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The Nine Point Five Theses

Deriving the existence of souls from an examination of human behavior, plus the fundamental physical reason why souls have to exist in the first place. These proofs rest on a foundation of coldly objective logic and reason. The reader is invited to use his/her own logic and reason to decide for himself/herself if they are correct and rigorous---or not. I guarantee you an interesting read.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

THE MURDER ON A BEACH THOUGHT EXPERIMENT: ON HAVING A SOUL

Believers, feel free to aggravate your non-believer friends with this little argument. Challenge them with this. Will they pull the trigger, or not?

THE MURDER ON A BEACH THOUGHT EXPERIMENT: ON HAVING A SOUL

by Jeffrey A. Corkern

It is my contention, gentle reader, that coldly logical examination---without any call to faith or religion, completely objective analysis---of human behavior reveals humans have souls. That they really, truly are spirits only temporarily enclosed in flesh, instead of flesh solely. I have developed a collection of arguments (that I have dubbed “The Nine Point Five Theses”) that attempt to prove this thesis by somewhat abstractly examining various aspects of human behavior and teasing out the assumption of eternal existence that lies at their bottom. I have then presented them in various forums for two reasons, the first being to show people souls are an entirely rational thing to believe in, and the second being an attempt to stimulate scientific experiments to detect souls.

Unfortunately, these theses haven’t had much impact. (Not always. The Nine Point Five Theses have rattled some VERY big cages.) You would think showing people by all odds really do have souls would cause MAJOR excitement, but by and large, that hasn’t been the case.

I suspect at least part of the problem is the abstractness. (And the other part is the people I presented my arguments to really didn’t want to hear they were wrong.) The strength of The Nine Point Five Theses, abstract thought, is also their weakness. Abstractness, cold unemotional analysis, is fundamentally not exciting. Abstractness doesn’t reach most people, and as a writer, I know that to truly reach people, on the PERSONAL level, you have to engage them as PERSONALLY as you can.

So, if my abstract arguments were not getting through---then I needed to develop something IMMEDIATE and PERSONAL. Something that would stun even the most convinced person into wondering whether or not he really did have a soul.

If I wanted to be as convincing as it was possible to be, I had a challenge. Could I come up with a HIGHLY SPECIFIC situation, a PERSONALLY INVOLVING situation, a scenario that would demonstrate beyond all possible doubt to the gentle reader (at least to those who possess the capacity for intellectual honesty) that he, personally, really and truly acts like he has a soul?

After considerable effort, the following refined thought experiment has evolved. I offer this experiment for you to participate in, gentle reader.

Do you, or do you not, act like you have a soul?

As always, gentle reader, I invite you to use your own capacity for logic and reason and decide for yourself whether or not I have succeeded in doing this.

You, gentle reader, MUST be the final judge.

Consider the following scenario:

You are standing on a deserted beach with a forty-five pistol in your hand, and you're BROKE AND STARVING, man, not a penny in the world. All you own is the clothes on your back and the gun in your hand.

You're not quite alone. Standing out in the surf, with his back to you, is the meanest man in the world, mean as a snake. This guy wouldn't care if the entire human race died. He wouldn’t even lift a finger to stop that from happening. NOBODY likes this guy. NOBODY would miss him or even think to go looking for him if he disappeared without a trace. NOBODY needs him. There will be ZERO consequences to society if this guy just ups and disappears. This guy is WORTHLESS, man.

(But one thing this guy ISN'T. He is NOT evil. He doesn't go around hurting people. He pays his taxes and he obeys all laws. He's just mean and worthless. So he does not DESERVE killing. There's NO moral justification for that here. )

He's got a briefcase in his hand.

In the briefcase is a million dollars. (Or whatever amount you think would be enough to make you happy for the rest of your life.)

You've already asked this jerk for money for food, and your face is still stinging from the back of his hand. (But don’t kid yourself into thinking you can kill this guy just because he slapped you, gentle reader. Would a judge let you off?) He's not going to do it. He's already told you he wouldn't give you a nickel even if it saved your life.

All you have to do is shoot this guy in the back of the head, throw the gun far out into the ocean, take his briefcase, and you'll be happy for the rest of your life.

And waddya know, the tide is going out. The body will wash out to sea, along with all the evidence, where it will never be found. The beach is totally deserted, not another human being for miles around. Nobody will ever know or will ever find out.

For the purpose of this thought experiment, gentle reader, you may assume your chance of getting away with this murder is EXACTLY one hundred per cent. There is NO cop standing there watching you. Justice will NEVER catch up to you.

And, for a kicker, not even YOU will know what you've done. You've got this pill in your pocket that will erase the last thirty minutes of your memory. So you will NOT feel, for the rest of your life, the slightest pang of guilt over what you've done. There will never, ever be, for the rest of your life, the slightest negative consequence. (This pill, by the way, works ONLY for you. It's tuned to your brain chemistry, and will have NO EFFECT on the mean guy. So robbing him and then forcing HIM to take the pill is not an option.)

So all you have to do is blow this worthless guy's brains out, throw the gun far out into the sea, take the briefcase, pop the pill, and POOF! Suddenly you're standing on a beach with a million dollars in your hands! I mean, you have no idea how you got the million dollars, but WEEEEEEEEE! YOU'RE RICH AND HAPPY FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE! Who cares if you can't remember the last thirty minutes?

Now what is your own, PERSONAL choice, gentle reader? Do you shoot the guy, take the money and the pill? And walk away rich?

Or not? Or do you drop the gun to the sand and just walk away? Broke and starving?

For maximum effect, please make your choice NOW, before reading the rest of this essay. (Note this is NOT a life-or-death situation for you. You can always walk to a soup kitchen or a homeless shelter, and they will give you something to eat and a place to stay.)

The fundamental question here is: Will you murder an innocent person for entirely selfish reasons, when it is COMPLETELY certain nobody will ever find out, and not even you will remember?

I have offered MANY people this choice, gentle reader. Believers, non-believers, skeptics, atheists, theists, the whole range of human religious belief and non-belief.

Despite this widely differing range of beliefs, they have all made EXACTLY the same choice. Without hesitation.

Not one has ever pulled the trigger. Or even come close to pulling the trigger.

NOT ONE.

What does this human action, this choice, this ABSOLUTE refusal to commit murder, imply, gentle reader? Is there a common idea we can deduce that explains why ALL these DIFFERENT people would make EXACTLY THE SAME choice?

Let's think about it.

How can we RATIONALIZE this choice? By that I mean how can we make this refusal to commit murder make sense in the SIMPLEST possible way, IN SCIENTIFIC TERMS? Be the SMART thing to do, in your self-interest?

In the SIMPLEST terms, (which is scientifically preferred) ONLY if there are negative consequences to the murderer. In the abstract (hard to get away from that), something that will eventually make you unhappy. From a scientific standpoint, that's the only thing that makes sense. Again from a scientific standpoint, there MUST be some way this choice you made IS IN YOUR SELF-INTEREST.

And it can't be just a little negative consequence, either. It would have to be one REALLY HUGE negative consequence, to so totally, completely out-weigh a lifetime of complete happiness that refusal to commit murder is done without a second's thought. (Which is what the observed behavior is.)

Except, well, there are NO negative consequences here! Not even tiny ones! No shred of guilt, NOTHING! It's not even remotely possible! ALL negative consequences have been eliminated! All the consequences can only be POSITIVE! So WHY did you make that choice? It's insane, man! Nothing's going to happen to you because you murdered that guy for the rest of your life!

For the rest of your life.

Hmph.

You're acting like there would be negative consequences anyway, aren't you. Like justice would get you anyway and there wouldn't be the slightest thing you could do to escape it.

Except it couldn't happen while you were alive. That possibility has been deliberately totally eliminated. ZERO negative consequences to you, ZERO negative consequences to society.

Okay, there is one thing in this situation----AND ONE THING ONLY---that would make the refusal to commit murder RATIONAL.

If the negative consequences can happen to you----AFTER YOU DIE.

If you SURVIVE the death of your physical body.

IF YOU HAVE A SOUL.

And some way, somehow, the negative consequences would find you THEN.

By way of making this as clear as possible, let us back off and come at this again from a simpler standpoint.

You know, there is one slight change we could make to the experiment where the question of WHY that particular choice is made would be easy as pie to understand. It would be immediately obvious, clear and easy to a six-year-old. I mean, right now the choice to not murder seems REALLY strange and hard to understand because there is every reason in the world to pull the trigger and not one reason not to.

What is that change?

Remember I said there was NO cop standing there watching you?

Let’s put one there. Watching YOU.

A great, big, mean, UGLY cop, with one hand on his gun and staring STRAIGHT AT YOU.

Now there’s NO problem understanding the choice to not murder!

You pull the trigger, or even try---you’re going to JAIL, man! For ten, twenty, THIRTY years! You might even be EXECUTED!

YOU’RE GOING TO BE PUNISHED!

(Oh, yeah, sure, try and shoot the cop. One guess who’s going to win the shoot-out. The trained, alert professional in his body armor, or the complete amateur? It’s a completely flat beach, right? No cover for miles. You’ll get one shot off at most. How unbelievably, incredibly stupid.

Which, by the way, is something VERY important to note. The cop’s presence can’t stop you from committing murder. It only makes it the STUPID thing to do.)

And NOW the simplest reason for that choice you made when the cop was NOT there is clear.

The simplest reason can only be---the SAME reason as before.

Because you’ll be punished for it. AFTER you die. And somewhere deep in your guts is the unconscious knowledge you WILL be punished. That justice is completely, totally inescapable, that you can NOT escape the consequences of your actions.

Although there is NO cop standing there watching you---you are ACTING like there is! And he can only bust you---AFTER you die!

The refusal to commit murder in this situation can only be rationalized by assuming you have a soul, and that you can't escape justice. And NOTHING else.

Let's ignore the inescapable-justice assumption and concentrate on ONE thing.

Gentle reader, you may believe you don't have a soul----but when we examine your actions, we discover YOU ACT LIKE YOU DO.

Right?

As always, gentle reader, you get to be the judge.

END

"AFTER THE AWAKENING"


105 Comments:

At 20/5/08 3:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe acting on your own morals is a rational choice that doesn't require possession of a soul.

You may choose to live by the principal that you wouldn't do something to someone else if you wouldn't want it done to you.

Which would stop you from murdering someone even if you knew you would not remember it. Because you wouldn't want someone else to do that to you.

 
At 11/7/08 8:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd shoot him. Thought experiment proven wrong, enjoy.

 
At 11/7/08 10:24 PM, Blogger Jeff said...

Pardon me, but you are misunderstanding this experiment. It is about what is rational or irrational to do under the two conditions of having a soul or NOT having a soul. There is no "right" or "wrong" outcome.

If you don't believe you have a soul, the RATIONAL thing to do is pull the trigger. You clearly don't believe you have a soul, so you pulled the trigger.

Which is rational. And in perfect accord with the conditions of this experiment.

Also this thought experiment is not a general thought experiment. It is a PERSONAL thought experiment. The idea is to make those who do not pull the trigger realize they are acting like they have a soul---whether they know it or not.

 
At 12/7/08 1:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This refusal to commit murder is easily explained, without the need for a soul. Humans are social creatures. The way we've survived through the ages is by forming increasingly large tribes. People who just kill other people for their own selfish needs generally don't work well in a group setting, and others aren't likely to trust a man who just shot another human for some cash. Obviously, the conditions don't allow for others to know, but this sort of decision is almost autonomous, and conscious rational thought doesn't really enter into the equation. Most people have a negative response to the simple idea of cold-blooded murder such as what's described in the experiment, no matter who gets killed. Those who don't (sociopaths) are generally considered unfit for social interaction because the natural safeguards built into us through evolution in the group setting simply don't exist for them.

The conscience exists because it was a valuable adaptation we gained through time. As our intelligence increased, so did our ability to do horrible acts in the name of our own needs and wants. It exists in part to keep the self-preservation instinct in check, because if you only acted for yourself, the group as a whole would be negatively affected.

Myself, I don't believe in a soul, and no matter how much I think I'd pull the trigger, I guarantee, if the situation actually arose, I wouldn't.

 
At 12/7/08 11:01 AM, Blogger Jeff said...

A reasoned, thoughtful response. You are clearly an intelligent person.

I invite you to read and consider the rest of The Nine Point Five Theses. Particularly, "AND NOTHING HEARD MY SCREAM", which specifically addresses the issues you discuss.

Here:

http://theninepointfivetheses.blogspot.com/2007/05/and-nothing-heard-my-scream.html

(This refusal to commit murder is easily explained, without the need for a soul.)

Pardon me, but I don't think so. In the end, the refusal to commit murder----when there are NO possible negative consequences while you are alive---can only be rationalized by postulating the existence of a soul. It is certainly the scientfic explanation.

But you're an intelligent person. I think I prefer to let you consider my arguments with minimal input from me. To quote the Sundance Kid: "You just keep right on thinking there, Butch."

And don't forget I personally encountered a soul once, in broad daylight . . .

Here:

http://theninepointfivetheses.blogspot.com/2007/03/on-detecting-souls-proposed-experiment_06.html

 
At 12/7/08 1:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had already read the story, and, sadly to say, it addresses none of the problems with this hypothesis. It does nothing more than assume that without an eternal soul, humans are nothing more than self-serving, coldly rational sociopaths, which is a gross caricature of the human condition. Do you think a fireman, who constantly puts his life on the line (and risks one of the most horrible deaths imaginable) sits down and considers how many immortal kudos he's going to get before he goes in and rescues the trapped survivor? Humans DO act for the good of the group even when it means paying a high price in the end.

It's also natural for a human to feel a connection with members of his own species, especially when they're in a position that prevents them from helping themselves. Which is why someone will risk their life to save another human, but not a chimpanzee, even though they're our closest relative species.

You're wrong about one thing: that there are no living consequences for the murder. A normal man, unless driven to extremes or having some sort of great cause (NOT always a good one, in the moral sense) will not commit murder. Because of our conscience and connections with one of our fellow species, would not allow it, barring some sort of absolutely heinous act committed by the person who would be killed. (Which was an area you were gray on, was the man just mean, or was he a mass murderer or something?)

It's also quite easy for twisted people who believe in a soul to murder, even when it doesn't actually benefit them. A clear example is the Klu Klux Klan, when they lynched blacks simply because of their irrational hatred. These people actually believe they're doing the right thing.

Though you may claim to have seen a soul, it still is a claim without evidence. Plenty of people have claimed to see {ghosts,aliens,gods,orbs,rods,souls,spirits,demons,angles,misc. other entities}, and have no evidence to back the claims up. Many have been shown to be hallucinations for a variety of reasons, objects that looked deceivingly like the claimed vision, natural events, or just hoaxes.

People do live out their lives as though they were eternal beings, but that has a simple explanation also. Imagine what would happen to everyone if we all sat around thinking about how we're going to die, guessing when and how. We'd probably end up offing ourselves. Though we are probably insignificant in the universal scheme of things, that doesn't really matter to most anyway. For most people, we don't live in "The Universe" as a whole, but rather just our little bit of it, which we unequivocally own. Not to mention, sentient life could easily be one of the rarest occurrences in the universe.

Pardon me if I'm wrong, but I rather think you're going about this the wrong way. In the scientific method, one has to remain completely unbiased, and I sort of get the feeling that you are coming from the direction of "There is a soul, and I'm going to prove it!" When what you should do is examine all evidence from both sides of the argument with an unbiased mind. Remember, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Like the idea of a god, the soul theory is unfalsifiable. There is no way a soul could be proven false, because more irrational proponents (probably not yourself, from what I've seen) would just keep changing the definition. proving it would probably require something like an actual soul volunteering for scientific study. So far, this hasn't happened, which, given the multitude of evidence from the other side of the field, is why I remain skeptical.

I suggest you heavily study the theory of evolution. I contend that morals evolved as a positive adaptation for living as a group society (which itself was an adaptation for survival). I think that if you think about things enough, you'll find that this answer is perfectly possible, rather than the only possibility being a soul.

I do appreciate the attempt at approaching the matter with some degree of rational thought. You're obviously pretty intelligent, so I think you're perfectly capable of comprehending the alternative answers.

Lastly, some recommended reading from me:
The Demon Haunted World:Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan
The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins
The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins

The Blind Watchmaker is a great book on evolution, and the others have to deal with the belief in religions/souls even without empirical evidence to support them. If nothing else, I think they would give you a better idea of the kind of evidence people like me are looking for.

 
At 13/7/08 8:10 PM, Blogger Jeff said...

"I had already read the story, and, sadly to say, it addresses none of the problems with this hypothesis."

If you say so. I will not intefere with your logical process. As a hard-case rationalist, I may not force anybody.

But I would suggest you be careful. This is FAR more than just an abstract discussion. This is something that can get your head blown off. Yours, and a lot of other people.

If there are no souls, the only rational thing to be is a sociopath.

There are two ways to learn this. The easy way, and the hard way. And the hard way can be EXTREMELY hard.

See the second comment to this post. There are people who will pull the trigger in a heartbeat, and not even think about it.

You be careful, man.

"People do live out their lives as though they were eternal beings,"

Sure they do. You bet they do.

But, given the TOTAL lack of evidence, the SIMPLEST explanation is that they are really are eternal beings.

You give a simple explanation, right enough, but there is a still simpler one.

And the rules of science state that, in the absence of evidence, the simplest explanation is to be preferred. As a hard-case rationalist, and with the lack of evidence, I'm going with the eternal-being thing.


"Though you may claim to have seen a soul, it still is a claim without evidence."

Sure, you're correct. While I THINK that was a cat-soul, that in NO way PROVES that was a cat-soul.

But this goes to why I went to the trouble of posting The Nine Point Five Theses. Although The Nine Point Five Theses can be used to convince people they have souls, that is NOT their primary objective.

The primary purpose of The Nine Point Five Theses is to persuade scientists that trying to detect souls in the lab is a VERY reasonable thing to do. By demonstrating that a perfectly consistent and rigorous theory of human behavior can be constructed around people having souls.

You, for example, don't believe in souls. Very well, you don't have to. You only have to think that doing such experiments would be a reasonable thing to do. That's the primary purpose here.

Scientists keep saying souls don't exist. Am I wrong to ask scientists to follow their own rules for knowing things? Shouldn't they be able to produce laboratory evidence to back up their claims if asked to do so? And yet, there's nothing.

"In the scientific method, one has to remain completely unbiased, and "I sort of get the feeling that you are coming from the direction of "There is a soul, and I'm going to prove it!" When what you should do is examine all evidence from both sides of the argument with an unbiased mind."

I did. I trained to be a scientist once, and I got indoctrinated in the no-God no-souls thing. I started out not believing in souls. I was forced to this conclusion.

"Remember, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."

Sure. But your claim souls do NOT exist ALSO requires evidence.

But the experiments are coming.

"Like the idea of a god, the soul theory is unfalsifiable."

I agree the existence of God is unfalsifiable. I can think of NO way to absolutely prove the existence or non-existence of God. It is NOT possible to build a God-detector.

But the existence of souls is entirely falsifiable, testable, yada-yada-yada, the whole nine yards. It is easily possible to build a soul-detector.
In fact, I'll give you the Website of one group of scientists who are trying to detect souls. Now, what these guys are doing, in my opinion, is completely screwed up and has no chance of success, but my point is to demonstate:

1. the non-existence of souls is in no way verified,accepted science,
2. you really can do soul experiments
3.scientists really are doing soul experiments.

Here:

http://veritas.arizona.edu/

There was also recently a scientist, a Gerard Nahum, who tried to get funding to build a soul-detector. He failed, but he tried.

Here:

http://discovermagazine.com/2007/jun/soul-search

Re the Dawkins-Sagan stuff: I read "The Selfish Gene" way, way, WAY back in the day. I was a halfway-Dawkins believer for a long time. Remember, I trained to be a scientist once (although I didn't finish) and got the usual indoctrination.

Then I started thinking about this on my own.

And me and Dawkins parted ways.

It just didn't fit, man. It just didn't fit human behavior.

The main sticking point was the increasing power of Man. Pardon me, but people who don't believe in God and souls see themselves as helpless little nothings, completely at the mercy of forces they can't possibly control and can't possibly understand.

And that DOESN'T fit.

The observed behavior is that people have ENORMOUS power. They can even change the climate of the ENTIRE Earth if they want to. I kept trying to find a limit to the power of Man, and I could NOT do it. People have infinite power.

Power enough, in the end, to smash the ENTIRE Universe, should they so choose.

The helpless-little-nothing thing just DOES NOT FIT.

There is only one place where this issue can be settled once and for all. We can talk and debate all we want, but in the end this is a scientific proposition, and scientific propositions are settled in one place, and one place only.

In the laboratory.

And it's coming. I can't say exactly when, but sometime within the next ten years would be my guess. You're going to turn the TV on one day, and you're going to see a bunch of red-faced scientists standing around this round metallic thingy saying,"Well, looks like we sorta messed this one up, people."

I hope, anyway. If they fail, in the end you won't dare stick your head out the door at night.

You have a good one.

Jeff Corkern

 
At 15/7/08 1:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"But I would suggest you be careful. This is FAR more than just an abstract discussion. This is something that can get your head blown off. Yours, and a lot of other people.

If there are no souls, the only rational thing to be is a sociopath.

There are two ways to learn this. The easy way, and the hard way. And the hard way can be EXTREMELY hard."

I'll believe you when you have some evidence.

"See the second comment to this post. There are people who will pull the trigger in a heartbeat, and not even think about it."

Because people, especially anonymous people, never EVER overestimate themselves, nor do they lie on the internet.

"But, given the TOTAL lack of evidence, the SIMPLEST explanation is that they are really are eternal beings."

"TOTAL lack of evidence"

You are joking, right?

"You give a simple explanation, right enough, but there is a still simpler one."

"And the rules of science state that, in the absence of evidence, the simplest explanation is to be preferred."

As I'm sure you know, Occam's razor only applies when to theories are equal in evidence, and in this case, they aren't. Also, what's simpler, "a natural process gave rise to complex characteristics through cumulative mutation and natural selection" or "somehow, inexplicable, intangible, nonphysical souls exist for reasons we are not and will never be able to prove."

"As a hard-case rationalist, and with the lack of evidence, I'm going with the eternal-being thing."

I object to you calling yourself a rationalist, as so far, nothing rational has been said by you.

"The primary purpose of The Nine Point Five Theses is to persuade scientists that trying to detect souls in the lab is a VERY reasonable thing to do."

I agree completely. Extra inquiry never hurt anything. However, if you want such things to be done, there is far better things to do about it than making a blog about it. Also, try and, y'know, get some EVIDENCE before you take an ironclad position that they do exist. Just sayin'.

"Scientists keep saying souls don't exist. Am I wrong to ask scientists to follow their own rules for knowing things? Shouldn't they be able to produce laboratory evidence to back up their claims if asked to do so? And yet, there's nothing."

Plenty have tried, and all have failed. Creationists still try to this day, and yet not one shred of evidence. Of course, since you have such interesting ideas about it, why don't you present your ideas to those who WOULD test them. So far, no matter how much you cover your ears, the evidence points to natural causes. The supernatural explanation thing only thrives on the gaps in scientific knowledge, and these gaps have been being steadily filled for years.

"I did. I trained to be a scientist once, and I got indoctrinated in the no-God no-souls thing. I started out not believing in souls. I was forced to this conclusion."

You weren't forced into anything. You get presented the evidence, and you draw your own conclusions, or you test more evidence. Don't worry about the ideas of your peers, worry about where the evidence leads you. Newton, Einstein, Darwin, they all went against the ideas of the day, and changed science because of it. Of course, if you can't do that because you're afraid of the meanie-weenie other scientists, then you have absolutely no place in the scientific field whatsoever.

"Sure. But your claim souls do NOT exist ALSO requires evidence."

Are you dense? Evidence has been provided and added to for my position for many years. There is such a thing as the burden of proof, and it rests on the shoulders of the person who is making the extraordinary claim. Care to guess who that is?

"But the existence of souls is entirely falsifiable, testable, yada-yada-yada, the whole nine yards. It is easily possible to build a soul-detector.
In fact, I'll give you the Website of one group of scientists who are trying to detect souls. Now, what these guys are doing, in my opinion, is completely screwed up and has no chance of success, but my point is to demonstrate:"

So theirs is screwed up. Big fucking deal. Build your own, or show me someone who has. Detect a soul, or show me someone who has. Oh, what's that, you can't? I figured as much.

"There was also recently a scientist, a Gerard Nahum, who tried to get funding to build a soul-detector. He failed, but he tried."

Of course, the funding problem will always exist. What are we going to do, fund a search for the cure for cancer, or give cash to a trite experiment tried a billion times before (fruitlessly, I might add).

"The main sticking point was the increasing power of Man. Pardon me, but people who don't believe in God and souls see themselves as helpless little nothings, "

Excuse the rudeness, but fuck you. I'm not helpless, nor do I see myself that way.

"SOMEWHAT at the mercy of forces they DON'T YET control and DON'T YET FULLY understand."

Fixed. The point of science is to understand. Then, we apply science, and we learn to control. That's called technology, have you heard of it?

"The observed behavior is that people have ENORMOUS power."

Sort of.

"They can even change the climate of the ENTIRE Earth if they want to."

Yeah, we can sure change the climate of the Earth. For the worse. By accident. Using excavated fuels not made by us. Not doing so great on fixing that global warming thing, are we?

"I kept trying to find a limit to the power of Man, and I could NOT do it. People have infinite power."

No, no we don't.

"Power enough, in the end, to smash the ENTIRE Universe, should they so choose."

No, no we can't. To smash the universe, we would have to be able to control entropy, as the end of the universe is when it becomes completely uniform, aka "Heat Death."

"The helpless-little-nothing thing just DOES NOT FIT."

Damn straight, it doesn't! Good thing you're just bullshitting at this point anyway.

""But I would suggest you be careful. This is FAR more than just an abstract discussion. This is something that can get your head blown off. Yours, and a lot of other people.

If there are no souls, the only rational thing to be is a sociopath.

There are two ways to learn this. The easy way, and the hard way. And the hard way can be EXTREMELY hard."

I'll believe you when you have some evidence.

"See the second comment to this post. There are people who will pull the trigger in a heartbeat, and not even think about it."

Point 1: Because people, especially anonymous people, never EVER overestimate themselves, nor do they lie on the internet.

Point 2: How is this pertinent? I never said people never do bad things. I said, under normal circumstances, a NORMAL person wouldn't kill someone just for being mean. If the mean guy was actually Hitler, a lot of people, myself included, would probably take the shot.

"But, given the TOTAL lack of evidence, the SIMPLEST explanation is that they are really are eternal beings."

"TOTAL lack of evidence"

You are joking, right?

"You give a simple explanation, right enough, but there is a still simpler one."

"And the rules of science state that, in the absence of evidence, the simplest explanation is to be preferred."

As I'm sure, you know that Occam's razor only applies when to theories are equal in evidence. Also, what's simpler, "a natural process gave rise to complex characteristics through cumulative mutation and natural selection" or "somehow, inexplicable, intangible, nonphysical souls exist for reasons we are not and will never be able to prove."

"As a hard-case rationalist, and with the lack of evidence, I'm going with the eternal-being thing."

I object to you calling yourself a rationalist, as so far, nothing rational has been said by you.

"The primary purpose of The Nine Point Five Theses is to persuade scientists that trying to detect souls in the lab is a VERY reasonable thing to do."

I agree completely. Extra inquiry never hurt anything. However, if you want such things to be done, there is far better things to do about it than making a blog about it. Also, try and, y'know, get some EVIDENCE before you take an ironclad position that they do exist. Just sayin'.

"Scientists keep saying souls don't exist. Am I wrong to ask scientists to follow their own rules for knowing things? Shouldn't they be able to produce laboratory evidence to back up their claims if asked to do so? And yet, there's nothing."

Scientists who say souls don't exist ARE following their rules. Plenty have tried to prove souls exist, and all have failed. Creationists still try to this day, and yet not one shred of evidence. Of course, since you have such interesting ideas about it, why don't you present your ideas to those who WOULD test them. So far, no matter how much you cover your ears, the evidence points to natural causes. The supernatural explanation thing only thrives on the gaps in scientific knowledge, and these gaps have been being steadily filled for years. At this point, the burden of proof is well centered on you.

"I did. I trained to be a scientist once, and I got indoctrinated in the no-God no-souls thing. I started out not believing in souls. I was forced to this conclusion."

You weren't forced into anything. You get presented the evidence, and you draw your own conclusions, or you test more evidence. Don't worry about the ideas of your peers, worry about where the evidence leads you. Newton, Einstein, Darwin, they all went against the ideas of the day, and changed science because of it. Of course, if you can't do that because you're afraid of the meanie-weenie other scientists, then you have absolutely no place in the scientific field whatsoever.

"Sure. But your claim souls do NOT exist ALSO requires evidence."

Are you dense? Evidence has been provided and added to for my position for many years. Besides all the regular shit I have, look at the absence of evidence on your side. Absence of evidence is evidence of absence. There is such a thing as the burden of proof, and it rests on the shoulders of the person who is making the extraordinary claim. Care to guess who that is?

"But the existence of souls is entirely falsifiable, testable, yada-yada-yada, the whole nine yards. It is easily possible to build a soul-detector.
In fact, I'll give you the Website of one group of scientists who are trying to detect souls. Now, what these guys are doing, in my opinion, is completely screwed up and has no chance of success, but my point is to demonstrate:"

It's easily possible to build a soul detector? So do it, genius! Build your own, or show me someone who has. Detect a soul, or show me someone who has. Oh, what's that, you can't? I figured as much.

"There was also recently a scientist, a Gerard Nahum, who tried to get funding to build a soul-detector. He failed, but he tried."

The big, big, big part of that story is that he failed. Of course, the funding problem will always exist. What are we going to do, fund a search for the cure for cancer, or give cash to a trite experiment tried a billion times before (fruitlessly, I might add).

"The main sticking point was the increasing power of Man. Pardon me, but people who don't believe in God and souls see themselves as helpless little nothings, "

Excuse the rudeness, but fuck you. I'm not helpless, nor do I see myself that way. You're beginning to sound a bit like a fundie. I have half a mind to submit you to FSTDT.

"SOMEWHAT at the mercy of forces they DON'T YET control and DON'T YET FULLY understand."

Fixed. The point of science is to understand. Then, we apply science, and we learn to control. That's called technology, have you heard of it?

"The observed behavior is that people have ENORMOUS power."

Only through science, never through superstition, nor bad logic such as is on display here.

"They can even change the climate of the ENTIRE Earth if they want to."

Yeah, we can sure change the climate of the Earth. For the worse. By accident. Using excavated fuels not made by us. Not doing so great on fixing that global warming thing, are we?

"I kept trying to find a limit to the power of Man, and I could NOT do it. People have infinite power."

No, no we don't. Your gliding swiftly and dangerously into the inspirational bullshit territory here. You want a limit to the power of man? Where's my unlimited free energy? When will we start reversing entropy? If we have "infinite power," then those are the first things I'm looking into.

"Power enough, in the end, to smash the ENTIRE Universe, should they so choose."

No, no we can't. Learn a little about physics. Look up the "Big Crunch," then make that statement again.

"The helpless-little-nothing thing just DOES NOT FIT."

Damn straight, it doesn't. Good thing you're just bullshitting at this point anyway.

"There is only one place where this issue can be settled once and for all. We can talk and debate all we want, but in the end this is a scientific proposition, and scientific propositions are settled in one place, and one place only.

In the laboratory."

Yep. What was our argument again?

"And it's coming. I can't say exactly when, but sometime within the next ten years would be my guess. You're going to turn the TV on one day, and you're going to see a bunch of red-faced scientists standing around this round metallic thingy saying,"Well, looks like we sorta messed this one up, people."

Well, when that happens, then congratulations. Until then, keep dreaming.

"I hope, anyway. If they fail, in the end you won't dare stick your head out the door at night."

Circular logic at it's finest. "I'm right because I will be right, and if it turns out that I'm not right, I'll still be right."

Here we go. If they fail then I'm proven right. (heh, they've already failed countless times, so I doubt we'll be convincing the still religious of anything anyway.) Even if they fail, that doesn't mean they no longer have morals. It just means that they have them for a different reason. It's not like it's their choice to have morals anyway: case in point, myself. I realize I have no soul. Why haven't I gone on a murderous rampage yet? (inb4 circular logic: "lolz cause you has a soul.")

There's so much more I could say, but that would require a full essay rather than a long-ass comment like I have here. I'm not saying you shouldn't try and detect a soul. I'm saying, you shouldn't expect pandering because the rest of us realize that repeating the same shit over and over won't yield new things.

Hell, you showed yourself several people who tried the same thing you propose. You also bash their methods, yet provide none of your own that are better.

Benjamin Franklin: "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results."

I had some more ranting and smart-ass crap here, but I removed it for the sake of politeness.

 
At 15/7/08 1:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Apparently I fucked up when I went through my comment to edit it and a whole bunch of stuff got doubled. I don't really know how that happened.

 
At 15/7/08 9:28 PM, Blogger Jeff said...

I tried to remove the doubled-up stuff, couldn't. Blogger won't let anybody edit comments, period.

Here's what the Help section has to say:

"It is not possible to edit comments. If you want to edit your own comment, you
can simply delete it and then re-enter it with the changes."


You're getting angry, so let us call a mutual halt. Unless you want the final word, which I certainly will let you have, I will make one final comment.

"show me some evidence"

A quite reasonable request.

Working on it, in various ways I won't go into. The Nine Point Five Theses have rattled some VERY big cages.

Give me a couple of years.

You have a good one, man.

 
At 16/7/08 2:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think I've pretty much made my point as well as I'm going to make it, at least here.

Other than that, I really have nothing to say other than: I'm going to hold you to that couple of years thing. You have two years to cause a startling revelation that will flip the world upside down and send modern science reeling from the impact, so you best get working.

In all seriousness though, good luck with whatever you intend to do with this. Far from me to say you shouldn't conduct any experiments you might come up with, just accept the results as they come, either way.

 
At 26/9/09 11:23 PM, Blogger Donald Ray Burriss Jr said...

"Anonymous said...
I'd shoot him. Thought experiment proven wrong, enjoy."

By your own words,
Jeff's thought experiment is proven right, enjoy your life as a sociopath,there's many out there like you,but,there's billions of us that aren't.
Maybe "Anonymous" hasn't read Jeff's full thesis in its entirety,if so,maybe he/she should brush up on reading comprehension.

Jeff,IMHO,your "Theses" is one of the best blogs I've ever read.
Your "challenge" to your "gentle readers" has been lost in comments I've read by "Anonymous"
"You may choose to live by the principal that you wouldn't do something to someone else if you wouldn't want it done to you.
Which would stop you from murdering someone even if you knew you would not remember it. Because you wouldn't want someone else to do that to you."
A very niave statement "Anonymous",you must live in a cave called appeasement

Jeff,my mother passed away three months ago,I salute your endeavors,as does she,keep up the Great work and I'll see you on the other side.

 
At 27/9/09 3:41 PM, Blogger Jeff said...

"By your own words,
Jeff's thought experiment is proven right, enjoy your life as a sociopath,there's many out there like you,but,there's billions of us that aren't.
Maybe "Anonymous" hasn't read Jeff's full thesis in its entirety,if so,maybe he/she should brush up on reading comprehension."

Yeah, he didn't understand it.

I am constantly posting this challenge in various places, and STILL nobody who has read and understood it has EVER pulled the trigger.

Funny thing.

"Jeff,IMHO,your "Theses" is one of the best blogs I've ever read.
Your "challenge" to your "gentle readers" has been lost in comments I've read by "Anonymous"
"You may choose to live by the principal that you wouldn't do something to someone else if you wouldn't want it done to you.
Which would stop you from murdering someone even if you knew you would not remember it. Because you wouldn't want someone else to do that to you."
A very niave statement "Anonymous",you must live in a cave called appeasement"

Thank you.

Yea, verily, I think you have struck the heart of it. These poor dumb jerks are NAIVE, man. They have no comprehension of the effects of what they're doing.

"Jeff,my mother passed away three months ago,I salute your endeavors,as does she,keep up the Great work and I'll see you on the other side."

I'm working on it. In various ways.

Sorry to hear about your mother, but just between you and me and the wall, death ain't the raving, screaming disaster it's cracked up to be.

By sheer chance I have recently finished and posted another addition to The Nine Point Five Theses. (I don't want to write too much here. It's so simple a lot of complicated writing is not necessary and would actually wind up causing confusion.)

For your consideration:

http://theninepointfivetheses.blogspot.com/2006/10/great-woo-woo-skeptic-culture-war.html

I have also written a story about how humanity will change after the existence of souls is confirmed in the laboratory, "AFTER THE AWAKENING."

Again, for your consideration:

http://jeffcorkernsstories.blogspot.com/2008/12/after-awakening.html

Your comments are a breath of fresh air. No joke, it's a relief to see somebody understand what I'm saying here.

You have a good one, Donald.

 
At 5/12/09 3:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great minds think alike........................................

 
At 5/12/09 11:05 AM, Blogger Jeff said...

Thank you. I think.

 
At 10/12/09 11:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good mind, good find........................................

 
At 15/12/09 8:43 PM, Blogger Jeff said...

Thank you.

Spread the word a little, if you don't mind . . .

 
At 28/12/09 11:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I take it you aren't university educated in psychology or philosophy or else you're a first-semester freshman. None of your ideas are original. You need to hit the library.

 
At 12/2/10 9:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I did not shoot for a far more ingrained reason that has nothing to do with souls or afterlife or judgement therein.

To take the life is wrong. It goes against the fabric of my morals.

That no one will know and that I will not be caught does not change that I would commit the ultimate amoral act--murder.

It has nothing to with souls or fear of a judgment day in the after life.

 
At 12/2/10 10:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A bullet train speeds toward me and my children. I can save the chidldren or me. I sacrifice my life to save my children.

On a twist on the murder on the beach, the perfect murder which will be erased from memory is of a scumbag (but not an evil person). In this example, the money goes to my son buyng him corfort for life.

Another twist. Tiy son is suffering from a terminal illness with only cure. You must kill scumbug to release an antibody for your son;s illness. The antibody can only be released by killing th scumbag. Rge scumbag cannot acquiese or even know about the antidote he carries.

What would you do, In exaple one, I would not kill the scumbag for money and happiness for my son. Too amoral to take a life there.

But I would sacrifice my own life to save his.

And I would likely take the life of scynbug to save my son.

Do these variants touch upon the existence of a soul? a beliefe in God? Natural altruism>

 
At 9/4/10 8:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't believe I have a soul. I am not a sociopath and I would not pull the trigger.

Why? I have a sense of self which is the result of consciousness. A normal part of anyone's psychological makeup. I base my decisions on previous thought I have put into my moral decisions which is a combination of being able to empathize with others and logically consider fairness (other normal psychological processes).

When people say they have a soul what I think they are really doing is confusing this idea of a separable soul with their sense of self. Souls are generally believed to be something that can be detached from the body at death and exist eternally. A sense of self generally isn't and is thought to be a byproduct of the physical mind.

I agree with you that scientific experiments to determine if souls exist or not would be a great thing. Unfortunately I suspect that even if science could conclusively provide evidence against the existance of souls people who wanted to believe in them would still argue that "science can't answer everything" and choose to believe based on wishful thinking.

 
At 10/4/10 10:00 AM, OpenID Mike Storm said...

Just curious, have you actually found any hard evidence that souls exist? The two year challenge from your commenter back in 2008 is almost up.

You do know that something like this would win the Nobel Prize right? That's a large cash prize too. So have you done it?

I would be willing to bet you haven't. Because scientists have been trying for hundreds of years WITHOUT SUCCESS. Or, are you just someone who "rattles the cages" and accepts no responsibility for finding these things out on your own?

 
At 12/10/10 2:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I am constantly posting this challenge in various places, and STILL nobody who has read and understood it has EVER pulled the trigger."

No True Scotsman, eh?

That aside, the problem with this argument is that all you have succeeded is demonstrating that EITHER people act rationally and have souls OR they act irrationally. The latter is simpler as far as Occam's razor is concerned, and has more evidence behind it anyway. Group selection is tricky to pull off, but it does work from time to time.

Another consideration is that the circumstances you've described do not exist. Brains seem to work (as suggested by research using fMRI scanners) by precalculation and a sort of "caching" of decisions. It simply takes too long to ponder out all the ethics and take the rational choice in all moral dilemmas one encounters.

To be trite, you'd quickly be eaten by a tiger if you actually took the time to rationally think out every decision. So it's not at all surprising that people act as if perfect amnesia pills don't exist, and aren't able to think rationally in a matter of moments by trying to imagine that they do.

So, sure, I'll accept your premise that humans act as if they have souls, but reject your implication that this is most likely because they actually do.

 
At 13/10/10 4:36 PM, Blogger Jeff said...

Number One, thanks for not being a spammer. I'm getting tired of that.

Number Two, the decision I ask a reader to make is whether or not The Nine Point Five Theses are sufficient reason for scientists to go into the lab and conduct soul-detection experiments. Yes, The Nine Point Five Theses can be used to convince people they have souls, but that's not their primary purpose.

You don't have to be convinced. You just have to say soul-detection experiments are a reasonable thing to try.

Number Three, there is a slight error. This is not a knee-jerk reaction situation. You are facing the rich guy's back. You have plenty of time to make a reasoned decision.

 
At 26/2/11 5:10 AM, Anonymous Benjamin said...

Hi Jeff, I discovered your thesis here off a link from a New Scientist comment and I found it extremely interesting, and (in my mind) heading in the right direction. It certainly had me thinking about it for quite some time.

However, I believe you have made a logical fallacy; one of your premises appears to be false.
Your premise I have a problem with is the first one:

If we have a soul, then we act like we do.

Or, in propositional logic:

HaveSoul → ActlikeHaveSoul.

Note the implication. The problem is that that implication is still valid if ActLikeHaveSoul is True, and HaveSoul is false.
So we could still act like we have a soul, and yet not actually have one.

Plus, that particular implication could also be false itself: We can still act like we don't have a soul even if we did!

The problem lies in the word 'act'. I've been writing my own philosophy myself, based on logic, and I make a distinction between what is True, and what we Believe to be True. This distinction is formed by the realisation that there are in fact unknowable unknowns, but more importantly, what impact they have on our behaviour. The taco message with respect to the Nine Point Five Thesis is that we act on what we believe to be true, not what is true. If I believe myself to have a soul, then the rational action is to not pull the trigger (for the reasons given in your thesis) even if I don't truely possess one!

Aside: A quick example of this premise is that we can be lied to. If we only acted on what was true, then we would be omniscient, and we could not be lied to. Proof by contradiction: If I acted only on what is true, and someone lied to me, I could not act on that lie as it would not be acting on what is true. The fact that a belief can be later proven false -- one that a person could build a rational series of actions based on an incorrect premise -- means we do not act on what is true, but on our own concept of reality, or what we believe to be true.

There are further points, too: My rationale for my not pulling the trigger is not solely based on whether I believe I have a soul or not. As other commenters have pointed out, inherent social structures based on how humans live, the rules through which civilisation is maintained, also prevents us from pulling the trigger. We do not want other people to behave that way towards us, therefore we maintain this as best we can by not acting that way ourselves. It feels inherently unstable and of course it's more complicated than that, but like Wikipedia: it's something that shouldn't work in theory, but works (for the most part) in practice.

I'll leave it there for now.
Having said all that, I still liked your thesis; it's a very thought-provoking concept.
Cheers,
Benny

 
At 26/2/11 11:26 PM, Anonymous Benjamin said...

So my last comment didn't seem to post properly; I don't know why.
I'll try again:

Hey Jeff, I really liked your thesis, I found it thought provoking and compelling.
Unfortunately, I also found a big hole in your reasoning. The problem lies in your original premise. Quoted verbatim from the comment you posted on the New Scientist comment that led me here:

If people possess immortal souls, it should be possible to objectively deduce this from their behaviour.

The problem lies in when this is written down in classical or propositional logic:

HaveSoul → (ActLikeHaveSoul → HaveSoul)

The weakness in this statment is ironically its stregth. It is an axiom, a statement that is true for all values of A and B. i.e:
Your statment is in the form A → (B → A). The Truth table for this is as follows:

A | B | B → A | A → (B → A)
F | F |     T     |     T
F | T |     F    |     T
T | F |     T     |     T
T | T |     T     |     T

Your conclusion is based on the last line in italics. However, the second line (where ActLikeHaveSoul is true, but HaveSoul is false) that I have highlighted is also true. Your original statement therefore cannot prove souls solely based on whether we act like we have a soul or not.

And this doesn't take into account whether B → A at all. Many people have already pointed out that acting like you have a soul does not necessarily indicate that you actually have one. It has been pointed out that social constructs for civilisation also can play an important role.

Having said all that, I liked the thesis, and it is obvious you have been thinking long an hard over it. I think you are on the right track, but your reasoning is currently incomplete.

Cheers,
Benny.

 
At 26/2/11 11:28 PM, Anonymous Benjamin said...

So my last comment didn't seem to post properly; I don't know why.
I'll try again:

Hey Jeff, I really liked your thesis, I found it thought provoking and compelling.
Unfortunately, I also found a big hole in your reasoning. The problem lies in your original premise. Quoted verbatim from the comment you posted on the New Scientist comment that led me here:

If people possess immortal souls, it should be possible to objectively deduce this from their behaviour.

The problem lies in when this is written down in classical or propositional logic:

HaveSoul → (ActLikeHaveSoul → HaveSoul)

The weakness in this statment is ironically its stregth. It is an axiom, a statement that is true for all values of A and B. i.e:
Your statment is in the form A → (B → A). The Truth table for this is as follows:

A | B | B → A | A → (B → A)
F | F |     T     |     T
F | T |     F    |     T
T | F |     T     |     T
T | T |     T     |     T

Your conclusion is based on the last line in italics. However, the second line (where ActLikeHaveSoul is true, but HaveSoul is false) that I have highlighted is also true. Your original statement therefore cannot prove souls solely based on whether we act like we have a soul or not.

And this doesn't take into account whether B → A at all. Many people have already pointed out that acting like you have a soul does not necessarily indicate that you actually have one. It has been pointed out that social constructs for civilisation also can play an important role.

Having said all that, I liked the thesis, and it is obvious you have been thinking long an hard over it. I think you are on the right track, but your reasoning is currently incomplete.

Cheers,
Benny.

 
At 26/2/11 11:35 PM, Anonymous Benjamin said...

Addendum. The reason why You cannot draw the conclusion you have from your premise is that to prove something, you must show that the negation of your conclusion forms a contradiction of the premises. Here I have shown that the negation of your conclusion, i.e. we don't have a soul, is still consistent with your premises. Hence your conclusion is consistent, but invalid.

 
At 27/2/11 11:23 AM, Blogger Jeff said...

You haven't met Michael Stone yet, have you, Benjamin? Michael Stone is the Great Simplifier. He just loves arguing abstruse logic.

Here. Shake hands with Michael Stone.

http://theninepointfivetheses.blogspot.com/2007/05/and-nothing-heard-my-scream.html

Benjamin, I don't think you're using logic to find an answer. You're bending logic around until it gives you the answer you want.

If you pull the trigger, you're acting like you DON'T have a soul.

If you don't pull the trigger, you're acting like you DO have a soul.

And that's it. It's just that simple. Trying to twist this only makes you look foolish.

This doesn't PROVE you have a soul, of course, only that you act like you do.

Whether or not you have a soul can only be determined IN THE LABORATORY.

And THAT'S the purpose of The Nine Point Five Theses. To stimulate scientific effort into detecting the soul.

 
At 27/2/11 2:54 PM, Anonymous Vire70 said...

Such nonsense!

First of all, I probably WOULD kill this guy if he was being a dickhead and my life was at risk. And I know a great proportion of our population would as well; people murder others on a regular basis for FAR more petty reasons than a lifetime of happiness with no consequences, so how you can claim that NO ONE, absolutely, would do this is just beyond me and incredibly deluded.

Secondly. I might grant you as true that Humans do act as though they have a soul - in that, they aren't REALLY going to die. This is because we all think we're unique and special. But one thing does not follow from the other; we may behave that way, it however does not at all support the notion that we ACTUALLY do have souls.

Thirdly, as for those who wouldn't kill the man, this can be seen purely as cultural conditioning as well as what others mentioned is a result of natural selection making us value others, even when we shouldn't. Very simple. Positing some sort of mystical, unproven and frankly outlandish concept of consciousness actually being some form of eternal energy (assuming that is what you think a soul is; you didn't define it) is ridiculous and laughable. Especially when one considers the wealth of knowledge in Neuroscience that demonstrates consciousness is directly tied to brain activity; like the example of people with split brains (disconnected right/left hemispheres) no longer being able to comprehend or know of the right side of someones face. There are thousands of similar examples in neurology, asides from just basic examples like brain trauma, amnesia, etc, that show this to be true. The soul, as a concept, died long ago.
--
"Because you’ll be punished for it. AFTER you die. And somewhere deep in your guts is the unconscious knowledge you WILL be punished."
--
Nonsense. This is just cultural conditioning as I mentioned. We grow up hearing that breaking laws is terrible, and murder is easily up there with being one of the worst things one can do in our society. This alone is enough to give one the feelings you describe; it has absolutely nothing to do with some sort of deep certainty that we'll be tortured in the afterlife. At least, this is the case for those of us who haven't been brainwashed by religious concepts of hell and judgement throughout our childhood. I can't say anything for the illogical religious majority, because I stopped trying to understand their babble ages ago.
--
"you may believe you don't have a soul----but when we examine your actions, we discover YOU ACT LIKE YOU DO."
--
Yes, and as should have been obvious to you before you even brought forth such a simplistic argument, that is completely irrelevant to whether or not one actually does have a soul.

This is one of the weakest arguments for religious mumbo jumbo I've come across in sometime.

 
At 5/3/11 12:21 AM, Blogger Evil Liberal said...

lol, the decision made by the person in this hypothetical situation in no way indicates whether they have a soul. it is a non sequitur. aside from this, people have been killing innocents without qualms for a very long time, especially religious folks. the bible has plenty of examples where innocent folks whove done nothing to deserve death are killed by believes, and even upon command from their deity. hahaha. entire races of people were enslaved, abused and killed because the ruling majority, which also happened to be religious for the most part, did not think it immoral. this thought experiment is something i would expect from a child.

 
At 6/3/11 11:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would hate to sound like a troll or someone deliberately trying to prove you wrong but this isn't a morality choice.It's weighed too heavily one side or the other.One knows from the start you set the situation in such away that even for the supposed advantages of killing him,they mean nothing in the end.If a misanthopy or a sociopath took this test,they'ed shoot him anyway.


P.S. I shot him.

 
At 6/3/11 10:26 PM, Blogger Jeff said...

You have misunderstood the experiment. You are entirely correct in saying this is not a morality experiment.This is an experiment to help determine why such a concept as "morality" evolved and persisted in human society.

There is no moral or immoral choice here, only what is SMART to do or not do under certain circumstances.

 
At 7/3/11 9:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is a bit misleading to say that you're standing on a deserted beach then to say that you can stroll on over to eat at a soup kitchen later if you do not kill this man... I would have shot him up until I read that part. It seemed like the beach wasn't so deserted. I mean sure, it could be a deserted beach in Florida, but you're starving. If you're starving, why are you standing there gawking at a man with a briefcase on a beach? Who would bring a briefcase to a beach with a million dollars in it? It sounds mostly like a survivalist situation and when it comes down to that, if me or my family are threatened, I will do what it takes to survive. Does that make me a soulless cavity? No, I don't think so. Then the fact that he's a dick just would make it easier to pull the trigger. Morals are extremely gray when it comes down to opportunistic situations. You say you will do the "Jesus" thing, but in a land of comfort and opportunity, you don't really ever know. Just like I could never say in this situation with 100% certainty that I would shoot this mean man. A lot of choices I make are based on my experiences in the past... if I have a soul, is it muddied based on such experiences? Is it possible to destroy it with one immoral act? My choice in the matter that you presented does not give proof towards a soul. Well, that was fun to type on my brand new laptop. :)

 
At 7/3/11 2:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jeff you are refusing to acknowledge the logic specified by benjamin amongst others. Your statements are axiomatically incorrect, and the statements are unconvincing within their own terms. You will only convince those who already believe blindly what you are saying, without the logical faculty to see the weak links in your methods of persuasion.

 
At 15/3/11 2:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

wait, you ASKED people what they would do and they all said they wouldn't murder? And you see *nothing* wrong with this experiment design? John List or his cohort would tear your methodology a new one...

 
At 15/3/11 4:19 PM, Blogger stuart said...

I pulled the trigger, your proven wrong their son...

 
At 15/3/11 4:20 PM, Blogger stuart said...

I pulled the trigger, you need to ask other people what they would do first and then get the mode of the answers rather then assume that everyone has the same ideals as you, son...

 
At 15/3/11 4:32 PM, Anonymous Jan said...

If you pull the trigger, you're acting like you DON'T have a soul.

If you don't pull the trigger, you're acting like you DO have a soul.

This is true, but only in the sense that 'pulling the trigger' is consistent with not having a soul, while 'not pulling the trigger' is indeed consistent with having a soul. However, 'not pulling the trigger' is also consistent with various other models of the human mind, that have nothing to do with the idea of a soul.

For one thing, you assume that any behavior is 'rational', and intended purely for personal benefit -- as other have pointed out, assuming that evolution works like we think it does, it is very unlikely that the human mind would have evolved to be purely rational and egoistical at all times.

 
At 16/3/11 10:10 AM, Blogger Jeff said...

Jan, your comments are entirely accurate. There are indeed other models that can explain the behavior.

How do you find out which model is correct?

In the laboratory.

Which is the entire purpose of The Nine Point Five Theses. To stimulate experiments into investigating death in the laboratory. I'm not trying to convince the masses here.

Jamie: Everything important I have to say is in The Nine Point Five Theses. If you don't find them convincing---we're done. You need to go elsewhere, and I can concentrate on those who find The Nine Point Five Theses sufficient theoretical justification to conduct soul-detection experiments.

 
At 16/3/11 11:39 PM, Blogger Frederick the Simple said...

Nonsense dear sir.

Maybe i WOULD murder that person and even if I didn't, the conclusion you reach using your "logic" and "experiments" "sounds scientific dont it" is completely disingenuous at very best.

I admit we(the majority) appear to have inbuilt mechanisms tilted towards a common marality, sure. However, where that comes from, or further still what it proves, is far beyond my comprehension therefore certainly yours.

Here's some proof God works in mysterious ways: www.frederickthesimple.com

 
At 16/3/11 11:53 PM, Blogger Frederick the Simple said...

Nonsense.

Im thinking I would shoot the person. Even if I didn't though, to conclude anything about a soul(subjective word)or an afterlife and that this is "proof" or an "experiment" or "sounds vaguely scientific don't it" is at best incredibly disengenuous.

It does appear that we(majority)do indeed have some inbuilt mechanism tilted towards a shared morality but what it does or does not prove is far beyond me and with all due respect you as well.

 
At 9/4/11 6:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are so many bad assumptions with your blog its hard to know where to start.

To start off with the responses to your thought experiment do not constitute evidence for the existence of souls. The fact that many people may believe a thing does not mean its true.

Secondly I think if you instead included in your thought experiment the knowledge that nothing bad would happen to you even after death because everyone goes to heaven no matter what their actions, most people would still choose no to kill. Does that mean people are not rational in your opinion? Perhaps by your logic that can only be a rational decision if somehow, in this life, retribution will be made, a type of karma perhaps? This would not require an immortal soul according to the Buddhists.

Thirdly you assume that utilitarianism is the only rational ethical position. However it is only rational if you happen to value happiness and the absence of suffering. While most people do, they do not do so exclusively, they also value things like community and human rights, which are required if we are to live in society. Nor is it rational to have any of these values, we can explain why we do; be that culture, evolution or god, but there is always a gap between what is and what we ought to do.(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fact-value_distinction)

Fourthly an anarchist revolutionary type may disagree that anyone with a million pounds is an innocent an not deserving of death given that persons active participation in a capitalist regime that perpetuates poverty throughout the world, and the good that they could do with that money to help hundreds of other people out of poverty.

I may post more later......

 
At 9/4/11 7:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also...

Donald Ray Burriss Jr said...

""Anonymous said...
I'd shoot him. Thought experiment proven wrong, enjoy."

By your own words,
Jeff's thought experiment is proven right, enjoy your life as a sociopath"

I hope you realise that justifying not shooting someone because you might be punished in the afterlife is just as sociopathic. I mean the whole blog essentially says that only sociopathy is rational, that the only rational justification for ethics is self interest, either here and now, or in the afterlife. And what then is god's justification for ethical action? Does might make right? Surely if god exists, what is ethical is not so just because god decided. Then what is ethical is entirely arbitrary. Perhaps life has inherent value, and if that is true then that would be the real reason why we should not kill.

 
At 11/4/11 10:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You keep mentioning the idea of "testing this in a laboratory". What kind of tests do you propose?

Clearly there are enough people here that disagree with your fundamental principles to warrant avoiding this kind of 'logic' test to conclusively prove one way or the other.

You also said that you have used this test with many people - have you surveyed a wide range of people from different backgrounds? Different cultures? What you may have proven is the kind of established morality in your current corner of the world, while it may be completely different in other cities/countries.

I personally find this argument to be flawed, failing to take into account the basic premises laid out in established sociology. (More to the point, were this true, and the PERFECT murder was attempted by no one, then that would state that ONLY sociopaths commit murder.)

And for the record - I am a Christian. I believe in the soul. Unfortunately, I find holes in your logic.

 
At 12/4/11 12:39 PM, Blogger Jeff said...

Keep reading. I have a number of suggestions for doing soul experiments on this site.

You are misunderstanding the experiment. This is not about what you think other people would do. This is strictly about what YOU, PERSONALLY would do, and what it reveals about your fundamental assumptions.

Under the conditions of this experiment, if you DON'T pull the trigger, you are ACTING like you have a soul.

And that's it.

 
At 13/4/11 8:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"You are misunderstanding the experiment. This is not about what you think other people would do. This is strictly about what YOU, PERSONALLY would do, and what it reveals about your fundamental assumptions."

But what it reveals is who I am as a person. This COULD be because I have a soul. This COULD be because of a various number of sociological influences on my personality from birth.

"Under the conditions of this experiment, if you DON'T pull the trigger, you are ACTING like you have a soul."

OR you are acting like a member of society that has been raised in a country founded on Christian values.

Again I say, I don't see the logical inference that implies one from the other.

 
At 13/4/11 5:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Overall, a weak thought experiment. There could be many reasons people would not pull the trigger or a common reason or perhaps reasons unknown to anyone pulling the trigger. Regardless, you are committing what is known as "confirmation bias". Using the experiment to confirm what you think it should mean. A serious trap for people who don't realize they are doing it.

Read more about experimental methods.

 
At 13/4/11 11:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Problems with your assertions:

1) They're leading. When you say this:

(But one thing this guy ISN'T. He is NOT evil. He doesn't go around hurting people. He pays his taxes and he obeys all laws. He's just mean and worthless. So he does not DESERVE killing. There's NO moral justification for that here. )

you've automatically trained most responders to say no. Most people will not do anything without a good reason or motivation, period. Many an demonstrably evil person has refrained from killing or having people killed, because they felt that the target did not deserve to die based on their criteria.

The degreee to which one "deserves" anything is really a subjective thing, as much as we might not like to admit it. Some people may say that you "deserve" something simply by existing, others may require you to perform simple tasks before they acknowledge that you "deserve" the same thing. Still others may require many more tasks and various objects before acknowledging the same thing. Deserving really is a state of mind.

Having said that, when you claim that this person doesn't deserve to die, you short circuit the moral compass that most people would use to make such a decision. Having already informed them that this person will meet their criteria of not "deserving" to die, they have nothing left to do but say what follows: that they will not kill this person. Said person might normally kill everyone on 3 continents, but when you say to them "this person does not DESERVE to die," then you have placed this person in a completely seperate category from the people that this person just killed, who in their mind, did deserve to die for one reason or another.

2) This assertion:


Pardon me, but you are misunderstanding this experiment. It is about what is rational or irrational to do under the two conditions of having a soul or NOT having a soul. There is no "right" or "wrong" outcome.

If you don't believe you have a soul, the RATIONAL thing to do is pull the trigger. You clearly don't believe you have a soul, so you pulled the trigger.



Is incorrect. I can think of another reason not to pull the trigger: I may need this person later on in my life. Here's another more selfish reason: if we don't have souls, then there is no punishment after death. Which means that there is no punishment for the insult that this man has given me. Therefore, the rational thing for me to do is to knock this guy out, take his money, take him to a shed and start torturing him.

The point being that just because I don't do something that has no apparent consequence, does not mean that I believe in invisible or metaphysical consequences. Indeed, as I just stated, the fact that something has no consequence may be just the reason why I don't do it.

 
At 30/4/11 1:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wouldn't shoot him because, as you specify, he's not 'evil' and doesn't deserve it. We have empathy for other humans, which is beneficial in evolutionary terms, and I wouldn't want to deprive him of the rest of his life...

 
At 27/5/11 12:33 PM, Blogger Ken Dunn said...

Hi Jeff,

I saw your blog URL on a "New Scientist" comment and just read your "Murder on a Beach" essay. You're obviously a rational person & have reflected on the nature of human morality. That said, you have made logical errors (largely in the comments, but the scenario begs those missteps - other commentators have pointed these fallacies out for the most part). Further, moral behavior is handily explained without invoking the supernatural (also pointed out in a comment).

Since you seem like a person inclined to intellectual rigor, I recommend two books. They will shine a light of rigor on your thoughts. Whether they change your mind is up to you, but they WILL make you a better thinker. Both books are widely available (from Amazon if not from your local bookstore).

"Nonsense: Red Herrings, Straw Men and Sacred Cows: How We Abuse Logic in Our Everyday Language" by Robert J. Gula

and

"The God Instinct: The Psychology of Souls, Destiny and the Meaning of Life" by Jesse Bering

 
At 27/5/11 1:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Extremely weak logic on all fronts in this hypothetical story, as pointed out by most of the comments, and not at all refuted in your responses.
Major problem:
you seem to think that having a conscience = having a soul
We are patterned by our evolution as creatures operating within social groups and society. Not making a choice that would result in financial gain with no penalty does not require a soul as an explanation. Yes I am a purely physical being, BUT that does not mean that I don't come with a bunch of inbuilt programming. It is the programming (how we as humans are built, our typical behaviour) that stops the average human from acting like a sociopath all the time.
My personal belief? I have what friends have kindly called an overdeveloped sense of responsibility, but when I die do I expect to get rewarded for my good deeds? No, no rewards or eternal heaven expected. Just big blackness. Same as if I'd been 'evil' incarnate.

Recommended reading. Steven Pinker's The Blank Slate. Not because he's also a Dawkinsien style atheist, but because he does an excellent job of demolishing your wildly misguided notion that no soul = sociopath with no concience, and that we somehow require a spiritual puppetmaster in order to act in a societally acceptable fashion.

PS something to ponder. If a soul provides a moral compass, how come we are very seldom appalled (at least in the same way as e.g. the rape of an old lady) at all our actions utterly destroying our planet for the generations that come after us - countless people that will surely outnumber those currently living, subjected to untold suffering as a result of our actions. You, having a soul that guides you to do good, have of course stopped using more planetary resources than you produce?

On the upside, kudos to you for not deleting all the comments that tear your argument to pieces.

 
At 27/5/11 1:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, and the previous comment not from same anonymous as previous. D

 
At 27/5/11 3:24 PM, Blogger Jeff said...

Ken, can you cite any SCIENTIFIC EXPERIMENTS that back up your belief?

If not---I admire the purity of your faith, Ken.

"Faith" is EXACTLY what it is. You haven't the slightest experimental proof of your belief. None of you guys do. Zip, zero, nada, nothing. It's all FAITH, all hot air. It's all books, nothing experimental.

Did you pull the trigger, may I ask?

The purpose of The Nine Point Five Theses is NOT to convince people they have souls, although they can be used for that purpose.

The purpose of The Nine Point Five Theses is to stimulate scientific experiments into detecting souls, into building a soul-detector. The current scientific assumption is souls are somehow irrational things to believe in. The Nine Point Five Theses demonstrate why this is NOT the case. The overall judgment I ask the "gentle reader" to make is whether or not The Nine Point Five Theses are sufficient theoretical justification for scientists to go into the laboratory and try to detect souls.

Oh, and by the way---I've seen it. A cat-soul dived through my chest once. I describe the experience in The Nine Point Five Theses.

I suggest you keep reading, and see if there aren't profoundly important reasons why scientists should build a soul-detector as soon as possible.

P.S.: I delete nothing except obvious spam. A lot of you guys are going I wish I had, one day . . .

 
At 1/6/11 11:01 PM, Blogger codyp said...

Your post is full of logical fallacies, and your premise has no evidence to support it.

You say it's a soul detector, but it's the equivalence of a water detector that detects all liquids.

I get your point, and I agree. However sticking to your guns have made you seem irrational and incapable.

You would have been better off advocating for soul research. Your mistakes leave you looking like a blind faith sheep, passing himself as rational. You will find people are quick to call that, because sadly most of the time it's true.

However you have given them all the reason in the world to call you that, you didn't use logic; you only made it appear you used logic. It is fine if you are learning, but you aren't even trying it seems.


Your motivation might have been pure, but your content is full of persuasive (and bad at it) writing. I encourage you to keep at it, but I strongly encourage you to take every single comment against you as input you need in order to grow.

Please do so or work at burger king; We don't need more of this kind of dribble in power.

 
At 14/6/11 6:10 PM, Anonymous Mike said...

If I knew the man with the briefcase had a soul, I'd be more inclined to shoot him.

 
At 15/6/11 11:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Morals can be modeled as a type of emotional currency that allows individuals to make altruistic decisions that otherwise would leave them in a much worse situation as an individual. This currency would have evolved over millions of generations of individuals as a way of allowing otherwise naturally selfish individuals to develop societies despite their selfish nature.
Your thought experiment is a classic example of this emotional currency in action. Individuals who participate in your experiment actually feel good by deciding to not kill your fictional character, just from thinking about it. This pleasant emotion tends to negate the negative feelings that you attempted to invoke with your description of the "bad man". The intensity and quality of the positive emotions invoked by this minor altruistic decision will vary based on the experience and genetic makeup of the individual but for the most part will still be in force.
So, in other words, an altruistic decision by an individual does not need to come from the need to protect an immortal soul, but very easily and much more likely could come from the desire for an emotional reward for such behavior that has been bred into that individual through evolution.

 
At 18/6/11 10:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If pulling the trigger equals no soul what is the basis? Is it committing a crime? Is it simply a capital crime? To imply their is a soul from an unnatural source based solely on this experiment is ludicrous. In what way would either outcome compel a scientist to begin testing for the existence of a soul? To imply a soul exists is to equally imply a "creator" exists.

"God" i.e. the policeman, is supposedly watching over us which would cause a "rational" human to act as if he possesses a soul.

I'm going to presume your a religious man; if I'm incorrect please let me know. Have you ever sped whilst driving? Have you ever ate something someone asked you not to eat? Have you ever told a "little white lie?" If you have engaged in any of these activities are you behaving as if you have a soul? Let me explain. "God" discerns no difference in sin i.e a sin is a sin is a sin. Therefor if you speed while driving you're breaking the laws of your "ruler, government, authority" and I would suspect you break many traffic laws happily, as do the majority of drivers in this world. If you break a law once and repent all is forgiven. If you break the same law and repent is all forgiven. And if driving again someday happen to speed and break the same law again can you really truly repent? If you can repent then surely one could repent for the murder on the beach before one take's the memory erasing pill. If you did repent after murdering the man does that prove you have a soul? If you murder the man and feel guilty for 29 minutes, does that prove you have a soul? Would not feeling guilty only lead to you being a sociopath?

I'm unsure as to how this makes you a sociopath and no other solution exists that could explain. If no one will miss the mean bastard what's the purpose of him living? Lets presume souls exist. He is letting his soul go to waste by being mean to any and everyone he comes into contact with. What if I pull the trigger and then take the money and donate every penny of it to charities...even churches. Wouldn't that man's murder be worth saving the lives of homeless starving children in the eyes of many? I find it hard to believe the moral majority would argue against the murder of a selfish, mean, hateful, unloved, uncared for person with no emotional connection to humanity; as long as those truly in need are helped in a real and profound way.

Another thought to consider. In a religious sense, aren't we all evil? I also find it incredibly difficult to posit a unnatural soul with out a supernatural source. If you could explain the basis for a soul outside of a higher power I'm all ears. I of course presume you do believe in a higher power. Let me ask you this. Have you ever seen religious folks behave as if they have no soul? I certainly have. I spent 4 years of my life directly involved with churches of the christian faith. I witnessed so much hypocritical behavior by pastors, deacons, etc. Cliques are the norm in many churches. Looking down your nose at people you consider "weird" or different. How about condemning someone based off of their sexual preference? Do these activities prove the existence or non-existence of a soul?

The belief in souls is a highly emotional, subjective and extremely personal viewpoint.

Now speaking as a agnostic I will say this. I would rather stand before an almighty and confess my sin of unbelief, which is the only sin one won't be forgiven for, then say I believed out of fear of punishment.

 
At 20/6/11 1:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wouldn't shoot him because 1) he doesn't deserve to (I would have also thought this if you didn't tell me he is "NOT evil") and 2) I can just walk to the nearest soup kitchen, as you said, and money doesn't buy happiness. The alternative to murder in this "experiment" is a lot more appealing to me, even with the pill. If you don't shoot him, you won't need to use the pill, and at least you'll always know you spared an innocent person's life.

I honestly don't think this is a very good experiment. If it were really a life-or-death situation, I would have pulled the trigger without hesitation. But if it were such a situation, it would probably be on a deserted island (rather than a beach) and no soup kitchen anyway near, so having a million dollars would be quite useless. I guess I'd eat the guy then. I heard humans taste like chicken.

 
At 22/6/11 10:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What do you mean no one has ever pulled the trigger. People kill people all the time. I would take the money and kill him. I think the problem with your experiment is a large majority of ppl wouldn't want to ADMIT to this line of thinking to another person.

 
At 22/6/11 11:28 PM, Blogger Corinoco said...

"If you don't believe you have a soul, the RATIONAL thing to do is pull the trigger."

Apart from putting things in capitals (which is on odd habit, but probably irrelevant), I can't find your explanation for why murdering someone is in this case rational?

I can see you state murder as rational if you have no soul; I can state that the sea is made out of custard if you have blue eyes, but that does not then logically prove the sea to be made out of custard if you happen to have blue eyes.

Simply stating that there are no possible negative outcomes does not imply that something is 'rational' in any way.

"If you don't pull the trigger, you're acting like you DO have a soul." Okay, I'm going to have to use some Plato here...

Is the statement true? well, partially. It says 'acting like', so based on your logical the statement is true.

Is it falsifiable? Can you use the term 'if and only if' instead of just 'if', and remove 'you're acting like'? No, you can't. There are other (in this case undefined) reasons why you chose not to pull the trigger. Unfortunately this is not enough evidence to state that you are even acting like you have a soul.

The Murder on the Beach scenario is, I think, using an emotional argument to prove your point. It would be far more interesting to try to prove the existence of a soul using a vastly simply conundrum, say The Prisoner's Dilemma or the Monty Hall Problem.

I can understand how you have constructed this thought experiment, but there are too many extraordinary suppositions in it to provide a clear, unambiguous outcome. Theories must be simple to narrow the realm of possibility you are trying to measure. For example, the explanation of the Theory of Relativity is explained magnificently in the film 'Young Einstein' by simply looking at a clock at the other end of the swimming pool; the one single extraordinary supposition is that one can swim at the speed of light.

If your thought experiment could be trimmed down like this, it may become more useful. The most bothersome aspect is the 'amnesia pill' as it turns the whole thing into a non-causal event; in my run through of your experiment, the outcome of shooting the man is me saying "WTF? Where did this briefcase come from? Am I in some kind of experiment?" Seriously, it is a loophole - you have to suppose that no-one would question where a breifcase full of cash suddenly came from, and whether or not that has any bearing on the existence of a soul. I can't see that it does, myself.

Ooh, another thing - if we are starving, how starving are we? Just peckish, or so dehydrated and low on energy we have started to hallucinate? This makes a difference too.

You can easily see how over-defined the scenario becomes to close these loopholes, and the more definition the more you lead the answer to the result you want.

Example - What temperature does water boil at? Most people say 100C (or whatever in F); however to provide a true answer you need to ask 'Do you mean pure, distilled water at STP?' Similarly to prove that water boils at 100C, you need to add that this is true if and only if (that statement again) you boil pure, distilled water at STP.

So to rephrase the original quote, a more absolute statement is:

"If and only if your belief system does not include the possibility of the existence of souls; then the most rational course of action is to commit murder when an unimpeachable opportunity arises."

It's very absolute; it is also very false.

 
At 14/8/11 11:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think youre getting confused between moral and legal consequences. The man isnt innocent morally if hes such a terrible person. Id shoot him and not bother with the pill. This let me down

 
At 8/9/11 10:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You have this one COMPLETELY BACKWARDS, born out by stats on murder. The religious people are more likely to shoot - they think death isn't "the end". The atheist knows that this life, good or bad, is all the other poor slob's got. The religious nut figures the other guy will have a soul that sprouts magic fairy wings and flys off to heaven.

 
At 10/9/11 9:22 PM, Anonymous Rene Wooller said...

Evolution can easily explain this behavior without resorting to invisible and unquantifiable 'souls' - Over millions of years, the humans who instinctively avoided killing other humans (even mean nasty ones) during times of peace tended to survive and prosper, the people who would say "yes" to your scenario would mostly have been weeded out via retribution and unattractiveness, millions of years ago.

 
At 26/9/11 12:37 PM, Blogger Soylent said...

"What does this human action, this choice, this ABSOLUTE refusal to commit murder, imply, gentle reader"

It implies that the 99% of people who aren't psychopaths are good at playing positive sum games. At least with in-group people; there have clearly been some serious failings in regards to outgroup people, such as jews, kulaks and various ethnic groups in living memory. The only way to produce a fabulously wealthy society as we have today is if people behave in this way, not just when somebody is looking, but really internalize it.

If you're worried that the tribe next door is going to kill you and take your stuff, the temptation is awfully strong to strike first; especially if the pool of resources is fixed(there are only so many berries to gather and so many deer to hunt). In hunter-gatherer societies the murder rate is 5-50% for men.

It also implies that the 1% of people who are psyhopaths are rational enough not tell you what they really think.

 
At 21/10/11 5:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would shoot him and take the money - I knew that well before you even reached the point where you asked me to make the choice. The 100% guarantee of getting off scott free was not even needed, nor the special pill (which by the way I would NEVER voluntarily take). No even if there was a chance of getting caught, I'd take the risk - and I live with the memory of it, happily - I would never feel bad about it.

All that said, I do believe that I have a soul. I have always believed that, and I grew up without religion and don't subscribe to any particular religion (in fact most religions are utterly absurd, and mostly espoused by complete hypocrites). Even the eastern religions like budhism, taoism, hindu, are total shams. Yet I have always believed I have a soul - known it, without being taught. I believe everything has a soul. Not just people, not even just living organisms, but indeed, every thing.

What's more is that those souls are in flux and interconnected in an infinite number of ways. For instance, I have a soul, and I sit at this desk which has a soul in this room which has a soul but which is also a part of this whole building which has its own soul, and we all combine to create a new soul - the soul of this place at this time. The soul of this place at this time which I am a part of will be distinctly different when I leave - though it will still have a similar vibe - because I only made up a small portion of the soul of this place, which is influenced not only by the elements which form the place in the present but also by its history, and the people and events which have been here before.

Furthermore, in general I do try to do unto others as I would have done unto myself, but in this case it is just to fine of an opportunity to pass up. Also, I love life and want to live as long as I can, but I also look forward to death with great eagerness and anticipation. I would do everything in my power to prevent you from killing me, yet if you succeeded in killing me, I would not mind at all - in fact it would be awesome. So why not just kill myself? As I said I enjoy living, and even when it becomes unbearably unpleasant, I still relish the struggle and challenge and richness of life. Death is not something which I am liable to miss out on - it is not a one-time opportunity. Yet once I do get to experience death, I may find that life was a one-time opportunity, or maybe even that this particular incarnation was a one time opportunity, so it is only logical to enjoy this life for as long as I can, I suspect death will be fantastic, but I'm the kind of person that likes to save the best for last..

Finally, I don't really believe in 'evil' beyond the subjective human definition of a concept. But as far as my own subjective human definition of the concept of 'evil' goes - the man you described on the beach was 'evil'. What you described was an evil man, but then you claimed he was not evil, you claimed he was innocent. Mind you him suiting my definition of evil was not a prerequisite for me pulling the trigger, but had he been a very kind, loving, wise person, or a close friend of mine - I probably wouldn't shoot him, because his existence in the world that I exist in would be more valuable to me then the money, not even his company, or his imparting his wisdom on me, or showing me his great kindness - just his mere existence - just knowing that such people exist in the world is of great value to me...

 
At 23/10/11 5:10 PM, Anonymous dbeberman said...

If everything you were saying in your hypothetical scenarios exists, the answer is, not only, yes you shoot, but that throughout history humans have always "shot".
Go read the last 2000 years of recorded history, and look back even farther and you will always see this. In fact, you will see that many shoot even knowing there are potential repercussions. Further, for those that don't shoot, the rationale that this means they are worried about future punishment is completely invalid. This presupposes that fear of punishment is the only thing that stops us from being antisocial behavior. That is a completely invalid hypothesis. Note that it is also one that has always been subtly promoted by many religions. There is, in fact, no scientific basis to promote this assumption on. Empathy for another human being, or any other life form is more than enough reason for not shooting. Valuing life higher than money is not a statement about the soul. It may be a statement about the awe we should feel for the biological evolution of consciousness. That truly is awe inspiring and I can understand everyone's inclination to preserve all forms of consciousness.
However, back to your main thesis, that people wouldn't shoot... better check the history books on that one. You aren't even close.
Fun question though, barring the complete lack of rational (or scientific or historical) thought that accompanied it.

 
At 23/10/11 6:33 PM, Blogger GEORGE HIRSCH said...

This is also stated in "Descarte's Wager".. Which I'm sure you know.

Actually. You can experience yourself, or anyone else, DIRECTLY as an immortal spiritual being [soul], without need of "logic".

But that's another subject altogether.

It's good, however, that you got people thinking on this.. Now we just have to go out and be good to each other and make the world better. Soul or no soul.

 
At 23/10/11 7:31 PM, Blogger Jeff said...

Yes, George, I'm aware of Descarte's Wager.

I have to say my purpose is not to get people thinking.

It's to get people DOING, i.e. EXPERIMENTING, as in going into the lab and trying to detect souls.

Enough of all this blog-post blathering and theoretical hot air. Let's see somebody go into the lab and actually PROVE his point.

I'm not trying to convince the masses here. My objective is stimulate experiments to detect souls in the laboratory. In order to do that, I've laid out a number of theoretical analyses of why such a thing would be a logical thing to do, starting with a scenario involving the reader's own behavior.

I don't know if you've read all The Nine Point Five Theses, but the decision I ask each reader to make is whether or not The Nine Point Five Theses is sufficient theoretical justification for conducting soul experiments.

If I get just one scientist to start thinking about how to build a soul-detector, and then go into the lab and start wiring resistors and capacitors together in order to see what he or she can find, my purpose is accomplished.

Thank you for reading and commenting.

 
At 24/10/11 8:09 AM, Blogger Daniel Earwicker said...

It is my contention, gentle reader, that coldly logical examination... of human behavior reveals humans have souls.

I read that and thought: "Okay, this should be mildly entertaining at least".

But then...

Do you, or do you not, act like you have a soul?

What a disappointment. The goal posts have suddenly moved, right before we even start the game!

My toaster acts like it doesn't want to burn my toast. Does that mean it really cares about me?

 
At 25/10/11 4:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

At risk of repeating what another has already said, the reason why no one that the author spoke to said they would pull the trigger is because they were asked.

The reality is that none of us know what we would do in a given situation. In philosophy classes, we have done similar thought experiments, and even when it was probably the ethically correct thing to do (e.g. shooting someone to prevent harm)people always tried to find creative ways, or deny that they would pull the trigger.

This isn't because they wouldn't do it. It's because they would not admit to themselves, or to others, that they would be capable of committing a violent act. The thought promotes shame and self doubt, and in a social context, stigma. To protect against this, people deny that they would do it, even though no one really knows.

 
At 25/10/11 10:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would shoot him and I believe in an immortal soul. Clearly I must not have "understood" your thought experiment.

 
At 27/10/11 1:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess you decided my comment was not worthy of being posted, which pretty much proves that you have no soul. You might as well have killed me...

 
At 31/10/11 6:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a scientist, and there is absolutely no way to prove that there is a soul, because BY DEFINITION it would not be observable (would not exist in the observable universe). QED.

 
At 11/11/11 3:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You incorrectly assume that people try to do what is good for them as a person. However, what is really important is what is good for their genes. Murdering others is bad for your genes' survival, as groups of people who regulalry killed each other went extinct.

 
At 11/11/11 3:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A much better proof of having a soul is the question "What is it like to be a bat?". Without consciousness (or a soul, if you want) this question would be completely meaningless. It does not prove the soul is eternal though.

 
At 27/11/11 6:07 PM, Blogger Eddie said...

It's rational to act morally. Living with the guilt is a clear consequence of going through with the shooting. Therefore your contention that all the consequences are positive are wrong.

Now the question is why do we have morality? That can be explained as a biological system, but I'll leave it to others to believe what they want.

Needless to say I'm glad people feel guilt. Otherwise there would be a lot more murder going on.

 
At 28/11/11 12:07 PM, Blogger Robert Dishong said...

Umm, I have personal morals that would prevent me from doing so. It has nothing to do with a fear of punishment, merely that if that man can be so worthless and mean, why can't I be useful and nice?

What you are doing is trying to say that if one has personal rules or beliefs that they must have a soul. You are putting words into people's mouths.

I'm predisposed to nonviolence because of the harm I would be inflicting on someone else, not fear of punishment. Fear of punishment is what criminals and religious zealots suffer from.

I empathize with people and that doesn't come from religion or a soul, it comes from seeing the world around me as a place to help others and bring happiness. Besides I couldn't stomach seeing the blood. There are just too many external and internal factors for you to come to this as your ultimate conclusion.

The RATIONAL outcome is to not shoot him and merely sell the gun.

Stupid rant. I'm never surprised by a zealot's stupidity and word twisting.

Is it just me or does every tom, dick, and idiot have a blog now?

 
At 28/11/11 1:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"If you don't believe you have a soul, the RATIONAL thing to do is pull the trigger. You clearly don't believe you have a soul, so you pulled the trigger."

Only if you assume that emotions are based on the existence of a soul, and that by not having a soul, you therefore lack emotions(and therefore would lack morals).

It's quite flawed.

A more interesting question is 'how does someone create inane scenarios and use them as evidence to their beliefs?'

 
At 28/11/11 1:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"whether or not The Nine Point Five Theses is sufficient theoretical justification for conducting soul experiments."
No.

In fact, the only thing the "Nine Point Five Theses" can explain is that the author suffers from more logical fallacies and biases than I've ever met.

 
At 28/11/11 9:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The obvious problem with this, ahem, 'argument' is its complete disregard for the frame one is in when he/she is making the choice to kill or not kill.

There are two frames implied, pre-pill and post-pill. The decision is always made in the pre-pill frame.

We'll get back to that.

A second problem is the assumption that only a fear of punishment would rationally explain the choice not to kill. One being of the persuasion that a life should not be taken is just as valid reason to come to the decision not to kill.

A third problem is the assumption that there is no significant negative consequence to deter one from killing the man, unless that consequence is suffered after death.

Being fully aware of the choice before him, and fully aware of the pill that will erase his memory in the event he does kill this person, he weighs the pros and cons.

Pros: 1) Lifetime of hapiness 2) No memory of the murder 3) No external consequences.

By the merit of these pros ALONE, he should kill the man. But what if this man is adamently against the killing of any man, solely on the basis of empathy.

Because his decision can only truly be informed in the pre-pill frame, and all of the rational justifications can only exist together in the post-pill frame, he must process the decision on the basis of the most immediately tangible factor: his own empathy.

He knows that in the event he makes the decision to kill the man, he will carry the weight of that decision from the moment he makes it, carries it out, right up until he takes the pill; something which could easily be considered a negative consequnce.

He can't bare the thought of enduring the pain of going against his own nature, or the sorrow of doing something he would not wish someone to do to him... so he chooses against it. After all, his own life doesn't hing on the decision, according to your 'essay'.

He ignores the mean man, and now gets to live with the memory that he acted according to his nature, which brings him joy. (Oh, and just for the heck of it...) He goes on not believing he has a soul.

 
At 7/12/11 1:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are many holes in this thought experiment. First, it assumes that the only reason for making a choice that seems irrational is the possession of a soul. It assumes that every carefully considered choice we make is rational which is demonstrably incorrect. It ignores the possibility (which I would call a certainty) that part of the genetic inheritance of human beings (and of course other animals which we assume not to have souls) is an instinct against killing, or alternatively that this is such a strong learned behaviour that it cannot be overcome by a simple story. And so on.

 
At 13/12/11 9:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hate you.

 
At 15/12/11 8:36 PM, Blogger florid.snow said...

Hi Jeff, just like to say, (not being snarky like some others) I read this post and really paused and closed my eyes and imagined myself there, and I really killed the guy. I pulled the trigger right away. Just wanted to let you know.

I really like the premise of your blog, and I'm looking forward to reading more of your posts. Personally, I am an agnostic and I believe consciousness is a property of material that may or may not go away after death like many believe, so in a way the idea is similar to a soul but different than the common understanding. I have yet to write as much as you have in defense of your idea, so you have inspired me.

 
At 10/1/12 7:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You missed the scientific explanation actually. One word..EVOLUTION

 
At 11/1/12 9:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i think most people do not really take on board the abilities of the 'forgetting pill.'
The pill means that they will never know they did this, for their experience, just like it didn't happen.
Shoot him.

 
At 11/1/12 11:02 AM, Blogger Tito said...

One question though. What about those who HAVE committed murders for selfish gain, despite there being consequences?

 
At 17/1/12 11:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would shoot him.

Two types of people in this world.

Predators and prey.

Enjoy being eaten.

 
At 1/2/12 10:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't believe in souls and still probably would not kill the guy, because I have no way of knowing if he really deserves it or not.
Desperate enough, I might wound him enough to rob him - as a former special ops guy, that would be a relatively easy shot, and I know how to disapppear after with a cool million in cash.
If I were inclined to kill, however, the addition of the cop would make little difference; my skill set almost certainly exceeds his.

 
At 2/2/12 3:08 AM, Blogger Stefan said...

I was brought up in the belief that basically every living being has an intrinsic value and a right to live and seek fulfillment. I was brought up with the moral base that killing is evil. That is part of my mental imprint. And - it is part of most people's mental imprint. Additionally the evolutionary success of mankind is mainly based upon cooperation, and cooperation may well be a hard wired into our behavior, so we cannot give it up just like that, we simply are not that free. We are animals with behavior patterns not easily accessible by free will (which may be an illusion altogether - the judgement still is out on that one). And then there are the 5% or so who thrive on exploiting the other 95%. The sociopaths and psychopaths who do kill without remorse, who feel no kinship, no compassion, no remorse. They hide behind their manipulative masks. They will pull the trigger. But they will not tell you in a survey! All of this has nothing to do with an immortal soul. All of this happens on the level of flesh and bones.

 
At 3/2/12 12:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

``At one point you said, very simply, that, "If you pull the trigger, you're acting like you DON'T have a soul.

If you don't pull the trigger, you're acting like you DO have a soul."

I argue that only people that have been taught, even if they don't believe, what a soul is and that they potentially have one...would even consider not pulling the trigger.

Our actions, thought out rational ones or knee jerk illogical ones, are based upon our past experiences. Take out the experience of "soul" and I think you'll have a much better answer.

I myself believe in what I can prove. Despite my best intentions
I cannot shake the values built into me by my parents and fellow human beings.

Take out the soup kitchen around the corner thats willing to feed you and I think you'd get different answers as well.

With no other way to get food than to kill the man...even rational thought will tell you the only thing to do is to kill the man...mean or otherwise. Soul or not.

 
At 3/2/12 12:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was the previous anonymous poster from today and forgot to finish off my last thought.

If you took away the soup kitchen, or make this life or death, then your answers would be better as well. Because eeven if it is life or death, if we acted like we had a soul...this current "life" would not matter. We wouldn't shoot even if it meant death because we have a soul.

 
At 16/2/12 7:31 AM, Anonymous Steven said...

I chose not to pull the trigger because I had a green troll doll on the dashboard of my car when I was 20.
Equally valid reason as not having a soul.

 
At 8/4/12 11:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, your argument leaves a little out.
1. Most, if not all, of the people reading your post have never really been put in this position so the social conditioning they have received would not allow them to pull the trigger. ( By the way, I DID.) After all, he hit me which is a reason for fear for life which is a justification for the taking of anothers.
2. Many of the people who would pull the trigger are possibly what would be called sociopaths. who are usually extremely intelligent, therefore they would not let on to anyone, least of all by a traceable ip address that they would kill someone without compunction.
There are other reasons why no one has ever told you they would pull the trigger but to destroy an hypothesis one only has to give one experimental failure to destroy it so number two and beyond is not needed since number 1 did destroy it.
I really pulled the trigger in your thought experiment before I ever finished your story.
So, either we all do not have souls or at least I don't.

 
At 8/4/12 12:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous of 8/4/12 11:47 AM
Hi Again,
Read your story all the way through, and I pulled the trigger again.
Sorry.
Oh, by the way, I did not take the pill either.

 
At 11/5/12 5:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is an obvious negative consequence that is overlooked. That is why most don't shoot a stranger, getting reward for no effort is a cheating of yourself and brings no satisfaction.

 
At 29/5/12 2:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The primary weakness in your experiment, and its subsequent applications, is clearly that you have only polled a western audience. In many parts of the world, pulling the trigger, pill or not, justification or not, is a no brainer, especially if the individual is 'other'. According to certain customs, it would even be a virtue. The hesitation an behalf of a western respondent is primarily due to vestigial Christian morality...we are intellectually atheistic, but emotionally still God-fearing. EvIdence for a universal soul would not reveal such discrepancies across cultures; it would not permit situations in which murder (of one's enemy tribe, clan or faction) was a virtue. it would not, as per the jijhadist, claim mass murder as a moral virtue. Murederous moralities exist, and they too are explained in terms of an eternal soul and its respite in paradise.

 
At 4/6/12 8:15 PM, Blogger Micki Peluso is the author of "And the Whippoorwill Sang" said...

Jeff, this is a very well-thought analogy. However one might contend that this fear of God or a higher power in placed within our psyche as children by parent's churches, teachers. Still for many, in fact most, whether they admit it to themselves or not, there is a place deep within them that senses on an even deeper level that there is something more to their excistence than atoms, molecules, genes and atoms--something tangible, yet not; something that just 'is". It can be arguesd that
it is the ego of the mind that insists it is immortal, yet one cannot explain that sense off another entity living within them,which for no better word, is called a soul.

Micki

 
At 28/6/12 7:34 AM, Blogger Gary Whittenberger said...

Jeff,

I enjoyed reading your “murder on a beach thought experiment.” These kinds of hypothetical situations get us to think about and articulate our moral philosophies, so thanks for the thought stimulus.

In short, under the circumstances you stipulate, I would not kill the man with the million dollars. I think it would be rational not to kill him and irrational to kill him. And I have no belief in a soul.

I think what you are really wanting to test is presumed belief in divine punishment, not belief in a soul. Think about this: As do some Jews, you might not believe in a soul but still believe in eventual divine punishment for your misdeeds. You might believe that when you die, your body decomposes and your atoms return to the environment and that at a later time your body is resurrected or reconstituted and you are judged by a divine being for your misdeeds. So, if you are really trying to tap a presumed belief in a soul, your thought experiment doesn’t work.

I think the scenario is blemished when you describe the personality of the man with the million dollars. You make him a bad person, but not a very bad person. I think you should make him to be a stranger, where the person with the choice to murder or not does not know anything about the man with the money. You can influence the decision greatly by simply varying the characteristics of the man with the money. If he were Hitler, probably most people would kill him, but if he were Ghandi, probably most people would not kill him. Your thought experiment would be greatly improved by just making the money man an unknown figure.

You said that everyone to whom you had presented the scenario had said they would not murder the money man, but this claim is now falsified because I read that at least one commentator to your blog said he would kill the money man.

A person may act “as if” he believes in divine punishment (or a soul) without actually believing in divine punishment or a soul (either consciously or subconsciously, if that is even possible). People may behave in the same way for very different reasons. And so, two persons may decide not to kill the money man, while one believes in divine punishment (or a soul) and the other has no such belief.

I am uncomfortable with your implied definition of “rational.” You seem to think of it very narrowly – as whatever is in my self-interest right now or in the short run. Alternatively, it might be defined as whatever is in the interests of humanity over the long run or whatever is in my enlightened self-interest, which is broader. It is in my enlightened self-interest to abide by an implied social contract where I agree not to kill or attempt to kill person X, and he makes the same agreement about me. Similarly, it is in my enlightened self-interest to abide by an implied social contract where I agree to get money to meet my own needs by working and everyone else agrees to do the same.

If you made the scenario into a matter in which the death of the money man was in the balance compared with the death of another person, even the decision maker, then you’d see that a lot more people would choose to kill the money man.

Here’s an interesting modification to the thought experiment: Stipulate that there is no God and no divine punishment (and no soul). What is the percentage of people who still say they would not kill the money man? And why do they not kill him? Do they think it is rational not to kill him? Exploration of their answers would help to articulate a morality without God. I think this can be done successfully.

Best regards for your continued exploration of moral issues.

 
At 29/7/12 9:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe in souls and I'd still shoot the bastard. ARGUMENT DESTROYED

 
At 30/7/12 7:14 PM, Anonymous Kevin said...

Your experiment ignores numerous possible explanations for the observed behavior. The most important of these being that humans - the subject at hand - are social creatures.

One important consequence of the social nature of humans (which itself is enormously beneficial to human survival) is the need for trust. Individuals will only work together towards a greater mutual benefit if they believe that they will in fact reap part of that benefit. This need for trust leads to behavior which we call a conscience, which itself is simply a tool by which an individual's group - their society, if you will - trains them for, or against certain other behaviors.

Murder in particular is very disruptive to cooperative behavior. If you believe that someone is going to murder you, then you are not going to risk cooperating with them in any way. As such we are trained by our respective "societies" against murder as early as we are capable of understanding such a concept. Because of this early, and repetitive training the internal prohibition against murder is very deeply and strongly rooted in our behavioral makeup, and most people will behave as if there are consequences for committing murder, even if those consequences are removed entirely.

 
At 31/7/12 3:17 AM, Anonymous Sean said...

I think my prediction about the title attracting the more conspiracy-minded is coming true. An amazing 200 hits on The Nine Point Five Theses today from this article.

The traffic your comment on New Scientist generated seems to have attracted a lot of comments pulling apart your logic and pointing out your fallacies.

Hardly what I'd refer to as a "conspiracy-minded" bunch.

I sense the terrible naivete of scientists again.

I sense the incredible naivete of a mediocre blogger tempting a bunch of highly rational, highly intelligent, and highly logical people to read irrational, poorly thought-out meanderings.

 
At 11/9/12 11:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would pull the trigger without hesitation

 
At 11/9/12 11:30 AM, Anonymous Cliff said...

I'd strangle him and keep the gun as well :)

 
At 9/1/13 2:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

the reason why i wouldnt do it, is not because i will be punished in some after life


it is because it is wrong and can cause harm to those in the victims life

 

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