Science

The Whole Brain Emulation Roadmap

Posted 30 Oct 2008 at 18:47 UTC by steve Share This

The Future of Humanity Institute, a multidisciplinary research institute at the University of Oxford, has produced a detailed roadmap document describing the areas of scientific research that will be needed to develop real technology for uploading the human mind as software. The Whole Brain Emulation Roadmap (PDF format) also goes into the philosophical assumptions and implications of the project and even considers the economic impact of success. The 130 page document was prepared by Anders Sandberg, Nick Bostrom and a workshop of researchers who gathered at Oxford last year. In every area of cognitive science, the document details what we know, what we don't know yet, and the best guess at what problems we'll run into in the process of developing whole brain emulation technology. If you're not familiar with the idea of mind uploading from science fiction or transhumanism, a good starting place is the Mind Uploading Home Page or the Wikipedia Mind Uploading article. Basically, the idea is a human could upload their mind from their short-lived meat brain to perpetual storage in some type of computer or other brain emulating machine. The uploaded mind might then exist either in a virtual world or, eventually, transferred to some type of android or other humanoid robot body.


Are humans only Meat Brains?, posted 31 Oct 2008 at 19:29 UTC by Rog-a-matic » (Master)

This obviously begs the age-old question of: Is our biology (Meat Brains) the extent of our inner being? Actually, I suppose this is mostly a modern question, so I'll retract that modifier.

If the answer is yes, and there is no, as yet unidentified, aspect of our being beyond the physical allowing complete representation in a physical system such as a computer, then such a model could be and must be recognized as a full human. But somehow I doubt that most people would accept their passed parents in computer form after this downloading technology is operational. The memories might be there but I'm wondering if we would detect something missing.

Here is where physical science meets the metaphysical but I'm afraid that most scientists are not open to the idea that the other side should be considered. Yet anyway. It seems like a reasonable explanation to me that there could be a realm we are missing - not dissimilar to scientists using dark energy to explain the observations of an expanding universe.

I propose that humans are not simply a collection of cells even though our memories are stored as physical neural connections and weights. I don't pretend to know what the part is we're missing, but hope to someday.

Roger

Re: Are humans only Meat Brains?, posted 31 Oct 2008 at 20:50 UTC by steve » (Master)

Actually it is an age old question. Back in the day, the answer was something called Cartesian Dualism, which suggested that our minds were made up of two parts. One part was real, physical material. The other part was supernatural stuff, or as Cory Doctrow recently described it, ghostly Jesusite-235. Over time, a mounting number of logical problem, including causal interaction and conservation of energy, caused the idea to go the way of the flat Earth and phlogiston (though recently some people have been trying to revive it on religious grounds).

Modern ideas still allow for what's called property dualism or predicate dualism, while still maintaining that the brain itself is actually made of only real material. But modern dualists, like Searle, usually invent other names for their ideas. He thinks the brain is made up of meat + quantum effects. Others believe it's meat + electromagnetic field effects. There's a lot of argument over whether there's even a need for any of sort of +whatever. Dennett, for example, makes a pretty convincing argument that there's no need for quantum or electromagetic effects to explain what the brain does.

In the end, though, as long the +whatever effects are knowable and don't do anything a Turing machine can't do, the mind upload folks think they can handle it. It's all pure speculation on their part at this point, of course. Uploading c. elegan "minds" is a good start but doesn't prove much.

I agree some people would believe an uploaded mind was no longer "real" in some sense but I'd be willing to bet those same people would probably reject the idea of a robot with an AI mind or even a biological alien mind. If you remember the movie Robot Stories from 2004, one of the stories was about the ethical dilemma associated with mind uploading.

It's definitely a fascinating area though. I think the recent advanced in connectomics plus the growing computation power available for brain simulations may provide some definitive answers within in our lifetimes.

Well, are you only meat?, posted 1 Nov 2008 at 16:17 UTC by Rog-a-matic » (Master)

If you don't mind me asking, do you think the components of a human are only physical/meat/cells?

If so, what would account for us feeling like we are independent intellectual and moral agents inside a human body?

It might seem like an flippant question, but actually our every action and motivation are based on it. We have to be intellectually honest and carry this reasoning to its logical conclusions - and there are many that are bizarre.

If we are only cells, then we are selfish hypocrites for pulling up a carrot for food while we expect humans to respect human lives. As you know, carrots are complex cellular systems too. This is a real moral conflict.

If we are only cells, and skin cells are equal to brain cells, then loosing an arm would technically make us less.

If we decide our brain programming constitutes the bulk of our being and value, then uploading that data would create a duplicate entity of equal value. But then, would this only apply to a complete upload? What if we uploaded 50% or 1% or .0000000000000001%. In other words, if I type one of my memories into a computer, is that computer now .00000000000000001% the same as a human?

R

Fishing for the Filet of Soul, posted 1 Nov 2008 at 17:10 UTC by The Swirling Brain » (Master)

How do you divide body and spirit or spirit and soul or soul and person or person and personality and personality and emotion.

These are all things I don't know for sure, nor do I believe anyone does. Obviously we can guess at them and make up our own opinions on the matter, but none of us are the "all being" that knows for sure.

Therefore I could make up any old crazy idea and it would be very hard to disprove other than sneering at it with a crazy face until most people agree that it has to be an absurd idea.

Personally, I believe we are more than just plain cells working like metal gears that create a being. I believe we are more. I believe there is a spiritual side of us that makes us aware of things that perhaps other certain animals do not have and maybe even some humans do not have. Can I explain it? No. Is it tangible? No. Can I show you? Probably not. When we die does our Spirit (or Soul) leave and go to heaven or hell? I think so, but there again that's something that people have pondered for ages. You either have belief/faith it in or not.

If we are just meat space then we really have some great complexity for doing what we do! And if so, then scientists should be able to recreate to a 'T' a real human being or a robotic simulation. What if you could suck out the intelligence of someone's brain and make a copy of Mom? Which mom would be mom; the original one or the copied one? If we are just a cup of dirt and water mixed together and somehow just became a human then why do morals matter? Murderers would just be sending cups of dirt and water back to the earth.

It comes down to what is Life? Is life just meat space animation or is life something that originates outside of meat space like it was given by God? If you only look with physical eyes, all you'll see is the physical. It's sort of like a Frog trying to tell tadpoles about the land. Tadpoles don't get it but perhaps someday they will. I believe it is something more than just meat space, but that is just my belief. Take it or leave it.

I think everyone whether they believe that life is more than meat space or not should at least hope that there is something more than just living and dieing and trying to strive to stay alive. Seems sort of meaningless to believe that. I think life has more purpose than that and I believe that if you believe that there's more then it would make me think if you came to that conclusion that there's more then you'd want to figure out what that more is. Otherwise, there's nothing more to see here so just move along.

Qualia and minds, posted 1 Nov 2008 at 19:59 UTC by steve » (Master)

Forgive me for rambling on about this but consciousness and mind body stuff has always been fascinating to me. :)


> If you don't mind me asking, do you think the components of
> a human are only physical/meat/cells?

Yes, my current view is that all the working components that make up any animal, including humans, are made of real material or interactions of those materials. That makes me a materialist. While you didn't ask, I'll go ahead and say that think both AI and mind uploading are at least possible in the sense that we haven't found any technical reason that prevents them. But we don't know anywhere near enough about how the mind works to say for sure. My gut feeling is that AI is pretty close while mind uploading is a lot further off.


> If so, what would account for us feeling like we are independent
> intellectual and moral agents inside a human body?

I'm not sure I understand your question. There are several things you might mean.

If you actually mean what makes you feel a certain way, feeling and emotion are beginning to be fairly well understood at this point and are created by biochemical and neurological states in the brain.

If you mean what makes you believe a particular thing, I don't have an answer for you. It would be great to have a debug port on the human brain where you could get a logic dump that would diagnose where certain beliefs came from in a particular person.

I suspect what you're really asking is where do qualia come from. This is the fundamental problem non-physicalists pose to physicalists. What is it that gives us the feeling of being aware that we exist? What gives reality the "raw feel" that it has? Why does pain feel like it hurts? Why does the color red seem red and not blue? The whole qualia thing seems so removed from any sense of reality or practical use that the question never really bothered me but some people take it quite seriously.

Daniel Dennett has devoted considerable effort to analyzing this question and the associated arguments (the inverted spectrum argument, the zombie arguments, etc.). His conclusion is that the question is broken - that the very way it's asked prevents any possible answer through either empirical or introspective observation. He thinks qualia simply don't exist. This has always seemed the most reasonable answer to me.

Marvin Minsky thinks the question of qualia is a confusion of complexity with simplicity. A complex arrangement of mental states result in us "feeling" a certain way and then we want to find some magically simple explanation of that "feeling" other than the complex arrangement of mental states that caused it.


> It might seem like an flippant question, but actually our
> every action and motivation are based on it.

Not flippant at all. If it's qualia you're talking about, it's one of most fundamental debates in philosophy of the mind these days. I don't agree with you, however, that it's significant to the average person. I'd say very few people ever bother to think about this sort of thing, much less plan actions around their view of it or feel motivated by it.


> If we are only cells, and skin cells are equal to brain
> cells, then loosing an arm would technically make us ess.

I have no idea what you mean there, sorry! :)

I'd agree you'd be changed if you lost a limb. You'd have less mass, you'd have fewer degrees of freedom, your biochemistry changes, you'd have physical and mental changes. But that sort of thing goes on all the time to a lesser extent anyway, so is it that big of deal? Maybe not.


> If we decide our brain programming constitutes the bulk of
> our being and value, then uploading that data would create a 
> duplicate entity of equal value. But then, would this only apply
> to a complete upload? What if we uploaded 50% or 1% or 
> 0000000000000001%. In other words, if I type one of my
> memories into a computer, is that computer now
> .00000000000000001% the same as a human?

I think everyone would agree the mind is more than just the brain or the brain's programming, more than just a list of memories. Adding or losing a few memories doesn't affect your status as a conscious thinking entity now, so there's no reason to think it would affect the status of conscious entities existing in mediums other than meat.

You may not realize quite how much goes into making up our mental states. Our mind is far more than a box full of memories. Emotions, for example, are largely biochemical. A large part of the brain is a sort of state machine monitoring the perceptual states of your body. Without your meat body, you'd be a completely different person. Any upload process would have to account for the biochemical side of things if the resulting entity was to be anything like the original. As an aside, you may remember the Christian philosopher C. S. Lewis, who noted how different humans were likely to be in a non-corporeal form after death without their bodies - they'd have totally different behavior without the physical inputs from the body that make up so much the personality and behavior. So this too is not really a new idea.

Re: Souls, posted 1 Nov 2008 at 20:28 UTC by steve » (Master)

I think there's a tendency for some people to see cognitive science as an attack on religion because they carry what I think is an outdated belief that souls are an operational component of the brain or the mind.

Cartesian Dualism assumed the soul was a part of the mind and that it interfaced to the physical brain through the pineal gland, somehow interacting causally with brain matter and exchanging real information with the brain. This is no longer thought to be likely (or even possible if the law of physics have any bearing on the matter). But it's important to note that the correctness or falseness of Cartesian Dualism or materialism is orthagonal to the issue of whether or not humans, or any creatures, have a soul in any religious sense.

If Cartesian Dualism is false, it just means that the soul is not an operational component of the mind. Most original religious documents are extremely vague on what a soul is and what it does. I'm not aware of any that claim it's part of the human mind. So finding out the brain can do what it does without needed a supply of ghostly Jesusite-235 shouldn't endanger any mainstream religious views. It just provides concrete reasons why certain interpretations of religious ideas were wrong.

Since souls in a religious sense are non-material anyway, science has no way of making any determination about them one way or another. It's only when someone suggests a non-material soul is acting in time and space on real material that science could potentially falsify the idea. This is much like the idea that evil spirits caused sickness. That belief was fine until science showed us bacteria and viruses and medicine. That didn't mean anyone's base religion was wrong, just that a few ideas they built on top of it were wrong. After a little recalibration, most religions recovered and kept going. The same is true today of cognitive science or even evolution. Given a little time to adjust, I think religion will recover and continue along no worse for the wear.

And as long as souls stay in religion-space, they're free to do what they want. Perhaps they exist as a sort of supernatural backup device, essentially doing the same thing in the supernatural world that the folks working on mind uploads want to do in the material world? That would be ironic.

Arbirtrary distinction of value of cellular life, posted 2 Nov 2008 at 02:35 UTC by Rog-a-matic » (Master)


>  That makes me a materialist.

This is what I'd like to discuss because I believe it is near the top of the list of ultimate questions of the universe. The materialist view point creates so many conflicts for daily living, but beyond that I believe it's probably wrong - by faith of course.

If I'm wrong it doesn't ultimately matter, if you're wrong it does. Maybe we can at least agree on this simple idea.


>  I don't agree with you, however, that it's significant to the
average person.

Oh, I think you might be missing something there. This question affects how the majority of humans live, how they value their lives, the lives of others, etc.


> ...stuff has always been fascinating to me.

I'm with ya on that, but not only for a desire to understand how the physical part of my brain works, but also because I think it's likely there is something beyond that which leads to the metaphysical. I have no idea what it is. Sadly, to many think these areas are off limits for this type of discussion, I think they are paramount.


> I suspect what you're really asking is...What is it that gives us
the feeling of being aware that we exist? 

This is what I'm asking.


    > If we are only cells, and skin cells are equal to brain
    > cells, then loosing an arm would technically make us ess.


I have no idea what you mean there, sorry! :)

Ok, I think this is our disconnect. I am searching for understanding between us more than agreement. Let's try to understand each other, then we can decide whether to agree or disagree. Follow my reasoning and tell me where it is flawed...

If we are only the physical, and the same as animals: Are you a vegetarian? If not, and you find no logical conflict with eating animals against their will, then there should be no problem eating a human against their will?

I'm not trying to be silly, I'm trying to take the physicalists point of view to its logical conclusions. Belief systems result in action or they are impotent.

Potatoes contain complex cellular life, and we eat them. If you make a distinction between asparagus and a cow because the cow can retain memories, etc, please admit that that value system is your own arbitrary creation.

Let's try more examples: If you donate a kidney to me, are you still fully you? If I receive your kidney, am I'm more of you or me? If only the physical matters, then we must speak in these terms. Most humans believe that you are still fully you if you loose your legs in an accident. I mean FULLY - worthy of respect, life, etc.


>  I think there's a tendency for some people to see cognitive
science as an attack on religion...

You might not have thought of the position of the religious: That people in cognitive science appear to think those that believe in a creator are attacking them.

Re: Arbirtrary distinction of value of cellular life, posted 2 Nov 2008 at 06:23 UTC by steve » (Master)


> If we are only the physical, and the same as animals: Are you a
> vegetarian? If not, and you find no logical conflict with eating
> animals against their will, then there should be no problem
> eating a human against their will?

I think this may be getting a bit far afield from the original subject of dualism. Whether the mind is dualistic in nature and the origin of moral values are two different subjects.

The best fMRI evidence to date suggests that the brain contains a number of moral centers (harm, fairness, group loyalty, authority, and purity). Each has a specific survival advantage to an individual, a species, or both. In higher mammals such as primates, there's a 'do-no-harm' instinct that would normally prevent harm to a conspecific; unless some other moral instinct overrides it, such as the desire for justice out of loyalty to a group or authority figure. Our brains are also loaded with mirror neurons that make eating one of our own kind seem pretty weird to us. The combination suggests that killing and eating things completely unlike us (a vegtable) should be disagreeable to almost no one; killing and eating things somewhat like us (other species of animals) should be disagreeable to a few of us; and eating our own species should be disagreeable to almost all of us.

This stuff is present at birth but not exactly hardwired. It can be changed over time. At the cultural level, memes affect the weighting of these moral centers of the brain. For example weightings provided by the rule sets in the Bible's old testament allow eating a cow but not a pig. Or a vegatarian meme may come along and reset the weightings to make eating any animal seem immoral. Memes that convey advantages and reinforce the natural moral centers (e.g. do unto others...) tend to survive. Memes that do not convey advantages (such as cannibalism) tend not to survive well.

The nature of the brain makes it unlikely that someone can simply invent an arbitrary set of moral rules and actually live by them. Those who can, such as serial killers, are usually considered to have a mental disorder.

There's an excellent article by Steven Pinker that we mentioned earlier this year in a post called "the moral instinct explained" that summarizes what we know about morals and how it was discovered. There's also a very interesting article on morality and religion over at the Edge: Moral Psychology and the Misunderstanding of Religion

Again, though, this is a separate issue from dualism. From the evidence available so far, morality appears to be something happening in the brain. If you want morality to come from the supernatural realm, while still remaining consistent with reality, the vector would have to be via the moral coding provided by religious revelations such as the Bible, not via direct interaction from a non-material part of the mind.

Materialism carried to its unworkable logical conclusion, posted 3 Nov 2008 at 15:05 UTC by Rog-a-matic » (Master)

If humans are solely material, they have no more or less value than a carrot - they are no different than a rock. Simple reasoning skills are all that's needed to conclude this. Our belief system shapes our moral values, how we act, and our hopes/dreams.

If you _won't_ tell me where my reasoning is flawed, I'm forced to conclude you find it compelling, yet conflicting with your current ideas, but wish to avoid addressing it.

If you _can't_ tell me where it's flawed, I can accept that as a intellectually honest position.

MRI, posted 3 Nov 2008 at 15:42 UTC by Rog-a-matic » (Master)

Concerning the issue of MRI scans locating parts of the brain that get triggered during certain thoughts - fear, compassion, love, loyalty, etc: that does not preclude the brain from being affected by an unseen force.

If an unseen force does indeed compete for action of our physical bodies, we should expect it to begin physically with neural firings. We may not agree whether this force exists or not, but we should at least be able to agree with this statement. Can we?

I'm not saying some of these feelings are not purely physical, just that an MRI doesn't show their ultimate source. Usage of the MRI to prove a purely physical human, would be like measuring muscle twitches and concluding that it was the source of someone punching out another person.

If I'm right, we will ultimately find this interface area where part of the contribution to a neural firing sequence begin from some unseen place, not just a self-contained circular loop of firings. It might be a realm where we aren't fluent yet. Such realms have be discovered in the past and we would be arrogant to suggest we've found them all. Agreed?

Re: Materialism carried to its unworkable logical conclusion, posted 3 Nov 2008 at 16:24 UTC by steve » (Master)


> If you _won't_ tell me where my reasoning is flawed, I'm forced to
> conclude you find it compelling, yet conflicting with your current
> ideas, but wish to avoid addressing it.

I don't know for sure what your reasoning is, or for that matter what your actual position is. I think your position is that Cartesian Dualism is true and that the non-material part of the brain is equivalent to the soul described in Christian religion. I disagree with both points of that. On the first point, there's empirical evidence that suggests to me that Cartesian Dualism is not possible. Maybe some part of physical science is wrong or misunderstood and Cartesian Dualism is possible. I think that's about as likely as learning that the earth is really flat. On the second part (non-material part of the mind = xtian soul), I don't think the mind has a supernatural component, so I obviously can't equate it with anything else.

On your value question, I simple don't follow you. I don't place value on humans (or carrots) because of the components (real or supernatural) of which they're made. I value a carrot because it tastes good. I value a person because they seem to have intent, feelings, and consciousness. I suppose I don't understand what you mean by value in this context. I assume it's a specialized religious meaning that I'm not familiar with. If you want to offer a simple definition of it, I'll take another shot at replying.

Otherwise, all I can really say is that your position as I currently understand it seems incoherent to me.

Re: MRI, posted 3 Nov 2008 at 17:06 UTC by steve » (Master)


> Concerning the issue of MRI scans ... that does not preclude
> the brain from being affected by an unseen force.

Correct. What you're looking for are the arguments against Cartesian Dualism which are mentioned earlier in this thread: causal interaction and conservation of energy. Though to be clear, those are arguments against interaction with supernatural forces, not unseen forces.


> If an unseen force does indeed compete for action of our
> physical bodies, we should expect it to begin physically
> with neural firings. We may not agree whether this force
> exists or not, but we should at least be able to agree
> with this statement. Can we? 

No. How can you make a statement about unknowable things from the religious realm and expect them to be accepted without any evidence? Even modern physical dualists haven't come up with an accepted explanation for how quantum fluxuations or electromagetic fields could affect neurons, so I don't see why religious claims should have a lower burden of proof. Why shouldn't magical forces affect neurotransmitter levels or biochemical reactions in other parts of the body? Why neural firings? I suspect you (or someone you view as an authority) made this idea up with no other reason than that it sounded good to you. Much like Descartes' idea that the soul interfaced to the brain through the pineal gland, or older ideas that demons and other spirits could push our meat bodies themselves around.


> If I'm right, we will ultimately find this interface area where part of
> the contribution to a neural firing sequence begin from some unseen
> place, not just a self-contained circular loop of firings. It might be a
> realm where we aren't fluent yet. Such realms have be discovered in the
> past and we would be arrogant to suggest we've found them all. Agreed? 

No, sorry. I don't believe there has been any previous case where science has discovered a supernatural component affecting the material world. There's a high probability of disappointment if you assume cognitive science will be the exception. On the upside, your idea is at least falsifiable, so it's approaching something resembling a hypothesis. If scientists are able to replicate what brains do in some other medium, such as a computer simulation, it will demonstrate that your idea is false. Actually, to get the thread back to where it started, if the mind upload folks succeed, that will make an effective way of falsifying your hypothesis as well. If you're right, neither brain simulation, mind uploading, nor hard AI should be possible.

carrots for lunch, posted 3 Nov 2008 at 21:25 UTC by steve » (Master)

I was describing your value statements about carrots to someone at lunch today and they immediately recognized them. I was pointed to something called the "Unity Argument" that creationists use as an argument against evolution. It's an argument I've never run across before. Using this argument to support Cartesian Dualism instead of creationism may be novel. From what I can find online, your use of the word value means something along the lines of "moral usefulness to God", so it's no wonder I was confused, that's not a usage of the word value you run into in everyday life. I still can't claim to grok fully what it's supposed to mean but I think I get the general idea.

I found a fairly good explanation of the unity argument in a document called The Arguments of Evolution and Creationism (Google cache). The argument starts with the assumption that humans have an extra high moral value because they're mystically unified (thus the unity argument) to God in some way that only works if their ancestors were created directly by God through a supernatural event. (I could find no explanation of why that should be or even who came up with this idea). From there, the argument goes like this:

  1. If evolution is true, humans would have no special moral value
  2. Humans have a special moral value (see opening assumption)
  3. Therefore evolution must be false

Presumably, you've adapted the creationist's Unity Argument like so:

  1. If Cartesian Dualism is false, humans lack a soul
  2. If humans lack a soul, they have no special moral value
  3. Humans have a special moral value (see opening assumption)
  4. Therefore, Cartesian Dualism must be true

This still sounds a little weird to me, but it does seem more coherent than anything I could make of your statements using common definitions of value, so I'm inclined to think I'm closer to understanding what your point about carrots and humans is supposed to be. It seems to me this boils down to "if we assume that X is false, then X must be false" so I'm not sure it's even a valid argument for or against anything to begin with.

But, assuming this is really what you're arguing, I'll start by repeating that even if Cartesian Dualism is proven false, there's no reason to give up on the religious idea of a soul, just the idea that it's an operational part of the mind. So I'd say the first step in your reasoning is logically flawed. If Cartesian Dualism is false, maybe your soul just does something other than what you've previously assumed. The second step and opening assumption seem equally flawed. Maybe the "special moral worth" you're concerned about humans having over carrots has nothing to do with souls. Maybe it was installed by some other means - maybe it's conferred automatically on anything with consciousness, maybe it's the result of actions a person takes, maybe it's the result of any of a hundred other possibilities.

In general though, I find it more interesting to take the facts revealed by science and see what conclusions we can draw from them. This sounds a lot like you want to start with a religious conclusion and determine the validity of science based on how well it fits your conclusion.

Religion, dualism, life, death, musings and such, posted 4 Nov 2008 at 07:05 UTC by The Swirling Brain » (Master)

Me probably being what one would call religious, yes, I pray to God. That would infer an interaction outward between the physical to the supernatural realm. Whether what I do, whether verbally, or silently in my head, could cause something on the "other side" to twitch (spiritually of course), then one must think that such direction of interaction could go the opposite direction also. We pray, hence, we expect God hears our prayers, hence, we expect or at least hope that God, who would be a spiritual being, will in turn do something back to our physical realm in answer to that prayer. Now us beings, or at least some of us, think that we are more than just meat space beings but multi-reality beings in that we are part material world and part spiritual and perhaps all of that makes us a poor little soul. No I don't know all the mechanics of that or if I even have it all figured out - I don't and I certainly don't claim to know. But, if we are more than just physical, one would think that prayers would somehow transcend beyond the mere physical and somehow go higher than the ceiling to a place that eye has not seen nor ear has heard nor finger has touched. That, what I will call, outward reaching communication would be the prayer. What would that thing be of the inward coming response thing from spiritual to physical you, what would that be? Now, definitely there are different denominations and different religions and such and everyone has to figure it out for themselves on how all this works. But some think that they hear God's voice, others call that crazy talk, others believe they get some sort of warm feeling, and others simply believe that God doesn't talk to people in this current age, and others don't believe in that sort of communication at all, and other think perhaps omens or symbolic stuff or something I haven't thought of. Some think that the Spiritual world might just be like the wind, where you see the effect of grass swaying on the wind, but you can't see it, you can't smell it, you can't scientifically prove it, but intuitively, you know from the signs and signals you get of the world that you somehow feel it and that there are good and bad spiritual things and it would be naivety not to at least ponder if it could be so. Like how do you get a computer to compute that? Or how do you get a mechanical sensor to sense that? Or how go you get a robot to point at that or rub against that or where do you draw that line where white fades enough to become black? Some intangible things like that the physical world just can't touch. The very world to some came from a big bang whereas others say the big bang doesn't and can't explain it. Scientists even have their doubts many times and have tough times trying to explain things and recalculate and rehypothesize and still us religious nuts can't possibly be right because even though we scientists weren't right, we keep correcting ourselves so we're closer to being right. Again, just more intangibles. Just as religion tries to reach for an explanation, science does too and both sides seem to scoff at each other when it seems both are just trying to understand it all and both sides at times gets it completely wrong and completely right in certain situations. Both of us have to at times fall back and regroup and try to make sense of it all. Still, I don't think with all we know, religion and science, neither side could possibly know it all and both sides I believe still has a lot to learn from each other. I think neither side can possibly say they have it for sure when we all have finite brains. On the religious side of things, there's a mild argument about when the rapture will take place. One side says pretrib another says posttrib but both still say it's going to happen. I think we're all on a quest for knowledge and even though I don't always agree with atheist, I'm still interested in hearing their arguments as I would hope that my arguments don't fall on deaf ears also. I guess it is getting late when I start getting all philosophical like this. It's like even though we are on separate shores, we both are after the similar finding out the truth. Good night and I hope the Good Spirit finds you and me and sets us all straight on all things concerning wisdom and knowledge and truth. Ooo that's all mystical and such, isn't it! Whereas you might say, I hope that you'll put away your spirit nonsense and come to the there's only material and nothing else wisdom. I'll disagree with that and I'll lay up to my Spiritual self to say hi to you whenever (and hopefully not soon) that you cross over. ;-) Whereas you might say, nothing happens after you die, you're just gone. Me, I still hope to see my brother again someday. I miss him a lot! It comes down to a belief argument. What do you believe?

wow, posted 4 Nov 2008 at 20:30 UTC by steve » (Master)

That paragraph was so long it made my brain swirl! :)

Backwater, posted 4 Nov 2008 at 21:53 UTC by The Swirling Brain » (Master)

I sort of talk like that too! I never could figure out a good use for paragraph separation. I mean blank lines are a waste and make the posts unnecessarily long! I'mthinkingofgettingridofspacestoo! ;-) AND, I THINK I"LL GO BACK TO JUST USING ALL UPPER CASE SCREAMING AGAIN TOO! ;-) It really saves on bits! $-)

Flat Earth card, posted 8 Nov 2008 at 16:56 UTC by Rog-a-matic » (Master)

I knew I'd be facing a 'Flat Earth' statement eventually. Discussions like this often degrade to this point, sadly.

My reasoning was as clear and concise as I am capable of making it.

If we can't even agree that an unseen and undiscovered force can be considered as a possible explanation for neural firings, then it makes no sense to go further.

You said you reject that because there is no evidence. Using this reasoning, you have to REJECT considering other ideas in the same situation such as the dark energy/universe expansion issue I mentioned.

My side is often called closed minded, but there is closed mindedness on both sides, and I would propose more so on my opponent's.

I am not seeking agreement, only understanding of our disagreement.

Re: Flat Earth card, posted 9 Nov 2008 at 06:00 UTC by steve » (Master)

Actually, what I said was that I'm not willing to accept (without evidence) your claim that we should expect supernatural forces to affect humans by diddling with neural firings in the brain, as opposed to some other mechanism. And I offered examples of other mechanisms that have been proposed by other religious people. I think Descartes' explanation is just as plausible as yours for a vector of supernatural influence in the brain.

While I don't believe any of them will turn out to be factual, if you come up with some empirical, testable evidence that yours or any of them are real, bring it on. But there's a difference between being open minded and confusing science with religion. I think that's at the root of our disagreement.

Show me Evidence of God, posted 9 Nov 2008 at 14:22 UTC by The Swirling Brain » (Master)

The bible says that in Jesus' time that people asked for a sign from God and or they wanted God revealed to them. Jesus wouldn't ablidge them and only told them of the sign of Jonah being in the whale for 3 days and 3 nights. They didn't get it. After the healing of a blind man the Pharasees said that they can see. Jesus said that because they say they can see they are still dead in their sins. These people were in serious need of salvation and they didn't even know it. There's plenty of "not getting it" in the Bible.

All throughout the Bible, people don't understand that there's a greater spiritual world around them. The Gnostics thought that they knew all there was to know, yet they left God out of that equation. The Bible says seek and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened to you. It also says that without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

God is a person, not a machine. Perhaps you put a prayer in and therefore expect a sign back. He may not even respond to that. So how do you test for God? You likely have to do it His way rather than your way. You probably won't accept this, but what if God "talks" to certain people like prophets in the Old Testament, but gives no indication at all to others like me or you. Will you have no faith at all that He exists because you never heard God speak directly to you? I mean the airforce makes stealth aircraft that can't be found on radar, what if God never wants to be found by those He doesn't want to reveal Himself to? Does that mean He doesn't exist? Science is still finding out new particles and new things. Does that mean they didn't exist before.

We look back to the 1800s and think people back then were stupid. Hospitals used to think that doctors didn't need to wash their hands after examining a dead person. The Bible, in Abraham's time already said to do so and had even has given a recipe to make up an anti-bacterial soap and procedure for doing so even holding their hands up to the sun to kill other bacteria. How would he know to do that? Perhaps other things in the Bible such as circumcision on the 8th day where babies have the most vitamin K is just a coincidence? What does circumcision get you? Apparently lots of health benefits but that's not why they did it or did they even know that it would. God told Abraham to do it and reaped the benefits when he obeyed. When someone had Leprosy the Israelites quarantined them outside the city. At the time people thought it was cruel! Up to that time the people thought Leprosy was inherited. Today we know Leprosy is caused by bacteria. How did Abraham know to quarantine them? It was new and radical and a hard decision. Was this radical on the whim change of procedures or a radical religious law imparted by God for the time? In contrast, at the time the Egyptians were putting Donkey dung on wounds as a salve and wondering why people were getting lock jaw. God told Abraham if he followed His ways and did none of the things that the Egyptians did that he'd have "none of these diseases" that the Egyptians had. Incredible as it may seem the weird things that God told Abraham to do like burying their own waste and washing hygiene are just being explained in contemporary times. There's lots of stuff. Why did God say not to eat from a pot that has meat and cheese cooked together? Again, scientists found bad enzymes that get created. There's some freaky weird stuff in there some of which still has yet to be explained. Either Abraham was way ahead of his time or what the Bible says is all a just a big coincidence, or He was crazy or it never happened, whatever you want to say. Pause for a moment and ponder this stuff and don't just brush off this evidence as nothing. This stuff Abraham did was nothing short of miraculous!

But hey, the Bible has plenty of evidence that demands a verdict if you just need evidence. There again people have debated and argued the Bible for ages and it won't stop now. The Bible says the very environment around you proves there is a God. However, Scientists say it all came from a big bang (although they are debating that again). Where did the big bang come from? They don't know. Where did God come for that matter? Who knows. Again, at some point it comes down to your religion, faith, belief, whatever you call it. Whether that faith be Science faith, or Christianity faith, or whatever faith, it's still your system of belief and what you hold to. Everyone can believe whatever they want, but there is only one real truth. We each just have to figure it out from the evidence that is presented to us for ourselves and hope we have it right?

Of course, if you every start believing there there exists a holy God, then you have to see yourself as Isaiah did as broken and undone and wonder how do you get yourself right or fixed with God. That's where Jesus comes in by sacrificing himself on a cross to take away sin that if you only believe in his salvation then you can be saved. Again, with God, it comes down to faith aka belief. This is something beyond science.

Look, I put paragraph breaks in! Yee!

All dogs go to heaven, but not robots?, posted 9 Nov 2008 at 14:33 UTC by The Swirling Brain » (Master)

With having said all of that above, my guess, (and again, this is my guess), is that we are both physical and spiritual. My guess is that science may come to the point of copying a human brain and perhaps even getting a robot to work with that artificial brain. However, the other side of the human equation that I believe to be spiritual, I doubt that science will ever detect it or for that matter (pun not intended) recreate it.

That being said, would a robot go to heaven. The body goes into the ground but the spirit goes to heaven. So if the robot never had a spirit, what is there to go to heaven.

Sad Poor robot.

Again, that's just my guess and musings. I hope you enjoyed.

Re: Show me some evidence of God, posted 9 Nov 2008 at 15:30 UTC by steve » (Master)

Thanks, paragraph breaks help a lot. :)

No one is asking God for evidence of his existence here. No one here is claiming God doesn't exist (certainly not me). No one here is claiming humans don't have souls. Those are all unknowable things that have to be believed on faith.

This is part of the fundamental disagreement Roger and I were just pondering. You and Roger seem to think cognitive research is a religious rather than scientific field. Even more confusing to me, you both seem to value non-canonical religious ideas from random sources and canonical religious tenets of the bible equally. The idea you're arguing for is not the biblical claim that humans have immortal souls (which no one here has disputed) but the claims of people like Descarte that souls are an operational component of the human brain. Or, at best, you seem to be conflating the two issues for reasons I don't understand. As far as I know, no mainstream religion has canonized Descarte's writing as holy inspired scripture. So it baffles me why you and Roger seem to think a threat to Cartesian Dualism is a threat to christianity. Why can't humans have souls as described in the bible and yet those souls not be an operational part of the brain as Descarte believed? Surely God could have invented a soul that was consistent with the basic laws of His universe?

Firing the canon, posted 9 Nov 2008 at 19:55 UTC by The Swirling Brain » (Master)

> The idea you're arguing for is not the biblical claim that humans have immortal souls (which no one here has disputed) but the claims of people like Descarte that souls are an operational component of the human brain. Or, at best, you seem to be conflating the two issues for reasons I don't understand.

Don't confuse canon with my opinion or what I personally believe. Everyone has their own personal opinions and I don't necessarily agree with some Christian denominations so I can just tell you what I personally believe. I apologize that my arguments don't seem to make sense in that respect.

Yep, I feel it's a gray matter (pun intended) of somewhere between. Yes, I believe that people have a meatspace part and a spiritual part and in my nomenclature I call the two together a soul. I believe that spiritual part DOES affect the meatspace part somehow. That is not the same opinion as other religious guys perhaps so no it's probably not "canonical".

Speaking of canonical, if you get 5 people in a room, you'll get 6 at least slightly different views on this topic so I doubt there's much agreement to create a so-called "canonical view" of this topic.

> So it baffles me why you and Roger seem to think a threat to Cartesian Dualism is a threat to christianity.

I thought I argued above that you might be able to create a robot from copying a human brain that might actually work. I don't think it's a threat to Christianity. I think that there are two parts, body and spirit, and I don't know if they work completely independently or whether they continually affect each other. I'd like to think the latter but I don't feel threatened by it. It's something fun to ponder but not something to get hot under the collar over.

It would be interesting if such a robot was made from a christian minded person, would it continue to work just like the original person wanting to go to church, seek God or follow after spiritual things, or would if it behaves completely different being meatspace only and ignore spiritual things. This is a purely philosophical question but it would be a fun an interesting test.

> Why can't humans have souls as described in the bible and yet those souls not be an operational part of the brain as Descarte believed?

They probably could or they probably could not. I know, that's a lame answer, but I don't know if there is an answer. I feel I've made up my mind about it but there's always still doubt and it could go either way. I don't know of any denomination that has in its articles of faith which describes which human parts is parts of a person, body, soul and spirit, but perhaps there are some churches out there that might. I've probably heard all the various views, though. There's the egg analogy view where you have the yolk is the meatspace stuff, and white stuff is the spiritual stuff and the whole egg makes the soul of a person. That's probably what I believe most. To where you have meatspace, some sort of in-between space soul, and some spiritual space stuff. There's the thought that Soul and Spirit are basically the same thing. One view is that we are like a laptop computer with electronic chips in the meatspace and the executing software is the spirit. I sort of believe that too. (perhaps this is what you really believe?). And there's probably other muck that people believe.

The bible talks about His word is able to divide Soul and Spirit so they are likely two different things although the Bible doesn't go into detail what they are so there's no real explanation. So it's anyone's guess. In any case probably most of the christians you ask will say that there is a spiritual component to a person that becomes active or alive when you get saved and somehow that part interacts with God. One verse in the Bible says, "God is a spirit and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth." So from a Biblical perspective (and perhaps it is probably therefore should be canonical) would be that there is a fleshy meatspace part and a spiritual part that is active as parts of a person. So again, I don't know of a denomination that specifically spells it out but from a Biblical teaching perspective it seems that it is assumed. Another part of the Bible explains about the dry bones where bodies will be reassembled and then be given life again as if they are two separate parts, body & spirit. Adam when he was created, was first created in meatspace and then God breathed "life" into him, again two separate components. In the milleneal time, the Bible talks about those living in heaven in spiritual bodies will come back to earth to live in physical bodies. The Bible also talks about death where the body goes back to the earth and the spirit goes back to God who gave it. So again, the Bible talks about a person having two separate parts. (I'm talking from a Biblical perspective obviously). Which seems to suggest that besides meatspace stuff that there's some other component that gives us life or animates us somehow. There's plenty of mystery when talking about spiritual stuff because we are in fleshly bodies and the spiritual stuff is foreign to us so we can only make best-guesses at what we can understand with our meatspace mind as the two don't seem to communicate very well.

> As far as I know, no mainstream religion has canonized Descarte's writing as holy inspired scripture.

The actual cannon, ie: the Bible, will not likely be modified by any church to add any more books to it due to the statement in Revelation to not add or take away (even though the statement was probably just talking about the book of Revelation rather than the entire bible). So if anything perhaps a church might add it to their articles of faith but not to anything labeled as part of the Inspired Holy Bible.

> Surely God could have invented a soul that was consistent with the basic laws of His universe?

Couldn't God have also invented a soul with both flesh and a spirit as the Bible teaches? Even though, as a Christian I really try to explain what I can in the physical sciences and I shun mystical nonsense stuff as bunk, there's still some things that I believe such as God, the afterlife, and spiritual things, which agreed is pure faith. These things when applied to a soul would suggest to me that people are more than meatspace only. My guess is that the supernatural, whether it be one's own spirit or other spiritual influences does have influence on the meatspace person. Would those same influences work on a robot. A robot wouldn't have a personal spirit applied as those are only given by God. Would angels, demons, or God have influence? I'd think so. So perhaps a robot can function in the meatspace to mimick a human, but in my opinion there would be some component that would still be missing but it may be close enough that it would at least pass any stringent Turing type tests and could pass off as the person that was copied. Since, in my opinion, it would still be missing that spiritual component, I would still consider it not "wholly human" and would be skeptical of it.

If a robot acts close enough to a human we will proabably use them but never consider them as humans. I don't know if I can be any more clear on what my opinion is. I'd love to see someone make a robot from a copied brain and see what it does! It may surprise us all! Again, I can't put my finger on it what it really means to be human with body and spirit, so does it really matter? Probably not. ...and so then this whole argument floats off into space. See, there it goes... bye bye argument...

supernatural backup procedures, posted 9 Nov 2008 at 22:41 UTC by steve » (Master)

Your comment on the difference between body, soul, spirit being ill-defined in the Bible got me interested, so I Googled on "doctrine of the soul" to see if anyone had actually tried to sort out the religious side of things, at least within Christianity. I found an interesting old book called, not surprisingly, "Doctrine of the Soul" (1873, Charles L. Ives).

About half the book is devoted to the bible-verse-fu that Christians use to argue with each other but the remainder is pretty interesting. The author's conclusion is that the Bible uses the word soul to "denote matter (emphasis mine) organized so as to be susceptible to life". This definition is perfectly consistent with modern science and at odds with the Cartesian Dualism you're defending. Interestingly, he goes on to say, "If this be materialism, so be it. It is the materialism of the Bible and rests on an authority which man can not assail."

The soul, according to his interpretation has nothing to do with immortality or the spiritual world at all. He says that no where in the Bible can you find a claim that the soul is a separate thing from the material body or that it is immortal. He claims the idea of a separate, immortal soul is just a popular misconception (to which I have to admit I was subject to myself). He proposes that God "keeps for [man] his life in remembrance" - so God does his own supernatural backup of your consciousness allowing Him to restore it in a new body later as needed. This neatly gets around the conservation of energy problem that Cartesian Dualism runs into.

His interpretation of the spirit is that it's used to describe the state of being alive. Matter that is alive is said to "have spirit", when matter is dead, the "spirit has left it". But the spirit had no actual function. As far as I can tell it's just used a synonym for the word life.

Another interesting point he makes is that all animals, not just humans, are described by the bible as souls. So the claim that a human has more "value" (Roger's definition) than, say, an ant, because the human has a soul and the ant doesn't, could be considered heretical. The primary religious difference between them, he says, is that God has promised resurrection (restoring from His supernatural backup of consciousness) for the human but not for the ant. He doesn't comment on whether carrots have souls. Roger may have the upper hand on that one using his definition of value but I still think carrots are tasty.

Getting down to the sole of the soul, posted 10 Nov 2008 at 05:07 UTC by The Swirling Brain » (Master)

bible-verse-fu that Christians use to argue with each other

Giggle. That's so true!

"If this be materialism, so be it. It is the materialism of the Bible and rests on an authority which man can not assail."

It certainly is an interesting view. I still don't agree with it but I do ponder it some.

The Bible basically says that all humans are eternal beings and when you die, your spirit self will live in one of two spiritual places not of meatspace: heaven or hell. Now the question would be is when does that spirit self become alive? I'd say it's at the point of salvation but this man is saying it is at the time of death? I don't agree.

Another interesting point he makes is that all animals, not just humans, are described by the bible as souls.

Interesting. I didn't know the bible called animals souls but I wouldn't have too much of a problem with that if it were true. It of course does bring up some age-old questions. Do all dogs go to heaven? I don't know. It would make you wonder just what does go to heaven. I mean, do ants, fleas and termites go to heaven? We will be drowning in pests up there! I'd really hope not or at least that they go to dog heaven and not a human heaven. ;-) I know heaven and hell are both big places capable of holding many "souls".

I agree that a soul must be the person part but I believe it to include not only the fleshy part but the spirit part also. But that would be my opinion as the body,soul,spirit thing is a mystery to me still.

It is a very interesting study you did and interesting that you found someone religious that agrees with your material only point of view. I too am enjoying this study.

The material view does not allow for the fleshy part of a man and the spiritual part of a man to exist at the same time? That seems to be contrary to Bible teaching so still I'd have to disagree. If the spirit does exist at the same time, which I believe it does, then it's just a matter of knowing do the two parts interact in some distinguishable way. I believe it does but again, I have not proof of that that I can show you other than the Bible verses I have provided before.

Here's some interesting bible-verse-fu for you!:
1Cor2:11-16 For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man's spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man's judgment: "For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?" But we have the mind of Christ.

1Cor15:44-50 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So it is written: "The first man Adam became a living being"; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven. I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.

MIrror neurons and the feeling that humans are special, posted 23 Nov 2008 at 00:46 UTC by steve » (Master)

I posted a new story today on the brain mechanisms responsible for the human feeling that other human (and human-like) creatures are special, Dum inter robots sumus, colamus humanitatem. I wonder if the feelings Roger was describing in which he places higher moral values on humans than on carrots is a religious interpretation of the interpersonal interface described in the paper? They sound very similar.

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