Artificial Intelligence and the Soul

The Iron Soul

We mostly just accept the fictional convention that R2-D2 has a mind. The same way we accept other impossible things like FTL travel. But it’s almost never discussed in or out of films because these stories have mostly came from another cultural level: our generally unexpressed Neo Darwinian worldview. More on that later. But within this robotic mythology The Iron Giant stands apart as a uniquely interesting film because it deals with the concept of a robot soul in a philosophically astute manner.

Giant: You Die?

Hogarth: Well yes…someday.

Giant: I die?

Hogarth: I don’t know. You’re made of metal. But you have feelings and you think about things. And that means you have a soul. And souls don’t die.

What it is like to be like something

There is nothing “it is like” to be a rock. Rocks have no first person perspective. They have no experiences. But there is something it is like to be a cat. They see and perceive things. They can learn and be taught. All at a very rudimentary level of course. But regardless they have a perspective on things. Being a cat feels like something. That means Cats have primitive minds and souls. Believe it or not this view is not only relatively common but undergirded by the biblical concept of naphesh, the enlivening or animating spirit given by God to his creatures. Something like this has been the standard view throughout most intellectual history.

Syntax vs Semantics

This syntactical/semantical gap is actually why Hogarth knows that the Giant has a soul. The Giant isn’t great with syntax but he gets semantics. Semantics like death and heroism. AI can create perfect syntax and yet baring a miracle no AI will ever comprehend a word of English or any other language. This is very hard to convince people of in the age of Siri.

Darwinism logically necessitates that AI be conscious

But the reason these truths are kept locked away in an ivory tower isn’t due to some conspiracy. It’s because our contemporary western worldview necessitates that consciousness be a physical by product of evolution. This became very clear during a Q&A at a google talks event where Searle was lecturing.

Searle: About could it emerge. Miracles are always possible ya know…the mechanisms by which consciousness is created in the brain are quite specific and remember this is the key point any system that creates consciousness has to duplicate those powers…

This is both true and not true. Consciousness doesn’t exist in your brain nor is it created by your brain. This is a very specific form of supervenience theory of mind and it’s incoherent for a variety of reasons. One being that Jeffrey Schwartz has shown that your mind can change your brain. But Searle is correct that whatever does cause consciousness would have to be duplicated in some thing else in order for that thing to have consciousness. But the questioner was not deterred.

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