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.
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 have for a long time thought that the IT industry has an issue with how people within it present themselves to the rest of the world. Everyone wants to be an "Engineer", indeed my current job title is "DevOps Engineer" (a title I am not particularly enamoured with, but that is a matter for another time). We all know that Engineers create clever solutions to otherwise very difficult problems. The issue I have with this is that in many other fields where you find Engineers there are rules, and regulations, and bodies that decide who gets to call themselves "Engineer" and what standards those people must meet. In most of these other fields there are highly defined Engineering Standards against which we can measure the ability and performance of these Engineers. In IT this is not enforced, now I have been very lucky to work with some incredibly talented and intelligent individuals, and I do not wish to deride their contributions in anyway, but without the standards to measure ourselves against, using the term "Engineer" just cheapens it. Unfortunately I have no idea what the standards should be in IT, and I have no idea what the underlying problem with the way many working in IT think that I feel is not proper Engineering, after all I am no more an "Engineer" than anyone else in IT using that title, and claiming otherwise would be a lie. And so I have joined BCS in order that maybe I can get more exposure to the rest of IT and perhaps learn more about what the standards I feel are missing should be.
I shall probably write more on this in the future, but for now here's to hoping that membership of a professional body is going to be a positive step towards understanding my industry, and how I can make it better.
So a number of concepts and ideas and comments have been floating around my head of late, and none of them have been significant enough, or have I formulated my thoughts enough, to want to pass comment on them on my blog. But it has occurred to me that they have a common thread, and that is that there is a price to pay, and we, as a society, must choose the price we are willing to pay!
So my last blog entry was on religion, and one of the things I mentioned about religion was that it offers hope for our lost loved ones. In some rather unfortunate timing (not that there is ever fortunate timing for a death in the family) my grandmother has passed. I knew she was not well when I wrote my last blog post, but it is rather difficult to prepare yourself fully for the death of a loved one. So, how, as an atheist, do I cope knowing (based on my beliefs) that my grandmother is gone?
I can take some comfort in the fact that she was in her 90s, and so had led a long life up until this point. But that doesn't change the fact that she is gone.
Grief is one emotion I have always struggled with, I know of no real rational way to deal with the loss, which is, to someone with my beliefs, rather final. I have no hope that they are happy now, or that I may see them again. They are just gone. So I am left with nothing to help me cope. All I have left is my own internal coping mechanisms, and unfortunately I fear they I not terribly healthy, the most effective method I have, and the one I dislike the least, is to descend into rationality and shut away the troublesome emotions, to deal with them later, when they have had time to subside, unfortunately they tend to subside very slowly when not dealt with. I have tried hard, for years, to avoid this coping strategy, as it tends to set me back in my relationships. I also have a tendency to compartmentalise my life, this is more a general coping strategy, than one for strong emotions, but I also find it hinders my personal growth, and my relationships, and I have, in the last few years started to break down the last of those compartments, but I fear this will not last in my current state of mind. Unfortunately this rather shows that I, as an atheist, don't really cope with grief. Writing this blog post is proving to be a little helpful, but only a little.
Essentially I am saying that I, as an atheist, do not really cope with grief. Perhaps other atheists handle it better, I certainly hope so.
So an old friend of mine has started to look into religion. She is a person who I consider rational and intelligent. So why should I care about this? Well I care because I fear they may find religion, and this will shake my view of them as rational, and in turn my view of the world around me. It is an entirely selfish fear, but alas not one I think is entirely irrational.
So to start with, before I explain why I fear my friend will become religious I should explain some background. As I have said I credit them with intelligence, and rationality, religion is inherently not rational, it is founded in faith. Also it is worth noting that I myself have looked into religion in the past, and I have not found religion in the process. They, like I, are atheist (believe that their is no god). So what is the problem?
Well to start, they are atheist, but it is not the same passionate, burning atheism that I am afflicted with (and it is an affliction), they are more agnostic than that, whereas you would be no more able to convince me that God exists than you would be able to convince me that I am a fish. It is this atheism, founded in hatred, that has prevented me from becoming religious, not my rationality. My friend is far more rational than me on this, and so a good argument could sway her. Indeed the whole reason I ever started to investigate religion was so I could tear it apart wherever I saw it (I have since mellowed, but I have not changed my beliefs), my friend is looking into it out of curiosity. Then there is religion itself, belief is an essential part of life, you must believe in something to be able to go about your daily life, even if that belief is as simple as "my experiences are an accurate reflection of my life". Religion uses this, and seductively has answers for some of the harder questions in life "why are we here?" "what is it all for?" "what is right and wrong?". These are not easy questions to answer to an atheist, but religion answers them, and does so comprehensively (although I would argue not necessarily correctly). As I have said we need belief, so why not extend that belief to include answers to the hard questions? Especially when you consider what else religion offers, hope, that there is meaning to your suffering (whatever form that may take), hope that loved ones we have lost have found happiness, and hope that death is not the final meaningless end to life for us. All of this offers a great deal to anyone who will just believe. My life is good, I have troubles, but nothing I can't deal with, my friend suffers from mental health problems, and is far from wealthy, so religion offers far more to her than it could to me.
So why does this bother me? Well for the same reason I never became religious, even when I was at my most vulnerable to the hope and answers religion offered. I have a deep seated, and irrational, hatred of religion, I recognise it now, and it is a weakness, but one that informs my view of religion and the religious. I see religion as irrational, foolish, stupid even. If my friend became religious, I would struggle to reconcile my view of them with my view of the religious, doing so would require me to question my beliefs, such that they are, and this is a problem. We all need faith to function, faith in something that allows us to get on with our lives, how can we cope without that faith? How will I cope without mine?
So, the thing that finally got me to start this blog is an idea that has been rattling around my head for a while
The idea started when I read this post on hackaday. What could I do with a distance sensor?
I started thinking about mounting it on my bike, so I could use it to know when cars get too close. This lead on to the idea for a cycle mounted computer as a sort of black box.
I used to have a simple cycle computer, but when the battery went flat I had a smart phone, which allowed me to download an app to turn the phone into a cycle computer. This actually does most of what I could possibly want from a cycle computer, and yet I find myself not using it. So from there I started seriously thinking about this idea. What would I need? What would I want it to do?
Lots of ideas for it rattled around my head, and the distance
sensor idea actually got abandoned fairly quickly (I can normally tell
when a car is too close without the aid of technology). The next problem is although I work with computers I haven't actually learned anything much about electronics, I'm a complete novice, so building a cycle computer, a portable power supply for it, and all the gubbins needed to get it working would be a challenge. But that's ok as I would have to learn some practical information about electronics, and learning can be fun.
So the stage I'm at now I still don't have a fully formed idea of what I want, or what I would need. I know I would need some form of speed sensor, and GPS would be nice, the GPS would be able to act as a speed sensor (as it does in my phone, when I actually use it). It needs some method of recording trips, and it needs to be simple to set up, turn on, and get running. A display of some sort would be good. Obviously some sort of power supply. A central way to control the lights would be a nice to have.
I think I'm going to cheat somewhat and base this project on a RasberryPi if I ever start it. But beyond that I'm actually not very far through deciding what I am going to build.
So going forward, the first task I need to set myself is to acquire a RasberryPi, and some toy electronics kits, and start playing, to see what I can do I suppose.