The other day I saw someone ask if a robot could have a soul. The question was a rhetorical one, and they were making the point that if you ignore the possibility of a sentient robot having a soul, well that was not a good look. The thing is, I’m an atheist, so I don’t believe the robot could have a soul, but apart from the soul I think I largely agree with the point they were trying to make. It’s not about the soul as such, it’s about how you treat others, and specifically how you treat sentient beings not like you. And this got me to thinking, and I ended up thinking some pretty dark thoughts. So here I shall lay out my theory, as an atheist, of what the soul is.
This is a topic that has been on my mind for a while. I don’t claim to have all the answers, and I am in no way qualified to make determinations about the topics that this post is going to touch on. But this is going to be an overview of what I believe on the matter.
Some time ago I wrote a blog post asking the question “Who are you really?” It didn’t come to any real conclusion, it only expressed the fact that it was a topic I had been thinking about. I didn’t immediately stop thinking about it, but it drifted out of the forefront of my thoughts to the point that I still haven’t really got a good conclusion. But I have been reminded of the topic recently by an article on LWN about issues Debian is facing with key signing. Now the issues that Debian is facing very much reflect the issues I had that led to my previous blog post. How do you trust an identity? What value does that identity hold in itself, and what value can you ascribe to associated details.
So, I’ve been thinking about the nature of “truth” recently, and that led to me thinking about the scientific method, and how it enables to learn more about what the truth is. And that got me thinking about what science is in a more general sense. This led me to the conclusion that for most people modern science has more in common with religion than the scientific method. Now I’m aware that some would argue the scientific method means that science isn’t a religion, but actually that just makes it a bad religion. Now science as a religion isn’t an original idea, but I’m going to go through my thinking on this anyway.
This past week I was going to write a blog post about my latest fail, and what I learnt from it. But in the mean time something has come up that has annoyed me, so much so that I’ve decided to rant about that instead.
Recently I’ve been thinking about identity and what that actually means, and more importantly what I feel it should mean. Everything that deals with the identity of people appears to default to the assumption that we all have one, single, canonical, identity, that all things we use to identify ourselves should be slaved too. In fiction we know someone is suspicious, a spy, or criminal, when they have multiple passports. In IT we base trust on this who of the identity that issues instructions is linked too. When talking to people online we tell each other not to trust them unless we also know them in the real world, and can be sure that they are that person.
I’m not a religious man, that much should be obvious to those that know me. I also have a tendency to rant against religion, this is not one of those rants. The basic premise I have is that we should fear anyone who is outwardly righteous, at least until we can accurately judge their true ambitions. Particularly those in politics.
So a couple of weeks ago I read this article and wanted to comment on it, but was taken ill preventing me commenting at that time. Since then I have had plenty of time to think, and the subject of that article has been on my mind more than I expected it to be. The post I was going to make at the time was how I felt it was the wrong solution to the problem it purports to solve, but upon reflection I have come to the conclusion that it is worse than that, it is not only the wrong solution, but it is also a demonstration of everything wrong with the IT industry today.
So lets start off by saying I am a white, heterosexual, middle class, male. I have seen lots of comments on the internet about Social Justice Warriors (SJWs for short), and I gather that, based upon what I have seen, I should be worried for my very existence, as these SJWs are apparently out to rid the world of my kind, that is to say white middle class cis gendered (yes I know that "cis gendered" is a label for non trans gendered people, and some see it as an insult, but I am what I am, and I have no better label to use) heterosexual able bodied men. But I have very few examples I can point to of any of these SJWs that really concern me, or indeed that I disagree with in any significant way.
Before we go any further I should probably explain what triggered this particular rant. Recently a person at Google has been sacked for breach of Google's internal policies, a situation that has come to light because the breach was an article they authored about how diversity polices may be harmful, and then circulated within Google, and which promptly leaked. Now I have seen a version of this article, and I shall discuss my thoughts on it later, but what worries me now is the "debate" about the actions taken by Google, and I have already seen some very negative comments. There appear to be two basic sides to this debate, those who say the article was damaging, and wrong, and so Google did the right thing, and those that say Google has damaged itself by shutting down dissenting internal opinions (something the article points out is a risk of Google's current internal culture) and has also trampled this person's free speech rights. My concern is that these are the voices that are going to be screaming about SJWs in the not to distant future. So I thought I'd have a rant about the stupidity of this position from the viewpoint of a SJWs typical "victim".
I knew I relied heavily on the access that I get by carrying around a smart phone, I read my emails, send and receive text messages, look things up on the internet, etc. It is a very useful tool, but I didn't realise how much of an impact it has on my life until it died. So I immediately ordered a replacement, but that took two whole days to arrive. The fix for my old phone was outside my ability level, and I couldn't find anyone who could fix it in a hurry, so I elected to spend two days without it, or any other phone. And it has been two of the least stressful days I have had in a very long time. Disconnected from the world, I didn't need to worry about things I could do nothing about, or keep abreast of the latest goings on on twitter. I almost regret getting a new phone, the old one is off for repair, and will be back in two to four weeks. I can hardly imagine spending that much time without a smartphone. Before the old one broke it was because I thought I would become overly stressed, and fail to cope, but having spent two days with only having the internet when tethered to a desk I can't imagine how relaxed I may get without a smartphone. Maybe in future I shall turn the phone off for periods of time. Maybe too much connectivity is a bad thing?