Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

To Philosophy/What is a Person

  1. Oct 28, 2008 #1
    At one time the general view was that people had souls, which, when they died went to heaven or hell, or else were reborn. The soul was considered the essential core of what a person was. This idea is perhaps less fashionable now, but it forms the basis of most religious beliefs. This belief in the separation of mind and body is known today as dualism.Current scientific thought tends toward the alternate view: monism. Bodies are viewed as complex biological entities responsible for all behaviors and thought processes they express. Since no scientific evidence for a soul exists, only the physical entity remains for consideration. To say that X now and Y then are the same person is to say that there is bodily spatio-temporal continuity between them.
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 28, 2008 #2


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    I'm a non-religious dualist, but nevertheless adhering to materialist behaviourism. So it is not so much a dichotomy of "religious dualists vs. scientific monists".
    It is that the scientific method is, by definition, limited to behaviourism. As such, it doesn't say much about whether or not dualism makes sense or monism makes sense. Of course, a form of dualism which would interfere with behaviorism would give a problem for science.
  4. Oct 28, 2008 #3
    I think you're over-simplifying the range of possibilities. Some native American groups considered humans to each have four of what might be called a "soul" in English. In Islam they speak of the nafs and the rūḥ, two different personal essences that each are sometimes translated as "soul".
  5. Oct 28, 2008 #4
    You are all wrong... the real question is will a dualist allow to be teleported. Teleportation is coming and this will be the hot issue of the day. How would a believer in the existence of the soul, allow his body to destroyed, turned to 0's and 1's and recreated at another location? Where would the soul go? I don't believe in the soul, but this will be a BIG issue for some. Will the teleported you be the same you as you?
  6. Oct 29, 2008 #5


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    That's the big question. It is essential in the Many Worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics: the distinction between "you" and the material manifestation of "you" (your body), because in MWI, the material manifestation of "you" corresponds to miriads of body states, and one of them is "you", while the others are "other you's".

    It is a question that cannot be answered by a behaviorist approach.
  7. Oct 29, 2008 #6


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Today's legalese suggests that a company is a person and has those rights of one individual. This affords the corporation the many rights of an individual such as 5th amendment rights, right to privacy etc.... so, if a company is using lead paint on its children's soothers the company has the right to plead the 5th, keep its production methods a secret etc.. until someone tests their product and prosecutes the company/person.
  8. Oct 29, 2008 #7
    The soul could be like a quantum mechanics global hidden variable, some quantity that is related to all the yous at once. (Depending, of course, on whether we're talking about the soul as simply being a mental-only copy of a person, or as some less definite essence of a person.)
  9. Oct 29, 2008 #8


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    I'm still wondering what the OP's "part two" spam post is going to be, or did they forget that they posted here?
  10. Oct 31, 2008 #9
    I agree with Francis Crick's "astonishing hypothesis" that the fabric of our subjective experience arises from physical processes in the brain. I certainly see no other reason, based on observation and the scientific method, to embrace any other dualistic position.

    Vanesch, is your reason for adhering to dualism just to resolve conceptual problems in MWI? If so, it would seem premature to alter worldviews based on interpretational issues at this stage of scientific progress...at this point it seems to be just an interpretation(albeit an interesting one) of a partial physical theory, and we have no way of knowing how applicable any of these interpretations will ultimately be to fundamental reality.
  11. Oct 31, 2008 #10

    What exactly is dualism supposed to mean in a universe where matter is simply a form of condensed energy? Where does the "material" stop and and where does the incorporeal take over? When the whole universe is just energy with no physical dimensions, what is a 3D object? A force field? Why would a field be much different to what we imagine the soul to be? I find the idea of infinte number of different souls of the same person in MWI downright ridiculous.

    So, atoms are condensed energy, a soul would probably be some form of energy as well(unless you accept the idea that certain things should not make sense to a human being) , where is dividing line? Mass?
    Last edited: Oct 31, 2008
  12. Oct 31, 2008 #11


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Since energy means "the ability to do work" I gather it is a physical property. So, you're right to question the idea of duality in a purely physical world. Anything "non-physical" will not show up in the perception of a physical entity such as a "person". Were this true, the stimulus that presents itself to a dualist would only be a result of physical processes in the dualist's brain.
  13. Oct 31, 2008 #12

    I have a different idea of physical - anything "physical"(3D) is defined by a field acting on another field, that's what QFT tells us. The atoms do not consist of real particles but of condensed energy(+ and -). When 2 solid objects touch, they do not really touch, but their fields repel, i.e. electron field repels other electron fields because negative charges repel. I have a hard time distinguishing incorporeal from corporeal, mass aside. It's our coarse human body that lets us see reality as what it appears to be, but the underlying reality is one of an ocean of energy. In this ocean of energy, a soul is hard to distinguish from a human existence, outside of the sensory apparatus of our human bodies. Simply put, reality is what our human bodies make out of it, not what the underlying reality actually is.
    Last edited: Oct 31, 2008
  14. Oct 31, 2008 #13


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    What is a soul? Hard to distinguish? You have proof of something called a soul and although it's difficult, you claim to be able to distinguish it from "human existence? What exactly do you mean by "human existence"?

    Please do not just throw words out because you think they sound good.

    Be sure you have read the Philosophy Guidelines. This will help you in forming arguments that are clear and understandable to all.

    Following these guidelines will keep the discussion meaningful.
    Last edited: Oct 31, 2008
  15. Oct 31, 2008 #14

    Given that mass and energy are equivalent, I think they are both rightfully granted equal physical status, and see no reason to think otherwise. I do not know how you arrived at the premise that a "soul" would be some form of energy...energy is interchangable with the obviously physical mass, and a soul would seem to me to necessitate some entity that indescribable by the known laws of physics. Anyway, this point is irrelevant, and I see no reason to believe in any non-physical entity when the current arrow of scientific progress is clearly pointing in the direction of cognitive processes leading to subjective experience, fully describable by physical means. A complete theory of conciousness is not yet complete, but we are seeing glimpses of it, just as we are seeing glimpses of a potential theory of everything in physics through our current partial theories.

    By the way, I do accept in principle, the idea that there are certain things that shouldn't make sense to a human being; this seems only reasonable given that our conceptual foundations and analytical/reasoning faculties are classically rooted, and evolved to help us accurately analyze and negotiate our environment, which consists of medium sized, classical, deterministic system moving at a small fraction of the speed of light. It makes evolutionary sense that these are the systems we are most suited to analyzing accurately. I trust the scientific method, and our ability to continue to gain knowledge of nature, but at the same time I think it is healthy to acknowledge our potential limitations. Because of this I am doubtful we will ever gain a satisfying understanding of certain issues that may lie outside our reasoning parameters(i.e. the nature of time, the foundations of quantum mechanics, etc.)
  16. Nov 1, 2008 #15

    In my previous post i stated:

    A soul is currently what we imagine it to be and i wasn't the one that started this thread on dualism(existence of the soul). There is no evidence that it exists, so we have to use imagination if we are to talk about it. And since the topic is about dualism, I can't see why you make it an issue that we are discussing what a soul could be, if it existed.

    In my next post, I said that our existence is based on condensed energy(atoms),and i don't think this statement requires proof on a physics forum. I gave my opinion that IF the soul existed, we'd have 2 options:

    1. A soul would be bound by certain laws, that we currently don't know, because we are still Civilisation type 0(as per the classification of prof.Michio Kaku) or

    2. If the soul existed, it'd be something that will never make sense to a human being because our logic follows certain rules like 2+2=4, not 2+2=5, 6/0 is impossible, etc.(you could cite all the laws of nature that we've found and that make sense to us).

    BTW, I recommend "physics of the impossible" by Michio Kaku, a truly good read on "impossible" physics.

    Looking at the issue from another angle, it's hard to distinguish our existence from an idea, a hologram, that's why i tried to compare it to the imaginary idea of the existence of the soul. Anyway you look at the issue of reality, you'll land on the conclusion that reality is a perception made possible by our human sensory apparatus. In that sense reality is implied and percieved in the same way that music is implied and perceived, as opposed to noise which the human brain cannot comprehend as information carrier. So when everything that makes up our reality is based on and is made up of energy, why is it illogical that if souls exited, they could be made of energy? Have we observed any other means of existence? Do you think we see the whole picture with our human sensory apparatus or with our current technologies? Science suggests that there might be deeper layers of realities that we might be unaware of - MWI, Einstein's belief in deeper layer of reality below QM that would explain the indeterminancy, etc. 150 years ago we had no idea of the quantum world, why would we think what we currently know is the full extent of what makes up our sense of reality? I suggest you have a look at the work of physicist Paul Davies(if you haven't done so):


    IMO any topic on dualism, souls, incorporeal... is bound to include speculation and speculation does not require evidence, but rational thinking. And this is the main issue - musings on the soul's existence requires more or less that common sense and rational thinking be thrown out the window.
    Last edited: Nov 1, 2008
  17. Nov 1, 2008 #16
    While mass and energy are interchangeable as per E=m.c^2, condensed energy as in electron, proton, neutron... has definite mass. But i would agree that IF the soul existed it wouldn't be bound by the known laws of physics, i never claimed otherwise. But you are not suggesting we have already uncovered ALL the laws of physics, right?

    Fair enough, i don't think what we currently know from science points in any way to the existence of souls but I keep an open mind. Abscense of evidence does not equal evidence of abscence.

    I agree that there are certain limits that will never be passed and there will always be that feeling of incomplete knowledge in humans. The mystery will likely never end due to those limitations. The ultimate truth of reality will likely never be revealed, but just inferred.
    Last edited: Nov 1, 2008
  18. Nov 3, 2008 #17
    What is a person?

    This is what a person is(the human recipe):

    Oxygen (65%)
    Carbon (18%)
    Hydrogen (10%)
    Nitrogen (3%)
    Calcium (1.5%)
    Phosphorus (1.0%)
    Potassium (0.35%)
    Sulfur (0.25%)
    Sodium (0.15%)
    Magnesium (0.05%)
    Copper, Zinc, Selenium, Molybdenum, Fluorine, Chlorine, Iodine, Manganese, Cobalt, Iron (0.70%)
    Lithium, Strontium, Aluminum, Silicon, Lead, Vanadium, Arsenic, Bromine (trace amounts)

    You could also view a person as a collection of positive and negative charges but that would be at quantum level.
  19. Nov 3, 2008 #18
    And of course, there are more non-dualist positions than mere behaviorism such as functionalism, non-reductive physicalism, emergentism and so on and so forth. Also, there are religious non-dualist positions as well, such as some versions of taoism or thelema.
  20. Nov 3, 2008 #19


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Gee, I don't know if this has been thought of before but.... we could just plug into a bunch of humans for energy..........:rolleyes:
  21. Nov 3, 2008 #20
    Or better yet, process them into some kind of food... soylent green, anyone?
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Have something to add?

Similar Discussions: To Philosophy/What is a Person
  1. What is philosophy? (Replies: 16)

  2. What is philosophy? (Replies: 4)