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ARE WE JUST STARDUST?

By Pete Moore On March 7th, 2019

I see an interesting debate has broken out downstairs. It’s about whether or not humans have souls. I have no idea, being neither a theologian nor a Godless commie.

But a question occurs to me.

Some religious types will say that the spark of divinity exists in all people. Therefore to take a life is to offend against God. Or something like that. But if there is no God, no spark of divinity and no soul, what are we? Just a collection of cells really. Molecules, cells, chemical reactions and so on, arranged in stupefyingly complicated ways, but in the end just a collection of stuff found in the universe. So what then is the objection to murder? Surely it’s just a collection of cells doing something against another collection of cells, yes?

32 Responses to “ARE WE JUST STARDUST?”

  1. We are what we are. We don’t want praise we don’t want pity !

  2. //Just a collection of cells really. Molecules, cells, chemical reactions and so on, arranged in stupefyingly complicated ways, but in the end just a collection of stuff found in the universe.//

    Yes, but the arrangement of stuff is so wondrous that it creates that unique phenomenon Mind. Mind in turn can perceive itself and other minds, to which it develops aversions and affections. Above all, minds are generally generous and benevolent, and a sense of empathy – the sense of identifying with another and realising your similarity such that you know that that person has hopes and fears and suffers pain etc. more or less the same as you do – leads to ethics and judgement of social behaviour in yourself and in others.
    Empathy allows us to see murder – the destruction of the entire universe that every mind knows is within every other mind – as the ultimate evil or “crime”, and something that must not be tolerated.

    Mind of course also allows us to recognise that a murderer may well kill again, and the next victim may be you, and self-preservation is an additional biological reason to get rid of murderers. But the more general ethical reason is in itself strong enough.

  3. Actually we are mostly empty space, so we are made of almost nothing. A disconcerting thought.

  4. Pete Moore

    Our entire civilization presupposes that we have a non-physical dimension which some call a soul. Our law would make no sense if we did not assume humans have a soul. Soul includes volition or will. If humans were just a glob of cells without a soul there would be no will, no intention, no responsibility. How could you hold a glob of cells responsible for anything? Instead of such absurdity and madness we assume every adult has a soul and the ability to choose right or wrong. If someone is charged with deliberate murder and states ‘I’m innocent because I’m only a glob of cells’ society might cease to exist.

  5. Noel

    Is the mind physical or non-physical? If physical how does it perform such wondrous things? Clue: Nobody ever empirically proved there are thoughts in brain cells.

  6. //Is the mind physical or non-physical? If physical how does it perform such wondrous things? //

    If non-physical, and you have a thought, say, while standing by the window, does the thought stay at the window when you walk away?

    Or does the thought somehow always seem to move along with the brain, even though, as you claim, it isn’t in the brain?

    //Nobody ever empirically proved there are thoughts in brain cells.//

    At any rate not from reading a lot of the comments on ATW.

  7. Noel

    The thought is in the soul, so it is wherever the soul is. The soul is joined with the body and that answers your questions above.

  8. That’s telling you Noel 🙂

  9. 🙂

    //The soul is joined with the body and that answers your questions above.//

    What part of the body is it joined to?

  10. “What part of the body is it joined to?”

    The rest of your foot.

  11. Pete Moore.

    So what then is the objection to murder? Surely it’s just a collection of cells doing something against another collection of cells, yes?

    Ah yes. The old ‘if there’s no god, then we may as well or go round killing each other’ argument. As ridiculous now as it has been for the past 2000 years.
    if you really not smart enough to see the obvious answer to that, then I’m not sure I can help you.

  12. Mark B,

    Actually we are mostly empty space, so we are made of almost nothing. A disconcerting thought

    It certainly is mate. If we removed all the empty space fro inside atoms, the entire Earth and everything on it would be the size of an orange. It would still have the same mass though. Crazy stuff.

  13. Is the mind physical or non-physical? If physical how does it perform such wondrous things? Clue: Nobody ever empirically proved there are thoughts in brain cells.

    Except they have proved that thought is located in the brain.

    Degenerative neurological conditions cause memory to be lost and thinking impaired.
    People undergoing brain surgery have experienced smells, tastes, sounds and memories as parts of the brain are worked upon by surgeons.
    Scans of the brain while people are performing various activities, such as reading, listening to music or studying show neurons lighting up and new memories being formed.
    people who suffered serious injury to their brain, such as being in a car accident, have often lost large parts of their memory and/or suffered personality changes.

    I think that perfectly straightforward evidence is pretty conclusive.

  14. What is “the mind”? What is “the soul”? Who knows, certainly not me. I think that the physical and the spiritual are intertwined, mixed up, perhaps inseperable from each other. However I’ve yet to meet anyone who doesn’t believe in SOME sort of spirituality within the human being, no matter how much of a rationalist or atheist they profess themselves to be. You’ll find that a person either holds to a certain religion, or that they won’t walk under a ladder, or that they say “death isn’t the end, although what comes next I can’t say” or they have a lucky charm, or lucky lottery numbers, or something in that shady realm.
    So, what’s the argument against murder if we are all simply a collection of cells (as some deem the unborn to be)? Well, at its simplest, we can all see that robbing another person of his/her life is taking away from them absolutely everything that they possess. (Given that we don’t know for sure about an “afterlife”). We can step into the victim’s shoes, so to speak, and say “I wouldn’t want to be murdered, it would do me the most harm possible”, and therefore it’s wrong, because it would do ME harm. That’s simple enough.
    But is morality all about avoiding that which does ME obvious harm, or does it defer to a higher authority? Our Judeo-Christian heritage suggests that the latter is the case.

  15. Dave

    I agree with your 5pm. We don’t need sky god religion to know right from wrong.

  16. Except they have proved that thought is located in the brain.

    Not really……

    https://www.irishtimes.com/news/remarkable-story-of-maths-genius-who-had-almost-no-brain-1.1026845

    Now let me ask you a “no-brainer”. Is your brain really necessary? If the answer is a blindingly obvious yes, then you are not familiar with the work of the late Dr John Lorber (1915-1996) professor of paediatrics at Sheffield University. More than 20 years ago the campus doctor at Sheffield University was treating a student of mathematics for a minor ailment. The student was bright, having an IQ of 126. The doctor noticed that the student’s head seemed a little larger than normal and he referred him to Dr Lorber for further examination.

    Dr Lorber examined the boy’s head by Cat-scan to discover that the student had virtually no brain. The normal brain consists of two hemispheres that fill the cranial cavity, some 4.5cm deep. This student had a layer of cerebral tissue less than 1mm deep covering the top of his spinal column. The student had a condition called hydrocephalus in which the cerebrospinal fluid (clear colourless fluid in the spaces in and around the spinal cord and the brain) becomes dammed up in the brain instead of circulating around the brain and spinal cord.

    Dr Lorber systematically studied hydrocephalus and documented over 600 scans of people with this condition. He divided them into four groups: people with nearly normal brains; those with between 50 per cent and 70 per cent of the cranium filled with fluid; those with 70 per cent to 90 per cent of the cranium filled with fluid; those with 95 per cent of the cranium filled with fluid. The latter group constituted less than 10 per cent of the study and half of these people were profoundly mentally disabled. However, the other half had IQs over 100.

    Lorber also noted that if you implant a shunt, which releases cerebrospinal fluid pressure, in a young hycrocephalic child you often see complete restoration of overall brain structure, even in cases where initially there is no detectable brain mantle.

    I certainly cannot explain Lorber’s observations, except to note that in some cases the brain shows itself to be amazingly adaptable and capable of servicing the body in a manner equivalent to the familiar “normal” brain, even though its volume and structure is remarkably compressed and distorted.

    William Reville is associate professor of biochemistry and public awareness of science officer at UCC, http://understandingscience.ucc.ie

    The brain is a receiver of consciousness and not the generator. How many times have you attempted to recall something, a name for example, and then for the answer to pop into your head later when you had put the matter away? It popped into your head – from outside!!

    Measurements on the weight of a human immediately before and after the moment of death revealed the difference in weight to be 21 grams. These measurements were taken by Dr Duncan MacDougall of Massachusetts in the early 1900’s and, to my knowledge, there have been no subsequent measurements carried out anywhere although incumbent science assures us that “there’s nothing in it” – without having provided evidence in support of the assertion. It would be interesting for these measurements to be carried out on the highly accurate equipment of today, and also to carry out such measurements in the southern hemisphere. And yet, at the instants immediately prior and subsequent to death, the atoms and molecules within the body are in the same positions – so what could cause the apparent difference in weight?

    All of us will be familiar with the transporters in the Star Trek series. These devices move material, including humans, from one location to another, typically in the TV and film series from an orbiting space ship to the planet surface below. It is assumed that the re-materialisation of all transported material displaces the atmosphere in the volume of the arriving material, otherwise the humans would suffer terminal bends. But, as a mind-game, let the material of a human be transported from its condition at the source transporter to the target location and re-formed with all atoms and molecules in exactly the same order as they were at source. Would the transported human thus re-formed be alive? If it is only matter which is transported, the human would be dead on arrival – is that not so? Something else would have to be transported with the matter, this being the motive energy field bounded by the material body which animates the atoms and molecules of that body. One can call this whatever one wishes – the soul, the life-force etc. but it isn’t “nothing”.

    https://www.theguardian.com/film/2004/feb/19/science.science
    “I’ve been dealing with death for 45 years and I can say with some confidence there’s nothing in it,” says Robert Stern, a pathologist at the University of California, San Francisco.

  17. Allan

    The brain is a receiver of consciousness and not the generator. How many times have you attempted to recall something, a name for example, and then for the answer to pop into your head later when you had put the matter away? It popped into your head – from outside!!

    Yes I found as I get older, I take longer to recall some things, what with my aging brain in everything. That doesn’t prove that our memories reside somewhere other than our brains. And it certainly doesn’t prove they come ‘from outside’, whatever that means.

    All of us will be familiar with the transporters in the Star Trek series. These devices move material, including humans, from one location to another, typically in the TV and film series from an orbiting space ship to the planet surface below. It is assumed that the re-materialisation of all transported material displaces the atmosphere in the volume of the arriving material, otherwise the humans would suffer terminal bends. But, as a mind-game, let the material of a human be transported from its condition at the source transporter to the target location and re-formed with all atoms and molecules in exactly the same order as they were at source. Would the transported human thus re-formed be alive? If it is only matter which is transported, the human would be dead on arrival – is that not so? Something else would have to be transported with the matter, this being the motive energy field bounded by the material body which animates the atoms and molecules of that body. One can call this whatever one wishes – the soul, the life-force etc. but it isn’t “nothing”.

    Allan.
    First off, the teleporter was a plot device invented by gene Roddenberry so he wouldn’t have to spend as much of the budget filming spaceships taking off and landing from planet surfaces. It’s pure science fiction.
    Secondly. If you want to apply actual science to the fictional teleporter, then what it actually does, is brutally murder you by violently breaking down every atom in your body, and then recreating an exact COPY of you, atom by atom, at another location. It did not transport your physical atoms Allan, it transported a beam of information so you could be recreated.
    But those two things at beside the point. You seem to be making case, that the teleporter proves the soul, or something like it, because the teleported person was alive at the other end.
    You do realise that the Star Trek teleporter is complete fiction, don’t you Allan.

  18. Dave – the reason why I used the term ‘mind-game’ is because I’m putting forward an exercise, for the mind. So Dave, I do realise that the transporter in Star Trek is fiction: are you seriously arguing that I don’t, or are you just being ‘smart’?

  19. How is pure fiction, based on pure fiction, with no science to back it up an exercise for the mind Allan. It’s a fictional story, nothing more.

  20. Noel

    Rene Descartes thought it was joined at the pituitary gland. Nobody has a definite answer, but the question keeps hundreds of philosophers of mind busy.

  21. Dave Alton

    “Scans of the brain while people are performing various activities, such as reading, listening to music or studying show neurons lighting up and new memories being formed.” All that shows is that lights brighten at times, it does not prove thoughts are in the brain. Maybe you think lights are thoughts. I donn’t.

  22. All that shows is that lights brighten at times, it does not prove thoughts are in the brain. Maybe you think lights are thoughts. I donn’t.

    I don’t know what you mean by lights. There’s a whole host of equipment we can use to detect electrical, chemical and neurological activity in the brain. when people perform various tasks and do various things, different parts of the brain become more active in various ways, as well as undergo permanent chemical changes.

  23. I am a creature of divine creation if you doubt you are less you are wrong and I pity you.

    God gave us two testaments to go by one of philosophized words and one the science of the universe. Where we can’t coincide the two is our failing not his/hers.

    There is a spark that ignites the inanimate to the animate. That spark occurs by design, we call it metaphysical and you call it just chemical, but neither science nor religion can decipher how to recreate that spark.

    both disciplines are matters of faith. My faith says the two are one. The more we learn the more we begin to see how little we really know.

  24. Patrick Van Roy,

    I am a creature of divine creation if you doubt you are less you are wrong and I pity you..

    You don’t worship Odin, therefore you will never feast in the halls of Valhalla. For you, this is a great shame.

  25. The one thing that is a fact is that we are limited by our intellectual boundaries. We guess the things we cannot explain. That’s what causes religion.

  26. Colm.

    Indeed. And there are so many different and conflicting religions. Who all believe their religion, is the one true religion.

  27. Brexitannia

    “I’ve yet to meet anyone who doesn’t believe in SOME sort of spirituality within the human being, no matter how much of a rationalist or atheist they profess themselves to be.” That is my experience also, and it is across all races, all ages, all educational levels, all economic states, those with religion and those without it.

    “But is morality all about avoiding that which does ME obvious harm, or does it defer to a higher authority? Our Judeo-Christian heritage suggests that the latter is the case.” You should also consider the conscience which nearly all humans have as a guide and suggests a higher authority.

  28. Colm

    “The one thing that is a fact is that we are limited by our intellectual boundaries.” That is an extremely important fact and thank you for bringing it up. When you consider, say, geometric theorems that you know and you also know they are eternally true, but then think there must be other eternal verities that you cannot know. Those who agree with the fact you mention usually gain some intellectual humility.

  29. Dave Alton, on March 8th, 2019 at 5:28 PM Said:

    Except they have proved that thought is located in the brain.

    Degenerative neurological conditions cause memory to be lost and thinking impaired.

    But, as is shown…….

    Dr Lorber systematically studied hydrocephalus and documented over 600 scans of people with this condition. He divided them into four groups: people with nearly normal brains; those with between 50 per cent and 70 per cent of the cranium filled with fluid; those with 70 per cent to 90 per cent of the cranium filled with fluid; those with 95 per cent of the cranium filled with fluid. The latter group constituted less than 10 per cent of the study and half of these people were profoundly mentally disabled. However, the other half had IQs over 100.

    5% of a normal brain – so what’s going on?

  30. //Measurements on the weight of a human immediately before and after the moment of death revealed the difference in weight to be 21 grams.//

    But, don’t tell me, the difference in the weight of dead blacks is less, right?

  31. Measurements on the weight of a human immediately before and after the moment of death revealed the difference in weight to be 21 grams.//

    Noel

    In your case, the 21 grams would account for the sheer weight of that self-righteous liberal self loathing finally taking flight.

    😏

  32. Harri, me l self-loathing? You must be joking. I respect and admire myself, I’ll have you know.