This is an interesting talk on the psychology of soul and afterlife beliefs. Children are primed for belief. Religion does not need to be shoved down their throats. Religious folk have it so easy... Anyway, I recommend highly: funny, informative, and relevant.

Why children believe they have souls

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How about why adults believe in souls? It's hard to wrap one's head around the idea that free will is an illusion. Without the soul/mind duality injecting externally guided action into the reaction chain, you will be forced to reconcile with the fact that every thought that ever reached your head has been a physical bio-electric process of synapses firing off in response to external stimuli. In other words, your whole existence at any given moment is dictated by what your senses perceive in the moments preceding.

A lot of atheists believe in souls even if they are not aware of it, or do not call it a soul.

Ogilvie talked a bit about why adults believe. They acquire it early on and don't question it because it seems so natural given our cognitive predispositions. I agree lots of atheists believe in souls. The idea of the soul does not have to involve God or gods. It's more about your identity or personality having an immaterial basis.

About the free will comment, that's an interesting connection to the soul research. Part of the notion of the soul has to do with this idea that there's this ghost in the machine. That we are something distinct from our bodies, the things possess and control our bodies. However, I think you are overstating our lack of free will. Our experiences do not fully determine what we do. How we process that information does and that's part of what or who we are. Those nerve firings are who we are and every one of us has a unique firing pattern to our name. That does not worry or depress me.

Without a ghost in the machine, all we are left with is the machine. You know, in computer programming there is this idea that a machine can never come up with a completely random number. Any numerical output generated must be based on an algorithm, which is by definition non-random (if you knew the algorithm, you would be able to predict the number). How programmers work around that is to use the system clock, or any other number that could be calculated using an ever changing input so that it appears random. While it seems like, say if you pick a number between 1 and infinite, every number would be unique -- it is only pseudo-random.

Without a soul (or mind, if you're an idealist), if we prescribe purely to scientific materialism, then one has to resign to the fact that we could never come up with a random number, a random thought, a random decision; every decision we ever make is a combination of external input and the brain processing those external inputs. None of it is completely within our "control".

It doesn't worry me or depress me either. The ramifications of monist materialism is hard for a person to grasp; it shouldn't come as a surprise that many brilliant philosophers who don't believe in God have tried very hard to argue for the existence of a soul. It's not that they haven't questioned it, in my opinion, but that they did question it, in fact harder than most people -- they couldn't come to terms with the idea that existence is transient, input ---> output.

Why would having random thoughts or decisions be indicative of free will? After all, they would be random, not determined by anything, including the owner. In fact, I doubt the output of our "machines" would be so loosely constrained as pseudo-random numbers (which satisfy statistical tests for randomness but are mathematically reproducible). Thoughts and decisions are structured things which are either well- or ill-formed. Also, there's even an immense number of well-formed things we could think or decide but what we actually think or decide is but a very small and select subset of these. The outputs of our brains have to be constrained; otherwise there would be no integration of the sort needed to preserve a person's identity through time.

Also, I thought you were talking about human adults, not brilliant philosophers. I guess it depends on the philosopher in question. They probably do question their soul beliefs but the intuition underlying the belief is probably due to the predispositions we share because we have the same basic cognitive makeup.

Randomness, the way I see it, is indicative of free will because in order for true randomness to occur, there must be a non-empirical agent that can't be traced back to a physical, observable cause; this agent acts without any external influence. We've covered previously that pseudo-randomness is the result of an algorithm that is mathematically reproducible. All tangible things in this world are empirically (e.g. scientifically) testable, if we knew all the factors influencing them, and therefore mathematically reproducible (even if we lack the knowledge to do so currently). Existence is therefore a series of physical, chemical, molecular interactions culminating into something that may seem irreducible (i.e. what intelligent design would propose), but in fact everything, including the noumenon called 'consciousness', is reducible -- if we are to believe in monist materialism and science.

Specifically, thoughts and decisions are a combination of genetic predispositions, instinctual and learned reactions programmed into neurons, which then combined with more recent sensory information, generating the illusory effect of memory, consciousness, and "free will". The notion that mistakes prove free will assumes that the calculations in the brain reflects a conscious intent, when it is more likely that conscious intent reflects results from calculations in the brain.

In other words, natural cause and effect defies free will. Nothing in a physical world is free from the causal chain. If an agent acts, truly, without any physical cause, then he might as well be defined as God, or the ghost, free from the physical dimension. If free will exists, then by definition it cannot be empirically observable (i.e. you would not be able to tell the difference between a person acting on free will and a machine making the exact same decisions without "free will"), mathematically reproducible (it cannot be predicted), and therefore it cannot be proven to exist. It is eliminated by Occam's Razor.

We can show this with a thought experiment: If we design a machine with your genetic composition, and taking into account all your neural processes, so that it in effect acts completely identical to your physical brain and nervous system (or, if it helps, it's a robot engineered to be an exact physical duplicate of yourself), and then put into a simulated room mimicking the environment around you exactly; then, if science could be trusted, 2 entities of the same makeup and put into the same environmental condition should act in the exact same way. Therefore, his actions are reproducible not free will. However, if 2 entities of the same makeup act differently, then free will, and by extension a "soul", or a something that is not empirically observable exists -- probably disproving monist materialism.

Identity is a separate issue, and equally complex.

Most brilliant philosophers are human adults, but I'll acknowledge that some of them may be lizards.

For something to be random, it cannot be determined by anything, physical or not. An agent ("empirical" or not) can't be coherently thought of as willing a random thought or decision because, if it did will it, it wouldn't be random. Materialism and determinism are logically distinct theses.

Identity is crucial. Before getting into the free will debate, you need to figure out what>> your talking about -- what does the "I" in "I have free will" picks out -- and stick to it. An answer to that question may lead to the dissolution of the "problem" of free will or a coherent solution. Anyway, thanks for the discussion.

I am going to define free will as conscious action or thought that originates, even partially, from conscious thought processes. This would perhaps be easier with a diagram.

This is a flow chart I made that I think is common thinking amongst even atheists:

http://img266.imageshack.us/img266/7154/freewillflowchart.jpg

Or, if you prefer:

http://img826.imageshack.us/img826/7861/freewillflowchart2.jpg

Here is what I'm suggesting:

http://img842.imageshack.us/img842/2817/determinsmflowchart.jpg

Although materialism and determinism describe distinct concepts, materialism must lead to determinism.

I am confused by your definition of "random" since it seems to be logically undefinable. A random entity does not randomize itself out of existence. If "random" cannot be determined by anything, then it is epistemologically impossible. However, the concept of random is not epistemologically impossible.

Thanks for the article. Will read it.

Hey Steph,

It's actually a video. I should have mentioned that. Let me know what you think.

I have a completely different take on free will, Said and Jonathan. There's a few groups for that.

If belief in a soul corresponds to there being something more to us than our bodies, "soul" is what John Dewey would call a self-actional concept. Jonathan's "scientific materialism" is what Dewey would call an interactional concept. Dewey's third category "transactional" is more far ranging and more complex systems-like. I'm a transactionalist. [This is from a very obscure book, Knowing and the Known]

One doesn't need more than the physical world to encompass sophisticated emergent properties if one's concept of the physical world includes enough space, time, and complex systems. Where's extreme sensitivity to initial conditions in your physical world? I'm surprised you guys haven't at least heard of the butterfly effect.

"Soul" is the most primitive simplification in this sequence of how we make sense of the emergent self. Of course it fits a child's comprehension. Secularist adults need to reexamine remnants of such childhood apprehensions which might still inform adult behavior, were they unexamined. Talking about them merely opens the door. It's best to have adult explanations handy to develop upon what we dredge up.

I know of the butterfly effect, Ruth. Unfortunately, I have not read Dewey, but from what little I know of his position, I cannot accept his idea of a freedom of choice to be truly freedom without cause and effect, nor that intelligent decisions are truly intelligent. A decision is a complex combination firing of synapses that may seem intelligent in our limited wisdom. Deduction is meant to work within the tools that we are given; those "tools" are the limit of human capacity. To be sure, what I'm talking about is the central nervous system.

I cannot fathom how one could believe in true intelligence, true randomness, or free will -- in its strictest definition -- without a soul. That is, there may be some broader sense of free will, as in the appearance of uniqueness due in no small part to: 1) the vast amount of sensory input is probably too much for the brain to process at any given moment, and to process consciously, giving us the illusion of infinite possibilities and choice, and 2) the fact that none of us can ever occupy the same space-time, allowing for each of us to receive unique sensory input; there can never be complete overlap.

True intelligence ties in with free will because intelligence should ideally be organic, and like free will, should not able to be pinned down to an algorithm. However, all physical things are reducible to exactly that. You know, this ironic thought just crossed me that might seem a bit offensive in context of this forum, but I assure you I have no such intent. Intelligent Design is the idea that nature is irreducible, and must be a product of God's intelligence. However, most of us still hold that the inner workings of man are somehow irreducible, and it is the proof of human intelligence. As atheists, the former seems absurd; we know through science that nature is merely a game of statistics through evolution, that there is no "intelligence" involved in the sense that it is somehow willed into place. However, that doesn't stop us from thinking we, the self, the ego, is free from causality.

Edit: (By the way, I know this isn't a philosophy forum, but I've always been interested in introspective inquiry into thought processes. I know some others in this forum have no interest in the sort. I'm not trying to be argumentative.)

I haven't given my take on free will.

What's the "emergent self"? Your take seems to just be replacing the term "soul" with "emergent self". That's no analysis.

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