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Even if, by some miracle, materialist science accepted the empirical evidence for spirituality, it would quickly develop into a religion. Likely with quite a few denominations.
After all, religion is what happens when spirituality meets politics, and as long as humans have ego's, there will always be an elite power class that feels the need to control people and their behavior.

The empirical evidence for spiritual realities is wide open to interpretation, and I shudder to think of what some of these sociopathic political types would do with it. If death is perceived as not being a big deal, then...

Being a scientist by training I submit the evidence (NDE's, end of life experiences, reincarnation data from children, psychic phenomena, etc.) supports an otherworldly mind (God) which is the substrate of our own consciousness. He/we are not operating systems (in the traditional sense of bits and bytes) as proven mathematically and philosophically by Godel and Turing. I think therefore AI as created by us, as humans, is impossible using only silicon and software. It would have to be something else I think.

Hi Michael,

Great article. Here are some thoughts in response to it, and to your responses to it.

About minds requiring brains:

The situation is more complex than simply asserting that the mind can exist independently of the brain. Although the mind may require the physical brain only in order to interface with the physical world, the mind must function in some structure. After all, the mind itself has structure.

Much of the resistance to the idea that the mind can function independently of the brain may come from a perfectly reasonable source: an unwillingness to accept the idea that real phenomena can take place without any structure or embodiment at all, in some substanceless, inchoate state that nevertheless shows high levels of structure and function, as the human mind does.

This, I think, is why Swedenborg emphasized the "organic forms" of the mind. I don't think he was talking about the physical brain--at least, not in his later, theological writings. Rather, he was saying that the mind exists in a spiritual brain and body, without which it could have no existence. Or more broadly, no phenomenon, including consciousness, can have any existence without real structures in which it exists.

I agree with Nagel that current science cannot account for consciousness, and that some great advance will be needed in order to account for it. However, that advance will be to move beyond the exclusion of all non-physical realities and structures, and to accept the real existence of what is traditionally called spiritual reality. That is where the mind exists. And it exists in real structures that are even more complex and sophisticated than the physical body, because they are the model from which the physical body was created.

As someone who has worked in digital hardware design for years, I have thought the idea that logic circuits, or any other kind of circuit for that matter, could somehow "hold" your mind as completely stupid. Computers appear to be smart only because someone cleverly made them appear that way. They are not ever going to be an entity of any sort and could not design other computers smarter than themselves. They couldn't even design computers DUMBER that themselves. We are not smart enough to understand ourselves, let alone make something smarter than us.
BTW, thanks for the link and comments Michael!

David Gelernter 's ideas are good, but it do not convince me and he does not mention the psychic research, which is what interests me primarily.

Computationalism and psychic research are rarely discussed in the same article, as if the psychic research never existed, which seems to me a fatal mistake, but if we take seriously psi phenomena, then we have a strong reason to reject computationalism because if computationalism is true, then it seems that the mind can not exist without the brain, but psi phenomena suggest that the mind continues to exist after biological death, as NDEs, apparitions, mediumship and children who seem to remember past lives.

By other hand, it is possible that after the biological death the mind to run on another body unknown to modern scientifics, the long body, which could be an usually invisible body made ​​of a material unknown to modern physics, the ethereal body, or a network of all the bodies of the species, in this case the human species, so that it remains compatible with computationalism.

I agree that David Gerlernter makes an excellent case.

I think the case against materialism, or Kurzwell-style intelligent machines, is that consciousness is not actually a product of the material universe. The argument might be as follows:

The metaphysical tradition has it that certain aspects of existence are objectively unknowable: for instance,
God /the Creator/ Sustainer;
What breathes life into matter;
Conscious intent or will;

Knowledge of these is only ever subjective and immediate, not objective and mediate. Our self-awareness, for instance, is absolute and certain, not something we can ever doubt or calculate, so is inaccessible to science and logic. Our internal subjective feeling-states contain no objective information at all, which is why qualia are sometimes described by scientism’s champions as illusory.

If, as the metaphysic tradition suggests, our essential beingness comes from beyond the finite universe we know, it cannot be described while we are here in the body, using the body’s sense perceptions. There is no external standpoint from which we can get a perspective on it.

Brian Whitworth’s ideas are brilliant, and when he comes to describe what human beings are (in his forthcoming Chapter 5), it will be interesting to see how he handles the dualistic interaction of consciousness and matter.

Sort of OT, but I thought many here would find this interesting. This happened before the film critic Robert Ebert passed away. This is how his wife described it:

But the day before he passed away, he wrote me a note: "This is all an elaborate hoax." I asked him, "What's a hoax?" And he was talking about this world, this place. He said it was all an illusion. I thought he was just confused. But he was not confused. He wasn't visiting heaven, not the way we think of heaven. He described it as a vastness that you can't even imagine. It was a place where the past, present, and future were happening all at once.

Very interesting, Kathleen. Here's a slightly expanded excerpt:

The one thing people might be surprised about—Roger said that he didn't know if he could believe in God. He had his doubts. But toward the end, something really interesting happened. That week before Roger passed away, I would see him and he would talk about having visited this other place. I thought he was hallucinating. I thought they were giving him too much medication. But the day before he passed away, he wrote me a note: "This is all an elaborate hoax." I asked him, "What's a hoax?" And he was talking about this world, this place. He said it was all an illusion. I thought he was just confused. But he was not confused. He wasn't visiting heaven, not the way we think of heaven. He described it as a vastness that you can't even imagine. It was a place where the past, present, and future were happening all at once.

It's hard to put it into words. I just loved him. I loved him so much, I think I thought he was invincible. To tell you the truth, I'm still waiting for things to unfold. I have this feeling that we're not finished. Roger's not finished. To me, Roger was magic. He was just magic. And I still feel that magic. I talk to him, and he talks back.

I could share with ya'll several quotes from NDE's that I've read that say exactly the same thing as what Roger Ebert said. I would have to go looking for them but they are essentially the same exact thing. And, that is exactly the same thing that the holographic universe theory says about our Universe.

I have my own theory as to "why" we live in a universe that is an illusion. It's because the Creator doesn't want us to hurt ourselves. He created a Universe where we could learn what it is we need to learn without really doing any harm to one another.

When people ask or say to you, "if there is a God then why does he allow so much evil and pain and suffering in this life?" The answer is that the pain and suffering is necessary for us to remember (evoke enough emotion) what it was we came here to learn. The more emotional our experiences are, the more we will remember them.

But the beautiful thing is that after we cross back over into the Spiritual Universe we will look back on our time here like it was a dream or an illusion and we will forget the pain and suffering. The only thing that we will remember is the love that we shared. The things that we loved, that is what we will remember.


I struggle over and over again with the concept which you put forward above - the notion, common in contemporary spiritual literature, that pain an suffering are important for us to 'remember why we're here'.

Where all this falls down for me is in the 'suffering of the innocents' - babies and animals. Adult humans can go off-track in their lives, so maybe the universe, IF it is a simulated reality (a la Brian Whitworth) is programmed to throw these people a few wake-up calls in the form of pain and suffering.

But infants and animals also suffer, and they have made no 'mistakes' in their lives, they are just living by instinct. What is the possible positive role of suffering for these innocents?

For me, every 'spiritual' book I've read which tries to present suffering as a teaching tool, founders on this particular rock.

If you, Art, or any other contributor, could come up with a satisfying explanation for this I'd be very interested.

I'm not so sure the "Creator" -provided there is one, not some crazy toddler who found the Creators laptop or tablet left on,
I don't think love was at the top of his list for this universe,
The more I think about it, the more convinced I am the "Creator" is insane.
Think about this, for millions of years -just on this planet- creatures ripped and eviscerated each other, growing larger with rows of razor sharp teeth and claws like daggers from land to the sea, only the most vicious violent creatures ruled, while prey pumped out gazillions of babys only to be ripped to shreds in a flurry of blood & screams... & don't get me started on the insect world -injecting eggs into the bellys of prey so your children can eat their way out... no love is not the first thing that comes to mind. Its almost as if pain is the drug of choice the "creator" was/is creating...

I don't know about you but sometimes I get a chill down my spine & think why the hell wouldn't a creator who loves to create brutal worlds like ours not have a lake of fire to walk along the banks at night and listen to the screams. I know that sounds awful.. sigh but its something I can't get out of my mind.

Marty's comment reminds me of an old quip by Harlan Ellison, who was discussing Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek. He said Roddenberry had only one basic story idea, which he used half a dozen times with minor variations: the Enterprise travels to the end of the universe and finds God, who turns out to be a) insane, b) a child, or c) an insane child.

Nothing evokes emotion in us like babies and children. There is a close connection between emotion and memory. We remember the things that are the most emotional in our lives.

I remember reading an NDE one time where the woman said that we here in the physical universe can't begin to understand the feelings of oneness and connectedness in heaven. It has to do with the nature of a hologram, or a holographic piece of film. In a holographic piece of film everything interpenetrates everything, everything is infinitely interconnected with everything else, and each piece contains the whole. That is a description of what heaven is like; or how near death experiencers describe heaven.

Because of this interconnectedness all information in heaven is shared. So everything that I am learning and you are learning while here on this side, the holographic projection, will be shared on the other side. These records or information are sometimes called the Akashic records or the collective unconscious. It is a record of "all that is." Because of this I will know what it was to be you and you will know what it was to be me.

So, when a little baby dies or suffers the parent and loved ones of those children experience incredibly anguish, and because of that anguish they imprint tons of information on that collective consciousness. Enough information to overcome those feelings of oneness and connectedness in heaven.

This life has to be the way it is in order to overcome the physics of the other side. Enough emotion has to be generated so we don't forget. Enough information so that we don't just merge back into a big pile of mush. Like a cylinder full of gas that fills the entire space without anything else existing there. So that we don't forget what it was to be a separate, unique individual, or what time and space felt like, or what it meant or felt like to live in a 3 dimensional + 1 time universe.

And by the way everything is happening all at once. It is only our consciousness that tricks us into believing it is happening sequentially. In actuality past, present, and future all exist together.

This Earth life is just a school, a very quick and temporary one that we come to learn a few simple lessons before merging back into that original holographic oneness that we call heaven.

What was it that Arthur Schopenhauer said if you think the joy in the world outweighs the pain a match and one animal eating the other, which is greater the pain of the animal eaten of the joy of the animal eating.
Pessimism have been around for a long time as a philosophy and I think Ray Kurzweil and all the other physicalists and ontological reductionists,are essentially philosophical pessimists.

The author did not keep up with the latest trends in philosophy and philosophy is is trendy as high fashion. This simplistic mind is the brain arguments of the Eliminative materialists such as Daniel Dennett, Pamela and Paul Churchland are no longer the cutting edge of a loss to the mind, the more like a greasy handle of the knife.
We have now advanced into the age of quantum biology and the evidence is overwhelming that there are quantum effects governing party if not all of the mental process. Of course when you get into the quantum arena traditional physics and it's reductionism fails miserably.

Now this has ramifications not only for philosophy of mind but for neo Darwinism in general because it implies that there may be other forces and natural selection driving evolution. As Thomas Kuhn elucidated so clearly the death of an oral paradigm comes only with screaming and wailing and gnashing of teeth.

The mythology some of neuroscience happen pretty well be constructed by many people including position Raymond Callas in his book Aping Mankind Darwinitis and nueromania. Of course Thomas Nagel nailed it down pretty thoroughly. Even when Daniel Dennett's book was at its height it was ridiculed by much of the philosophy community As Consciousness Explained Away.

In the tunnel vision of western thought it seems there is only two alternatives for the exclamation of life one is neo Darwinism and the other is a create or in the Judeo-Christian image.
This reminds me of current politics where you have to choose between the white self loathing liberals and professional on civil rights educators and their thinly-disguised Marxism or the I want to live in 1776 rape and pillage capitalist, let the poor starve, if they were in a state of grace and would be rich.

Great post and analysis, Michael.

I would say the author is also incorrect in asserting that subjective states are accessible solely by one person, the original experiencer. In fact, psi lets us experience others' subjective states to varying degrees. (I also think that simple communication allows us access to others' subjective states.

I respect Kurzweil for some of the stuff he's done, but his current ideas are a joke. I was reading an article on Moore's Law recently, and in the comments someone straightfacedly asserted his belief that processing power would be this totally absurd number by 2045. In fact, Moore's law is either dead or about to die:

The really dumb thing about the Kurzweil believers is that they think that, granted enough processing power, strong AI will just kinda sorta appear somehow. Nothing could be further from the truth.

We are no closer to creating strong AI than we were, well, ever. As a translator, I know the current state of machine translation: completely atrocious. I also know for a fact that replacing translators with machines will be *absolutely impossible* until strong AI is developed. But the issue is absolutely not processing power. The issue is that nobody knows how to write the software (for either strong AI or even just mediocre translating software).

To give an example of what would require strong AI, how do you handle mistakes in the text? A machine that has no way of *understanding* the text has no way of correcting them.

Is strong AI possible at all? My guess is that it is not possible via creating a machine; it might be possible via creating artificial life. And it may not be possible to create artificial life.

If we look at spiritual reality as well, strong AI may be superfluous. Based on my studies, higher-dimensional beings already seem vastly more intelligent than any theoretical computer. They likely possess computational omniscience anyway; that is, they can simply "see" the answer to any NP-complete problem (this may become possible for us as well with quantum computers).

The whole AI thing is based on analogy as opposed to true science. I.E. Brains have neurons, synapses and electrochemical impulses that make connections along the neural path ways. Gee, that looks a lot like the way computer circuitry works. Ergo a brain is like a computer and vice versa and, of course, consciousness is created in the brain.

But here we have consciousness without the brain's "circuitry".

The "brain is like a computer" crowd should have to take bacteria into account in their theory of consciousness, but they ignore the whole area.

This link is better re; intelligence of bacteria:

In answer to Marty's viewpoint: most living creatures, most of the time, are alive long enough to reproduce (or, obviously, the species wouldn't stay around). If we assume they are conscious (and otherwise talking about their suffering is meaningless), and we accept that consciousness is pleasure unless turned into pain, then the history of life on earth is by and large a history of life experiencing itself in an extraordinary variety of pleasures.

That may seem glib, but it's only as glib as describing the history of life on earth as endless suffering. To go further, most spiritual traditions at their most contemplative, and generally the evidence from phenomena like NDEs, point pretty clearly to the idea that we don't know the bigger picture and the way we see things now is hopelessly limited. The full reality is mind blowingly beautiful, everyone who's bothered to try and experience it in some way seems to agree.

As for the idea that machines might become conscious, Matt is dead right. It's obviously impossible. What is little understood in fields like computing is that *understanding* is a mystery. Consciousness is discussed endlessly, but understanding less so. Understanding is about experiencing meaning. Searle talks about this with his Chinese room argument and Matt's mention of translation is illuminating. But what does it mean to understand? It goes deeper than language and it cannot be reduced to something more basic. Understanding is understanding. But what is it?

In my experience, the harder you try and understand what it is to be a perceiving self - for example by going deep into your consciousness - the weirder it seems. Ultimately I think - and I don't know how to turn this into a strong logical argument - the fact we are conscious beings, experiencing meaning and having understanding, is pure proof of Ultimate Purpose, or God if you like. It's pure proof that this cannot possibly be a random accidental universe. It's also proof that reality is personal.

Probably relevant:

"In one of the most accurate simulations of the human brain to date, a Japanese supercomputer modeled one second of one percent of human brain activity, a task that took 40 minutes ...

"The simulation was carried out by Japan's K computer, the world's fourth most powerful supercomputer, and replicated a network consisting of 1.73 billion neurons."

Note that this was a simulation of one second of just *one percent* of brain activity. The processing power of the brain is truly astonishing.

"the fact we are conscious beings, experiencing meaning and having understanding, is pure proof of Ultimate Purpose, or God if you like. It's pure proof that this cannot possibly be a random accidental universe." - Piers

Thank you Piers. I understood it. That was beautiful.

Here are some more data points for you, guys.

I worked in the semiconductor industry, actually, from 2002-2004. I worked at a company in Japan that makes dicing saws, grinders, and polishers. Stuff that makes silicon wafers and other substrates into what chip makers need them to be. (You hold a 300 mm wafer full of Intel Pentium chips, and you're holding about $250k in your hands--pretty amazing!)

I looked through regular light microscopes a *lot* when I worked in the applications lab for 6 months as part of my training. Doing so, I learned how small things work--and what it means for things to be small in the first place. And one thing I learned is that small things really aren't all that small!

A micrometer or micron is 1/1,000 of a millimeter--but that isn't all that small. For example, a typical goal would be to get "chipping" (the depth of the jagged edge on a semiconductor) less than 10 µm, which looks pretty *big* through the microscope.

And then a brain cell is *really* big: "They vary in size from 4 microns (.004 mm) to 100 microns (.1 mm) in diameter."

Visible light is in the range of 0.38-0.75 µm (i.e., 380 to 750 nanometers). So even the wavelength of the light we can see isn't all that small. When you're looking through a light microscope, a micron looks pretty big, and the smallest wavelength of visible light is a significant fraction of that.

So now they are putting devices on chips that are 14 nm in size:

These are far below the smallest wavelength of light in size and can only be viewed through an electron microscope.

Compare brain neurons: *mammoth* in comparison to these devices, yet, as Michael pointed out, the computational power of the brain dwarfs that of any computer. How is it even possible that these big clunky neurons can even do that? The reality is that the brain probably does not rely on neurons as discrete units analogous to chip devices (transistors, diodes, etc.) but instead uses quantum effects. It also doesn't use digital algorithms to process data (pace Michael, who thinks that the Universe comes down to 1s and 0s, which I think is easy to prove false through a simple argument: fundamental processing in terms of 1s and 0s would require a "meta" understanding of the 1s and 0s, i.e., something that would register the duality of on/off, etc., that could not itself be based in that duality; QED, I think!).

14 nm devices are small, but far from mind-boggling small; a nanometer after all is just 1/1,000 of a distance, the micrometer, that is easily seen and related to an intelligible object (i.e., when you look at a chip through a light microscope, you can see the edge of the chip and it doesn't seem all *that* enlarged, and a micrometer seems to be a pretty big chunk of distance in what you're looking at; a nanometer is in turn an intelligible and far from mind-boggling fraction of *that* distance).

So nanometers are not really all that small, and yet we are about to approach the limit at which electrons will just fly right through the thin barriers of the devices. You *cannot* make the things any smaller at that point.

And that's the near future. I don't know about you, but I am not blown away by the power of computer chips these days. They are not all that much better than when I was working in the industry nearly 10 years ago. Oh sure, they're a *lot* better in terms of the technological triumphs that have been necessary to get the devices from 90 nm to 14 nm (per Wikipedia again). Our smartphones are great. But you flip your laptop open, and it pretty much does the same kind of stuff it did 10 years ago. A bit faster, with somewhat better graphics.

But we're going to come up with strong AI and the singularity by 2045? Uh huh, sure.

Hi Michael,

Great article. As a computer scientist one of the first things I learned in college is how utterly STUPID computers are. For them to function at all, someone must ALWAYS tell them what to do. And it always takes a computer programmer with a mind to write the set of instructions.

I also like what you said about "the computational view of the mind" perhaps being "combated most effectively by looking at the space-time universe itself as the product of information processing." In computer science terms, a good analogy of what you're refering to is called "cloud computing." Instead of information being processed on your local PC, your information can be uploaded to the Internet (for example) to be processed on a remote computer with the result downloaded to your PC. This "nonlocal" remote processing of information is what cloud computing is all about. This analogy - as it refers to the mind/brain interface - is that the brain (your local PC) has a nonlocal component ("cloud component") which survives the death of the body (the destruction of your PC.) NDEs and related phenomena strongly support the hypothesis that consciousness is not entirely localized in the brain. Google: "Holonomic Brain Theory"

But we can then take this analogy even further by introducing the analogy of "quantum cloud computing." If we assume we are living in a "Holographic Universe" (which is becoming more of a scientific fact these days - Google it) then all the quantum information (i.e., thought patterns) of which our fractal, holographic minds are made of - can, in theory - also be stored in our Holographic Universe. According to a corresponding quantum theory, all quantum information in the universe - including minds - are "painted" as 2-dimensional interference patterns on the edge of the event horizon of the black hole projecting our 3-dimensional universe. This theory is called the "Holographic Principle" (Google it) and it is gaining an impressive amount of scientific support. When applied to holographic (or holonomic) minds in a Holographic Universe, this Principle can be viewed in terms of computer science and the mind/brain interface as "Quantum Mind Cloud Computing". Google "Quantum Consciousness" for more info on this.

If our consciousness does indeed have a nonlocal component, then this explains how consciousness is able to separate from the brain and exist independently of it at death. It also permits all subjective experiences of the brain to be viewed as objective experiences in a conscious universe.

"If our consciousness does indeed have a nonlocal component, then this explains how consciousness is able to separate from the brain and exist independently of it at death. It also permits all subjective experiences of the brain to be viewed as objective experiences in a conscious universe." - Kevin Williams

Wow! I'm grinning like a Cheshire Cat! Thank you Kevin. Well stated. Especially all the references and allusions to the holographic universe - which I'm fairly certain is "true" - because a plethora of NDE's I've read also allude to the holographic nature of our universe. I'm going to copy and paste it into a Word file so I can refer back to it when I need to. Good stuff! I often wonder why other people can't see it and realize how evidential it is? I find it mind boggling.

It sure would be nice if some modern scientifically minded disembodied spirit would just explain the mind/brain connection. Even if that meant using a technological analogy we can understand.

Wow, Keven, great post, I love the cloud computing analogy!

It's interesting too that a lot of great writers, artists, scientists, etc. have said they received their inspiration from "somewhere else." I've often felt like this myself (not that I'm a great artist), even to the extent that when someone complimented me on my work, I felt like I almost didn't deserve it, because it felt like it came from somewhere else, not me - the ideas just sort of "popped" into my head.

I've experienced that "somewhere" else inspiration phenomena too Kathleen. I used to supervise 13 people who took care of animals at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine. There were a lot of rules and regulations about how animals could be housed and sometimes I would just run out of room. I would be so frustrated and at night I'd just sit and think about it and didn't know how or where I was going to house the animals coming in. Then I'd go to sleep and it was so weird because oftentimes I'd wake up and it would be like the answer to my problem was downloaded into my head. I didn't know how the answer got there but it would appear fully formed in my head when I woke up! It happened to me several times. Like someone was watching out for me. It was wonderful!

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