Is Your Soul an Information Field in Another Dimension?
[Author's Note: In keeping with the tradition that whenever you have a blog post whose title is a question, the answer is always "no"...]
Of all the essays I've written, my favorite is "A Ghost in the Machine", presenting the evidence that our personality traits and sense of self arise from neural circuitry in the brain and not a supernatural soul. I've just found out that this essay has drawn a reply from the blog Paranormalia, written by Robert McLuhan.
McLuhan writes that, despite the evidence I present, we know there must be something more to consciousness due to "the observed facts of psi... telepathic intuitions, presentiment, precognitive dreams, and suchlike", not to mention the alleged communication of deceased people with the living via mediums. Needless to say, this is a thin reed upon which to reject the entire field of neuroscience. Paranormal investigators have been chasing after these anecdotes for decades; if there was anything to them, we ought to be able to reproduce psychic phenomena reliably and on demand by now. Why aren't dead people routinely invited to testify in courts about the disposition of their property or the identity of their murderers? Why can't today's scientists get on conference calls with the greatest minds of the ages? Why don't we have batteries of precognitive forecasters warning us in advance about major global disasters or acts of terrorism?
If the science of parapsychology is indeed a science, these aren't unreasonable expectations. The first tentative studies of electromagnetism have given rise to a globe-girdling communications network; scientific explorations of the nature of radiation have given us X-ray machines that image the body and nuclear power plants that run cities. By contrast, a century and more of psychic research has produced nothing whatsoever of comparable benefit. Effects that can never be reproduced on demand are the hallmark of pseudoscience.
An even more puzzling aspect of McLuhan's post is the exact nature of his proposed alternative to materialism. I invite you, readers, to judge whether he professes the exact belief that he himself ridicules as something "no serious person could believe":
It struck me straight away that Lee is attacking an idea of the soul that no serious person could believe: the Cartesian substance that sits inside our heads and somehow meshes with the machinery. To ask where the soul is hiding is quaintly naïve, as if the thing could potentially be tracked down and ferreted out of its burrow.
We remain free to hypothesise, say, the existence of the soul as an information field that exists in an unseen dimension, and which expresses itself through the brain and nervous system through some kind of quantum interaction.
Whether or not this is a "serious" proposal, in a strictly semantic sense we may be "free" to hypothesize that. But why would we want to? According to Occam's fine old razor, this is the very definition of an unnecessary hypothesis: one that's supported by no evidence, adds numerous additional complications, and results in no greater explanatory power. You can see this clearly when McLuhan stretches to explain the evidence I brought up showing how specific kinds of brain damage can selectively reduce or eliminate any aspect of consciousness:
If the brain is the medium by which this information field is expressed in the physical world, then, in the event of injury, one would expect its expression to fail in striking and various ways. Furthermore, if this field continues to exist after the death of the body we could hypothesise that it finds another way to express itself, in some other form, in some other dimension.
In "Ghost", I write about the various mental disorders that efface the self. McLuhan makes the good point that this isn't breaking news: we've long known that senile dementia can alter the personality, for example. But just because these facts are well-established doesn't make them any less problematic for his argument.
As I've said in the past, we might expect that damage to my TV could distort the information it displays: invert the colors, say, or show the picture wrong-side-up. But we'd never expect that any kind of damage to my TV would cause it to play an alternate version of Star Wars in which Luke Skywalker is the villain. That's a nonsensical notion unless the content shown on the screen is being generated inside the TV.
But that's just the scenario we see when we consider the mind: certain kinds of brain injury don't just cause mental deficits, but changes in the content of consciousness. They can turn a cautious and meticulous person into an irresponsible and impulsive one (frontotemporal dementia), or give them a bizarre and inappropriate sense of humor that they never had before (stroke-induced euphoria), or split their consciousness into two halves that know and desire different things (callosal disconnection). They can cause a delusion that part of a person's own body no longer belongs to them (somatoparaphrenia), or that a close friend or relative has been replaced by an impostor (Capgras syndrome). All these conditions are utterly inexplicable if we assume that the seat of the self, the part of the mind that processes sensory input, originates desires and makes decisions, is something immaterial that exists outside the body.
You could, of course, argue that your soul doesn't store your memories, your personality traits, the desires that drive your behavior, or your sense of self - that all these things come from the brain, and that the "soul" is nothing but the substrate of consciousness, a blank white screen on which the brain's activity plays out. But even if such a thing exists, why should I think of it as "me" or care about what happens to it? It contains none of the things that make me who I am, and its survival after the death of my brain ought to be of as much interest to me as the fate of my toenails.
Daylight Atheism: The Book is now available! Click here for reviews and ordering information.
Researchers have just discovered the remains of a hybrid human.
90,000 years ago, a young girl lived in a cave in the Altai mountains in southern Siberia. Her life was short; she died in her early teens, but she stands at a unique point in human evolution. She is the first known hybrid of two different kinds of ancient humans: the Neanderthals and the Denisovans.
These thought leaders, founders, and entrepreneurs are propelling the kind of future we want to be a part of.
- The tech industry may be dominated by men in terms of numbers, but there are lots of brilliant women in leadership positions that are changing the landscape.
- The women on this list are founders of companies dedicated to teaching girls to code, innovators in the fields of AI, VR, and machine learning, leading tech writers and podcasters, and CEOs of companies like YouTube and Project Include.
- This list is by no means all-encompassing. There are many more influential women in tech that you should seek out and follow.
Most said they want to act on their desire someday. But do open relationships actually work?
- The study involved 822 Americans who were in monogamous relationships at the time.
- Participants answered questions about their personalities, sexual fantasies, and intentions to act on those fantasies.
- Research suggests practicing consent, comfort, and communication makes open relationships more likely to succeed.
Consensual non-monogamy fantasies<p>For the new study, published in <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10508-020-01788-7" target="_blank">Archives of Sexual Behavior</a>, researchers asked 822 people in monogamous relationships to:</p><ul><li>Describe their favorite sexual fantasy, defined as "mental images you have while you are awake that you find to be sexually arousing or erotic."</li><li>Select which themes apply to that fantasy, such as having sex with multiple people at the same time, experimenting with taboos, or engaging in a sexually open relationship.</li><li>Answer whether they intended to carry out these fantasies, and discuss them with their partner.</li><li>Complete assessments on relationship satisfaction, erotophilia and personality, as measured by the Big Five Personality inventory.</li></ul><p>The results showed that 32.6 percent of participants said being part of a sexually open relationship was "part of their favorite sexual fantasy of all time." More surprising is that, of that one-third, 80 percent said they want to act on this fantasy in the future.</p>
Pretzelpaws via Wikipedia Commons<p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The present research confirms the important distinction between sexual fantasy and sexual desire in that not everyone wanted to act on their favorite sexual fantasy of all time," study author Justin J. Lehmiller told <a href="https://www.psypost.org/2020/09/one-third-of-people-in-monogamous-relationships-fantasize-about-being-in-some-type-of-open-relationship-study-suggests-58102" target="_blank">PsyPost</a>. "This suggests that fantasies may serve different functions for different people."</p><p>Even though most participants said they want to act out their fantasy in the future, far fewer reported acting out sexual fantasies in the past. Other findings included:</p><ul><li>Men were more likely to fantasize about CNMRs.</li><li>So were people who scored high in <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erotophilia#:~:text=Erotophilia%20is%20a%20personality%20trait,ranging%20from%20erotophobia%20to%20erotophilia." target="_blank">erotophilia</a> and sociosexual orientation.</li><li>The psychological predictors of fantasizing about CNMRs differed from predictors about infidelity fantasies.</li></ul>
Do open relationships work?<p>A <a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00224499.2019.1669133" target="_blank">2019 study</a> from psychologists at the University of Rochester suggests it <em>is </em>possible<em>, </em>but especially when both partners practice a trio of behaviors: consent, communication, and comfort — or, the Triple-C Model.<br></p>But the study also suggests not all forms of open relationships are equally viable. For example, people in one-sided CNMRs — where one partner stays monogamous, the other seeks outside sexual relationships — were nearly three times more dissatisfied in their relationships than the monogamous group <em>and </em>the consensual non-monogamous group.
The results of this study showed depressive symptoms being highest in adolescence, declining in early adulthood and then climbing back up again into one's early 30s.