[ExI] Does the computational theory of mind imply a "soul"?

Max More maxmore01 at gmail.com
Sun Apr 2 18:00:02 UTC 2023

Jason, although I agree with much of your post I have a concern or two
about what you wrote. Naturally, I’m going to focus on the concerns rather
than the agreement.

> According to the computational theory of mind, the conscious state must
be identified not with any particular physical manifestation (body), but
rather, with some abstract informational/computational pattern. At first
glance, this seems like a trivial distinction, but on a deeper inspection
we see that it yields many properties which religions typically ascribe to
> It has no definitive physical location, no associated mass or energy. In
a sense, it is immaterial.
> Moreover, none of the states of an abstract computation bear any
dependence on physical properties, so in this sense it might also be called

I’m not sure this is incorrect or just potentially misleading. By “the
computational theory of mind” I take it that you mean some form of
functionalism. According to that view, it is correct to say that “the
conscious state must be identified not with any particular physical
manifestation (body)”. However, I get uncomfortable when you go on to say
it “yields many properties which religions typically ascribe to souls”,
including immateriality and “non-physical” and having no dependence on
physical states or energy. This is a Moravecian view but it’s not a
functionalist view – or might not be depending on how you mean it.

In a functionalist/computational theory of mind, any *instance* of
mental/cognitive state is instantiated in a physical system, which consists
of energy (always in the form on matter, at least so far). Souls, as
traditionally understood, have NO physical instantiation. There is a big
difference between Christians who believe their souls will be to Heaven
after death and those who believe they will be physically resurrected. The
latter actually do not believe in a soul. Their bodies and brains could be
reconstituted from entirely new atoms. If God was feeling creative,
He/it/they might even use a completely different chemical basis for the
resurrected people.

In other words, mental states cannot exist purely abstractly. Nor can
functioning minds exist simply as static data. Only once that data has been
embodied in a functioning system can mental statues restart.

I’m not sure you will disagree with this but the way you state it makes it
sound like you a dualist. I’m constantly correcting those who call
transhumanist dualists. (At least, substance dualists. Property dualism is

> It can survive the death of the body (just as a story can survive the
death of a book containing it), and be resurrected into new bodies via a
transfer of this "immaterial" pattern, e.g. mind uploading.

There is no “transfer”. There is a reinstantiation. Information is
transferred, yes, but the non-functional, static information is not a
consciousness. There’s a sense in which we can loosely say there is a
transfer, but it’s likely to be misleading. Hence all the mistaken
“transhumanists are dualists” statements. An “immaterial pattern” is not a
functioning mind until it has a suitable embodiment.

> One's consciousness (or "soul"), not being tied to any physical
incarnation or material properties of this universe, can then also be
realized in wholly different universes having very different laws.

I would amend that to “not being tired to any *specific* physical

> If denial of the soul is a reason you have rejected the computational
theory of mind, you should know this theory might be the support science
offers for the idea of the soul.

The soul is usually understood as a non-physical substance. That is very
different from a mind understood from the computational/functionalist
perspective. The soul explains nothing. It’s a useless hypothesis. It fails
to even begin to explain why alcohol makes you drunk or why head injuries
may cause loss of memory, blindness, or change in personality. The
functionalist view, seeing the mind as instantiated in a physical system
(currently the brain) can explain these and other things.

> If what you are is that organization of information that has structured
your body's control system

I’m much more comfortable with this way of putting it, because it doesn’t
imply that mind or personality can exist without *any* embodiment.

> There is actually an astonishing similarity between the
mind-as-computer-program idea and the medieval Christian idea of the
?soul.? Both are fundamentally ?immaterial?
> -- Frank Tipler in "The Physics of Immortality" (1994)

Now I’m uncomfortable again! The David Darling quote also suggests a
conflation of dualism with functionalism.

Moravec’s view has long bothered me. When I pressed him on it, he said that
he believed every mind already exists everywhere because you could see it
with the right mathematical interpretation. Yikes!

Bostrom: “> Recent cosmological data indicate that our universe is quite
likely infinite and contains an infinite number of galaxies and planets.”

I admit than I’m not terribly current on cosmology but this isn’t what I
understand. The universe appears to be expanding without limit but is not
infinite in extent. Unless we can reignite a physical singularity, there is
not an infinite amount of energy or matter.


Max More, PhD
Director of Communications
Biostasis Technologies
Editor, *The transhumanist Reader*
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