It has been a lively conversation. The problem I have here is simply the refusal to define terms. What’s a soul? That our own mind cannot be considered objectively is not in dispute. Mind is what a brain does. Digestion is what intestines do, etc. A person can no more objectively assess their own mind than they can their own digestion. However, we have seen no evidence of a mind at work anywhere without some sort of brain/distributed nervous system, however rudimentary, also present.

Even if there’s a soul sitting somewhere that can objectively view the mind, the soul couldn’t objectively consider itself. Dualism doesn’t resolve the problem of objectivity/subjectivity. Indeed, I’ve argued elsewhere that subjectivity and objectivity are merely two sides of the same coin. Quoting at length from that article:

To put it another way, objectivity isn’t a kind of transcendent view from nowhere. It’s actually a universal view from anywhere. A water molecule will ultimately appear the same from the point of view of either a hypothetical silicon based life form or an actual carbon based one. Likewise, it will remain unchanged from the vantage point of a species with one eye, two eyes, a compound eye, or no eyes whatsoever. In every case it will consist of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom because that’s what a water molecule is. All that matters is that the species analyzing it has developed the capacity to detect it.

But the purpose of [Thomas] Nagel’s essay [What Is It Like To Be A Bat?] was neither to praise nor bury objectivity. His point was that the one thing we can never be truly objective about is our own experience. Beyond a certain level of complexity it’s like something to be whoever we are. Consciousness means that even if who we happen to be is Spock or Data, our self-assessments will still have the quality of being subjective. There is no point of view from which our own experience can be truly understood for what it is. Nagel wrote:

It is difficult to understand what could be meant by the objective character of an experience, apart from the particular point of view from which its subject apprehends it. After all, what would be left of what it was like to be a bat if one removed the viewpoint of the bat?

Fortunately, the “problem” consciousness poses for objectivity is only really a problem if you’re wedded to the idea that individual consciousness can be reduced to an objective essence (self or soul) in the first place. That we actually have such an essence is far from certain. In fact, there have been people making very good arguments that we probably don’t for over two millennia now.

So, we would seem to agree, objectivity will only get us so far when it comes to studying the mind. It will get us the least distance when it comes to considering our own mind. However, this fact doesn’t render studying it impossible altogether, it merely places inevitable limitations upon both our reflection and our research. Where we part company is on the idea of a soul. There is no objective you or me, which means there is no soul if by soul you mean a central core unchanging and objective essence. Maybe you mean something else when you use the word “soul” and that is the basis of my misunderstanding. Regardless, if you mean anything at all by the word you shouldn’t have any difficulty putting that definition in a sentence or two. So far you have seemed unable to do so.

Humans have many physical and emotional parts that go into making them who they are, and a great many of those are essential to their existence as humans. But none of them are sufficient, and to be an essence by definition that essence needs to be sufficient. Even brains aren’t sufficient. They need hearts and livers, etc. Likewise, things as fundamental and simple as atoms are made of protons, neutrons and electrons, each of which is necessary to make an atom. But none of these particles alone count as the essence of that very basic unit of matter. Humans (and/or their souls, if they have one) are necessarily far more complex than atoms.

To quote Walt Whitman, “I am large, I contain multitudes.”

US citizen residing in British Columbia, Canada. Degrees include anthropology and environmental studies. Activism, politics, science, nature.

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