand or fall based on lab experiments.

            Why not? Again, you seem to be claiming that there is no observable consequences to any of these theories about reality. I’m claiming that a theory with no observable consequences is nonsensical, while you’re claiming that demanding a theory demonstrate observable consequences is nonsensical. If we’re content to disagree on that point, so be it, but I’m not the least bit moved by claims of knowledge without evidence

            you can know plenty of things without doing any science….yes, we do have the tools to explore things, even putting ‘observable reality’ aside. We have logic, argument, first principles, etc.

            I think you’re confusing my demand for evidence with a demand for a scientifically provable theory. There’s essentially nothing you can know without making some form of direct observation (maybe some basic math, but even that’s unclear). The way we find out about reality is by looking at reality. Yes, we can use reason and argument, but not before we make observations. Even Catholicism admits this- people who haven’t heard the gospel are not expected to come to a full understanding of the personhood of Jesus. I’m saying your theory of reality (really any theory about reality) needs to bare itself out in the evidence we have available- and if it doesn’t, there’s absolutely no reason to believe it.

            and in fact you have to know or assume some non-scientific things to get science off the ground to begin with.

            I’ll grant that this is technically true, but only in the most limited sense. You have to grant that our senses are not being spoofed by some middleman (i.e. we’re not in the matrix), but that’s pretty much it. Just about everything else is discoverable through observation- and in fact cannot be discovered without observation.

            If I ask you to give me a scientific experiment that demonstrates external reality exists, rather than (say) Berkeleyan idealism, you’re not going to be able to.

            True. But external reality is literally the most basic, foundational premise- not just for materialists, but for everybody. It does not follow from “you have to assume the external reality you observe exists” that “there is an addition external reality that you cannot observe”.

            If you’re saying you’re a complete metaphysical agnostic and have no use for any claims that can’t be investigated by scientific experiment, you’re welcome to it – just kindly drop the materialism along with the Thomism and dualism and panpsychism and, etc.

            I freely admit that there is no way to determine if our physical reality is being virtualized. But again, that is worlds apart from the claim that there’s some mysterious existence which cannot be observed but trust us it exists. Fundamentally, I have really good evidence that the physical reality I observe exists. Not only is it self-consistent, observable, and able to be interacted with, but it does things that I couldn’t possibly predict- and then turns out to make sense anyways. It is measurable and codifiable. Physical reality presents itself to all people in all places the exact same way. There’s a fundamental difference between that which we assume exists because we can observe it and that which you assume exists even though you can’t observe it that you seem to be completely ignoring.

            Go ahead, posit your super-super-natural reality with all kinds of cool rules and mystical descriptions – it can still be investigated, discussed, and progress made on. Contradictions can be found, reductios can be made, etc.

            This is exactly what I’m doing with the soul. I’m saying your theory has contradictions with observable reality, and you’re telling me “oh no, not THAT reality”. If you rule out observable reality, then you have nothing to stand on. Christianity itself is pretty nonsensical if you rule out observation- at least Chesterton thinks so.

            You’re looking for certainty? Then skip science altogether. You’re looking for evidence and reasons to believe one idea may be more reasonable than the other? Then those are plainly available.

            Nope, not looking for certainty- looking for good evidence. Still looking.

            Do I have a scientific theory of the soul that treats the soul as ‘this quasi-material thing which pushes and polls atoms’? Nope. Luckily, that’s not necessary with metaphysical questions.

            Ok, let’s nail it down then: are you or are you not claiming that “souls” have an effect on physical reality?

            We know creatures without souls exist (per my understanding of Catholic doctrine, at least), so there’s no inherent reason that a creature with the same genetic code of a human couldn’t exist without a soul. In the hypothetical-world-without-human-souls, do humans- same genetic code, same cell structure- look/act/behave differently?

            You’re either making a substantive claim about reality or you’re not. Labeling it a “metaphysical question” doesn’t change that.

          • http://coalitionforclarity.blogspot.com/ Robert King

            I can’t speak for every kind of dualism or metaphysics out there. I’m really most familiar with Thomism. But to answer your questions from that perspective:

            I’m asking how your theory about the nature of reality is reflected in reality.

            … the claim that there’s some mysterious existence which cannot be observed but trust us it exists.

            The evidence that souls exist is that we see living beings around us in the world. “Soul” (in ancient and medieval thought, at least) simply means the principle of life, that by which something lives. It is the form of a living being.

            If a being is alive, then its soul is whatever makes it to be alive rather than dead or inert.

            The soul does not affect matter in a mechanical way: it makes the matter to exist as alive at all, just as a circle makes matter to be round and matter cannot exist as round without taking the form of a circle. In the same way, matter cannot be alive unless it has the form of life, which is what we call “soul”.

            The soul is not independent of the matter that it forms. Even those who believe in an immortal soul that persists after death consider the soul to be incomplete and diminished without a body. Nor is matter independent of form. If matter does not take a living form, it has some inert form. It passively follows the laws of physics, which is why dead bodies – no longer alive – decompose: they have no principle of life, no living form, no soul, to maintain their unity.

            So, while I won’t go so far as saying “You’re asking the wrong questions,” I will say that the “soul” you object to is not the “soul” that Thomistic philosophers and theologians (at least) are talking about, and the answers you are looking for are already contained in the questions themselves. The evidence for immaterial form and spiritual soul is the very existence of reality and life.

          • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com/ Jake

            @Robert- it seems like we’re using really different definitions of “soul” here- which is good information, because I actually wanted to nail down exactly what other people mean when they use the word “soul”. I confess to not being an expert on Thomism (or most isms for that matter), but I will say that’s a very different conception of what a soul is from the one I was taught growing up (in evangelical protestant Christianity), and from the way people seem to use it in everyday speech. I plan to respond to the other sub-thread we have going…. tomorrow :)

          • http://last-conformer.net/ Gilbert

            Two things Jake:
            1. I for one don’t think “external reality is literally the most basic, foundational premise”. I think accepting it is fundamentally a moral act, which makes (parts of) morality more foundational. Now many people disagree with that, even lots of Christians, but contra the “not just for materialists, but for everybody” part it is at least a possible view.
            2. Subtracting some of the Thomist language, the point here is that reality generally doesn’t make sense without forms of which souls are a special case. Non-eliminative reductionism is just incoherent and eliminative reductionism removes the person believing in it. Or simplifying it almost to the point of parody: “The world wouldn’t make sense without forms, but it does make sense, so there are forms”. This isn’t unrelated to reality, but it is not about some specific experiment any more than 1+1=2 is. And, bluntly, your objection sounds a bit like the old joke that when you add men and woman 1+1=3 so math is falsified.

          • Irenist

            I will say that’s a very different conception of what a soul is from the one I was taught growing up (in evangelical protestant Christianity), and from the way people seem to use it in everyday speech.

            Jake, I think it’s wonderful you want to learn more about these questions: they’re very important! I think Robert King will do a far better job than me of playing “taboo” with the word “soul” (great idea, btw), but I want to give you this caution that I hope you’ll find helpful:
            The way Evangelical Protestants and everyday speech in our post-Reformation, post-Cartesian culture define “soul” is very much as a sort of confused idea about a ghost floating around. You really owe it to yourself to read some Ed Feser or another popular author on Thomism to try to grok how very, very, very different the Aristotelian-Thomistic conception of the soul is. If you come into it without seriously scrubbing away the preconceptions you bring from an Evangelical upbringing in our post-Cartesian culture, you risk inadvertently flailing away at strawmen to no purpose: you’ll be putting yourself in the position of the creationist who argues that neo-Darwinian evolution by natural selection of heritable variations is “just a theory” because he hasn’t taken the time to read a popular science book on how very, very, very different the scientific use of the word “theory” is from the everyday use of that word. You’re obviously a smart guy, so it would be an awful waste to put yourself in that position!

        • deiseach

          To be fair to Lewis, I think he means that a temptation that is no temptation engenders no credit for resisting it. Myself, I have never been tempted to smoke because I think it is a disgusting habit, so that means I am (for example) quite free of the temptation to smoke weed. I don’t deserve any praise for ‘resisting’ what to me is no possibility of taking that step.

          Someone who genuinely does struggle with a temptation to get baked does deserve credit, on the other hand, precisely because it is a real sacrifice not to blow off work or other responsibilities and indulge themselves. The same way that celibacy is a sacrifice of the good of marriage, and so a lack of desire for marriage does not in itself indicate a vocation to the religious life (and a lot of people went or were directed down the wrong path when it was thought “Oh well, you might as well become a priest/monastic/nun because you don’t want a spouse and children”).

    • Iota

      Lots of people are already answering, but just though I’d throw this in:

      > Do results like this give Theists pause?

      I believe I in souls because I believe in God, not the other way around.

      Given the definition of the soul as per Catholic theology (CCC 363) and the idea of the unity of the soul and the body, I don’t really spend time thinking of the soul as a distinct part of me that does something or is responsible for something completely separately form any bit of my body (whether brain, thyroid or liver).

    • http://thinkinggrounds.blogspot.com Christian H

      Not every Christian is really all that concerned about free will. (Personally, I think the distinction between free will and determinism is nonsensical, cf Locke.) Arminians might have reason to worry about a weak free will, but Calvinists and Universalists have little reason at all to be concerned about that issue. (Not that these are the only positions possible, either.)
      Among the Christians I know, there have been many different ideas of what a soul might be; some don’t even think the whole discussion about souls is helpful, since resurrection is bodily.
      Neurology can be troubling to certain Christians, of course, and I presume to other religious people. (For instance, the possibility that the tendency to have altered states of consciousness is genetic, and that only some people have it, could produce difficulty for born-again Christians or certain Buddhist groups who put a high premium on all people being able to achieve mystical states.) But certainly not every religious person (and not ever theist) has a worldview incompatible with neurology.

  • http://www.jrganymede.com Adam G.

    I don’t see the shame in the Special Forces soldier at all, but quite a bit of shame in holding him up as a bad example in the sermon you’re preaching.

    • deiseach

      The shame is that we take ordinary people, put them in situations of extreme pressure, and train them to turn themselves into machines (and then leave them to cope as best they can when they return to civilian life and don’t know how to find the ‘off’ switch anymore).

      • http://www.jrganymede.com Adam G.

        There’s little evidence that soldiers’ training screws them up on their return to civilian life. If men must be put in situations of extreme pressure–and I think they must–training that helps them to damp down on their emotional reactions and focus on doing their jobs is a kindness, not a cruelty. The mere fact that an American soldier, when exposed to the kind of situation that he’s trained to address, becomes capable, is not an indictment. Far from it. One would as well complain that a surgeon didn’t puke when he incised.

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  • Joe

    The psychopath would probably find it easier to discern “the good” objectively without emotions or empathy clouding their reason. The problem would be teaching them to temper justice with mercy. Justice is cold and rational. Mercy is a stumbling block to the Pharisees and folly to the greeks.

    This thread reminds me of the show “Dexter” who gets though life following his father’s code “Harry command theory”.

  • Pedro Paulo Jr

    I think it’s an interesting text but this kind of “junk” science does more bad than good in understanding the human being.

    The ethics committee are intended to avoid scientific misconduct like making “ad hoc” experiments without weighting the risk/benefit.

    I have published about the subject on a scientific journal recently and the more deep we know about this subject the more careful we are about taking early conclusions.

  • keddaw

    “They’s still taking (and causing) damage, and their insensitivity can’t spare them the effects of what they do, it just makes it harder for them to notice and seek healing.”

    I don’t see how you get this from the experiment. Unless you’re making some larger statement about the horrors of war and how the men and women we train to kill on our behalf are no longer normal members of society on their return then OK, but it seems irrelevant to the point of the experiment. It’s also somewhat blown out the water by the fact we have surgeons do things that they have to be trained to not instinctively react with ‘moral’ disgust over, like cutting people open, and they seem to function OK.

    As for this being a horrible thing, would it not, in fact, be a good thing for politicians to use? It would allow them to look at the bigger picture without getting caught up in the little details, like feeling squeamish about killing children and having to invent euphemisms like ‘collateral damage’?

    But joking aside, I would really like to see this done with an atheist materialist who tries to use reason rather than ‘gut instincts’ when deciding what’s right and wrong to see if there is such a substantial subjective change.

  • keddaw

    CIPA means that people are ignorant of real world events, psychopathy (or magnetic equivalent) makes people ignorant of common subjective experiences. Big difference.

  • jose

    Sooo non-catholics are morally dampened.

    • keddaw

      Unfortunately not, people like Bob still seem to think that evolution, which developed over several billion years, has somehow left humans with a very rough set of heuristics that allow us to make the best choice or at least act as a reasonable check on our behaviour in enormous groups with consequences affecting more people and spanning more time than any other creatures in history.

      So, you try this experiment with a rational person with non-aggression principles and a somewhat utilitarian outlook and I think you will find this ‘soul, or whatever you want to call it, immersed in a spiritual dishwasher’ already exists.

  • Ben

    Do you think this is good evidence for morality as a kind of sense perception?

    • Bad Horse

      That’s a deep insight, Ben, unless it turns out that everything is a kind of sense perception.

      • Randy Gritter

        Is light a kind of sense perception? There perception implies a reality of light being perceived? Sometimes we perceive it well and sometimes not so well. Why assume that with morality there is no reality being perceived? Because our perception can be impaired? I don’t see it.


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