Along the lines of my previous post, I’m still trying to get my head around when Terri Schiavo’s soul departed her body, and am still trying to understand the thoughts of those who believe in souls.
Hans Moravec has postulated a thought experiment in which his brain is gradually replaced by a mechanical de-vice, one subunit at a time. After each component replacement, he’s asked if he still feels like himself. Presumably, if the answer is yes (and an assumption is made that he’s being truthful), then the next component is replaced, ad semi-infinitum, until there is no longer any meat left in his head, and he’s thinking entirely with hardware. At the end of the process, by definition, he still feels and thinks like Hans Moravec. So is he? Or is he a robot?
Now, this ignores the (perhaps large) degree to which thought processes and feelings are mediated by hormones–it simply assumes that there are some kind of sensors at the interface between the body and the mechanical mind that sense them and get the mind to respond the way the gray matter would have. Of course, one gets the sense that Moravec would prefer to have done with those unmanageable emotions anyway. Which is why he’d probably have replaced his body first, and gotten rid of all those yucky glands, before doing the brain upgrade.
But leaving that aside, the question is, does mechanical Hans still have a soul? Is he still made in God’s image? If not, and assuming that he did prior to the initiation of the procedure, at what point did it leave?
These are not just ethereal philosophical questions. They’re going to become theologically important to some people as technology continues to advance, and we become more cybernetic in the future. We’ve heard about gaining kingdoms at the price of one’s soul. Will there be some unwilling to undergo life-saving medical procedures, fearing such a stiff bill?
OK, now, let’s forget about the gradual replacement scenario. Suppose the functions are simply removed, and not replaced. This is in fact what happened, to some degree that remains in dispute, to Mrs. Schiavo. Getting back to my earlier question, suppose that her cortex was damaged to the point that she no longer had any awareness, of herself or others?
Well, remove it completely, but keep her breathing and her blood circulating. Keep her body healthy.
Now remove other parts of her brain, one by one, but all other organs remain functioning and healthy. Leave in the eyes, and provide nerve impulses to them so that they follow moving objects observed by external cameras, and cause her to emit random sounds with her mouth and lungs of seeming recognition at faces that would have been familiar to her prior to her tragedy. That is, remove the brain entirely, but have her behavior seem exactly the same as it appeared to be in reality.
Is that Terri Schiavo nee Schindler? Does that body still have her soul, or anyone’s? If not, during which excision did it depart for new premises? If so, if it’s a function of physiological functions of respiration and blood circulation, then what does that really mean in terms of today’s technology, that will soon be capable of keeping a brainless body alive, if it isn’t already?
To the degree that I understand the concept of the soul, I can’t believe that it is associated simply with a body, living or breathing. To the degree that I believe in souls, I think of it as a different word for “mind.”
That’s why I think that if I were someone who loved Terri, and I believed in souls, I’d comfort myself with the thought that hers perhaps departed long ago, and was observing in anguish from above throughout the whole circus, and that while effort to hold on to something of her was noble, her ultimate end was foreordained fifteen years ago. And at some level, I’d have to feel relief that the long nightmare was over for everybody.