X-Message-Number: 11041
From: Thomas Donaldson <>
Subject: For Michael Schepps: souls, selves, and immateriality
Date: Wed, 6 Jan 1999 22:52:36 +1100 (EST)

Hi everyone:

To Michael Schepps:
For what it's worth, I think that the concept of a "soul" remains useful,
but my version of a "soul" may not be very satisfying for you.

Basically your soul consists of the information in your brain which makes
you You. That information may be of several kinds, not just your memories
but also your habits, your desires, and your feelings in response to
various events, too. But all of this is information.

The thing about information is that it is not material. Books containing
it may be destroyed without destroying the information they contain. The
one difference between your soul, and the information (say) in the
Encyclopedia Britannica, is that your brain now holds the only existent
version of you, and we presently have no way to recreate you without
that information ie. we do not have a separate copy, like we have many
copies of the Encyclopedia Britannica. We don't even know how to read off
that information from your brain (though we are slowly moving towards
a state in which we might). However, just because we have only one example
of You, and no way to create another, the information which is you does 
not become any more material than any other kind of information.

Why do I prefer "soul" to "self"? Because the notion of self brings with
it extra baggage: if you have a particular way of scratching your head,
that way is some of the information which makes up your soul, but some
would question whether it is really part of your self. 

Naturally with cryonic suspension we are using the best way available to
preserve your soul. And we know that current methods will probably 
involve some loss. At the same time, the aim is to make the loss small
enough that the soul which results is close enough for us to say that
we have preserved all that ESSENTIAL to you ie. your self.

As you can guess, if your brain is completely destroyed, then I would
say that your soul has been destroyed also. It is not destroyed because
it is a material thing, but only because you are the only example of
yourself in existence: just as in classical times, before printing,
books could be completely lost by the loss of all existing copies.
And someday, as in some myths, we may develop other ways to save our
souls, keeping duplicates in places other than our brain. That would
mean, again, that we had worked out a way to keep our souls even after
complete destruction of our bodies. But that day may take some time,
and will certainly take longer than the expected lifespan of anyone
now living, even infants born today. (I do not believe that finding such
methods provides the best strategy we have towards making ourselves
immortal --- there is too much that needs doing, and too little time
to do it).

So that's my notion of souls. And yes, everyone has a soul. It is separate
from your body in one sense only: that as information it is something
nonmaterial impressed upon your body. Destroying your body will also
(at present) destroy your soul. Cryonics is presently our best available
means to preserve your soul, even though we do expect some loss. 

Some further comments: One strategy some have suggested is that of trying
to record everything (external) about someone. This is indirect and hardly
as good as actually preserving their brain. Not only do such records fail
to match the information in your brain because you forget a lot of what
happens to you, but also they don't take account of what you are thinking
all the time, nor of what you are feeling. I am skeptical that they
could preserve enough to retain your Self (the essential parts of your
soul) for just those reasons.

			Best and long long life for all,

				Thomas Donaldson

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