Re: The Mind/Body Problem

From: HARNAD Stevan (
Date: Fri Feb 23 1996 - 18:05:17 GMT

> From: "Valenti Gianni" <>
> Date: Fri, 23 Feb 1996 14:46:54 GMT
> Is it a soul that differentiates us from machines?
> What is a soul?

Hard to answer the first question till you answer the second. This is
delicate territory, because it involves people's religious beliefs.

It is likely that one of the main reasons people believe in the
existence of an immaterial, immortal soul, is that they KNOW FOR SURE
of the existence of at least one mind (their own), and that appears to
be immaterial. In other words, belief in the soul may be a symptom of
the mind/body problem. Some people (materialists) handle the mind/body
problem by saying that somehow, even if it is not obvious how, the mind
must be matter, or a property of matter. Others (dualists) are sure
mind and matter are not the same. It is only one step from there to
belief in an immaterial soul, and an immortal one, too.

> Does it exist or is simply used as an excuse just like the subconscious?

The only thing you can be SURE exists is your own experiences, your own
consciousness, your own mind. Whether and how it is material is not
something anyone has a clear idea about, but its properties certainly
seem to be very tightly CORRELATED with the properties of a certain bit
of matter, namely, the brain.

The subconscious is not an "excuse," it is just a fuzzy concept we all
seem to find quite natural. Yes, perhaps there is a similarity there, in
our readiness to believe that we have another mind, an unconscious
"alter ego," and that we have an immaterial soul too. It does seem to
be multiplying the number of entities that exist well beyond what our
immediate certainty in our own experiences really warrants, don't you

> Do machines have a soul?

How about an "easier" question: Do they have a mind? This will come up
later in the course. For now, reflect on the other-minds problem: How
could we ever find out? How can we even find out in the case of other
human bodies (or animals)?

> How do we know ?

How do we know what? The other-minds problem is that we CAN'T
know that anyone but ourselves has a mind. Is there a way around this?

> Is it the ability to feel pain?

That's as good an example as any, but it does not solve the problem:
How can you KNOW whether a machine (or another person, or animal) feels
pain, or feels anything?

> Do the machines feel pain?

You tell me... (This will all come up again later. If you are curious,
look at:

Chrs, Stevan

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