"To Be" and the Meaning of Life

Under Construction-very preliminary material.


History: How "To Be" came to be.

Back in the days when the original Star Trek was still the only Star Trek around (I believe it was 1972), I shared an office with an animator whose views where almost always different from my own on many subjects. One day I mentioned the usefulness of the Star Trek "transporters" in getting folks around. He replied that such machines could never work in reality, since they could only transport matter, and not the immaterial soul! Although you might be able to transport shoes, ships, sealing wax and cabbages, you could not transport kings or any other humans. If you tried, you would only succeed in transporting a lifeless corpse, his soul left behind on the launch pad.

Facetiously, I wondered if he had the same misgivings about elevators. Perhaps we leave our souls on the ground floor, and those who wander the upper stories are but soul-less zombies!

However, it later dawned on me that his misgivings about transporters raised some serious questions. For one thing, his view was testable! Which meant that the theory that Humans possess Immaterial Souls could be seen as a meaningful, scientific theory!

For more on Science, Meaning, and Testability, see The Frank Manifesto.

Of course, it would only be testable if Transporters truly exist. If we had such a device, we could run William Shatner through it and see if he survived the trip. If he survived, we would know that our consciousness, our persona, our being.... whatever we wish to call our inner selves... is a part of our material body. If he came through dead, or notably zombie-like, we might entertain the possiblity of the immaterial soul. We could also run some cats, monkeys, plants, stockbrokers, and politicians through as well; maybe not everything has a soul!

Of course, there are a few problems with the test. One person I know claimed that she could send her soul anywhere she wanted, and would have no difficulty chasing after her transported body.

However the main problem is the lack of any real transporters.

As I cogitated on these questions, I came to the realization that the sort of philosophical question you were considering would vary depending on how you believed the transporters worked. Conversely, your view of the nature of the substance of the soul will influence your belief in its ability to survive various types of transporter.

The soul could be -

Matter - the materialist view, which usually associates the soul with a particular lump of matter known as the brain!

Energy - I've heard it casually stated, from time to time, that the soul is a form of energy. It is often said in the tone of voice that implies that this is common knowledge, although I can't recall any document which defends this view.

Information - This is a fairly modern view, as information theory is a fairly modern theory. For one thing, information is mysterious stuff and so is the soul. (A knot adds information to a piece of string without adding to its mass. Spooky!) Maybe consciousness, or the soul, is just a certain level of complexity, "seen from the inside".

Immaterial Other Stuff - This view, which is really just "none of the above", has been the most commonplace over the centuries.



Can the testability, and therefore the meaning of a proposition really be dependent on the existence of a particular machine?

The concept of information has grown from a vague abstraction to a solid "Thing". Has the universe changed?

What is the author's actual view on this subject?