Natalie Solent

Politics, news, libertarianism, Science Fiction, religion, sewing. You got a problem, bud? I like sewing.

E-mail: nataliesolent-at-aol-dot-com (I assume it's OK to quote senders by name.)

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Jane's Blogosphere: blogtrack for Natalie Solent.


( 'Nother Solent is this blog's good twin. Same words, searchable archives, RSS feed. Provided by a benefactor, to whom thanks.
I also sometimes write for Samizdata and Biased BBC.)

The Old Comrades:

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Thursday, August 10, 2006
Carbon dating reveals that these two emails (both referring to this post) date from what we bloggers call the Plasticine Era. Scientists think they may be as much as a week old.

Squander Two writes:

I hope you're enjoying your sewing.
Yes! I am going to right an honest to goodness sewing post Real Soon Sometime - NS

One of my old philosophy lecturers told us that there are broadly two schools of philosophy: there are philosophers who own dogs, who hold that dogs have souls, and there are philosophers who do not own dogs, who hold that dogs do not have souls.

Extrapolated, this remains probably the best system of philosophical analysis I have ever come across.


And JEM writes:
Ae you serious about the Poor Man's Turing Test for Souls? Any computer, or even an iPod or mobile phone say, could be programmed
(well, that's far too grand a word for it really) quickly and easily to ask if it has a soul, and there is probably more processing power in a little amoeba than your typical iPod. Ah but, I hear you say, the iPod is simply repeating what it has been set up to ask; it is not conscious -- self-aware if you like. And yes, I for one think consciousness is the true test of 'soulfullness', not the ability to ask a question.
I took it as axiomatic (translation, I assumed without saying) that by "ask" I meant really ask, ask oneself, ask with a sincere desire to know. Perhaps I should have said "worry." - NS

(You may say the iPod can ask, but cannot hear the answer. True, but that was a qualification you did not make. But with that qualification added... well.. as Francis Bacon wrote in his essay On Truth, "'What is truth?' said jesting Pilate; and would not stay for an answer." So would Pilate have had a soul if he had asked the 'soul' question instead on this occasion?)

Perhaps, but how do you know that another human being -- or any other entity for that matter -- is conscious or not? Only by the external evidence: that is all we can ever have. But as the simplistic example of the iPod demonstrates, that is not good enough. Yet we cannot better it.

If it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck... it still may not really be a duck.

As for CS Lewis, I think I could handle a debate on his Christian apologetic arguments, although I am now really quite rusty. In my childhood I was encouraged to read The Chronicles of Narnia, Out of the Silent Planet, etc., and found them tedious. Later my father, who was a minister of the Kirk (yes, I'm a son of the manse just like Gordon Brown... in fact his father and mine were near neighbours at one point and knew each other. Sorry about that.) persuaded me to read The Problem of Pain, Mere Christianity, The Screwtape letters, and so forth. I found his arguments unconvincing and my father and I debated them late into many an evening. Eventually I began to suspect that he also found CS Lewis less than convincing, although he never admitted it. The question of pain was an interesting one, especially since this has been the subject of theological debate for hundreds of years in connection with Christ's suffering on the Cross, and then thrown into confusion by the development of effective anaesthetics. Even before that, there is the case of James Esdaile, surgeon with the East India Company and incidentally another son of the manse, who used hypnotism to perform pain free surgery almost two hundred years ago.

But CS Lewis was about the only time my father ever tried to influence me religiously. He was also a geologist, and that was far more interesting -- for both of us.

Incidentally, this book (I had better say that I know the author) on the history of chloroform argues that the extent to which Christian thinking on pain was thrown into confusion by the discovery of anasthetics has often been exaggerated, partly the result of the "get your retaliation in first" pamphlet arguing against any and all possible religious objections written by the irrepressible pioneer of chloroform, Sir James Young Simpson.* I said more in this old Samizdata comment.

*Incidentally to my incidentally, I have only with difficulty stopped myself from digressing even further on the character of this bombastic, quarrelsome and really rather wonderful man. At the risk certainty of causing offense, compared to him three quarters of modern Scotsmen and nine tenths of modern doctors are not so much anaesthetized as walking around dead.