Re: The Mind/Body Problem

From: HOLMES Sharon (
Date: Fri Feb 23 1996 - 15:13:34 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?
> Does it exist or is simply used as an excuse just like the
> subconcious?
> Do machines have a soul?
> How do we know ?
> Is it the ability to feel pain?
> Do the machines feel pain?

You have many questions here!

There are two 'camps' in the soul debate. The physicalists, who
believe that the 'soul' as such, is a by-product of consciousness or
self awareness. Physicalists believe that when you die, there is no
soul, because the 'soul' is a product of the biology of the brain and
therefore dies with you.

Dualists, on the other hand, believe that the soul is a detachable
part. Basically, these souls float around, and attatch themselves to
a child (or whatever) when he/she is born. When the individual dies,
the soul detaches itself and floats off again andthe cycle continues.

Hence, in order to ask whether a machine has a soul, we have to first
address the definition of a soul: do you believe a soul is just the
by-product of our biology and self-awareness? Is it something
spiritual and immortal? Is a soul a reflection of our unique

The concept of a soul is very human - we attribute ourselves as
having a soul due to our position as 'higher beings'. It is also a
way of accepting our earthly mortality - the belief that we go on
beyond our feeble bodies and never truely die.

If you are a dualist, then you may never accept that machines
will have a 'soul'. However, if you believe it is a product of
intelligence and self awareness, you may ask, does a self -aware
machine have a soul?

As for 'Can machines feel pain' - that is something else entirely.
Let me ask you - How do you KNOW that I feel pain? Does the fact that I
slam my fingers in a door, jump up and down, scream and behave in an
appropriate way mean i actuallyFEEL the pain? Is the pain I feel
like the pain you feel? I don't mean quantitively, but qualitively.
I.e. you can describe that I feel pain, but could you ever actually
feel my pain. This is discussed in:

Nagel, T. (1974) What is it like to be a bat?
Philosophical Review 83: 435 - 451. Reprinted in:
Hofstadter, D.R. and Dennett, D.C. (1988) The Mind's I London : Bantam
Books [Shelved at: BF 311 MIN]

Nagel, T. (1986) The View From Nowhere.
New York: Oxford University Press.

Sharon [with thanks to Matt for the reference]

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