Atheism Mind

Soul Time: Well, it must be, because we are hearing from the New Humanists again

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(Who were the old Humanists, by the way? Anyone know?)

In “Natural history of the soul”, Caspar Melville profiles “the man who thinks that spirituality is essential to consciousness, and science can tell us why.”

That would be Nicholas Humphrey, an evolutionary psychologist and author of Soul Dust: The Magic of Consciousness who

claims to have solved two fairly large intellectual conundrums. One is something of a technical matter, about which you may have thought little or not at all, unless you happen to be a philosopher. This is the so-called “hard problem” of consciousness. The problem is how an entity which is apparently immaterial like the human consciousness – it exists, but you can’t locate it, much less measure it – can have arisen from something purely physical, like the arrangement of cells that make up the human body. The second problem Humphrey claims he has solved is a rather more everyday one, about which you may well have puzzled yourself. This is the problem of the soul. Does it exist? What sort of a thing might it be? Does everyone have one, even atheists? (Volume 126 Issue 2 March/April 2011)

I’ve often wondered why just anyone who claims to have solved two hard problems in one book is accorded a lot of acceptance and respect. But credulity could have something to do with it.

Anyway, we buzzes of neurons learn,

… Humphrey argues that in principle it should be possible for science to theorise what consciousness is, because it has been “seen” by natural selection. If we have it, the evolutionary logic goes, then it must in some way be useful, or at minimum a by-product of something that is useful, to have survived and in fact have flourished in humans. If natural selection can “see” the “physical basis” of consciousness in order to prefer it, then so, if we can develop the right conceptual armoury (something he acknowledges he has not fully achieved), can we. “Everything suggests,” Humphrey says, “that consciousness in all its glory has been designed, preferred through natural selection and amplified by evolution.” 

Actually, nothing suggests that, and it sounds as if Humphrey hasn’t solved anything, except how to get an invite to address new humanist book clubs. And have his book made compulsory reading in tax- snd alumni- supported venues where no one dare say what I just did.

Hat tip: Stephanie West Allen at Brains on Purpose

4 Replies to “Soul Time: Well, it must be, because we are hearing from the New Humanists again

  1. 1
    Matteo says:

    Well, that’s just the problem. Natural selection has not “seen” consciousness at all. Natural selection can only “see” behavior, and can in no way distinguish between unconscious automatons, conscious-but-delusional, yet-saved-by-adaptive-behavior-anyway individuals, and conscious, non-delusional individuals.

    Moreover, since consciousness under materialist metaphysics cannot act as a separate cause over and beyond what mere physical interactions are accomplishing, it simply does not matter what sort–if any at all–of conscious experience accompanies behavior. If consciousness cannot really affect anything, then no reason can be given via reference to natural selection for why it should bother to exist.

  2. 2
    nullasalus says:

    Philosopher Galen Strawson savaged the book in the Guardian, suggesting there simply was no hard problem to solve,

    That’s a very deceptive way for the New Humanist to put Strawson’s position, at least without heavy qualification. Strawson also calls himself a materialist, but what he means by “materialism” is something radically different from most materialists.

    Strawson thinks that because he thinks the modern conception of matter is dead wrong, and that consciousness is fundamental to all matter. Thomists and other such thinkers also agree that there ‘is no hard problem of consciousness’ for similar reasons (Not that they’re panpsychists, but because they locate the problem with the modern conception of matter.)

    I notice with interest that Mary Midgley makes the same point in her review (which I didn’t expect.)

    That said, all three of the reviews – Midgley’s, Strawson’s, and even Melville’s – make this book seem downright funny. Apparently the solution to the hard problem of consciousness is defining consciousness in terms of physical actions (behaving like this or that), insisting that anything that can be selected for must be purely physical, insisting that consciousness (since it is these and those actions) was seen by selection.. and calling all this a solution. Wow.

  3. 3
    GilDodgen says:

    As many UD readers know, for many years I was involved in artificial-intelligence research.

    One of my mentors, who is a materialist and eventually solved the game of checkers computationally, once sent me his first book to edit. I found one extremely interesting comment in that book about how he had some reservations that his new daughter could have been cobbled together by Darwinian mechanisms.

    In recent correspondence I reminded him about that comment, and told him about my involvement in the ID movement. His response was that we must agree to disagree.

    In my estimation he experienced a flicker of insight into what is actually going on, but that tiny flame was somehow extinguished by the academic, secular, materialistic environment in which he has spent almost his entire life.

    How sad.

  4. 4
    bornagain77 says:

    GilDodgen, that ‘new daughter’ reminded me of this song;

    Heaven – LIVE (live)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kFX7sn09gQ0

    also Gil, I think you may really appreciate this;

    From Atheism to Theism In Reverse
    http://www.godtube.com/watch/?v=9C2E1MNU

    as well as this;

    The most inspirational painting I’ve ever seen;

    Painting the Resurrection – Video
    http://www.godtube.com/watch/?v=KLLLZWNX

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