alert versus aware

Ray D. Scanlon rscanlon at
Wed Sep 29 16:02:15 EST 1999

Alex Morgan writes:

> When I talk about "the seat of my consciousness, thoughts, volitions,
> and feelings" I use the word 'mind'.  I don't accept 'soul' as a synonym
> for 'mind' in this sense because 'soul'* carries with it the connotation
> of extra 'spooky stuff' - in particular, incorporeality and eternal
> existence.  'Soul' simply carries too much religious/'folk-theoretical'
> baggage to do any useful work in an impartial discussion.  It might be
> argued that 'mind' has connotations that make it similarly biased.  I
> would disagree.

I would say that you wish to talk about the soul but wish it to be known at
the same time that you do not believe in its eternal existence. That is all
right with me. Why not just say so? Preface any remarks on the soul with the
statement, "I am an atheist".
Why use an euphemism?

> I think it relatively uncontroversial that the general,
> consensually agreed-upon meaning of the word 'mind' is very different
> from that of 'soul': 'mind' means something like - to borrow your phrase
> - 'the seat of consciousness, thought, volition, and feeling', whereas
> 'soul' means something like 'an incorporeal, eternal mentality'.

Which is also the seat of consciousness, etc. It is not the case that a
person who is a soul is also a mind. No. One soul is enough to do all your
thinking. Either you are a soul or you are not.

> While
> these words might mean different things to different people, only the
> latter has a metaphysical commitment 'built-in' BY VIRTUE OF IT'S

I would argue that "mind" carries the metaphysical commitment of atheism.
One does not exist in a metaphysical vacuum. All of us make these
commitments. The only difference between men is that some make them blindly
and others examine them. Stephen Jay Gould argues that religion should stay
out of science and that science should stay out of religion. (Philosophy is
subsumed under religion.)

>  This difference makes 'soul' - unlike 'mind' - a non-starter
> when it comes to physicalistic explanation.

This is the heart of the matter. You wish to say that "mind" may have a
physicalist explanation. You wish to push science into a magisterium where
it has no business. This is the source of much turmoil in AI. Does the
machine think? Does it have a mind? Scientifically this is utter nonsense.
There is a universe of experience where science rules. There is a psychical
universe where religion rules. I argue that we should continually remind
ourselves of the two magisteria by always using "soul (mind)". Let the
religious discuss whether the machine has a soul (mind).

> Consider an analogy with vitalism.

There is no analogy. Life is objective. We divide the universe of experience
between organic and inorganic. The scientist is free to argue whether a
virus is alive or not. Or even alive within a cell and not so when outside.
DNA lives because of its ability to produce RNA. (We pass over the argument
that RNA has priority.) This is a scientific arena and the cell biologist
who specializes in manipulating DNA is a scientist.

The soul (mind) is subjective and belongs to religion.

> My point is that in order to
> address that question (whether soul (mind) has a physicalist explanation)
without begging any questions, we can't equate
> 'mind' with 'soul' at the outset.)

But I do. I say that the soul (mind) belongs to religion. I am perfectly
willing to discuss soul (mind) in the context of religion. I am a religious
person. I am also a scientist and I know the difference between the
objective world of science and the subjective world of religion. Any talk of
a physicalist explanation of the soul (mind) belongs in the same box with
creation science.


Those interested in how the brain works might look at

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